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Augustin Bonnetty

French writer (1798-1879)

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Bonnetty, AUGUSTIN, a French writer, b. at Entrevaux (dept. of Basses-Alpes) May 9, 1798; d. at Paris, March 26, 1879. In 1815 he entered the seminary at Digne and studied for the priesthood. After completing his philosophical and theological studies, as he was too young to be ordained, he went to Marseilles as private tutor in an excellent family. He soon felt that his mission was to use science and philosophy in the defense of the Church and to remain a layman. In 1825 he went to Paris, and five years later founded the “Annales de philosophie chretienne” (first number July 31, 1830) which he edited until his death. His main object was to show the agreement of science and religion, and to point out how the various sciences contributed to the demonstration of Christianity. In 1838 he also took up the direction of the “Universite catholique” founded two years before by Gerbet, de Salinis, de Scorbiac, and de Montalembert. Having become the sole owner of this review in 1846, he suspended its publication, in 1855, in order to devote himself exclusively to the “Annales”. Among the main features of the “Annales” was the attempt to show the universality of a primitive revelation which is recognizable even in the myths and fables of all nations. But Bonnetty went farther, exaggerating the necessity of this primitive revelation, and minimizing the value of reason in attaining truth. This tendency to the system known as “traditionalism” soon drew the attention of the ecclesiastical authorities. A report was sent to the Congregation of the Index by Archbishop Sibour of Paris, and two years later (1855) Bonnetty was asked to sign the following four propositions: (I) Although faith is superior to reason, yet no discord or disagreement can ever be found between them, since both proceed from one and the same unchangeable source of truth, God infinite in perfection, and thus are of mutual assistance. (Encyclical of Pius IX, November 9, 1846.) (2) Reasoning can demonstrate with certainty the existence of God, the spirituality of the soul, and the freedom of man. Faith is posterior to revelation, and in consequence cannot consistently be adduced to prove the existence of God against an atheist, or the spirituality and freedom of the rational soul against an adherent of naturalism and fatalism. (Proposition subscribed to by Bautain, September 8, 1840.) (3) The use of reason precedes faith, and, with the help of revelation and grace, leads man to faith. (Prop. subscribed to by Bautain, September 8, 1840.) (4) The method used by St. Thomas, by St. Bonaventure, and, after them, by other scholastics, does not lead to rationalism, nor does it explain why, in modern schools, philosophy should fall into naturalism and pantheism. Hence these doctors and masters cannot be reproached for using that method, especially with the approval, at least tacit of the Church. (Prop. contradictory to propositions, extracted from different passages of Bonnetty.) ”

It must be noted that in the letter sent at the same time as these propositions by Father Modena, the secretary of the Congregation of the Index, to Monsignor Sacconi, the papal nuncio in Paris, it was stated that Bonnetty’s attachment to the Holy See and to Catholic doctrines was never suspected. The intention was not to pronounce any judgment declaring his opinions “erroneous, suspicious, or dangerous”, but only “to prevent the possible consequences, proximate or remote, which others might deduce from them, especially in matters of faith”. Bonnetty, without any hesitation, gave his full assent to the above propositions. He declared that he had meant all along to defend these doctrines, and that he would hereafter endeavor to do so with greater accuracy.

Bonnetty was a member of the “Societe des etudes litteraires”, the “Association pour la defense de la religion catholique”, the “Societe asiatique”, and the “Roman Academy of the Catholic Religion“. He was also a knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great and of the Order of Pius IX. In addition to his numerous articles in the “Annales de philosophie chretienne” and the “Universite catholique”, he wrote the following works most of which, however, were first published as articles in the Annales: “Beautes de l’histoire de l’Eglise” (Paris, 1841); “Le christianisme et la philosophie” (Paris, 1845); “Table de tous les auteurs edites par le cardinal Mai” (Paris, 1850); “Documents historiques sur la religion des Romains” (Paris, 1867-78); “Dictionnaire raisonne de diplomatique”, based on that of Dom de Vaines (Paris, 1863-65); a translation of the Latin work by Father de Premare, a Jesuit missionary in China (1666-1734), “Vestiges des principaux dogmes chretiens tires des anciens livres chinois” (1879).


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