Since, about 1945, Thomists have been told that they can no longer practice thomism like Banez, John of St. Thomas, Cajetan, Capreolus, or any of the so called “manual thomists” that arose after Aeterni Patris like Grenier, Hugon, Gredt. The status of Gerrigou- Lagrange is disputed, but he is usually reckoned among one the guys we’re not supposed to think like any more. The reason given for abandoning these authors is that they are “unable to dialogue with/ speak to the modern world”.
The reason is unclear. If the thomists in question lacked dialectical skill, they did not have a philosophical or theological problem at all. For example, say that all, or at least most, of Algebra teachers and chemists were unable to explain Algebra and chemistry to their students (and anyone who’s worked in education, or gone past seventh grade knows how vast this problem is) is this a problem of Algebra or chemistry? Will a new theorem in chemistry make all those terrible teachers into good, inspiring, and motivating teachers? While a bad teacher can be dry, lifeless, and a scandal to the doctrine he teaches, this would not impugn the subject matter.
The claim, then, should mean something more than “thomists happened to have poor teaching skills”. The method itself, then, must be unable to speak to the people in the modern world. And why don’t we immediately infer from this that modern people are simply unable to appreciate or understand the most proper and well-developed theological method? It can only be because we have already decided, on the basis of some argument that is rarely given anymore, that the Scholastic method as such is a bad way of doing theology.
The older school of modern theologians made this claim more directly: Gilson, for example, would claim that Aristotle’s logic was inadequate to do thomistic metaphysics. Because of this, modern thomists began to claim, and still often claim, that they are being faithful to St. Thomas even though they have wholly abandoned his method: for example, they no longer speak about per se and the per accidens, the four causes, discipleship to Aristotle, the order of the sciences from logic to physics to metaphysics, syllogistic construction of arguments, the primacy of definition- and along with it genus and species and difference and essential considerations, the categorical divisions of the predicates, the shunning of poetic and metaphorical language, and the necessity of dialectic. The new wave of thomists also abandoned later scholastic developments of Aristotelian method: of the emphasis on commentary, the disputed question format, the highly polished universal technical language, the emphasis on brevity, outlining the argument, the necessity of Latin terms etc. Some parts of this method lingered for a while, but not many- and from what I can tell all of these parts are now totally gone.
But having thought about it for a moment, who cares? Any movement that exists to speak to the modern world can only last as long as the modern world. What is this age? Just another stretch of time, which, like any age, has no source within itself making it perennial. Unless doomsday comes first, I can foresee an age where some monk will be reading the Summa while walking through the ancient ruins of an American city. That image should be an illustration of the sort of power we should be tapping into now.