The Daily Logos XIV
“Incomparably coherent, closely knit together in all its parts, Thomism is, nevertheless, not what is called a ‘system.’ When it is said that Thomism is distinguished from all other philosophical doctrines by its universalism, that should not be understood as a mere difference of extent, but, on the contrary, as a difference of nature. The word ‘system’ evokes the idea of a mechanical linking-up, or, at the very least, of a quasi-spatial assemblage of parts and consequently, of a personal, if not arbitrary, choice of elements, as is the case in all artistic constructions. A system unfolds or travels along bit by bit, starting with its initial elements. On the contrary, it is essential to Thomism that it require whatever has to do with its construction or its ‘machinery’ to be rigorously subordinated to what belongs to the immanent activity and the vital movement of intellection: it is not a system, an artifact; it is a spiritual organism. Its inner connections are vital ties where each part exists by the existence of the whole. The principal parts are not initial parts but, rather, dominant parts or central parts, each one of which is already , virtually, the whole. Thought makes no personal choice therein among the elements of the real, it is infinitely open to all of them.
“In truth, Thomism is a common task. One is not a Thomist because, in the emporium of systems, one chooses it as if one were choosing one system among others just as you try one pair of shoes after another in a shoestore until you find a pattern that fits your foot better. If that were the way it was done, it would be more stimulating to cut a system to one’s own measure. One is a Thomist because one has repudiated every attempt to find philosophical truth in any system fabricated by an individual (even though that individual be called ego) and because one wants to seek out what is true—for oneself, indeed, and by one’s own reason—by allowing oneself to be taught by the whole range of human thought, in order not to neglect anything of that which is. Aristotle and St. Thomas occupy a privileged place for us only because, thanks to their supreme docility to the lessons of the real, we find in them the principles and the scale of values through which the total effort of this universal thought can be preserved without running the risk of eclecticism and confusion.”
-Jacques Maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge