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Hermesianism

HERMESIANISM

The theological system developed by Georg hermes (17751831), a German Catholic theologian. The system involves an attempt to defend Catholic dogma by employing the principles of kant especially. The attempt is unsuccessful, and the writings of Hermes contain many errors that were severely condemned by Pope Gregory XVI in dum acerbissimas and by the Congregation of the Index (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum [Freiburg 1963] 273840). Some of his ideas may be grouped as follows.

Theological method. Although some have expressed a contrary view, it appears certain that Hermes undertook his theological investigations with the intention of doubting every tenet really and positively, even such facts as the possibility of truth, the existence of God, and the dogmas of faith. He was prepared to admit only those ideas and judgments that could be justified rationally. In this way, he hoped to lay a solid foundation for the whole structure of theology. Hermes escaped from his state of doubt by employing the speculative and practical reasons. The speculative reason is unable to know the essences of things. Nevertheless, it affirms some propositions as true and certain without being able to act otherwise, as in the case of self-evident truths. On the other hand, what the practical reason finds in conformity with human dignity must also be regarded as true and certain.

God. According to Hermes, the best proof, indeed the only certain one, for the existence of God is the argument from contingency. The speculative reason is able to demonstrate to its own satisfaction most of God's attributes, but it cannot demonstrate that God is a pure spirit or that His attributes are infinite in extent. In this latter respect, Hermes differed from the common view of Catholic philosophers.

Apologetics. Hermes maintained that the speculative reason could not acquire certitude about the fact of revelation but must be content with probability (see revelation, theology of). By this view he opposed the position affirmed by Innocent IX (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum [Freiburg 1963] 2121) and Pius IX (ibid. 2778). Hermes maintained further that the value of miracles as a means of identifying revelation is minimal because one cannot know whether an extraordinary event was caused by God or by the secret forces of nature [see miracles (theology of)]. Hermes believed that the means of establishing Christian revelation as true and obligatory is the practical reason with its concern for human dignity. Man must accept Christian revelation because it enables him to realize his human dignity to the highest degree.

Faith. According to Hermes, faith is a state of certitude with respect to a particular truth. The certitude may spring either from the speculative or from the practical reason reflecting upon its respective object. As a commentary upon Hermes's conception of faith, it may be noted that faith so conceived does not rest upon the authority of God (the real motive of faith, according to Vatican Council I, H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum [Freiburg 1963] 3008), but upon human understanding. It also follows from such a conception of faith that mysteries of the first order [see mystery (in theology)], such as the Trinity or the Incarnation, do not necessarily remain mysteries once a man comes to believe them.

Grace and original sin. According to Hermes, the state of innocence prior to the fall of man consisted in the conformity of man's will to God's. original sin consists in concupiscence, or the rebellion of man's lower nature against his higher one. There are two forms of grace, habitual and actual. Habitual, or sanctifying, grace is the intention of God to grant to man, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the assistance he needs to vanquish the effects of concupiscence, or original sin. Actual grace is the assistance itself that God grants to man at the right moment for this purpose. Even though concupiscence remains after Baptism, man has regained sanctifying grace because he has regained the favor of God. Thus it is apparent that for Hermes habitual grace is not a supernatural reality modifying man's soul, but rather the permanent disposition of God to help man. By his explanation of original sin and its remission, Hermes approaches Luther's conception that justification or the regaining of habitual grace is an external imputation on the part of God (see imputation of justice and merit).

See Also: faith and reason; gÜnther, anton; methodology (theology); rationalism; semirationalism.

Bibliography: a. thouvenin, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 6.2:22882303, ibid. Tables générales 2:2066. r. schlund and e. hegel, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 5:258261. g. maron, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 195765) 3:262264. h. reusch, Allgemeine deutsche Biographie 12:192196. a. fortescue, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. j. hastings (Edinburgh 190827) 6:625626. g. fritz, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 14.2:185054. p. wenzel, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 9:652653.

[e. j. gratsch]

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