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  • The Historicity of Dogma and Common Sense:Ambroise Gardeil, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Yves Congar, and the Modern Magisterium
  • Guy Mansini O.S.B.

Beyond the men in the title of this article, many distinguished Dominicans gave themselves over in the twentieth century to engaging questions raised by Catholic Modernists such as Alfred Loisy, George Tyrrell, and Édouard Le Roy about the historicity of dogma. There were also M. M. Tuyaërts, Francisco Marín-Sola, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Claude Geffré. Tuyaërts and Marín-Sola concerned themselves with the question of how identity of meaning is maintained from Scripture to doctrine and on to more developed doctrine, and how it can be known to be maintained. Beyond the provocations of heresy and the invitations of cultural circumstance, what generates developments, and does so in such a way as to guarantee that they really are developments of and not departures from the deposit of faith? They worked out logical answers to this question, although Marín-Sola devoted considerable attention to the role of affective knowledge in provoking and weighing putative developments. Chenu, Schillebeeckx, and Geffré, on the other hand, were so impressed with the necessity to conform the Gospel to various hearers of quite differing cultural circumstance that in the end they seemed to deny that doctrine remained homogeneous in meaning from Scripture to the ancient councils to the medievals to Trent and beyond. They were concerned to guarantee the accessibility of the Gospel to people of various times and places, but did not altogether save [End Page 111] their position from the historical relativism of the Modernists themselves.1 While Ambroise Gardeil, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, and Yves Congar certainly concerned themselves with the prior issue of what the engines of development might be—logic, connatural knowledge, exegesis—they also concerned themselves with this second issue, the communicability of the Gospel to every land and nation, in every time and age. They maintained the universal and trans-temporal accessibility of doctrinal formulations, formulations that nonetheless stayed identical in meaning with the original Gospel, even across the quite various venues of evangelization and catechesis the Church has known. This question of the universal accessibility of dogma, furthermore, has also concerned the modern magisterium. It is precisely because of this question about the universal accessibility of dogma that the notion of "common sense" enters the discussion of doctrine both theologically and magisterially.

This essay, therefore, treats the role attributed to "common sense" in assuring the universal intelligibility of the Church's dogmatic teaching. This is traced out first in Gardeil and second in Garrigou-Lagrange, who wrote earlier than Gardeil but whom I think to be best understood within Gardeil's more comprehensive fundamental theological understanding of dogma. Third, there is Congar. Fourth, we turn to Étienne Gilson's trenchant criticism of Garrigou-Lagrange's understanding of common sense. Fifth, modern magisterial documents from Humani Generis (1950) on are canvassed for their teaching on the accessibility of dogma and their invocation of, or failure to invoke, "common sense" such as it functions in Gardeil, Garrigou-Lagrange, and Congar. Then, sixth, we return to Gilson before presenting a summary conclusion.

Responding to Modernism: Ambroise Gardeil (1859–1931)

The Modernists asserted a break, a radical discontinuity, between revelation and the language it evokes in prophet and apostle. Strictly, revelation itself is an ineffable experience, and the language it evokes turns out never to be properly about God, who remains confined in unknowable transcendence [End Page 112] beyond the strictures of Kant's second critique. The language we find in Scripture and religious traditions may recall or evoke the experience (Tyrrell) or tell us how to act in relation to divine reality (Le Roy), but it carries no news about God.2 Further, there are subsequent conceptual discontinuities. There is a discontinuity between the original language of prophet and apostle and later New Testament constructions of narrative and myth (Loisy).3 There is a discontinuity between the language of Scripture and the language and meaning of ecclesial dogma. If dogma is understood to say anything positively informative about divine things, it turns out to be so bound to its time...


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