Hieromonk Gregory Hrynkiw. Cajetan on Sacred Doctrine. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2020. 352 pp. $75

If your theological education was anything like mine, you learned that Tommaso de Vio, Cardinal Cajetan, was Martin Luther’s grand inquisitor. Where Luther proclaimed the gospel, at great personal cost, Cajetan executed his will with force. And that’s about it.

Consider Justo Gonzalez, a scholar not incapable of historical sensitivity and equanimity, whose two-volume The Story of Christianity is a staple of Protestant seminary education. Here Cajetan appears only as that instrument whereby papal power is extended. Cajetan is “a man of vast erudition whose main task was to convince the German princes to undertake a crusade against the Turks.”[1] When Luther faced Cajetan in 1518 at Augsburg, the Cardinal “refused to discuss Luther’s teachings, and demanded that he simply recant.”[2] The claim is deceptive. This was Cajetan’s initial strategy; but Cajetan, then as always, could not resist a theological debate. Luther himself recounts the theological topics they disputed over three days.[3]

Neither has Cajetan’s fate among Catholics been particularly favorable. According to Etienne Gilson, Cajetan, in his anxiety over the encounter with Scotism and Averroism, corrupted St. Thomas Aquinas’s central insight into the notion of being as fundamentally dynamic and personal.[4] Henri de Lubac pins to Cajetan that monstrosity of two-story Thomism. Cajetan, according to de Lubac, read Thomas’s cryptic desiderium naturale visionis Dei – natural desire to see God – as always elicited, not innate, thereby firmly distinguishing the natural from the supernatural.[5]

Gratefully this is changing. Dominicans Romanus Cessario and Cajetan Cuddy, the late Ralph McInerny, and younger scholars Lawrence Feingold and Joshua Hochshield have done much, among English-speaking scholars, to reinvigorate engagement with Cajetan. And now, Hieromonk Gregory Hrynkiw has joined their labors with his first monograph, Cajetan on Sacred Doctrine (CUA, 2020).

In spite of Cajetan’s enduring significance, Hrynkiw observes that, “no study of him as a theologian in his own right was ever made.”[6] Cajetan on Sacred Doctrine is a first step toward such a study. The text is divided into two parts. First, Hrynkiw presents a broad account of Cajetan’s theological outlook (Part I). Second, he gives a fine-grained presentation and interpretation of Cajetan’s commentary St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologiae Ia, q. 1 (Part II).

The first question of St. Thomas’s Summa theologiae Ia considers the topic of sacred doctrine in eight articles. He argues that humans need some special instruction (sacred doctrine is, literally, holy teaching) beyond that which is graspable by human reason. Moreover, Thomas argues that this body of knowledge is science in the Aristotelian sense: an axiomatic deductive system. However, sacred doctrine is a particular kind of axiomatic deductive system. Like music, sacred doctrine is a body of knowledge that relies upon another body of knowledge for its most fundamental axioms. Thomas’s way of making this point is calling sacred doctrine a “subaltern” science – a body of knowledge subordinate (sub) to another (alter). For example, with music that alter body of knowledge is arithmetic. For sacred doctrine, it is the knowledge possessed by God and the blessed, those saints who have come to know God face to face, even as they are known.

Thomas’s basic outlook has much to commend it. It explains why theology proceeds by deduction, or argument, without reducing the entirety of the Christian intellectual endeavor to the parsing out of consequences. His distinction between the articles and preambles of faith have a venerable history. The implications of Thomas’s account of sacred doctrine for the doctrine of revelation, and therefore our conception of Scripture, are extensive and illuminating. Indeed, the Summa theologiae and its enduring legacy is a testament to the value of Thomas’s approach to the theological task.

It is no surprise, then, that many subsequent theologians articulated their theology by way of commentary on St. Thomas’s text. This was not inevitable. In the immediate aftermath of Thomas’s passing, leading scholastic theologians continued the broader project of commenting the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Other, more technically sophisticated lights emerged in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

During the first decades of the fifteenth century, John Capreolus revived interest in St. Thomas with his commentary of the Summa theologiae. Thus Capreolus, “Prince of the Thomists,” established the venerable tradition of commenting on the Summa theologiaea. Among that tradition’s many fruits are Cardinal Cajetan’s own commentary.

This broader context is important for understanding the approach to theology Hrynkiw and Cajetan commend. It is theology done ad mentem divi Thomae, according to the mind of St. Thomas. Cajetan, like Capreolus before him, seeks to understand the wisdom contained in sacred doctrine by studious contemplation of the wisdom of St. Thomas, mediated through the Summa theologiae.

Two features of Cajetan’s commentary are notable in this respect, both of which Hrynkiw helpfully illumines. First, Cajetan exemplifies the capacity of scholastic commentators to inhabit and advance the wisdom of magisterial thinkers. Second, he captures the dialogical spirit of scholastic Thomism.

On the former, Hrynkiw ably demonstrates the extent to which Cajetan penetrated the wisdom of St. Thomas by analysis of Cajetan’s division of the text of Summa theologiae I, q. 1. While his chief analysis of the text occupies part two of Cajetan and Sacred Doctrine, Hrynkiw helpfully frames that analysis in light of Cajetan’s grasp of the macrostructure of the Summa theologiae. The Summa theologiae is ordered to the fundamental mysteries of the faith handed down by the Apostles and established in the creeds: notably the doctrine of the Trinity and the hypostatic union. Cajetan’s attention to the fundamental structures of Thomas’s Summa theologiae are carefully integrated into Cajetan’s set of positions on sacred doctrine.

Consider, for instance, Hrynkiw’s exemplary treatment of Cajetan’s position on the contested question of whether or not the habit of faith is the same as or distinct from the habit of theology in chapter one of Cajetan on Sacred Doctrine. Renaissance scholastics, developing pre-Renaissance positions of John Capreolus and Hervaeus Natalis, inquired whether or not the exercise of faith and the exercise of theology issue from the same source (habitude) or really distinct sources. To render the question more plainly, what is the relation between when I give assent to things divinely revealed, independent of any arguments, and when I reason on the basis of those same things divinely revealed to other conclusions? Am I performing intellectual acts from a common source, or distinct sources? And if the latter, what is the relationship between these two kinds of action?

The question became particularly vexing when Thomists faced the task of commenting on the opening question of the Summa theologiae on sacred doctrine. Cajetan’s position is that the habit of faith and the habit of theology are distinct, but the latter is subordinated to the former. By the former habit of faith, which is a gift (an infused habit), we know with certainty, though without evidence, the content of divine revelation. That content is divinely given and grasped by divine assistance. It is fundamentally articulated in the articles of faith, manifest in Scripture, the creed, and the structures of ecclesial life. Theology proceeds by deduction on the basis of those articles, and in accordance with the light of faith.

Thus, sacred doctrine, while composed of two distinct habits (faith and theology), is an integral whole. Moreover, as the later articles of Summa theologiae Ia, q. 1 demonstrate, all of sacred doctrine is grounded in Scripture. No surprise, then, that Cajetan proved one of the finest and most devoted commentators on sacred Scripture (a point generally overlooked in the Protestant textbooks).

Part II of Cajetan on Sacred Doctrine proceeds through a close reading of Cajetan’s commentary on the articles of Summa theologiae I, q. 1. Hrynkiw’s treatment is exemplary, both in his utilization of scholarly literature in European research languages, and in its capacity to handle the breadth of figures, periods, and technicalities that attend Renaissance scholasticism.

It is this final dimension of the text that is most commendable. Scholasticism is a radically dialogical enterprise. To read a figure like Cajetan is to join an ongoing conversation. Scholastic theologians demonstrate remarkable capacity to think in dialogue with others past and present. Cajetan’s project was grounded in the magisterial teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas. But it was also shaped by the constructive developments of Thomas’s thought by John Capreolus, as well as a consciousness that Thomas’s own thought was grounded in the heritage of early Christianity.

This final point is heavily emphasized in the conclusion of Hrynkiw’s text, as he posits an intriguing union of Cajetan’s Thomistic view of theology and Gregory Nazianzus. (Let us leave to the side his various attempts to evacuate the venerable Catholic school of Duns Scotus in the process.) Hrynkiw’s text, like Cajetan’s own, gives one a sense of what it is to think in a tradition extending back to the apostle and prophets, even to Christ, and therefore extending into the future.

Cajetan on Sacred Doctrine is a truly impressive piece of scholarship. It is a welcome contribution to the growing body of evidence that historical and theological insight awaits those who will undertake the discipline necessary to read broadly in the scholastic tradition. Such discipline has been too often lacking among theologians in previous generations. Let us hope many more will take it up in the future.

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  1. Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Volume II: The Reformation to the Present Day, Revised and Updated (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 30.
  2. Gonzalez, Story of Christianity, 30.
  3. Martin Luther, “Proceedings at Augsburg 1518,” in Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 31, edited by Helmut Lehmann (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1957), 262.
  4. This is the interpretation given among Gilson’s influential studies of St. Thomas in French and English titles of the 30s and 40s, developed most extensively in “Cajetan et l’existence,” Tijdschrift voor Philosophie 15 (1953): 267-286. There he writes, “A Padoue même, il était chargé de représenter le thomisme contre bien des adversaries, mais particulièrement de deux : le scotisme et l’averroisme. S’il s’agit des parties de la Summa theologiae où la métaphysique est directement en jeu, Cajétan semble procéder en pur philosophe, c’est à dire, non point en averroïste, mais en aristotélicien, et en aristotélicien qui ne glose pas Aristote en vue de la vérité thomiste située au-delà d’Aristote, mais en vue de celle de l’aristotélisme même,” 284.
  5. Henri de Lubac, The Mystery of the Supernatural (New York: Herder & Herder, 2013), 145-147.
  6. Hrynkiw, Cajetan on Sacred Doctrine.
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Posted by Justus Hunter

Justus Hunter is Assistant Professor of Church History at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He is the author of If Adam Had Not Sinned: The Reason for the Incarnation from Anselm to Scotus (The Catholic University of America Press, 2020), and, with Phil Tallon, The Absolute Basics of the Wesleyan Way (Seedbed, 2020).