Catholic Encyclopaedia Biography

Gratry, Auguste-Joseph-Alphonse, French priest and writer; b. at Lille, 30 March, 1805; d. at Montreux, Switzerland, 7 February, 1872. After brilliantly finishing his classical studies, he entered the polytechnic school at Paris. At the end of his course, (1828), he went to Strasburg, spent some months at the convent of Bischenberg, and decided to become a priest. He was ordained at Strasburg on 22 December, 1832, and remained there for several years with Bautain. In 1841, Gratry became director of the Collège Stanislas in Paris, but, in 1846, accepted the position of chaplain of the “Ecole normale supérieure”. It was then that he published his first work: “Demandes et réponses sur les devoirs sociaux”.

When Vacherot, director of studies at the Ecole normale, published the third volume of his “Histoire de l’Ecole d’Alexandrie”, a polemic took place between him and Gratry; Vacherot was obliged to leave the school, and Gratry himself resigned his charge one year later (1851). After a year spent at Orléans as vicar-general of Bishop Dupanloup, Gratry united his efforts with Abbe Pétitot, in Paris, for the restoration in France of the Oratory under the name of Oratoire de l’Immaculée Conception.

In 1863, Gratry was appointed professor of moral theology in the faculty of theology of Paris; and in 1867 he was elected a member of the French Academy, succeeding Barante in the fauteuil once occupied by Voltaire.

At the time of the Council of the Vatican (1870), he declared himself against the papal infallibility in several letters, edited under the title “Monseigneur l’Evêque d’Orléans et Monseigneur l’Archevêque de Malines”. These were condemned by the Bishop of Strasburg, and Gratry, who had already lived for almost ten years outside of his community and had been publicly reproved by his superior in 1869 for his participation in a certain association, formed under the name of the International League for Peace, had to sever his connexion with the Oratory.

After the proclamation of papal infallibility, Gratry gave his full and sincere adhesion to the dogma, and, when Archbishop Guibert had taken possession of the See of Paris in December, 1871, he wrote him a public letter wherein he retracted all that he had written against the infallibility of the pope.

He was then suffering from an abscess on the neck; he went to Montreux, near the Lake of Geneva, and died there in 1872. Among the chief works of Gratry, besides those already named are: “Une Etude sur la sophistique contemporaine, ou Lettre à M. Vacherot” (Paris, 1851); “De la Connaissance de Dieu” (2 vols., Paris, 1853); “Logique” (2 vols., Paris, 1856); “De la Connaissance de l’Ame” (2 vols., Paris, 1858); “La Philosophie du Credo” (1861); “Les Sources” (1862); “Commentaire sur l’Evangile de Saint Matthieu” (2 vols., 1863); “Les Sophistes et la Critique” (Paris, 1864); “Henri Perreyve” (Paris, 1866); “La Morale et la Loi de l’Histoire” (2 vols., Paris, 1868); “Les Sources de la Régénération sociale” (a reprint with some changes of his first work); “Souvenirs de ma Jeunesse” (1874); “Meditations inédites” (1874).

Gratry exercised a great influence during his life by his personality — distinguished for greatness of thought, generosity of heart, and optimistic enthusiasm — and, after his death, by his works. In the last twenty years his books have been frequently reprinted.

Among those who came under his influence, we may mention especially, Charles and Adolphe (later Cardinal) Perraud, Heinrich, de Margerie, Nourrisson, H. Perreyve, and Léon Ollé-Laprune. 

Concerning Gratry’s philosophical conceptions we may say that the pregnant truth which underlies his philosophy is to be found in two of his fundamental principles: (1) that we must seek the truth with our whole soul, that is, with all the faculties and helps given to us by God — our sensibility, imagination, reason, love, and the light of revelation — and with the necessary moral condition. (2) That a thing is truly known only through its relation to God, its author and ruler, as man is truly developed only through his ascent toward God, his creator and his end.

But when he comes to determine the respective values and relation of these faculties, Gratry, with a soul naturally sensitive, seems to yield too much to feeling and love, and the relations between reason and faith are not always clearly respected.

God, for him, is felt or experienced rather than thought or known through reasoning. He is felt by the “divine sense” through the dialectical process which is analogous to the inductive process in physics and the infinitesimal process in mathematics; in presence of a certain degree of beauty and perfection perceived in nature, the soul develops in itself a capacity for exaltation, which raises it from the finite to the infinite.

These indeed are high and inspiring thoughts, but the clear statement of truth requires a stricter analysis and a more vigorous treatment. These characteristics, however, explain the feeling of attraction mixed with anxiety one feels on perusing Gratry’s works; they help one to understand the ideal grandeur of the moral inspirations and the vague Utopian dreaminess one meets in such close juxtaposition on many of his pages.

Souvenirs de ma Jeunesse; PERRAUD, Le P. Gratry, Les derniers jours, son testament spirituel (Paris, 1872); IDEM, Le Père Gratry, sa vie et ses oeuvres (Paris, 1900); CHAUVIN, Le Père Gratry (Paris, 1901); OLLÉ-LAPRUNE, Eloge du P. Gratry (Paris, 1896).


Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1917

Volume VI, Page 731.