Friday, January 02, 2015

Must Read: "Attacks on Thomism" by John Lamont

A terrific essay by the dependably-thorough and substantial John Lamont, with rarely found explanations of Ives Congar, the difference between Modernism and Protestantism, etc., covering "manualism," Thomism and neo-modernism, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, the state of the Church, and much more -- from "A Christmastide Gift for our Readers: - Attacks on Thomism: a special historical and theological essay"(Rorate Caeli, January 1, 2015).

Attacks on Thomism: a special historical and theological essay

Attacks on Thomism

a special essay for Rorate Caeli by John Lamont

Thomism and neomodernism 
I: Progressives, 'manualism', and Thomism

Anyone who has any familiarity with the clerical and intellectual scene in the Catholic Church will have encountered the received 'progressive' wisdom concerning Thomism and its role in the Church before the Second Vatican Council, and concerning the preconciliar state of theology in general. Its claims and slogans are continually reiterated in theological and clerical circles, with little change since the era – the first half of the twentieth century – in which they were first elaborated. Unlike 'progressive' positions on moral questions, this received wisdom has virtually attained the status of a pseudo-orthodoxy within the Church, with some of its components being central to 'conservative' Catholicism. Its acceptance by neoconservatives is indicated by a favourable presentation of it by Fr. Brian van Hove in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review,1 a journal that is one of the oldest pillars of conservative Catholicism. Fr. Van Hove's exposition of this received wisdom takes the form of an attack on Pius XII's encyclical Humani Generis, an embarrassing document for neoconservative Catholics. His exposition is a naïve one, lacking the nuances that would be introduced by a clever apologist for his outlook, but it is valuable for that very reason. It is the naïve version of an idea, the simplified and readily accessible one, that gets widely adopted and that determines events; this fact is known by the clever apologists, who are aware that the nuances they introduce to disarm criticism and conceal their intentions will fall by the wayside once their position has triumphed. Together, these points make up the ideology that justified the destruction of preconciliar Catholic theology, and that is an essential underpinning of the progressive hegemony that now controls the Church. Seeing through this ideology is crucial to overcoming this hegemony; this article and its two sequels are devoted to the task of exposing it.


An important component of this ideology is an attack on 'manualism'. This attack claims that preconciliar Catholic theology largely consisted in 'manualist theology'. Allegedly, this theology was conveyed in theological manuals, and suffered from legalism, dogmatism, anti-modernism (presumed to be a fault), abstraction, and ahistoricism.  Read more >>

[Hat tip to JM]


Ralph Roister-Doister


If only Lagrange's essays against modernism and the nouvelles were available in an English translation. These documents are of extraordinary value, but have been ignored, if not suppressed, for decades in the wake of the council of the nouvelles. To the victor goes the privilege of rewriting history.

Lamont's essay would serve as an admirable introduction to a volume containing Lagrange's several essays in English translation. Given the ideological nature of Catholic publishing these days, it is not likely that an outfit like Ignatius would ever commit such a volume to print, but isn't there someone out there? Angelus, perhaps?

BTW, perhaps the best known of Lagrange's essays on modernism, La nouvelle theologie ou va-t-elle, is available in English translation on the internet:

Pertinacious Papist


Thanks, Ralph. Good words. I had a student in an elective class I taught on the philosophical background of Modernism write a first-rate paper comparing this essay by Lagrange with some writings by Maurice Blondel. Most illuminating.



Fr Hunwicke, however, points out that St John XXIII was deliberately mistranslated and distorted. In his opening speech he said that the Faith must always be taught "in eodem sensu..." in the same meaning and signification, which is directly and explicitly anti-modernist.

Ralph Roister-Doister


John XXIII's opening address to the council brims with facile optimism. He seemed to believe that a new golden age of wisdom was upon us, and that the probity of men in the mid twentieth century had somehow transcended the hatreds, evils, and squabblings that had embroiled previous generations. All that was needed now was a gentle pastoral "push" from the assembled geniuses of the Church. This is not a matter of one badly translated passage. This is the tone of the entire address, and it is fertile ground for the modernist presumptuousness that dominated V2.

As a result, I can find little with which to disagree in Lamont's judgment that "John XXIII may not have understood the full purport of his words and actions, but this did not diminish their effect as an endorsement of the neomodernist cause."