This short article, published as “The Future of Thomistic Bibliography,” Doctor Angelicus 2 (2002): 193-98, is now happily out-of-date, thanks to the annual Thomistica: A Yearbook of Thomistic Bibliography, overseen by Enrique Alarcon. Yet there are still some points of interest and hope here.

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The Future of Thomistic Bibliography


By any measure this is a very good time for the scholarly study of St. Thomas Aquinas. Once considered the domain of Roman Catholics primarily, Thomas’s thought is investigated by an ever-widening audience, both philosophical and theological, Catholic and non-Catholic. Publishing houses and journals that once would rarely, if ever, offer studies devoted to Thomas’s thought, now regularly do so. Traditionally Catholic journals that before Vatican II tended to focus exclusively on Thomistic, or at least scholastic thought, continue to publish articles devoted to Aquinas, even as they have greatly expanded the intellectual spectrum represented in their pages. And the present journal, Doctor Angelicus, marks the happy return of a publication in Germany that intends to cultivate the thought of the Angelic Doctor.

Alongside this proliferation of the study of Thomas is the proliferation of the professions of philosophy, theology, and medieval studies, such that universities around the world are likely to have departments whose faculty and students are both consumers and producers of writings devoted to Aquinas. Thus libraries in the United States, for instance, following the wishes of faculty and students specializing in Thomas, regularly seek out and purchase books devoted to him, whether those books are in English or not. The same goes for scholarly journals. At the same time—and partly because of the competitive nature of contemporary academe—there is pressure upon these professors themselves to produce scholarly writings devoted to Thomas’s life and thought, in the form of books and journal articles. The result is that the study of St. Thomas is very much alive, and that there is definitely no shortage of texts about him.

The Current Problem

But this large quantity of writings about Thomas presents the obvious problem of how the contemporary scholar will locate articles and books about Thomas, written world-round, which meet his scholarly needs, and then discern which among those—whose number may be large—will be of the best quality, or most suitable. In years past, indeed for almost three-quarters of the last century, students of Thomas’s thought had a bibliographic tool whose expressed purpose was annually to gather together a comprehensive list of editions of Thomas’s works, and books and articles devoted to him. Beginning in 1924, the French-language, Dominican journal, Revue thomiste, published the Bulletin thomiste, which thoroughly covered Thomistic bibliography, with reviews of editions of Thomas’s works, and reviews of important books that appeared about Thomas. In 1965 the Bulletin thomiste ceased publication, and its work was continued by the Rassegna di letteratura tomistica, published under the auspices of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (the Angelicum) and the Naples Province of the Dominican Order, whose first volume appeared in 1969, providing bibliographic coverage for the year 1966, a three-year ‘lag time,’ that continued throughout the Rassegna’s years of publication. Like its predecessor, the Rassegna categorized the writings devoted to St. Thomas (e.g., works about his life, the dating of his writings, about his theology, philosophy, or his relationship to other medieval and ancient thinkers), but allowed the reviews of works to be in languages other than French. The Rassegna became the long-time work of the Dominican scholar, Clemens Vansteenkiste, whose death after a long illness in September, 1997, brought to a close the almost thirty year-long personal guidance he had for the Rassegna. The writing had been on the wall for a time, as the illness that finally claimed Fr. Vansteenkiste’s life had drained his ability to monitor the mass of Thomistic bibliography generated by scholars; the last few issues of the Rassegna were patchy, and the final issue for the year 1993 (published in 1996) was drastically incomplete, despite Vansteenkiste’s heroic efforts, as well as those of his assistants.

Unfortunately, the Rassegna died alongside Fr. Vansteenkiste, for the Dominican Order had no one in the wings to pick up where Vansteenkiste left off, with the result that students of Thomas’s thought are fast approaching ten years without an annual, comprehensive account of Thomistic bibliography. Charitably, individuals have tried to provide some bibliographic coverage in various publications. Simon Tugwell began the Dominican History Newsletter at the Istituto Storico Domenicano at the Angelicum in 1992, an annual bulletin of scholarship about the Dominican Order that perforce included entries about St. Thomas; under the editorship of Tugwell’s successor, Arturo Bernal-Palacios, the most recent volumes of the DHN have elaborately expanded bibliographies devoted to Aquinas. The Italian annual publication, Medioevo latino (Spoleto: Centro italiano di studi sull’alto Medioevo, 1980–), provides coverage for medieval philosophers and theologians, therefore providing good, but by no means complete, coverage of Thomistic bibliography. And the present journal, Doctor Angelicus, admirably tries to provide coverage for its readers.[1]

But the fact remains that there is no accessible and complete bibliographical source for students of St. Thomas Aquinas’s thought at the precise point in history when he is being most studied. Something must be done.

An Opportunity

As it happens, the almost ten-year lacuna between the end of the Rassegna’s bibliographical coverage and the present is the very same time in which the Internet—and an individual’s access to it—has come into such prominence. It is not an exaggeration to say that almost every serious scholar of St. Thomas’s life and thought has access to a personal computer that is connected to the Internet, and thereby to the services that can be found on the Internet. This connectedness—or “connectivity,” as it is called in the computer industry—provides those of us in the Thomistic community (ut ita dicam) with a unique opportunity to solve the present problem of Thomistic bibliography in an elegant and effective way: the establishment of a international consortium that operates a World-wide-web site solely devoted to Thomistic bibliography.

In the comments that follow I wish to suggest some provisional ‘specifications’ that I believe would fulfill some important desiderata of the Thomistic community. I make them in large part to encourage others to share with me their ideas about how we best can, as a community, serve all our needs. I provide my e-mail address at the end of this article as an open invitation to any and all who wish to write to me with their suggestions and corrections.

Proposal: A Thomistic Annual Bibliography Database

The Bulletin thomiste and Rassegna were, in essence, printed databases of information that was gathered together and typed, first on a typewriter, and in later years, on a computer. However, the advent of contemporary computer-based databases makes it possible to create a single database program for entering, storage, retrieval, and querying of bibliographical information. The key to any success in this proposal is the creation of an intelligently-designed, on-line, updatable database system, which can be accessed via the World-wide-web. For the purpose of our discussion here, I shall call it the “Thomistic Annual Bibliography Database,” or TABD, for short.

Main Goals

Here I outline what seem to me to be the main, long-term, goals of this database:

1.      Useful categories: the books and articles listed must be categorized in useful ways, such that visitors to the web site might be able to make “queries” about information. That is, in addition to providing the correct information about a book or article (i.e., the author’s name, the journal’s name, the article or book’s title, pagination, etc.), the books and articles should be classified by language, subject of article, keywords, author, etc., so that visitors can search the contents effectively.

a.       I am very interested to hear from readers about categories that they believe should be represented. For instance, is it important to note that an author is a member of a religious order, such as the Dominicans, Franciscans, or Jesuits? Is it important to know from which university an author may have received his diploma?

2.      Flexibility of use: the information on the web site must not only be able to be displayed to the user in a web browser,[2] but also must be able to be retrieved and saved for the visitor to import into his personal database program (should he have one), or into a standard word processor (e.g., Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, Star Office, NotaBene, etc.).

a.       What type of file-exports are desirable? Should we use XML documents, since this seems to be where future computer technologies are headed?

b.      The Unicode character format will be essential, so that documents imported by visitors correctly show the letter and characters of the article or book’s original language.

3.      Bibliography to be entered first: as soon as possible we must make accessible bibliographical information from the present backwards to the last years represented by the Rassegna (e.g., back to 1991-1993). For the sake of consistency, it may be useful to categorize new material according the categories used by the Rassegna, and before it, the Bulletin thomiste.

4.      Information ‘freshness’: we must make it possible to enter new bibliographical information as it becomes available, and make it immediately accessible to visitor to the consortium’s web site. In other words, the database should be constantly updated. This will require a well-configured computer system on which to host the database.

5.      Database stability: it will be important that the system not crash, that it continues to run in order to serve requests made by visitors to the site. This will mean at least two things:

a.       A well-designed system (placing the database program on one computer, for example, while having the website on another computer [called ‘n-tier’ in the computer industry]).

b.      Replication of the whole system, such that, in the event that the database computer fails (i.e., crashes), the web site is able to get its database from another site. One possibility might be to have duplicate sites, one in North America, and another in Europe, which synchronize their contents at regular intervals, and provide redundancy in the case of a failure on one or other of the sites.

Other Goals

Here are some other considerations that might, in time and with work, be worth the effort:

1.      Multiple language support: for simplicity’s sake we would have to begin with one or two languages for the web site (English and French, perhaps). At a future time consideration should be given to whether the site should allow the visitor to select from a range of standard languages used in Thomistic scholarship (i.e., all the major European languages).

2.      Links to publishers and journal web sites: while the primary purpose of the website/database is by no means to sell books, it is quite reasonable to expect that a visitor who discovers the existence of a book on TABD that he needs will wish to acquire that book. Links to the web sites of the publisher of that book might be provided to facilitate the visitor’s purchase of that book.

3.      An annual publication: since the database itself will be well-organized, and up to date, and will in addition be ‘normalized,’[3] it remains quite possible that a series of all-encompassing queries could be run at the year’s end, and the results placed into a master word-processing document, and in turn printed and submitted to an academic press for publication and sale. The resulting volume could therefore be easily produced, and sold at a reasonable cost to academic libraries in the stead of the now-defunct Rassegna. This would enable scholars to have physical access in book-form to the data collected throughout the year, even though directed queries would still be possible via the World-wide-web.

The Necessities for the Project

Thus far I have made suggestions without addressing the most important thing from the perspective of actually making the TABD a reality: money and human labor. These are issues that must obviously be addressed, of course, and I am currently investigating certain granting agencies here in the United States, through my university, Marquette University, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to see whether money might be available for the project, or possibly a conference of interested individuals, who together might create a final specification for how the TABD might “begin to take flight.”

But of first importance is a discussion among scholars interested in the work of St. Thomas as to what they would like to see made available to the wider Thomistic community. At the very least I hope that the ideas suggested here in the most general of ways will encourage people to think about the possibilities; at most, I encourage readers to send me their own suggestions and corrections to my e-mail address at


[1] I should note that there have been some book-length accounts of Thomistic bibliography, but none of them, of course, is both comprehensive and contemporary. See: for the years 1270-1900, L. A. Kennedy, A Catalogue of Thomists, 1270-1900 (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987); for the years 1800-1940, P. Mandonnet, J. Destrez, M. D. Chenu, Bibliographie thomiste 1800-1940 (Paris: J. Vrin, 1960); for the years 1920-1940, Vernon J. Bourke, Thomistic Bibliography 1920-1940 (St. Louis [Missouri]: The Modern Schoolman, 1945); for the years 1940-1978, T. L. Miethe and V. J. Bourke, Thomistic Bibliography, 1940-1978 (Westport [Connecticut]: Greenwood Press, 1980); and for the years 1977-1990, Richard Ingardia, Thomas Aquinas International Bibliography 1977-1990 (Bowling Green [Ohio]: Philosophy Documentation Center, 1993)—the latter, despite its title, focuses on philosophical bibliography.

[2] Currently Enrique Alarcon, of the University of Navarre, has his wonderful “Corpus Thomisticum” website (, which also has pages devoted to Thomistic bibliography. However, the pages cannot currently be imported into a user’s word-processor or database, which in my opinion somewhat hinders their usefulness.

[3] The database information would be highly ‘normalized,’ that is, broken down into minute discrete, ‘chunks’ of information, that do not repeat information found elsewhere in the database. This allows reordering information in many varying ways. E.g., there would be separate database fields for, say, the name of a journal, the volume number, and the year number, which could then be joined together to produce a regular article reference according to diverse customs of citation. Thus, some formats of citation might list “Doctor Angelicus 2002, vol. 2,” while another format might have “Doctor Angelicus, 2 (2002).” In a word, normalization is the analysis of data into its most basic, ‘atomic,’ form.