Bonnetty, Aquinas, and Rationalism

Aquinas has been accused at sundry times by sundry people of sundry forms of rationalism, something that continues to this day. I can understand this to a certain extent even if I think that it is misguided. 

Among those who have leveled this accusation at Aquinas appears to be Augustin Bonnetty, a nineteenth century French philosopher and theologian and founder and editor of the journal Annales de philosophie chrétienne. Bonnetty, a layman, was an exponent of “traditionalism” (not to be confused, of course, with the traditionalism we talk of today with respect to critics of certain aspects of the post-Vatican II Church), a kind of fideistic approach to the truths of the faith. Traditionalism was one of the theological movements that Vatican I attempted to deal with in its decrees. 

After the archbishop of Paris had expressed concerns about Bonnetty’s ideas to the Congregation of the Index in Rome, he was asked by that congregation in 1855 to endorse four theological propositions with his signature. The fourth proposition was the following, which I came across while doing research for a paper on natural theology not long ago: 

Methodus, qua usi sunt divus Thomas, divus Bonaventura et alii post ipsos scholastici, non ad rationalismum ducit, neque causa fuit, cur apud scholas hodiernas philosophia in naturalismum et pantheismum impingeret. Proinde non licet in crimen doctoribus et magistris illis vertere, quod methodum hanc, praesertim approbante vel saltem tacente Ecclesia, usurpaverint. 

[The method used by St. Thomas, by St. Bonaventure, and, after them, by other scholastics, does not lead to rationalism, nor does it explain why, in modern schools, philosophy should fall into naturalism and pantheism. Hence these doctors and masters cannot be reproached for using that method, especially with the approval, at least tacit, of the Church.] 

It is surprising to see Bonaventure also suspected of rationalism since it is often the case that those who regard Aquinas as a rationalist of some variety, or as having strong rationalist tendencies, praise Bonaventure’s supposedly more affective and mystical theology as an alternative.

[A version of this post appeared in May on my now defunct blog “the end of the modern world, etc.”]