(1925 – # 304)

(Garigou-Lagrance, O.P., “Le sens commun. La philosophie de l’etre et les formules dogmatiques”, and Jacques Maritain, “Reflexions sur l’intelligence et sur sa vie propre”).

Catholicism, despite the apparent static aspect of its dogmatic system and its stubborn resistance to all the intellectual movements of modern times, is endowed with a great mental energy, by which it all ever and again creates in its bosom in an intellectual renewal. Not so very long ago there was a sensation created in the Catholic world by the modernism movement, which wanted to reconcile the Catholic world with modern science and modern society, and in struggling against the Scholastic rationalism it attempted to push forward, based on the irrational philosophy of Bergson. Blondel, Labertonier, LeRoy were the chief representatives of philosophic modernism in France and they remained faithful to Catholicism even after the censure of modernism by the Vatican, in contrast to A. Loisy, who gave up on Christianity altogether. But the modernist movement, in which there were also positive elements, distressed not only the Vatican and evoked reaction against itself by not only the official churchly powers, — it distressed also the Catholic philosophic mindset and it evoked against itself the whole intellectual movement, which can be called NeoThomism. This movement is represented in France by such adept thinkers, as the Dominican Garigou-Lagrange and Jacques Maritain. Catholic thought responded to the danger of modernism by an attempt to create something on the order of a Thomistic renaissance, — a renovation and developing of the classical Catholicism. And this classical Catholicism is first of all Latin in its spirit. German Catholicism, which at present is likewise very much on the upswing, bears a different character and reflects a different spiritual-cultural type. St. Thomas Aquinas is the greatest genius and the mightiest expression of the classical spirit of the Latin Catholic orthodoxy. The Latin genius loves clarity and subtlety of thought, it is repulsed by Germanic and Slavic mistiness and formless mystification, it believes in the natural reason, in the natural light of day of the world-edifice, and it is classical in its thinking, it dislikes any irrational romanticism of thought and is by nature inclined towards realism, being ready to believe in the reality of things. Why has modernism evoked such an upheaval, why has the Latin Catholic thought made such intense creative efforts to topple modernism, to defeat it on the philosophic field of battle? The books of Maritain and Garigou-Lagrange do quite much for an understanding of the meaning of Thomism, the significance of the philosophy of St. Thomas for the Catholic Church, for the fate of religion. These are very interesting books, putting forth the problems quite acutely. In reading them, one sense quite strongly, how dissimilar our spirit is to the Latin spirit. “Modernism” in the broad sense is but one of the manifestations of that spirit of modernity, which evokes the energetic reaction of NeoThomism. Latin Catholic thought in the visage of NeoThomism was frightened of the destruction of religious realities, it was frightened of a break with classical antiquity, so helpful everywhere to establish forms and differences and boundaries, it was frightened of the perishing of natural reason and the plunge into irrational chaos. They intellectually and subtly came out in defense of a philosophy of healthy significance (le sens commun), for an eternal philosophy of the natural reason, cognating the natural world. Both Maritain and Garigou-Lagrange see in modern philosophy, whether it be in Descartes, Kant, Hegel or Bergson, a progressive destruction of the intellect, of the natural reason. But why for them is the intellect so precious, so precious not only philosophically but also religiously, why is the denial of intellectualism of St. Thomas Aquinas an heresy, condemned by the Vatican Council? Intellect for St. Thomas Aquinas was a natural organ, which perceives and knows objective realities, and through which there occurs the contiguous contacts with being. The intellect in Thomistic philosophy has ultimately a different meaning, than in modern philosophy. And the pretensions of contemporary Kantians or Bergsonians to be less so the rationalists, than the great saint and medieval thinker, is ultimately ludicrous. The denial and the destruction of the intellect for the Thomists is a denial and destruction of being, the denial and destruction of religious realities, an exceptional collapse within the subjective world. Intellectualism signifies ontologism. Anti-intellectualism, irrationalism is a denial of religious realities, their replacement by religious experiences. This also is the path, along which went Descartes, transferring the centre of gravity from being to consciousness, and with Luther everything was turned into a subjective faith. Intellectualism grounds itself upon the law of identity. The struggle for intellectualism, for the philosophy of the natural reason and intact meaning is transformed into a struggle for being, for the objective reality of God and the natural world. But one mustneeds stop only a moment to remember, that in the epoch of St. Thomas Aquinas the Aristotelian philosophy, which then assumed the form of Averroeism, was considered destructive to religion and was condemned by the Catholic Church, and St. Thomas himself was considered an extreme innovator, a modernist and even a precursor of the Anti-Christ. (Vide Petitot, O.P., “Saint Thomas d’Aquin. La vocation. L’oeuvre. La vie spirituelle”).

Suchlike is the pathos of one side of the pathos of Thomism, the pathos of a religious realism, objectivism and ontologism. But there is also another side, no less important. St. Thomas Aquinas in classical form established the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, between the creature and the Creator, between the world and God. Contemporary Thomists consider this the greatest of his accomplishments. By this St. Thomas defined and delimited the sphere of natural philosophy, whereof the natural world is known by the natural reason. Philosophy herein ought not to be a religious mystical philosophy, it ought to be a rational and natural philosophy. Gilson considers St. Thomas Aquinas to have had the first authentic pure philosophy after the decline of Greek philosophy, since in the Medieval period there was only a religious and mystical philosophy, i.e. a theosophy (Vide his book, “Le thomisme”). Alongside with the natural philosophy, St. Thomas Aquinas establishes the disciplining of theology, which has as its subject matter the supernatural revelation and the action of grace, and the disciplining of mysticism, which is a contemplation of God and union with God. Everything is distributed and assigned its own place, giving a structured hierarchical system, in which is permitted nothing mixed up out of place. St. Thomas is a genius of balanced measure, of equilibrium, in him truly there is something of the spirit of the ancients, in him there is nothing stretching to infinity. In the mindset of the Thomists, the strict division between the natural and the supernatural is a cornerstone of Christianity. Every deviation of this opposition between the natural and the supernatural leads to pantheism with the considering of this world as divine. And the Thomists suspect Platonism in this regard. For Platonism the empirical and natural world is rooted in the world of ideas, and the ideas dwell within God, and between the world and God there is no sort of chasm. This is the Platonic ontologism, which is present in the modern philosophy of Malebranche and Rozmini. The ontologism of Rozmini was condemned by the Vatican. Eastern Christianity, Orthodox thought is likewise in view a Platonic ontologism, and not Aristotelian. Thomism asserts, that Aristotle once and forever established the fundamentals of natural philosophy, which knows reality and is connected with being, not allowing of any sort of confusion between God and the world. St. Thomas Aquinas moreover developed and harmonised this eternal philosophy with the Christian revelation. This is a singularly sound, stable equilibrium, not permitting of extremes or fractures, a classical philosophy. Every philosophic mysticism appears to the Thomists as dangerous and susceptible of heresy. They fear the gnosticism, towards which inclined the Eastern teachers of the Church, St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, — all Platonists in their tradition. Gnosticism, mysticism, ontologism of the Platonic type is likewise hostile to the Thomists, just as also is the modernist irrationalism and agnosticism. The NeoThomists connect their hope in a Catholic Latin renewal not only with a consolidation of supernatural revelation and its erudite theology, but also with an unique acceptance of the natural world, of natural reason, natural cognition, of a natural justice and with this “naturalness” is the connection of civilisation. The NeoThomists are simultaneously both “supernaturalists” and “naturalists”. For them the natural world is not only the by-product of sin and the falling away from God, in its “naturalness” and externality to the Divine it possesses an eternal right to existence, it is justified in its contrast opposition to the “supernatural”, although too it is subject to the organised efficacy of grace. With Maritain there is a genuine philosophic pathos, a love for an unselfish natural-reason knowledge, there is a faith in the justice and rationality of the natural order. The NeoThomists — are optimists. This is a characteristic feature for them. Their world-outlook is not tragic. They are saved from the tragic by their classical ideal. To this trend is alien the apocalyptic and eschatological mindset. Its representatives little sense any world-wide catastrophe. They are little interested in problems of history. With them there is no yearning for the transfiguration of the world. And this is very characteristic of Catholic thought.

But the NeoThomists do not want simply to be restorers of the Middle Ages, they want to exist as their own contemporary people, though hostile to everything, that is “modern”. Maritain asserts, that St. Thomas Aquinas is an apostle for the modern times, since the modern times are first of all ill with a break-down of intellect, a sickness of consciousness, and thus the intellectualism of St. Thomas Aquinas would best of all help fight this sickness (vide his “Saint Thomas d’Aquin apotre des temps modernes”). NeoThomism is perhaps the sole philosophic current in modern France, which believes in being and knows, for what sort of reality it is fighting. French academic philosophy ultimately has become insensitive to its object, i.e. towards reality, and apparently it is proud of its apathetic indifference, its inability to relate its cognition to being. In France there is undoubtedly a Catholic movement afoot, it has taken hold with the youth, and it bears a different character form the romantic Catholicism of the late XIX Century, it is more realistic, active, more classical in its ideals, connected with naturalism, it wants an order to life. NeoThomism expresses this current. J. Maritain is very popular in Catholic circles, especially amongst the youth. But it is very characteristic, that he was an anarchist and Bergsonian, and was converted to Catholicism by the greatest Catholic writer of France in modern times, — L. Bloy. But L. Bloy himself, an artist, and not a philosopher in his thinking, was a man of an apocalyptic and prophetic spirit, which no wise could be comprised in any Thomistic settings. It is necessary for us to be familiar with this serious current of Western religious thought, although our own particular religious thought goes along entirely different paths. Foreign to us is both Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, we are Platonists by tradition and there is for us no such split between the natural and the supernatural. We believe moreover, that the world and man and all authentic being is rooted in God, that Divine energy pervades the natural world, and that external to God is only sin and evil. After the appearance of Christ there has been a transformation of man and the world, and Creator and creature have become united.

Nikolai Berdyaev


©  2001  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1925 -304 – en)

NEOTOMIZM’.  Journal Put’, Sept. 1925, No. 1, p. 169-171.