The Christianization of Modern Philosophy According to Maurice Blondel

By Le Grys, James | Theological Studies, September 1993 | Go to article overview

The Christianization of Modern Philosophy According to Maurice Blondel


Le Grys, James, Theological Studies


THE ONE-HUNDREDTH anniversary of the publication of L'Action offers a good occasion to reflect upon the thought of a philosopher who has had a great influence on Catholic theology in this century. Part of his influence has been at a philosophical level, mainly through the effect of his conception of the subjective dynamism of the human spirit on the study of the thought of Thomas Aquinas, beginning with Joseph Marechal and Pierre Rousselot and continuing in the various forms of "transcendental" Thomism. At the same time, Blondel's thought has provided a great stimulus with regard to questions in the properly theological sphere, chiefly through his analysis of the relationship between the natural and the supernatural as two parallel, self-contained orders, with no intrinsic connection between them, and his corresponding affirmation of the natural necessity of the supernatural opened up new ground for reflection which has been extensively worked by several of the major theologians of the century, most notably Henri de Lubac and Karl Rahner.

A crucial aspect of Blondel's understanding of the relationship between the natural and the supernatural is his conception of the relationship between philosophy and religion, specifically the Christian religion. A central intention of Blondel's philosophical work was the formulation of a philosophy which would be truly adequate to the Christian faith, a philosophy which does not subsume religion under philosophy as Hegelian philosophy does, but one which recognizes both the unavoidable necessity of an infinite God for human life and its own limitations in fathoming the mystery of such an infinite God. For Blondel, philosophy can neither ignore religion nor substitute a philosophical solution for that offered by religion. Rather, in strictly philosophical terms, one can only discern a natural necessity for a supernatural religion. He argues that philosophy's recognition of this necessity has been prepared by "the secret presence of the Christian idea" within modern philosophy, beginning with Spinoza's appropriation of the Christian conception of beatitude. According to Blondel, the presence of the Christian idea at the very heart of modern philosophy has caused a fundamental restructuring of philosophy itself, so that modern philosophy has been in a certain crucial sense "Christianized." In this article we shall examine some of Blondel's early essays in order to see his understanding of the progress of the relationship between Christian faith and philosophy, an evolution which Blondel considered to have reached a qualitatively new stage with the appearance of his own philosophy of action.

THE MIDDLE AGES

In his famous "Letter on the Exigencies of Contemporary Thought in the Area of Apologetics and on the Method of Philosophy in the Study of the Religious Problem,"(1) Blondel explains that the decisive phase of the development of a philosophy adequate to Christian faith began with the encounter in the Middle Ages between ancient philosophy and what he calls "the Christian idea."(2) For Blondel, there are two essential attributes of ancient philosophy which are important for the later development of philosophy. First, this philosophy sees itself as sovereign and self-sufficient. Here we find the problem of what Blondel calls "intellectualism,"(3) with its assumption of the complete self-sufficiency of speculation, and with the replacement of all practice by speculation.

Now, by its method, by all its aspiration, this anterior philosophy tended to envelop the entire order of thought and of reality in order to pronounce absolutely on the reality of the objects of every nature, in order to place theory above practice or to substitute theory for practice, and in order to find in itself a kind of divine sufficiency, with the first and last word about things.(4)

Second, this ancient philosophy claims a further self-sufficiency, in relation to the divine and to the solution of the question of human destiny, for this philosophy claims that philosophical contemplation is itself the highest thing to be attained in human life, since it is a participation in the divine life. …

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