The Monster of Thomism
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877-1964) was born in Southern France but moved frequently following his father’s numerous posts as tax collector. After studying medicine, he heard the divine call and joined the Dominican province of Paris, and studied at Flavigny (presently the SSPX French seminary). His studies led him to pursue philosophical studies at the Sorbonne, Paris and to study the modern writers. His academic pursuits allowed him to be formed by his meetings with first class minds, like Fr. Ambrose Gardeil, Fr. Norberto del Prado, and Juan Arintero.
His Intellectual Achievements
Such powerful preparation allowed him to be chosen to take over the course on apologetics at the Angelicum of Rome at age 32, a course which would be gathered in a Latin book of two volumes entitled De revelatione. Soon after, he was elevated to teaching courses on dogma, and some on philosophy, but he also held a popular class of ascetical and mystical theology. From 1909 until 1960, past his 80 years of age yet full of zest, he gave various courses to the enchantment of the student body. His theology courses were remarkable in that he opened up broad vistas to his hearers and knew how to connect the masters of speculative sciences with those of spirituality. His was a living demonstration of the harmony between the three wisdoms: philosophical, theological, and mystical.
Fr. Garrigou was named consulter of the Holy Office in 1955. This was no sinecure since, weekly, he would be pouring over the secret files provided him by the Congregation on doctrinal questions. He enjoyed the mastery of Cardinal Ottaviani, particularly his art of conducting the discussion, of summing up questions, theses, and arguments. A friend of great French authors, like Jacques Maritain and Henri Ghéon, Fr. Garrigou was a prolific writer and the quality of his teaching was certainly on a par with the quantity. Besides constant articles for the Revue Thomiste and the Angelicum of Rome, he wrote 23 substantial volumes.
A Spiritual Writer
Besides the Latin works which compile his formal courses of philosophy and theology, given at the Angelicum, readers may be surprised to see many titles on purely spiritual topics. Most famous are The Three Ages of the Interior Life, The Mother of the Savior, The Love of God and the Cross of Jesus, and a lesser known work entitled On the Sanctification of the Priest According to the Needs of Our Times.
It was at the Angelicum in 1909-1910 that he met Juan Gonzalez-Arintero, OP, and read his Evolución mística. Arintero was one of the most prominent figures in Spain and part of the early 20th century attempt to restore the contemplative life to its former glory. Along with him, Garrigou played a central role in putting a spotlight on the nature of contemplation and our universal, albeit remote, call to it. On a more controversial point, dealing with the nature of contemplation, his position was very clear. Contemplation meant infused contemplation, a loving knowledge or wisdom that comes from God. It is a gift of the loving presence of God that is expressed so clearly by St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and in other mystics.
One may say about all his works what he wrote in the preface to his De Christo Salvatore: that his only goal was to shed light from the principles formulated by St. Thomas Aquinas. He had good reasons to maintain this conservative method:
“Here, like everywhere, we must move from the most certain and known to the least known, from the easy to the difficult. Otherwise, if we studied too quickly the difficult topics by their antinomies under a dramatic and captivating form, we might end up, as it has happened to many a Protestant, by denying the easiest and most certain truths. The history of philosophy and of theology shows that this has been often the case. We must remark also that, if in human things, where true and false, good and evil are mixed, the simplicity is superficial and exposes us to err; in things divine on the contrary, where there is only true and good, simplicity is perfectly united to depth and elevation, and even, it alone call lead to this elevation.”
Garrigou and Maritain
The Dominicans sent Garrigou to Paris to study at the Sorbonne; it was at Henri Bergson’s course in philosophy, probably at the Collège de France, that he made the acquaintance of Jacques Maritain. Maritain is unique among Thomists because he is a convert; he was an existentialist philosopher in his youth and his encounter with Thomism attracted him towards the Church. Maritain, by and large, was a sound Thomistic philosopher. Even Garrigou, who was unquestionably one of the best Thomists of the last century, and also Maritain’s spiritual director at some point in time, commends Maritain for his philosophical works.
It is not clear when the friendship that had united these men started to break up. The division over the condemnation of Action Française in 1929 was probably a starting point. Maritain, who had indulged in socialism in his youth, had leanings towards the Spanish revolutionaries against Franco and for de Gaulle rather than Pétain in France. And these opposite political views added to the friction. When he understood his friend’s liberal position, Garrigou advised him to leave political issues aside and dedicate himself to his field of expertise, Thomistic philosophy. At the time of Integral Humanism, in which Maritain defended religious liberty as a natural human right, the friendship was over. It is said that when Maritain the convert tried to persuade the super-traditional Garrigou-Lagrange about democracy, Garrigou felt indignant and said something to the effect: “You are now going to lecture us, who have been Catholic for centuries, on a new Catholic social doctrine?!?” Maritain expected Garrigou to apologize, but he never did.
A book was written which sums up the relationship between the two famous Thomists, called The Sacred Monster of Thomism by Richard Peddicord, although it needs to be read with discretion as the author is rather Maritainian in his political approach.
Throughout his long life, Fr. Garrigou looked upon Modernism as the Number One enemy. L’Ami du Clergé explains that: “He took it a matter of conscience to refute modernism and all its applications. It would be false to believe that he was naturally belligerent . . . but he had such a love for the Truth that he could not see it threatened without going to the fight with all his courage and his talent.” This is what prompted him to write a book in defense of the Faith and of perennial philosophy, Le Sens Commun (not available in English), and also God, His Existence and His Nature.
Marcel de Corte, the great 20th century Belgian philosopher, was saved from modernist nonsense by Garrigou writings: “I have continued to believe because I saw that it was impossible for me to flee from the Faith without denying altogether this realism which my race had deposited in the innermost depth of my being.” De Corte continues with a severe diagnosis of modern thought.
“The time is coming when the only philosophy which will be excluded from the Christian society will be that which commanded, for more than a thousand years, the intellectual development. The philosophy of Christian intellectuals today is anything you want but Greek and Thomist: it seems as if the pamphlets relative to the immanent ‘philosophy’ and the mythology of universal evolution have submerged almost all minds. One needs a soul of iron to walk alone on the ancient royal trail of the traditional Christian thought. Today, it is realism, the metaphysics of common sense, the firm adhesion to the evidence and the first principles of beings and thought which are foreign bodies, inassimilable, even dangerous, in the social structures of the present day Catholicism. Let us not be surprised. Cardinal de Retz said that ‘It is constant that everybody wants to be deceived.’”
Dealing with neo-Modernism, Garrigou was placed under the spotlight when he wrote A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, with an appendix, “Where is the New Theology Leading Us?,” which concluded with these strong statements:
“We do not consider that the writers just described have abandoned the doctrine of St. Thomas; they have never adhered to it, having never really understood it. The observation is painful and worrisome. How could such a manner of teaching form anything but skeptics? Indeed, they propose no viable alternative to the doctrine of St. Thomas. Where is the new theology taking us? Where but down the path of skepticism, fantasy and heresy?”
After it appeared in the magazine Angelicum, this article was received with sarcasm and insults which reveal that the author had hit the bull’s eye. He wrote other articles in his defense, like “The Immutability of the Defined Truths and the Supernatural” and “Is Monogenism in No Way Revealed, Not Even Implicitly?” As one can see, they were going to form the basis for the encyclical of Pius XII, Humani Generis, which was a syllabus of neo-Modernist errors.
He was esteemed by Pius XII who wrote on the occasion of Fr. Garrigou’s 80th birthday:
“A stronger reason prompts us to offer our congratulations and consolations to those who, by their talents and science, illustrate the Catholic name and enjoy a well deserved favor with us… We are well aware of the eminent piety with which you fulfill your religious duties, what renown you have acquired at the service of Thomistic philosophy and sacred theology, this theology which you have taught for fifty years, forty eight of which you have professed in this Roman asylum of the sacred doctrine which has for name the Angelicum. And We have often been witness of the talent and zeal with which you have, by word and pen, defended and safeguarded the integrity of the Christian dogma.”