Saturday, May 13, 2006

Garrigou's De Revelatione: Is it about Apologetics or about Revelation?

Share/Bookmark You have a high regard for De Revelatione … what exactly is it about and why do you prize it so? It seems (in spite of its name) it is about apologetics. I gather this from a reference in the Monster of Thomism where the author asserts that a book by J. Walshe was largely a translation of De Revelatione. When I got that book I found it was all about apologetics so I guess it is about reason reflecting on revelation?

This work is not “apologetics” in our sense of the word. The best way to look at it is as Garrigou’s introduction to his commentaries to the Summa and—since the Summa, for him, represents the true order and methodology of theology—to theology itself.

The first hundred or so pages of the first volume consist in very fundamental issues. First, he gives a very thorough introduction to theology in general (the best I’ve ever seen, in fact), where he deals with the definition, division, object and methodology of Sacred Theology. Then he discusses the notion, methodology and division of fundamental theology, that is, the “branch” of theology that deals with the fundamentals of revelation: e.g., what is revelation, to what extent it can be defended, what are the sources of revelation, what is Scripture, what is Tradition, what is the Church, what is the extent of the authority of the Church, etc.

Then he begins “Apologetics” proper; but he does not conceive apologetics in the contemporary sense—that is, as an ultimately practical endeavor that consists in utilizing all means available (rhetoric if need be) to persuade non-Catholics of the truth of the Faith and bringing them to the Catholic Church. For Garrigou, on the other hand, “Apologetics” is a scientific (properly theological) task. Just as the job of any supreme science is partially to defend its principles against its opponents (e.g., Metaphysics defends the possibility for true intellectual knowledge of reality), so Theology must have some function that consists in defending its principles. So Garrigou’s primary goal in De Revelatione is to demonstrate, in a scientific way, the possibility and existence of revelation against its opponents, namely, rationalism, naturalism, pantheistic evolutionism, agnosticism, and especially modernism. This is why it is called “apologetics”: because he is defending the faith. But his is a thoroughly scientific/scholastic defense of the most fundamental theological subjects (all of which would fall outside of the scope of most works by popular apologists): the nature, possibility, existence, modes, necessity and credibility of revelation, the nature and development of dogma, the notion of mystery and its relationship to the intellect, the supernatural and its relationship to nature, the act of faith, etc.

Why I am so interested in De Revelatione? Because it is such a thorough exposition and defense of the fundamentals of the faith. I see it as the key to solving most of the problems in modern-day theology. Almost all the disputed issues that I ever deal with truly boil down the question of revelation. For example, the issue of Limbo boils down to what are the sources of revelation and what authority they have. If the consensus of the Church Fathers and the theologians is truly authoritative, then it is undisputable that the souls of infants who die without baptism cannot attain eternal salvation. Another issue is that of sedevacantism (the idea that Popes since John XXIII are not really popes, but anti-popes because they have taught heresy) can be solved given a proper understanding of the theological notes—that is, that there are different levels of Catholic doctrine and, even if some popes have taught questionable doctrines in the last few decades, nevertheless they are not heretics. And the list of issues is endless: the morality of contraception can be solved if we realize that the teaching of previous popes is biding, even though it is not de fide; the issue of ordination of women can easily be cast aside if we become aware of the fact that universal Church discipline is an infallible “organ” of tradition; and so on. And many of these fundamental issues and their philosophical underpinnings are dealt with in De Revelatione.
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