Reason Fulfilled by Revelation: The 1930s Christian Philosophy Debates in France

By Bernardi, Peter J. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2012 | Go to article overview

Reason Fulfilled by Revelation: The 1930s Christian Philosophy Debates in France


Bernardi, Peter J., The Catholic Historical Review


Reason Fulfilled by Revelation: The 1930s Christian Philosophy Debates in France. Edited and translated by Gregory B. Sadler. (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press. 2011. Pp. x, 336. $64.95. ISBN 978-0813-21721-5.)

Reflection on the relationship between faith and reason is a significant indicator of the vitality of the Christian intellectual tradition. The robust debates that occurred in France in the interwar period over the possibility and nature of Christian philosophy are an extraordinary chapter in this tradition that makes this volume most welcome. Sadler has judiciously selected and translated twelve contributions to these debates that are grouped in three distinct phases that took place between 1931 and 1936. Sadler's introductory essay (96 pp.) is a salutary aid both for understanding the multiple historical contexts of the debates and for sketching a thematic outline of the basic positions that were expounded. The chronologically arranged bibliography, spanning 1927-2010, is a boon for further multilanguage research pertaining to the original debates and its subsequent echoes and expansions. Finally, there is a combined onomastic and topical index.

The major interlocutors included the secular rationalists Emile Bréhier and Léon Brunschvicg who viewed Christian philosophy as an impossibility. Bréhier contended that "one can no more speak of a Christian philosophy than of a Christian mathematics or a Christian physics" (p. 127). In response to these secular philosophers who ignited and then receded from the debates, there was a variety of positions espoused by Catholic thinkers, many of whom were influenced by the Thomistic revival sparked by Pope Leo Xm's encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879). Furthermore, it is not insignificant in accounting for the vibrancy of these debates that several of the Catholic participants were laymen who were trained in secular academies.

Ironically, neo-Scholastic philosophers such as Fernand Van Steenberghen also rejected the term Christian philosophy for calling into question philosophy's rightful autonomy. In contrast, lay Catholic philosophers Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain both defended the just prerogatives of philosophical reason and argued for the legitimacy of Christian philosophy, both as an historical reality and as a theoretical desideratum. …

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