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The Catholic Historical Review 92.1 (2006) 123-125



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Marie-Joseph Lagrange. Une biographie critique. By Bernard Montagnes. (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf. 2004. Pp. 625. €49 paperback.)

Through his publication of correspondence, related documents, and his own interpretive writings, Bernard Montagnes has augmented appreciably our understanding of the Dominican biblical scholar, M.-J. Lagrange (1855–1938), the École biblique and the Revue biblique he founded (in 1890 and 1892 respectively), and the ecclesiastical climate in which he worked.

Lagrange not only founded a school at Jerusalem; he became head of a school of exegesis whose methodological orientation he shaped: "the joining of the observation of the land to the study of texts, co-ordinating historical method to the rule of faith, while practicing a theological-critical exegesis" (p. 11). This was not an easy program to execute, even under Leo XIII. Under Pius X it became increasingly difficult, complicated on the one hand by the assimilation of Lagrange's approach to Alfred Loisy's (the proximity in publication of the Dominican's La Méthode historique [1903] to that of Loisy's L'Évangile et l'Église [End Page 123] [1902] gave Lagrange's book the appearance of a manifesto rather than the assessment of the current state of exegesis he intended). On the other hand, the critical evaluation of archaeological sites in the Holy Land complicated relations with Franciscans who had vested interests in maintaining traditional attributions, while Jesuit efforts to establish and extend their Institut biblique at Rome led to rivalries with the École biblique.

An ecclesiastical climate that subjected writings on scripture to close surveillance judged some of Lagrange's writings on Genesis and other sensitive topics "inopportune" and therefore unpublishable, also affected accounts of the Dominican's life and work. In 1953 a life of Lagrange authored by his close associate Père Louis-Hugues Vincent, was denied authorizatiion for publication by Dominican censors and superiors. Lagrange's Souvenirs personnels, written over the 1920's and 1930's, did not appear until 1964. In the original text Lagrange had positioned himself: "Incontestably, in the last twenty years of the XIXth century, a renewal, a modernization—the term is Loisy's—of exegesis was desired. In this sense, I was a Modernist, and, I dare say, with the encouragement of Leo XIII" (p. 450). The censor substituted a bland "I was modern," substantially altering the sense.

This biography represents an expanded version of Montagne's earlier effort, Le père Lagrange, 1855–1938. L'exégèse catholique dans la crise moderniste (1995), augmenting that study by several chapters that incorporate material apparently deemed too delicate for earlier accounts, including discussion of unpublishable writings and difficulties with Franciscans, Assumptionists, and Jesuits. It also incorporates Lagrange's activities during the war years while exiled from Jerusalem and a "human and spiritual profile" of its subject. Each chapter is followed by documentation that may provide a larger context for material quoted in the course of that chapter, or expand upon events presented therein. This study thus fills several gaps in our knowledge of its subject and may be compared to a restored portrait that achieves a greater likeness of the original.

While it cannot be said that Lagrange has been a neglected figure in scholarship, it is arguable that his contributions—both direct and via the school and review he founded and developed—have been undervalued in maintaining a presence within Roman Catholicism of a critical approach to the Bible. At the time of the Modernist crisis Lagrange's attempt to do for exegesis what Aquinas did for Aristotle drew fire from those who thought his commitment to theology made him insufficiently critical and those who were convinced that his use of historical criticism inherently undermined the traditional Catholic theology. Only his docile submission to ecclesiastical authority—Dominican and papal—saved his writings from the Index. Even so, he did not entirely escape suspicion and a certain measure of sanction.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 123-125
Launched on MUSE
2006-03-23
Open Access
No
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