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Gilson, Étienne (1884–1978)

  1. Francesca Aran Murphy

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc0591

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Murphy, F. A. 2011. Gilson, Étienne (1884–1978). The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011


Étienne Gilson was the greatest Thomist philosopher of the 20th century. The Frenchman's thought falls into three parts. Having been trained at the Sorbonne by Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Gilson was first a historian of medieval Christian thought. Gilson showed the diversity of ideas as between, for instance, Augustine, Bonaventure, Albert the Great, Aquinas, and Duns Scotus. His classic historical studies include Bonaventure (1924), The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy (1932), and Jean Duns Scot (1952). The immediate result of Leo XIII's promotion of Thomas Aquinas in Aeterni Patris (1879), reinforced by the “modernist crisis” in Catholic theology (1903–1915), was the use of “Thomism” in seminary education as a timeless source of philosophical truths. The “medievals” were viewed as a single block, opposed to the “moderns.” Gilson, however, taught his contemporaries to see the medievals as individuals. He established the Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen age and the Institute of Medieval Studies, in Toronto, to further the text-based study of medieval philosophies and theology.


  • Gilson, Étienne (1884–1978);
  • Gilson, Thomist philosopher of 20th century;
  • bonaventure, the spirit of mediaeval philosophy;
  • Gilson, and Thomas' writings, faith and reason together;
  • the unity of philosophical experience;
  • Gilson, kown as “existential Thomist”