Thomists at war: Pierre Mandonnet, Étienne Gilson, and the contested relationship between Aquinas’s and Dante’s thought (1879–2021)

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Abstract

Pierre Mandonnet (1858-1936) and Étienne Gilson (1884-1978) would become principal antagonists in the famous debates about Aquinas’s thought in the 1920s and 1930s. Less known, however, are their parallel skirmishes in the field of Dante studies.In this article, I suggest that we need to consider the battles in Thomism and Dante studies together, as part of a wider intellectual war that would question the very nature of Catholic theology and philosophy. I first survey the main battlefield—the debates about Aquinas’s thought—with specific reference to the controversies in the 1920s and 1930s about Gilson’s “Christian philosophy” and about Marie-Dominique Chenu (1895– 1990)’s Une école de théologie. In the second part, I turn to the skirmishes in the field of Dante studies between scholars such as, on the one hand, the French Dominicans Mandonnet and Joachim Berthier (1848–1924), who presented Dante as an essentially Thomist and Catholic poet, and, on the other hand, the lay historians Gilson and Bruno Nardi (1884–1968), who deconstructed the “myth of the Thomist Dante” and saw a funda- mental disharmony between Aquinas’s and Dante’s thought, a view which profoundly influenced post-war Dante scholarship to the present day. In light of this intellectual history, in the third part, I reappraise construc- tively eight alleged points of divergence between Aquinas’s and Dante’s thought. I demonstrate that these key points of apparent divergence—as on the natural desire for the beatific vision, on the doctrine of two final ends for man, or on the relationships between philosophy and theology and between nature and grace—have as much to do with these scholars’ interpretations of Aquinas’s works as with their interpretations of Dante.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1053-1096
JournalNova et Vetera
Volume20
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022

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