Tuesday, 6 June 2006

For the love of God (10): Why I love Henri de Lubac

A guest-post by Travis Ables

“If our nature is not at home with the supernatural, the supernatural is at home with our nature.” (Maurice Blondel, Letter on Apologetics)

Ben has asked that these posts bear upon the matter of love as much as that of the theologian in question. Accordingly we might thematize the eros of theology like this: first, theology is a task of and for the church; and second, it takes as the means toward its object the tradition of the church, the communio sanctorum. The latter has been by no means a given in modern theology. That it has become obligatory has many sources, but one of the most important is the movement we know as la nouvelle théologie—and Henri de Lubac must take first place among this movement’s luminaries. La nouvelle théologie marked a return to the sources, a return to the theological tradition of the church rather than a palimpsest reading constrained by the accretions of a school tradition.

The Mystery of the Supernatural, for example, must take precedence as one of the most important theological works of the twentieth century. Attacking the neo-Thomist reification of natura pura, de Lubac argues stridently for the true Thomist and Augustinian tradition: the natural is ineluctably and irresistibly drawn toward that which it has no capacity for. Nature can only be explained by the supernatural, which nonetheless remains wholly gratuitous as the gift of God. The paradox of the human being is that she is oriented toward a destiny for which she has no equipment, an act for which she has no capacity. Grace perfects nature—it is its crown and consummation, but it never ceases to be wholly grace.

It wasn’t until I began to read de Lubac that I understood the significance of the Catholic discussion of nature and grace. At issue here is the very essence of human being. Indeed, de Lubac’s brilliant recovery further authorizes a radical rethinking of the entire concept of nature as such—the laicized infinity of the natural order that is constitutive of modern thinking and has left us with little recourse to overcome the episteme that inevitably forces us toward Deism or an arbitrary supranaturalism.

Further, de Lubac has helped to bring theology back to its home in and for the church, so that theology conforms to its divine object and remains guided by what de Lubac’s student Jean-Yves Lacoste has called a “hermeneutic of restlessness”: the constant seeking of the life of the mind for the mystery of the supernatural, the quest for the understanding of faith that must be premised on the gift of faith.

Theology has not always understood what de Lubac had to remind his readers: “The whole of tradition tells us this: it is one of the forms of the fruitfulness of the mystery that it gives birth in [humanity’s] mind to a movement which can never end. To be afraid of it is a failure of faith.”

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