A philosophical and theological doctrine, disseminated through parts of Europe of the 19th century, according to which the principal truths of a metaphysical and moral nature can be attained by man through God's revelation alone. According to traditionalism, human reason by itself is not capable of coming to these truths; it needs external instruction—in the last resort, divine revelation. God must teach man not only supernatural truths but also the natural truths of His existence, the immortality of the soul, the moral law, the nature of authority, and the concept of being. God's revelation is diffused among men by tradition, that is, by oral and social instruction.
Origin. Traditionalism had its origin in the search after a stable and infallible principle of order in a world shaken by the French Revolution and by the widely diverging philosophies of the 18th century. Some thinkers blamed the existing instability on man's reliance on human reason, which on the one hand claimed to solve all mysteries, even those of faith, and on the other hand undermined all certitude, since the rationalistic Cartesian doubt contained in itself the seed of agnosticism (see rationalism; cartesianism). There was felt a great need of simply indicating a principle of stability rather than of discovering it. On this ground some Catholic thinkers came to the conclusion that the errors of the enlightenment and of the Revolution had their source in the conviction that the principles of political and intellectual order are of human origin. They thought, on the contrary, that these principles transcend human reason, defy its analysis, and therefore must be revealed by God and handed down to men.
Schools. Traditionalism developed into two main forms or schools: one rigid, the other moderate. The former was represented mainly by L. de bonald (1754–1840), F. de lamennais (1782–1854), and J. de maistre (1753?–1821); the latter, by A. bonnetty (1798–1879), G. ventura (1792–1861), N. Laforêt (1823–72), and G. Ubaghs (1800–75). Moderate traditionalism was advanced chiefly by the professors of the University of Louvain; it is, therefore, also known as the Louvain school of traditionalism. However, in the midst of their discussions the traditionalists sometimes modified their views; besides, some of them, such as the moderate L. bautain (1796–1867), were affected by ontologism. All this makes it more difficult to classify them accurately. With this qualification one can also number among moderate traditionalists J. hirscher in Germany, J. donoso cortÉs in Spain, V. gioberti in Italy.
Doctrine. De Bonald, systematizer of the doctrine, presented his ideas in numerous works, particularly in his fundamental work La Législation primitive (Paris 1802) and in Recherches philosophiques sur les premiers objects de nos connaissances morales (Paris 1818). He maintained that man's ideas are somehow imprinted on his mind by its Author, and yet without voice, speech, or language there would still be no knowledge, at least of suprasensible truth. This language could not be invented by an individual or even by a society. It was given to man along with the notions of the first truths by the Author of man's reason. Consequently certain knowledge is founded on authority and ultimately on God's speaking to man. The first man who accepted these truths had to transmit them to others by instruction; and this transmission has been taking place down to modern times.
Similar doctrine was advanced by de Lamennais in his Essai sur l'indifférence en matière de religion (4 v. Paris 1817–23), particularly volume 2. He argued that human reason can err; thus, man is never certain that his reason does not err in each particular case. Therefore, one must look for an infallible principle if he wants to be certain. This principle must be accepted without argument, that is, by faith. Such faith is common to all men, not just proper to an individual. But the authority of universal reason, which expresses itself in common sense, is infallible, although it cannot be demonstrated and must be accepted by faith. If it were not infallible, one would fall into skepticism. The most universal truths that men commonly profess are God's existence and the fact of His revelation to mankind. These truths are the basis of all philosophy. For man in himself has no reason of his existence; he has it in God. The essence of reason, however, consists in possessing truth. Therefore, God, when creating intelligent beings, bestowed upon them a knowledge of basic truth, together with the language that man by himself could not invent; this truth was then handed down to others by speech, and its transmission continues because of the divine assistance. As a result, the belief in the testimony of the human race gives to the individual the greatest certitude; and belief in the testimony of God assures the only certitude for all mankind.
This doctrine was closely connected with the social and political philosophy of the traditionalists. De Maistre was interested mainly in this aspect of traditionalism, which he elaborated chiefly in the following works: Du pape (2 v. Lyons 1819); Essai sur le principe générateur des constitutions politiques (Petrograd 1809); Les Soirées de Saint Pétersbourg (2 v. Paris 1821). His fundamental idea was that man by himself is incapable of finding the true principle of political and social order, just as he is incapable of discovering ultimate truth. Corrupted by original sin, and yet associated with others, man must be governed. The kind of government, however, is not the result of his will; it is imposed by the divine sovereignty, which is reflected in the sovereignty of the popes and monarchs. The principle of order established by God is manifested to men through history, which shows that true order lies with hereditary monarchy and not with a government elected by the people. The supreme monarch is infallible in the temporal order as the pope is infallible in the supernatural order. The monarch should use even radical means to compel man to observe the law. Lamennais was less stable in his social and political philosophy. He changed his views from the absolute authority of the pope [Religion considérée dans ses rapports avec l'ordre politique et civil (2 v. Paris 1825–26); Progrès de la révolution et de la guerre contre l'église (Paris 1829)] to a liberal Catholicism and democratic order [the journal L'Avenir, founded in 1830; Les Paroles d'un croyant (Paris 1834)].
The moderate traditionalists modified the position of rigid traditionalism by asserting that some kind of instruction is necessary for the development of human reason that it may obtain the knowledge of God and of moral principles. However, this instruction is not an efficient cause but only an indispensable condition of such knowledge. As air, warmth, and moisture are necessary for the development of life in the seed, so instruction is necessary for man's certitude about fundamental truth. The necessary instruction can be provided by voice, writing, gesture, or any other means in the possession of human society. After such an instruction and, ultimately, after God's revelation, man can prove His existence and other fundamental truths [see Collectio Lacensis: Acta et decreta sacorum conciliorum recentiorum, ed. Jesuits of Maria Laach, 7.1:129; H. Lennerz, De Deo uno (Rome 1955) 16–17].
Ecclesiastical Decrees. Traditionalism was widely held and brought about the convocation of many provincial councils to warn against its teachings. Most of these councils took place in France between 1845 and 1869; two of them convened at Tours and Avignon in 1849 and in 1850 at Aix and Toulouse (Collectio Lacensis: Acta et decreta sacorum conciliorum recentiorum 4:842). Lamennais's doctrine was condemned as leading to anarchy by the encyclicals Mirari vos (1832) and Singulari nos (1834). The traditionalist doctrine about blind faith was rejected by the encyclical Qui pluribus (1846). Bonnetty had to renounce his teaching by signing in 1855 four theses proposed by the Congregation of the Index. They contradict some passages of his works (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer, 2811–14). Bautain previously signed similar theses for his bishop, Nov. 18, 1835 (Enchiridion symbolorum 2751–56); he renewed his rejection of these errors on several occasions. The Holy Office, March 6, 1866, condemned traditionalist opinions of G. Ubaghs' Theodicea and Logica (see Enchiridion symbolorum 2841, introduction). Exaggerated traditionalism was condemned also in its doctrine concerning man's knowledge of God's existence by Vatican I (Enchiridion symbolorum 3004, 3026). An implicit condemnation of traditionalism can be found in the encyclical Pascendi (Sept. 8, 1907) and humani generis (Aug. 12, 1950).
Objections and Significance. The main objections against the traditionalist doctrine are reducible to the following. Traditionalism disagrees with the teaching of the Bible, particularly with Wisdom 13.1–9 and Romans1.19–21. It makes man's faith irrational; irrational faith leads in its ultimate analysis to complete religious relativism. Traditionalism teaches blind faith as the answer to the philosophical problems that require a rational solution. Furthermore, men do not accept something as true because the human race agrees upon it, but because it is intelligible in itself. The traditionalists proved onesidedly from history that human reason alone is incapable of forming successful institutions in the intellectual and social order. Yet, if one were to grant that human reason does not in fact reach truth, still it would not necessarily follow that reason is incapable of attaining it. Finally, language and voice cannot produce concepts, since words are but arbitrary signs that manifest concepts. The traditionalists exaggerated in general the dependence of man's reason on language, education, society, and revelation.
The traditionalists, however, were right in bringing out the role of faith at the time of exaggerated belief in reason, an exaggeration that led to the abolishing of all the mysteries of faith and of respect for legitimate authority. They were also correct in their conviction that faith is morally necessary for reaching the ultimate truths.
See Also: fideism; ontologism
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[s. a. matczak]