Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

G D His Existence And His Nature -Rev. R. Garigou-Lagrange, O.P.


I. The existence and nature of God as defined by the Vatican Council.


"The Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church," declares the Vatican Council (Const. "Dei Filius," ch. I), "believes and confesses that there is one true and living God, Creator and Lord of Heaven and earth, almighty, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intellect, in will, and in every perfection; who, being one, sole, absolutely simple and immutable spiritual substance, is to be declared as really and essentially distinct from the world, of supreme beatitude in and by Himself, and ineffably exalted above all things which, beside Himself, exist or are conceivable." (Abbot Butler's translation; Vatican Council, Vol. II).

The truths of our Catholic faith contained in this paragraph can be explained more fully by a résumé of the conclusions expressed by Vacant in his treatise entitled, Etudes théologiques sur les constitutions du Concile du Vatican, d'après les Actes du Concile.

The Council, having affirmed its belief in the existence of God, designating Him by the principal names which the Bible gives to Him, proceeds to discuss the nature of God and the constituent attributes of the divine essence. His eternity, His immensity, and His incomprehensibility imply that the Divine Essence is beyond time, space, and every creatural concept. Eternity means that in God there neither is, nor can be, beginning, end, or change of any kind. The exclusion of any idea of succession, admitted by all theologians as an element included in the concept of eternity, though apparently not as yet a dogma of the Catholic faith, nevertheless is a certain truth, proximate to the faith.

The divine immensity, as defined by the Council, means that the substance of God is and must be wholly present to all creatures, conserving them in their mode of being, wherever they are.

The divine incomprehensibility means that God cannot be fully comprehended by anyone but Himself. The intuitive vision of God granted to the blessed in Heaven does not include such a plenitude of knowledge.

In defining that God is infinite in every perfection, the Council states precisely in what sense we are to understand the term "infinite." The ancient philosophers gave the name infinite to anything which had not yet received its complete determination. When the Catholic Church declares that God is infinite, she means, on the contrary, that He possesses all possible perfections, that there is no limit to His perfection, and no admixture of imperfection to be found in them, so that it is impossible to conceive anything that would render Him more perfect. By this definition the Council avoided Hegel's error, that the Infinite Being, comprising all possible perfections, is an ideal tending to realize itself, but incapable of ever becoming a reality. By adding the phrase, "in intellect and in will," the Council condemns the materialistic Pantheism which considers the Divinity as merely a blind and impersonal necessity, a sort of law of fatality without either intelligence or will.

As for the other perfections which may be attributed to God, and of which the Council makes no mention, they are simply those which imply no imperfection in their concept. All these absolute perfections (simpliciter simplices, as they are termed in theology) are identified in an absolutely simple eminence, of which they constitute, as it were, the virtual aspects, and which is strictly and properly the Deity.


2. The distinction between God and the world, as defined by the Council. The meaning and import of this definition.


The Council then considers the question of the distinction between God and the world. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) had condemned the Pantheism of Amaury of Chartres as an absurdity rather than a heresy. The reappearance and spread of this error necessitated a more explicit and reasoned definition. The Council, therefore, defines the distinction between God and the world and indicates its principal proofs: "Deus, qui cum sit una singularis, simplex omnino et incommutabilis substantia spiritualis, praedicandus est re et essentia a mundo distinctus; God, being one sole, absolutely simple and immutable spiritual substance, is to be declared as really and essentially distinct from the world."

1) God is unique by nature. This means that the Divine Nature cannot be considered as a common note of any class of created beings nor be realized anywhere but in Him. The Divine Being is, therefore, really and essentially distinct from the world, in which there exists a multiplicity of genera, species, and individuals.

2) God is absolutely simple. This implies that the Divine Being is really and essentially distinct from the world, where we find beings that may be considered either as physical compounds (i.e., corporeal beings whose constituent physical parts are really distinct from one another), or as metaphysical compounds (i.e., essence potentially realizable and actual existence); or, lastly, we may view them as forming a logical compound (i.e., as classified in the order of genus and specific difference).

3) God is immutable. Since everywhere on this earth we find the process of change in beings or the possibility of the same, the unchangeableness of the Divine Being is another mark by which He is really and essentially distinguished from this world. The Council points out the precise nature of this distinction when it says: "really and essentially distinct from the world." It is not a distinction of the mind, nor a virtual distinction, such as exists between any two divine attributes; but it is a real distinction, in virtue of which God and the world are not one reality, but two separate realities. This distinction is not only real, as that between two individuals of the same species, but in addition to this it is also essential: God is distinct from the world by His essence.

The third canon of the Council is even more precise, condemning Pantheism in general, which views God as a substance immanent in the world, and finite things as the accidents of this substance. The canon reads: "If any one shall say that the substance and essence of God and of all things is one and the same; let him be anathema." Finally, this distinction is infinite. God is sufficient for Himself; "of supreme beatitude in and by Himself, and ineffably exalted above all things which, beside Himself, exist or are conceivable."

There are four canons that correspond to the doctrine contained in this paragraph from the Constitution Dei Filius, to wit:

First, the canon condemning atheism: "If anyone shall deny one true God, Creator and Lord of things visible and invisible; let him be anathema."

Secondly, the canon condemning Materialism: "If anyone shall not be ashamed to affirm that, except matter, nothing exists; let him be anathema."

Thirdly, the canon condemning the fundamental tenet of Pantheism: "If anyone shall say that the substance and essence of God and of all things are one and the same; let him be anathema."

Fourthly, the canon condemning the principal forms of Pantheism, namely: (1) Emanatistic Pantheism; (2) the essential Pantheism of Schelling; (3) the essential Pantheism of the universal being. "If anyone shall say that finite things, both corporeal and spiritual, or at least spiritual, have emanated from the divine substance; or that the divine essence by the manifestation and evolution of itself becomes all things; or, lastly, that God is universal and indefinite being, which by determining itself constitutes the universality of things, distinct according to genera, species, and individuals; let him be anathema."

The theories of Rosmini condemned by decree of the Holy Office (14th Dec., 1887), and the teachings of Ontologism condemned 18th Sept., 1861, must be referred to this canon. Two of these latter propositions read: (1) "What we understand by the term being as applied to all things and without which they mean nothing to us, is the divine Being. (2) "Universals, objectively considered, are not really distinct from God." (Cf. Denzinger, Enchiridion, nos. 1660 and 1661).

This, then, is the teaching of the Church on the existence of God, His nature, His essential attributes, and the distinction between Him and the world. With these doctrinal statements the Council associates those referring to the creation of the world and to Divine Providence: "This one only true God, of His own goodness and almighty power, not for the increase and acquirement of His own happiness, but to manifest His perfection by the blessings which He bestows on creatures, and with absolute freedom of counsel, created out of nothing from the very first beginning of time, both the spiritual and corporeal creature, to wit, the angelical and the mundane, and afterwards the human creature, as partaking in a sense of both, consisting of spirit and of body."

Concerning the Providence of God we read: "God protects and governs by His Providence all things which He hath made, 'reaching from end to end mightily, and ordering all things sweetly' (Wisd. VIII, I). 'For all things are bare and open to His eyes' (Heb. IV, 13), even those that are yet to be by the free action of creatures." (Const. Dei Filius, ch. 1).

It cannot, therefore, be maintained with Abelard that God cannot prevent evil (Denz., n. 375), or with Eckhard, that He wills not only what is good, but also somehow what is evil (Denz., n. 514). On this point a later decision tells us that it is impossible for God to will what is sinful; He can only permit it. (Denz., n. 816).

What the Church teaches about the divine mysteries properly called supernatural, such as the Holy Trinity, does not concern us here.


3. Definition of the Vatican Council on the ability of human reason to know God with certainty. Condemned errors: Positivism, Traditionalism, Fideism, Kantian Criticism.


The Vatican Council has also defined what can be known of God by the natural light of human reason. "The same Holy Mother Church," says the Council, "holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, may be known for certain by the natural light of human reason, by means of created things, ‘for the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood from the things that are made' (Rom. I, 20) ; but that it pleased His wisdom and goodness to reveal Himself and the eternal decrees of His will to mankind by another, namely, the supernatural way." Canon I of this chapter reads: "If any one shall say that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, cannot be certainly known by the natural light of human reason through created things; let him be anathema." (Dei Filius, Ch. 2, Of Revelation).

To obtain the exact meaning of this definition and of the corresponding canon, we shall have to review the errors which the Council had in view. Since the first proposition of the Anti-modernist Oath contains the same terms as those used in this definition of the Council, a comparison of the two paragraphs will enable us to determine the import of each term in the definition.

The preliminary memorandum distributed among the Fathers of the Council, together with the schema prepared by the Deputatio de Fide, included this declaration: "The definition that God can be certainly known by the light of natural reason, through the medium of created beings, as well as the canon corresponding to this definition, were deemed necessary, not only because of Traditionalism, but also because of the wide-spread error that the existence of God cannot be proved by any apodictic argument, and consequently that by no process of human reasoning can the certainty of it be established." (Cf. Vacant, Etudes sur les Const. du Concile du Vatican, p. 286, and Document VII, p. 610). Hence it is heretical to maintain, as do the atheists and the Positivists, that there is no way by which we can arrive at the knowledge of God, or to assert with the most advanced of the Traditionalists and Fideists, that we can know God only through revelation or by some positive teaching received by tradition.

In the condemnation of Fideism we can see clearly what is the mind of the Church on this point. Amongst the various propositions which the Congregation of the Index required the Abbé Bautain to accept, in 1840, was one which declared that human reasoning is of itself sufficient to prove with certainty the existence of God (ratiocinatio Dei existentiam cum certitudine probare valet). Faith, being a supernatural gift, presupposes revelation, and hence cannot be consistently invoked to prove the existence of God against an atheist." (Denzinger, n. 1622). From Augustine Bonnetty, who was likewise suspected of Fideism,

In the letter sent along with these propositions by Father Modena, the Secretary of the Congregation of the Index, to Monsignor Sacconi, papal nuncio in Paris, it was stated that Bonnetty's attachment to the Holy See and to Catholic teaching was never suspected. The intention was not to pronounce any judgment declaring his "opinions erroneous, suspicious or dangerous," but only "to prevent the possible consequences, proximate or remote, which others might deduce from them, especially in matters of faith." It may be remarked that Bonnetty gave his full assent to the propositions submitted to him. [This footnote has been inserted with the author's permission.—Tr.]


the same Congregation of the Index, on June 11, 1855, demanded formal assent to four propositions, the second of which affirms that "human reasoning has the power to prove the existence of God with certainty (ratiocinatio cum certitudine probare valet), as well as the spirituality and liberty of the soul," while the fourth proposition declares that "the method employed by St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, and other Scholastics after them, does not lead to rationalism, nor can it be blamed for the fact that the contemporary philosophy of the schools drifted into Naturalism and Pantheism. Hence no one has the right to reproach these doctors and teachers for having employed this method, especially since they did so with the at least tacit approval of the Church." (Cf. Denz., nos. 1650-1652). There is no doubt that the Council in this definition and its corresponding canon condemned Fideism. But the question may be asked: "Is the Kantian doctrine also involved in this definition?"

Kant maintained that the speculative proofs for the existence of God are not convincing, that metaphysics is an impossibility, and that there are no other proofs for the existence of God except those of the practical or moral order, productive of moral faith, which is sufficiently certain, subjectively considered, but objectively considered, is insufficient. (Critique of Practical Reason, I, Bk. ii, ch. 5). We shall consider this proof later on. For the present we may say that the Vatican Council, in condemning Fideism and Traditionalism, also had in view the Kantian theory. This is clearly evident from the fact that the six amendments proposed for the suppression of the word "certo" in the definition were all rejected. "You know, very Reverend Fathers," replied Bishop Gasser in the report which he presented to the Council in the name of the Deputatio de Fide, "what opinion has become prevalent in the minds of many through the teaching of the French encyclopedists and the foremost defenders of the critical philosophy in Germany; this widely spread opinion is none other than that the existence of God cannot be proved with full certainty, and that the arguments which have at all times been so highly regarded, are still open to discussion. As a result, religion has been despised as if it had no foundation. Moreover, in these latter days attempts have been made in various places to separate morality from all religion; this is said to be necessary because of the fear that, when a man has reached a certain age and perceives that there is nothing certain in religion, not even the existence of God, he may become a moral pervert. But you also know, very Reverend Fathers, what is the value of this moral education which does not receive its inspiration from the words of the Psalmist: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Ps. 110, 9). (Cf. Vacant, Const. du Concile, pp. 301 and 657). See also Acta et Decreta Sacrorum Conciliorum Recentiorum, Collectio Lacensis, Tomus VII, p. 130, and the condemnation of Hermes

Hermes maintained that it cannot be proved that God is anything but an unchangeable substance, constituting a part of the world, yet distinct and separate from the changes that take place, all these occurring within Him as the sphere of their operations.


(Denz., n. 1620), and Frohschammer (n. 1670).

The Scholastics had always considered as erroneous the opinion of those who denied the demonstrability, properly speaking, of God's existence. (Opinion of Peter d'Ailly and of Nicholas d'Autrecourt)

See De Wulf, History of Medieval Philosophy, 4th ed., pp. 545-550. The condemned theses of Nicholas d'Autrecourt (Denz., n. 553-570) are representative of the Antischolastic movement of the Middle Ages, in which we detect the influence exerted by the Nominalism of Ockham, which led to scepticism. The denial of the objective validity of the principle of causality is one of the propositions condemned. Another is the assertion that the principle of contradiction may be construed hypothetically as meaning that "if something exists, then something does exist (si aliquid est, aliquid est)." (Ct. Denz., nos. 554 and 570).


St. Thomas Aquinas qualifies this opinion as erroneous (Contra Gent., I, ch. 12), and manifestly false (De Veritate, q. 10, art. 12). Duns Scotus (In IV Sent., I, dist. 2, q. 3, n. 7), Bañez, Molina, Suarez, and other theologians express themselves in similar terms.


4) Explanation of the theological terms employed by the Council in the antimodernist oath.


The oath prescribed by the Motu Proprio "Sacrorurn Antistitum," of September 1, 1910, is a profession of faith, which reproduces the same terms as used by the Council on this question, and defines them so clearly as to remove all possibility of a false interpretation.

The opening words of this oath are a profession of faith in God, the beginning and end of all things, whose existence can be known with certainty and even proved by the natural light of reason, through the medium of created things, or, in other words, by the visible works of creation, just as a cause is known and proved by its effects.

The foregoing is but a paraphrase of the Latin text, which reads as follows: "Ego — firmiter amplector ac recipio omnia ac singula, quae ab inerranti Ecclesiae magisterio definita, adserta, ac declarata sunt, praesertim ea doctrinae capita, quae hujus temporis erroribus directo adversantur. Ac primum quidem Deum, rerum omnium principium et finem, naturali rationis lumine per ea quae facta sunt, hoc est per visibilia creationis opera, tamquam causam per effectus, certo cognosci, adeoque , demonstrari etiam posse, profiteor. I [name], firmly hold as true and accept everything which the infallible teaching authority of the Church has defined, maintained, and declared, especially those points of doctrine which are directly contrary to the errors of the present time. And first of all I profess that God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known for certain and proved by the natural light of reason, through the things which He has made, that is to say, through the visible works of His creation, just as the cause is made known to us by its effects."

That the possibility of proving the existence of God may receive its due emphasis, the Church distinguishes between: (1) the object to be known, namely, God, the beginning and end of all things (Deum, rerum omnium principium et finem); (2) the efficient cause of this knowledge, which is the natural light of reason (naturali rationis lumine); (3) the means by which this knowledge is acquired, which is "the things which have been made," that is to say, the visible works of creation, just as a cause is known by its effects (per ea quae facta sunt, hoc est per visibilia creationis opera tamquam causam per effectus); (4) the degree of certitude in this knowledge is expressed by the words, "can be known with certainty, and moreover even proved"(certo cognosci adeoque demonstrari etiam); (5) finally, the possibility of acquiring this knowledge is expressed by the word "posse."

1) The object to be known: "God, the beginning and end of all things," is expressed in practically the same words as are used by the Vatican Council in Chapter 2 of the Constitution "Dei Filius."

"Eadem sancta mater Ecclesia tenet et docet, Deum, rerum omnium principium et finem, naturali humanae rationis lumine e rebus creatis certo cognosci posse: the same holy mother the Church, holds and teaches, that God, the beginning and end of all things, can certainly be known from created things, by the natural light of human reason." (Denz., n. 1785).


This similarity of expression applies also to the corresponding canon, which is the first of the four attached to the second chapter of the Constitution. Strictly speaking, the opening words of the canon: "Deum unum et verum, Creatorem et Dominum nostrum: the one and true God, our Creator and Lord," read more like a profession of faith in dogmatic form.

"Si quis dixerit, Deum unum et verum, Creatorem et Dominum nostrum, per ea quae facta sunt, naturali rationis humanae certo cognosci non posse: anathema sit; If any one shall say that the one and true God, our Creator and Lord, cannot be known for certain through the things which have been made, by the natural light of reason, let him be anathema." (Denz., n. 1806).


In the doctrinal explanation of this canon, as given by the spokesman of the Deputatio de Fide, we clearly see that what is defined is that man, by reason alone, can come to recognize God as his destined end, and consequently to realize what his principal obligations are towards Him. But, on the other hand, in giving to God the title of Creator, it was not the intention of the Council to define as a dogma of faith that creation in the strict sense of the term (which means "ex nihilo or from nothing") can be proved by the power of the reasoning faculty alone.

See Vacant, op. cit., t. I, p. 309.


The mind of the Council on this point was to retain the same terms which Holy Scripture employs in designating the "true God," who is the beginning and end of all things, and especially of man.

This idea of the true God, which, as the Council states, can be acquired by human reason—in what precisely does it consist? On this point we may consult the Council's definition of the true God, as given in Chapter 1 of the Constitution "Dei Filius," and also the canons corresponding to this chapter. In explaining this definition, it was pointed out above that the Council, in formulating it, had in view not only the refutation of Pantheism in general, but its various forms. In the enumeration of the various attributes that denote the true God, it was not the intention of the Council to define as a dogma of faith that all these attributes can be proved by reason alone; but the Council wished it to be understood that these attributes are all implicitly or virtually

A note accompanying the schema presented by the Deputatio de Fide reads as follows: "Although the word Creator has been inserted in the canon, it is not, therefore, defined that creation in the strict sense of the term can be proved by reason; but the Council adopted the same word that is found in the Scripture when recording this revealed truth, but with no added comment to determine the sense in which the term is used." (See Vacant, Etudes sur le Concile du Vatican, Vol. I, pp. 308 and 610; Vol. II, P. 440).


included in the formula that "God is the beginning and end of all things."

If these attributes and the refutation of Pantheism as heretical, were not implicitly or virtually included in the idea of God as acquired by reason, then this idea would not be an expression of the true God. To escape the charge of heresy it is not enough to admit, as some agnostics do, that by reason alone we can conclude with certainty as to the existence of God, but that we cannot conclude definitely that either transcendence, or immanence, or personality,

By the personality of God must be understood His subsistence, which is absolutely independent of the world's existence, His intelligence, His knowledge of Himself, His liberty.


or infinity, or finiteness properly belong to Him.

Neither is it enough to say that the mind can form a concept of God in which it is a matter of indifference whether the attributes of transcendence, personality, infinity, or even their contraries, are included. We must admit that the human mind is capable of forming a concept of God which implicitly or virtually includes the distinctive attributes of the true God and the falsity of the contrary concepts, just as in argumentation a general principle includes the conclusions deduced from it. The Pantheistic concept of an immanent and impersonal God, the Panentheistic concept of an immanent and personal God (πᾶν ἐν τῷ Θεῷ) that of a transcendental but finite God held by some Empirics, must all evidently be classed among those that are false. In the formulation of the Antimodernist Oath it was considered sufficient if, in combating the errors of the present time, the same terms were retained as those used by the Vatican Council. Evidently it will not do to admit the possibility of knowing with certainty the existence of God, if we understand this as William James does,

On this point William James, in his book entitled, A Pluralistic Universe, writes as follows; "The theological machinery that spoke so livingly to our ancestors, with its finite age of the world, its creation out of nothing, its juridical morality and eschatology, its relish for rewards and punishments, its treatment of God as an external contriver, an 'intelligent and moral governor,' sounds as odd to most of us as if it were some outlandish religion. The vaster vistas which scientific evolutionism has opened, and the rising tide of social democratic ideals, have changed the type of our imagination, and the older monarchical theism is obsolete or obsolescent. The place of the divine in the world must be more organic and intimate. An external creator and his institutions may still be verbally confessed at church and in formulas that linger by their mere inertia, but the life is out of them, we avoid dwelling on them, the sincere heart of us is elsewhere. . . . The only opinions quite worthy of arresting our attention will fall within the general scope of what may roughly be called the pantheistic field of vision, the vision of God as the indwelling divine.” In another passage William James admits with Hegel that this abandonment of traditional theism demands likewise that we depart from that commonly accepted method of reasoning which is based upon the principle of identity or non contradiction. (See Pluralistic Universe, p. 198). In rejecting the objective and universal validity of the principle of non-contradiction, James proposes "to give up the word 'rational' altogether" (see p. 320).


or, as we shall see later on, as Bergson and Le Roy do.

Is reason able to prove by explicit deduction the distinctive attributes of God, especially that of infinity? This point was not defined by the Vatican Council, nor is there any reference to it in the above-mentioned proposition of the Antimodernist Oath. But the S. Congregation of the Index in 1840 ordered Bautain to give his formal assent to a proposition which declared that not only the existence of God can be proved with certainty by reasoning, but also the infinity of His perfections (ratiocinatio potest cum certitudine probare existentiam Dei et infinitatem perfectionum ejus; Denz., n. 1622). If, indeed, human reason, can know God with certainty, not merely on the testimony of authority, but by its own light, it must be able to account for this truth and for the falsity of the contrary doctrine, and one can hardly admit the true God, principle and end of all things, without being persuaded to acknowledge His right to the title of Creator and to deduce from this the conclusion that He must possess all the divine attributes enumerated by the Council.

2) What is implied in this principle of knowledge expressed in the words, "naturali rationis lumine," which are also employed by the Vatican Council? It is evident that by "reason" the Council understands our natural faculty of perceiving the truth. In chapter 3 of the Constitution "Dei Filius" reason is placed in contrast with supernatural faith, since whatever we know with certainty to be true, is due to the intrinsic evidence of things, "propter intrinsecam rerum veritatem rationis lumine perspectam," as perceived by the reasoning faculty, and not because of the authority of God, who may have revealed such a truth. The knowledge of God which can be acquired by the natural light of reason, is not merely a true knowledge, i.e., conforming to the reality; but it is also a knowledge of truth for which we are able to give a reason; hence it is not simply a belief resting on the testimony of God, or on that of tradition, or on that of the human race. It is the result of rational evidence.

We must not confound this "natural light of reason" with conscience, the religious sense, or religious experience, of which the Modernists speak. The terminology of the Vatican Council, as well as that of later decrees, has eliminated the possibility of such confusion. Moreover, the encyclical "Pascendi," as we shall have occasion to see later on, has given to these words a precise meaning.

Nor is it enough, as we have already remarked, to understand by "the natural light of reason" the practical reason of Kant. Such an interpretation would evidently be contrary to the teaching of the Council, for practical reason, as understood by Kant, does not adhere to objective truth because it perceives that truth, but merely concludes that something is worthy of moral belief, even though objectively inadequate. (Critique of Practical Reason, I, Book ii, c. 5). The terms which we shall explain further down, show clearly that it was the intention of the Council to condemn this error as well as Traditionalism and Fideism.

3) The means by which this knowledge of God can be acquired is made known to us by the words, "per ea quae facta sunt, hoc est per visibilia creationis opera, tamquam causam per effectus (by the things which are made, that is to say, by the visible works of His creation, just as a cause is made known to us by its effects"). The canon of the Vatican Council simply contains the words, "per ea quae facta sunt," whereas in the corresponding chapter the words "e rebus creatis" (from created things) have been added, with the following quotation from St. Paul: "For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood from the things that are made" (Rom. I, 20).

The question might be asked, whether the Antimodernist Oath adds any new declaration concerning this dogma of the faith defined by the Council, or whether it merely insists that the terms of the definition are to be understood in their natural sense, in order to avoid all danger of sophistry.

Would the words of the Council, "through the things that are made," and "from created things," be interpreted in their natural sense if they were explained simply as meaning that either created things are the occasion of this knowledge of God, or that on account of the practical demands of morality they appeal to us in this way, or that sensible or visible things are to be excluded from those created realities which enable us to conclude with certainty that there is a God?

The first question is prompted by the attitude of Cartesianism. It has been asked whether it is sufficient to admit that created things are the means by which we know God, because they are occasional causes, in the sense that they awaken in us an inborn idea of God, and cause it to become conscious and clear. Some theologians (e.g., Vacant in his work above-quoted, p. 296) held this view, though they admit that "the Council is entirely favorable to the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas and the majority of theologians," according to which our knowledge of God is essentially acquired, mediate, and attained by the medium of created things.

In other words, the human mind has direct knowledge only of contingent beings and of the first principles of reasoning, and does not rise up to God except by a method of demonstration in which the first principles are the major and created things the minor premise.


We upheld the same view as Vacant in our article "Dieu," written for the Dictionnaire Apologétique de la Foi Catholique (col. 947). But after reconsidering the question we came to the conclusion that no such concession can be made nor is it necessary, as Vacant believed, to save the Cartesian theory of innate ideas.

Vacant gives their true meaning to the words, "e rebus creatis," but he concedes too little when he explains this phrase as merely an "indication." "The Council," he remarks, "believed it would serve a useful purpose to point out created things as the means by which we are enabled to acquire a natural knowledge of the existence of God; for it is difficult to see why the Council should have given this indication, if they were not the means of awakening in us an idea of God, which is present in the minds of all men from the time of birth. Moreover, the propositions drawn up by the Council signify in their natural sense [the italics are mine], that created things furnish the principles from which the human mind derives its knowledge of God, and by which it draws its conclusion, ‘through the things that are made,' that God exists." (See Vacant, op. cit., p. 297). This is indeed the natural sense of the words, but they seem to be of greater force than a mere indication. The words, included in a dogmatic formula that reads like an anathema, form a part of the definition, and though they may seem to have been added as an after-thought, yet, if their insertion or omission really modifies the meaning of the proposition, they must be considered as expressing a defined truth. If it were not so, we could never refer with confidence to such definitions; for doubts or evasions would always present themselves to the mind as possibilities, which would be foreign to the mind of Holy Church, who instructs her children simply and sincerely in the truths of the Catholic faith and demands that they receive them with the same disposition. That is why the first proposition of the Antimodernist Oath merely insists upon the natural sense of the words of the Council, as is shown by the insertion of the phrase: "tamquam causam per effectus (as a cause [is known] by its effects)." This fact obliges us to assign to the principle of causality an ontological and transcendental value, for without it reason could never rise from created things to the existence of God, as from effect to cause.

Thus we see that Kantism is formally condemned, but not exactly the theory of Descartes. Kantism, as we shall explain later on, in discussing the word "certo," was certainly included in the Council's condemnation, just as Traditionalism and Fideism. The Kantian theory cannot explain the expressions, "e rebus creatis" and "per ea quae facta sunt" by saying that the existence of God is merely a postulate of practical reason, a practically necessary supposition, granted that duty is an established fact and that in this life there is absence of harmony between virtue and happiness. This false interpretation of the language of the Council is definitively disproved by the terms of the Antimodernist Oath. But the Cartesian theory of the innate idea of God is not condemned. Howsoever the origin of this idea and of the principle of causality may be explained, it is sufficient to admit that they have an ontological and transcendental value, enabling reason to rise from created things to the existence of God. This proof, derived from the notions of contingency and causality, was not rejected by Descartes; nay, he even developed the argument: "e contingentia mentis," though he strongly insisted upon two proofs, concerning the validity or non-validity of which the Council made no pronouncement. One of these was the proof deduced from the idea of the infinite and of the necessity of an adequate cause for this idea. The other proof was that known as ontological. It is quite certain that die Council never thought of condemning the ontological proof, which takes as its principle of argumentation not the works of God, but the very idea of God. On this point the spokesman of the Deputatio de Fide made the following observation: "Who among us, in confirming by his vote the doctrine contained in this proposition, thinks of condemning the famous argument of St. Anselm, no matter what his private opinion of the same may be?" (See Vacant, Vol. I, p. 298). Still less does the conciliar definition mean to exclude the proof for the eternal truths so often set forth by St. Augustine and many Catholic philosophers.

It is only Ontologism that was condemned by the Holy Office. (See Denzinger, nn. 1659-1663, 1891-1930). For the innate idea of God that the Cartesians say we have, the Ontologists substituted an intuitive vision of Him, considering that this knowledge of God, essential to the human mind, is the source of all our other ideas.

The insertion of the word "visibilia," and this in italics, in the first proposition of the Antimodernist Oath, is a sign that the Church insists upon the literal interpretation of the words of the Council and of the quotation from St. Paul. To exclude sensible things from the phrase "e rebus creatis," and to say that the only certain proofs for the existence of God are those based upon the intellectual and moral life of man, would evidently be to depart from the original and plain meaning of these words. From such an interpretation it would follow that created things, as such, do not enable us to arrive at a knowledge of God, as from effect to cause.

Would it be sufficient to admit that the arguments based on the principle of causality lead us to acknowledge the fact of a prime mover, a first cause, a necessary being, an intelligent designer, but that they cannot give us the certainty that there is an infinitely perfect God, and that to acquire such a certainty, the ontological argument is absolutely necessary? This is clearly a Kantian idea. We do not believe that this explanation is acceptable, since the proposition is concerned with "God, the beginning and end of all things." It is, indeed, the true God, who can be known with certainty by the way of causality from sensible things. Besides, the knowledge of God, thus acquired, must include, at least implicitly or virtually, along with the various other divine attributes, absolute perfection. This means, as we have already pointed out, that this attribute of God is such that it can be logically deduced therefrom.

4) The kind of knowledge thus acquired is expressed by the words, "certo cognosci, adeoque demonstrari etiam posse (can be known with certainty, and therefore also proved)." The Council had simply said, "certo cognosci." Here, also, it may be asked: Does the Antimodernist Oath merely emphasize the natural sense of the conciliar definition, so as to exclude unjustifiable interpretations, or does it add a new declaration?

That the words "certo cognosci" mean the same as "demonstrari," can easily be shown from the fact that "certo cognosci," in the canon of the Council, signifies: (1) a certainty which is the result of reasoning (naturali rationis lumine); (2) an absolute certainty; (3) a certainty acquired by indirect reasoning "e rebus creatis" by "ea quae facta sunt."

We have had occasion to note that this certain knowledge obtained by reasoning is, as the Council says, that which causes us to adhere to the intrinsic truth of things "because of the intrinsic evidence of such truth, as perceived by the natural light of reason." It is a knowledge by means of which we are able to give an account of what we affirm to be true.

We have seen that this particular knowledge, acquired by reasoning, is, according to the Council, a mediate knowledge, acquired through the medium of the visible works of God. What else is a certain and mediate knowledge acquired by reasoning, but a demonstration? And what else is a certain knowledge acquired by reasoning "ab effectu," but an "a posteriori" demonstration? Being the result of reasoning, it differs from faith; being mediate, it is opposed to intuition; being certain, it differs from opinion.

The only difficulty that might present itself is whether the Council meant to say that absolute certainty could be obtained by this process of reasoning. There is no possible doubt on this head. We have already remarked that amongst the comments which, together with the elaborate schema, were presented to the Fathers of the Council by the Deputatio de Fide, there was one to the effect that "the definition that reason can acquire a certain knowledge of God by means of created things, seemed necessary, as well as the corresponding canon, not only on account of Traditionalism, but also because of the wide-spread error that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated by any apodictic proof,

The italics here are mine.


and therefore cannot be known with certainty by reason." (See Vacant, Vol. I, pp. 286 and 609). As previously stated, Bishop Gasser, in the report read by him before the Council in the name of the Deputatio de Fide, was somewhat more explicit, referring to the opinion maintained by the Positivists, or, as he styled them, "the French Encyclopedists and the foremost defenders of the critical philosophy in Germany." "This very common opinion," he remarked, "is that the existence of God cannot be proved with absolute certainty,

The italics here are mine.


. . . and that the arguments which have always been considered so forceful, are still open to discussion."

We shall realize more fully the import of the word "certo," if we recall that of the six amendments demanding the omission of this word, and which were rejected by a large majority, one read as follows: "I approve of the omission of the word certo, for although the proposition in which it occurs seems to me to be philosophically true, nevertheless, if the word be included, it does not seem to me to be sufficiently clear that the proposition is a revealed truth, so as to have it defined as an article of faith."

These amendments could not be accepted: for Sacred Scripture (Wisd. XIII, 1-5; Rom. 1, 20)

Wisd. XIII, 1-5:

"Foolish by nature are all men who know not God,

And who cannot from the good things they behold

Soar aloft to contemplate the One who is.

Nor by a consideration of His works, see not who this workman is.

But they regarded the fire, the wind, the mobile air,

The circle of the stars, the angry waves, the bright and celestial orbs of day and night,

As the gods that rule the world.

If charmed by their beauty, they took these to be gods,

Let them know how far above these is the Lord of all;

For the Author Himself of beauty made all those things.

And if they admired in these their power and their effects,

Let them understand, that mightier far is He who made them all.

For the grandeur and the beauty of created things,

By comparison make known to us the One Who Their Creator is."

(Crampon's paraphrase).—Cfr. Rom. I, 18-20:


"Verily, the anger of God swiftly descends from the heights of Heaven upon all the ungodliness and injustice of men, who through their injustice, hold truth captive, since what can be known of God, they discover that in themselves, God having made manifest the same. Truly, His invisible perfections, His eternal power and divinity, since the creation of the world, have been made clear to the mind through the medium of created things. They are, therefore, inexcusable, in that having known God, they did not glorify Him as God, and did not return Him thanks; but they became vain in their thoughts and their foolish heart was darkened." (Ibid.)                                                     (Crampon.)


. . . calls vain, foolish, and inexcusable those persons who could not discover God by means of reason. It is evident, therefore, that the Council by the word "certo" meant to designate absolute certainty; and since this certainty is at the same time rational and mediate, i.e., acquired by an indirect process of reasoning, it must be the result of a demonstration.

Moreover, the Council, in the chapter which treats of the connection between faith and reason, expressly declares that "right reason demonstrates the foundations of faith (recta ratio fidei fundamenta demonstret)." These foundations are, on the one hand, the existence of God and His veracity; on the other, the fact of revelation. One of the Fathers of the Council requested that, since the word "demonstret" implies that the process of reasoning starts from principles the truth of which has been perceived by the light of reason itself, the word "probet" should be substituted for it, as this latter word does not involve such an inference. The suggested amendment, however, was rejected by the Council. Monsignor Pie, Bishop of Poitiers, opposed it in the name of the Deputatio de Fide, for the reason that, "though the intrinsic truth of the faith cannot be demonstrated, the foundations of the faith, in a certain sense,

The phrase, "in a certain sense," does not mean that the demonstration is not rigorous, but that the foundations of the faith viewed in one sense are the object of demonstration, and in another sense are not demonstrable, but the object of supernatural belief. The fact of revelation is the object of demonstration if one considers the supernatural "quoad modum," (as a miraculous divine intervention), but not if one considers the supernatural "quoad substantiam." From this point of view, revelation is the formal motive for a faith that is supernatural "quoad substantiam," and an object of faith. (See St. Thomas, Commentary on St. John, ch. 5, lect. 6, n. 9; Cajetan, in II, IIae q. 1, a. 1, n. XI; Salmanticenses, De Gratia, tr. XIV, disp. III, dub. III, n. 40; consult also on this subject the author's work, De Revelatione, I, pp. 498-511 and 527).


can be demonstrated, and bearing this in mind, such expressions as ‘the demonstration of gospel truth,' ‘the demonstration of the faith,' have been of frequent, nay habitual, usage in ecclesiastical tradition."

See Vacant, Constitutions du Concile du Vatican, Vol. II, pp. 258 and 406. The second proposition of the Antimodernist Oath confirms what has been said about revelation and faith.


If, then, the Council does not hesitate to speak of "demonstration" when it is a question of establishing the fact of divine revelation, even though this fact can be proved but indirectly by referring to external signs (miracles), which in themselves directly manifest only the free intervention of divine omnipotence: with far more reason does it acknowledge the demonstration of the existence of God, since this fact is proved not only by external signs, but also by effects proceeding directly from the First Cause, capable of furnishing a direct a posteriori demonstration.

Therefore, we must conclude that this passage from the Anti-modernist Oath does but emphasize the natural sense of the definition, in order to guard against unjustifiable interpretations. And hence this same proposition of the Oath merely reproduces in more formal terms the teaching of the Holy See, which on various occasions, when referring to the existence of God, has made use of terms equivalent in meaning to "demonstration." On this point, see the propositions which Bautain and Bonnetty were compelled to sign (Denz., nn. 1622 and 1650). The condemnation of Hermes (Denz., n. 1620) and of Frohschammer (Denz., n. 1670) may also be consulted.

Now that the Church has adopted into her official language the precise term "demonstration," and added the phrase, "per visibilia," and especially, "tamquam causam per effectus," she has shown without a doubt, that she officially adopts as her own the teaching of St. Thomas and of almost all other theologians on the natural means at our disposal for acquiring a knowledge of God and accepts as valid the proofs based on causality, which originate from the world of sense, without pronouncing on the validity or non-validity of other proofs, as, for instance, that based upon the ontological order.

5) The possibility of demonstrating the existence of God is expressed in the Antimodernist Oath by the simple word "posse," which is but a repetition of the term employed by the Council.

Here we must point out that the question is not one of fact, as a note attached to the schema drawn up by the special commission on Catholic doctrine appropriately remarked: "The question is not whether, de facto, individual human beings derive their rudimentary knowledge of God from this natural manifestation, or if they are not rather urged to seek it in the revelation proposed to them, being made cognizant of His existence through the revealed teaching given to them. The point at issue is the power of reason.

See Vacant, op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 28 and 583.


The possibility defined is simply the physical possibility common to all human beings. On this point the spokesman of the Deputatio de Fide remarked: "The doctrine hereby submitted must be considered as generally true, whether man is viewed in the purely natural state or in that of fallen nature."

Ibid., pp. 29 and 673.


Hence it cannot be maintained that, in consequence of original sin, there is no justification for the assertion that reason is assured of the objective validity of its conclusions, unless this same faculty is fortified by the superadded light of an illuminative grace.

It seems difficult to admit what Rousselot has written on this subject in the Dictionnaire Apologétique de la Foi Catholique, art. "Intellectualisme," col. 1074. At least we should like to know how such a theory can be reconciled with certain decisions of the Church on this question (see Denz., nos. 1627 and 1670; also St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 109, art. I; and Gonet, De Gratia, disp. I, art. I, § II).


It has not been defined as de fide that there is no difficulty in the actual exercise of this natural power of reason, but the doctrine itself is the commonly accepted teaching of theologians and is proxima fidei. This does not mean that scientific demonstration is accessible to all, but that reason, by a simple inference deduced from the principle of causality, immediately rises to the certainty that God exists. The sensus communis need not trouble itself with the difficulties that present themselves from the point of view of objectivity or from a consideration of the transcendental value of the principle of causality. It leaves the discussion of these problems to the metaphysicians, and continues spontaneously to avail itself of these principles as often as these same principles demand it. The reason for saying that this common teaching of the theologians is proxima fidei is that the Scripture declares pagans to be unreasonable and inexcusable for not having any knowledge of God. (Rom. I, 20-21; Wisd. XIII, 1-9). In other words, it was morally possible for them to acquire a certain knowledge concerning the existence of the true God. As Petau

De Deo, Bk. I, chapters 1 and 2.


and Thomassin

De Deo, Bk. I.


point out, the Fathers of the Church all agree in saying that one could not be ignorant of the existence of God without sin. All theologians deny the possibility of ignorance or of invincible error on the subject of God's existence. This means that speculative atheism is an impossibility for any man who has the use of reason and is in good faith. Good faith, in the sense in which the Church understands the term, differs considerably from what the world generally means by it. It implies not only that sincerity which is contrary to deceit, but it also denotes that one has made use of all the means at his disposal in order to arrive at the truth. In the quest of truth one may fail deliberately, not only in a direct way, when one does not want to see the truth, but also in an indirect way, when one does not want to avail oneself of the means that one ought to use, or when, through a perversion of the intellect, one agrees to doctrines that he ought to reject.

This remark permits us to acknowledge the portion of truth contained in the philosophy of human acts. From this point of view, the Church has condemned as scandalous and foolhardy the opinion of those who maintain the possibility of a purely philosophical sin, which would be a fault against right reason, but not an offence against God. (Denz., n. 1290). The knowledge of moral obligation involved in the process of reasoning, which is the result of using reason in the right way, could not be explained satisfactorily without the admission of at least a confused knowledge of God as the supreme legislator, if it be true, as the Syllabus of Pius IX affirms against those who defend the theory of an independent moral code, that all law derives its binding power from God.

"Moral laws do not require divine sanction, and it is by no means necessary that human laws should be in conformity with the natural law, or that they should derive their binding power from God." (Denz., n. 1756).


The idea of God as the primary being, the primary intelligence, the sovereign good, is as indelibly stamped upon the human conscience as are the first principles of the natural law. It is only one or the other of the essential attributes of God that may for a time be unknown. Thus the secondary precepts of the natural law may be blotted out of the human heart as a result of bad habits, as is the case with those who do not consider theft and unnatural vices as sinful. (St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q.94, a.6).

This common teaching of theologians is being confirmed more and more by such works as Andrew Lang's The Making of Religion (2nd ed., London, 1900), Msgr. Le Roy's La Religion des Primitifs (Paris, 1909), and the articles written by Fr. Wilhelm Schmidt for the Anthropos (1908-1909).

According to Lang and Schmidt, the idea of God is not derived, as was commonly held since Tylor and Spenser, from Animism, ancestor worship, and the cult of nature personified, but antedates all these primitive forms of belief and is the result of the natural development of the fundamental principles of reason, especially that of causality. This rational idea of a supreme Being underwent certain modifications through the mythical additions of the imagination. Throughout the centuries there has been opposition between reason and imagination. To a great extent the history of religions is but an account of the rivalry existing between these two faculties.

See Christus, Manuel d'Histoire des Religions, by J. Huby, S.J., 1912; Ou en est 1'Histoire des Religions, by M. Bricout, 1912; La Religion des Peuples non Civilisés, by Abbé Bros, 1908.


Some Modernists claimed that the moral impossibility of acquiring a knowledge of God by natural means was beyond any doubt in view of the Council's express teaching on the moral necessity of revelation. We need but to read this particular passage of the Council attentively to see that there is nothing in it which contradicts the common opinion of theologians. If revelation is morally necessary, this is the case not solely that we may know the existence of God and our principal moral and religious obligations, but also in order that "the truths which among things divine (in rebus divinis) are not of themselves beyond the ken of reason, may, even in the present condition of mankind, be known by all with facility, with firm assurance, and with no admixture of error."

All about God that in itself is accessible to reason, or, in other words, the ensemble of attributes studied in natural theology, constitutes the subject-matter of that knowledge for which revelation is declared to be a moral necessity. These attributes are: immutability, infinity, immensity, omniscience, absolute liberty, etc., etc. Now it is clear that not all persons can by their own powers of reason acquire a knowledge of this kind that would exclude both error and doubt. In this particular passage of the Council's definition, stressing the moral necessity of revelation, it was proposed to substitute for the words, "things divine," the phrase, "God and the natural law." The comment on this suggested amendment was, that though the formula was not so restricted in meaning, it had been chosen for that very reason. (See Acta Concilii Vaticani, col. 509 and 122, amend. 19, and Chossat, art. "Dieu," in the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, col. 827).

If there is question of a scientific demonstration of the existence of God, we must admit that those philosophers who are of the sensualistic or subjectivistic school of thought can scarcely appreciate its true value. For them the arguments based on the theory of immanence will be more convincing, perhaps the only convincing ones. But it does not follow that this theory is necessarily and universally indispensable, and that we must raise to the rank of a thesis what, in matter of fact, is but the corollary of a false philosophy. And these same persons, if they possess supernatural faith, may by this faith give their assent to the first proposition of the Oath, without perceiving that what is said is intrinsically true, just as they give their assent to the supernatural mysteries of the Trinity or the Incarnation.


It remains for us to decide just what authoritative value is to be assigned to this particular proposition of the Antimodernist Oath, which recapitulates the doctrine contained in the dogmatic definition of the Council. Is this proposition a truth of the Catholic faith, to deny which would be heresy? Or is it to be considered as a truth of divine faith, not formally defined as such, so that it would be haeresi Proxima to make the contradictory assertion? Or, finally, is it merely a certain truth connected with a dogma, so that its denial must be considered as erroneous?

First of all, it is clear, and also essential, that this proposition, taken as a whole, is inculcated by the infallible teaching office of the Church, for the opening words of the Oath plainly affirm: "Ego firmiter amplector ac recipio omnia et singula, quae ab inerranti Ecclesiae magisterio definita, adserta, ac declarata sunt, praesertim ea doctrinae capita, quae hujus temporis erroribus directo adversantur."

If the Church does not teach this first proposition of the Oath as contained in divine revelation, then she does not demand of us that we believe it on the authority of God. But we are obliged to accept it formally, because of the infallible authority vested in her, not only in proposing to us what belongs to revelation, but in declaring whatever is certainly either in harmony with or in opposition to the revealed word of God. If one were to deny those truths which the Church teaches with infallible authority, though not declaring them to be revealed truths, one would not, on that account, be a heretic, for one would not be formally denying a doctrine revealed by God. But in the eyes of the Church one would be suspected of heresy and, practically speaking, would have lost the virtue of faith; for more often than not, it is difficult to withhold one's assent to these decisions without at the same time denying the dogma that the Church is infallible, or other revealed truths.

But it seems certain that this proposition is inculcated as a truth of divine faith, and this for the following reasons: (1) because the proposition forms part of a profession of faith; (2) because this profession of faith is introduced by the word "profiteor," which in ecclesiastical terminology signifies an act of faith;

See the one imposed upon the Greeks. Denz., nos. 460, 1083 and 1084.


(3) because the meaning of this word, "profiteor," is accurately determined by the concluding words of the third proposition, which are: "Firma pariter fide credo." These words certainly imply a supernatural act of faith, and the adverb "pariter" shows that the two preceding propositions are also de fide.

There are doctrines which are regarded as belonging to the deposit of divine faith in virtue of the almost unanimous consent or teaching of the Church, though they are not formally defined as truths of the Catholic faith, and consequently are not imposed under penalty of heresy. But the case is different with propositions of other professions of faith which are included in professions of faith employed by the universal Church. It may be objected that the Antimodernist Oath was not imposed on all the faithful, but only on the clergy. The answer to this objection is that some points of doctrine are certainly de fide and imposed as such, even by solemn judgments, which, being beyond the mental capacity of most laymen, are not explicitly taught to all the faithful, though all must implicitly believe them.

Another reason which leads us to conclude that this first proposition of the Antimodernist Oath, taken as a whole, enunciates a truth of the Catholic faith, is the fact, as we have already remarked, that it adds no new declaration to the dogmatic formula defined by the Vatican Council, but merely insists upon the natural meaning of the text, in order to guard against wrong interpretations of the same.


5) The condemnation of Modernist Agnosticism by the Encyclical "Pascendi."


The teaching contained in the Antimodernist Oath may without difficulty be supplemented by what is said on this point in the paragraph commencing with the words "Atque haec" of the Encyclical "Pascendi." (See Denz., n. 2081). The Modernists repudiate "all ontological realism as absurd and baneful . . . as an appearance beyond the scope of thought, which by its very definition denotes something absolutely unthinkable. We shall never succeed in explaining away this objection, and must therefore conclude, in agreement with all modern philosophy, that a certain type of idealism has obtruded itself upon us." (E. Le Roy, "Comment se pose le Problème de Dieu" in the Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, March and July, 1907, pp. 495 and 488). Kantian and post-Kantian criticism had almost ruined the foundation of the traditional proofs for the existence of God, namely, the objectivity of the principles of right reasoning. The Encyclical "Pascendi" condemns this "phenomenalism" and reminds us that its agnostic consequences have been denounced by the Vatican Council. The condemnation reads as follows: "And to begin with the philosopher, the Modernists posit as the basis of their religious philosophy the doctrine known as agnosticism. Human reason, strictly limited in range to ‘phenomena,' which means to the appearances of things exactly as they appear, has neither the power nor the right to go beyond these limits, and is, therefore, incapable of acquiring any knowledge of God, not even knowledge, by means of created things, of His existence. From this they infer: (1) that God cannot be the direct object of our knowledge; (2) that His actual intervention in this world of ours cannot be a historical fact. In the light of such principles, what becomes of natural theology, of the motives of credibility, of external revelation? The Modernists have given them up as belonging to intellectualism, a system which, they say, is to be considered as ridiculous, and long ago obsolete. That the Catholic Church has publicly condemned these monstrous errors is for them no deterrent. For the Vatican Council has decreed . . ." (here the canons of the Council are quoted which refer to the knowledge of God from the two sources of reasoning and revelation. See Denz., n. 2072).

The agnostic denial of the possibility of demonstrating the existence of God is, therefore, a heresy.

It would also be heretical to assert that God is not intelligent, free, just, or merciful, in the literal meaning of these words, but merely in a metaphorical sense. As a matter of fact, these divine attributes have been formally defined as of faith by the Vatican Council. (See Denz., n. 1782).

Neither can it be maintained that, apart from the knowledge we have of God through the sensus communis, and the propositions defined as of faith, there can be no question of a scientific knowledge of His existence and principal attributes; for this would be to deny the scientific character of natural as well as supernatural theology, and to maintain that these disciplines, whose purpose it is to define more clearly what we know by the sensus communis, or by faith, becomes hopelessly entangled in the error known as Anthropomorphism. From this it would follow that it is impossible to defend by any scientific argument the claim of the sensus communis against the objections of the Agnostics, Pantheists, Determinists, etc., and to explain satisfactorily the apparent antinomies raised against us. The Encyclical "Pascendi" draws special attention to the formula that "God can in no way be the direct object of knowledge," as being an expression of Agnosticism. (Denz., n. 2072).

Among the Agnostic propositions previously condemned was Eckhard's, that "God is neither good, nor better, nor the best; therefore, I speak incorrectly if I call God good, just as if I were to call black, white." (Denz., n. 528). Another condemned proposition is that of the Nominalist, Nicholas d'Autrecourt, disciple of Ockham, who said that "God is, and God is not, mean exactly the same thing, although in a different way." (Denz., n. 555). St. Thomas rejected as contrary to the faith the Agnosticism of Maimonides (Rabbi Moses), who said that God is not formally, but only virtually good, as the cause of goodness found in created things. (St. Thomas, Ia, q. 13, a. 5; De Potentia, q. 7, a. 5). We shall have to recur at length to this error of Maimonides when we come to discuss the nature of God and His attributes.

The Encyclical likewise condemns the theory of "immanence, which is the positive side of the Modernist system, just as Agnosticism is the negative side. Once natural theology is repudiated, . . . all external revelation abolished, the explanation of the fact of religion must be sought in man himself, in vital immanence and the subconscious self." (Denz., n. 2074).

Finally, the Encyclical declares inadequate the proof for the existence of God based upon the theory of immanence, as is evident from the following paragraph: "If now, passing on to the believer, we want to know what, according to the Modernist view, distinguishes the Modernist from the philosopher, the first thing to notice is that the philosopher admits the divine reality as the object of faith, but for him this reality exists only in the soul of the believer, that is to say, as object of his sentiment and his affirmations, which are limited to the sphere of phenomena. If God exists as a separate being, apart from individual sentiments and affirmations, this fact does not interest the philosopher, and he abstracts from it entirely. Not so with the believer. For him, God really exists, independently of the believer; he is certain of it, and in this he differs from the philosopher. If you ask on what foundation this certainty rests, the Modernists reply, on 'individual experience.' In taking this attitude, they separate themselves from the Rationalists, only to fall into an error of the Protestants and certain pseudo-mystics. [See, e. g., the errors of Michael de Molinos; Denz., n. 1273]. They explain this process as follows. If we scrutinize the religious sentiment, we discover a certain intuition of the heart, by means of which, and without any intermediate process, man grasps the reality of God and from it concludes that He exists, with a certainty that far surpasses the certainty of any of the sciences. And this is truly an experience, superior to that of any mental process. Many look upon it with contempt and deny it, as, e. g., the Rationalists, but that is simply and solely because they refuse to place themselves into the necessary moral conditions. Therefore, according to the Modernists, the true and proper explanation why one believes, is to be sought in this experience. How contrary to the Catholic faith all this is, we have already seen in a decree of the Vatican Council. Further on we shall see that such a view opens wide the door to atheism." (Denz., n. 2081). No one was surprised that Modernism was condemned, except those who were unaware of the definitions of the Vatican Council against Fideism.

The words of the Encyclical "Pascendi" concerning the Pantheistic tendencies of Immanentism have been verified in our own times. We find traces of this error, with slight nuances, both amongst philosophers and Christian believers. Thus Bergson, who holds to the principle of Idealism (that there is no such thing as a reality corresponding to thought), substituting for objective reality, which admits the ontological value of the principles of reasoning, what he calls the "direct perception of the essence of life, the flux of experienced duration," is led to conclude "that there is nothing but obscurity in the idea of creation, if we think of things which are created, and a thing which creates, as we habitually do, as the understanding cannot help doing. This illusion is natural to our intellect, which functions essentially in a practical way, constituted as it is to make known to us things and states, rather than changes and acts. But things and states are only views taken by our mind of the process of becoming. Things do not exist, only actions. . . . From this point of view we must conceive God as a centre from which worlds shoot out like rockets in a display of fire-works, always with the proviso that I consider this centre, not as a thing, but as a continuous projection. God, thus interpreted, has nothing of the already made; He is unceasing life, action, freedom. Creation, so conceived, is not a mystery: we experience it in ourselves when we act freely. That new things can be added to those already existing, undoubtedly is an absurdity, since the thing is the result of a solidification brought about by our understanding, and there are never any other things except those which the mind has evolved. . . . But that action increases, as it goes on, that it creates in the measure of its advance, is what each of us finds when he watches himself acting." (L'Evolution Créatrice, 2nd ed., 1907, p. 270). What name shall we give to this principle, which is the source of all life and of all reality? "For want of a better name," says Bergson, "we have called it consciousness. But this is not the narrowed consciousness which functions in each of us." (P. 258). "Consciousness or supra-consciousness," he says again, "is the name for the rocket whose extinguished fragments fall back as matter; consciousness, again, is the name for that which remains of the rocket itself, passing through the fragments and lighting them up into organisms. But this consciousness, which is a need of creation, does not manifest itself to itself except where creation is possible. It goes to sleep when life is condemned to automatism; it awakens from slumber as soon as the possibility of making a choice arises." (Ibid., p. 283). It is immanent in all that which is life and freedom.

Clearly this Immanentist philosophy of "becoming" is in direct opposition to the definition of the Vatican Council asserting a real distinction between God and the world. God is no longer "una singularis substantia" (one sole substance); substances or things do not exist. Neither is God "simplex omnino et incommutabilis" (absolutely simple and unchangeable). He is "a reality which makes itself in a reality which unmakes itself." (Evolution Créatrice, p. 269). He is not "re et essentia a mundo distinctus" (really and essentially distinct from the world), but "a continuous protection," and can neither exist nor be conceived apart from the world which issues from Him. He is that vital urge prior to the intellect which reappears in all becoming, but especially so in that of which our consciousness has experience. This vital urge is called freedom; but this freedom, which acts neither intelligently nor according to any law, is a sort of blind instinct that reminds us very much of the "unconscious" of Schopenhauer.

This same doctrine, with slight changes in the manner of presentation, was held by the Catholic Modernists. In July, 1907, Le Roy wrote as follows: "Our life is incessant creation. And the same is true of the world. It is for this reason that immanence and transcendence are no longer contradictories; they correspond to two distinct moments of duration, namely, immanence to what has become, transcendence to what is becoming. If we declare that God is immanent, it is because we know what He has become in us and in the world; but for the world and for us He always remains an infinite in the becoming, an infinite which will be creation in the strict acceptation of the term, not mere development, and from this point of view, God appears as transcendent, and it is especially in our dealings with Him that we must treat Him as transcendent, as we pointed out apropos of the divine personality." (Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, July, 1907, P. 512).

This theory conceives God as incapable of existing apart from the world in which He is becoming. Nevertheless, it is of faith that it would have been possible for God not to create and that He did not create from eternity. (Denz., nn. 391 and 501). The Modernists, it is true, affirm the divine personality in a pragmatic sense (that we must behave towards God as towards a person), but evidently such a view of the divine personality in no way implies that independence and metaphysical transcendence which is defined by the Vatican Council. In a former treatise

Le Sens Commun, la Philosophie de 1'Être et les Formules Dogmatiques, Paris, 1900.


we pointed out how these Pantheistic conclusions inevitably flow from the theory of immanence. They are summed up in the first proposition of the series condemned by the Syllabus of Pius IX, which reads as follows: "God is identical with the nature of things, and, therefore, subject to change; He becomes God in man and in the world, and all things are God and have His very substance; God is identical with the world, and hence spirit with matter, necessity with freedom, truth with falsity, good with evil, justice with injustice." (Denz., n. 1701) .

Immanentism, considered as a doctrine, is therefore absolutely contrary to the faith of the Church; can we say the same of Immanentism considered merely as a method?


6) Does the teaching of the Church permit us to maintain that the method of immanence is indispensable and that it precedes all others?


The new apologetic spoken of so highly by Blondel and Laberthonnière, though repudiating immanence as a doctrine, admits it to be indispensable as a method and asserts that this method is the only one that can succeed in coordinating the various arguments offered by the other methods in such a way that there results from it a valid demonstration; and that this method, therefore, holds the first place, because without it the other methods would be inadequate and ineffective.

Fr. Schwalm, O.P., examined this theory at length from a philosophical and theological point of view, in a series of articles written for the Revue Thomiste.

Les Illusions de l'idéalisme et leurs dangers pour la foi, pp. 413 ff.; L'Apologétique contemporaine, 1897, pp. 62 ff.; La crise de l'Apologétique, 1897, pp. 239 ff.; La croyance naturelle et la science, 1897, pp. 627 ff.; Le dogmatisme du coeur et celui de l'esprit, 1898, pp. 578 ff.


This criticism was resumed by Fr. Chossat, S.J., in the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, art. "Dieu" (cols. 799-802 and 859-871). Michelet also pointed out the dangers of this method in a work entitled, Dieu et l'Agnosticisme Contemporain, pp. 246 ff . . . , and, finally, Fr. Tonquédec, S.J., attacked it in his book entitled, Immanence, an essay in criticism of Maurice Blondel's doctrine. It seems difficult not to accept the conclusions arrived at by these four critics and several others. It seems that this apologetic by the method of immanence, thus understood, cannot be reconciled with the definition of the Vatican Council and it unconsciously revives the error of Baius and Jansenius.

As a matter of fact, in proportion as this method denies the validity of the proofs for the existence of God as given by the schools and traditional theodicy from Plato to Leibniz, it accepts the Kantian and Positivist thesis of the inability of speculative reason to know God with certainty.

M. Blondel states precisely what he thinks on this point in his book, L'Action, page 341, where we read: "A proof which is merely a logical argument always remains abstract and incomplete; it does not lead to being; it does not compel the mind to admit that such is a real necessity. On the other hand, a proof based on the total movement of life, a proof which takes in all action, will compel conviction. If such a proof, following the logical method of exposition, should have the force of immediate conviction, it must leave the mind no avenue of escape. It is indeed the special function of this action to bring them all together; by this means all the incomplete proofs are united and form one synthetic demonstration; considered apart, as so many units, they are ineffective; united, they have demonstrative value. It is only on this condition that they will reflect the movement of life and stimulate the same. Under the dynamic influence of action, they will lose none of their efficacy." A few pages further on he remarks: "The notion of a first cause or of a moral ideal, the idea of a metaphysical perfection or of a pure act, all these concepts of human reason, vain, false, and idolatrous, if one considers them separately as abstract concepts, become true, vivid, and effective as soon as they are united, and are no longer a sport of the understanding, but a practical certainty. . . . The foundation for this certitude of the ‘one and only necessary' is, therefore, to be sought in practice. As far as life in all its complexity is concerned, it is action alone that is by its very nature complete and expressive of totality. It embraces everything; and that is why we appeal to this same principle to explain the incontestable fact of being and the convincing proof of the existence of the same. The subtleties of dialectics, no matter how elaborate and ingenious they may be, are of no more consequence than would be a stone thrown by a child at the sun." (Ibid., p. 350). On page 428 we read: "To believe that one can arrive at the idea of being and legitimately affirm whatever reality there may be to it, without having gone through the whole process which originates from an intuitive perception of the necessity of God and of religious experience, means that one is the victim of an illusion." A few pages further on he writes: "There is no object of which it is possible to think and to affirm the reality, without having embraced by an act of the mind the entire series, without in fact surrendering oneself to the demands made by the alternative. To put it briefly, we may overlook the main point in which the truth of being shines conspicuously; that being which enlightens every understanding, and in whose presence the will without exception must come to a decision. We have an idea of objective reality, we affirm that external objects are real; but to do this, we must implicitly place before ourselves the problem of our destiny, and subordinate to option all that we are and all that concerns us. We cannot acquire the notion of being and of beings, except by way of this alternative. It follows inevitably that, as the decision varies, so does the idea of being. The knowledge of being implies that option is a necessity, being becomes known, not before, but after this freedom of choice" (pp. 435-436).

A. Valensin in an article written for the Dictionnaire d'Apologétique tries his best to bring Blondel's doctrine into agreement with the traditional philosophy, and believes that he has interpreted him correctly. He says (col. 598) : "The method of immanence supposes that attitude of mind in which, as a matter of fact and right, we distinguish, as it were, two phases in the knowledge which we have of being: the phase that precedes and that which follows the intervention of the will. The first kind of knowledge, that which precedes the exercise of free will, obtrudes itself on us. It is objective. It also appeals to us. It is for us a principle of decision and responsibility. We may call it, if we wish, a conceptual knowledge (per notionem). It leads one who makes good use of it into a knowledge that is, as it were, per connaturalitatem. This latter knowledge contains within itself the true germ of perfect intellection and veritable possession."

From this point of view there would seem to be hardly any difference between Blondel's general philosophy and, let us say, that of Ollé-Laprune, or even of St. Thomas, and it is difficult to explain the merciless criticism of intellectualism made by the author of L'Action. Fr. Schwalm and several others who agree with him must have been seriously mistaken, and the present writer must have been guilty of the same error in his criticism of the validity of the proofs for the existence of God proposed by Blondel. (See Dictionnaire d'Apologétique, cols. 952-956).

Is the knowledge which precedes option objective according to Blondel, as Valensin affirms, and as must be admitted if one wishes to defend the validity of the traditional metaphysics of the Schools?

We find the answer to this question in the author's work, Action, where on pages 437-438 we read: "The knowledge which, before option, was purely subjective and propulsive, after the choice becomes privative and constitutive of being. . . . The first [knowledge], which necessarily brings up the problem, and by which we are given an integral view, although often confused and condensed, of the order existing in the universe, is but a mental image of the object in the subject, or, better still, we may say (so as to impress upon the mind the origin of this subjective truth), it is merely the production by man of the idea that the objects of his thought and the conditions of his action are convincingly real. The second kind of knowledge, that which follows the free choice made in the presence of this reality conceived as necessary, is no longer merely a subjective state of mind; for instead of positing the problem in the practical order, this knowledge translates the solution of it into our thought; instead of confronting us with what has to be done, it directs the attention to what is an accomplished fact, to that which is. Thus it truly is an objective knowledge, even though it is obliged to admit a deficiency in action."

This solution savours of metaphysical voluntarism; before freedom of choice we have only "subjective truth," "a subjective state of mind"; "the will solves the problem presented by the intellect." (Action, p. 439)

If, then, the knowledge preceding free choice can be called objective, as Valensin would have it, this word cannot mean, according to Blondel, a knowledge which has direct contacts with being, but merely one which is necessarily engendered by the movement of our spirit in determining phenomena. This, as has been said on a previous occasion,

Revue Thomiste, July, 1913, p. 480.


is the objective reality of an idea which is the object of knowledge, but not a sufficient means of acquiring a certain knowledge of reality. When this idea is ratified by subsequent action, it becomes the principle by which we get to know not merely phenomena, but being itself. This implies that, de facto, it corresponded to the reality before it was unified and vivified by action, but it did not correspond in its own right, by virtue of a conformity founded on its intentional or representative existence in the mind. The Encyclical "Pascendi," in its criticism of the Modernist doctrine, clearly distinguishes between these two phases of knowledge.

"If now, passing on to the believer, we wish to know what, according to the Modernists view, distinguishes him from the philosopher, the main thing to note is this: that the philosopher admits indeed the divine reality as the object of faith, but for him this reality exists only in the soul of the believer, that is to say, as the object of his sentiments and affirmations: and these, after all, do not transcend the sphere of phenomena. If God exists as a separate being, apart from individual sentiments and affirmations, this does not interest the philosopher; he abstracts from it entirely. Not so with the believer. For him, on the contrary, God really exists, apart from the believer; he is certain of it, and in this he differs from the philosopher. If you ask what foundation, in the last analysis, there is for this certainty, the Modernists reply that it rests on individual experience. In this they separate themselves from the rationalists, but only to adopt the doctrine of the Protestants and pseudo-mystics. This is how they explain the process. If we analyze the religious sentiment, we promptly discover in it a certain intuition of the heart, by means of which, and without any intermediary, man grasps the fact that God is truly a reality, and from it concludes that He exists, with a certainty which far surpasses that of science. How contrary to the Catholic faith this all is, we have already seen in a decree of the Vatican Council" (Denz. 2081).


By those who have made only a superficial study of this question, the term "objective" will be accepted as expressing the traditional teaching; but by the defenders of the philosophy of Action it will be understood in exactly the opposite sense.

Blondel's own statements admit of no doubt on this point. On pages 426 f. of L’Action we read: "Finally, even when we feel the need of determining the idea that has necessarily been germinated in us of a subsistent reality, of affirming the existence of objects of knowledge, of defining the nature of this objective existence, we have first of all to consider only the inevitable sequence of relations that have been taken as integral by the consciousness: this is the science of the solidarity of appearances, the integration of which we are concerned in establishing. . . . To show that we cannot help affirming (whatever may be the value of this assertion) the reality of the objects of knowledge and of the motives of action . . . does not mean, despite the change of perspective, that we have gotten away from phenomenal determinism; it merely shows how, by the very fact that we think and act, we must of necessity so conduct ourselves as if this order in the universe were real, and these obligations well founded."

Again, on page 463 occurs the following statement: "As for science, what difference could one discover between what anything seems to be, and what it actually is? And how does the reality itself differ from an invincible and permanent illusion, or, we might say, from an eternal appearance? If we consider the practical order, the case is different. In acting as if it were true, a thing possesses that which is, if it truly is." This reads like an abstract from the writings of Hermes.

Hermes under the influence of Kant, whom he pretended to refute, wrote in much the same way. Vacant in his Etudes sur le Concile du Vatican, Vol. I, p. 125, writes: "The doctrines of Hermes, taken in their ensemble, received their inspiration from the philosophy of Descartes, and especially from that of Kant, whom he thought he was refuting. Thus we may say of him what the Prologue of our Constitution remarks about all semi-rationalists: that he allowed himself to be led astray by doctrines which have nothing in common with Catholic tradition. Influenced by the writings of Kant, he distinguished in an absolute manner between theoretical reason (that which perceives the necessity of the things it affirms) and practical reason (that which admits the truth and obligation inherent in those things that are in conformity with the dignity of human nature). Under this same influence he concluded that the foundation and pledge of all certitude was to be sought exclusively in practical reason." Perrone (Tractatus de Locis Theologicis, s. I, c. I) writes: "After a series of extensive and subtle researches, Hermes concludes with Kant that theoretical reason can attain only a purely subjective persuasion of the objective reality, which, perhaps, is merely phenomenal and apparent." It is easy to see how Hermes derived his principal errors from this false thesis. (See Vacant, loc. cit. and Kirchenlexikon, and ed., art. "Hermes"). He concluded that the proofs advanced in support of revelation, usually drawn from miracles, have merely the force of probability, but not of certainty; and consequently he refused to admit that the authority of God revealing truths is the formal motive of theological faith. These errors were condemned by Pius IX and the Vatican Council. (Denz., n. 1634).


The truth of the knowledge that precedes option, as Blondel admits, is merely "subjective." But what is the so-called objective truth of the knowledge that follows? Blondel replies: "For the abstract and chimerical notion of truth as a perfect correspondence between thought and thing, we must substitute this —that it is a real correspondence between mind and life."

Blondel, Point de départ de la recherche philosophiquc in the Annales de Philosophie Chrétienne, 1906, I, p. 235.


We must "substitute for the question of the agreement between thought and reality the problem . . . of the immanent agreement of ourselves with ourselves?"

Blondel, L'Illusion idéaliste, in the Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, Nov., 1898, pp. 12-18.


"Metaphysics," he says, "has its substance in the will when in operation. Only under this experimental and dynamic aspect has it any truth; it is not so much a science of what actually is, as of what is brought into being and becoming: the ideal of to-day may be the real of tomorrow. But the ideal always survives, and is ever the same, more or less misjudged, and asserting its presence in proportion as mankind advances to intellectual maturity. Although the science of metaphysics remains variable, therefore, although it may be merely in a state of transition, like all the phenomena of life and thought hitherto studied, we may say that it determines what in the real transcends the fact. By this is made known to us what is relatively permanent, absolute, and transcendent, what the voluntary action has necessarily contributed to reality, given for the purpose of establishing it in the same—in a word, what constitutes the permanent contribution of thought and reason to the world's knowledge and the organization of human life." (L’Action, p. 297).

If the objective truth which follows option is nothing more than the complete agreement between mind and life, since the life here in question is subject to the law of change, and since it is not certain that our human nature, as such, is any different in this respect, I do not see how there can be any such thing as absolute permanence for any truth. From the last passage just quoted from Blondel's Action it follows that truth has only a relative permanence. Is this opinion not the same as the condemned Modernist proposition which reads as follows: "The truth is no more unchangeable than is man, since it develops with him, in him, and through him"? (Denz., n. 2058). The new definition of truth leads directly from Blondelism to Bergsonism.

How do the general principles of Blondel's philosophy permit him to maintain the proposition of the Antimodernist Oath concerning the proof for the existence of God?

The Oath says: "I profess that God can certainly be known, and also demonstrated, by the natural light of reason . . . through visible works of His creation, as a cause by its effect." On page 347 of Blondel's Action we find the following statement: "I do not invoke any principle of causality; but I find in this imperfect knowledge of things and of my own thought, the presence and necessary action of a perfect thought and power." From such a statement how could one prove that God is essentially distinct from the world, or that the words do not convey the idea of an immanent God à la Schleiermacher?

The oath speaks of the rigorous demonstration which leads to objective certainty of the existence of God—to a knowledge which is said to be true because it is in conformity with the affirmed reality, and not simply because it conforms to human life. On page 426 of L’Action we read: "In pointing out that this concept [of God], which most certainly originates in the consciousness, forces us to affirm, at least implicitly, the living reality of this infinite perfection, it was not at all meant that we thence conclude that God exists. It was a question of stressing the fact that this necessary idea of God as a real being, leads us to the supreme alternative, from which it follows that God does or does not exist for us in a real sense. It is this alone which is of supreme importance for us."

Some years ago, in a critical study of Fr. de Tonquédec's book, we examined more at length the general principles of Blondel's philosophy relative to the three operations of the mind: conception, judgment, and reasoning. We found in that philosophy a subjectivistic and nominalistic theory of the concept, which considers it to be purely an "artificial abstraction," rendered necessary for the purpose of visualizing and systematizing the immanent appearance, and for the purposes of language. The judgment can have only practical truths, which means conformity of the thought with human life, and not with the reality affirmed. Finally, we find in Blondel's system the nominalistic theory of reasoning which is a necessary consequence of the conceptual theory. Like Sextus Empiricus, John Stuart Mill, and Hegel, Blondel writes: "The syllogism supposes ‘intellectual atomism'; its apparent rigour rests on the theoretically false and practically useful hypothesis of partial identities, and is no more than an approximation." From which it follows that logic cannot have more than a "symbolic" value.

Concerning the proofs for the existence of God, it is not surprising, therefore, to find Blondel writing as follows: "A proof which is but a logical argument, always remains abstract and incomplete; it does not lead to being; it does not compel the mind to admit the necessity of the real." (L’Action, p. 341).

If, on the contrary, as the Antimodernist Oath declares, "the existence of God can be proved by the light of reason from visible things, as cause from effect," it seems impossible to pretend that "it is by action that all the incomplete arguments are united into a synthetic demonstration; taken by themselves," remarks Blondel, "they are sterile; united, the result is a demonstration." (L’Action, p. 341). It also seems silly to write: "The notion of a first cause, or of a moral ideal, the idea of a metaphysical perfection or of a pure act—all these concepts of human reason are vain, false, and idolatrous, if considered separately as abstract representations, but they become true, vivid, and effective as soon as they are united, and are no longer a sport of the understanding, but a practical certainty. . . . It is in action alone that we must seek for the incontestable fact of being and the convincing proof of the same." (L’Action, p. 350).

But in what sense is this practical certainty an improvement upon the moral certainty of Kant, which was declared to be inadequate by the Fathers of the Vatican Council? We might say that it is, like Kant's certitude (to borrow his own terminology), "subjectively adequate, but objectively inadequate." If there is danger that the knowledge acquired by the senses and the intellect, when separated from action, may prove to be an illusion, may we not say that this action adds to the figment of the mind nothing but movement in the order of phenomena, and following in the wake of this movement, a chimerical joy M. Laberthonnière has in mind is no more that of the intellect which recognizes that it is in agreement with the object it affirms (veritas per conformitatern ad rem), but it is that certitude of the intellect which knows itself to be in agreement with the upright will. As Aristotle (Ethic., VI, c. II) and St. Thomas (Summa Theol., Ia, IIae, q. 57, a. 5, ad 3), express it: "The truth of the practical intellect depends on conformity with a right desire (appetitus)."

In Scholastic circles, this kind of certitude is called "practicopractical," and has nothing to do with metaphysics, nor with any of the speculative sciences, nor even with ethics, but belongs to prudence, a faculty which functions every time the necessity arises of deciding in the contingent events of life what is the just mean between the two extremes of excess and defect. This "practico-practical" certitude presupposes a speculative certitude of those principles by which the will is judged to be upright or good. This truth of the practical order, which consists in harmony with the upright will, may be in conflict with the reality. Not infrequently, people who are more sincere than intelligent, with the best of intentions and in perfect good faith, defend statements that are theoretically false.

It is easy to see that this kind of experimental certitude is found also in two of the gifts of the Holy Ghost (wisdom and understanding), but these gifts presuppose faith and charity. All Catholic theologians distinguish with St. Thomas between speculative and experimental wisdom, this latter being the gift of wisdom. "Wisdom," says the Angelic Doctor, "implies a rectitude of judgment in conformity with the divine plans. Now this rectitude of judgment may arise from two causes: (1) it may be the result of a perfect use of reason; (2) it may be the fruit of a certain natural conformity which one has with those things about which one must judge. Take chastity, for example; one who is versed in the moral law, judges it in the light of reason; but one who is habitually chaste, judges this virtue from the conformity of nature (connaturalitas) which he has with it. Therefore, in regard to divine things, it belongs to wisdom, as an intellectual virtue, to judge of these things by intellectual research. But if it is a question of judging about these same things according to a certain conformity between nature and them, this belongs to wisdom in so far as it is a gift of the Holy Ghost. For this reason Denis the Carthusian (De Div. Nom., c. 2) declared that Hierotheus had arrived at perfection in the things which pertain to God, not only because he had acquired a knowledge of them, but also because he had experienced them in his own life (non solum discens sed et patiens divina). This sort of passivity, or conformity of nature with divine things, is the result of charity, which unites us to God, as the Apostle says (I Cor. VI, 17): ‘He who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit.' Hence the gift of wisdom has its cause in the will, which is charity, but its essence in the intellect, which has as its own proper act to judge correctly." (IIa, IIae, q. 45, a. 2). This is the true pragmatism, compared with which the pragmatism of modern philosophers is ridiculous. John of St. Thomas, in a series of brilliant dissertations on the gift of wisdom, has given us a full account of the nature of this judgment which operates "by way of connatural inclination." (See Cursus Theol., in IIam IIae, disp. 18, a. 4). In this experimental knowledge of the things that appertain to God, not only does the will apply the intellect to consider the divine truths in preference to everything else (liberty of action), but from the fact that the will, acting under the divine impulse given to it by the virtues of faith and charity, has been completely transformed, divine things are considered by the intellect to be in agreement with one's aspirations and good for one—all the more as charity increases. Finally, they are held to be true, since they fully satisfy the desires which have been incomparably regulated by the divine light of faith, which rests on the authority of God, as proposed by the Catholic Church. By charity, the object becomes a colourful reflection of the divine, or, as John of St. Thomas says, "sic amor transit in conditionem objecti.”

The defenders of the philosophy of action maintain that this affective knowledge more closely resembles what St. Thomas calls perfect intellection, which is not merely the representation of an object in the mind, a consideration of its essence, but the intellectual mastery of, the intimate union with, the possession of a being. There is something equivocal in this; for in perfect intellection, which means the beatific vision, intimate union with the divine essence is effected by simple vision or intuition, without any intermediary concept; beatific love is but a consequence of this, and does not put us into possession of God. Charity plays quite a different role in the experimental knowledge of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. This new interpretation of the teaching of St. Thomas would result in confounding the Thomist view concerning the essence of the beatific vision with that of Scotus, which is directly opposed to it. In this life, according to St. Thomas, the love of God is superior to the knowledge of God, whereas in Heaven, the reverse is true; for there the knowledge of God is immediate. (See Summa Theol., Ia IIae, q. 3, a. 4; Billuart, De Ultimo Fine, diss. II, a. 2).


But let us not mistake this religious experience of the gifts, which presupposes charity, for faith, which precedes charity, and, above all, let us not confuse it with the natural knowledge of God, which precedes supernatural faith. If there is an analogous experimental certitude in the natural order, it presupposes the certitude of the sensus communis or spontaneous reasoning, which certitude is not experimental and does not differ from that furnished by the classical proofs, except by the difference which separates the implicit from the explicit.

We see that, for M. Laberthonnière, the affirmation that God exists is a free affirmation. We might view in the same way, as Fr. Chossat, S.J., remarks, our belief in a sense of duty, and say that it also is a matter of free choice. The will imposes the obligation. That we are absolutely in need of supernatural assistance before we can be certain of God's existence, must not, therefore, surprise us. (Laberthonnière, Essai de Phil. Relig., p. 317). On this point Blondel writes: "It is not because we positively stand in need of the supernatural, and because it is a necessity arising from our human nature, but it is because nature demands this as a necessity and because it is an exigency that is felt within us." (Quoted by Laberthonnière, op. cit.). Such statements are in agreement with the immanent method, which may be summed up in the sentence that nothing is imposed upon us from without.

Concerning this method, the Encyclical "Pascendi" says: "We cannot refrain from once more and very strongly deploring the fact that there are Catholics who, while repudiating immanence as a doctrine, nevertheless employ it as a system of apologetics; they do so, we may say, with such a lack of discretion, that they seem to admit in human nature not only a capacity and fittingness for the supernatural order—both of which Catholic apologists have always been careful to emphasize—but assert that it truly and rigorously demands the same." (Denz., 2103).

The sort of demonstration of the existence of God admitted by those who adopt the method of immanence—since they hold that the Scholastic proofs are inadequate—is practically a defense of the theory that, in our present condition, in order to be sure of God's existence (since human nature left to itself is incapable of this), we have an absolute claim upon the necessary help in the supernatural order. P. Chossat, S.J. (loc. cit., cols. 864-870) points out that if some theologians admitted that, in our present condition, we cannot be certain of the existence of God without supernatural help, they were considering only the actual fact, or the conditions under which this natural potency operates, by which we acquire a knowledge of God; they did not deny this potency, nor in any way restrict its specification. They distinguished carefully between essence and existence, specification and operation, right and fact. What these theologians meant is that, in our present state, due to original sin, a supernatural help is required for the will to apply (operative order) the intellect to the consideration of God in preference to any other object, and also to eliminate (removens, prohibens, a purely negative process), the moral dispositions which prevent us from perceiving the cogency of the proofs; but they did not maintain the necessity of this help for the will in the order of specification, so that it might contribute in some particular way to modify the proofs for the existence of God. They considered these proofs sufficient just as they are.

The distinction between specification and operation, between right and fact, can find no place in this new system of apologetics. The reason for this is that the defenders of this system have discarded the classical proofs for the existence of God as unconvincing, and have chosen to adopt the Kantian view, that reason of itself, by its very nature, cannot prove the existence of God with a certainty that is objectively sufficient. From this it follows that the supernatural—no matter what Blondel may say—not only makes its demands felt, but is also absolutely required by us. It seems, therefore, that this teaching of the modern school of apologists can no more be reconciled with the definition of the Vatican Council than could the views held by the Traditionalists of Louvain and the Fideists of Bautain's school. These apologists, though starting from different points, arrive at the same conclusions as those who held that the supernatural gifts belonged by right to the first man in a state of innocence, and who exaggerated the fall from original justice so as to admit with Luther, Calvin, Baius, Jansenius, and Quesnel, that reason is incapable of proving the existence of God.

See Immanence, by Fr. de Tonquédec, pp. 149-166, where the author shows that Blondel cannot avoid the error of Baianism except by falling into the more serious error of denying the ontological scope of reason.


The 41st proposition of Quesnel reads as follows: "All knowledge of God, even natural knowledge, even in pagan philosophers, can come only from God; and without grace produces only presumption, vanity, and opposition to God, instead of fostering acts of adoration, gratitude, and love." (Denz., n. 1391). Abbé Laberthonnière expresses himself in almost the same way when, besides what he calls "the faith of love," he admits in certain others who reject God, "a faith of fear." "But to believe solely out of fear," he says, "is to believe and deny at the same time. Such faith is like that of an enemy believing in the existence of his enemy whilst hoping to crush him. Faith actuated entirely by fear, therefore, is not a sincere faith, because it contains within itself the desire not to believe. With it and by it, one plunges into darkness." (Essai de Phil. Relig., p. 80). "They speak and write," justly observes P. Chossat, S.J., "as if all the theories evolved on these questions by Protestants, Jansenists, and even by otherwise orthodox theologians, were tenable at the present day. We ought not to forget, however, that the notion of the supernatural, and especially the question of the possibility of acquiring certain knowledge about God by the natural light of reason, are not discussed from the same point of view to-day as they were forty or 400 years ago. . . . This fact fully explains why the Essais of Abbé Laberthonnière were put on the Index." (Dict. de Théologie, cols. 869-871). In 1913, all the volumes of Les Annales de Philosophie Chrétienne, from 1905 to 1913, were likewise placed on the Index for ventilating the same ideas as the Essais.

To present Blondel's views

Especially this proposition: "To believe that one can finally arrive at the idea of being, and legitimately affirm whatever reality there may be to it, without having gone through the whole process which originates from an intuitive perception of the necessity of God and of religious experience, means that one remains under an illusion."


in a more favorable light, Abbé Rousselot proposed the following interpretation: "In the most primitive and spontaneous operation of reason, analysis promptly discloses to us the certain assurance that it is possible for reason to form a clear notion of being, and also that one can get into such a frame of mind as to be satisfied with oneself, with the world, and with life in general. This presumption (I use the word in no disparaging sense) is natural, essential to the intellect, an a priori condition of its existence, and, as it were, the vital principle of each of its particular intentions. Now, in addition to this, in the present state of our fallen nature, transmitted by Adam to all his descendants, this presumption, without a special grace of illumination for the intellect, is unjustified. . . . Without a revelation from above, without a cure in no wise due to human nature, the intellect cannot come into possession of the truth concerning its real destiny. There follows a deordination of the cognitive powers of the soul, which interferes with the proper functioning of these powers, and which, without rendering each of them false or ‘spurious,' separates them from what ought to be their means of full development and for which they are truly intended. . . . Viewing things this way, we can understand how supernatural faith alone, considered as a perfection of the intellect, comes to the aid of natural reason, and gives to the knowledge that one may have of any object, its full right to such a claim."

Dictionnaire Apologétique, art. "Intellectualisme," col. 1074.


This interpretation recalls that of the older theologians refuted by St. Thomas in the Second Book of the Sentences, dist. 28, q. 1, a. 5, and also that of Vasquez, generally combated by the Thomists,

See Gonet, O.P., Clypeus Thomist., De Gratia, disp. I, I, § 2.


and may be summed up in this statement: "Supernatural faith alone gives to the knowledge that one may have of any object, its full right to such a claim."

It seems scarcely possible to reconcile this proposition with that to which Abbé Bautain had to subscribe, to wit: "However feeble and obscure the light of reason may have become through original sin, it still retains sufficient clarity and power to lead us with certainty to the existence of God and to the revelation given to the Jews through Moses and to the Christians through our adorable God-Man." (Denz., n. 1627). In 1844, the Abbé Bautain had to promise "never to teach that reason cannot acquire a true and complete certitude concerning the motives of credibility, especially such as miracles, prophecies, and most particularly the Resurrection of Jesus Christ." (Denz., n. 434) . In discussing the definition of the Vatican Council concerning the power of reason to acquire a certain knowledge of the existence of God, we pointed out that it was precisely human nature in its fallen state that was meant.

See Vacant, Etudes sur le Concile du Vatican, Vol. I, pp. 289 and 673. See also Denz., n. 1670.


This knowledge, therefore, appears to be fully accounted for without grace.

If one wishes to adopt the method of immanence, one must not view it as an exclusive or indispensable method, so superior to all the others as to deserve first consideration. The classical arguments have demonstrative force without it, though we may say that it disposes one to consider them and it confirms them.

In so far as it prepares or disposes one to consider the arguments set forth by the other methods, the method of immanence enjoys a priority of time, but not of perfection or validity. It is natural for it to confirm afterwards what it has helped to establish. In the same way, we clearly express our ideas by means of mental images which always precede, and likewise emotion precedes the operation of the will, and then becomes the means by which we attain the desired end. St. Thomas remarks: “Just as capacity in the order of things generated precedes, and is a predisposing cause of, perfection, so also, once this perfection has been acquired, it remains as a natural effect of the same." (IIIa, q. 7, a. 13, ad 2).


This doctrine was commonly admitted by the Fathers of the Church and by all those who have defended, as we shall do later on, the proof for the existence of God derived from the soul's aspiration towards the absolute and infinite Good. (See proof from the gradation to be found in things, as applied to good: the first to be desired, the Sovereign Good, the source of all our happiness and the ultimate reason of all our obligations). We shall also see that the argument based on love or on action would be ineffective and objectively inadequate, if it did not take into consideration the argument from intelligence, which presupposes the ontological and transcendental validity of the principles of reasoning, and it is precisely this validity that is denied by the opponents of the classical proofs.



Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com