BAUTAIN Luis Eugène Marie— philosopher and theologian, b. February 17, 1796 in Paris, d. October 15, 1867 in Paris.
He began his studies in 1814 in L’École Normal in Paris where he was a student of Victor Cousins, among others. In 1817 he became lecturer in philosophy in the Collège Royal in Strasbourg and in the faculty of humanities in that university. In 1822 he resigned from full university functions and began medical studies. He also began to work on creating his own philosophical system. In 1825 he returned to the position from which he had resigned, and in 1828 he was ordained a priest. In 1849 he became the vicar general of Paris and a preacher, and then became a professor of moral sciences in the faculty of theology in Paris.
While still in Strasbourg he became familiar with German philosophy, but he rejected it for post-Kantian idealism and Cousin’s eclecticism. A meeting with the German female mystic M. L. Humann led to a radical change in Bautain’s views, whereby he discovered in Catholicism an answer to a question that had been haunting him: What, in essence, is philosophy? The answer was: it is the beginning and the end-goal of life. Therefore the main object of Bautain’s investigations, as a believer and a philosopher, became the relation between philosophy and religion, between reason and faith. At times he was inclined to rationalism, other times to fideism, depending on the circumstances in his life and the philosophical influences affecting him.
In 1818 he published Leçons dicitèes de philosophie morale, a work in the field of morality in which he supported ethical system of Fichte and stated that the moral goodness of an act is based on the independence of the will from external influences and from spiritual desires and needs. Pure freedom, an idea created by the reason, which has no counterpart in the material world, constitutes the end of human life.
In Courrier littéraire in 1823 Bautain pointed to Kant, according to whom the reason is incapable of achieving depth in the areas of metaphysics and morality. Bautain extended Kant’s thinking, and thought that the reason does not have within it any integrating intellectual power nor any ability of deduction and induction; philosophical thought should therefore be based on Revelation, and morality should be based on humility. This statements gave his philosophy a fideistic character.
In his 1827 treatise La morale de l’Évangile comparée à la morale des philosophes, he stated that the Bible is the only safeguard against the claims of philosophy. Philosophical thoughts should begin from faith—this sequence of reflection is the condition for all cognition, every science and morality.
Bautain took a different position in his 1833 work De l’Enseignement de la philosophie en France au XIXe siècle, in which he held that there is in the reason a special ability to reach religious and moral truths; the principle of this certainty is found in Divine Revelation passed on by Christianity. It was the misfortune of past ages that they separated faith from science, and treated both these areas as irreconcilable. Therefore philosophy, in order to lead people to faith, a faith grounded by natural cognition and science, must present Christian principles as the foundations of science. The Church did not accept this conception of “scientific faith” as it was proclaimed by Bautain. In 1834, the Bishop of Strasbourg condemned Bautain’s views and prohibited him from preaching. Pope Gregory XVI reaffirmed the bishop’s position.
In 1835, with his student Fr. H. de Bonnechose, Bautain published his two-volume work La philosophie du christianisme. This work he retraced some of his youthful views and recognized the authority of the Church as the sole authority in matters of faith. Henceforth he treated the teaching of his own philosophy as a mission ot explain scientifically Christian truths. La philosophie du christianisme took on this task. It presented a development of the Augustinian thesis that “philosophy, which is the study of wisdom, is nothing other than religion”. La philosophie was Bautain’s most popular and most controversial work and it presented the main theses of his thought. The author’s intention was to present contemporary Christianity as the only system that is worthy of the name of wisdom. Christian theology there acquired the highest rank of a science that perfectly satisfies the need for explanation, a need that comes from philosophical questions. This work is primarily an apology for Christianity written in order to convince eclectic intellectuals in search of truth and happiness that Christianity is the only doctrine that contains true wisdom.
In his two-volume Philosophie morale published in 1842, Bautain followed Anselm of Canterbury in seeking “faith striving for reason”. He thought that the Word of God is the foundation of true philosophy, wisdom, and science that is revealed by the philosopher.
In Paris in 1859 his work L’esprit humain et ses facultés was published (an earlier version was published in 1839 as La psychologie expérimentale). In 1855 his work La morale de l’Évangile, comparée aux divers systèmes de morale was republished, and then the following works: La conscience ou la règle des actions humaines (1861); La philosophie des lois au point de vue chrétien (1860); Manuel de philosophie morale (1866). The complete bibliography of Bautain’s works contains 40 published positions, and numerous manuscripts.
Bautain’s philosophical system is based on three basic categories: the intelligence of faith, the light of faith, and the philosophy of faith. They are connected as follows: since everything that exists participates in being, and the truth of beings depends on their agreement with the divine idea of which beings are a realization, the human science that investigates beings is more or less perfect depending on the degree of participation in God’s science or knowledge. Faith is an intelligence that causes us to participate in God’s knowledge, who alone sees things in their wholeness and their principles. Faith is the connection with God. It is a free and voluntary bond, and so it depends upon us to determine man’s subjective reaction with God’s objective action. A profound bond connects our being with the Source of this being. In our present state we cannot communicate with the Infinite, the source of all truth, except by receiving by faith the “impression of eternal truth”. Our intelligence, which of its nature wants to see and know, is inclined to possess the truth and aspired to the true, sole, and universal science. As God is one, so truth is one and it includes all objects of knowledge. The truth of the revealed Word allows the philosopher to discover and pass on a coherent explanation of man, the history of mankind, and the history of the world, under a scientific form.
Bautain’s thought is the work of a convert. He passed thought materialism, empiricism, Cousin’s eclecticism, and post-Kantian idealism. He felt that these systems were inadequate and became a follower of Christianity in which he found certainty and a feeling of having touched the truth. In Christianity he found the answers that none of the rationalistic systems had provided him.
A. Adam, La philosophie en France dans la première moitié du XIXe siècle, P 1894; E. Baudaire, La formation intellectuelle du clergé de France au XIXe siècle, P 1905; A. D. Sertillanges, Le Christianisme et les philosophies, P 1944; E. Hocedez, Histoire de la théologie au XIXe siècle, P 1949–1952; P. Poupard, L’abbé Louis B., Tou 1961 (bibliogr.).