Ontologism Heresy

I have been familiarizing myself with the philosophy of Plato, and how Augustine has interpreted Platonism into Christian theology.

The main point being that the world of forms exist within the mind of God, and that upon our birth, we are instilled with knowledge patterned off the forms that exist within the mind of God. Since we are instilled with the knowledge of the forms at birth, it is a priori knowledge.

However, upon further reading, I noticed on author mention that his could be a form of ontologism.

I’m not quite sure what ontologism is, (I read the entry on New Advent and it didn’t clarify it for me), and I’m not sure how it relates, or if it even does, to the idea of above.

Was Augustine in heresy here?

When philosophers talk about what ‘could be a form of x’, they’re generally just trying to organize theories with other like theories so they can be categorized. From what I’ve read, what you describe sounds like Ontologism of a form, but, the author you’re talking about doesn’t explicitly state that it is. Could be there’s some facets that aren’t in-line with Malebranche.

I’m not a theologian so I can’t do a step-by-step walk-through of the theory, but the Catholic Encyclopedia offers a refutation, and say that Ontologism is condemned. So unless Augustine is also condemned, I think the ideas are separate enough to not worry.

Thanks, I appreciate the insight. I’m not sure what Malebranche is, so I’ll have to look into it.

It’s most likely my interpretation that is not correct, so if anyone could steer me right, I would greatly appreciate it.

The CE article also states, “Neither St. Augustine nor St. Thomas favours Ontologism. It is through a misunderstanding of their theories and of their expression that the Ontologist appeals to them.” One might argue that the CE is biased in favor of Augustine, but perhaps whatever you are reading is biased against him, or misinformed.


I think it stems from me not understanding what the ontologism heresy is.

Ontologism is not a heresy if understood correct. “The Council of Vienna (1311-12) had already condemned the doctrine of the Begards who maintained that we can see God by our natural intelligence.” But that is to see God perfectly in Heave supernaturally.

I would have to see the text of the 18 September, 1861 and 1862 holy office decrees, but I doubt they say it is false to say our first thought is of God. The 14 December, 1887 decree was overturned by Cardinal Ratzinger by the way

So the doctrine of the Begards was in error because they though that you could see God perfectly, as he is in Heaven through our own intellect? In other words you could know everything about God through our reasoning alone. Is the doctrine of the Begards considered ontologism?

Whereas Augustine was coming from the perspective that since we are created in the image of God, reasoning is one of those attributes bestowed upon us, and through reasoning we can come to know some of thoughts of God?

Extremely unlikely. We ought to be careful of calling something heresy just because a position similar made it to a list of condemnations in the past (which often have their own limits on doctrinal condemnation anyhow). There is also often a bias to be wary of anything that smacks of being contrary to Aristotelianism ever since Thomism became the preeminent philosophy of the Church (especially in in the late 1800s).

For instance, New Advent states the Council of Vienne “had already condemned the doctrine of the Begards who maintained that we can see God by our natural intelligence”, but the only thing I see that council condemned in this regard was the proposition that “any intellectual nature in its own self is naturally blessed, and that the soul does not need the light of glory raising it to see God and to enjoy Him beatifically”. So in other words, its not so much seeing God in some way through our natural reason that is condemned, but seeing Him fully. Thinkandmull makes this point well in his post.

Yes, at least one of several reasons. They also said stuff like “it is the characteristic of the imperfect man to exercise himself in acts of virtue, and the perfect soul gives off virtue by itself”, etc.

Of course I tend to favor Platonism over Aristotelianism (to a degree), so there is that too :wink:

Awesome, thank you so much for the clarification. I also favor platonism over aristotelianism, so when I came across ontologism I became a bit concerned.

I greatly appreciate your response. Thank you!

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