Feast of Maurice Blondel (June 5)   Leave a comment

Above:  Aix-en-Provence, France

Image Source = Google Earth

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MAURICE ÉDOUARD BLONDEL (NOVEMBER 2, 1861-JUNE 4, 1949)

French Roman Catholic Philosopher and Forerunner of the Second Vatican Council

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I propose to study action, because it seems to me that the Gospel attributes to action alone the power to manifest love and attain God!  Action is the abundance of the heart.

–Maurice Blondel, quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (1997), 245

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A GIFT FROM HOLY MOTHER CHURCH

Maurice Blondel, born in Dijon, France, on November 2, 1861, became an influential philosopher who presaged the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II).  He attended the Sorbonne, from which he graduated in 1893.  Our saint’s dissertation, which he published, was L’Action.  This proved to be an influential, epoch-making work that inspired the ire of many conservative Roman Catholics yet never the official disapproval of any Bishop of Rome, not even the reactionary and anti-intellectual Pius X, archenemy of Modernism.

Aside:  I disapprove of Pius X and regard his canonization is a grave error.  I am much closer to his immediate predecessor, Leo XIII, theologically.  By the way, what is wrong with Modernism?  I prefer it to Postmodernism.  If I were a Postmodernist, I would wonder why I should get out of bed each morning, due to incessant uncertainty about even the simplest matters, such as what I can know, if anything.  

Blondel argued for a “philosophy of action,” a blend of Neoplatonism and pragmatism in the context of Roman Catholicism.  He argued against extrinsicism, the traditional Roman Catholic tendency to present revelation as divine self-disclosure and an invitation to participate in divine life, not a presentation of heavenly truths, apart from the context of human existence.  Our saint preferred immanence to transcendence.   Blondel favored a “method of immanence,” or revelation corresponding to human questions and yearnings.  He insisted that the Gospel is intrinsic, not extrinsic, because it it resonates with deepest experience, for all human actions refer to the infinite reality, the ground of existence.  (I detect shades of Paul Tillich and God as the Ground of Being.)  Blondel wrote that the human choice is whether to open ourselves to the dimension of infinite being or to live closed in on ourselves.  Christ’s earthly life and his resurrection, our saint argued, was the dimension of infinite reality.  Therefore, Blondel wrote, faith is a dimension of all human experience, not a mere aspect (one of many) of life.  The institutional Church, Blondel wrote, has no monopoly on grace and salvation, which are freely and universally available.

Blondel, a professor in Aix-en-Provence, starting in 1897, was a devout Roman Catholic who attended Mass daily, except when health-related issues prevented him from doing so.  Although he was not a Modernist, many traditional Roman Catholics thought he was.  Suspicions of his alleged heterodoxy created difficulties in our saint securing a position for a few years in the 1890s.  Pope Pius XII, who wrote a congratulatory note to our saint in 1945, did not think of Blondel as a Modernist.  Our saint wrote and published many articles about Church Fathers and modern philosophy.  Rose, his wife, died in 1919.  He, nearly blind by 1927, entered into a forced retirement.  Blondel remained active, though; he dictated major works for two decades.

Blondel, aged 87 years, died in Aix-en-Provence on June 4, 1949.

His influence has remained evident.  It was obvious in documents that emerged from Vatican II.  I have also detected Blondel’s influence in my denomination, The Episcopal Church, in which worship, therefore, the Prayer Book, defines the church.   The Book of Common Prayer (1928) presented God in the manner of the old theology; God was transcendent.  Liturgical revision, starting in 1967, resulted in The Book of Common Prayer (1979), which reflects the new theology, according to which God is imminent.

Blondel’s influence within and beyond Roman Catholicism does not surprise me.  After all, many theologians and ecclesiastical leaders read beyond the boundaries of their denominations.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 23, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF TOYOHIKO KAGAWA, RENEWER OF SOCIETY AND PROPHETIC WITNESS IN JAPAN

THE FEAST OF JAKOB BÖHME, GERMAN LUTHERAN MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF MARTIN RINCKART, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA MARIA OF THE CROSS, FOUNDRESS OF THE CARMELITE SISTERS OF SAINT TERESA OF FLORENCE

THE FEAST OF WALTER RUSSELL BOWIE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, SEMINARY PROFESSOR, AND HYMN WRITER

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Almighty God, you gave to your servant Maurice Blondel

special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus:

Grant that by this teaching we may know you,

the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Proverbs 3:1-7

Psalm 119:89-96

1 Corinthians 3:5-11

Matthew 13:47-52

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 721

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