Converts to the Real
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Converts to the Real

Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy

Edward Baring

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Converts to the Real

Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy

Edward Baring

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In the most wide-ranging history of phenomenology since Herbert Spiegelberg's The Phenomenological Movement over fifty years ago, Baring uncovers a new and unexpected force—Catholic intellectuals—behind the growth of phenomenology in the early twentieth century, and makes the case for the movement's catalytic intellectual and social impact. Of all modern schools of thought, phenomenology has the strongest claim to the mantle of "continental" philosophy. In the first half of the twentieth century, phenomenology expanded from a few German towns into a movement spanning Europe. Edward Baring shows that credit for this prodigious growth goes to a surprising group of early enthusiasts: Catholic intellectuals. Placing phenomenology in historical context, Baring reveals the enduring influence of Catholicism in twentieth-century intellectual thought. Converts to the Real argues that Catholic scholars allied with phenomenology because they thought it mapped a path out of modern idealism—which they associated with Protestantism and secularization—and back to Catholic metaphysics. Seeing in this unfulfilled promise a bridge to Europe's secular academy, Catholics set to work extending phenomenology's reach, writing many of the first phenomenological publications in languages other than German and organizing the first international conferences on phenomenology. The Church even helped rescue Edmund Husserl's papers from Nazi Germany in 1938. But phenomenology proved to be an unreliable ally, and in debates over its meaning and development, Catholic intellectuals contemplated the ways it might threaten the faith. As a result, Catholics showed that phenomenology could be useful for secular projects, and encouraged its adoption by the philosophical establishment in countries across Europe and beyond.Baring traces the resonances of these Catholic debates in postwar Europe. From existentialism, through the phenomenology of Paul Ricoeur and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, to the speculative realism of the present, European thought bears the mark of Catholicism, the original continental philosophy.

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Neo-Scholastic Conversions



The Struggle for Legitimacy: Neo-Scholasticism and Phenomenology
NEO-SCHOLASTICISM has all the markings of an anachronism. It gained prominence in the late nineteenth century as the Church’s philosophical response to modernity. The rise of nationalism had made those decades difficult for European Catholics. This was the era of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf in Germany, when bishops were thrown in prison, confessional newspapers were forced to close, and priests were dragged away from their pulpits by officials adhering zealously to the 1873 May Laws. The growth of political socialism forced Bismarck into an uneasy truce with the Pope toward the end of the 1870s, but German Catholicism remained embattled. Liberals denigrated it as backward and superstitious, and Catholics were still considered by much of the majority-Protestant population as Reichsfeinde—enemies of the newly united Germany. In France too, after the briefly welcoming environment created by the conservative “Moral Order” government in the early 1870s, the anticlerical trend of the Third Republic was clear to see. Even in Italy, the Church was on the back foot. The Papal States had been one of the great losers in Garibaldi’s Risorgimento, and the new king, Vittorio Emanuele, looked ready to assert the dominance of state over Church. The buildings that housed the Collegium Angelicum at the Vatican were expropriated by the new Italian government in 1871, and theological faculties were closed in the early part of the 1870s. In the new secular climate, Catholics felt bereft of “their” great universities.1 Such were the tensions between the Vatican and the new government in Rome that on three occasions—in 1881, 1889, and 1891—the Pope considered seeking a new home outside of Italy.2 In all these cases, Catholics identified a common theme: the nation-state sought to tame a purportedly universal Church.3
When Vincenzo Pecci assumed the papal throne in 1878 as Leo XIII, he dedicated himself to overcoming this international fragmentation, and he addressed it with particular force at the intellectual level: the parochial national mindset had to be replaced by a universal Catholic one. In the 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris, the third of his papacy, Leo reiterated Jesus’s command to the Apostles from the Gospel of Matthew: “Go and teach all nations.” For a model, Leo looked to the Middle Ages. He nostalgically recalled a time when Aquinas’s authority had brought together “Paris, Salamanca, Alcalá, Douay, Toulouse, and Louvain, Padua and Bologna, Naples and Coimbra.”4 A revived scholasticism, he implied, could do so again.
Over the next few years, Leo drew on the considerable resources of the Church to promote neo-scholasticism as a transnational intellectual movement. He could build on a number of existing communities of scholastic learning, such as the Dominicans in Spain and in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, a seminary in Mainz, the Collegio Alberoni at Piacenza, and the theology faculty at the Roman College in the Vatican, where Leo himself had been trained in scholastic thought. He also received support from the influential Jesuit journal based in Rome, Civiltà Cattolica. Nevertheless, scholasticism was at the time a minority interest in the Catholic world, and the Church had to create new institutions to match the Pope’s philosophical ambitions.5
The year following the encyclical, Leo established the Papal Academy of St. Thomas in Rome.6 Others regions of the Catholic world followed suit, and the next decade saw the establishment of a Thomistic Academy in Coimbra, Portugal (1881); the Catholic University in Washington, D.C. (1887); the Theological Faculty in Swiss Fribourg (1889); and the Institut Supérieur de Philosophie (ISP) in Louvain, Belgium (1889).7 In Britain, the College at Stonyhurst in Lancashire became a center of academic activity for English-speaking neo-scholastics, who made their work known in the Stonyhurst Philosophical Series.
The creation of neo-scholastic institutions encouraged a flurry of publishing activity, most importantly in a host of new journals. On the heels of Leo’s encyclical, Albert Barberis in Piacenza founded Divus Thomas, whose first volume appeared in 1880. Neo-scholastic reviews then began to appear in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Spain.8 There are a number of things to note about these publications. First, they were relatively indifferent to national borders. One of the most important French-language journals, the Revue Néo-Scolastique, was published out of Louvain (or rather Leuven), deep within Flemish Belgium. Belgium was also home to the French Dominicans, from 1903, when they were expelled from France, until 1937. The Cistercian Abbey at Le Saulchoir became their temporary base, publishing the Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Théologiques (founded in 1907) and the Bulletin Thomiste (1924). The religious community at Valkenburg in the Netherlands, which later published the review Scholastik, served the German-speaking community, especially after the Jesuits had been expelled from Germany during the Kulturkampf (an exile that did not come to an end until 1904). Moreover, the Jahrbuch für Philosophie und spekulative Theologie, which published articles in German, English, French, and Latin, moved from Germany to Switzerland in 1923, because it feared that the hyperinflation would damage its international circulation.9
Second, these reviews did not work in isolation. Most of them dedicated space to summaries of their peer publications, including regular articles on the neo-scholastic movement across Europe. All featured articles by authors from other countries. Agostino Gemelli, the founder and editor of the Italian Rivista di filosofia neo-scolastica, for instance, wrote essays for the German Philosophisches Jahrbuch and the French-language Revue Néo-Scolastique de Philosophie in the first two decades of the twentieth century. His Rivista, as the title indicates, was modeled on the Louvain Revue, and the first volumes made much of the partnership. During its first decade of existence, Armida Barelli and Lucia Malcotti, who translated articles for the journal from French and German, were among the most important and regular contributors.10 Neo-scholastics participated in a tightly knit transnational community.
The transnational scope of neo-scholasticism raised the question of which language was the most suitable for scholarly exchange. Many of the neo-scholastic journals and textbooks, including the Italian Divus Thomas, were published in Latin. As the Jesuit Paul Gény wrote in 1926, “Latin has the immense advantage of facilitating the reading of the old Scholastics, and of furnishing an instrument for international communication much more suitable than any of the artificial languages, Volapük, Esperanto, or Ido.”11 Similarly, in 1903 the Parisian Domet de Vorges urged the use of Latin to prevent the splintering of the movement into national schools.12 Latin was the language of instruction at the Gregorian, and many in the Vatican considered it the only appropriate medium for studying scholastic philosophy.
Not all agreed on the primacy of a “dead” language. A miniature storm broke out in Louvain in 1895 over its preference for French.13 For the Louvain neo-scholastics, the use of Latin quarantined neo-scholasticism away from other developments in philosophy. Désiré Mercier, the president of the Thomistic Institute there, wrote in 1900, “The fact is that our generation has lost interest in Latin as a scientific language. To write philosophy in Latin now is deliberately to renounce being understood by the majority of our contemporaries.”14 Directives from Rome requiring the use of Latin in courses caused significant discontent in Louvain during the remaining years of the nineteenth century. Only after significant struggle did the Institute secure the right to teach in other languages: French and, in the interwar period, Flemish.15 The use of French in Louvain did not, however, condemn it to a provincial existence. It allowed the ISP to engage with the all-important French-speaking world and beyond. As a later reviewer remarked, French was “an international living tongue” and this gave the work of the Louvain school “an elevated contemporary significance.”16 In any case, the Louvain school, like other neo-scholastics, could rely on a network of translators. By the outbreak of World War I, Mercier’s textbook, the Cours de philosophie (Philosophy course), had been translated into English, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Turkish.17
Although the Church promoted the growth of a transnational neo-scholastic network, that growth was not even, nor did all nodes assume equal importance. In most countries, Catholics played passive roles. They were attentive to the conversation happening elsewhere, but rarely contributed to it directly. When in the 1930s the Kraków circle of Thomists tried to promote their version of scholasticism, updated according to mathematical logic, their innovations attracted little attention beyond Polish borders.18 The same is true of most neo-scholastic communities outside of Europe—in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The only exceptions were neo-scholastics in North America (both the United States and Canada), especially after World War II. But because American neo-scholasticism had a belated start—its most important journals, The Modern Schoolman and The New Scholasticism, were not founded until the 1920s—it did not exercise significant influence elsewhere before 1945.
In the transnational neo-scholastic community, three centers assumed dominant roles. From the beginning, Italy and especially Rome enjoyed a preeminent position; the home of the universal Church was also its most important intellectual hub, welcoming scholars and priests from around the world. Of the thirty members of the Papal Academy, ten had to come from outside of Italy, and on the inaugural roster we find scholars from France, Spain, Belgium, the United States, and Germany.19 Other Roman institutions were equally, if not more, cosmopolitan. In 1890, of the 781 students studying at the Gregorian, there were 237 Italians, 139 French, 130 Germans, 83 Americans, 49 English, 29 Swiss, and 29 Polish.20 A stint at a Roman University was a rite of passage for promising young Catholic scholars, especially those in religious orders, and so the Vatican became a thoroughfare for thinkers and ideas from around the world.
Slowly, other centers arose. Mapping the importance of French as ...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright
  4. Contents
  5. Introduction
  6. Part I: Neo-Scholastic Conversions: 1900–1930
  7. Part II: Existential Journeys: 1930–1940
  8. Part III: Catholic Legacies: 1940–1950
  9. Epilogue
  10. Notes
  11. Selected Bibliography
  12. Acknowledgments
  13. Index
Stili delle citazioni per Converts to the Real

APA 6 Citation

Baring, E. (2019). Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy ([edition unavailable]). Harvard University Press. Retrieved from (Original work published 2019)

Chicago Citation

Baring, Edward. (2019) 2019. Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy. [Edition unavailable]. Harvard University Press.

Harvard Citation

Baring, E. (2019) Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy. [edition unavailable]. Harvard University Press. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Baring, Edward. Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy. [edition unavailable]. Harvard University Press, 2019. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.