Francisco Suarez, On Real Relation (Disputatio Metaphysicae XLVII) A translation from the Latin, Edited with an Introduction and Notes by John P. Doyle
Suarez: Between Scholasticism and Modernity (Marquette Studies in Philosophy 52). By Jose Pereira


Pp. 431 , Marquette University Press , 2006 , $45.00.

Pp. 384 , Marquette University Press , 2007 , $37.00.

Francisco Suarez (1548–1617) is the epitome of the high medieval scholastic philosopher-theologian. He combined an apparently encyclopaedic knowledge of his predecessors and contemporaries with an analytic precision and sophistication of thought. The sheer scope of his erudition and scholarship is breathtaking. His collected works extend to some 21 million words and cover almost all fields of philosophical and theological study. The only area which he never systematically covered was ethics and that was not for want of intention. He had planned a treatise on ethics and had gathered his materials to start the work and it was only the advent of his death which prevented him from doing so.

Suarez began his academic career inauspiciously by twice failing the entrance exam to the Jesuit house of studies. Perhaps it says something about his commitment and determination that his response to failure each time was to redouble his efforts until he succeeded. In his lifetime he was acknowledged as one of the foremost intellects in Europe. Within Catholic circles his reputation could rise no higher than being known for having his books publicly burned by Protestants in the streets of London. Within the universities his reputation and authority was unrivalled amongst his peers. When a theological question arose, to quote Suarez's view on the matter was often accepted as resolving the issue beyond further question.

If contemporary readers were to be asked to name the most significant European philosophers of the early seventeenth century it is more than likely that it would be Rene Descartes (1596–1650) rather than Francisco Suarez who would be picked out. This would probably have come as a surprise to seventeenth century scholars themselves, as it was Suarez's works that were most in demand during their period. In the forty years after Suarez's death the 2000 pages of his great work the Disputationes Metaphysicae went through more than seventeen editions, whilst in the forty years after Descartes death his much more modest works went through just nine editions. Over time, as philosophical and theological tastes have changed, Descartes has thoroughly eclipsed Suarez yet one of the questions posed by this book is whether this is deservedly so? One of the key themes latent in recent scholarship on Suarez is the suggestion that the time has come for Suarezianism to be considered on its own merits, as a distinct contribution to philosophy, rather than viewing it as merely a set of commentaries on Thomas Aquinas.

What makes Suarez particularly interesting to modern thinkers is that he lived and worked in the tradition of medieval philosophical thought but lived and worked sufficiently late in the period to begin to realise and grapple with the questions which have come to interest modern thinkers. He deals with law, for example, and explicitly considers issues to do with democracy, religious toleration and the relationship between freedom and reason. On the matter of religious freedom Suarez took a very enlightened approach and disagreed head on with a major school of contemporary thought that was arguing in favour of subduing the native Americans. According to that school of thought native peoples had lost their right to freedom due to their infidelity to the church and the gospel. Suarez took a very different approach to the matter, arguing on the one hand from a pragmatic psychological perspective that trying to compel religion was likely to have the opposite outcome to that desired. To support this he argued on the other hand from a strictly philosophical analysis that to use secular compulsion in a religious matter was to pass beyond the scope of the power and authority which was being cited.

As a Catholic theologian writing in the post reformation period Suarez's theological formation was through the study of Thomas Aquinas. Suarez developed a lifelong admiration of Aquinas' thought and modelled his own work closely on that of Aquinas. But he was no slave to Aquinas and readily felt at liberty to adapt and develop Aquinas where he thought that Aquinas' arguments were inconclusive or just wrong. In his writings Suarez constantly reviewed the arguments of his predecessors and where he felt that the critiques of Scotus, Ockham or any other scholastic made valid points against Aquinas he would accept the revised point of view and work it into his own philosophical and theological synthesis.

In the philosophy of mind, for example, Aquinas looks at knowledge as a matter of focusing the mind upon essences and universals. Franciscan philosophers had long taken issue with this viewpoint and when Suarez examined the issue of knowledge he agreed with the Franciscans against Aquinas. Knowledge for Suarez is not about grasping the generality of essences, it is rather about directly grasping the individuality and singularity of particulars.

On purely theological issues his eclecticism was just as marked. On the question of the Incarnation Aquinas and Scotus had famously disagreed over whether Jesus would have become incarnate if there had been no original sin. Aquinas viewed the incarnation as God's response to sin. Scotus viewed it as an almost essential part of God's goodness which was overflowing into the incarnation regardless of human grace or sinfulness. Suarez agreed with Scotus and rejected Aquinas' view.

It would be a mistake to think that Suarez disagrees with Aquinas often. The fact that he disagrees at all is interesting but at the core of his thinking is a solidly Thomist undertone. At the heart of his philosophy is a thoroughly Thomist insight about reality. Everything that exists can be taken back to a fundamental distinction between existence by essence and existence by participation. God alone exists by essence and so creature existence is contingent, dependent and finite, falling into subdivisions and species which depend upon God's will to continue in existence. As God's existence is by essence, and so necessary, then truths about the divine nature can be apprehended a priori and this provides the basis for theological speculation.

It is Suarez's commitment to Thomism that is particularly evident in Doyle's translation of his work on relations. This is an important text as relations are at the heart of key theological issues such as the Trinity, Creation, Miracles, the Incarnation and the Eucharist. So this translation provides a good way into some of Suarez's most significant thought. It is a clear and accessible translation but the complexity of Suarez's thought means that it will be a difficult read for anyone unfamiliar with scholastic thought and language. The translation and notes are generally very helpful although it would have been easier to compare the English and Latin text if they had been on facing pages, rather than as printed with the entire English translation kept together before the Latin treatise.

Jose Pereira's book is a very different type of work on Suarez. It provides voluminous detail about Suarez's works, influences and followers but sometimes the sheer amount of material, and the broad brush strokes approach, makes it difficult to access. Whilst it has none of the philosophical complexity of Doyle's work the detail and meandering prose makes it sometimes harder to follow than it needed to be. It is interesting to have a catalogue of every philosopher and theologian of the period, identifying their allegiance to Thomist, Scotist or other schools, and the degree of Suarezian thought to be found in their writings. But it would have been easier for the reader if such detail could have been pulled together into a single catalogue at the end of the book, rather than intertwined amongst other discussions in chapters. Whilst this should not be viewed as an introductory book to Suarez' thought, what it does do well is to show how Suarez bridges the gap between scholasticism and modern thought, flagging up in the process what modernity owes to Suarez.