Semirationalism was a theological point of view that exaggerated the ability of human reason to demonstrate and explain the mysteries of Christian revelation without being guilty of all the errors of pure rationalism. The principal theologians who fell victims to semirationalism wrote and taught, for the most part, in the century prior to Vatican Council I (1869–70), which put an end to the error. Semirationalists were to be found especially in German-speaking lands. Often, though not in every case, they remained submissive to the Church. In general, they were dissatisfied with the results of scholastic philosophy and scholastic theology, and they had recourse to the philosophies of their time to explain and defend the dogmas of faith.
Benedikt Stattler, SJ (1728–97), a professor at Ingolstadt in southern Germany, was a student of Christian wolff's philosophy. He attempted to prove [in his Demonstratio catholica (1775), for example] that the dogmas of faith were consistent with reason. His attempt was unorthodox, and some of his works were placed on the Index.
Georg hermes (1775–1831) wished to defend Catholic dogma by employing Kantian principles. He began his theological investigations by doubting really and positively even the dogmas of faith. Such a procedure he recommended to others. He escaped from his doubt by accepting as certain and true what the speculative reason affirmed as such, without being able to act otherwise, and what the practical reason found consistent with human dignity. He maintained that one must accept Christian revelation because it enables one to realize his human dignity to the highest degree. faith is nothing more than the state of certitude that man acquires through the speculative and practical reasons (see hermesianism).
Anton gÜnther (1783–1863) wished to correct the errors of both scholastic and contemporary philosophy. In doing so, he hoped to lay a new foundation for Christian revelation and to prove ultimately that God created the world and redeemed man through Christ. Günther's starting point was psychological consciousness: an analysis of one's own ego enables him to know himself. Through knowledge of himself, man comes to know the reality and nature of other things. For example, being certain about the reality and contingency of his own being, man is compelled to assert the existence of God. Günther's procedure in this respect is reminiscent of that of descartes, who deduced all from the principle cogito ergo sum. In the Trinity, Günther recognized three egos, or Persons, whose existence he accounted for by an explanation suggesting hegel's thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Moreover, contemplating and affirming Himself, God necessarily contemplated and affirmed that which was not God; thus, God created the universe by necessity. God did not create the world for His own glory, as the scholastics maintained, for such a purpose would be intolerable egoism; rather, He created the universe to procure the happiness of the intelligent creature. Creation resulted in a trinity of elements consisting of spirit, nature, and man. In man there is another trinity of elements, namely, body, psychic principle, and spirit. (One notes in Günther a harmonizing tendency; for example, to reduce all to the number three.) Man was created with grace; unfortunately, he sinned, but he was redeemed by Jesus Christ. For Günther, the mysteries of faith are supernatural only because they were made known by Jesus. Now that these mysteries have been revealed, philosophy is capable of explaining the "why" and "how" of them. Günther maintained that only the languishing state of philosophy prevented this explanation. A number of Günther's more prominent disciples became old catholics; for example, J. B. Baltzer of Breslau, and F.P. Knoodt of Bonn. Knoodt was Günther's biographer. J. E. Veith remained in the Church.
Jakob frohschammer (1821–93), professor at the University of Munich, was, like Hermes and Günther, a Catholic priest. Among his works are Einleitung in die Philosophie (1858) and Über die Freiheit der Wissenschaft (1861); he founded a periodical, Athenäum, to defend his views. After an examination, these works and others characterized as erroneous and opposed to Catholic doctrine were placed on the Index. While Hermes and Günther died as members of the Church, Frohschammer died unreconciled. In his letter Gravissimas inter (Denz 2850–61) to the archbishop of Munich (Dec. 11, 1862) Pius IX described the two chief errors of Frohschammer. First of all, Frohschammer ascribed to human reason capabilities that it does not possess. Thus he maintained that human reason could perceive and understand even those Christian dogmas that are the chief object of faith. Frohschammer taught, for example, that once God has revealed the mystery of the incarnation, human reason is able to arrive at a scientific knowledge of this mystery in virtue of its own principles and powers. Therefore, the chief dogmas of faith cease to be mysteries according to this erroneous conception. Commenting upon this error, Pius IX noted that reason is capable of demonstrating certain truths that faith also presents, such as the existence of God and His nature and attributes. However, the Pope wrote, there are certain Christian dogmas that remain obscure even after they have been revealed. Frohschammer's second chief error was that he granted to philosophy a freedom that amounted to license. He taught that a philosopher has an obligation in certain circumstances to submit to authority, but that philosophy itself has no obligation whatsoever to submit to any authority. Commenting upon this second error, Pius IX wrote that philosophy is legitimately free to use its own principles, methods, and conclusions, and even not to accept anything beyond its scope and not acquired on its own terms. On the other hand, in contradiction to Frohschammer's view, philosophy is not free to speak against divine revelation, to question a revealed truth that it does not understand, or to reject a decision of the Church about a philosophical conclusion connected with revelation.
See Also: faith and reason; methodology (theology); revelation, theology of.
Bibliography: g. fritz, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables Générales 1951–) 14.2:1850–54. j. bernard, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables Générales 1951–) 14.2:2567–79. a. thouvenin, ibid. 6.2:2288–2303. a. fortescue, "Hermesianism," j. hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 13 v. (Edinburgh 1908–27) 6:625–626. p. godet, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables Générales 1951–) 6.2:1992–93. h. thurston, "Guntherianism," j. hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 13 v. (Edinburgh 1908–27) 6:455–456. a. w. ziegler, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables Générales 1951–), Tables générales 1:1753–54. "Semirationalismus," Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) v.9.
[e. j. gratsch]
"Semirationalism." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/semirationalism
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