Thursday, June 10, 2010

Henri Renard, S.J.

“Fluent and articulate, clear and concise, inspiring and yet ruthless on sham and pretense…”

These words were written about Fr. Henri Renard (1894 – 1981) by the editors of a festschrift dedicated to him which was published in 1966 (Vincent Daues, Maurice Holloway, and Leo J. Sweeney, eds., Wisdom in Depth: Essays in Honor of Henri Renard, S.J.). We had occasion recently to quote Renard, who was a professor of philosophy at Creighton University, and one of the more influential authors of the Neo-Scholastic “manualist” era. He wrote a series of influential textbooks on Thomistic philosophy: The Philosophy of Being, The Philosophy of Man, The Philosophy of God, and The Philosophy of Morality. According to the festschrift, the first of these books sold over 100,000 copies. (It has also recently been reissued by one of the cheap reprint publishers, though cheaper used copies can still be found online.) The books were so widely used at Catholic colleges that they ended up lending their titles to the courses which featured them as textbooks – courses in metaphysics came to be titled Philosophy of Being, courses in philosophical psychology came to be titled Philosophy of Man, and so forth.

But the times, they do change, and not always for the better. To this day, Creighton sponsors a prestigious lecture series named in Renard’s honor. But very few read his work, or even remember him. The formation in Scholastic philosophy that was once de rigueur at Catholic colleges and universities has disappeared. There is absolutely no good reason whatsoever for any of this. But I won’t repeat my rant about the way the “manualists” have been treated. They were great men, and we are very much the poorer for neglecting them. But there is always hope, and there are always and So what are you waiting for?


  1. I took a course back in the day called "Philosophy of Man," but the textbook we used was titled "Thomistic Psychology" by Brennan.

    The professor was I think old enough to have known Aquinas personally. He told us the first day that God got 100, Jesus got 99, and Thomas got 98, so the best grade we could hope for was 97.

  2. Ha! I had a Carmelite history instructor in high school who refused to give out 100s on the grounds that nobody is perfect. I got a 99.5 from him once and he explained "I know there must be a mistake in there somewhere even if I don't know what it is."

    Brennan is a classic too.

  3. TheOFlinn:

    Arrgh, how I want to get my hands on a copy of Brennan!

    Those are great anecdotes. For me they show how the order of grace and glory simultaneously skewers liberal arrogance and self-esteemism ("Everybody's No. 1!") and elevates real accomplishments. Viz., if you for a 97 you're RIGHT UP THERE with the greats.

  4. Off topic:

    It's really too bad this forum isn't more active. The people who post here are great resources - some of the deepest thinkers I've encountered on the net.

    Unfortunately threads just lie there with unanswered questions that no one notices.

    Maybe if there was a sidebar on the main page with recent post activity?

    Dr. Feser?

  5. I have to agree, D. Smith. But I would extend your respect for the quality of this site's commenters to include a kind of "A-T" mini-network of simply brilliant sites, including that of James Chastek of Just Thomism, Brandon of Siris, and (not A-T but deeply serious philosophically) Bill Valicella of Maverick Philosopher and Victor Reppert of Dangerous Idea. Simply superb sites, run by some of the smartest, best-read, best truly educated minds I've had the pleasure to encounter. And with some equally brilliant and well-informed commenters. I've learned more from those individuals, and from Dr. Feser, than I could possibly give appropriate thanks to.

    These guys are all treasures.

  6. Wow ed you had a Carmelite history instructor? I'm hoping (God Willing) to enter the the OCD postulency next year.

  7. Thanks PatrickH!
    I'll have a look.

  8. I found this old book in one of those 'marked-down' shops and purchased this book. Writing my article I wanted to include a quote by Henri Renard from his book called, "The Philosophy of Being." Wanted to google him as I did not know his background and found your web page.

    He said it in a very complicated way, but I had a light bulb moment! We live in a world of 'illusion.' Everything changes. Therefore, the conclusion is, we do not live in 'the real world.' My article will state where. Still working on it.

  9. I haven't forgotten him and I am reading Philosophy of Being and the Philosophy of God now. I think he had Thomas interpreted correctly. Thomas did demonstrate that God exists if you read him correctly and this is what Fr. Renard did and was able to do it in the concise way only he could do.

    1. I agree. His presentation of the Five Ways are the most persuasive and accessible that I have seen and ought to be sufficient to both to persuade the non-specialist and justify his or her belief in God.

  10. I had the great opportunity to know and study under father Renard at Creighton university in the early 1960s. He was truly a "giant" and a superlative instructor.

  11. Ward R. Anthony, M.D.May 13, 2014 at 8:58 AM

    I was a student of Father Renard in 1947-48 and took 23 hours in one years of philosophy courses. Early on I was talking with Father Renard at a student conference and the next day found I had been transferred to his classes. You must learn to think in abstractions and as I got into it I finally could understand Aristotle the way Aristotle understood himself. My association with Father Renard was life-changing for me.
    Ward R. Anthony, M.D. Boulder CO

  12. Renard's article, "What is St. Thomas's Approach to Metaphysics" (1956), is "an effort to present . . . the thought of St. Thomas in questions V and VI. In Boeth de Trinitate" and is well worth the read.

    Similar story regarding grades: I had a crotchety diocesan priest at UST (TX) who claimed never to give 100s b/c it didn't fit in his notebook. I got a 100 on a test. During the class review of the test, I made note of an error in my test, and he promptly gave me a 99.

    Here's the title of the essays in Wisdom in Depth; essays in honor of Henri Renard:

    Henri J. Renard, S. J.: a sketch, by J. P. Jelinek.--The good as undefinable, by M. Childress
    Gottlieb Sohngen's sacramental doctrine on the mass, by J. F. Clarkson.
    Christ's eucharistic action and history, by B. J. Cooke.
    Objective reality of human ideas: Descartes and Suarez, by T. J. Cronin.
    A medieval commentator on some Aristotelian educational themes, by J. W. Donohue.
    God as sole cause of existence, by M. Holloway.
    Knowledge, commitment, and the real, by R. O. Johann.
    John Locke and sense realism, by H. R. Klocker.
    The being of nonbeing in Plato's Sophist, by Q. Lauer.
    Ethics and verification, by R. McInerny.
    Analogy and the fourth way, by J. J. O'Brien.
    Love and being, by W. L. Rossner.
    Complexity in human knowledge: its basis in form/matter composition, by E. L. Rousseau.
    Toward a more dynamic understanding of substance and relation, by J. M. Somerville.
    The origin of participant and of participated perfections in Proclus' Elements of theology, by L. Sweeney.


  13. I discovered Renard's Philosophy of Being among some old college textbooks (which included Brennan and a book on Epistemology by Frederick Wilhelmsen) of my father's when I was still a teenager and absorbed them into my nascent philosophy collection. The book by Wilhelmsen was terrible and I never read any of the others as a result. That was fifty years ago. Recently, I read Renard's Philosophy of Being and also his Philosophy of God, which I picked up in a second-hand bookstore about a year ago. I was really impressed by the clarity and perspicacity of his presentation of some difficult ideas in Thomistic metaphysics and philosophy of religion.

    His works, even though textbooks rather than formal treatises, deserve to be better known. They make a perfect introduction to Thomistic thought and provide a good foundation for further research and study.

    Although I am not a Thomist, I hold a lot of Thomistic views and have incorporated them into my own philosophy. I have now ordered the last available copy of Renard's Philosophy of Man available online and look forward to reading it.

  14. I can yet remember him drawing a big curve on a blackboard instructing as I recall that living above this curve is God’s will for mankind and free will is not free until we live above that curve. His love and insights have been with me for 65 years.