THE SACRED MONSTER OF THOMISM. An Introduction of the Life and Legacy of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. By Richard Peddicord, O.P. (St. Augustine’s Press. P.O. Box 2285, South Bend, Indiana 46680-2285, 2005), 250 pp. PB $25 clothbound.
There have been few figures in the theological climate of the last fiftyyears who have been as controversial as Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. Fr. Lagrange taught generations of future priests who studied in Rome, including Pope John Paul II who was his student. He also directed the future Pope’s thesis. Before the Council he was held in high esteem in Church circles and was for many years consulter for the Holy Office, now the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. During this time he was also very critical of the theologians of the nouvelle theologie. These were people like Congar, Chenu, Rahner, de Lubac and von Balthasar. Needless to say, after the Council his reputation has been blackened as an intransigent Thomist extremist whose “theological ethos […] was utterly discredited by the Second Vatican Council” (p. 2). Hence the title of this book which comes from Francois Mauriac who called Garrigou “that sacred monster (monster sacrè) of Thomism” (p.2).
Fr. Peddicord has done a signal service in addressing the historical revisionism behind this vilifying of Garrigou. He provides us with a book in which he first examines the life of Garrigou and then seeks to take his Thomism seriously. In ten chapters he first examines the biography of this great professor and then his personality as a Dominican.
Then in several chapters he creates a kind of Scholastic disputation between Garrigou and those who were his principle antagonists in philosophy and theology. These are notably Henri Bergson (a prime influence on Etienne Gilson), Maurice Blondel, Jacques Maritain and M-Dominique Chenu, who had been one of his favorite students. The author applies his critical skills in another chapter to the whole question of the nature of theology as defined by Garrigou and then two important representatives of contemporary Catholic theology: Roger Haight and Monika Hellwig.
The author is generally of the opinion that theology since Vatican II has lost its moorings and Garrigou offers a striking alternative to the present attempt to integrate modern philosophy with theology. This attempt has been marred by the failure of modern theology, especially in a post-Kantian world to discover a realistic basis in Metaphysics. Garrigou believed that many of the problems of the faith including what one Pope called “the sum of all heresies,” Modernism, could be laid at the door of a bad Metaphysics which looked on truth not in the traditional Thomistic sense of the adaequatio rei et intellectus (the equality of the intellect and the thing), but as Blondel’s adaequatio reaps mends et vitae (the equality of the real mind and life). The latter idea made truth subjective, whereas Garrigou based his objective metaphysics on the axiom of non-contradiction (a thing may not both be and not be the same thing at the same time in the same respect).
The author is convinced that modern theology is mostly man centered instead of God centered and “Garrigou’s answers to the most elemental questions pertaining to theology are important correctives to some problematic trends in contemporary Catholic theology” (p. 173). Though this is an excellent summary of difficult ideas, the author could have included much more on the most important controversy of the 20 th Century, that of the Natural Desire to See God between De Lubac and Garrigou.
In the next chapter, the author evaluates what he considers to be the most important contribution of Garrigou to Catholic thought. This is in the area of spirituality. Garrigou was among those in the early 20 th Century who sought to underline the fact that there were not two spiritualities in the Church: one for the perfect clergy and religious and the other for the laity. In a very succinct summary of Garrigou’s greatest book, The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life, the author demonstrates that Garrigou not only mastered the thought of St. Thomas on this subject but by applying ideas of John of the Cross succeeded in beautifully explaining why everyone in the Church is called to the mystical life. This doctrine was dear to the fathers at Vatican II as is evidenced in their chapter in Lumen Gentium, the “Universal Call to Holiness.”
Finally, the author successfully argues to a rehabilitation of the thought of Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. Garrigou’s Thomism would serve as a needed corrective to the more bizarre philosophical notions which have reigned almost unchecked in Catholic theology for the last 40 years. There is also a good bibliography which ends this excellent rehabilitation of an important figure in the problems of contemporary theology
Rev. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.