Where is the New Theology going? By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

I couldn’t find a translation of this paper, so I did my own. I have since been informed that one does exist somewhere, but as I had finished this it makes no sense not to publish it. I will post any edits and the footnotes as I get around to doing them.


Where is the New Theology going ?


In a recent book by Father Henri Bouillard, Conversion and Grace in Saint Thomas Aquinas, 1944, p. 219, we read: “When the spirit evolves, an immutable truth can only be maintained through a simultaneous and correlative evolution of all notions, maintaining a common relationship between them. A theology that is not current would be a false theology[1]”.

However, in the preceding and subsequent pages it is shown that the theology of Saint Thomas in several important parts is no longer current. For example, Saint Thomas conceived sanctifying grace as a form (a radical principle of supernatural operations whose next principle is the infused virtues and the seven gifts): “The notions used by Saint Thomas are simply Aristotelian concepts applied to theology” (Ibid., pp. 213 ff.).

What follows? “By renouncing Aristotelian Physics, modern thought has abandoned notions, schemes, and dialectical contrasts that had no meaning except as a function of it” (p. 224). It has therefore abandoned the notion of form.

How will the reader avoid concluding: since the theology of Saint Thomas is no longer relevant, it is a false theology.

But then, how have the Popes so often recommended that we follow the doctrine of Saint Thomas? How does the Church say in her Code of Canon Law, can. 1366, n. 2: “Philosophiae rationalis ac theologiae studia et alumnorum in his disciplinis institutionem professores omnino pertractent ad Angelici Doctoris rationem, doctrinam, et principia, eaque sancte tene”.

Moreover, how can an “immutable truth” be maintained if the two notions it unites through the verb “to be” are essentially ever-changing?

An immutable relationship can only be conceived if there is something immutable in the two terms it unites. Otherwise, it might as well be said that an iron spike can immobilize the waves of the sea.

Undoubtedly the two notions that are united in an immutable affirmation are first confused and then distinct, such as the notions of nature, person, substance, accident, transubstantiation, real presence, sin, original sin, grace, etc. But if these notions are not fundamental and immutable, how would the affirmation that unites them by the verb “to be” be immutable? How can we maintain that the real presence of the substance of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist requires transubstantiation, if these notions are fundamentally changing? How can we maintain that the original sin in us depends on a deliberate fault of the first man, if the notion of original sin is essentially unstable? How can we maintain that the particular judgment after death is irrevocable for all eternity, if these notions are destined to change? And how can we finally maintain that all these proposals are immutably true, if the very notion of truth must change, and if the traditional definition of truth (the conformity of judgment to extrinsic reality and its immutable laws) must be replaced by that proposed in recent years by the philosophy of action: the conformity of judgment with the requirements of ever-changing action or human life?


1° Do the dogmatic formulas themselves retain their immutability?


P. H. Bouillard, op. cit., p. 221, answers: the affirmation that is expressed in them remains. But he adds, ibid: “One may wonder whether it is still possible to consider as contingent the notions involved in the conciliar definitions? Would that not compromise the irreformable nature of these definitions? The Council of Trent, sess. 6, cap. 7, can. 10, for example, used the notion of formal cause in its teaching on justification. Did it not, by the same token, enshrine this position and confer a definitive character on the notion of grace-form? Not at all. It was certainly not the Council’s intention to canonize an Aristotelian notion, nor even a theological notion conceived under the influence of Aristotle. It simply wanted to affirm, against the Protestants, that justification is an interior renewal… To this end, it used common notions in the theology of time. But others can be substituted for them, without changing the meaning of its teaching. (We underline.)
No doubt the Council did not canonize the Aristotelian notion of form with all its relations to other notions of the Aristotelian system. But it was approved as a stable human notion, in the sense that we are all talking about what formally constitutes a thing (here justification)[2]. In this sense it speaks of sanctifying grace distinct from the present grace, saying that it is a supernatural, infused gift, which enters the soul and by which man is formally justified (cf. Denzinger, 799, 821). If the Councils define faith, hope, charity as permanent infused virtues, their radical principle (the habitual or sanctifying grace) must also be a permanent infused gift, and as a consequence distinct from the present grace or a transitory divine motion.

But how can we maintain the meaning of this teaching of the Council of Trent “sanctifying grace is the formal cause of justification”, if “another notion is substituted for that of formal cause”? I do not say “if we substitute a verbal equivalent”, I say with P. H. Bouillard “if we substitute another notion”.

If it is other, it is no longer that of formal cause: Then it is no longer true to say with the Council: “sanctifying grace is the formal cause of justification”. It is enough to say: grace was conceived at the time of the Council of Trent as the formal cause of justification, but today it must be conceived differently, this past conception is no longer current and therefore no longer true, because a doctrine that is no longer current, it has been said, is a false doctrine[3].

The answer is: the notion of formal cause can be replaced by another equivalent notion. We are paying for words here (by insisting first on another and then on equivalent), especially since it is not only a question of verbal equivalence, since it is another notion. What becomes of the very notion of truth?[4]

So the very serious question arises again and again: is the conciliar proposal maintained as true per conformitatem cum ente extramentali et legibus ejus immutabilibus, an per conformitatem cum exigentiis vitae humanae quae semper evolvitur?

The danger of the new definition of truth can be seen, no longer adaequatio rei and intellectus, but conformitas mentis et vitae. When Mr. Blondel proposed this substitution in 1906, he did not foresee all the consequences in the field of faith. He himself might be afraid of it, or at least deeply anxious[5]. What is the life in this definition: “conformitas mentis et vitae”? It is about human life. And so how can we avoid the modernist proposal: “Veritas non est immutabilis plusquam ipse homo, quippe quae cum ipso, in ipso et per ipsum evolvitur” (Denz. 2058). It is understandable that Pius X said of the modernists: “aeternam veritatis notionem pervertunt” (Denz. 2080).

It is very dangerous to say: notions change, statements remain. If the very notion of truth changes, the statements no longer remain true in the same way, nor in the same sense. Thus the meaning of the Councils is no longer maintained, as one would have liked.

Unfortunately, the new definition of truth is spreading among those who forget what Pius X had said: “Magistros autem monemus, ut rite hoc teneant Aquinatem vel parure deserere, praesertim in re metaphysica, non sine magno detrimento esse. Parvus error in principio, sic verbis ipsius Aquinatis licet uti, est magnus in fine”. (Enc. Pascendi).

All the more so if we ignore all metaphysics, all ontology, and if we tend to substitute the philosophy of being, that of the phenomenon or that of becoming, or that of action.

Is it not the new definition of truth that is found under the new definition of theology: “Theology is none other than a spirituality or religious experience that has found its intellectual expression”. And while thinking of assertions such as this: “If theology can help us to understand spirituality, spirituality in turn will, in many cases, break down our theological frameworks, and force us to conceive various types of theology… Each great spirituality has been matched by a great theology. Does this mean that two theologies can be true, even if they contradict each other on their crucial theses? The answer will be no if the traditional definition of truth is maintained. We will say yes, if we adopt the new definition of the true conceived not in relation to being and its immutable laws, but in relation to different religious experiences. This brings us closer to modernism.

It should be remembered that on 1 December 1924 the Holy Office condemned twelve proposals extracted from the philosophy of action, among them there was, n. 5, the new definition of truth: “Veritas non invenitur in ullo actu particulari intellectus in quo haberetur conformitas cum objecto, ut aiunt scholastici, sed veritas est semper in fieri, consistitque in adaequatione progressiva intellectus et vitae, scil. in motu quodam perpetuo, quo intellectus evolvere et explicare nititur id quod parit experientia vel exigiit actio: ea tamen lege ut in toto progressu nihil unquam ratum fixumque habeatur “. The last of these condemned proposals is this: “Etiam post fidem conceptam, homo non debet quiescere in dogmatibus religionis, eisque fixe et immobiliter adhaerere, sed semper anxius manere progrediendi ad ulteriorem veritatem, nempe evolvendo in novos sensus, immo et corrigendo id quod credit”.[6]

Many, carelessly, are now returning to these mistakes.

How then can we maintain that sanctifying grace is essentially supernatural, gratuitous, in no way due to human nature, nor to angelic nature?

This is clear to Saint Thomas, who in the light of Revelation admits this principle: the faculties, the “habitus” and their acts are specified by their formal object; yet the formal object of human intelligence and that of angelic intelligence itself, are immensely inferior to the very object of divine intelligence: the Deity or the intimate life of God (cf. Ia, q. XII, a. 4). But if we neglect all metaphysics, and content ourselves with historical scholarship and psychological introspection, the text of Saint Thomas becomes unintelligible[7]. From this point of view, what will be maintained of the traditional doctrine on the distinction between grace and nature, rather than a contingent distinction, but a necessary one?

On this subject, in the recent book of P. H. de Lubac, Surnatural (Historical Studies), 1946, p. 264: on the probable impeccability of angels in the natural order, we read: “Nothing announces in Saint Thomas the distinction that a certain number of Thomistic theologians will later forge, between “God author of the natural order” and “God author of the supernatural order”…. as if the natural bliss… in the case of the angel should have resulted from an infallible, impeccable activity. Item, p. 275.

On the contrary, Saint Thomas often distinguishes the supernatural ultimate end from the natural ultimate end[8], and as for the demon he says, De malo, q. XVI, a. 3: “Peccatum diaboli non fuit in aliquo quod pertinet ad ordinem naturalem, sed secundum aliquid supernaturale”. Item, Ia, q. LXIII, a. 1, ad 3um.

This leads to a complete disinterest in the pronuntiata majora of Saint Thomas’ philosophical doctrine, that is, in the twenty-four Thomistic theses approved in 1916 by the Sacred Congregation of Studies.

Moreover, Fr. Gaston Fessard S. J. in Les Études de novembre 1945, p. 269-270, speaks of the “blessed slumber protected by canonized Thomism, but also, as Péguy said, “buried”, as the thoughts destined, in his name, to contradiction live on”.

In the same review in April 1946, it is stated that neo-thomism and the decisions of the Bible Commission are “a safeguard, but not an answer”. And what is proposed instead of Thomism, as if Leo XIII in the encyclical Aeterni Patris had been mistaken, as if Pius X in the encyclical Pascendi, by renewing this same recommendation, had been wrong? And where will it go with this new theology with the new teachers from whom it is inspired? Where does it go if not on the path of scepticism, fantasy and heresy? His Holiness Pius XII said recently in a speech published by the Osservatore romano on September 19, 1946: “Plura dicta sunt, at non satis explorata ratione, “de nova theologia” quae cum universis semper volventibus rebus, una volsemper itura, numquam perventura. If talis opinio amplectenda esse videatur, quid fiet de numquam immutandis catholicis dogmatibus, quid de fidei ,unitate et stabilitate? »


2° Application of the new principles to the doctrines of original sin and the Eucharist

We will certainly say that we are exaggerating, but even a slight error on the first notions and principles has incalculable consequences that those who made such a mistake did not foresee. The consequences of the new views, which we have just discussed, must therefore go far beyond the predictions of the authors we have cited. These consequences are difficult not to see in some typed sheets that are communicated (some since 1934) to the clergy, seminarians, Catholic intellectuals; they contain the most singular assertions and negations about original sin and real presence.

Sometimes before proposing these new features, we warn the reader by telling him: it seems crazy at first, but nevertheless, if we look closely, it is not without probability and it is accepted by many. Superficial intelligences let themselves be taken in, and the formula: “a doctrine that is no longer current, is no longer true” makes its way. Some are tempted to conclude: “the doctrine of the eternity of the pains of hell is no longer relevant, it seems, and therefore no longer true”. It is said in the Gospel that one day the charity of many will cool down and they will be seduced by error.

It is a strict obligation of conscience for traditional theologians to respond. Otherwise they are seriously failing in their duty, and they will have to answer to God.

In the mimeographed sheets distributed in France in recent years (at least since 1934, according to those we have in our hands) the most fanciful and false doctrines are taught about original sin.

In these sheets, the act of Christian faith is not conceived as a supernatural and infallible adherence to the revealed truths propter auctoritatem Dei revelantis, but as an adherence of the spirit to a general perspective of the universe. It is the perception of what is possible and more probable but not demonstrable. Faith becomes a probable set of opinions. From this point of view, Adam seems to be not an individual man from whom the human race descends, but rather a community.

We no longer see how to maintain the revealed doctrine of original sin as explained by St. Paul, Rom. V, 18: “Sicut per unius delictum in omnes homines in condemnationem, sic et per unius justitiam in omnes homines in justificationem vitae. Sicut enim per inoboedientiam unius peccatores constituti sunt multi, ita per unius oboeditionem justi constituentur multi”. All the Fathers and the Church, the authorized interpreter of Scripture, in her magisterium, either ordinary or solemn, have always heard that Adam was an individual man like Christ and not a community[9]. We are now being offered a probability in the opposite direction of the teaching of the Councils of Orange and Trent (Denz. 175, 789, 791, 793)[10].

Moreover, the incarnation of the Word, from this new point of view, would be a moment of universal evolution.

The hypothesis of the material evolution of the world is extended to the spiritual order. The supernatural world is evolving towards the full coming of Christ.

Sin as it affects the soul is something spiritual and therefore timeless. Therefore, it does not matter to God whether it took place at the beginning of human history or over the ages.

Original sin is therefore no longer a sin in us that depends on the wilful misconduct of the first man, but it comes from the misdeeds of men that have influenced humanity.

This leads to a desire to change not only the mode of exposition of theology, but also the very nature of theology, much more that of dogma. This is no longer considered from the point of view of faith infused with divine Revelation, interpreted by the Church in her Councils. There is no longer any question of the Councils, but we place ourselves here from the point of view of biology supplemented by the most imaginative elucubrations which recall those of Hegelian evolutionism, which no longer preserved Christian dogmas other than the name.

In this we are following the rationalists, and doing what the enemies of faith want, we reduce ourselves to ever-changing opinions that no longer have any value. What remains of the word of God given to the world for the salvation of souls?

In the pages entitled How I Believe, p. 15, we read: “If we Christians want to preserve for Christ the qualities that underlie his power and worship, we have nothing better or even nothing else to do than to accept to the very end the most modern conceptions of Evolution. Under the combined pressure of Science and Philosophy, the World is increasingly imposing itself on our experience and thought as a linked system of activities gradually rising towards freedom and consciousness. The only satisfactory interpretation of this process is to consider it as irreversible and convergent. Thus a Universal Cosmic Centre is defined ahead of us, where everything is achieved, where everything is felt, where everything is controlled. Well, it is in this physical pole of the universal Evolution that it is necessary, in my opinion, to place and recognize the Plenitude of Christ… Evolution, by discovering a summit in the world, makes Christ possible, just as Christ, by giving meaning to the World, makes Evolution possible.

I am perfectly aware of the vertiginous nature of this idea… but, by imagining such a marvel, I do nothing else than to transcribe into terms of physical reality the legal expressions in which the Church has deposited her faith… I have committed myself, without hesitation, in the only direction in which it seems possible to me to advance and consequently to save my faith.

Catholicism had disappointed me, at first sight, by its narrow representations of the World, and by its misunderstanding of the role of Matter. Now I recognize that following the incarnate God that he reveals to me, I can only be saved by being a part of the universe. And at the same time, it is my deepest “pantheist” aspirations that are satisfied, reassured and guided. The World around me, becomes divine….

A general convergence of religions towards a universal Christ, which, in essence, satisfies them all: this seems to me to be the only possible conversion to the World and the only conceivable form for a Religion of the future[11]”.

Thus the material world would have evolved towards the spirit, and the spirit world would naturally evolve towards, so to speak, the supernatural order and the fullness of Christ. Thus the Incarnation of the Word, the mystical body, the universal Christ would be moments of Evolution, and from this point of view of constant progress from the beginning, it does not seem that there has been a fall at the beginning of the history of humanity, but a constant progress of good that triumphs over evil according to the very laws of evolution. The original sin would be in us as a result of the faults of men who have exercised a fatal influence on humanity.

This is what remains of Christian dogma in this theory, which is far from our Creed in that it is closer to Hegelian evolutionism.

In this presentation it says: “I have moved in the only direction in which I believe it is possible to make progress and therefore to save my faith”. It is therefore that faith itself is only saved if it progresses, and it changes so much that the faith of the Apostles, that of the Fathers and the Councils, is no longer recognized. It is a way of applying the principle of new theology: “a doctrine that is no longer current is no longer true” and for some it is enough if it is no longer current in some circles. From then on, the truth is always in a state of uncertainty, never immutable. It is the conformity of judgment, not with the being and its necessary laws, but with the life that is always evolving. We see how far the proposals condemned by the Holy Office on 1 December 1924, which we have mentioned above, lead: “No propositio abstracta potest haberi ut immutabiliter vera”. “Etiam post fidem conceptam, homo non debet quiescere in dogmatibus religionis, eisque fixe et immobiliter adhaerere, sed semper anxius manere progrediendi ad ulteriorem veritatem, nempe evolvendo in novos sensus, immo et corrigendo id quod credit”. See Monitore ecclesiastico, 925, p. 194.

We find another example of a similar deviation in the pages on the Real Presence, which have been circulating for a few months in the clergy. It says that the real problem of real presence has not been well articulated so far: “We have said to respond to all the difficulties we have forged for ourselves: Christ is present in the manner of a substance…. This explanation misses the real problem. Let us add that in its misleading clarity it removes the religious mystery. To tell the truth, there is no longer a mystery here, there is only a prodigy there.

It is therefore Saint Thomas who did not know how to raise the problem of the Real Presence, and his solution: praesentia corporis Christi per modum substantiae would be illusory; his clarity is a misleading clarity.

We are warned that the new explanation proposed “obviously implies that the Cartesian and Spinozian method be substituted for the scholastic method as a method of reflection”.

A little further on we read: about transubstantiation “this word is not without disadvantage, any more than that of original sin. It responds to the way scholastics conceive this transformation and their conception is unacceptable.

Here we are no longer only moving away from Saint Thomas, but from the Council of Trent, sess. XIII, cap. 4, and can. 2 (Denz. 877; 884), because he defined transubstantiation as a truth of faith, and even said: “quam quidem conversionem catholica Ecclesia aptissime transubstantiationem appellat”. Today these new theologians say: “this word is not without its disadvantages,… it responds to an unacceptable conception”.

“In scholastic perspectives where the reality of the thing is “the substance”, the thing can only really change if the substance changes… through transubstantiation. In our present perspectives… when by virtue of the offering made according to a rite determined by Christ, bread and wine became the effective symbol of Christ’s sacrifice, and consequently of his spiritual presence, their religious being changed”, not their substance[12]. And it is added: “This is what we can call transubstantiation”.

But it is clear that it is no longer transubstantiation as defined by the Council of Trent, “conversio totius substantiae panis in Corpus et totius substantiae vini in Sanguinem, manentibus duntaxat speciebus panis et vini” (Denz. 884). It is obvious that the meaning of the Council is not maintained by the introduction of these new concepts. Bread and wine have become only “the effective symbol of Christ’s spiritual presence”.

This brings us closer to the modernist position which does not affirm the real presence of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, but which only says from a practical and religious point of view: behave with regard to the Eucharist as with regard to the humanity of Christ.

In the same leaves we hear in a similar way the mystery of the Incarnation: “Although Christ is truly God, we cannot say that through him there was a presence of God on the land of Judea… God was no more present in Palestine than elsewhere. The effective sign of this divine presence was manifested in Palestine in the first century of our era, that’s all we can say”[13].

Finally, it is added: “the problem of the causality of the sacraments is a false problem, born of a false way of asking the question”.

We do not think that the writers we have just mentioned abandon the doctrine of Saint Thomas; they have never adhered to it because they have never understood it well. It is painful and worrying.

With this method of teaching how can we avoid training skeptics? For no firm alternative to the doctrine of Saint Thomas is being proposed. Moreover, one claims to be subject to the direction of the Church, but what does this submission consist of?

A professor of theology astonished me: “It is indeed the very notion of truth that the debate is about, and, without realizing it, we return to modernism in thought and action. The writings you are talking about are widely read in France. They exert a great influence, on average minds it is true: serious people do not catch on. We must write for those who have a sincere desire to be enlightened.

According to some, the Church only recognized Saint Thomas’ authority in the field of theology, not directly in that of philosophy. On the contrary, the encyclical Aeterni patris of Leo XIII speaks above all of the philosophy of Saint Thomas. Likewise, the twenty-four Thomistic theses proposed in 1916 by the Holy Congregation for Studies are of a philosophical nature and if these pronunciata majora of Saint Thomas are not certain, then what can his theology, which constantly uses them, be worth? Finally, as we have already mentioned, Pius X wrote: “Magistros autera monemus, ut rite hoc teneant Aquinatem vel parum deserere praesertim in re metaphysica non sine magno detrimento esse. Parvus error in principio magnus est in fine”.

Where do these trends come from? A good judge wrote to me: “The fruits of attending university courses without precaution are being reaped. We want to meet the masters of modern thought to convert them and we let ourselves be converted by them. Their ideas, methods, disdain for scholastics, historicism, idealism and all their mistakes are gradually being accepted. If this attendance is useful for already trained minds, it is surely dangerous for others.


Where does the new theology go? It returns to modernism. Because it accepted the proposal made to it: to replace the traditional definition of truth with the subjective definition: adaequatio rei et intellectus, as if it were chimeric, adaequatio realis mentis et vitae. This is expressed explicitly in the already cited proposal, extracted from the philosophy of action, and condemned by the Holy Office on 1 December 1924: “Veritas non invenitur in ullo actu particulari intellectus in quo haberetur conformitas cum objecto ut aiunt scholastici, sed veritas est semper in fieri, consistitque in adaequatione progressiva intellectus et vitae, scil. in motu quodam perpetuo, quo intellectus evolvere et explicare nititur id quod parit experientia vel exigiit actio: ea tamen lege ut in toto progressu nihil unquam ratum fixumque habeatur” (Monitore ecclesiastico, 1925, t. I, p. 194).

Truth is no longer the conformity of judgment with extrinsic reality and its immutable laws, but the conformity of judgment with the requirements of the ever evolving action and human life. The philosophy of being or ontology is replaced by the philosophy of action, which defines truth as a function of action rather than being.

We thus return to the modernist position: “Veritas non est immutabilis plus quam ipse homo, quippe quae cum ipso, in ipso et per ipsum evolvitur” (Denz., 2058). Therefore, Pius X said of the modernists “aeternam veritatis notionem pervertunt” (Denz., 2080).

This was foreseen by our master Father M. B. Schwalm in his articles in the Thomist Review, 1896, pp. 36 ff., 413; 1897, pp. 62, 239, 627; 1898, p. 578, on the philosophy of action, the moral dogmatism of Fr. Laberthonnière, the Crisis of contemporary apologetics, the illusions of idealism and their dangers for the faith.

But many thought that Father Schwalm had exaggerated, they gradually gave the new definition of truth the right to be heard, and they more or less stopped defending the traditional definition of truth: the conformity of the judgment with the extramental being and its immutable laws of non-contradiction, causality, etc. For them, the real is no longer what is, but what becomes and changes forever.

But to stop defending the traditional definition of truth, to let it be said that it is chimerical, that it must be replaced by another vitalist and evolutionist one, this leads to complete relativism, and this is a very serious mistake.

Moreover, and we do not think about it, this leads us to say what the enemies of the Church want us to say. When we read their recent works, we see that they experience a true contentment with them, and that they themselves propose interpretations of our dogmas, where it is a question of original sin, cosmic evil, incarnation, redemption, the Eucharist, final universal reintegration, cosmic Christ, the convergence of all religions towards a universal cosmic centre[14].

It is therefore understandable that the Holy Father, in the recent speech reported by the Osservatore romano of 19 September 1946, said when speaking of “new theology”: “Si talis opinio, amplectenda esse videatur, quid fiet de numquam immutandis catholicis dogmatibus, quid de fidei unitate et stabilitate? »

Moreover, since Providence only allows evil for a higher good and since we see in many an excellent reaction against the errors we have just underlined, we can hope that these deviations will be the occasion for a real doctrinal renewal, through a thorough study of the works of Saint Thomas, whose value appears more and more, when compared to today’s intellectual confusion[15].


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