Henri de Lubac, Catholics & politics, etc.

Straight to the Source

Henri de Lubac, SJ, was one of the most influential and prolific Catholic theologians of the twentieth century. Robin Darling Young (“An Imagined Unity,” September 14) catches some of the richness and the magnanimity of the man, but on the whole, her article tends more toward indictment than approbation.

Her contention is that de Lubac “sought a refuge from the corrosive modernity of the twentieth century.” He did so, in her reading, by imaging a Patristic world of unity and harmony that bears scant resemblance to the messy and conflicted reality of early Christianity.

Let me make three points by way of reply. First, de Lubac, with the best of the ressourcement theologians, realized that aggiornamento was an intrinsic element of their project. He writes in Catholicism: “We can revive the [church] fathers’ all-embracing humanism and recover the spirit of their mystical exegesis only by an assimilation which is at the same time a transformation.... We should gain nothing at all by breaking with an unhealthy individualism if in its place we dreamed of an impossible return to the past.”

Second, de Lubac’s committed (though not uncritical) advocacy of Teilhard de Chardin in books, articles, lectures, and letters should temper the article’s suggestion of his unwillingness “to engage the modern world.” Whatever one’s final discernment regarding Teilhard’s opus, he sought single-mindedly to relate the Catholic tradition to the incredibly expanded horizons of a post-Darwin and post-Einstein world.

Finally, on a yet more fundamental note, the article can leave the impression that de Lubac’s passion was to return to the fathers. May I suggest that his ressourcement was, more radically, a “re-Sourcement”: a return to the Source, Christ himself. Perhaps the most famous sentence of Catholicism, and one clearly echoed by Vatican II, is this: “If Christ is the sacrament of God, the church is for us the sacrament of Christ; she represents him, in the full and ancient meaning of the term; she really makes him present.”

De Lubac was no starry-eyed romantic. He knew well, from his meditation on the New Testament and the fathers and from his personal, often painful, experience, that this church is a “corpus permixtum,” made up of saints and sinners. But Jesus Christ is the living source of her unity. Whether in the first or the twenty-first century, Christ’s Eucharist founds and ever nourishes the Catholic. As de Lubac insists: “The Eucharist makes the church.”

(Rev.) Robert P. Imbelli
Boston, Mass.

The Author Replies

Fr. Robert Imbelli’s remarks actually strengthen the point of my article. First, there was no “all-embracing humanism” among early Christian theologians, who were thoroughgoing supernaturalists. Second, de Lubac’s advocacy of Teilhard de Chardin does not prove his fellow Jesuit to have engaged the modern world; Teilhard’s concept of the noosphere, not to mention the unfortunate Piltdown Man, falls outside the realm of the empirical science that characterizes the modern world. Third, Imbelli deflects my argument by substituting a pious nostrum for a technical, theological method. Moreover, his “re-Sourcement” disturbingly cloaks the most exciting result of historical scholarship since Vatican II—a Jewish Jesus.   

Robin Darling Young
Notre Dame, Ind.

Lesser Evils

The editorial “Catholics & Party Politics” (September 14) succinctly states the dilemma that Catholics face if they are committed to the complete moral teachings of the church in today’s political climate. Each major party needs a strong Catholic voice to help guide its policies, but neither seems to have such guidance, even though each has a practicing Catholic on the ticket. What a wasted opportunity. This dilemma is the main reason that I am a political independent, and have been for years. The situation seems to force on Catholics a choice of the “least worst candidate” for office.

Wayne Sheridan
Earlton, N.Y.

First Right

In “The Single-Issue Trap” (September 28), Cathleen Kaveny writes, “For the bishops, there is no doubt that the right to life is the fundamental issue of social justice.” If the right to life were truly the fundamental issue in the bishops’ eyes, wouldn’t we constantly be hearing condemnations not simply of abortion, but also of modern warfare (where civilians suffer most, and massive collateral damage is accepted as a matter of course)? What about nonjudicial assassinations, coups orchestrated by government agencies, terrorist attacks, and capital punishment? If defenseless human life is so important to the bishops, why do they not speak out about these other things at least as much as they do about abortion?

Andy Galligan
Aurora, Ore.


“The Single-Issue Trap” is a very helpful article. I would add one distinction: I am dismayed when the term “prolife” is considered synonymous with “antiabortion.” Many antiabortionists are enthusiasts for execution, torture, and more expenditure on the military, and are happy to go to war with little provocation. Certainly this is a complex issue, but let’s not call such people “prolife.”

James Hynes
Chapel Hill, N.C.

Published in the 2012-10-12 issue: 
Also by this author
St. John on Patmos

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