The Revival of Scholastic Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century

Chapter XII: The Neo-Scholastic Revival in France

Although France contributed perhaps more than any other nation to turn the attention of the world to the Middle Ages, the direct current of the Thomistic revival had at first little or no influence upon French speculation. The philosophical systems of Descartes and Cousin were deeply rooted upon the French soil. Even in Catholic seminaries, the doctrines of the two great French philosophers were officially taught. The text- book most in use at the time, and whose pages breathe a strong Cartesian spirit, had been written by Father Valla in the last years of the preceding century, and was generally known as Philosophie de Lyon. The full title of the work is: Institutiones philosophicae, auctoritate D.D. Archiepiscopi Lugdunensis, 1792. Even after the promulgation of the encyclical Aeterni Patris, eclecticism and Cartesianism kept their ground for a long time among French Catholics. This easily explains how France had not a single great representative of neo-Scholaiticism at the time Germany could mention with pride the works of Kleutgen; Spain, those of Cardinal Gonzalez; Italy, those of Sanseverino, Liberatore and Talamo.

The works published in France in defense of Scholasticism previous to the encyclical AEterni Patris are few and of little importance. Let us mention the Prima Principia Scientiarum of Michael Rosset (1866); the Breviarium Philosophiae Scholasticae of Grandelaude (1868); the short treatise entitled, De l'union substantielle de l'âme et du corps, published in 1870 by Henri Sauvé, president of the Catholic University of Angers; the Doctrine de la Connaissance, of Mgr. Bourquard, of the same university, published seven years later; and the treatise De intellectualismo of the Sulpician P.M. Brin (1843-1894), which has served as a basis to Farges and Barbedette for the Manual of Scholastic philosophy they have recently written (Philosophia scholastics ad mentem Sancti Thomae, Aquinatis exposita).

These modest efforts did not fall upon a barren ground. The work of the first pioneers was completed by eminent followers, so that to-day France is second to no other nation in the number and worth of the productions wherewith neo-Scholastic literature has been enriched.

As early as 1875, Count Domet de Verges wrote his Métaphysique en présence des sciences, a small work in which the eminent author already evinces a tendency which characterizes his subsequent writings, namely the attempt to show the harmony existing between Aristotelian metaphysics and scientific results.

Mr. Domet de Vorges is one of the most distinguished representatives of neo-Scholasticism in France. For more than thirty years he has defended, with unflagging energy, the great cause of which, so early in life, he proclaimed himself a champion. In union with Mgr. d'Hulst, he founded the Parisian Society of St. Thomas. He has published many important works, and has been one of the most assiduous collaborators of some Catholic reviews, especially of the Annales de Philosophie chrétienne and the Revue de Philosophie. His most valuable productions are his Essai de Métaphysique positive (1883), in which he professes that Aristotelian metaphysics is a true science, and, like all other sciences, is founded upon the facts of experience; and his Abrégé de Métaphysique (1906), especially interesting for the method it follows. For each problem, Mr. de Vorges brings all solutions proposed by Mediaeval philosophers. After a learned comparison and discussion, he gives his preference to one of them or proposes a solution of his own. This historical method cannot be too much praised. It brings before our eyes the whole body of Scholastic philosophy. It makes us enter into the very spirit of the Middle Ages.

Among the early defenders of neo-Thomism in France, we must also mention the Sulpician P. Vallet. His Praelectiones Philosophie ad mentem S. Thomae Aquinatis, published in 1879, has been translated into several languages and honored by numerous editions. Mr. Vallet has also written numerous shorter treatises (cf. Bibliography), which have assured him a conspicuous rank among French neo-Scholastics. As a philosopher he is, however, greatly surpassed by another Sulpician, Mr. Albert Farges.

Farge's greatest contribution to neo-Scholastic literature consists of a series of works published under the title of Etudes Philosophiques. The series comprises the following treatises: I, Théorie fondamentale de l'acte et de la puissance, du moteur et du mobile; II, Matiére et Forme en présence des sciences modernes; III, La vie et l'evolution des espèces; IV, Le cerveau, l'âme et les facultés; V, L'objectivité de la perception des sens externes et les theories modernes; VI, L'idée de continu dans l'espace et dans le temps; VII, L'idée de Dieu d'après la raison et la science; VIII, La liberté et le devoir; IX, La crise de la certitude.

In these works Mr. Farges expounds and defends the fundamental principles of Scholastic philosophy. He does not fear to put Mediaeval theories in close contact with the most recent scientific discoveries. He finds in natural science the proof of the doctrine of Matter and Form. His conclusions as regards the constitution of bodies have been discussed in our chapter on Cosmology. Although some of them are evidently inadmissible, Mr. Farges cannot be denied a high rank among neo-Scholastics. One of his admirers, William Garcia, goes so far as to give him the very first place.

A third Sulpician, G. Bulliat, less known than Vallet and Farges, has lately published a Thesaurus Philosophiae Thomisticae (1899), in which all philosophical doctrines scattered in the works of St. Thomas are brought together. The work exclusively consists of extracts from the writings of the Angelic Doctor.

The man who could dispute with Farges the first place among French neo-Scholastics is Mr. Elie Blanc, professor of philosophy in the Catholic University of Lyon.

Elie Blanc is a writer of remarkable fecundity. Having completed a few years ago his Dictionnaire universel de la pensée, a masterly work, which may be described as a natural and philosophical classification of words, ideas and things, he undertook an immense Encyclopedia, which, when completed, will be one of the most imposing monuments of the French language. This work, whose title is: Systèmes des connaissances humaines. Encyclopédie chrétienne et française du XX. siècle, will consist of one hundred volumes octavo. The first fifty will treat of the different branches of human knowledge; the next twenty will be devoted to geography; the last thirty to history.

Among Mr. Blanc's numerous productions the following are most especially devoted to philosophy:

Traité de la Philosophie scolastique, published in 1889, and recently translated into Latin with the title, Manuale Philosophiae Scholasticae.

Histoire de la Philosophie et particulièrement de la Philosophie contemporaine, very valuable for the indications it contains about contemporary philosophers.

Dictionnaire de Philosophie ancienne, moderne et contemporaine (1906).

Opuscules philosophiques, containing studies about the philosophy of Vacherot, the Ethics of Spencer, the question of free will, etc.

Mélanges philosophiques, essays first published in l'Univers Catholique between the years 1897 and 1900, and in which the author clearly follows the movement of modern thought.

Mr. Blanc also wrote, with the collaboration of Mr. Vaganay, a Bibliography of the works recently published in French and Latin. Finally, he founded in 1903 an important review, la Pensée contemporaine, which has already given many interesting articles in defense of the principles of Scholasticism.

Blanc, Farges and Domet de Vorges, with the Jesuits Delmas and De Régnon, of whom more in the sequel, are the most distinguished representatives of neo-Scholasticism in France. Of equal or scarcer inferior merit are Gardair, the Marist Peillaube, and the Dominicans Coconnier, Sertillanges, Maumus and Mandonnet.

Mr. J. Gardair opened in the Sorbonne in 1890 a free course on the philosophy of St. Thomas. His lectures have been subsequently published with the following titles: Corps et Ame (1892); Les Passions et la Volonté (1892); La Connaissance (1895); La Nature humaine (1896); and form a complete course of Scholastic philosophy. The author closely follows the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, and adheres to the doctrine of the Angelic Doctor even in some points in which this doctrine has been commonly abandoned. He defends, for example, the Thomistic view that the human fetus passes through a series of stages in which it is successively informed by the vegetative, the sensitive and the intellectual soul.[1] Like Mr. Farges, Mr. Gardair has purposely neglected many unimportant points, and devoted his attention to the most essential Scholastic doctrines.

The Marist Peillaube is a Thomist of the new school, and, like Farges and the professors of Louvain, does not hesitate to study the Thomistic principles side by side with the most recent philosophical theories. This position was already taken in his Théorie des concepts, a thesis he defended before the Catholic University of Toulouse in 1895 for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. It has been adhered to in the Revue de Philosophie, published by Mr. Peillaube since 1900, and justly regarded as one of the best philosophical reviews we possess to-day.

Two other Marists of great merit are Bulliot, of whom Peillaube has been the disciple, and Ragey, the author of remarkable works on St. Anselm.

The Dominican order has furnished to the cause of neo- Scholasticism some of its most valiant defenders. St. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican and has always been a favorite author in Dominican studies. The Dominicans are proud of their great saint, and regard themselves -- probably with justice -- as his most faithful interpreters. We have already studied the works of Zigliara in Italy and of Gonzalez in Spain.

In France the Dominicans have done immense service to the cause of neo-Scholasticism by the publication of the Revue thomiste, founded in Paris in 1893. The Revue thomiste studies theology side by side with philosophy, and contains interesting dissertations about the true meaning of the Angelic Doctor. It is regarded by Mr. Picavet as the most important periodical publication of neo-Scholastic literature.

The Dominican Coconnier is chiefly known for his work l'Hypnotisme franc (1897), in which he attacks the ideas expressed by the Italian Jesuit Franco in another work written on the same subject some years before (l'Ipnotismo tornato di modo, 1886). Fr. Coconnier excludes from "frank hypnotism" all facts of immediate transmission of ideas, telepathy, intuition of the thoughts of other people, vision of the future, etc. He then teaches that hypnotism thus understood is not necessarily supernatural.

Besides this work, with which Scholastic philosophy is not directly concerned, Coconnier has published a treatise on the human soul (1890), in which he studies modern psychological theories.

A. D. Sertillanges has chiefly discussed the problem of God. For many years he has been as assiduous collaborator of several philosophical reviews, such as the Revue thomiste and the Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques, and has proved himself to be one of the most profonnd interpreters of the Angelic Doctor.

V. Maumus, in Saint Thomas d'Aquin et la Philosophie cartésienne, has made a comparative study of the Cartesian and Thomistic philosophy, in which he naturally prefers, St. Thomas. One year later, in Les Philosophes contemporains, he has judged very severely Vacherot, Taine, Janet, Caro and Schopenhauer. He is especially antipathetic to Schopenhauer, whom he charges with having dishonored the history of philosophy.

Pierre Mandonnet owes a well-deserved reputation to the work, Siger de Brabant et l'Averroisme latin au XIII. siècle, which contains very important data about the great currents of thought of the thirteenth century, and has been greatly praised by Delacroix, in the Revue de Synthèse historique (August, 1902), and by Gomez Izquierdo, in his History of Philosophy in the XIX. century. Mandonnet has made on Mediaeval topics other important studies, which have appeared in the Revue thomiste. Let us mention the essay entitled, Jean Scot Erigène et Jean le Sourd, published in 1897.

Other Dominicans worthy of notice are: Hugon, who has recently (1906-7) published the first two volumes of a course of Scholastic philosophy; De Munnynck, who has refuted the objections raised against moral liberty from the theory of conservation of energy; Gardeil, who has written interesting articles on neo-Scotism; Berthier, Montagne, Folghera, etc.

The two greatest works with which the French Jesuits have enriched neo-Scholastic literature are: the Métaphysique des Causes of Fr. de Régnon and the Ontologia of Fr. Delmas.

Born in Saint-Herblain (Loire Inférieure) on October 11, 1832, Théodore de Régnon entered the Society of Jesus in 1852. He taught mathematics and physical science in the College of the Immaculate Conception and in the school of Sainte-Genevieve (Paris), and died in Vaugirard on December 26, 1893.

During the time he was engaged in teaching, he carefully studied the great Scholastic doctors, so that, when the laws of 1880 separated him from his chair, he was in possession of important materials which allowed him to complete in a short time considerable philosophical and theological works.

The most important of De Régnon's philosophical productions is his Métaphysique des Causes.

The aim of the author is very modest. He simply wishes to lay before the students of St. Thomas the philosophical notions without which a thorough understanding of the Angelic Doctor cannot be attained: "To make clear the nation of cause by separating it from adjacent notions, to show how the influence of the cause expands into distinct causalities, to explain the nature of these different causalities and their correlation; finally, to show unity and harmony in the action of these different causes: such is my aim. It is a rational plan to contain the great maxims concerning causes, which constantly recur in the treatises of our doctors. It is a preparatory study which may be useful to those who wish to understand St. Thomas in St. Thomas himself."[2]

With what perfection Fr. de Régnon has carried out the plan thus sketched in his Introduction may be gathered from the eulogistic testimonials of several eminent philosophers. Ollé- Laprune, while teaching at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, would often direct his students to the Métaphysique des Causes as to a masterpiece. Georges Fonsegrive, in his Cours de Philosophie, pronounces De Régnon's work learned and profound.[3] Bishop Maurice d'Hulst calls the distinguished Jesuit "un métaphysicien de premier ordre."[4]

Charles Delmas published in 1896 an extensive treatise on Scholastic metaphysics, entitled Ontologia Metaphysica generalis. All questions concerning ontology are treated with the greatest minuteness. The author follows St. Thomas, Suarez and modern Scholastics, especially those belonging to the Society of Jesus. Fr. Delmas sides with Suarez rather than with St. Thomas whenever a divergence exists between the two great doctors. He thus maintains with Suarez that the distinction between the essence and the existence of created beings is not real, but virtual.[5] It is perhaps on account of this preference that the Ontologia has been described as a summula Suarezii. Fr. Delmas's work is not, however, a mere compendium of Suarez's Metaphysica. It studies the doctrines of Kant, Locke, Hume, and other modern philosophers. These considerations about modern systems are probably the weakest part of Delmas's work. I doubt whether any student of Kant would recognize the philosophy of the Critique as portrayed in the pages 19-22 of the Ontologia.

Among other writers who have served with distinction the cause of neo-Scholasticism in France let us mention:

Jules Didiet (1840-1903), who has taught for twenty-five years in the Catholic University of Lille. His most important contribution to philosophy is: Contribution philosophique à l'étude des sciences (1902). He has also made, in the volume entitled Un Siècle, a rapid survey of the philosophical movement of the world during the nineteenth century.

J. M. A. Vacant (1851-1901), professor in the seminary of Nancy. Vacant, although primarily a theologian, has written numerous works or essays concerning philosophy (cf. Bibliography). Most important among them are his comparative studies of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus.

Prosper de Martigné, a member of the Franciscan order, famous by a work entitled, La Scolastique et les traditions franciscaines, in which he studies Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, Richard of Middletown and Duns Scotus.

A. Clerval, of the diocesis of Chartres, author of remarkable researches about the school of Chartres in the Middle Ages.

Clément Besse, professor in the Institut Catholique de Paris, who, besides valuable articles published in the Revue Neo- Scolastique and dealing with morality in France, and the volume, Philosophie et Philosophes, has recently written a historical study entitled: Deux centres du mouvement thomiste, Rome et Louvain (1902). Mr. Besse has been reproached with having been unduly severe for Roman neo-Thomism. The characteristic traits of the two great neo-Scholastic schools are, however, faithfully delineated in his work. The chief merit of Deux centres du mouvement thomiste is the historical data it contains about early Roman Thomism, which have been of great service to all subsequent historians of the neo-Scholastic movement.

Carra de Vaux, professor at the Institut Catholique de Paris, who has published interesting studies about Arabian philosophers.

Victor Bernies, author of the work, Spiritualité et Immortalité (1901), which has met with great success, and of a series of articles on the "active intellect," whose existence he has denied.

P. Mielle, professor of philosophy in the seminary of Langres, who published in 1894 a dissertation entitled, De substantiae corporalis vi et ratione, greatly praised by Picavet;[6] and, more recently (1898), the treatise, La Matière première et l'étendue, in which he expounds and discusses the opinions of the great Scholastic philosophers about primordial matter, and agrees with Thomas Aquinas in regarding it as the principle of individuation of the bodily substance.

Some French writers of great merit, although less strictly Scholastic than those we have studied, have defended the essential principles of Thomistic philosophy. Most distinguished among them are Mgr. d'Hulst, Clodius Piat and Georges Fonsegrive.

Maurice d'Hulst (1841-1896), successor of Monsabré in Notre-Dame and first rector of the Catholic University of Paris, is primarily an orator. He has served the cause of neo-Scholasticism by a series of articles which he has later collected and published in the volume Mélanges philosophiques. The volume contains: three opening lessons of a free course of philosophy given from 1880 to 1883, three series of lectures given to the public, and articles published in the Correspondant and the Annales de Philosophie chrétienne.

Clodius Piat, professor at the Institut Catholique of Paris, was first known for a memoir on the active intellect, written in 1891, which he published, with greater development, in 1896, and entitled l'Idée. In this work Mr. Piat examines and criticizes empiricism, ontologism, and the theory of innate ideas, and insists upon the essential distinction between the idea and the phantasm. In La Liberté (1894-95) he discusses all modern theories about freedom, and defends the freedom of the will on the grounds of the direct testimony of consciousness and of the moral law. Besides these two great works and two others of no less interest: la Personne humaine (1897) and Destinée de l'homme (1898), Mr. Piat has contributed numerous articles to several philosophical reviews, and the volume Socrate (1900) to the collection Série des grands philosophes. He is one of the most distinguished Catholic philosophers of the present day.

Georges Fonsegrive is one of the most conspicuous among French publicists. He founded in 1896 the review La Quinzaine, which has actively served for eleven years (till March, 1907) the cause of Catholicism. Mr. Fonsegrive has defended the fundamental Scholastic principles in his Essai sur le libre arbitre (1887), crowned by the Academy of Moral and Political Science, and in a second treatise, La Causalité efficiente (1893), in which he exposes the origin of the idea of efficient cause and defends its validity.

It would be unjust not to mention here Mr. Francois Picavet, born in Petit-Fayt (Nord) in 1851, and actually professor in the department of Hautes-Etudes at the Sorbonne. A primary school teacher at first, Mr. Picavet has risen, through his own merit, to the high place he now occupies in the educational field. His contributions to philosophy are numerous and display the greatest erudition. Of special interest are his studies on Scholasticism. They consist of articles published in the Revue Philosophique, of learned monographs on Gerbert, Abelard, and other Mediaeval writers, and of a more extensive work, the Esquisse d'une histoire générale et comparée des philosophies médiévales, which has met with a great success, and of which we have already spoken. Mr. Picavet does not study Scholastic philosophy with the spirit which has inspired the neo-Thomistic revival. He is not, and does not pretend to be a Scholastic. He has nevertheless contributed more than any other writer to impose the neo-Scholastic revival upon the attention of French philosophers.

We have mentioned the reviews Revue thomiste, Revue de Philosophie and La Pensée contemporaine. Neo-Scholasticism owes also some gratitude to the Annales de Philosophie chrétienne, which was the first organ of the Thomistic revival. The Annales has recently modified its direction and manifested a marked sympathy for the Kantian philosophy.

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