The life and thought of Gaston Frommel (1862 - 1906)
Hunter, George Lindsay
The Thesis gives an account of the life and thought of GASTON PROMMEL, French-Swiss theologian, Professor at the University of Geneva from 1894 until his death.The distinctive elements of his thought are set out, in their own right; in terms of his antecedents - principally Pascal, Kant, Vinet, Secretan and Malan; and in relation to his contemporaries, by way, where relevant, of dialogue and exchange - principally Chapuis, Naville, Sabatier and Bois. Assessment is made of the validity of his thought and of its relevance to theological issues since his day.Frommel's life and thought were inseparably linked, his conver- sion experience being motive and norm for all which followed by way of devotional and theological expression. His approach was one not so widely known nor explored as its distinctive quality might appear to warrant, and his premature death meant an unfinished work. While his thought -expression belonged, in its main lineaments, to his time, and his influence was exercised chiefly in personal terms on students and friends, he has yet something to say to every age by way of re- call to the fundamentals of Christian experience, the personal vali- dation of the saving power of the Gospel.Fe regarded the task of the theologian as that of describing, analysing and giving articulate expression to the data of Christian experience, in terms of Apologetics (the demonstration of Christian truth before the faculty of reason by the constitution of human truth.) and Dogmatics (the exposition of the content of the Christian faith in accordance with its own inner coherence and life.)The main elements in his thought were: - (1) The identification of, and the emphasis upon, the experience of the phenomenon of the obligation of conscience, the solicita- 2 tion of the human will by the Divine, as the area in which to constitute the true nature of man. The will is determinatively obligated in its unconscious mode, and exercises itself in free- dom and responsibility in the conscious, reflective mode.(2) The determination of the Christian faith in terms of a life centred on the Person of Jesus Christ, its validity and its bearing of a distinctive cognitive element, these being given in the experience of commitment in freedom. The intellectual faculty being vitiated by determinism and enslavement to causa- lity and apriorism, the epistemological status of faith is con- stituted, not in metaphysical knowledge of God as He is in Him- self, but in knowledge of Him as He is for us in Christ. The things of the Spirit being inaccessible to natural man, there is required a regenerative experience and a renewal of the mind.(3) The necessity for the conformity of Christian theological methodology, in both Apologetics and Dogmatics, to lived expe- rience and to its data, rather than to scientific, historical or metaphysical norms and criteria.(4) The conception of the supernatural as the moral supernatu- ral, replacing naturalist monism or supernaturalist dualism; and the conception of Christianity as that which alone has full- ness of the supernatural in virtue of its redemptive, revelatory and regenerative nature.The perceptibility of miracle is thus concomitant with that of revelation, the supernatural becoming a datum of consciousness in the context of redemptive revelation.Points of criticism of the Frommelian position: -1) There was a rather uncritical acceptance of the Malanist psychology of the will as determinatively obligated in its un- 3 conscious mode while free in its reflective. This must remain hypothetical, and methodological purity was vitiated by the un- acknowledged importing of psychological and religious presupposi- tions into what was claimed to be pure phenomenological descrip- tion.(2) There was imprecision in his constitution of moral obligation as the sole, direct, personal mode of relationship between man and God. It may be acknowledged as the supreme mode, but the depreciation of all others may not do justice to the conception of Paul, regarded by Prommel as normative for Christian thinking, that, even in man's natural condition, there is revelation of the Divine nature such as to render man inexcusable. What is inaccessible and indiscernible outside of regeneration and renewal is experience of "fides salvifica".(3) His Christology, while suggestive in its conception of "solidarity" as the key to the relationship of Jesus Christ to mankind. both as natural and redeemed, seemed to issue in a soteriology which did not wholly break loose from elements of the juridical and expiatory which he thought to avoid.(4) The element of eschatological tension was missing, such that, although claiming the character of the dynamic, his thought had a certain static quality, the implications for the conception of the renewing of the mind of the Christian, qua viator, not being explored.(5) The Apologetic value of his work remains doubtful, doomed, as perhaps all Apologetics, to failure in terms of his own premise, the inaccessibility of the things of the Spirit to natural man, an unbridgeable gulf being asserted as constitutive of human truth. His Apologetics moved, in however unacknowledged a manner, within the area of Dogmatics, and could not do other- wise in terms of an experience discontinuous with the natural, namely, that of renewal and regeneration concomitant with redemptive revelation.