Orestes Brownson's synthetic theology of revelation (1826-1844)

Arie J Griffioen, Marquette University


I argue in this study that the Protestant thought of Orestes A. Brownson develops through four stages into a synthetic theology of revelation. The synthesis constitutes the means through which the supernatural and natural are reconciled without losing their distinction. Consequently, Brownson is able to posit a supernatural revelation embodied in the mediatorial life of Jesus, according to which the race is redeemed and advanced. Recognizing the philosophical dimensions of the problem of revelation as it emerged from the Enlightenment, Brownson's Protestant thought is marked by a philosophical inquiry into the relation of objective reality and subjective experience. Brownson recognized that the problem of revelation concerned the reconciliation of this fundamental duality of modern thought, whether it be expressed in terms of the relation between object and subject, divine and human, infinite and finite, or revelation and reason. However, the emergence of the doctrine of revelation in modern thought has not been adequately elaborated within the American context. Though this study attempts no such comprehensive treatment, Brownson's thought provides excellent insight into the antebellum American intellectual context and offers a vantage point from which to view the problem of establishing the conditions for the possibility of revelation within that context. During the first period of Brownson's Protestant thought (1826-1832), revelation is discerned and demarcated primarily through empirical evidence, reflecting the employment of Enlightenment categories. The second period (1833-1836) is a reaction to the first and is marked by an emerging Romantic intuitionism whereby revelation is appropriated immediately by the knowing subject. The third period (1836-1841) demonstrates the impact of the French eclecticism of Victor Cousin as Brownson attempts a synthesis of his two previous extremes, and the fourth period (1842-1844) marks the refinement of that synthesis through the adaptation of Pierre Leroux's doctrine of "life by communion." Finally, the synthesis propels Brownson into Catholicism. However, this study does not deal with the conversion itself. While recognizing his movement toward Catholicism, Brownson's Protestant thought is allowed to stand on its own as an original and enterprising intellectual response to the religious problems of the day.

Recommended Citation

Griffioen, Arie J, "Orestes Brownson's synthetic theology of revelation (1826-1844)" (1988). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI8904255.