Gilson on the Possibility of a Christian Philosophy, Part I

Written by on July 19th, 2013. Subject: Philosophy. Filed in Religion, about Etienne Gilson Christian Philosophy Rationalism

|||Gilson, Etienne. The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991.|||

The Seven Liberal Arts “Now it is a fact that between ourselves and the Greeks the Christian revelation has intervened, and has profoundly modified the conditions under which reason has to work. Once you are in possession of that revelation how can you possibly philosophize as though you had never heard of it? The errors of Plato and Aristotle are precisely the errors into which pure reason falls, and every philosophy which sets out to be self-sufficing will fall into them again, or perhaps into others still worse; so that henceforth the only safe plan is to take revelation for our guide and make an effort to understand its contents - and this understanding of the contents of revelation will be philosophy itself.” p. 5.

This quote is taken from a series of lectures given by Étienne Gilson at the University of Aberdeen from 1931-1932 on the spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy. This lecture concerned the possibility of a Christian Philosophy, a possibility that is hindered by the objections of two strong parties. On the one hand are the so-called fideists, whose objections will be addressed further on in the chapter and in the second part of this series. The party he is concerned with in this passage are what he calls rationalists, namely, those who hold that reason alone is sufficient to answer any and all questions of human speculation, thus rendering any appeal to a revelation-based account unnecessary and irrelevant. This is certainly possible if one gives no validity to revelation whatsoever, but as he implies it becomes very problematic if one holds that revelation contains any semblance of truth whatsoever. For if it is held to be true it must be so inasmuch as it is understood, and understanding pertains to the reasoning faculty. Revelation indeed has no place in philosophical speculation if it is false, but may in fact have a supremely important place in philosophic inquiry if it is true.

In this argument he is merely following the precept of Aristotle that philosophy is the most universal science because it speculates about the fundamental principles of all human knowledge in all the sciences. Seen in this light, a Christian has not only the right but the duty to rationally examine the truths he already believes in the hopes of gaining a greater understanding thereby. Belief cannot be radically separated from reason anymore than it can be removed from the valuations of truth and falsity. To do so is to make Christianity into nothing more than one ethical system among many at best, and an arbitrary collection of pious sentiments at worst. In this way it is seen that while the quest for understanding faith may seem irrelevant to one who does not believe, it is in fact of central importance and is something of an obligation to one who assents to the contents of Christian revelation.

About Thomas Chaney

Thomas Chaney graduated from the College of St. Thomas More in 2007, and is currently pursuing a MA in Philosophy at the University of Dallas. He currently works as a Scholar’s Associate in Philosophy with the Walsingham Society School of Liberal Studies.

Do you enjoy Netcrit Articles?

Use the affiliate link below to buy a book from Amazon. You’ll receive the gift of knowledge, and we will get a portion of the proceeds.