The Limit and the Renown of Henri de Lubac

The drastic implications of Henri de Lubac's thought have only gradually come to light. Despite the indirectness and fragmentary character of his work, despite even his failure "to do theology" or "to do philosophy," his influence has now outlasted that of many once-famous names. Arguably, he is, along with Sergei Bulgakov, one of the two truly great theologians of the twentieth century.

Yet the lacunae in his work were partly shaped by his battles with authority. Is there not some contradiction here between his and von Balthasar's formal capitulation to papal authority on the one hand, and their ecclesiology on the other, which stressed the primacy of the sacramental influence of the bishops as eucharistic mediators? Also with de Lubac's acknowledgment that papal power in the Middle Ages was falsely and permanently directed into an overly judicial and non-spiritual direction? And is there not some link to be made here with a failure to tackle the question of patriarchy and the rule of a male hierarchy? This question is not raised extrinsically, out of mere obeisance to fashion.

For latterly, both thinkers were wont to link the questions of the laity and of the church with the question of the "feminine." Both of them adopted dualist models of the church, distinguishing between a lay, receptive, mystical, cultural "Marian" aspect and a more legal, regulative, intellectual, abstract, "Petrine" aspect.

Does not this duality ruin the inner structure of de Lubac's fundamental thought regarding the supernatural? If "the eternal feminine" is close to the natural desire for the supernatural, then it should be something paradoxically passive-active, and radically passive only in the sense that the most active human action is passive in relation to God. The Petrine function should also be, as such, Marian, in that, at the heart of its shaping activity, it is also to do with a receptive giving birth again to Christ in the Eucharist, from whence (according to de Lubac) flows the body of the church. If there is, indeed, a sheerly "seminal" aspect, then this has more to do with non-human word and sacrament "flowing into" the church and informing all levels of its hierarchy, which are in various degrees and at various times passive-active. A distinct "passive" dimension to the church sounds all too like a kind of collective "supernatural existential" awaiting the extrinsic impact of male seminal authority.

If, for de Lubac, the supernatural is ultimately the "eternal feminine" and the aporetic heart of creation itself as not God/created God, then it should follow that that which is Marian is not simply receptive, but "actively receptive," just as the Mary of traditional annunciation pictures receiving the angel is also the Mary actively interpreting the scriptures which she peruses. Moreover, this aporetic heart is itself the showing forth outside of God of the heart of God as the interplay of donative difference. This interplay, this essence, is also the active/passive (infinitely dynamic yet infinitely replete) Sophia which names the Christian Godhead (in its unified essence) as "goddess."

De Lubac belonged to a particular generation and within that generation he was incomparable. Yet this generation scarcely prepared him to deal with all the many dimensions of patriarchal authority that I have indicated above. Nevertheless, the radicalism of his own account of the supernatural suggests that it must be faced more critically than he ever imagined.

This issue aside, it is fair to say that contemporary Catholic theology, if it is to avoid both a liberalism and a conservatism that are predicated on the idea of an autonomous pure nature, needs to recover the authentic and more radical account of the natural desire of the supernatural as offered by de Lubac, both early and late in his career.

Notes

1 Aristotle, Ethics iii. 3, cited by Aquinas at Summa Theologiae 1-11 Q.5 a4 ad 1.

2 Cited by Lawrence Feingold, The Natural Desire to see God according to St. Thomas and His Interpreters (Rome: Apollinare Studi, 2001), p. 628.

3 Humani Generis in The Papal Encyclicals 1939-58, ed. Claudia Carlen (Raleigh, NC: McGrath, 1981), pp. 175-85, 26.

4 Cited by P. Georges Chantraine, SJ in his article "Le Surnaturel: discernement de la pensée catholique selon Henri de Lubac" in Revue Thomiste, Surnaturel special issue, Jan.-June 2001, 31-50.

5 Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, trans. Lancelot C. Sheppard (London: Burns and Oates, 1937).

6 Henri de Lubac, Surnaturel: études historiques (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1991).

7 Henri de Lubac, Corpus mysticum: l'eucharistie et l'eglise au moyen age (Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1949). A translation of this work into English is in progress. Henri de Lubac, Exégèse médiévale: les quatres sens de l'écriture (Paris: Aubier, 1940). This is in four volumes. The first two volumes have been translated into English (with the other two projected) as Medieval Exegesis: The Four Senses of Scripture, trans. Mark Sebanc, Vols. 1 and 2 (Grand Rapids, MI/Edinburgh: Eerdmans/ T. and T. Clark, 1998 and 2000).

8 Von Balthasar, The Theology of Henri de Lubac: An Overview (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991), pp. 113-14.

9 Henri de Lubac, Augustinianism and Modern Theology, trans. Rosemary Sheed (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1967).

10 Von Balthasar, The Theology of Henri de Lubac, p. 15. Von Balthasar's summary here is wonderfully accurate: "De Lubac soon realized that his position moved into a suspended middle in which he could not practice any philosophy without its transcendence into theology, but also any theology without its essential inner structure of philosophy." The question is, did von Balthasar himself to some degree see such suspension as an aporia that froze all discourse? Does he always remain in this suspension, or does he himself practice some philosophy before theology and some theology in a "mythical" mode beyond philosophy? See the discussion below.

11 Henri de Lubac, Pic de la Mirandole (Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1974), p. 171. De Lubac says here, admiringly, that for Pico freedom was "the deep substance of humanity" rather than a faculty and that his radical sense of human liberty was in no way akin to that of late scholastic voluntarism.

12 Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth, trans. John Drury (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1971).

13 Catholicism, 194. Unbelievers "will be able . . . to obtain . . . salvation by virtue of the mysterious bonds that unite them to believers." See also John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock, Truth in Aquinas(London: Routledge, 2001), p. 39.

Bibliography

Augustinianism and Modern Theology, trans. Rosemary Sheed (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1967).

Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, trans. Lancelot C. Sheppard (London: Burns and Oates, 1937). Corpus mysticum: l'eucharistie et l'eglise au moyen

âge (Paris: Aubier: Montaigne, 1949). The Discovery of God [Les Chemins de dieu], trans. Alexander Dru (New York: P. J. Kennedy, 1960).

14 The Mystery of the Supernatural, trans. Rosemary Sheed (New York: Crossroads/Herder and Herder, 1998), pp. 218-99.

15 See Etienne Gilson, Letters to Henri de Lubac (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986).

16 The Discovery of God, trans. Alexander Dru (New York: P. J. Kennedy, 1960), p. 75.

17 Henri de Lubac, Atheisme et sens de l'homme (Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1968), p. 95; von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, p. 68.

18 The Mystery of the Supernatural, pp. 274-5.

19 Teilhard de Chardin: The Man and his Meaning, trans. René Hague (New York: Hawthorn, 1965).

20 See Medieval Exegesis. For a summation, see Henri de Lubac, Scripture in the Tradition, trans. Luke O'Neill (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968).

21 Medieval Exegesis, Vol. 2, 41-7.

22 See, for this thematic, "Tripartite Anthropology" in Theology in History (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1996).

23 Henri de Lubac, La Posterité spirituelle de Joachim de Flore, 2 vols. (Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1979-81). De Lubac's last work, written in his eighties, therefore concerned the danger of detaching espirit from both nature and the word. The simultaneous attack upon secular utopianism and over-spiritualizing pietism sustains his central paradox to the end. It also complements his genealogy of the pernicious effects of "pure nature" with a complementary genealogy of the equally deleterious consequences of "pure spirit."

24 See Corpus mysticum.

The Drama of Atheist Humanism, trans A. M. Riley et al. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995).

The Eternal Feminine, trans René Hague (London: Collins, 1971).

Exégèse médiévale: les quatres sens de l'écriture, 4 vols. (Paris: Aubier, 1940). The first two volumes are translated into English as Medieval Exegesis: The Four Senses of Scripture, trans. Marc Sebanc (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1998, 2000).

The Mystery of the Supernatural, trans. Rosemary Sheed (New York: Crossroads/Herder and Herder, 1998).

"Nature and Grace" in The Word in History: The St. Xavier Symposium, ed. T. Patrick Burke (London: Collins, 1968).

Paradoxes et mystères de l'église (Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1967).

Pic de la Mirandole (Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1974).

La Posterité spirituelle de Joachim de Flore, 2 vols. (Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1979-81).

Surnaturel: études historiques (Paris: Désclée de Brouwer, 1991).

Teilhard de Chardin: The Man and his Meaning, trans. René Hague (New York: Hawthorn, 1965).

Théologies d'occasion (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1984). This volume contains in particular "Autorité de l'église en matière temporelle" (pp. 217-40).

Theology in History, foreword by Michael Sales (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1996). This volume contains in particular "The Mystery of the Supernatural" (pp. 281-317) and "Tripartite Anthropology" (pp. 117-223).

Secondary

Balthasar, Hans urs von, The Theology of Henri de Lubac: An Overview (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991).

Bouillard, Henri, Conversion et grace chez Thomas d'Aquin (Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1964).

Boulnois, Olivier, "Surnaturel" in Dictionnaire critique de théologie, ed. J.-Y. Lacoste (Paris: PUF, 1998).

Bruaire, Claude, L'Être et l'ésprit (Paris: PUF, 1983).

Carlen, Claudia (ed.), "Humani Generis" in The Papal Encyclicals 1939-58 (Raleigh, NC: McGrath, 1981), pp. 175-85.

Feingold, Lawrence, The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and his Interpreters (Rome: Apollinare Studi, 2001).

Gilson, Etienne, Letters to Henri de Lubac (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986).

Kerr, Fergus, Immortal Longings (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 1997).

-After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002).

Milbank, John and Pickstock, Catherine, Truth in Aquinas (London: Routledge, 2001).

Revue Thomiste, special issue Surnaturel, Jan.-June 2001.

Rowlands, Tracey, Culture and the Thomist Tradition after Vatican II (London: Routledge, 2003).

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