Garrigou-Lagrange’s On Divine Revelation is a master class of Thomistic apologetics

Emmaus Academic is to be congratulated on this translation, by Matthew Minerd, which I strongly recommend to all Catholic theologians inasmuch as it offers a particularly authoritative defense of the Catholic faith.

A young Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P. in 1900. (Image: Lex.mercurio/Wikipedia)

I’m sure very few people ever expected to see a revival of interest in the thought of the late French Dominican theologian Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange. In preconciliar Catholic theology his traditional Thomism belonged to the mainstream, but after the Council it rather quickly became marginalized. The theologians whose work has been the most influential since the Council – Rahner, Balthasar, de Lubac, Congar, Lonergan – went in directions very different from Garrigou’s.i

But, against the odds, Garrigou is making a comeback.

In the anglophone world this comeback has been greatly aided by the steady stream of excellent translations of Garrigou’s oeuvre by Matthew Minerd. One of his latest efforts is On Divine Revelation: The Teaching of the Catholic Faith (Emmaus Academic, 2022), a translation of the fifth edition of Garrigou’s massive Latin work De revelatione per ecclesiam Catholicam proposita, published in 1950.

An outline of On Divine Revelation

On Divine Revelation is a treatise of apologetics. The fifth edition of the Latin text was published in two volumes (as, I believe, were the previous editions). Minerd and Emmaus Academic have also put On Divine Revelation into two volumes.

The first volume is divided into two principal parts. The first is a prolegomena that deals with the concept of apologetics and its methodology, locating it in the domain of sacred theology as a subdivision of fundamental theology. The second takes up the notion, possibility, necessity, and discernibility of divine revelation.

The second volume concludes the last section of the first volume, which is an investigation of the “motives of credibility” (more on that below). The rest of the second volume – over 400 pages – argues for the existence of divine revelation.

The English translation includes an introduction by Cajetan Cuddy, O.P., and a translator’s introduction by Minerd.

Since it’s not possible for me to go into detail about every part of this colossus, I will limit myself to some comments on Garrigou’s concept of apologetics. My hope is that this will give you a basic sense of what to expect from the rest of the book.

Garrigou-Lagrange’s concept of apologetics

Anyone familiar with the history of apologetics, knows that the nature and purpose of the discipline is a disputed question. I’m not going to discuss the different positions here but will concentrate only on Garrigou’s concept of apologetics, which, I believe, is not only defensible but correct.ii

As Garrigou sees it (as I just said above), apologetics is a part of sacred theology, or more particularly of that division of sacred theology known as fundamental theology, which deals with the foundations of the faith. In On Divine Revelation he offers both a “nominal” and a “real” definition of apologetics. For Garrigou, this traditional logical distinction seems to be one between the conventional definition of a term (nominal definition) and a definition that touches on the thing itself (real definition).iii According to his nominal definition of it, apologetics is “the universal defense of the faith both from the perspective of the object and from the perspective of the manner of defending.”iv The Latin of this definition is fidei defensionem universalem et quoad obiectum et quoad modum defendendi.

Now, what Garrigou is getting at here, whether it is stated in English or in Latin, may not be all that obvious, so let me try to spell it out more plainly.

The “object” (obiectum) that Garrigou is talking about is the faith itself, that is, divine revelation as something believed. When Garrigou says that the defense that is offered by apologetics is universal with respect to its object, what he means is that it aims to defend divine revelation in general rather than some particular aspect of it, say, the doctrine of the Trinity. When he says that apologetics is likewise universal with respect to its manner of defending, what he means is that its arguments depend on metaphysical principles and historical testimonies that any rational person should accept rather than on what might be persuasive to particular people in a particular time or place.

Garrigou’s real definition of apologetics is briefer and apparently more straightforward than his nominal definition and it attempts to illuminate its essence. According to its real definition, apologetics is, he says, “the rational defense of divine revelation” (defensio rationalis divinae Revelationis).v Writing in his standard scholastic idiom, he tells us that the real definition of the essence of any science is based upon its “formal object quod and its “formal object quo.”vi The former is what is primarily and essentially considered by a science, its principal subject matter, whereas the latter is, roughly, the perspective from or way in which the subject matter is considered. In Garrigou’s definition, “divine revelation” names the formal object quod and “rational defense” names – or more precisely, suggests – the formal object quo.

I don’t think it’s necessary to say anything more about the formal object quod but something more should probably be said about the formal object quo.

Scholastics sometimes call the formal object quo of a science its “light” and Garrigou does this as well. He explains that in apologetics divine revelation is considered from the perspective of “the light of natural reason under the direction of faith” with the purpose of “rationally defending the faith itself.”vii Natural reason provides the defense of revelation but it is directed in this by the very same revelation. More exactly, we should say that God, through revelation, directs natural reason in the defense of his revelation. He directs it both with respect to the end and the means. To some people, this understanding of apologetics may, at first glance, appear to undermine its claim to be a rational defense of revelation. Revelation, as we commonly understand it, is supposed to be a source of knowledge that is beyond reason.

How, then, can apologetics be a rational defense of revelation if it is directed by revelation?

In my judgment the problem here is only apparent. On Garrigou’s view, revelation, in directing apologetics, doesn’t indicate proofs of itself that can only be accepted if one has already accepted revelation. It indicates proofs of itself that reason by its natural power should be able to see as proofs. Suppose I’m on trial for a murder at a theater and I supply my lawyer with evidence that proves that I couldn’t have been at the theater. Let’s say that I give my lawyer a record that shows that I was in the hospital when the murder was committed. Although I have directed my lawyer to the evidence, the evidence I indicate to him is not undermined by the fact that I have indicated it. That I have done this is irrelevant to the consideration of what the evidence establishes. As Garrigou puts it, apologetics, “in proposing” (proponendo), is directed by faith but, “in proving” (probando), it “rationally defends faith.”viii

It is apologetics’ goal, says Garrigou, to prove the existence of divine revelation. To do this, apologetics appeals to miracles, prophecies, the miraculous growth of the Church, the marks of the Church, and so on. These means by which apologetics achieves its goal are what theologians call “motives of credibility” (motiva credibilitatis). Garrigou tells us that the Church defines motives of credibility as “the signs or notes by which revealed religion is made evidently credible to divine faith.”ix He points to the First Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith (Dei Filius) as the source for this definition.x

According to Garrigou, the motives of credibility “are called signs and notes inasmuch as they manifest the divine origin of revealed religion” and they “are called motives in relation to the judgment of credibility, which is founded upon them.”xi

The act of faith, Garrigou maintains, requires that we have considered at least some of the motives of credibility and judged them by reason to be certain proof of divine revelation. This judgment, however, is not a sufficient condition for the act of faith but only a necessary condition of it. It is “necessary,” that is, if the act of faith is to be regarded as prudent.xii Garrigou says that the certitude that is required here need not be more than a “moral certitude.”xiii Certitude of whatever kind is a holding of something to be true without fear that it might be false. Scholastic epistemologists distinguish between different levels of certitude.xiv Moral certitude is the lowest level and is based upon what is reported by reliable witnesses.xv A higher level of certitude can be had by people who reason about something for themselves and do not depend on the testimony of others. This kind of certitude is styled “scientific” and can be achieved by the professional apologete.

In insisting that moral certitude is sufficient for a prudent act of faith, Garrigou wants to make it clear that this act is not restricted to an educated elite. But he will go further than this and acknowledge that grace can help us to arrive at this moral certitude even if grace is not required for it in principle.xvi

The act of faith itself, as distinct from the condition for its being prudent, is something necessarily supernatural.xvii On this point Garrigou again appeals to the First Vatican Council, which he quotes: “No man can ‘assent to the Gospel message,’ as is necessary to obtain salvation, ‘without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who gives all delight in assenting to the truth and believing in it’.”xviii

Garrigou-Lagrange redivivus

With the proper guidance or background, advanced undergraduate theology majors and graduate students could read On Divine Revelation with much profit. I strongly recommend it to all Catholic theologians inasmuch as it offers a particularly authoritative defense of the Catholic faith.

I congratulate Emmaus Academic on its growing catalogue of Garrigou translations. Besides On Divine Revelation, it has also published The Sense of Mystery: Clarity and Obscurity in the Intellectual Life (2017), The Order of Things: The Realism of the Principle of Finality (2020), and Thomistic Common Sense: The Philosophy of Being and the Development of Doctrine (2021).

I, for one, am glad to see this revival of interest in the work of Garrigou. Traditional Thomism deserves to have a place once again in the mainstream of Catholic theology, indeed given the Church’s consistent recommendation of St. Thomas, it should be at its center.

Endnotes:

i I’m not saying, however, that the directions they took were always incompatible with Garrigou’s.

ii Garrigou offers a survey of different views on apologetics in the third chapter of the first volume of On Divine Revelation. See also A. Dulles, A History of Apologetics, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005).

iii Logicians, you should know, aren’t in agreement about how to understand the distinction between nominal and real definitions. What I present as Garrigou’s approach to it may not line up with the approach that others take.

iv On Divine Revelation, vol. 1, pp. 128-129.

v Ibid., p. 135.

vi Ibid., p. 130.

vii Ibid., p. 132. For grammatical purposes I have slightly altered Minerd’s translation here.

viii Ibid., pp. 133-134.

ix Ibid., p. 830.

x Ibid., p. 830, n. 13.

xi Ibid., p. 830.

xii Cf. Ibid., pp. 790-795.

xiii Ibid., pp. 795-799.

xiv For Garrigou’s account of these different levels, see On Divine Revelation, vol. 2, pp. 88-91.

xv Ibid., pp. 90-91.

xvi On Divine Revelation, vol. 1, pp. 800-807.

xvii Ibid., pp. 655-659.

xviii Ibid., p. 657. The quote is from Dei Filius, c. 3.


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About Joseph G. Trabbic 15 Articles
Joseph G. Trabbic is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Ave Maria University. He has published in various academic journals, including Religious Studies, International Journal of Philosophy and Theology, and New Blackfriars. He is also a contributor to Thomistica.net.

16 Comments

  1. “No man can assent to the Gospel message, as is necessary to obtain salvation, without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who gives all delight in assenting to the truth and believing in it” (Vat I).
    Note the condition of this form of assent is in respect to “as is necessary to obtain salvation”. Assent differs from apprehension. That is the reason for condemnation of those who refuse to believe, which can only occur unless the unbeliever first acknowledges the truth, then refuses it.
    On moral certitude and revelation, I would add to Garrigou-Lagrange on the essence of moral certitude as the effect of faith. The rationale on this is that the revelation of God in the person of Christ is a truth of the highest order of intelligibility. There is no greater truth, no requirement for supporting premises. We believe because in Christ God has spoken.
    Faith here references the same initial apprehension of this truth that refusal condemns, assent saves. Faith as the Apostle Paul says is evidence of what we hope for. An allusion to the order of intelligibility, the spiritual of a higher order than the physical. Therefore, I would add to Garrigou-Lagrange, that faith in Christ is more than moral certitude because it requires in the revelation of Christ the apprehensive act of the intellect.
    Although key to assent and salvation, refusal and condemnation is the gift of grace, God’s love that reveals to man’s soul His ineffable goodness, the exquisite taste of his sweetness.

    • In deference to Prof Trabbic, Matthew Minerd and his translation of Garrigou-LaGrange’s apologetics of revelation, my focus on the intuitive [self evident] truth of a revelation precipitant of faith that is not arrived at by reason, let us say, the act of faith that Jesus is the Son of God it is perfectly correct and necessary to follow up with the reasonable basis for that faith precipitant apprehension.
      As to certitude St Thomas Aquinas defines it as the intuitive knowledge of first principles when subject and predicate are realized in one act of knowing. As it is when realized in the revelation to us of Christ. On another level of knowledge, when reason seeks to provide a coherent understanding of our faith we may legitimately speak of moral certitude arrived at by reason.

      • \Wow Father! I just have to say thanks for your two above illuminating answers! We are lucky to get them from you! Very clear and helpful. Thank you

  2. It is precisely the Thomistic idea of divine revelation espoused by Thomists like Garrigou-Lagrange that the Fathers at Vatican II assisted by their periti, the foremost of which was the young Joseph Ratzinger, in a way discarded or corrected. Instead of Thomism, Vatican II eventually went much more ancient to Patristics. Through Ratzinger, they retrieved the idea on revelation of St. Bonaventure and had this presented in Dei Verbum, the council’s constitution on divine revelation. The difference and shift (actually a return) between the pre-Vatican II (Thomistic) and Vatican II (Patristic) understanding of revelation is that the Thomistic one is highly propositional and doctrinal that consists in statements and declarations while the Patristic one is personal and invitational. In propositional revelation one’s response is an intellectual accent. Dei Verbum corrected this by highlighting that in revelation it is Jesus himself in person as divine revelation who invites the person to an intimate relationship. I see this difference translated in some catechetical and preaching presentations about what the written record of revelation, the Bible, is in its acronym: the propositional defines it as Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth while the personal defines scripture as Blessed Invitation (to intimacy) Begetting Life Eternal.

    • Addendum: in the personal understanding of revelation, one’s response is not intellectual accent of the mind as in the propositional, but faith, which consists of the whole person in obedience to and worship of God.

    • Glory to Jesus Christ!
      Dear Fr. Dcn. Dom,
      Thank you for your remarks. I do understand that much of the scholastic approach to the assent of faith was marked by a kind of propositionalism. This could be problematic if left to itself. But even those in the tradition of Garrigou we’re not so caught up in it as to be unaware of the fact that the assent of faith is a profoundly personal acceptance of the message of salvation which, by its very propulsive force, moves onward to the theological virtues of hope and charity (and therefore already has something of character of union and communion marking charity). In fact, the Thomist teaching concerning the assent of faith being motivated by “God who reveals” actually contains _in nuce_ things that can be developed right in line with the the personal aspects so highlit by the Second Vatican Council. I think it is best to avoid too simple of a before-and-after. There are limits to every era, but Garrigou-Lagrange (and many other “propositionalists”) in fact knew well that faith is an invitation to communion and indwelling, which ultimately is the beginning of Eternal Life.

      Many blessings to you and your ministry in the service of the Church!
      Peace,
      Matthew

  3. From my Catholic perspective as orthodox, traditional, Thomistic, I see Garrigou-Lagrange as mindlessly accused because misunderstood. Modernist progressives once (perhaps still do) scapegoat Garrigou for all that they did and still do detest in the Church.

    Professor Taylor Patrick O’Neill at Mount Mercy U. sums Garrigou with quotes and reasons from some of those nouvelle theologians Garrigou is erroneously said to have despised. https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/authors/taylor-patrickoneill/

    O’Neill sums: “Contemplation of the mystery of sanctification and deification will always bestow humility before a God who both has absolutely nothing to gain from us and yet simultaneously pours himself out for us. What is most important, then, about Garrigou-Lagrange is that, just like his Master St. Thomas, he is an exemplar of this theology of humility, always looking outward, toward its term. THIS THEOLOGY MAY COME AND GO OUT OF STYLE, BUT IT CANNOT EVER BE TRULY DEFEATED OR IRRELEVANT OR ANTIQUATED, FOR ITS SOURCE AND END IS VICTORY, BEING, AND ETERNITY ITSELF. [Emphasis added.] Yet, perhaps now more than ever is the time to look to Garrigou, who teaches us:

    ‘Theology, likewise, the more it advances, the more does it humiliate itself before the superiority of that faith which it never ceases to set in relief. Theology is a commentary ever drawing attention to the word of God which it comments on. Theology, like the Baptist, forgets itself in the cry: Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.'”
    *********************************
    That Minerd has picked up the gauntlet and begun to translate Garrigou’s unpublished works such as “Mystery,” “Order” and these vols. on revelation speaks to Minerd’s wise theological vision. Thanks be to God! NB: Minerd’s translation of some lectures of Gardeil is stunningly beautiful and awe-inspiring. To have listened to Gardeil lecture would have been almost heaven. Thanks to Minerd for acting as God’s (Gardeil and Garrigou’s) instrument.

    • Glory to Jesus Christ!
      Dear Meiron,
      Many blessings! Thanks for this very kind remark! Whether or not it is a gauntlet, I will say that the Gardeil is actually my greatest “pride.” I think that that volume is stunningly beautiful in its content. I’m so very glad that you found it to be edifying. I hope that at some point folks will realize its spiritual profundity. I continually encounter this attitude: Oh, who is he?

      Many blessings to you and yours!

      Peace,
      Matthew

      • Dear Dr Minerd:

        God bless you as you pursue the noble work of exalting our Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ. For us to strive for the ethical, honours God. It is the outworking of our faith through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that gives us the comfort and assurance of salvation! God leaves nothing to chance in respect to the wellbeing of the believer.

        2 Peter 1:1-Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, …

        Romans 8:30-31 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

        Psalm 118:6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?

        In His eternal name,

        Brian Young

  4. The Catholic act of faith and assent to “propositions” engages both the intellect and the will—and the whole person. By comparison, under Islam as a natural religion, one becomes a Muslim more by a simple act of will alone than also by the intellect.

    Simply by saying the Shahada, you become a Muslim: “Ash-hadu anla elaha illa-Allah wa ash-hadu anna Mhammadur rasul-Allah”, which translates to “I testify that there is no other god but Allah, and I testify that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger.” If you recite this, with total sincerity, in front of two witnesses, you have become a Muslim (also, all of your descendants). Islamic propositions are very few: belief in the oneness of Allah, in the prophets and in their guidance, in the angels and the books, om the Day of Judgment, and in fate (!).

    So, as an aside on the complexity of fraternity today, the contrast between Christian faith as articulated in doctrinal propositions–and as rooted in the Triune Oneness and the self-disclosing Incarnation–and monotheistic and willful Islamic belief, stretches the credulity of a “pluralism of religions”–if assumed to be equivalent and “willed” by God the LOGOS, rather than “permitted.”

    • Well reasoned and helpful! God bless you Peter.

      Acts 20:35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

      Revelation 2:2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.

      We are to bless the Muslim by speaking the truth and praying for him. Presenting God’s word from the Bible and contrasting it with what Allah says in the Koran, is eye opening. Islam can not be the final revelation for it is a departure from what God gives us in the Bible.

      John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

      Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

      2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

      If Islam is what it purports to be, a Muslim is invited to present his argument from the Koran and or the hadith. When we read of the life and words of the prophet of Islam, his message deviates substantially from Holy Scripture. Once again a cordial invitation is extended to a Muslim to find salvation through Jesus Christ.

      Let blessings and the peace that only God of the Bible offers be with one and all.

  5. First in the order of knowledge of the truth of Christ is a self evident apprehension by the intellect [realized when subject and predicate are apprehended in one act of knowing] that is not the result of reason. All are consequently aware, a form of belief of this truth . Faith, a gift of the Holy Spirit is realized with assent. Some refuse assent, and the gift and remain responsible in conscience for their refusal. Likewise, there are others who believe but refuse the gift of grace and true faith. And as in the parable of the good soil many initially assent and later relent.
    Assent to the truth of Christ and faith is distinguished from belief by the charity inspired acquiescence to God’s will and the willingness to live his commandments.

  6. Dr. Carl Gustav Jung believed in acausal “meaningful coincidences,” that he termed “synchronicities.” Like a Geiger-counter, when we seek to know God, and seek a revelation of the presence of God, these “meaningful coincidences” manifest more frequently. They are, then, divine Revelations. The Acts of the Apostles, at 2.22,43 describe the Revelations of Christ and the Apostles. When the first snowfall of the winter falls exactly on late December 25th, an entire town is put on notice. When this kind of “timing” happens rather often, the soul has no choice except to recognize the presence of God — the Holy Spirit — through divine Revelation.

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