Henri de Lubac SJ (1896-1991) was a major influence on the Second Vatican Council and on theologians such as Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger, with whom he founded the journal Communio. In 1942, he and some fellow Jesuits founded Sources chrétiennes, a series that publishes the original text of patristic and medieval Christian writings alongside a French translation. He thereby stimulated within Catholic theology a return to its sources. Putting this ressourcement into practice in his own works, he argued that the Church should retrieve the patristic understanding of the Eucharist, the Church, creation, grace, and Scripture. In 1983, Pope John Paul II created him a cardinal.
In part one of this interview, Dr. David Grumett explained his pick of the five best books for those interested in reading de Lubac. In this second part of the interview, he discusses some further recommended readings and aspects of de Lubac's theology.
Five Books for Catholics may receive a commission from qualifyng purchases made using the affliate links to the books listed in this post.
You have proposed a couple of books for an extended list. Before getting into them, I have a couple of questions. Earlier you mentioned how de Lubac is often seen as spearheading ressourcement, a movement within Catholic theology that sought to move beyond neo-Scholasticism and draw on the Church’s whole theological tradition, particularly the Fathers. Has this project had its day or is it still pertinent? That's an interesting one. My answer would be very much that it is still pertinent. For de Lubac, retrieving the treasures from the Church’s past history and their interpretation is an ongoing activity because our contexts are evolving. We need to be open to receiving these historic figures and their reflection anew in each generation. At the same time, there has been an important shift and development in the way that ancient Christian texts are approached. I would see some of my own work as being a contribution to this in some small way. There has been a lot more interest now than there was in de Lubac’s day on the material contexts of early Christianity and its outworking in a whole range of practical situations: the food people ate; the way they dressed; family relationships; gender; all kinds of other things. We are less likely now than in de Lubac's day to accept that ressourcement can kind of deliver a single coherent body of teaching that we can easily interpret and unify. Now we are more likely to recognise the diversity of voices—women's voices as well as men's voices—and how the wide range of contexts of Christian history issue in different emphases and inflexions in theology. So yes, in short, the task remains hugely important although the way quite a few academics are going about it now is different.
For de Lubac, retrieving the treasures from the Church’s past history and their interpretation is an ongoing activity because our contexts are evolving.
Missing from your list are what are arguably de Lubac’s most renowned contributions to twentieth-century theology: Surnaturel, Corpus mysticum, Medieval Exegesis, three works that focus on debates within medieval theology. Did you leave these books out because they are too technical for the general reader? Yes, I left them out because they are demanding. Surnaturel has not been translated into English, although, the first part of it is available as Augustinianism and Modern Theology, and the text is very similar. A lot of de Lubac’s interpreters and critics have tried to measure him against the standards of Thomas Aquinas because he, for good reasons, has a distinctive place in Catholic theology and teaching. But it is important to remember that in de Lubac’s context, Augustine was massively important, and had been in France for several centuries, particularly due to the rigorous interpretation of Augustine, associated especially with Cornelius Jansenius. This reading of Augustine overstated the absolute power that sin has wrought over humans: that humans can do nothing from their own power. Most people were even excluded from the Church, according to Jansenius, and only a small elect of people was saved. In Surnaturel,de Lubac was battling against this current of theology, which had become dominant in the French Church and gave a very negative, pessimistic reading of anthropology. It was contributing to the decline of the Church through people being refused absolution at confession multiple times and being taught to view themselves unworthy to receive the Eucharist. This had some big outworkings in pastoral practice.
In Surnaturel, de Lubac wanted to call into question these readings of Augustine that had developed in the earlier modern period (sixteenth to eighteenth centuries), and say, “No! There is a different Augustine: the Augustine of the Confessions, who is a much more pastorally sensitive, accommodating figure. As part of this, de Lubac wanted to interpret the supernatural not as the doctrine that God is isolated in a distant heaven and or that we can have no contact with God, but rather as the doctrine that the supernatural and the natural are closely related. Ultimately, the natural is not able to continue without being preserved by the supernatural.
De Lubac pushed against a lot of Neo-Thomists, for whom there was this realm of pure nature, as they called it. This came from the universe of Aristotle: the idea that there is a whole area of life where we can just get on with things, without any divine assistance. De Lubac critically interpreted the doctrine of pure nature. Rather, the whole of nature is permeated by the supernatural because ultimately it is a creation of God. So, everything we do in our ordinary acts is, in some way, dependent on grace and connected with it.
The key argument de Lubac makes in Corpus mysticum is that, anciently, the Eucharistic body was associated with the Church and that it is only in later mediaeval theology that it came to be disconnected from the Church and connected mainly with Christ’s historical body. Corpus mysticum is also a very historical work. I touched upon its key teaching: the belief that the Eucharist makes the Church, so that the Church is the product of worship.
There is a discussion about Christ's different bodies: Christ's historical body, that of his time on earth; the body of Christ on the altar, present in the host; Christ's body, eternally in heaven; Christ's whole body, the Church. The key argument de Lubac makes in Corpus mysticum is that, anciently, the Eucharistic body was associated with the Church and that it is only in later mediaeval theology that it came to be disconnected from the Church and connected mainly with Christ’s historical body. When we receive the Eucharist or see the host exposed during Benediction, what are we connecting with? Are we thinking the host is primarily a manifestation of Christ's body when Christ was on earth, or do we think that it is primarily a manifestation of Christ present in the Church? De Lubac does not want to say that, ultimately, the two are opposed, but his message is that there is a danger they become opposed if the Eucharist ceases to be the centre of the Church’s life. It becomes something that is safeguarded and locked away, that people cannot easily receive. The pandemic has been an interesting instance of this. Under obligation from secular authorities, many Churches and clergy had great difficulties continuing to make the Eucharist available to people, to their Church members. During the pandemic, if we think about this in de Lubac's terms and in the terms of Corpus mysticum, there probably was a re-clericaliation or a re-mediaevalisation of the Eucharist because of these legal restrictions that the Church was under. We are now coming out of that, thank God, back to a balanced relationship between Church and the sacrament, and easier access to the Eucharist, which is important, because it is the Eucharist that makes the Church.
This post is for paying subscribers only
Sign up now and upgrade your account to read the post and get access to the full library of posts for paying subscribers only.