|Henri de Lubac|
I have wanted for some weeks now to take a look at the famous interview with Pope Francis that has caused so much consternation and see why it has made voices on the right raise the alarm about the Holy Father. For many of us who have read the interview conducted by Father Antonio Spadaro SJ and published in La Civiltá Cattolica and reprinted in America, the interview was a breath of fresh air, a sign of a new springtime in the Church in which we were beginning to feel a winter freeze that we feared heralded a return to the pre-conciliar ice age. What is it exactly that has terrified the extreme right wing?
An initial point that some have missed was that in the preliminary conversations, the Holy Father told Father Spadaro that the greatest influences on his own intellectual development were the works of Henri de Lubac and Michel Certeau. Both de Lubac and Certeau were 20th century Jesuit intellectuals and each signaled a departure from the faux-traditional Catholic methodology of neo-Thomism established by Leo XIII at the end of the nineteenth century as the “official” Catholic intellectual system.
Henri de Lubac (1896-1991) came from an aristocratic French family but unlike many of the old French nobility did not identify with the Action Française and French royalist movements that fashioned the views of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and others who would lead the rebellion against the Catholic Church and the Second Vatican Council. de Lubac began studies in chemistry but suddenly switched and entered the Society of Jesus. At the time the Jesuits and other religious communities were banned from France and so he entered a province in exile in England. He left to fight in the French army in WWI but re-entered the Society after the War. He was ordained in 1927 and appointed to the theological faculty at Lyon in 1929. Up until WWII he spent his time in research, writing, and teaching. He was identified with the nouvelle théologie.
The nouvelle théologie was an intellectual movement primarily among French and German theologians in the first half of the twentieth century that rejected the neo-Thomism pushed by Leo XIII and Pius X in their reaction to “modernism,” in favor of returning to a use of the scriptural and patristic sources in doing theology. Other proponents of the nouvelle théologie would be Yves Congar, Marie-Dominque Chenu, Jean Daniélou, Edward Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner, Hans Kung, Hans Urs von Balthasar and the (then) young Josef Ratzinger. With Fascism, Nazism, and Marxism sweeping Europe in the ‘30’s, and then the War from 1939-45, the Holy See was preoccupied with political matters, but when the dust settled “orthodox” Curial commissars were appalled at the spread and influence of this “new theology” which they saw not so much heretical in its conclusions as rebellious to papal authority in its methodology. After all, Popes had all but canonized the Neo-Scholasticism of such pseudo-Thomists as Gaetano Sanseverino, Josef Wilhelm Karl Kleutgen, and Giuseppe Pecci, the older brother of Leo XIII.
In the 1950’a under the intellectual police state created by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, Prefect of the Holy Office (today’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith), most of the Nouvelle theologians found themselves silenced, prohibited from teaching or publishing. Much of this intellectual repression was carried out indirectly through the religious orders of the respective theologians rather than by the Holy Office itself. (It would only elevate the status of a theologian to attract the negative attention of Ottaviani and his winged monkeys.) The Jesuit General, Jean Baptiste Janssens ordered de Lubac’s works—Surnaturel, Corpus mysticum, and Connaissance de Dieu—removed from Jesuit libraries and, as far as possible, from circulation altogether. De Lubac was removed from his editorship of Recherches de science religieuse and from teaching at the Catholic University of Lyons. The Encyclical Letter of Pius XII, Humani Generis, was widely thought to be directed against the proponents of the nouvelle théologie though not against de Lubac personally.
Though de Lubac was under a ban, he continued to research and even to write. His work was subject to censorship, but he was able to publish quite a bit nonetheless. He published a study of Origen, three works on Buddhism, and several works on ecclesiology that would help shape the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church at Vatican II. He also wrote several commentaries on and defenses of the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a friend and fellow Jesuit. This did him no favor in Ottaviani’s office in Rome as the aged Cardinal had a relentless pathological hatred for Teilhard de Chardin’s work. Nevertheless, to Ottaviani’s extreme displeasure, John XXIII appointed de Lubac to the preparatory commission for the Second Vatican Council and also named him one of the theological periti (experts) for the Council, a move to break Ottaviani’s stranglehold on Catholic “orthodoxy” before it could subvert the Pope’s plans for the Council. In the years after the Council Pope Paul VI offered de Lubac a Cardinal’s hat in recognition for his contribution to Catholic thought, but de Lubac declined. John Paul II urged him to reconsider and in 1983 de Lubac accepted the Pope’s nomination to the Sacred College.
You can see why the neo-traditionalists would be so unhappy with Pope Francis saying that Henri de Lubac was one of the two great influences on his thought. de Lubac represents everything the neo-trads hate. He was one of the key figures in dismantling the pseudo-orthodoxy of their neo-Thomist stranglehold on Catholic thought. The nouvelle théologie which he represents is precisely what undermined the static world of pre-Conciliar Catholicism with its “unchanging” liturgy, its simplistic catechisms, its pyramidic hierarchy, its identification with monarchy, its confusion of doctrinal assent for faith, and its embalmed doctrines. But if de Lubac is “bad,” just wait until you see Micheal de Certeau.
Michel de Certeau (1925-1986) was also a Jesuit, though never a cardinal. He was not a theologian—he was something far more dangerous, a historian. And, influenced by the dramatic and revolutionary French historiography of the inter-war period he brought history into dialogue with psychoanalysis, philosophy, and the social sciences. Psychoanalysis—now there is a word that strikes fear into the chilled hearts of the neo-trads. And what is worse, Certeau was not only into psychoanalysis, he was a Freudian. In fact he was one of the founders of the École Freudienne de Paris. These Jesuits—when they go into freefall, they just soar with the eagles. They never do anything in half-measures. Certeau came to fame with his critique of the social revolution that swept France in May 1968 when over 11,ooo,ooo French—students and workers—threw the country into chaos as the Communists and Socialists joined together in an alliance to demand radical social change. Certeau was interested in how history is written to justify power—the old “history is written by the victors” and how it has served as a tool of colonialism to destroy the culture and identity of indigenous peoples in order to subject them to colonial powers. Great—we have a theological revolutionary in de Lubac and a political revolutionary in Certeau and the Pope is their disciple. No wonder the right wing-nuts are just about ready to s***. We have a Pope who is used to thinking outside the box. Hold on to the hand-rails folks, this could be a wild ride, but then I have always loved roller-coasters. Sure beats the glacial re-freezing that had been setting in before the Argentine Spring.