De Lubac's writings in English translations

De Lubac's writings in English translations

Tracey Rowland

The following overview of some of the currently available writings of Cardinal Henri de Lubac (1896-1991) - translated into English - is provided by Dr Tracey Rowland, Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne (

All the titles discussed (save the last) are available from Ignatius Press, PO Box 180, Sumner Park, Qld 4069, (07) 3376 0105. The price of each (in Australian dollars) is indicated in brackets and includes GST. (Postage is an additional $4.40 per volume).

One of the major undertakings of Ignatius Press has been to publish in English translation the works of the most influential European theologians in the Communio circles. The word "Communio" stands for both the title of a journal which is published in several different languages and the ecclesiology, or theory of the Church, implicit within the works of scholars associated with the journal. Initially, in the late 1960s, the leaders of this theological group were Joseph Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac. All three were subsequently nominated as Cardinals.

Another concept associated with the Communio circles is that of "ressourcement" - a French word translated as "back to the sources". Ressourcement scholars were all in different ways critical of elements of late scholasticism and neo-Thomism. They believed that the Thomist tradition, although of great value for the Church, had become ossified into rigid categories, that principles which were thought to have been formulated by Aquinas were in fact 16th century revisions, that the interpretation of the grace-nature relationship in 16th and 17th century scholastic thought had given rise to unhelpful dualisms in Catholic thought and practice, that the insights of the Patristics had been neglected in the focus upon scholasticism, and that the intellectual formation of seminarians was all too often limited to parroting scholastic maxims. They were not, however, opposed to Thomism per se.

Historians of the Second Vatican Council tend to agree that there were three dominant intellectual groups represented at the Council: the Neo-Thomists, the Ressourcement types (most particularly de Lubac), and the Transcendental Thomists (most particularly Karl Rahner). Thus one way of construing post-Conciliar theological conflict is to study the fault-lines which define scholars as proponents of one or other of these positions. Fr Joseph Fessio SJ, the founder of Ignatius Press, is in the Ressourcement tradition and this explains his emphasis upon the publication of the works of de Lubac, Ratzinger and von Balthasar.

Although de Lubac's publishing life was at its height during the middle of the 20th century, his works have not lost their value, and indeed it is difficult to engage in any kind of contemporary theological scholarship without at least being aware of his central arguments. The following seeks to provide a brief introduction to the themes covered in the Ignatius translations.

The Motherhood of the Church ($34.90)

Although originally published in French in 1971 this work covers many of the themes which are central to the current discussions between Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Kasper on the relationship between the "local Church" and the "Universal Church". For example, de Lubac seeks to clarify the role of national bishops' conferences. While he acknowledges that they may be useful for the bishops as a source of comradery and the mutual pooling of insights and strategies, they do not enjoy any special magisterial status. Lumen Gentium - the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church - "recognises no intermediary of a doctrinal order between the particular Church and the Universal Church". Bishops' conferences are thus like conferences of surgeons or other professionals - they have the potential to fulfil useful social and intellectual functions, but they do not usurp the powers and personal responsibilities of bishops within their own Sees.

This work also contains a criticism of the tendency to analyse the priesthood in sociological terms. De Lubac argues that "the sacred function of the priest is without an earthly counterpart" and cannot therefore be reduced to an analysis of its parts as if they were autonomous of one another.

In relation to the issue of the maternal nature of the Church, de Lubac draws distinctions between the treatment of this subject in the thought of the Greek and Latin Patristics. The Greek tendency was to tie the maternity of the Church to her conferral of the sacrament of baptism, whereas the Latin tendency was to focus upon her educational roles. The two are not exclusive.

Throughout this work de Lubac is particularly keen to defeat the idea that Christianity is one thing, the Church something else. He argues that "there never has been Christianity without the Church", and further, that "if one thing is certain in this world, it is that, for us, the Church precedes the Gospel". This is an extremely important doctrinal point. The alternative position - that the Gospel is either prior to or severable from the Church - is the antechamber to Protestantism and various other forms of heresy.

Three Jesuits Speak: Yves de Montcheul, Charles Nicolet and Jean Zapan ($30.50)

This work contains extracts from the publications of three French Jesuits - De Montcheul was Professor of Theology at the Catholic Institute of Paris and was executed by the Gestapo in 1944; Charles Nicolet taught philosophy in Marseilles and was renowned for reading Durkheim, Freud, Nietzsche and others in the light of St John of the Cross; and Zapan worked in Eastern Europe with both Latin and Eastern Rite Catholics. It is written in a style which makes it readable for spiritual reflection and it provides an insight into the ethos of the Society of Jesus in the Europe of the 1940s.

The Drama of Atheist Humanism ($56.90)

A much cited work, this book's title has become a commonly used expression by many who are probably unaware of its origin. It examines the pathos of atheism as it is presented in the thought of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Comte, Dostoevsky, Feuerbach, Marx and other lesser names. It is particularly valuable for social science students but is otherwise interesting as an excellent account of 19th century European intellectual history.

Theological Fragments ($45.90)

This is something of a cornucopia of short articles on disparate theological themes. Topics include: The "fourfold sense of scripture", Hellenistic Allegory and Christian Allegory, political theology, the notion of good and evil in Buddhism and reflections upon the theological contributions of the French poet Paul Claudel.

Theology in History ($67.90)

This collection of articles is a continuation of the volume entitled Theological Fragments. Topics in this collection include: St John Chrysostom's theology of the priesthood, the dispute about the salvation of Origen, St Paul on the relations between body, soul and spirit, the theological foundation of the missions, thoughts on Catholic Action, and a translation of de Lubac's preface to John Paul II's work Love and Responsibility.

Paradoxes of Faith ($28.30)

A small collection of quotations taken from de Lubac's works, Paradoxes of Faith would make a good coffee-table book or reference work for priests who like to quote from theologians in their homilies. For example, de Lubac asks rhetorically: "Borrowing from politics the idea of success by propaganda; borrowing from economics the idea of yield by rationalisation: would this be all that the incarnation of the apostolic work, of its methods and of its ends, amounts to?"

At the Service of the Church ($45.90)

In this work de Lubac reflects upon the circumstances that occasioned his writings and in particular the various criticisms of his work from a neo-scholastic position. This is an important work for an understanding of the ecclesiastical politics of the mid-twentieth century.

A Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace ($30.50)

This work is focused on the same subject matter as The Mystery of the Supernatural but does so in a less academic format and was intended for catechetical purposes. It includes five very lengthy appendices which are reflections on the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath.

The Christian Faith ($45.90)

The sub-title of this work is "An Essay on the Structure of the Apostle's Creed". One of its most interesting sections is a chapter on language in which de Lubac is critical of the project of transposing the language of the liturgy into the language of "current" or "everyday life" using only "familiar concepts".

Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man ($41.50)

In his Preface to the English translation, Cardinal Ratzinger described this book as "an essential milestone on my theological journey" in which de Lubac demonstrated "how the idea of community and universality, rooted in the trinitarian concept of God, permeates and shapes all the individual elements of Faith's content". Included at the end of this book is a series of extracts from the Fathers of the Church to which de Lubac had made reference.

The Splendor of the Church ($41.50)

This work takes the form of a series of reflections on the splendour or beauty of the Church. Like all of de Lubac's works it is heavily suffused with Patristic insights and scriptural exigesis.

The Mystery of the Supernatural Crossroad Herder ($69.95)

Inquiries, Catholic Bookshop Melbourne (03) 9639 0844

Possibly de Lubac's most famous work, The Mystery of the Supernatural is certainly the most controversal. Its purpose was to argue that the neo-Thomist understanding of the grace-nature relationship was based on a sixteenth century revision of classical Thomism, and in particular, that there is in reality no such thing as "pure nature". The intensity of the debates which followed culminated in Pope Pius XII's encyclical Humani Generis. De Lubac was temporarily asked by his Jesuit superiors to stop teaching and to give up his research in this field. His leading opponent was the legendary Dominican Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. The central fear was that de Lubac's position would undermine the doctrine of the gratuity of grace.

Among contemporary scholars loyal to the papacy of John Paul II there remains a sharp division between the proponents of the neo-Thomist and de Lubac constructions of the grace-nature relationship. Both parties claim to be the authentic interpreters of St Thomas. This issue is not esoteric, since it is foundational for one's conception of natural law and hence jurisprudence, political philosophy, ethics in general, and most significantly, the "big issue" of how we deal with the cultures of modernity and post-modernity.

The supporters of John Paul II in the scholarly world are thus divided on this foundational question and this in turn means that they have different readings of the nature of the present crisis of faith and practice and the solutions to the problem. To give a brief example, Germain Grisez, one of the leaders of the "New Natural Law" school, follows a neo-Thomist reading, whereas Professor David Schindler, Dean of the John Paul II Institute in Washington DC, follows de Lubac. While they are both in favour of natural law, they have different understandings of it. Schindler argues that "Catholics who persist in proposing a natural law doctrine severed from the data of Revelation, give us something very like the abstract nature that is the centrepiece of the Liberal establishment."

The Mystery of the Supernatural therefore goes to the heart of contemporary theological and philosophical debate, particularly those debates which are taking place among scholars variously referred to as "orthodox" or "pro-JPII".

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