In his select translated and edited excerpts from the French debates regarding Christian philosophy, spanning the years 1931 to 1936, Gregory Sadler provides a set of scholastic Francophone material on this topic not previously available in English translations. These selections serve to bridge a gap in studies Western Neo-Scholasticism and bring to the forefront the meaning of the term Christian philosophy, providing a significant examination of whether true Christian philosophy exists. This examination takes into account historical, religious, academic and philosophical cultures (particularly the French Philosophical Societies of the time), that led to the formal public debates in France.
Within the introduction, which comprises about one-third of the book, S. provides a detailed explanation for the significance of his work along with an explanation and criteria for the selections included, works representing key points from an immense debate collection and commentary. Key interlocutors represented are Emile Bréhier, Léon Brunschvicg, Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, Maurice Blondel, and Gabriel Marcel, as well as peripheral contributors appearing throughout the progression of the debate. The overview of each interlocutor’s position proves useful to a reader unfamiliar with this subject matter and lends perspective when reading each specific proposal or rebuttal.
The translated works divide chronologically into three periods of development, naturally following an introduction to the debate question at hand through rebuttals and refinements of points put forward either in presentation or written form. Central to each contribution is the examination of the conceptual question “Does a true Christian Philosophy exist?”, discussed from the philosophical perspective (Rationalist, Neo-Scholastic Thomist, Non-Thomist) of each interlocutor. Further addressed by each are the effect that historical, medieval, philosophical “isms” of Christian dogma had on accepted philosophies of the day and if revealed doctrine and philosophy (pure Hellenistic science in which reason begets proof in and of its own ability) can exist succinctly as experiences of knowledge with neither deferring to the other. The hinge point of almost each argument is the distinction between Christianity and philosophy, with the distinction originating from the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas as the primary integrator of doctrine and reason.
The selections made by S. provide a fair representation of participants and sides in the debate. Bréhier and Blondel are primary representatives of the opposing sides. Bréhier’s rationalist position negates the development of a Christian philosophy due to a flawed application of reason. Blondel’s line of argument asserts a transcendent development to philosophy, bringing it to completion and amending for human insufficiency of reason. Other debate participants entwine the core of these arguments in their writings, all lending to a rich selection of reading material for the Anglophone audience.
However, the book is geared for a target audience in a specialized field of study. For a reader lacking a strong background in philosophical, historical or theological studies in Christianity, particularly Catholicism, the book can be a laborious and seemingly repetitive read. Difficulty understanding the significance of schools of philosophical thought may lead to missing the significance of opposing arguments and the nuances of the finer points as the debates progress. In contrast, a reader more prepared in such studies will gain a broadened understanding of the evolution of the notion of “Christian philosophy”.
As a supplement to the works presented in this volume, S. includes an extensive bibliography of chronological works spanning from 1927 to 2010. It engages one in ongoing learning about a topic promising to open new debates and discussion. A significant academic resource is now available to English scholars.