Page 6, 19th February 1965

19th February 1965
Page 6
Page 6, 19th February 1965 — THE PHILOSOPHY OF MAURICE BLONDEL

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IN 1893 the young Maurice Blonde' submitted his thesis L'Action to the Sorbonne. It was accepted, but the high-priests of the dominant rationalism were anything but pleased; Janet declared it unintelligible, Brunschwicg announced that amongst the defenders of the rights of reason Blondel would find courteous but resolute adversaries.

A warmer reception came from Fr. Charles Denis; he welcomed elle( he took to be a work of apologetics made out on the sound ground of psychology. But in Blondes eyes both the rationalists and the priest had misunderstood him: his work was not apologetics hut pure philosophy; it was reason discovering, by season's dialectic, its OWel insufficiency; discovering by total loyalty to the method of immanence a postulate of the supernatural, which was at once absolutely necessary, and absolutely impossible of attainment.

To explain himself he wrote what has come to be known as The Letter on Apologetics. This time the philosophers applauded, but very many theologians now took fright: he effectively destroyed the gratuity of the supernatural, he denied the objectivity of reason. Pere Schwalm in the Revue Thomiste of 1896 declared that his work abounded in propositions that were heretical. erroneous or temerarious. For the greater part of his life (he died in 1949) he was an object of suspicion and distrust.

He had the misfortune to live in the bitter period of the modernist crisis, and subsequently in the France whose Catholic life ssas poisoned by the Action Franctnsc controversy. In spite of all this, his influence has been ever on the increase.

One cannot therefore but welcome initiative of Mr. Dru and Dom Illtyd Trethowan in introducing him to English readers by translating and editing his Letter on Apologetics together with his article of 1904 on History and Dogma (Harvill, 3(ts.), in which he deals with the Biblical question and

the routine of Tradition. They have added an introduction which constitutes almost half the book situating him historically, and analysing


For the texts, I have nothing but praise. Blondel combines a passion for truth with a genuine desire to serve the Catholic faith to which he remained entirely loyal, and at great cost. As to the delicate question whether he in fact compromised the sheer gratuity of the supernatural, readers must make up their own minds; he certainly did not intend to do so; equally certainly he used unguarded phrases.

He advanced a view according to which the philosopher discovers what may he called an a priori mould. an empty framework, calling for, but completely unable to provide, the content given by Christian revelation. The question, so difficult to decide, is whether this does or does not imply a necessity for the supernatural. I am still inclined to think that it does.

About the introduction I have more reserves. Bouillard in a preface to his admirable book on Blonde] writes: "Now that old quarrels are laid aside, one can appreciate the strong points in Blondel's thought without being a partisan, and express reserves without being an adversary".

The editors seem to want to perpetuate the quarrels. They lump together "Veterism, the Action Francaise and the neo-Thornist reactionaries"; the "Action-Franraise neo-Thomists" relentlessly pursue 131ondel, making no contribution to the present renewal of theology.

As in view of the Thomist revival, and in particular of M. Maritain's part in it, this is as unbalanced as it is ungenerous. There is besides too much "politics" and too detailed and complicated a canvas to make the introduction as helpful as one would wish. The reader would be well advised to go straight to the text, and then perhaps consult the introduction, particularly Dom Illiyd's contribution to it.


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