(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

God and Philosophy reproduces the four Mahlon Powell Lectures on Philosophy exactly as Étienne Gilson gave them at Indiana University in 1939-1940. In the preface, he treats the unifying topic of his lectures: the metaphysical problem of God and its relationship to philosophy. Gilson explains that he is applying a method of investigation previously used in The Unity of Philosophical Experience (1937) and Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages (1938). This method consists of first drawing the necessary data for correct formulation of a philosophical problem from what is stated in past philosophies and then finding the correct solution to the problem in terms of the data. He concludes the preface with a statement of the intention of his lectures.

The first lecture deals with God and Greek philosophy. Gilson discusses the irreconcilable nature of Greek religion and philosophy. The notion of gods originated by the theological poets posited a multiplicity of beings or entities identifiable as gods. Living beings possessed of wills, the gods interfered in the lives of men, who were always at their mercy. Reality in Greek philosophy was that which could be seen and touched. It was composed of things governed by laws. Things were never considered as gods. Gilson points out that even Plato kept his gods separate from his philosophical principles. For Plato, ideas were the true reality, for they were immaterial, immutable, necessary, and intelligible. The idea of the Good was the dominating idea, but Plato never referred to it as a god. Gilson recognizes that Aristotle in his metaphysics brought together the first philosophical principle and the notion of god by placing a self-subsisting and eternal Act of Thinking at the summit of the universe. However, Gilson emphasizes that below this Act of Thinking there was still a multiplicity of gods, who eternally moved the heavenly spheres. Gilson also raises the problem of how religion can exist with a god that did not create the world and that thinks only of itself, never of man, and remains a thing.

In “God and Christian Philosophy,” Gilson examines how Christian philosophy developed by using the techniques of Greek...

(The entire section is 903 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Gilson, Étienne. The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy. Translated by A. H. C. Downes. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991. Gilson’s explanation of Christian philosophy as it was developed in the Middle Ages is articulated here, in his 1931-1932 Gifford Lectures.

Grogin, R. C. The Bergsonian Controversy in France, 1900-1914. Calgary, Alta.: University of Calgary Press, 1988. Examines the philosophical controversy, especially at the Sorbonne, about being. Heavily quotes Gilson on the subject.

Maritain, Jacques. An Introduction to Philosophy. New ed. Translated by E. I. Watkins. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. Excellent for understanding the many divisions of philosophy and for definitions of philosophical and metaphysical terms. Good on Gilson.

Redpath, Peter A. A Thomist Tapestry: Essays in Memory of Étienne Gilson. New York: Editions Rodopi, 2003. Good survey of Gilson’s method of philosophy and his scholarship, written by Gilson’s students.

Shook, Laurence K., C.S.B. Étienne Gilson. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1984. Accurate and complete biographical information on Gilson.