Just read this: http://livingchurch.org/augustinian-brothers

Not sure I am able to appreciate the categories that Rowland or Crowe (I could not follow very well who was making which claim), use to compare and contrast Rowan and Benedict.

For me, to suggest that Thomism is not Augustinian makes no sense. Thomas’ brilliance is his synthesis of Augustine with Aristotle. Thomas adduces a Neo-Platonism just like that of the Augustinian scholars of his day, like Bonaventure. Bonaventure’s critique was not that Thomas was insufficiently Augustinian, but that he insufficiently subsumed reason within faith. Thomas’ account was Augustinian, but, for Bonaventure, insufficiently so.

I also don’t follow the way the category “rationalist” is used to distinguish between Thomism and the alleged Augustinianism of Benedict and Rowan. A rationalist theologian is one who claims we have an a priori knowledge of God, either through an innate knowledge, an innate apprehension of concepts, or a capacity to intuit (just “see”) propositions about God to be warranted. That is in contrast with another category, the empiricist, who denies this, insisting that all knowledge is experiential, a posteriori.


Thomas’ rationalism just is his NeoPlatonism (derived, ultimately, from Augustine). He was a rationalist precisely because he claimed we have an a priori capacity to know God — a psychology that enables us through intellection to participate in the transcendentals and thereby to render judgments about facts and concepts. The intellectus is a mystical place within the soul where this participation happens. The ratio is a lower faculty of the mind that provides the discursive function.

So Thomas’ rationalism is his mysticism. And it is Augustinian.

The author (either Crowe or Rowland, or both) seems to confuse rationalism with empiricism, and then applies this mistaken conception to Thomism. In other words, I infer that the author sees Thomism as cold, detached reason (implied by the descriptions given of 20th century Scholasticism). But it seems to me that a Thomism that does not claim the capacity for an a priori knowledge of God is not Thomism. And therefore it is anything but detached; it is mystical.

The author mentions Neo-Thomism and suggests that it is Thomism, corrected by Kant. If that is the case, then a Kantian Neo-Thomism still would not be cool, detached empiricism, but would simply be rationalist in a different way. Rather than the participatory ontology of Thomas Aquinas, a Neo-Thomist presumably posits a Kantian metaphysics (if the author is right). Yet there is still a metaphysics in Kant. There is still in Kant the mystical knowledge of God. Rather than an innate capacity to know God through a Thomist psychology of intellection that participates in the mind of God and so knows the transcendentals, there is the capacity for intuition. Our faith is warranted by a mystical capacity to “just see” that which is across the boundaries of our finitude.

Perhaps the author does not mean to imply that the choice between Augustine and Aquinas is like the choice between mysticism and empiricism. That would be a false dichotomy. However, the author could mean that the influence of Kant was such that medieval liturgical practices grounded in a Thomist participatory ontology came under philosophical critique because after Kant it is difficult to sustain the argument for such an ontology. And so it may be that Ratzinger and Rowan observed a consequent phenomenon — an attempt over decades to sanitize such practices of those forms that are entirely dependent on a medieval ontology that is no longer sustainable.

In particular, the description of reality in Neo-Platonic terms of hierarchical mediation is difficult to sustain after Kant. Rather, there is only immediacy — the immediate capacity of all humans to intuit the Christ within. And that has political and therefore ecclesiological implications. For that is the fundamentally Protestant insight of Ockham that Kant merely clarified. Perhaps the authors means to say that both Benedict and Rowan, post-Vatican II, observed the phenomenon of the Protestantization of both Romanism and Anglicanism and recognized its cost.

As an Anglican, I can’t speak to what Benedict may have felt that cost of Vatican II to have been. However, it is easy for me to imagine that Rowan may have recognized in the phenomenon echoes of an earlier time in which Anglicans similarly sought to sanitize liturgical practices: the sixteenth century “stripping of the altars.” That was a time of great ambiguity — a time when Anglicans “threw the baby out with the bath water,” destroying beauty in the feverous rush to conform practice to deep and abiding Protestant insights regarding the immediacy of Christ to all humans. Perhaps that is what Crowe intends in his description of Benedict’s post-Vatican II conservatism.

If so, then it is an interesting point to consider. Benedict would then be akin to the Prayer Book Puritans restraining the Geneva Puritans of the late sixteenth century from purging the Church of England of all the blessings of its past in pursuit of a purer Church.

I am not sure what the authors mean. But surely it is not helpful to set up a dichotomy in which we are to see Rowan and Benedict in resistance to a cold, detached Thomism which is to be understood in contrast to Augustinianism as empiricism is to mysticism. That contrast is not an accurate portrait of either Thomism or rationalism.

Leave a Reply

6 Comment threads
1 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
4 Comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Craig, I’m afraid I’m the author of the offending article. Thanks for your comments, leading me to reconsider some of the points made. The article was a reflection on Rowland’s excellent book and I hope that the shortcomings in the review will not detract from the book. I think Rowland was contrasting Benedict with both the c19th Neo-Thomism (“cold and detached”) which dominated much ‘official’ Roman theology until Vatican and – entirely distinct – the post-ressourcement Thomism of JPII (anything but “cold and detached”). I entirely accept that the Thomism of JPII has an significant relationship with Augustine. That said,… Read more »

This is probably a bit tangential, but…after reading Philip Cary on Augustine on the sacraments, it seems to me that medieval sacramental theology is thoroughly un-Augustinian. Without a strong sense of interiority (one which privileges inner over outer), how is Aquinas an Augustinian? We might call Aquinas (Neo-)Platonic in his exitus-reditus and/or schema(e), but this is a pretty thin ‘(Neo-)Platonism’.

Craig, don’t read too much into the rejection of “Thomism” in favor of “Augustine.” (I don’t think either Crowe or the books he covers would put it so starkly.) Obviously Thomas was Augustinian, as was Bonaventure, as were the neo-Thomists of the late 19th century and the Kantian Thomists of the 20th and the resourcement Thomists of today (e.g. Hütter); but there are multiple Augustinianisms just as there are multiple Thomisms. I do think it would be mistaken to think of neo-Thomism as Kantian, unless it is construed as reacting to the Kantian rejection of metaphysics. The 20th century stream… Read more »

While we’re on the subject of Rowan and Benedict, this interview ought to be mentioned.