Balmes, Jaime Luciano
BALMES, JAIME LUCIANO
Spanish secular priest and philosopher; b. Vich, Catalonia, Aug. 28, 1810; d. there, July 9, 1848. He studied in the seminary at Vich (1817–26) and at the University of Cervera (1826–35). He was ordained in 1834 and received his degree in theology the following year. Returning to Vich, he taught mathematics in the seminary. The next eight years witnessed his prodigious expansion of activity devoted to the apologetical, philosophical, sociological, and political aspects of current problems. In Barcelona he founded and directed La Civilización (1841–43) and La Sociedad (1843–44). In Madrid he edited El Pensamiento de la nación (1844–46) and El Conciliador (1845). He made his entry into politics in 1840 by writing forcefully against the ambitions of General Espartero in Consideraciones políticas sobre la situación de España (Barcelona 1840). In answer to the general thesis of F. Guizot, he wrote El Protestantismo comparado con el Catolicismo en sus relaciones con la civilización europea (4 v. Barcelona 1842–44). This is actually a philosophy of history and, at the same time, a basic sociology that considers the various influences of Catholicism on society. Some of the very last works he published are also apologetical in character: Cartas a un escéptico (Barcelona 1864) and Pio IX (Madrid 1847).
His second and more philosophical period of development began with the bombardment of Barcelona, when, protected in the Prat de Dalt (1843), he spent a month and a half writing El Criterio (Barcelona 1845), in which the right use of reason is described as good sense and clear thinking. In Filosofía fundamental (4 v. Barcelona 1846) he tried to protect youth from the errors of modern philosophy, namely, sensism, materialism, rationalism, idealism, and skepticism. As a textbook for students, he provided Filosofía elemental (4 v. Madrid 1847); this was translated into many languages, including Latin. The basic qualities of his thought are realism, objectivity, order and clarity, and naturalness and simplicity. He eliminated useless questions and complicated technicalities. A sensitive observer and analyst, he considered also the totality of things. He was profoundly human, balanced, and independent in spirit.
Balmes thought highly of St. thomas aquinas, whose Summa he studied for four years at Cervera, but he himself was bound to no school. He did not accept fundamental Thomistic doctrines, such as the real distinction between essence and existence, potency and act, sub-stance and accidents, hylomorphism, the agent intellect, and impressed species. Under the influence of P. Buffier, he treated the problem of certitude on a subjective and psychological level; this teaching would influence the school of Louvain. His confident intuitionism was rooted in "common sense" or an "intellectual instinct," upon which were established three fundamental truths: a first fact ("that I think"), a first principle (contradiction), and a first condition (evidence).
Balmes prepared the way for the resurgence of Christian philosophy. Not so much a precursor of the scholastic revival, he is better enumerated among the Catholic apologists of the early 19th century as one who excelled in solidity of thought, in philosophical formation, and in historical erudition. leo xiii, whom Balmes had known in Brussels, described him as "the foremost political talent of the 19th century and one of the greatest in the history of political writers."
Bibliography: Obras Completas, ed. i. casanovas, 33 v. (Barcelona 1925–27); also in 8 v. in Biblioteca de autores cristianos (Madrid 1948–50). i. casanovas, Balmes: La Seva vida, el seu temps, les sevas obres, 3 v. (Barcelona 1932); "Balmes en el primer centenario de su muerte, 1848–1948," Pensamiento 3(1947).