Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 12)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.


Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 12:

“The philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas is important both for the acquisition of intellectual “habitus” and for the mature assimilation of the philosophical heritage. He knew how to place “faith in a positive relation with the dominant form of reason of his time.” [Footnote 32] For this reason, he is stilled called the “apostle of truth.” [Footnote 33] “Looking unreservedly to truth, Thomas’ realism was able to recognize the objectivity of truth and produce not merely a philosophy of ‘what seems to be’ but a philosophy of ‘what is’.” [Footnote 34] The Church’s preference for his method and his doctrine is not exclusive, but “exemplary”. [Footnote 35]

“ [Footnote 32] Benedict XVI, Christmas Address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2005, OR (23 December 2005), pp. 4-6.

“ [Footnote 33] Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Lumen Ecclesiae (20 November 1974), 10, AAS 66 (1974), pp. 673-702.

“ [Footnote 34] Fides et ratio, n. 44; cf. John Paul II, Speech at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (17 November 1979), OR (19-20 November 1979) pp. 2-3, n. 6.

“ [Footnote 5] John Paul II, Address to Participants at the International Thomistic Congress (13 September 1980), OR (14 September 1980), pp. 1-2, n. 2.”



Saint Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225 to 1274) appropriated the philosophical idea of realism from the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 to 322 B.C.).  Aristotle, in turn, learned of realism from his teacher Plato (428 to 347 B.C.) who likewise was influenced by the realism of his teacher Socrates (470 to 399 B.C.).  These philosophers believed that things exist, that these things can be known and understood as they really are in themselves, and that these understandings and this knowledge can be spoken of meaningfully and accurately.

A primary reason we can know things as they are and speak of them meaningfully  is because truth is a property of all the things we seek to know and understand.  In knowing things correctly, we do not simply have a correct understanding of the thing, we experience the essence of that thing; we know its truth.

All things which exist have certain properties or qualities or attributes.  These attributes are found wherever existence is found.  Wherever there is an actual real thing, these attributes are part of the character of that thing.  Aristotle was the first to identify one of these attributes; unity (oneness).  Other philosophers after Aristotle would add truth and goodness.  These attributes, which exist in everything which exists, are called the transcendental properties of Being.  Sometimes truth, goodness, and unity  are referred to, more simply, as the transcendentals.  Beauty is considered by many metaphysicians (philosophers of Being) to be a transcendental.  Other(ness) and thing(ness) are suspected by some to also be transcendentals.

The word “truth” as it is commonly used in the modern world is different from this Aristotelian/Thomistic understanding of truth as a transcendental property of existence.  The word “truth” today, is equivalent to the concept of facticity.  By facticity is meant an exact correspondence between a thing (or event) and the words used to describe that thing (or event).  For example, the statement “you are reading words at this moment” is an example of facticity; an exact correspondence between some thing/event (e.g. you reading these words) and the words used to describe this thing/event (e.g. “you are reading words at this moment”).  What is important to notice about truth as facticity, is that truth is reduced to a description of reality; truth is reduced to an opinion.  Truth, for the philosophical realists such as Saint Thomas and Aristotle, is an actual reality which is discovered.  The truth of facticity is an opined judgment only.  The truth of the realists is discovered and experienced and savored and known.  The truth of facticity is chosen.  The truth of realism exists whether or not anyone is around to see and realize that truth; truth exists independent of its being known.  The truth of facticity; however, is in the eye of the beholder, it is a matter of opinion and choice, it exists only in the sense that a person says its exists.  The truth of facticity is relativistic; dependent on the knower.

The transcendental property of truth exists independently and awaits discovery.  The truth of facticity is an expression.  The truth of the realists, once discovered, is displayed.  The difference between truth as facticity and transcendental truth is somewhat like the difference between talking about a bowl of nachos and actually having a bowl of nachos.

The difference between an actual truth which is discovered and an opined truth is clearly pointed out in The Gospel of John (14:6) where Jesus says “I am the truth”.  It is illuminating that the evangelist does not record Jesus saying “I speak the truth”.  Jesus is identifying with some real thing which He calls truth.  He is not just commenting about the accuracy of his statements.  In the way of an analogy, the difference between “I am the truth” and “I speak the truth” is somewhat equivalent to the difference between the statements “I am English” and “I speak English” or “I am Spanish” and “I speak Spanish”.  One can speak these languages without being a member of the nationality with which these languages are identified.  Similarly, one could speak true statements without being truthful; one thinks of Satan quoting the Sacred Scriptures to Jesus at His temptation in the desert.  In sharp contrast to a world which often uses truthful statements to deceive, Jesus statements are accurate because He is the truth which his words display.

When the believer is in Jesus’ presence, when s/he hears Jesus’ speak to her/him, s/he does not just understand Jesus; s/he experiences Jesus.  When Jesus speaks, s/he does not just understand the truth; one experiences truth.  This truth does not, metaphorically speaking, touch only the intellect; it touches the heart, and mind, and body.


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