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 Amazon.com and abebooks.com. So what are you waiting for?