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
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.
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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