At approximately one hundred pages, Cessario's work A Short History of Thomism is aptly titled. In no way does this survey of seven centuries fail to satisfy the reader who is looking for a brief overview of the tradition of those who think ad mentem Sancti Thomae. As Cessario's work does not aim to be exhaustive or definitive, so much more impressive is the fact that this brief volume manages to touch on over one hundred thinkers in or associated with the Thomistic tradition. Via his accessible discussion, Cessario is able to catalogue not only the names, dates and locations of Thomistic thinkers, but also, when available, their associations, rivalries, mentors, and bibliography.
What is most important about this work is not merely its survey of data, but Cessario's historiography. The book is not a eulogy for a tradition allegedly waning in Catholic thought since Vatican II, for as Ralph McInerny asserts in the foreword, "the corpse did not show up for its funeral" (xi). Instead, Cessario presents a view of Thomism as alive and well, "an active force" (94). Cessario examines the history of what he calls "the one Thomism," a "continuum of intellectual achievement" which concerns a "real... personal unity that binds all these diverse members of the Thomist school" (93-94). This view is a timely juxtaposition against other pluralistic accounts of Thomism, such as that found in From Unity to Pluralism: The Internal Evolution of Thomism, by Gerald McCool S.J. By alluding to 'one tradition,' Cessario implies that the same binds that united the first disciples of St. Thomas in the 13th century also extend to modern day Thomists currently operative in philosophy and theology. As such, Cessario rejects any attempt to impose a hermeneutic upon the Thomistic tradition that would artificially divide it into mutually exclusive schools; the notion of interpretive historicity is not acknowledged in this historiography.
Cessario's discussion does, however, allow that the single continuum of Thomism may be examined in five distinct phases of development, each with a certain emphasis. The first is the 'primitive' age of defenses against Augustinianism (1280-1450), exemplified by Bernard of Auvergne and William Peter Godinus. The second is the age of commentaries (1520-1550), exemplified by Capreolus, de Vitoria, Cajetan and Silvestri. Third is the Post-Tridentine age of disputations (1563-1800), exemplified by de Soto, Cano, Banez and Poinsot. Fourth is the 'neo-Thomist' age (1800-1945), exemplified by Leo XIII, Kleutgen, Maritain and Gilson. Fifth is the present age, that of Thomism after Vatican II (1965). According to Cessario, "it is tempting to conclude that Thomism at the end of the 20th century finds itself in a position not much different from when it began in the 13th" (92).
In establishing what is included within this one tradition of Thomism, Cessario considers Weisheipl's category of "wide Thomism" (16), which includes any thinker who adopts St. Thomas' spirit and basic insights and depends on his original texts for argumentative citation. This is opposed to a thinker who begins from a different philosophical starting point (e.g. Augustinianism or Scotism). Within "wide Thomism" Cessario differentiates between two sub-categories. "Strict Thomism"(19, 80) is a label Cessario applies to those thinkers who "observe a pristine adherence" (19) to St. Thomas' principles and conclusions, key tenets that Cessario enumerates at different points in this discussion. In this group Cessario places most well known Thomistic thinkers, such as Capreolus, de Vitoria, Cajetan, Poinsot, Garrigou-Lagrange, manualists Sordi, Goudin and Roselli, and Jesuits Liberatore and Kleutgen. Conversely, "Eclectic Thomism" (16-76) is applied to those thinkers who present a form of the principles of St. Thomas blended with elements of other philosophical traditions. According to Cessario, "the development of eclectic varieties of Thomism have pressed Thomists to articulate more clearly the non-gainsayable principles of their school, so as to keep Thomism from becoming too much of an expendable term" (96). Citing Alasdair MacIntyre, Cessario warns that this eclecticism is a "danger" that may feasibly "relativize the principles and conclusions of Aquinas" (18). In this group Cessario places any thinker who returns to scriptural or patristic sources in a manner not ad mentem Sancti Thomae. This may occur either in a humanist sense, exemplified in the renaissance by Erasmus, or in the sense of an Ignatian "correlational strategy" (16) which assumes that Christian theology must accommodate the ebb and flow of secular philosophy. Into this last category Cessario lists multiple Jesuits such as de Molina, Vazquez, Suarez, Marechal, Rahner and Lonergan.
There is little to complain about in this volume. Aside from the fact that the market price appears somewhat inflated for such a brief work, the only criticism worth mentioning is the fact that at times Cessario's discussion is chronologically confusing; on a couple of occasions the commentary returns to a thinker previously mentioned after the discussion has already progressed to a new time or location, and important relations between Thomists may be lost in the flurry of names. This minor quibble is certainly eclipsed by the valuable information gathered in one resource, a book that is well-worth examination for the sake of its historiographical perspective alone.