Atlantic Intellectual

'The life of an extraordinary French scholar'

Rowen Williams reviewed Étienne Gilson: Une biographie intellectuelle et politique by Florian Michel in The Times Literary Supplement.

Both Gilson and [Jacques] Maritain found the post-Vatican II era in the Roman Catholic Church exasperating and disillusioning, and both wrote eloquent jeremiads about it. Michel is a judicious guide to Gilson’s polemics of this period. Neither Gilson nor Maritain was simply being a grumpy old man; they were both anxious that the euphoria of a culture in love with its potential future would lose touch with the deep background of its moral assumptions – the Christian humanism that had emerged slowly and steadily out of the post-classical world, shaping new concepts of liberty and personal dignity and – not least – the sense of a universal human good. ....

"... A slipshod liturgy, poor translations, fear of what might be challengingly unfamiliar and a muddled progressivist philosophy (Gilson had no time for Teilhard de Chardin) might not in themselves be the end of the world. But as symptoms of intellectual and imaginative laziness they deserved to be castigated, and Gilson was not reluctant to oblige. His own retrieval of Aquinas’s thought, and – importantly – the entire intellectual and cultural world out of which it came, had convinced him that this was a story and a language that provided essential clarifications for European culture about its priorities. In his unflinching theological universalism, his sweeping scepticism about ideologies as secularized and debased theologies, his resistance to Manichaean myths in global politics, and his defence of the importance of the primary communities that make up the state and which the state has to nurture and support, Gilson often strikes some very timely notes. ...

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