“Scholastic manualism” was the bugbear of much postconciliar Catholic philosophy and theology. But the animus against it predates the Council. Its disappearance from Catholic colleges and seminaries after 1965 was the result of a struggle against it that had begun well before then. The so-called ressourcement movement in Catholic theology, which had its proximate origins in the 1930s, was one of the forces that militated against scholastic manualism.
And yet fifty years on, some people are beginning to give scholastic manualism a second look. A reassessment seems to be underway. This whole issue deserves a much longer discussion than I am prepared for right now. For that longer discussion you would do very well to consult R.R. Reno’s First Things review of Fergus Kerr’s Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians. When Reno published that piece (entitled “Theology After the Revolution”) nine years ago it did start people talking. But I don’t know how long that carried on. I lost the thread awhile ago.
At any rate, a recent blog post by Bill Vallicella got me thinking about it again. The post is ostensibly about the origins of political correctness. In reflecting on that, Vallicella also had this to say:
By the time I began as a freshman at Loyola University of Los Angeles in 1968, the old Thomism that had been taught out of scholastic manuals was long gone to be replaced by a hodge-podge of existentialism, phenomenology, and critical theory. The only analytic fellow in the department at the time was an adjunct with an M. A. from Glasgow. I pay tribute to him in In Praise of a Lowly Adjunct. The scholasticism taught by sleepy Jesuits before the ferment of the ‘60s was in many ways moribund, but at least it was systematic and presented a coherent worldview. The manuals, besides being systematic, also introduced the greats: Plato, Aristotle, Thomas, et al. By contrast, we were assigned stuff like Marcuse's Eros and Civilization. The abdication of authority on the part of Catholic universities has been going on for a long time.
So, how bad was scholastic manualism?