Friday, August 20, 2010

Louis Bouyer: Enemy of Traditional Theology

Fr. Louis Bouyer, Neo-Modernist, not-quite-ex-Lutheran, Conciliar Peritus, unleashes his neo-modernist hogwash and tells Garrigou-Lagrange, Sertillanges, John of St Thomas, and the rest of the tradition of Scholastic Thomists what St Thomas really taught about God and Revelation.

Taken from Bouyer's The Invisible Father: Approaches to the Mystery of the Divinity, pp. 248-257, with comments by Don Paco in red.

Neo-Thomist Equivocations on Thomism

Let us take as an example one of the most venerable productions of the last Thomist, or rather, Neo-Thomist renaissance {note that the term 'neo-Thomist' is a pejorative one}: the long and great book of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, Dieu, son existence et sa nature [God: His Existence and His Nature].  In it, the theological teaching of St Thomas is analyzed, carefully taken to pieces and put together again, with a clarity and a fidelity most deserving of praise.  Yet few readers, putting down the book, will have escaped the impression that in it the God of the Bible and the Gospel has been reduced to a caput mortuum [dead head] of frozen abstractions.  And yet its author undoubtedly exemplified in his time that rare combination of theologian and eminent man of the spirit, and it was his constant concern to develop spirituality and theology in tandem.  How then, we must ask, could such a theologian have produced a summa about God frankly so overwhelmingly boring and, more especially, the speculative ramifications of which (practically) never contribute to a genuine enrichment of thought?  {Typical Neo-Modernist critique of everything traditional: "it is boring."  Cf. Von Balthasar, Raising the Bastions.  This is quite telling of their motives and of their unworthiness as theologians or even as churchmen.}

E. Gilson, with such Thomists in mind, was perfectly right in saying that one can’t see the forest for the trees, and that this is an inevitable result of their systematic effort to separate what is philosophical from their master’s theology, so as to reorganize and rebuild it, purportedly, according to its own innate exigencies.  It is at the very least surprising that disciples, beyond the Angelic Doctor, of Aristotle himself should have forgotten that order is of being.  Instead, they imposed an order on Thomas’ thought which was not his own, and thereby turned it into something quite different from his, even if (which is supposing a good deal, given such manipulating) the individual pieces were fully respected.  {Note that the neo-modernist finds Gilson to be on his side.}

It was not in fact by chance that St Thomas never separately systematized his philosophy {never mind about his commentaries on Aristotle!  They don’t count because they do not represent St Thomas’ philosophy, only Aristotle’s...} that he never detached it from Christian theology but always developed it within the latter.  However purely rational philosophical developments should be and remain, for St Thomas it was quite certain that they did not thereby become independent of the situation of the thinker producing them.  If the one philosophizing is a Christian, this will have an effect on his thought, even if, while philosophizing, he uses nothing but rational concepts and procedures accessible, at least in principle, to any and every man even unenlightened by revelation.  {Agreed, but St Thomas's philosophy can be found in his Commentaries on Aristotle exactly in that way: in a non-theological context.  Only there, in fact, does it follow its own properly rational principles.  The philosophy contained in the Summa is formally theology, and only materially philosophical.  This is something that Gilson and his followers are willingly blind to.}

The result is that when John of St Thomas, the first to do this, transformed Thomism by developing philosophy independently of and prior to the theology dealing with the Christian revelation, he inevitably created a different philosophy and a different theology, however careful he was to use nothing but elements taken straight from his master.  Even when he is scrupulously precise in repeating St Thomas’ words and key phrases, they no longer say the same thing.  {Bouyer, on the other hand, can't even use St Thomas' words themselves, because they would prove that he is in error.}

That this is true of “John of St Thomist” theology, {note the audacious ad hominem, a mockery of traditional Thomistic theology} right from its very beginning, is revealed by that theologian’s understanding of what, following St Thomas, he calls a “theological conclusion.”  According to him it is possible, even while adhering to a strict application of syllogistic reasoning, to have two kinds of theological conclusions—one flowing from two revealed premises, the other from one revealed and one philosophical premise.  And this latter kind by its very nature will widen the field, if not precisely of revelation as such, at least of the knowledge we can draw from it.  This may appear at first sight to be a quite innocuous and legitimate development of St Thomas’ idea of a theological conclusion.  In fact, it transforms it to the point of being unrecognizable.  The whole meaning of theological endeavor is at a stroke radically altered, and at the same time even our very conception of revelation.

For St Thomas there are not and cannot be theological conclusions which are not already comprised within revelation.  A theological conclusion is and can only be a revealed doctrinal affirmation of which one has established the logical relationship it has with other doctrinal affirmations of the same species.  The whole of theology moves within faith and so within revelation.  To suppose that it can evade it in order to increase its scope (!) is no longer to understand anything about revelation itself, {thus, pretty much all of post-Tridentine theology, which is founded on this doctrine, is unable to understand revelation} as if theology could ever flatter itself of having gone so far beyond revelation as to be able to complete it.

This in fact supposes that, according to John of St Thomas and those who have followed him, revelation is nothing but an accumulation of externally juxtaposed propositions, to which one can further add philosophical propositions, thus aspiring to enrich revelation by philosophico-theological hybrids.  It is of course this which purportedly justifies the separation of philosophy and of the theology concerned with the revealed datum, and the reconstruction of the first prior to the second, with, consequently, the naive expectation of “developing” the objects of revelation by artificially inseminating them with external philosophical propositions.  {Bouyer, you are disgusting.}  But at this point one is miles away from genuinely Thomist views of theology as the science of God, having its whole basis on his word.  One has in the first place lost sight of St Thomas’ strong sense of revelation as the communication of a single mystery {barf!} that of God himself, an organically coherent mystery {double barf!} which speculation can attempt to inventory, to analyze and synthesize but never exhaust, and even less indulge in the grotesque pretension of adding something to it to complete and develop it {Apparently, Bouyer never read the first question of the Summa: “Hence sacred doctrine makes use also of the authority of philosophers in those questions in which they were able to know the truth by natural reason ... as extrinsic and probable arguments...” ST I.1.8 ad 2}.

Traveling on such a road—and this has been the mentality, more or less of Baroque Thomism, not to mention modern Neo-Thomism—one inevitably comes to prolong this now bloodless religious philosophy into a correspondingly depreciative theology of revelation.  Such a theology ceases to be able to vivify by the vision of faith, and at the same time refine and reform our merely human concepts, and it increasingly tends to yield to the disastrous policy of clearing out the Word of God of everything that cannot be circumscribed by or reduced to pre-formed concepts constructed without reference to the Word.

It is therefore not surprising if such so-called Thomism gives the impression that the philosophico-theological thought of St Thomas is nothing but a gigantic and futile exercise in tautology which, while claiming to explain and develop the statements of the faith, in fact eviscerates and disjoins them.  And it is worth emphasizing that if this can happen in the case of so distinguished a mind and so worthy a  man of the spirit as Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, then how much worse it will be when this kind of philosophy and theology is taken up by some college rector whose chief concern is to bring out the “errors” of his colleagues, and either has no interior life or never dreams (quite rightly!) of nourishing it on his theology!

The Existential Character of Authentic Thomism

Once we have become aware of all of this, and drawn the moral, we are in a position to rediscover St Thomas’ God.  He is not simply that first unmoved mover of the universe, blithely indifferent to it, even disdainfully ignorant of its existence, and who in any case is only capable of referring everything outside and within himself to a hideous egoism or egotism expanded to infinite dimensions.  Such was Laberthonnière’s accusation.  The first thing we must realize is what E. Gilson exposed in a history of the Neo-Thomists, far more devastating than anything Laberthonnière ever wrote {Note: Gilson's critique of traditional Thomism is more devastating than that of a declared enemy of Thomism}, and without making the latter’s mistake of believing the Neo-Thomists when they claimed to be unfolding their master.  This is the fundamental misunderstanding which travesties the whole of Thomism from top to bottom and in particular St Thomas’ theology: that of transposing his thought from the most radical existentialism there has ever been to a deadly essentialism {as always, the critics of 'essentialist Thomism' never define either 'essentialism' or 'existentialism'; instead, you are expected to 'feel' what those terms mean}.  How could the God whose essence is to be precisely “Pure Act,” the very act of existing without any limitation, possibly be summed up by concepts?  {Here you are expected to 'feel' that essentialism has to do with ascribing attributes, or 'concepts', to God...  Ooh, those evil Thomists!}

But to realize, in the deepest sense, the significance of this starting-point, one must see St Thomas’ Metaphysics, not as simple, superficially modified Aristotelianism, but as what E. Gilson, fifty years ago, was so bold as to call “the metaphysics of Exodus,” without himself immediately grasping every consequence of that insight [The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, vol. 1, London, 1950, p. 51].  {So even Gilson was not as bright a Thomist as Bouyer!}

In other words, the point of anchorage and the spring-board for this whole metaphysic is the mysterious saying of the burning bush: “I am who am.”  This must not be hastily translated in the way that St Augustine did in his Soliloquies, still wrapped up as he was in the cocoon of his Neo-platonism: “I am the beinng who is always and forever.”  This is to stay with a platonizing essentialism, even though its contours have been practically pushed out of sight.  {Read: Augustine was moronic 'essentialist' who did not understand God.}  The phrase must be taken as St Thomas took it with a rigor no previous Christian thinker had approached: “I am what I am; I am the only one who can define the infinite, ever actual fullness of his existence.” {Note that this is Bouyer’s own amateurish expression, not St Thomas’.  And it falls desperately short of the Gilsonian existentialism which it tries to convey.  A better rendering would be: "I am he whose essence is to exist."}  This is what St Thomas meant practically every time he spoke of Ipsum Esse.

Yet at the same time one must emphasize the point so few recognize, namely, how laughably illusory {traditional Thomism is laughable now} are all those well-intentioned attempts to introduce more logic into St Thomas {Are you implying, Bouyer, that St Thomas cannot be improved or given more logical rigor?  Are you denying that philosophical and theological thought should develop?}.  We see Sertillanges, for instance, disarmingly doing his open best to expurge from St Thomas’ system any platonic left-overs, especially the theory of ideas...

The facile acceptance, then, of the commonly-used method of exposition introduced a discordance into Thomist theology.  To this we must add the congenital weakness of any theology which allows itself to turn, at least apparently, into a collection of questions, however ingeniously arranged.  {The scholastic method is bad?  Sorry, but I got the opposite impression from Leo XIII, St Pius X, Pius XII, etc., etc.}  It will inevitably come to treat the Word of God or revelation, as it will be called, as a stack of juxtaposed propositions which it will be the whole task of theology to put in logical order.  Experience has shown ad nauseam the effect of such an arrangement on pupils, if not on the master himself.  Docility to it has the disastrous result of dissipating the mystery of God and our freely-given association with his life, or at least of concealing it under a spider’s web of abstractions.  First, these last are superimposed upon the harmonious play of imaged expressions found in the Word of God.  Then, and soon, they replace them in fact, if not in principle...  {Of course, Bouyer could not leave out his Protestant residue: traditional Thomism is no good because it is un-biblical.}


Don Paco said...

See also:

Geremia said...

It appears Boyer is a hardcore fideist; he seems to think we fallen humans can come to an understanding of God solely from the articles of faith as first principles.

This is precisely what he should have read in the first question of the Summa:

This science [i.e., sacred doctrine] can in a sense depend upon the philosophical sciences, not as though it stood in need of them, but only in order to make its teaching clearer. For it accepts its principles not from other sciences, but immediately from God, by revelation. Therefore it does not depend upon other sciences as upon the higher, but makes use of them as of the lesser, and as handmaidens: even so the master sciences make use of the sciences that supply their materials, as political of military science. That it thus uses them is not due to its own defect or insufficiency, but to the defect of our intelligence, which is more easily led by what is known through natural reason (from which proceed the other sciences) to that which is above reason, such as are the teachings of this science.
Summa Theologica Iª q. 1 a. 5 ad 2

Alan Aversa said...

You comment: "St Thomas's philosophy can be found in his Commentaries on Aristotle exactly in that way: in a non-theological context. Only there, in fact, does it follow its own properly rational principles. The philosophy contained in the Summa is formally theology, and only materially philosophical. This is something that Gilson and his followers are willingly blind to."

I did not get this impression of Gilson when reading his chapter on Faith and Reason in Le Thomisme.

He writes: "Even in the commentaries on Aristotle, his mind always knows where it is going, and there too, it works towards the doctrine of Faith, not as an explanation, but as a completion and counterpoise of mental balance. [...] We do not find in any of his works a body of his philosophical conceptions set out for their own sake and in their rational order. There is indeed a series of writings composed by St. Thomas according to the philosophical method: these are his commentaries on Aristotle and a small number of minor works. But the smaller works give us only a fraction of his ideas and the commentaries on Aristotle, following patiently the meanderings of an obscure text, enable us to guess only imperfectly what a "Summa" of the Thomistic philosophy might have been like, if it had been systematised by St. Thomas himself with that lucidity of genius which dominates his Summa Theologica."

eness said...

keep fighting the good fight!
ps as an aside, im writing a dissertation on the necessity of the proof of an immaterial being for doing metaphysics. any suggestions?

Alan Aversa said...

Fr. Bouyer came out with a new book; I wonder if it attacks Thomism, too: The Church of God: Body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit