BookReview:  Garrigou-Lagrange

Journal Put’, 1932, no. 35, p. 97-99.

BookReview:  Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. — La Providence et la confiance en Dieu. Desclee de Brouwer.

(1932 – #378)
Garrigou-Lagrange, a Dominican and professor of the theological faculty at St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, is considered a chief theologian and philosopher of contemporary Thomism. His books are regarded as of great authority. His new book concerning Providence produced on me a very strong impression, at the time of its reading it made me atheistic and furthermore a militant atheist. I have to say moreover, that the greater number of attempts at theodicy produce upon me a similar impression and as regards my conviction this appears to be one of the causes of an atheistic consciousness. Suchlike first of all was the theodicy of Leibniz. And in vain do they reproach Leibniz of rationalism, presupposing, that the traditional theological systems are free of this rationalism. The theodicy of Blessed Augustine is hardly better, in it the living human person likewise falls victim to an abstract idea of the harmony of the whole, in which evil and suffering are necessary, as a shadowing of the light. The fashioners of a theodicy are usually very reminiscent of Job’s comforters and in this is their condemnation. The philosophy of Garrigou-Lagrange as regards its insufferable optimism in the final end has very much an affinity with a philosophy of Pangloss, evil and justly mocked at by Voltaire. Characteristic to Thomism generally in but a weak degree is there any sense of evil and suffering. This is not at all a tragic world-conception, and its rationalistic optimism is determined by a theological philosophy. Of all the rational proofs for the existence of God, and all generally not much effective, the indisputably weakest is the theological proof. When, to begin with, there is put forth the question about the gathering together as a whole of everything that has come about in the world, atheism then becomes no less plausible, than is theism. The faith in God, in Meaning is possible only in spite of the absurdities in world life. Garrigou-Lagrange — is passively a contemplative, moreso a Greek, than he is a Christian, and quite alien to him is the tragic aspect of the Cross. But the aspect of beauty of Greek contemplation in this conception vanishes and is replaced by an insufferable moralising rationalisation. Garrigou-Lagrange, in his teaching about Providence, bypasses the solely viable theodicy — a theodicy that is Christological, through the Cross and Crucifixion of God Himself. Theodicy, i.e. a justification of God, the possibility of faith in Providence in the face of the suffering and evil of the world, such a faith can be possible only in Christ, in the suffering and sacrificial offering up of God Himself. But Garrigou-Lagrange is a scholastic and academic man, he lives under a glass beaker of sorts, he does not know people, he does not know the world, he does not know the torment and agony of the world. After Dostoevsky, after Nietzsche, after Kierkegaard it is impossible to write thus, as Garrigou-Lagrange is wont to write, and reading him becomes impossible. This is a judgement over every schoolish theology, alien to life, with its rationalistic and optimistic theodicy. At the final endpoint along the pathways of Garrigou-Lagrange there transpires a justifying of the existence of evil in the world (God foresaw and thus permitted everything), a justifying of every injustice and unrighteousness, and together with this a condemning of the “evil ones” to eternal torments, whilst forbidding love towards the condemned. And the justification of evil actually culminates with a reinforcement for hell. Hell is needful for the world order, for the world harmony, hell is proper, good, is justice. And in suchlike manner evil does not infringe upon the design of Providence. Garrigou-Lagrange, certainly, as regards established tradition, is mortally afraid of pantheism. The repudiation of any sort of pantheism is regarded as a chief exploit of Thomas Aquinas, and he accomplishes it by his classical radical distinction between the natural and the supernatural. But it in turn leads to this, that the First Mover is rendered always external in regard to the world and to man, and that these relationships begin to resemble a mere mechanical impulse. God loves Himself most of all and He creates for Himself, for His own glorification He creates the world and man, which are not needful to Him, which in the Divine life are as of an insignificant matter of arbitrariness and caprice. The panicky fear of pantheism leads to pantheism in a new form, not in the form of a deification of the world and of man, but in the form of an acknowledgement of their ultimate insignificance, their virtual nothingness, their complete worthlessness per se. In this concept mortally hostile to pantheism there is negated all the creative activity of man, all his free initiative. This represents a glaring contradiction within the criticism of pantheism by every rational theology. And connected with this, it would seem, is that all Catholic theology inevitably has to pass over into a negative thinking, a resorting to symbols in place of concepts. The Catholic thinking concerning God leads to irresolvable contradictions and provides instead  food to nourish atheism. Since of all the names, which are given to God, there is one only name, which can never arouse an atheistic indignation, and this name is Mystery. But when we begin to speak in an anthropomorphic language, then the finest names — are Love, Sacrifice, Suffering. Thomism, just as with almost all rational theology, lacks the ability to establish a proper correlation between the positive and the negative cognition of God, it wanders too far off into rationalisation and forbids even moving, when the difficulty becomes intolerable. And unsupportable moreover in the book of Garrigou-Lagrange is the conviction, common to all Thomists, that man always by nature strives towards happiness and the good, which is eudaimonism. Modern psychology nowise supports this, it corroborates Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, rather than Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. Garrigou-Lagrange clearly distorts the Gospel and diminishes the uniqueness of the Christian revelation, when he establishes a gradation of love according to kindred affinity. Those of kindred affinity are supposed to love more, than those not of a kindred affinity, people their own nationality moreso, than people of a foreign nationality, etc. It is inconceivable for what sort of souls the book of Garrigou-Lagrange is written, it belongs to the type of pious literature, which all the more and more becomes unbearable for souls more complex and refined, such as which torment over God. The acclaimed book of Garrigou-Lagrange, “Le sens commun”, tends to stand on far higher a level.

Nikolai Berdyaev.


©  2003 by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1932 – 378 – en)

GARRIGOU-LAGRANGE, O.P.:  LA PROVIDENCE ET LA CONFIANCE EN DIEU.  Journal Put’, sept. 1932, no. 35, p. 97-99.