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  • Maurice Blondel: A Philosophical Life
  • Gregory B. Sadler
Maurice Blondel: A Philosophical Life. By Oliva Blanchette. [Ressourcement: Retrieval and Renewal in Catholic Thought.] (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing. 2010. Pp. xvi, 820. $45.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-802-86365-2.)

Without any exaggeration, it can be said that for a second time in his career, Oliva Blanchette has made the most substantive English-language contribution to date to study of the French Catholic philosopher Maurice Blondel. Back in the 1980s, dissatisfied with the earlier translation of Blondel's early masterwork Action (Paris, 1893), Blanchette provided an improved version that long ago became the standard for Anglophone Blondel scholarship. The contribution he makes now with the present book is an intellectual biography, in the truest sense, of this seminal, difficult, and often overlooked thinker. The book superlatively satisfies needs of a number of related fields. [End Page 836]

Historians of ideas interested in the intellectual, social, and religious milieu of 1860s-1940s France will appreciate Blanchette's handlings of the background to Blondel's works and thought. He provides nearly full overview of the wide ambit of Blondel's thought for church historians and others curious about this polarizing, energizing, original thinker who disliked controversy and whose influence is discernible in nouvelle théologie and transcendental Thomist thinkers who played important roles in the Second Vatican Council and later Catholic theology. For anyone interested in Blondel's philosophical development, commitments, positions, and works, Blanchette has worked out invaluable explorations whose length and depth go far beyond mere summaries. He discusses the main features of nearly the entire Blondelian corpus and introduces, where appropriate or illuminating, the voluminous archived, unpublished Blondelian materials.

Given that the majority of Blondel's published works remain untranslated, Blanchette's detailed and accurate discussions of nearly all of Blondel's texts assume even greater importance. In five chapters (and more than 200 pages), he renders accessible to the reader who is unfamiliar with French the main arguments and systematized insights of Blondel's later metaphysical and moral masterwork: his trilogy of Thought, Being (and Beings), and the radically reworked Action. Another two chapters are devoted to Blondel's ultimately unfinished philosophy of the (Christian) supernatural, the culminating work planned to turn the trilogy into a tetralogy. The availability in translation of most of Blondel's early works does not nullify the usefulness of Blanchette's studies in this volume, providing both clear and correct overviews to Blondel neophytes and thought-provoking interpretations for Blondel scholars. Blanchette also examines nearly every untranslated piece of Blondel's hitherto under-researched but very fertile middle period, blazing trails for further Blondel scholarship.

Every period and each piece are contextualized not only within the French intellectual scene but also within the scope of Blondel's life, vocation, teaching, and relationships. Blanchette brings Blondel to life as a human personality by making copious use not only of Blondel's published correspondence, memoirs, interviews, and notebooks but also materials from the Centre d'Archives de Maurice Blondel. For example, we discover not only the multifarious contents of the courses Blondel taught but also that he antedates Étienne Gilson (who is more typically credited) in introducing medieval thinkers to the French philosophy curriculum. Blanchette offers reasons why Blondel employed so many pseudonymous personae in commenting on his own work and combating his opponents. The turns, developments, decisions, setbacks, and triumphs of Blondel's philosophical vocation—his "intellectual apostolate" (p. 181)—are mapped out.

Given a work of this value, it seems pedantic to fault Blanchette's eminently readable style for frequently calling Paris an "intellectual Mecca" (e.g., pp. 37, 188) or for a few repetitions from one chapter to another. The bibliography [End Page 837] of Blondel's works is nearly, but not entirely, comprehensive, since it includes only those that Blanchette references; and one chapter, "The Problem of a Catholic Philosophy," does uncharacteristically neglect several Blondelian interventions within the 1930s Christian philosophy debates. That these are the worst complaints a fellow Blondel scholar can make of an 800-page tome hopefully speaks volumes about the admirable quality of Blanchette's work as a historian and a philosopher...


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