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The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 744-746

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Book Review

Le catholicisme classique et les Pères de l'Église. Un retour aux sources (1669-1713)

Le catholicisme classique et les Pères de l'Église. Un retour aux sources (1669-1713). By Jean-Louis Quantin. [Collection des Études Augustiniennes, Série Moyen-Age et Temps modernes, 33.] (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers. 1999. Pp. 667. 170 FF; 986.29 BEF; 24.45 Euros.)

The "Classical Catholicism" of the title refers to French Catholicism in the "classical period," roughly the age of Louis XIV. Though the devotion, if not obsession, of the French Church with the Early Church is well documented, no one had previously dared to treat it as a subject in itself. The requirements to successfully reach this goal are indeed tremendous, since to a very extensive investigation into the massive literary production of the French, one has to associate the ability to judge its quality, evaluate its impact, and assess its influence. This is what in less than 650 pages J.-L. Quantin masterfully accomplishes.

When, in response to Protestant challenge, the Council of Trent decided to invoke the consensus Patrum, it merely meant a general reference to the Tradition [End Page 744] of the Church, but soon in the hands of the controversialists, this reference became an objective rule of faith. It was Cardinal Du Perron, an Ultramontane as Quantin reminds us, who established the rationale of this appeal to the Fathers. Since his French opponents accepted a debate where in addition to Holy Scripture early church history was considered significant, he developed the dogmatic theory of their authority: they were the undisputed witnesses of the faith of their time, therefore a sure criterion for discerning truth from error. Hence the wealth of historical research in seventeenth-century France concerning the first Christian centuries and the particular success of positive theology elaborated on these sources.

Divided in two parts of seven chapters each, Quantin's book exposes first how the Church Fathers took such a prominent place in French theology and scholarship; then it examines what type of influence they exerted over the Gallican Church. After showing how the notion of "Church Father" was slowly established (chap. 1), the author studies how French Protestants and Catholics considered them (chap. 2), a perspective that placed the Gallican Church at variance with Tridentine positions (chap. 3), especially the Jansenist faction with its obsession with St. Augustine (chap. 4). The next two chapters carefully present and evaluate Gallican Patristics, edition of texts, writing of history; the last offers a general evaluation.

In the second part, Quantin shows not only the deep influence exerted by Patristics over the life of educated French Catholics, especially through translations (chap. 11) and preaching (chap. 12), but also how the constant model of an idealized and abstract early Church produced a strong clerical drive to purify and reform post-Tridentine religious practice (chap. 13 "Épurer," chap. 14 "Restaurer"). Before the dazzling demonstration, vibrant in erudite analysis and intelligent judgments, two chapters, centered on an analysis of religious controversy through the prism of Port-Royal's influential Perpétuité de la foi, raise what is probably the major point of this study. That this methodology was more than historical theology: since it was based upon the principle that the Church never changed, it claimed to be the exposition of immutable doctrine. It allowed the Gallicans to reconstruct a form of Catholicism that in many ways clashed with the rest of Christendom. Quantin revisits these well-established observations by producing a wealth of illustrations and many perceptive comments; he also shows the deep consequences of the position. From witnesses of the faith, with a special qualification on the theological issues, e.g., Augustine on grace, the Holy Fathers became the collective source of church Tradition. This tradition, contained in the writings of the different authors, had to be reconstituted through a careful examination of the sources and the application of a scientific method of analysis and...


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