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De Regnon Reconsidered

De Regnon Reconsidered

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by Michel Rene Barnes
by Michel Rene Barnes

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Augustinian Studies 26-2 (1995) 51-79
De Regnon Reconsidered
Michel Rene Barnes
Marquette University
Slightly more than one hundred years ago, Theodore de Regnon, S.J., published the first volume
of
his
Etudes de theologie positive sur
la
sainte Trinite.
1
This anniversary requires some observance because thepublication
of
this work in 1892 made de Regnon the most influentialand yet
least known
of
Catholic historians
of
doctrine. His influencecomes from the widespread acceptance
of
his account
of
the character
of
Augustinian and Cappadocian trinitarian theologies. His anonymity isdue to the fact that in English language scholarship especially his account
of
these theologies has been promulgated and used without credit.The two most important
of
de Regnon's conclusions are, first, that thecore
of
Cappadocian theology
is
that it argued the unity
of
nature fromthe unity
of
activities; and second, that patristic trinitarian theology, asrepresented by the Cappadocians, proceeds from the diversity
of
personswhile scholastic trinitarian theology, as represented by Augustine, proceeds from the unity
of
nature. This latter conclusion contrasting patristic and scholastic trinitarian theologies will be referred to as de Reg
non's
paradigm.
The
related
descriptions
of Augustinian
and
Cappadocian trinitarian theologies appear regularly in scholarly discussions, and -with equal regularity -without any recognition
of
their origin. My purpose in this article is to recognize de Regnon's influence, andto offer a critical account
of
the debate that his work initiated amongFrench Augustinians, a debate which has remained largely unobservedamong English-language scholars.
2
De
Regnon's
study
of
the theology
of
the Trinity is a massive fourvolume work, typical
of
the etude style
of
scholarship later exhibited inFestugiere's treatment
of
Corpus Hermeticum
3
or Larcher's
work on theWisdom tradition,4 meaning, among other things, that the material is organized thematically rather than historically. Volumes 3 and
4
were pub-
51
 
BARNES: DE REGNON RECONSIDERED
- - - - - - - - ~ - - - - - - - - - - - - -
lished in 1896, posthumously, after de Regnon died in his study
on
Dec.26, 1893, surrounded by the manuscript. De Regnon's two earliest worksare
on
the then-topical controversy between Banes and Molina,5 whichmay have led him to his other major work
of
scholarship, a treatment
of
the understanding
of
causality in the thought
of
Thomas Aquinas and
Albert
the Great.
6
These
works
altogether
revealde
Regnon's
back-ground
in Thomism and scholasticism. In this article I will speak only
of
the
first
volume
of
his
Etude
since it contains
de Regnon's paradigm
regarding the character
of
Augustinian and Cappadocian trinitarian theologies, his most enduring legacy.This work begins with a forty page review
of
theories
of
epistemology, in which de Regnon gives an historical summary
of
realism, idealism, nominalism and Kantianism. De Regnon describes each epistemol
ogy according
to its account
of
the relationship between the externalobject to
be
known and the noetic object: the thing and the idea
of
thething. Only after offering these descriptions does he reveal the need forsuch a review: a theory
of
knowledge is the prerequisite foundation forthe act
of
reading, and de Regnon's purpose in the study is to provide anoccasion for the reading
of
patristic texts
on
the Trinity. The fact that thisis his purpose leads de Regnon to use the innovative technique
of
quoting long sections from important authors, a departure from the old style
of
citing
just
authoritative phrases or paraphrases. Indeed, the very quotations selected by de Regnon will leave their mark on later scholarshipas signs
of
his influence, a point I will return to later.
De
Regnon's
own
epistemology is, not surprisingly,
of
the
realist
school, as developed by Thomas Aquinas: he believes that the object tobe known exists in the mind according to the nature
of
the mind,
or
touse the well-known aphorism, something is known according to the capacity
of
the knower. In this epistemology there is a positive relationshipbetween the existent that is known and the idea
of
that existent, but because
of
the difference in the kind
of
existence
of
the object known andthe
object
of
knowledge, that relationship is that
of
an analogy.In the theological application
of
this epistemology, de Regnon
judges
that the Trinity cannot be known in itself, but that the key to knowledge
of
the Trinity lies in acknowledging the reality
of
the manifold expressions
of
its existence, which, in terms
of
doctrine, means acknowledgingthe authority
or
authenticity
of
the different (orthodox) accounts
or
doctrines
of
the Trinity. This understanding
of
the relationship between the
nature
of
God's
existence
and
the
propriety
of
doctrines
aboutGod
52
 
BARNES:
DE
REGNON RECONSIDERED
should be familiar to most readers: it resembles, for example, Basil
ofCaesarea's
doctrine
of
epinoia,
or, more pointedly, the
energeia
language used by Basil
or
his brother Gregory. This latter resemblance isnot a coincidence, as I will show shortly. De Regnon explicitly links thefact that
God's
nature is known only in manifold expressions to the necessity
of
true theological knowledge having manifold expressions; heoffers the charming analogy (borrowed from Irenaeus)
of
the process
of
reconstructing a marble floor mosaic which was originally
of
one granddesign although now its facets appear to us as unrelated pieces.7 Thisindeed is de
Regnon's
"hermeneutic"
of
doctrine (de Regnon himselfuses the word hermeneutique), that is to say, it is the epistemologicalground for de Regnon's scholarly mission to present different accounts
of
the Trinity without requiring or forcing the reader to choose amongthem since they are all necessary to understand God and since,
as
weshall see, there exists among them all a kind
of
unity.De Regnon's idea
of
this multifaceted understanding
of
the Trinity isdeveloped explicitly from Ginoulhiac,8 who believed that dogmatic history may be divided into epochs or eras, each
of
which is distinguishedby a theological insight
or
problematic that determines the doctrinal parameters
of
that era. For example, Ginoulhiac argued that underlying allpre-Nicene trinitarian theology is a concern for the order and dignity
of
the three persons, while underlying Nicene and post-Nicene theology isa concern for the equality
of
the three persons.
9
Such underlying concerns that shape the doctrines
of
an era I call doctrinal paradigms. De
Regnon's
own doctrinal paradigms are responses to Ginoulhiac's project
of
organizing the history
of
dogma as a succession
of
doctrinal paradigms. De Regnon development
of
Ginoulhiac's judgement can be seenin three distinctive ways: the first is to subsume the pre-Nicene and Nicene eras
of
theology that Ginoulhiac postulates into one over-archingepoch with one over-arching paradigm
of
trinitarian doctrine, i.e., the"patristic"; the second is to show how the "patristic" doctrinal paradigm
of
the Trinity differed from its successor, the scholastic doctrinal paradigm; and, third, to demonstrate at the same time the patristic roots
of
scholastic doctrine in Augustine and thereby to show how each successive stage
of
trinitarian theology contains its predecessor.
10
De Regnon agreed with Ginoulhiac that dogmatic history could bedistinguished by eras with their particular doctrinal paradigms, but hedisagreed with Ginoulhiac that there were the two distinct epochs anddoctrinal paradigms
of
pre-Nicene and Nicene. De Regnon recognized inthe first four hundred years or so
of
Christianity a single epoch and a
53

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