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Real-life theology from a master Nov 17, 2005
Henri de Lubac (1896-1991,) son of a prominent banker, descended from the old gentry of the Ardèche region of south-central France. A born aristocrat in manner and appearance, a man of exquisitely simple elegance in everything he did and said, he joined the Jesuits at age 17. Since religious persecution following a rupture between the anti-clerical government of the III Republic and the Vatican made the presence of a Jesuit scholasticate in France impossible, de Lubac actually had his formation in the UK.
He fought in the trenches during the Great War and was severely wounded in the head (he suffered sequellæ from this throughout his very long life.) He was ordained a priest in 1927.
Beginning in 1929 he taught fundamental theology at the Institut Catholique at Lyon and from 1938 book succeeded book until, in 1948, he was forbidden to publish anything, his orthodoxy becoming suspect after showing that Francisco Suárez, favourite authority of neo-thomists, had actually commented works by Aquinas now known to be spurious. This fact was not supposed to be alluded to by "good" Jesuits. Also, his now-celebrated work SURNATUREL (1946) had likewise given heart attacks to Suárez-trained flunkies in Rome.
In 1960, sly John XXIII named him to the preparatory commissions organising the upcoming II Vatican Council ("I was treated like a hostage, sometimes like a criminal in the dock".) Nevertheless the "new theology", of which Henri de Lubac, along with Yves Congar and Karl Rahner, was one of the most distinguished exponents, soon became dominant among the council fathers and Paul VI named him a peritus, a theological consultant, to the council, during which his influence, particularly on Ecclesiology and Patristics, was fundamental and decisive. The final conciliar texts, celebrated for their irenic, non-bullying tone, owe much to Henri de Lubac's encyclopædic knowledge, clear thinking and elegant latinity.
In the aftermath of Vatican II, however, de Lubac became disappointed by the undisciplined free-for-all that became the norm, and wrote several works explaining the true teaching of the Council fathers and decrying the uncritical disorder that seemed to have settled over theological minds. It is perhaps because of this that in 1983 John Paul II created the unlikely Henri de Lubac, at 87, a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church.
De la connaissance de Dieu ("The Discovery of God", 1945,) is perhaps Henri de Lubac's most personal writing. He is not here interested in syllogistic science-fiction. He abandons pseudo-abstract neo-Thomistic gobbledegook and centers on actual human experience: it is man's mysteries that pose the right questions about God and only answers that take man's real-life into account constitute real answers. In this, of course, he follows the writers of the Bible and the Fathers.
If the correct definition of "spirituality" is the true classic one of "the relationship between man and God", Henri de Lubac makes the sensible suggestion that, to discover that relationship, man first look inward and discover his true self; his true self will necessarily lead him to God,the source and aim of all being. For this reason, the "true self" cannot be the "love yourself" non-sense of the crass popular mind, but that manner of being whose depth leads to God; whose depth IS God. We discover ourselves and God at the same time: it is one process.
Seldom has a text radiated so much devoted faith and prayerful profoundity, and how refreshing it is to take this in with de Lubac's modern, unadorned, elegant prose. This book speaks so directly to the modern mind, without Baroque deadwood.
The greatness of modern theology is that it poses questions and suggests answers that we really are interested in. This makes people like Karl Rahner and Henri de Lubac more pertinent than ever. Unlike the difficult Rahner, though, Henri de Lubac is a real pleasure to read.