09 November 2006

some notes on suarez

I'm not a Suarez scholar and so offer these observations at my own peril, especially since my interest is not a narrow point of detail, but the broad ranging topic of the relationship of Francisco Suarez to Protestant scholasticism.

My first exposure to Suarez was as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania in a course taught by Jim Ross in which we spent considerable time on the medieval discussion of universals, culminating in Suarez’s treatment of universals in his “Disputation on Formal Unity,” a text that had been translated into English by Professor Ross. I must say that the whole discussion was extremely stimulating and stuck with me.

Admittedly, my attention to Suarez subsequently waned and languished as I took up other matters in both philosophy and theology. Nonetheless, I found that his name, writings, and ideas kept resurfacing, particularly as my interests turned increasingly toward dogmatic theology, Protestant scholasticism, and their philosophical underpinnings, all of which lay at the origins of my own Reformed tradition. And there, somewhat to my surprise, I once again came face to face with that Spanish Jesuit who had piqued my interest years before. Moreover, unlike much Protestant interaction with figures such as Bellarmine and Cajetan - which was largely polemical and apologetic in nature - the bulk of interaction with Saurez was positive and constructive.

So, before getting into the matter of Protestant scholasticism, a bit about Suarez himself for those unfamiliar with him or his work. Francisco Suarez was born in the Spanish city of Granada in 1548 and studied philosophy and theology with the recently-formed Jesuits at Salamanca, beginning at the age of 16. He went on to become a leading Jesuit theologian and scholar, often cited as the greatest scholastic of the early modern period and sometimes ranked second only to Thomas Aquinas among scholastic theologians.

Suarez was the prolific author of dozens of treatises, taught at a half dozen different schools, and became one of the leading lights in the shaping of post-medieval metaphysics and legal theory. After his death in Portugal in 1617, Suarez's influence only continued to grow, both within Roman Catholic theology, Protestant scholasticism, and wider currents of philosophy.