French Catholic Theologian and Thomist
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, fully Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange
French Catholic Theologian and Thomist
It is clear according to what we have said that these (doctrines) do not only
lead to dogmatic relativism, but already contain it in act; the contempt of the doctrine
commonly taught and of the terms in which it expressed itself are already too close
to it... .The expressions that, during the course of several centuries, were established
by a common consent of Catholic doctors in order to arrive at some understanding of
dogma surely do not rest on such a fragile foundation. They rest, in fact, on principles
and notions taken from the true knowledge of created things; in the research of these
notions revealed truth enlightened the human mind like a star by means of the Church.
That is why it is not surprising that some of these notions have not only been used
in ecumenical Councils but have received such a sanction that it is not permitted to
distance oneself from them. Thus it is very imprudent to substitute for them ﬂ oating
and vague notions and expressions of a new philosophy that are used today and will
disappear tomorrow like the ﬂ owers of the ﬁ eld; this would be to make dogma itself
a reed shaken by the wind. In fact, unfortunately these lovers of novelty easily pass
from contempt of Scholastic theology to a lack of respect for and even contempt of
the magisterium of the Church which has so strongly supported this theology by its
What does it tell us ﬁ rst about relativism in the philosophical domain and then
in that of dogma? It says (III, i): “Reason can arrive at the certain knowledge of the
existence of God and the certain signs of divine Revelation.” Nevertheless “it will never
be able to function in this way rightly and surely unless it has been properly formed;
that is to say unless it has been penetrated by this healthy philosophy that we have
received as a patrimony from the centuries of Christendom which have preceded us:
patrimony that has been constituted over a long period of time, and that has attained to
this superior degree of authority precisely because the very magisterium of the Church
has submitted to the norms of divine Revelation itself its principles and its principal
assertions which such grand minds have little by little discovered and deﬁ ned. This
philosophy received and commonly accepted in the Church defends the authentic and
exact validity of human reason, the unshakable principles of metaphysics—the principle
of sufﬁ cient reason, of causality, of ﬁ nality—ﬁ nally the capacity to arrive at a certain and immutable truth.
If the notion of formal cause is obsolete, then the afﬁ rmation that is based on this
notion is also obsolete. If one must “give up” this notion, it is necessary, whether one
wants to or not, to give up as well this assertion, just as we gave up the astronomical
hypothesis of Ptolemy that wasn’t a true conception, conformed to reality, but merely
a practical representation that gave a provisional classiﬁ cation to the phenomena that
had been observed up to that time. To give up the notion of formal cause, or of what constitutes a thing formally, would
be to give up the notion of essence and the ﬁ rst principles that suppose this notion. It
would be to fall into relativism, and the teaching Church herself would fall into it, if it
wanted to follow this road which her discernment stops her from taking
It is clear that this
is no longer the
by the Council of Trent....
It is obvious that the
sense of the Council is
not maintained by the
introduction of these
new notions. The bread
and wine have become
merely ‘the eﬃcacious
symbol of the spiritual
presence of Christ.’ That
brings us very close to the
modernist position that
does not aﬃrm the real
presence of the Body of
Christ in the Eucharist.
No doubt the Council did not canonize the Aristotelian notion of form with all its
relations to other notions in the Aristotelian system. But it approved it as a stable
human notion, in the sense in which we all speak of that which formally constitutes
something (here, justiﬁcation). In this sense it speaks of sanctifying grace as distinct
from actual grace, saying that it is a supernatural, infused gift that inheres in the soul
and by which man is formally justiﬁed.
And where is this new
theology going with its
new masters which inspire
it? Where is it going, if not
in the way of skepticism,
fantasy and heresy?..
Where is the new theology
going? It is going back to
The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes; she is tolerant in practice because she loves. The enemies of the Church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe; they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.
The pleasure which is born, not of the love of God but of the love of knowledge, often increases pride and makes souls love themselves more; they seek themselves without being aware of it. Study and speculation, even when they do not err, do not necessarily presuppose the state of grace and charity, and do not always cooperate in increasing it.
Prayer, on the contrary, should proceed from the love of God and should end in Him. Through love of God, one seeks to contemplate Him, and the contemplation of His goodness and His beauty increases love.
What are the essential acts of prayer? First of all, prayer is not only an act of the intellect, like a simple study or reading. There are speculative souls who are curious about the things of God, but they are not for that reason contemplative souls, souls of prayer. If in their considerations they taste a pleasure which far exceeds that of the senses, this pleasure comes perhaps more from their knowledge than from their charity; they are moved more by the love of knowledge, it may be, than by the love of God.
What is simpler than prayer? Its spontaneity is, however, taken away at times by the use of excessively complicated methods, which draw too much attention to themselves and not enough to God, whom the soul should seek. A method is good as a way of finding the truth, on condition that it can be forgotten and that it lead truly to the end toward which one tends. To prefer the method to the truth, or a certain intellectual mechanism to reality that should be known, would be a manifest aberration, similar to that of the meticulous man or of the pedant. Moreover, an over-complicated method provokes a reaction, and even an excessive reaction in some who, worn out by this complexity, often end up in a vague reverie that has scarcely any true piety about it except the name.
The truth, here as elsewhere, is to be found in the middle and above these two extreme, opposite deviations. A method, or to speak more simply with Bossuet, a manner of making prayer, is useful, especially at the beginning, to preserve us from mental rambling. But that it may not by its complexity become an obstacle rather than a help, it must be simple, and, far from breaking the spontaneity and continuity of prayer, it should be content with describing the ascending movement of the soul toward God. It should be limited to indicating the essential acts of which this movement is composed. We should remember especially that prayer depends principally on the grace of God, and that a person prepares for it far less by processes that would remain mechanical, so to speak, than by humility; "God. . . giveth grace to the humble."
And the more we realize our own imperfections and limitations, the more we realize, too,that God has a right to be loved above all things by reason of His infinite wisdom and His infinite goodness. Our final observation is this: the supreme truth has Himself spoken to us: He hasrevealed Himself to us, as yet in an obscure manner, but it is the foundation ofour Christian faith. It is in the name of this supreme truth that Jesus speaks,when He says: “In truth, in truth, I say to you.” He is Himself the truth and the life,and by His help from day to day we must gradually live a better life. This far surpasses Plato’s ideal; no longer is it an abstract, philosophic ascent to the supreme truth, but the supreme truth which condescends to reach down to us inorder to raise us up to Himself.
Ours is but a borrowed existence, freely given us by God, and He keeps us in existence because indeed He wills it so. Ours is but a goodness in which there is so much infirmity and even degradation; there is so much error in our knowledge. This thought, while serving to make us humble, brings home to us by contrast the infinite majesty of God. And then if it is a question of others and no longer of ourselves, if we have suffered disillusionment about our neighbor whom we had believed to be better and wiser, let us remember that he too has suffered disillusionment about us; let us remember that he too is perhaps better than we are, and that whatever is our own as coming from ourselves-our deficiencies and failings—is inferior to everything our neighbor has from God.
This is the foundation of humility in our relations with others. Lastly, we must admit that the disillusionments we ourselves experience, or which others experience through us, in view of the radical imperfection of the creature, are permitted that we may aspire more ardently to a knowledge and love of Him who is the truth and the life, whom we shall some day see as He sees Himself. We shall then understand the meaning of those words of St.Catherine of Siena: “The living, practical knowledge of our own wretchedness and the knowledge of God’s majesty are inseparable in their increase. They are like the lowest and highest points on a circle that is ever expanding.