Even in my undergraduate days—way back in the middle of the last century when JFK, Pope John XXIII, and Elvis Presley were still alive—I was made aware that Joachim of Fiore was one of the bad boys of Western history. Holy as he might have been, the twelfth-century monk and exegete was the Ur-millenarian whose apocalyptic vision, I learned, was responsible for the Jacobin Terror, Lenin’s Marxism, Stalin’s Gulag, and many lesser bloody follies.
Writing on the website of First Things, Robert P. Imbelli recently summarized Henri de Lubac’s no doubt magisterial contribution to this literature and tied it, somehow, to the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document for October’s session of the Synod on Synodality. According to Fr. Imbelli, de Lubac “concentrated upon Joachim’s…view that there would be a ‘third age’ of the Spirit,” an age superseding the ages of the Father (the Old Testament) and the Son (the New Testament):
In Joachim's ‘third age,’ the ‘Spirit’ in effect becomes separated from Christ and fuels pseudo-mystical and utopian movements. For without the objective Christological referent and measure, appeal to the Spirit easily falls prey to subjective ideologies and fantasies.
This is certainly in line with all I have read or been told. But what does it have to do with the First Things headline: “What Henri de Lubac Would Think of the Synod on Synodality”?
Fr. Imbelli tells us that de Lubac took up his massive study of Joachim because, after Vatican II, he discerned “a recrudescence of Joachimite sensibilities and projects” that cast aside the institutional Church for a “celebration of a universal humanity, liberated from the constrictions of law and hierarchical order” and “betraying the Gospel by transforming the search for the kingdom of God into a search for secular social utopias.”
Is that what Henri de Lubac would think of the Synod on Synodality? Or is that what Robert Imbelli thinks of the Synod on Synodality?
That it might be the latter is suggested by a recent column Fr. Imbelli wrote for Sandro Magister’s blog Settimo Cielo, a leading Italian clearinghouse for anti-Francis and anti-Synod polemics. There Imbelli enlisted not de Lubac but Yves Congar, another “founding father” of Vatican II. Congar followed his three-volume work on the Holy Spirit (1979–1980) with the warning that pneumatology and Christology must always be yoked and balanced: “no Christology without pneumatology and no pneumatology without Christology.”
It’s a balance Fr. Imbelli did not find in the Synod’s Instrumentum Laboris. Amid plenty of invocations of the Spirit, Imbelli saw only a “rather pallid Christology.” There was “scant reference” to the Paschal Mystery and none to the Cross. Worst of all, according to Imbelli, was an “egregious omission.” Twice the Instrumentum refers to the “central affirmation” in the first paragraph of Lumen Gentium: “the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of all humanity.” In both instances, the Synod document left out the words “in Christ.”