Monday, May 3, 2010

Edouard Le Roy and French Catholic modernism

I'm beginning to put together ideas for a final paper in my seminar, and I think I'm going to write about French Catholic modernism... in particular the work of Edouard Le Roy.  Even though he is not as prominent a figure as other modernists (one most immediately thinks of Loisy or Tyrell), Le Roy will make an interesting test case for my seminar because of his close connection with Bergson, as well as scientists such as Poincaré and Duhem.  Duhem is actually the one that originally led me to an interest in Le Roy, because of his own  now rather decidedly fixed legacy in the philosophy of science.  Almost a half century before Quine extended Duhem's conventionalism into his own philosophical problems, however, Le Roy was using Duhem's conventionalism to offer a new explanation of dogma, with many interesting polemical encounters resulting.

The seminar is focused on the "production of knowledge", and primarily considers institutional and other sociological factors of intellectual developments.  Because of this, I'm not going to focus on Le Roy's ideas so much as the controversies that surrounded his work.  At this point my plan is to discuss his work as a valuable way of understanding Catholic modernism as not only a controversial movement in opposition to the Catholic hierarchy, but also as controversial for the prevailing schools of French thought.  That is, the institutional critique that presented itself in the modernists was really a two-front conflict, with Pascendi dominici gregis on one side and positivism of various sorts on the other. This juxtaposition works rather easily for Le Roy because of his Bergsonian commitments.  It will be interesting to see whether such a thesis would be similarly appropriate for others.

The paper idea isn't especially groundbreaking or original (I don't think anyone who really works with the modernists fails to realize my argument already), but I see it as being helpful for presenting theological work of the time as relevant to wider intellectual developments and actually taking an active part in these controversies, rather than simply following after in a sort of retroactive correlationist project that is both irrelevant to non-theological interests and embarrassing to theology itself. There are plenty of examples of religious modernism where such lap dog relationships with intellectual trends is what's happening.  It seems worth looking into an example where theology was actually participating and contributing to some extent.

As I compile a bibliography for the paper, there's a lot that is detail oriented and not of much wider theological interest, but I thought that I'd note a few volumes of French Catholic modernism more generally that have been published recently.  David Schultenover, C.J.T. Talar, and Stephen Schloesser are the names that I think are most prominent right now in U.S. scholarship, and they seem to have a strangle hold on CUA Press, having published a number of edited volumes in the past two or three years in addition to their own articles and monographs on modernism (most notablyStephen Schloesser's Jazz Age Catholicism)...

By Those Who Knew Them: French Modernists Left, Right, & Center, ed. H. Hill, L.-P. Sardella, and C.J.T. Talar (CUA 2008)

The Reception of Pragmatism in France & the Rise of Roman Catholic Modernism, 1890-1914, ed. David Schultenover (CUA 2009)

Modernists and Mystics, ed. C.J.T. Talar (CUA 2009)

This study on Le Roy may also be of interest... I've looked at it a bit on Google Books and have ordered it through ILL:

“What is a Dogma?” The Meaning and Truth of Dogma in Edouard Le Roy and his Scholastic Opponents, Guy Mansini (Editrice Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, 1985)


  1. What seminar is this for?

    Ulrich Lehner does stuff on Catholic modernism. A rising scholar in the field is Grant Kaplan at SLU. I've enjoyed editing some of his reviews for TS.

  2. I put up the description of the seminar in this post, if you're interested.

    Thanks for the tip on Lehner- I was aware of his work on Kant, but I didn't realize that he worked with modernism. I'll have to check that out. Is he still at the Institute for Advanced Studies, or is he back at Marquette at this point?

    I also wasn't aware of Kaplan, but I'm looking through his CV now and his work looks quite interesting.

  3. Well, I guess I may have mis-spoken regarding Lehner. He doesn't do 20th century Catholic modernism. But he does work on 19th century Catholic engagements with the Enlightenment. I'm not sure about his publication record on this stuff--just that he's leading a seminar on the topic in Spring 2011. He's around now.

  4. Thanks for the attribution of Jazz Age Catholicism--a book I'd have been proud to have written, but it really belongs to Steve. For the other, Modernists and Mystics is correct title.

    On Le Roy: His book length articles on science and philosophy are more interesting (though raised less controversy) than the dogma article. If you're not already familiar with it, Harry W. Paul's work will be of interest to you. Also Kolakowski's The Alienation of Reason treats Le Roy.

    C.J.T. Talar

  5. Thanks so much for your comment, Prof. Talar, and my apologies for the mix up... I must have been rushing a bit too much when I typed this up.

    I have also noticed that the secondary literature on Le Roy leans much more heavily on the dogma article, more so perhaps than is warranted (although the controversy it caused is an understandable explanation for the attention). I'm hoping in my paper to strike a proper balance.

    I have not looked into Paul's work or Kolakowski's... many thanks for the suggestions.