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The Godfather of the Trad Movement is the Greatest Thomist of the 20th Century
Trads have been vilified as “schismatic” and “rigid” for decades. Some of us are used to this, and some are weary of it—beaten down and abused by our spiritual fathers and our Catholic brethren. But we should take comfort in the fact that they have also called another man rigid, old, “closed” and, Ratzinger’s favorite insult: neo-scholastic. This man is the godfather of the Trad movement, and happens, by all accounts, to be the greatest Thomist theologian of the twentieth century: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP.
Why is Garrigou-Lagrange the godfather of the Trad movement? He died in 1964 before the Council was even closed.https://3b030e79bd1da99ad97500f86e9fb580.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Well, a godfather is the one who has a spiritual relationship of begetting with a godchild, or a movement. Garrigou-Lagrange articulated the essence of the Trad movement some 20 years before the movement began to take shape.
In 1946, he correctly identified that some thinkers within the Nouvelle théologie were neo-Modernist. In this sense he has a relationship of spiritual fatherhood to an entire movement that would not arise in force until the Coetus at the Council, but we will return to that in a minute. Because of this Dominican’s critical insight, he can correctly be called a prophet. He predicted the whole post-Vatican II crisis decades before it happened.
Why did Garrigou-Lagrange see this for what it was so early? Because he was there at the beginning of the first Modernist crisis under Pius X. He taught for fifty years in Rome. Back in the beginning of his carreer as a professor, he wrote the book Le sens commun (Thomistic Common Sense in translation) against the first Modernists condemned by Pius X. Thus he could recognize the exact same errors among some of the Nouvelle théologie decades later, namely, the false evolution of dogma, condemned already at Vatican I with this anathema:
If anyone shall assert it to be possible that sometimes, according to the progress of knowledge, a sense is to be given to doctrines propounded by the Church different from that which the Church has understood and understands; let him be anathema. (Vatican I, Dei Filius)
Garrigou-Lagrange saw the same Modernism again reborn in the writings of Fr. Henri Boulliard and others in the 1940s. Against this he penned the essay “Where is the New Theology [French: Nouvelle théologie] taking us?” His answer was simple: back to Modernism. This godfather of the Trad movement could say “We’ve been down this road before,” especially because he himself was old enough to remember the old Modernism and had written against it decades previously!
This is why John Vennari of happy memory, editor of Catholic Family News, translated this essay from Garrigou-Lagrange and published it in his newspaper in August, 1998. Vennari also published a “Short Catechism of the New Theology” showing the concerns that Garrigou-Lagrange had raised back in 1946 were now at large in the 1990s.
This has been the effort of the Trad movement, to defend orthodox faith and morals against the neo-Modernist excess present among some Nouvelle théologie thinkers, and promoted by means of Vatican II. And this was the argument made prophetically by the greatest Thomist theologian back in 1946.
So instead of making a straw man from the Trad movement, critics have to face this man, a pious and critical theologian who schooled the young Karol Wojtyła (John Paul II) in his doctoral thesis, was widely popular and respected in his own time, and had this prophetic insight decades before these things occurred. The Coetus Internationlis Patrum led by Archbishop Lefebvre and de Castro Mayer continually made the same warnings at Vatican II: an excess like this will lead to Modernism. But wrapped in a Teilhardian naivete, many churchmen ignored these warnings, just as they dismissed the Third Secret of Fatima and its dire predictions. The rest is history as we all know.
As I discussed on the podcast, it is for this reason that at OnePeterFive, we intend to distill and promote Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s teachings as a means to Unite the Clans. This is a holy man who can truly make disciples out of Trads. He is our spiritual father whose writings hold a key not only to anti-Modernism, but even more to the spiritual life, orthodox doctrine, and true Thomism (as opposed to false Thomism, but that’s another story).
For this effort, we’ve brought in one of the best scholars on Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange working today: Dr. Matthew Minerd, professor of Philosophy and Moral theology at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of St. Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh. Dr. Minerd has translated numerous texts of Garrigou-Lagrange and is going to write a series of articles for OnePeterFive which will distill and explain the thought of this godfather of the Trad movement for readers.
With God’s help, we hope this will help Trads not only see the foundation of our movement and unite the clans, but also help us in what is most important: the spiritual life. With permission from Baronius Press, we are also going to be publishing excerpts from one of Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s greatest works, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, which is a two volume treatise on mystical and ascetical theology, absolutely critical for our time.
So the next time a critic vilifies you as “schismatic” or “rigid,” calmly and charitably explain to him that “The Trad critique about the present crisis was explained by the greatest Thomist theologian of the twentieth century in 1946” and then send him the article.
But to afford great writers like Dr. Minerd, we need your support. Please donate to cause of rebuilding Christendom and restoring Catholic culture.
To introduce you to Dr. Minerd as well as the master, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, see the following interview I did with him a few weeks ago reposted to the OnePeterFive podcast. As always, please contact me with any questions, comments or requests:
T. S. Flanders
Our Lady of Ransom https://www.youtube.com/embed/9Rc1agHG6Fc?feature=oembed
 To be fair to Ratzinger, the German neo-scholasticism of his day under Schmaus seems to have been indeed rather rigid (in a bad way) and seems to have not acted like St. Thomas in critically understanding other ideas and developing steel man objections. This may have been the type of neo-scholasticism that Dawson says was ideological and which compares to Marxism (Birzer, Sanctifying the World, 68). Ratzinger also admitted that he was a little too “forthright” with Schmaus, but nevertheless seems to disparage neo-scholasticism as a whole instead of just its excesses (Ratzinger, Milestones, 103-115).
Timothy Flanders is the editor of OnePeterFive. He is the author of City of God versus City of Man: The Battles of the Church from Antiquity to the Present, which is forthcoming, and Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics. His writings have appeared at OnePeterFive and Crisis, as well as in Catholic Family News. In 2019 he founded The Meaning of Catholic, a lay apostolate dedicated to uniting Catholics against the enemies of Holy Church. He holds a degree in classical languages from Grand Valley State University and has done graduate work with the Catholic University of Ukraine. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and four children.meaningofcatholic.com