The Teaching of the Theological Manuals – Mgr Fenton against the Rethinkers of his day

“That tradition is manifest in the common teaching of the twentieth-century manuals.”

Image: Ancient Books, Wiki Commons CC 2.0

Editor’s Comments:

There is nothing new under the sun.

In 1963, Mgr Joseph Clifford Fenton wrote this comprehensive rebuttal to Fr Gregory Baum’s criticism of the theology manual tradition.

Fr Baum was a Canadian priest who was influential at Vatican II, emerged as a radical modernist, and later left the priesthood to get married. That’s not the end of Fr Baum’s story – but that’s enough for here.

Mgr Fenton is very polite and genteel towards Fr Baum. Regardless, he leaves nothing standing of Baum’s argument.

Why republish this essay, transcribed on The Bellarmine Forums?

These criticisms of the theology manual tradition – which are perhaps as old as the genre itself – are being repeated today. They are based on myths, and they must be challenged.

Stylistic and contextual criticisms as pretences for The Great Rethink

Today we are told – as we have been told throughout history – that the manuals are nothing more than meaningless commentaries on commentaries. Their content is dismissed as a lot of simplistic Jesuitical syllogisms (whatever that means). The words of Fr Garrigou-Lagrange are presented as if he were criticising this tradition as a whole, rather than certain sections of it. We are told that their authors were not men of prayer, but mere academics – and that these works are so “reductionist” as – it is implied – to be misleading on key tenets of the doctrines which they contained.

These critics come from different positions, but regrettably the above points are – incredibly – made even by “traditionalists” – namely those who state that they wish to hold to Catholic tradition. The shortcomings of these manuals, they say, were an understandable cause of what happened at Vatican II.

Let me be clear. These criticisms are monstrous, especially the gratuitous insults of the holy men who wrote these books. They are even worse when we consider that, in many cases over the last sixty years, the real object being attacked is the doctrine which they express. This is clear, even though the criticisms are really of style or the academic context: it is clear, even in the face of protests to the contrary; because at every stage (as we can see for Fr Baum), the critics tell us that we must rethink the doctrine within, starting with that on the Papacy.

Anyone reading The WM Review for the first time may take the above as a criticism of traditionalists in general. Reading a few other essays here – such as this one on theology manuals – should disabuse anyone of that idea.

We do not accept the rethinking of the liturgy at and after Vatican II. We do not accept the rethinking of theology by modernists at and after Vatican II.

But for the same reasons, we will not accept the rethinking of theology by the partisans of The Great Rethink.

The doctrine of the manuals and the Church

Nor can we accept this rethinking, since Pius XII has already condemned this in his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis – with which Fr Garrigou-Lagrange himself was said to have helped:

“To neglect, or to reject, [things] which in many instances have been conceived, expressed, and perfected after long labour, by men of no ordinary genius and sanctity, under the watchful eye of the holy magisterium, and not without the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit for the expression of the truths of faith ever more accurately, so that in their place conjectural notions may be substituted, as well as certain unstable and vague expressions of a new philosophy, which like a flower of the field exists today and will die tomorrow: not only is the highest imprudence, but also makes dogma itself as a reed shaken by the wind.” No. 17

Pius XII continues:

“Unfortunately these advocates of novelty easily pass from despising scholastic theology to the neglect of and even contempt for the Teaching Authority of the Church itself, which gives such authoritative approval to scholastic theology.” No. 18

Is this not exactly what we see – contempt for traditional theology, passing to contempt for the papacy, hierarchy and magisterium as traditionally understood – and the demand that we rethink these things? Pius XII even names this precise topic in the same place:

“What is expounded in the Encyclical Letters of the Roman Pontiffs concerning the nature and constitution of the Church, is deliberately and habitually neglected by some with the idea of giving force to a certain vague notion which they profess to have found in the ancient Fathers, especially the Greeks.” No. 18

Fenton himself summarises all this here, from the article below:

“If these books all contain common teaching opposed to or even distinct from genuine Catholic doctrine, then the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Catholic Church has been very much at fault during the course of the twentieth century.

As Catholics, we should be horrified at saying such a thing. But here is the problem: these traditionalist Rethinkers are already passing to “contempt for the Teaching Authority of the Church”, and have already “deliberately and habitually neglected” what the pre-conciliar magisterium on the nature and constitution of the Church, and are already advocating for a rethinking and diminishment of the papacy.

Perhaps, therefore, it is too late to convince them with the authority of Pius XII. But if they will not listen to Pius XII, perhaps they will listen to Archbishop Lefebvre in his 1974 Declaration:

“No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can force us to abandon or diminish our Catholic Faith, so clearly expressed and professed by the Church’s Magisterium for nineteen centuries. […]

“That is why we hold fast to all that has been believed and practiced in the faith, morals, liturgy, teaching of the catechism, formation of the priest and institution of the Church, by the Church of all time; to all these things as codified in those books which saw day before the Modernist influence of the Council. This we shall do until such time that the true light of Tradition dissipates the darkness obscuring the sky of Eternal Rome.” (Emphasis added)

Finally, the idea that the manuals as a whole are dry or reductive is false. They are beautiful expressions of the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are clear, systematic expositions of every aspect of theology. They are serious, yes; and they are not thrillers. But how could serious teaching on these topics be dry or narrow in itself? Some sections are very beautiful and edifying.

This criticism is altogether without force.

So to those dear souls promoting any kind of Great Rethink, with whom we should (and would, if they will it) have peace and friendship: please, think carefully about what you are doing. Abandon this hopeless and disastrous cause, which is so dangerous to yourselves and those you influence. Put it all aside, and lets go together to traditional theology, and follow the conclusions where they lead, whatever the costs may be.

S.D. Wright

(NB: The middle section of the essay below is a reasonably long account of the different manuals in use at the time of writing. It is interesting and serves as a good list – but I have put it in a drop-down section, for those who would prefer to stay focused on the doctrinal content of Mgr Fenton’s rebuttal.)

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The Teaching of the Theological Manuals
Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton

The American Ecclesiastical Review, April 1963, pp. 254-270.
Reprinted with permission from The Bellarmine Forums

One of the most genuinely likeable personalities among the periti at the first series of meetings at the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council was the Canadian Augustinian priest, Father Gregory Baum. Those who were fortunate enough to meet him came to admire him for his admirable priestly character and for his exquisite courtesy. He is definitely the sort of man who is listened to and who attracts attention.

Recently he wrote an article for the magazine Commonweal, in which he made a highly questionable statement about the status of the theology of the scholastic manuals at the Second Vatican Council. The teaching, which might have passed unnoticed if it had come from a less able and distinguished man, naturally attracts attention because it is a statement by Father Baum. And, unfortunately, it is a statement, which could be seriously misleading if it should be taken seriously by our Catholics, particularly by students in the field of sacred theology.

Father Baum concluded his article with this assertion:

“The conflict at the Council is not at all between men who try to introduce new insights and modern ways and those who seek to remain faithful to the great tradition of the past. It is rather between those who seek to renew the life of the Church by returning to the most authentic Catholic tradition of all ages and those who seek to consecrate as eternal Catholic wisdom the theology of the manuals of the turn of the century and the anti-modernist emphasis which penetrated them.”1

In itself this is an alarming declaration. Despite the manifest and outstanding amiability, knowledge, and sincerity of Father Baum, it is definitely important that Catholics, especially Catholic priests, look into the accuracy and the implications of what he has had to say about the “conflict” at the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican. This is definitely a subject on which we cannot afford to be misinformed.

To be sure that we are making no mistake in this field, we must examine the context of Father Baum’s article itself. In this article the only story that could be considered as in any way indicative of a “conflict” is Father Baum’s recountal of the fact that, after a vote of the Fathers of the Council, and after a decision of the Sovereign Pontiff, the schema on the Sources of Revelation (now known as the schema on Revelation) was sent back to a mixed commission to be recast. As the newspaper accounts have told us many times, on this occasion the Fathers of the Council voted not to continue with the detailed consideration of the schema prior to its recasting by the commission. About sixty per cent of those present did not want to continue with the consideration of the schema as it stood. About forty per cent signified their willingness to proceed with the consideration of the schema as they had received it from the Holy Father, who, in his turn, had received it from the Central Preparatory Commission, which, in its turn, had received it from the Theological Preparatory Commission itself.

As the newspapers have told us, this vote was not decisive. It was only when the Holy Father had intervened personally that the schema was sent to the mixed commission to be clarified and shortened. Presumably the same material, in a new format, will be submitted again to the council as a whole after the mixed commission and the new interim central commission have finished with it.

In the event itself there was nothing that could in any way justify the rather sensational language employed by Father Baum. There was certainly no indication that the men who voted to proceed with the examination of the schema as it stood were trying “to consecrate as eternal Catholic wisdom the theology of the manuals of the turn of the century.” Neither was there the least indication that the men who wanted to have the schema reworked before the council considered it in detail were trying “to renew the life of the Church by returning to the most authentic Catholic tradition of all ages.” As far as one could make out from their own statements as revealed in the official Vatican news releases, these men were merely dissatisfied with the form in which the teaching on the sources of revelation had been presented in the original text of the schema.

Another individual, writing in the same issue of Commonweal, claims that, “Even the participants in the Council admit . . . that the opposition between the two major groups has been such that the next session has had to be postponed to next September in order to allow the factions to cool off.”2 If Father Baum’s contention about the nature of “the conflict at the Council” were at all justified, there would be definitely a need for a cooling off period, and much more. But there is no evidence whatsoever that his contention is true. Indeed, it would seem that this fine young priest has not only been mistaken about what actually transpired in the council, but that he has described a conflict or opposition which has not and must not have a place within the Fathers of the Vatican Council.
Father Gregory has done a disservice to the cause of Catholic truth by misrepresenting the motives, which influenced the Fathers of the council to vote for or against the continuance of the detailed study of the schema on the sources or the fonts of divine public revelation. In point of fact the issue was the acceptability of the wording of the schema, and particularly the acceptability of its style and length. Some claimed that the council could act more effectively if a commission recast the entire schema. Others believed that it would be better to proceed with the consideration of the document as it stood, and to have the changes made in individual sentences and paragraphs as a result of the observations of the entire council. The stand of these latter was weakened by the fact that all of the Fathers and the periti knew that such a procedure would take a very long time indeed.

Father Baum can only be talking of the men who voted to continue with the consideration of the schema as it stood when he spoke of those “who seek to consecrate as eternal Catholic wisdom the theology of the manuals of the turn of the century and the antimodernist emphasis which penetrated them.” And he must be describing those who voted not to proceed with the detailed examination of this schema when he spoke of those “who seek to renew the life of the Church by returning to the most authentic Catholic tradition of all ages.” In neither case is the designation accurate or in any way acceptable.

If Father Baum’s claim about the “conflict at the Council” was written seriously (and there is no reason to suppose that it was not), then he has implied very clearly that the theology of “the manuals of the turn of the century” was and is to some extent, not only distinct from, but even at odds with, “the most authentic Catholic tradition of all ages.” He obviously wishes us to infer that, in his judgment at least, the life of the Catholic Church can be in some measure “renewed” if the Church abandons the theological teachings, which were contained in, or at least which were characteristic of, the great manuals in use in Catholic universities and seminaries during the early years of the twentieth century.

Moreover, it is quite obvious from his statements, which Father Baum wishes to imply that the opposition to the heresy of Modernism manifested in these manuals is in some way unacceptable to the Catholic Church at the present day. At least he wants us to imagine that the Church would be improved or “renewed” if the anti-Modernist teaching that pervaded the best of the early twentieth-century manuals of sacred theology were to be passed over or modified.

Furthermore Father Baum obviously wants his readers to believe that, at the present moment, the doctrine imparted to our seminarians within the Catholic Church is in some manner outside of “the most authentic Catholic tradition of all ages.” If we are to have the Church “return” to such a tradition, then it would seem that this tradition must have been in some measure lost, or at least obscured, during the course of the twentieth century. Certainly Father Baum’s statement involves the implication that the tradition in which those priests who studied the early twentieth-century theological manuals were educated was definitely not the most authentic doctrinal tradition of the Catholic Church.

These are implications, which we definitely must examine. There is absolutely no proof, of course, that the men who voted in the council on the acceptability of the schema about the sources or the fonts of revelation, as it was delivered to the council, were in any way concerned with the implications conveyed in Father Baum’s declaration. Yet it is a fact that, especially since the closing of the first portion of the council on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception last year, there have been many who have made statements in some way involving the implications contained in Father Baum’s statement. Most of the time these implications have been made less forcefully than they were by Father Baum. Yet it is definitely necessary to examine them, and to see, once and for all time, whether or not these implications are acceptable.

The Doctrine of the Theological Manuals

Obviously, if we are to examine Father Baum’s claims seriously, we must first ask ourselves about the identity of the theological manuals of the turn of the twentieth century. The question with which the schema on which the council voted was that of revelation and the sources of revelation. Hence, we must suppose that, when Father Baum speaks of the offending manuals, he is referring to those which deal with fundamental dogmatic theology, and particularly with the sections De revelatione and De fontibus revelationis. It so happens that, in this field, there have been a great many very influential and well-written manuals produced during the early years of this century.

We are speaking, of course, of the manuals in the field of fundamental dogmatic theology, which were in use and were influential at and after the turn of the twentieth century. Some of these were originally written during the last years of the nineteenth century, but, in editions published subsequent to the issuance of the Lamentabili sane exitu, the Pascendi dominici gregis, and the Sacrorum antistitum, these manuals acquired the anti-Modernist emphasis, which seems so displeasing to Father Baum.

Click HERE for the middle section, detailing a range of manuals

Probably the most important of these manuals were those of Louis Billot, who will most certainly be counted among the very ablest of all the theologians who labored for the Church during the early part of this century. These books, most immediately concerned with the material in the schema voted upon by the Fathers of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, were published by the Gregorian University Press in Rome, and were re-edited many times. One of them was the De inspiratione sacrae scripturae theologica disquisitio,3 and another was the magnificent De immutabilitate traditionis contra modernam haeresim evolutionismi.4

Even more widely known than the works of Billot were those of the Sulpician Adolphe Tanquerey. Many thousands of priests were introduced to the study of sacred theology, and particularly of fundamental dogmatic theology, by courses based on Tanquerey’s De Religione: De Christo Legato: De Ecclesia: De Fontibus Revelationis, the first of the three volumes of his Synopsis theologiae dogmaticae ad mentem S. Thomas Aquinatis accommodata.5 This particular volume had gone into its twenty-first edition in 1925. If the theses taught by Tanquerey were opposed to those of “the most authentic Catholic tradition of all ages,” then thousands of priests, educated during the first part of the twentieth century were being led into error by the men whom Our Lord had constituted as the guardians of His revealed message.

Likewise of prime importance in the early years of the twentieth century were Van Noort’s two works on the subject of fundamental dogmatic theology, De vera religione6 and De ecclesia Christi.7 The influence of these two excellent works has been increased tremendously as a result of the English translation and adaptation of these works done by the Sulpician Fathers Castelot and Murphy. Another enormously and deservedly popular manual translated into English was Brunsmann’s Fundamental Theology,8 made available to our scholars by the famed Arthur Preuss.

The first volume of Archbishop Zubizarreta’s Theologia dogmatico-scholastica ad mentem S. Thomae Aquinatis likewise influenced many students for the priesthood in the earlier part of this century. This volume was entitled Theologia fundamentalis.9 It contained the same material found in the first volume of Tanquerey’s series. Like Tanquerey, Zubizarreta wrote a shorter treatise on dogmatic theology, placing the matter covered in the four volumes of the regular edition within the content of one volume. Tanquerey’s was the Brevior synopsis theologiae dogmaticae.10 Zubizarreta entitled his the Medulla theologiae dogmaticae.11

In 1930 the brilliant German Jesuit Herman Dieckmann continued the tradition of the manuals of the turn of the century by publishing his De revelatione Christiana: Tractatus philosophico-historici.12 Previously he had published the two volumes of his De ecclesia: Tractatus historico-dogmatici.13 Contemporary with Dieckmann’s manuals, and likewise of primary importance in the history of twentieth-century theology was the three-volume text of the Jesuit Father Emil Dorsch, Institutiones theologiae fundamentalis.14 In line with the teachings of Dorsch is the doctrine contained in a highly important American manual, The Theory of Revelation,15 by the great Rochester theologian, Monsignor Joseph J. Baierl.

The manual of Tanquerey was certainly the most widely distributed among all those that appeared during the early part of this century. In the perspective of history, it would seem that two authors must share the prize for theological acumen. One, of course, was Billot, whose text, De Ecclesia Christi: sive Continuatio theologiae de Verbo Incarnato,16 still remains the best theological treatment on the Church produced during the course of the past hundred years. The other was the French Dominican, Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, whose classical De Revelatione per ecclesiam catholicam proposita [and here for Vol. II]17 is still basically the best manual of scholastic apologetics available to the student today.

Later than the manual of Tanquerey, but like it destined for tremendous success in the world of ecclesiastical studies, was the first volume of Herve’s Manuale theologiae dogmaticae, the one entitled De vera religione: De ecclesia Christi: De fontibus revelationis.18 The first volume of Bartmann’s Precis de theologie dogmatique,19 a textbook very popular a quarter of a century ago, dealt with the sources of revelation and other topics which entered into what Father Baum calls the “conflict” at the Second Vatican Council.

Tremendously influential in their own time were other manuals of fundamental dogmatic theology, which are not in common use today. Among these is the Elementa apologeticae sive theologiae fundamentalis20 by the Austrian priest Anton Michelitsch. The Elementa theologiae fundamentalis,21 by the Italian Franciscan, Clemente Carmignani, is another of these texts. In this same class we must place Cardinal Vives’s Compendium theologiae dogmaticae22 the first volume of Mannens’s Theologiae dogmaticae institutiones,23 which was entitled Theologia fundamentalis, and the first volume of MacGuiness’s Commentarii theologici, a book containing the treatises De religione revelata ejusque fontibus and De ecclesia Christi.24

In the Spanish speaking world the Lecciones de apologetica25 of Father Nicolas Marin Negueruela were outstandingly popular. There is much material on fundamental dogmatic theology in Father John Marengo’s Institutiones theologiae fundamentalis and in Canon Marchini’s Summula theologiae dogmaticae.26 The publication of these books in the last decade of the nineteenth century marks them as genuinely “turn of the century,” and they incorporate the kind of theological teaching which seems to displease Father Baum. Much more influential, however, was the treatise De theologia generali, in the first volume of Herrmann’s Institutiones theologiae dogmaticae27 a work which, incidentally, earned for its author a letter of thanks from St. Pius X himself.

The first volume of Monsignor Cesare Manzoni’s Compendium theologiae dogmaticae28 contains a typical “turn of the century” treatise on fundamental dogmatic theology. So too does Bishop Egger’s Enchiridion theologiae dogmaticae generalis.29 The same type of doctrine can also be found in the Franciscan Gabriel Casanova’s Theologia fundamentalis,30 in the Synthesis sive notae theologiae fundamentalis of Father Valentine Saiz Ruiz,31 and in the Theologia generalis seu tractatus de sacrae theologiae principiis32 by Father Michael Blanch.

The first volume of nearly every set of manuals of dogmatic theology issued during the early part of this century and the last decade of the nineteenth century carried a treatise on fundamental dogma. Typical of such works were Tepe’s Institutiones theologicae, Prevel’s Theologiae dogmatica elementa,33 Lercher’s Institutiones theologiae dogmaticae,34 and Christian Pesch’s Praelectiones dogmaticae.35 The texts by Pesch and Lercher have been especially influential in the training of seminarians throughout the first half of this century.

The two volumes of Hilarin Felder’s Apologetica sive theologia fundamentalis36 were widely used during the past few decades. And, in the historical part of apologetics, Felder’s Christ and the Critics37 was and continues to be almost uniquely valuable. Also outstanding in this field was the two-volume work, Jesus Christ: Sa Personne, Son Message, Ses Preuves,38 by Leonce de Grandmaison.

Father Berthier, the founder of the Missionaries of the Holy Family, wrote, during the reign of Pope Leo XIII, an Abrege de theologie dogmatique et morale,39 which contains a relatively complete and typically “turn of the century” treatise on fundamental dogmatic theology. The brilliant Father Bainvel published a treatise De vera religione et apologetica,40 which had a wide and powerful influence. And among the multitudinous and now almost forgotten writings of Cardinal Lepicier were a Tractatus de sacra doctrina41 and a Tractatus de ecclesia Christi.42

The American Jesuit Father Timothy Cotter published an eminently successful and accurate Theologia fundamentalis.43 Among the most recent of our twentieth-century manuals of fundamental dogmatic theology is the Theologia fundamentalis, the first volume in the text of Iragui and Abarzuza.44 The Capuchin Father Iragui is the author of this first volume.

Of primary importance among the ecclesiological manuals of our century is the two-volume Theologica de ecclesia,45 by the Jesuit Bishop Michel d’Herbigny. Other intensely influential texts in the same area are the De ecclesia Christi46 by the Jesuit Father Timothy Zapelena and the De ecclesia Christi47 by the Franciscan Father Antonio Vellico.

Another excellent and widely used manual in this field is The Church of Christ: An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise,48 by the late Father E. Sylvester Berry of Mount Saint Mary’s. And in Canada we find an extraordinarily useful pair of manuals, the Apologetica authored by the Sulpician Fathers Yelle and Fournier and the De ecclesia et de locis theologicis,49 written by Father Yelle. From Spain comes one of the very best recent traditional manuals in this field, the Theologia fundamentalis by the Jesuit Fathers Salaverri and Nicolau.50 This is the first volume of the famed Sacrae theologiae summa.

Pegues’s Propaedeutica thomistica ad sacram theologiam51 contains an unusual statement of many of the central theses of the traditional fundamental dogmatic theology. Another Dominican, Father Joachim Berthier, wrote a Tractatus de locis theologicis,52 in which he deals accurately with the matter of the sources of revelation and the Church. The Dominican tradition in the field of ecclesiology was kept up in the “turn of the century” literature by, among others, Father De Groot, who published his magnificently accurate Summa apologetica de ecclesia catholica ad mentem S. Thomae Aquinatis,53 by Father Gerard Paris, who followed the teaching of De Groot to a great extent in his Tractatus de ecclesia Christi,54 and by Father Reginald Schultes, whose De ecclesia catholica: Praelectiones apologeticae55 is still a classic in the field.

Forty years ago the outstanding controversy among theologians was the debate about the definability of the theological conclusion. In the discussion Schultes and Father Francis Marin-Sola were the most prominent spokesmen for the two sides. Schultes’s teaching was set forth in his Introductio in historiam dogmatum.56 Marin-Sola presented his teachings in his L’Evolution homogene du dogme catholique.57 Both authors, however, were “penetrated” by what Father Baum has called “anti-modernist emphasis.” And the material in these books definitely influenced the content of subsequent manuals in the field of fundamental dogmatic theology.

There has been considerable writing in the field of fundamental dogmatic theology, in line with the “turn of the century” tradition of Catholic and anti-Modernist theology, among English-speaking priests. Immensely popular some years ago was Devivier’s Christian Apologetics,58 a translation edited and arranged by Bishop Messmer, one of the first faculty members at The Catholic University of America. In line with the teachings of Father Garrigou-Lagrange were Father Walshe’s The Principles of Catholic Apologetics59 and my own We Stand With Christ.60

The Jesuit Father John T. Langan wrote a fine Apologetica,61 which has been too little used by his fellow Americans. Another Jesuit, Father Joseph de Guibert, published a De ecclesia,62 which is recognized as one of the finest texts in this field produced during the course of our century.

During the past twenty years we have had many more texts which have kept up the teachings and the spirit of the manuals of the turn of the century, and which have certainly continued their anti-Modernist emphasis. Among these we may mention in passing the Theologia fundamentalis of the Jesuit Father Francis X. Calcagno,63 the Theologia fundamentalis64 of Archbishop Parente, the present Assessor of the Holy Office, and the Theologia fundamentalis65 of the Franciscan Father Maurus Heinrichs, as well as the magnificent treatise De revelatione christiana66 by Father Sebastian Tromp. There are also the very complete and accurate Theologia fundamentalis67 of the Jesuit Father Joseph Mors, the first volume of Conrad Baisi’s Elementa theologiae scholasticae,68 and the first volume of the Theologiae dogmaticae theses69 of Canon Joseph Lahitton.

The “turn of the century” spirit, and the anti-Modernist emphasis so deplored by Father Baum are also quite manifest in the articles published in the Dictionnaire de theologie catholique and the Dictionnaire apologetique de la foi catholique.

Father Baum’s Position

Now it must be noted that there is no complete agreement among the works we have mentioned (and we have mentioned only a small part of the literature which might be called twentieth century manuals of fundamental dogmatic theology), with reference to theological opinions. Certainly there are theses in the book by Christian Pesch, which are impugned in the work of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. And not everything that is taught by Tanquerey is approved in the manuals of Louis Billot.

Yet, if we examine the matter closely, the opposition of Father Baum is directed, not towards any individual opinion or group of opinions within the field of fundamental dogmatic theology, but against the common teaching of all these texts. It is Father Baum’s contention that one of the contending groups at the Second Vatican Council is seeking “to consecrate as eternal Catholic wisdom the theology of the manuals of the turn of the century and the antimodernist emphasis which penetrated them.” If his words have any meaning at all, he must be convinced that what is the common teaching of all these manuals of the turn of the century, and the common teaching of the manuals which followed them throughout the course of the twentieth century, is definitely not Catholic wisdom, and that this teaching must be abandoned if the life of the Church is to be renewed, and if we are to return to what he calls “the most authentic Catholic tradition of all ages.”

Now it is quite obvious that the common teaching of the manuals of fundamental dogmatic theology since the turn of the twentieth century has been the doctrine, which has been taught to the candidates for the priesthood within the Catholic Church, at least up until the past few months. We are dealing with books, which have been employed in teaching in seminaries and universities. If these books all contain common teaching opposed to or even distinct from genuine Catholic doctrine, then the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Catholic Church has been very much at fault during the course of the twentieth century.

It must be noted that we are speaking of the common teaching of these texts or manuals of fundamental dogmatic theology. Father Baum charges that one of the two conflicting groups at the Second Vatican Council was trying “to consecrate as eternal Catholic wisdom the theology of the manuals of the turn of the century.” Of course this is the language of Madison Avenue rather than of the university lecture hall. It is calculated to make his readers imagine that many of the Fathers of the council were attempting to give to the teaching of the manuals in fundamental dogmatic theology a status, which that teaching had not previously enjoyed.

What seems to displease Father Baum is the fact that the unanimous teaching of the scholastic theologians in any area relating to faith or morals is the teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church. The manuals, like those to which we have referred, are books actually used in the instruction of candidates for the priesthood. They are written by men who actually teach in the Church’s own approved schools, under the direction of the Catholic hierarchy, and ultimately, through the activity of the Congregation of Seminaries and Universities, under the direction of the Sovereign Pontiff himself. The common or morally unanimous teaching of the manuals in this field is definitely a part of Catholic doctrine.

It is quite obvious that the individual opinions of individual authors do not constitute Catholic doctrine, and could not be set forth as such. But there is a fund of common teaching (like that which tells us that there are truths which the Church proposes to us as revealed by God, and which are not contained in any way within the inspired books of Holy Scripture), which is the unanimous doctrine of the manuals, and which is the doctrine of the Catholic Church. The unanimous teaching of the scholastic theologians has always been recognized as a norm of Catholic doctrine. It is unfortunate that today there should be some attempt to mislead people into imagining that it has ceased to be such a norm in the twentieth century.

Father Baum tries to make it appear that there was a considerable group among the Fathers of the council who thought that the life of the Church could be renewed and that we could return “to the most authentic Catholic tradition of all ages” by setting aside the common and unanimous teaching of the scholastic theologians of our time. On the other hand, it is the teaching of Sylvius, who follows Melchior Cano here almost verbatim, that: “concordem omnium theologorurn sententiam in rebus fidei aut morum rejicere, si non est haeresis, est tamen haeresi proximum.”70 Especially since there is absolutely no evidence that there was any party in the council with aims like those described by Father Baum, it would seem wiser to follow the basic Catholic teaching expressed by Cano and Sylvius.

Anti-Modernist Emphasis

It was most unfortunate that the distinguished Canadian priest should have spoken out on the subject of Modernism in this particular context. In his article it is apparent that he considers the anti-Modernist “emphasis” of the theological manuals of the turn of the century, and by inference of those manuals, which have followed in the same traditional path during the course of the twentieth century, as something, which can and should be abandoned. The original Modernists frequently attempted to delude people into imagining that the opposition to their erroneous teachings constituted a sort of theological excess, and that a proper doctrinal balance would be struck only when a sort of halfway house between Modernism and anti-Modernism was reached. Perhaps unintentionally Father Baum seems to be promoting the same message.

Actually Modernism was a heresy, or, to put it more accurately, a cluster of heresies. If one wants to know what the condemned teachings of the Modernists really were, he has only to read the propositions condemned in the Lamentabili sane exitu71 and see the content of the Oath against the Errors of Modernism.72 If he makes this study, he will find that the Catholic dogmas denied by the Modernists are the fundamental teachings that God has revealed to us about His Church and about His message. Since there was a campaign aimed at bringing Catholics to reject these teachings, it was and it remains necessary for any accurate and competent treatise in the field of fundamental dogmatic theology to state, or, if Father Baum prefers the word, to emphasize, these teachings which were denied by the Modernists, and which were proclaimed as authentic and basic Catholic doctrine by the infallible magisterium of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic priest knows perfectly well that there is never going to be, and that there never could be, any “return” to a more authentic Catholic doctrinal tradition through the abandonment of the common teaching of all the twentieth-century manuals of fundamental dogmatic theology. The living and infallible magisterium of the Catholic Church never abandons the most authentic Catholic tradition. That tradition is manifest in the common teaching of the twentieth-century manuals, and in the condemnations of the various Modernistic propositions.

The abandonment of the dogmas attacked or called into question by the original Modernists or by their successors would be an abandonment of the divine teaching within the Catholic Church. We may thank God that there is no evidence that any group of Fathers of the Vatican Council in any way wanted to abandon this doctrine.

Joseph Clifford Fenton
The Catholic University of America
Washington, D.C.


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1 Commonweal, LXXVII, 17 (Jan. 18, 1963), 436.

2 Ibid. The author of this second article is Gunnar D. Kumlien.

3 A fourth edition of this work was published at Rome by the Gregorian University in 1929.

4 The Gregorian University also brought out a fourth edition of this brilliantly anti-Modernist work in 1929, shortly after Billot had resigned from the College of Cardinals.

5 This set was published by Desclee and Co., of Paris, Tournai, and Rome. Later editions of these manuals were prepared by the Sulpician Father J. B. Bord.

6 The third edition of this work was prepared by Father E. P. Rengs, and was published at Amsterdam by C. L. Van Langenhuijsen in 1917.

7 Van Langenhuijsen published the third edition of this work in 1913. The English translations were published by the Newman Press in 1955 and 1957.

8 A Handbook of Fundamental Theology, by The Rev. John Brunsmann, S.V.D. Freely adapted and edited by Arthur Preuss. Four Volumes. St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1928, 1929, 1931, 1932.

9 The firm of Elexpuru in Bilbao, Spain, published a third edition of this Theologia fundamentalis in 1937.

10 Desclee published a seventh edition of this work, produced with the co-operation of J. B. Bord, in 1931.

11 A second edition of the Medulla theologiae dogmaticae was published by Elexpuru in 1947.

12 Freiburg-im-Breisgau: Herder, 1930.

13 Freiburg-im-Breisgau: Herder, 1925.

14 This work was published by Rauch in Innsbruck, Austria. A second and third edition of the first volume appeared in 1930, a second edition of the second volume in 1928, and a second edition of the third volume in 1927.

15 This book was published by The Seminary Press, in Rochester, N. Y. The first volume appeared in 1927, and the second in 1933.

16 A fifth edition of the first volume of this work was published by the Gregorian University in Rome in 1927. A third edition of the much smaller, but still immensely important second volume appeared in 1929. The De ecclesia is generally recognized to be the finest of all the theological writings of Cardinal Billot. It must not be forgotten that the late Pope Pius XII, in an address to the students of the Gregorian, named Billot as a theologian who should be a model for all of the teachers of sacred doctrine in our time.

17 The publishing house of Ferrari in Rome published a third edition of the complete De revelatione (in two volumes), in 1929 and 1931. The original edition appeared in two volumes and the preface is dated on the feast of the Holy Rosary in 1917. Afterwards there was a one-volume edition, which was not successful. Ferrari published a fourth edition of the two-volume work in 1945.

18 This first volume was published in Paris by Berche et Pagis in 1929.

19 The translation of this work into French was made by Father Marcel Gautier. A second edition of the first volume, translated from the eighth edition of the German original, was published in Mulhouse, France, by Les Editions Salvator in 1935.

20 A third edition of this book was published by the firm of Styria at Graz and Vienna in 1925.

21 Carmigiani’s Elementa theologiae fundameiitalis was published in Florence by the Libreria Editrice Fiorentina in 1911.

22 The firm of Pustet published a fourth edition of this work in 1903.

23 The first volume of Mannens’s Theologiae dogmaticae institutiones, the Theologia fundamentalis, was published by J. J. Romen and Sons in Roermond, in Holland, in 1910.

24 The third edition of the first volume was brought out in Paris by Lethielleux and in Dublin by Gill in 1930.

25 The Libreria Internacional, in San Sebastian, Spain, brought out a fifth edition of this two-volume work in 1939.

26 The Salesian Press in Turin published a third edition of Marengo’s two-volume work in 1894. Marchini’s Summula was published at Vigevano in 1898.

27 The publisher Emmanuel Vitte brought out a seventh edition of Herrmann’s Institutiones in Lyons and Paris in 1937.

28 The fourth edition of Monsignor Manzoni’s first volume was published in Turin in 1928 by Lege Italiana Cattolica Editrice.

29 The publisher Weger of Brescia brought out the sixth edition of Bishop Egger’s work in 1932.

30 This work was published in Rome by the Typographia Sallustiani in 1899.

31 The Press and the Bookshop of the Centro Catolico published this work in Burgos, Spain, in 1906.

32 Father Blanch’s book was published by the Montserrat Press of Barcelona in 1901.

33 Tepe’s book was published by Lethielleux in Paris in 1894. In 1912 the same publisher brought out a third edition of Prevel’s first volume. It was edited by Father Miquel, SS.CC.

34 The second edition of Lercher’s first volume appeared in 1934, published at Innsbruck by Rauch. Father Schlagenhaufen, S.J., edited a very useful fifth edition of this volume, which was published by Herder in Barcelona in 1951.

35 Herder, in Freiburg-im-Breisgau brought out a sixth and seventh edition of this work in 1924.

36 A second edition of the two volumes of Felder’s Apologetica was published in Paderborn in 1923 by Schoeningh.

37 The English translation was made by the famous John L. Stoddard and was published in London in 1924 by Burns, Oates, and Washbourne, Ltd.

38 The brilliant French original, one of the most powerful works in the field of Catholic apologetics, was published by Beauchesne in Paris. A seventeenth edition appeared in 1931. One of the sad phenomena in English Catholic letters was the appearance, two years ago, of a small and relatively unimportant section of this work set forth as a complete book. This radically bowdlerized edition is published as Jesus Christ, by Leonce de Grandmaison, S.J., with a preface by Jean Danielou, S.J., and has been brought out by Sheed and Ward in New York.

39 A fifth edition was published by Vitte at Lyons and Paris in 1928.

40 Beauchesne of Paris published this work in 1914.

41 Rome: The Buona Stampa Press, 1927. Basically this work is a commentary on the first question in the Pars Prima of the Summa theologica. It takes in, however, a good deal of anti-Modernist teaching.

42 Rome: The Buona Stampa Press, 1935.

43 The book was published by Weston College, in Weston, Massachusetts, in 1940.

44 The Theologia fundamentalis of Father Serapius de Iragui, O.F.M. Cap., was published by the Ediciones Studium in Madrid in 1959.

45 Beauchesne published third editions of the two volumes in 1927 and 1928 in Paris. D’Herbigny’s manual is outstanding for its use of oriental Christian theological literature.

46 The fourth edition of the first volume of this fine work was published in Rome by the Gregorian University in 1946. The first public edition of the second volume did not appear until 1954. Previous editions, like that of 1940, were “ad usum auditorum.”

47 Rome: Arnodo, 1940. Vellico’s text is extraordinarily valuable.

48 Herder of St. Louis published a second edition of this book in 1927.

49 Both of these highly useful volumes were published by the Grand Seminary, in Montreal, in 1945.

50 The Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos published a fifth edition of this Theologia fundamentalis in Madrid in 1955.

51 This was published by the Libreria del S. Cuore in Turin in 1931.

52 A second edition of this was published by Marietti in Turin in 1900.

53 The publishing house of Manz in Ratisbon brought out a second edition of this in 1892.

54 The full title of this work is Ad mentem S. Thomae Aquinatis tractatus de ecclesia Christi ad usum studentium theologie fundamentalis. Marietti published it in Turin in 1929.

55 A later edition of this work, edited by Father Edmund Prantner, O.P., was published in Paris by Lethielleux in 1930.

56 Lethielleux also published this work, which appeared in 1922.

57 A second edition of this two-volume work was published in Fribourg in Switzerland in 1924 by the Imprimerie et Librairie de l’Oeuvre de Saint Paul.

58 This translation was published in 1903 by Benziger Brothers of New York.

59 Longmans, Green and Company published this in 1919.

60 Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1942.

61 Chicago: The Loyola University Press, 1921.

62 A second edition of this work “in auditorum usu,” was published in Rome by the Gregorian University Press in 1928.

63 Naples: D’Auria, 1948.

64 Turin: Marietti, 1946.

65 The Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Tokyo bought out a second edition of this work in 1958.

66 Fifth edition, Rome: The Gregorian University Press, 1945.

67 This is a two-volume text, the second edition of which was published in Buenos Aires by the Editorial Guadalupe in 1954 and 1955.

68 Milan: Editrice Ancora, 1948.

69 Paris: Beauchesne. 1922.

70 Controversies, Bk, 6, q. 2, art. 4, concl. 3. The passage in the works of Melchior Cano is to be found in the De locis theologicis, Bk. 8, cap. 4, concl. 3.

71 Denz., 2001-65.

72 Denz., 2145 ff.

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