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de Koninck, Charles


Philosopher and theologian who exerted profound influence on Catholic philosophy in North America; b. Thourout, Belgium, July 29, 1906; d. Rome, Feb. 13, 1965. De Koninck went to Detroit with his parents as a child but returned to Belgium in 1917 to attend the College at Ostend. He entered the Dominican Order, but was dispensed from his vows for reasons of health. He pursued graduate studies at Louvain, receiving the Ph.D. in 1934; subsequently he received the S.T.D. from Laval, where he was professor of natural philosophy from 1934 until his death. He married Zoe Decruydt in 1933; they had 12 children.

De Koninck was dean of the faculty of philosophy at Laval from 1939 to 1956 and was reappointed to that post in June 1964. From 1957 to 1963 he was visiting professor in the fall semester at the University of Notre Dame. He held similar posts at the University of Mexico (1944), McMaster University, Ontario (1959), and Purdue University (1960). He was a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic, the Royal Society of Canada, the Roman Academy of Saint Thomas, the Canadian Association of Philosophy, and the American Catholic Philosophical Association; the last-named organization awarded him the Cardinal Spellman-Aquinas medal in 1964. He was a Commander of the Order of St. Gregory.

The key to De Koninck's thought is found in his lifelong devotion to the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas. This devotion manifested itself in writings that range from painstaking textual commentaries to daring extensions of Thomistic doctrine in an effort to cope with 20th-century issues. The latter type of writing involved De Koninck in many controversies; from the outset of his writing career he inspired vigorous attack and impassioned defense.

His work on the common good was directed against those he called personalists, men who, seeing that neither the family nor political community could constitute man's ultimate good, were led to assert that the good of the individual takes precedence over the common good. De Koninck argued that the inadequacy of lesser common goods can be read only in terms of a more comprehensive good, that the common good always takes primacy over the merely private good.

De Koninck's most influential tenet was the claim that traditional natural philosophy and recent natural science, though dramatically different in method, are essentially one science in the Thomistic sense. Throughout his career, De Koninck made more precise and nuanced this fundamentally unchanged position (see philosophy and science).

In theology his principal interest was Mariology. Before the promulgation (1950) of the Apostolic Constitution on the Assumption, he published many articles in favor of that doctrine. At the time of his death, as theologus of Cardinal Maurice Roy at Vatican Council II, the only layman in such a position, he was concerned with the morality of pills that aid nature in ensuring periods of infertility in women. He had developed a complex but clear argument in favor of the use of such pills that insisted on the traditional doctrine of the primary end of marriage, the bonum prolis.

De Koninck's principal works are De la primautê du bien commun (Quebec 1943), Ego Sapientia. La sagesse qui est Marie (Quebec 1943), La Piété du Fils. Etudes sur l'Assomption (Quebec 1954), The Hollow Universe (London 1960), Le Scandale de la Médiation (Paris 1962), and numerous articles in Laval théologique et philosophique (194565).

[r. m. mcinerny]

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