With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Orthodoxy With a Hint of Radical

Once upon a time, there was no secular. And once upon a time, that thought roused me from my dogmatic slumber of theological indifference. Years ago I was intoxicated by Radical Orthodoxy and considered myself an unwavering Milbankian. The sheer energy of the movement and the boldness of its claims imbued Christianity with an intellectual prestige I never imagined it had or could ever attain. I remember reading everything in the series I could get my hands on and not understanding a word of any of it. Many of my notes that are still in the margins testify to the utter paucity of my comprehension. But it all just seemed so beautiful.

Eventually the mystique began to fade as I was exposed to Milbank's critics. And man were they critical. Reading Milbank and kin with a bit more maturity and in light of their opponents has sobered me a great deal. Now that I have a better sense of the problems that characterize the movement, I strongly resist identification with Radical Orthodoxy. I've come to think that much of what it gets right is better said by figures in the Catholic tradition (the nouvelle theologie specifically). What it gets wrong has often more adequately resolved in a Thomist idiom. Honestly, I've found orthodoxy to be radical enough without the added qualifier.

On the other hand, I have to acknowledge the influence that Radical Orthodoxy continues to have on my intellectual development. I may no longer be on the band wagon, but I am still walking in the same general direction. While none of the radically orthodox answers have satisfied me, the radically orthodox questions continue to fascinate me and inspire a great deal of contemplation. A few years ago I tried to pin down in what sense I could still be considered "radically orthodox." I came up with the following list of things that I still find meaningful about RO theology:
  • Analyzing the origins of secular modernity at it's theological roots (Michael Gillespie offers similar narratives)
  • Chief among these developments: the sundering of faith from reason as a distinct and utterly autonomous subject matter. Emphasizing the conceptual problems with nominalism, voluntarism, univocal metaphysics, etc.
  • A theological understanding of nihilism (in a sense inverting Nietzsche): secularism of modernity, in its peculiar way of articulating distance from God, is ultimately nihilistic; any such "zone" apart from God can only be reduced to nothing
  • A conception of tradition and development of doctrine that allows us to articulate the inspired authors of Scripture, the Church Fathers, and the Medieval theologians as part of a coherent and ordered (though symphonic) enterprise of faith seeking understanding (a "Biblico-Patristic matrix")
  • Seeing oneself as a heir of the “la nouvelle theologie” in attempting to reclaim the Biblical,Patristic, and High Medieval voices as resources to overcome modern errors
  • Concern for the influence of modern theological decadence for philosophy and wider culture
  • The need to, in opposition to the divisions of modern secularism, redefine the theological value of ontology, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, economics, social sciences, politics, culture; that is, to articulate once more how each of these forms of inquiry (and every creature) is ultimately ordered to God (though I believe the best approach to this is Thomas's)
  • “Suspending” these aspects of life and thought by upholding their worth over and above the void (of meaninglessness) within a central theological framework of participation, posited as the only true alternative to modernity’s territory "independent" of God; the logic of participation and ordering to God necessarily implies that all meaning and value can only derive from being properly –and I mean properly- understood as oriented to and participating in God
  • Thus the material dimensions (bodies, sex, art, society) which modernity supposedly values, can only really be valued by identifying their participation in the divine (though this has to be done with proper attention to the precise way in which that participation and relation to transcendence is realized)
  • Sympathetic to Balthasar’s placing of transcendental of beauty at center of theological method, and as means to overcome modern divisions between subjective and objective
  • An eye for unsung figures in the theological traditions who began to articulate opposition to the major currents and trends leading to modern theological perversion (Hamann and Jacobi are big for Milbank, but others are far more helpful in showing how resistance and alternative to modern forms can be constructed now)
  • The attempt to analyze modernity in terms of the pagan and heretical categories: as theological perversion as well as the rearticulation of pre-Christian philosophical forms (atomism, atheism, materialism, etc.)
  • In general, the emphasis on Christian Neoplatonism as providing the resources to successfully overcome the perversions of secular modernity and modern theology; even possibly articulating the rise of modern thought in terms of deviation from the best of an essentially Christian Neoplatonic worldview (here Milbank, Hankey, Marion, Desmond, show similarities)

I also recorded a few of the reasons why I part ways with RO:

  • Over-reliance upon or sheer imprecision in historical declension narratives: leads to self-fulfilling accounts of figures in the tradition that often warp charitable and hermeneutically precise interpretation. Duns Scotus is an example; de Lubac; perhaps Nominalism; Thomas of course. Though the historical narratives are still indeed essential to any such project of genealogy, there must be far more attention to detail, to the utter complexity and messiness, to the qualifications and limits of what and how much such narratives can do to prove a point, etc. A much more rigorous historical hermeneutic needs to be in play
  • Theological epistemology: resurrection of the Augustinian illuminationism and thus the potential conflating of the orders of reason and revelation is a danger; fails to address the Thomist reception and criticism of this tradition in its integration of a more Aristotelian epistemology into the ontology. Perhaps a generally greater distinction between the dynamics of ontology and epistemology is needed. But the dependence upon illuminationism certainly places RO proponents beyond the careful distinctions of Thomas and his school, as well as beyond much Catholic theology
  • The imprecision with regard to the spheres of nature and grace: relies upon a somewhat exaggerated account of de Lubac in holding him to be a founding father. While de Lubac’s project is, in my opinion, salvageable, and his theological supremacy in the 20th century demonstrable, Milbank radicalizes him at all of the places where he was mistaken. The denial of the distinction between nature and grace follows from a mistaken perception that all such distinction translates into the modern separation of subject matter. The theological and philosophical consequences are not hard to show, ironically undermining Milbank’s very own concerns
  • Over-reliance upon post-modern philosophy: failure to carefully draw the line between what is useful in the war against modernity and what is adopted as simply an extension of it, thus committing one to the same heretical and pagan notions that Milbank wants to overcome (most evident in The Word Made Strange and parts of Theology and Social Theory). Basically cf. Wayne Hankey and Frederick Bauerschmidt on this

Pax Christi,


  • At 6/16/2010 10:46 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    Your brief account demonstrates an impressive comprehension of so many of the crucial theological issues that elude most who would claim the title of 'theological doctor'.

    I do however notice one important missing piece: RO almost de facto subverts any authentic kind of ecclesiology, which may not be a pressing issue for thinkers who would wave the RO banner, but for us Roman Catholics, it is foundational.

    I think, in fact, that is what really transformed the "movement" from a theology proper to a - as it is now apparently referred to - 'theological sensibility'. In many ways, this transformation unhinges them from many a criticism. In fact, your account advances the idea of RO as a theological sensibility since you endorse many of its fundamental tents while rejecting others that don't jive with your loyalty to your confession (a position I would very much share).

    I too have charted a similar course as the one you register here. I was enlivened when I first came across the project. But as I pursued studies here at CUA I came to realize the utter importance of a very careful historical and etymological foundation for scholarship that I think some of those RO thinkers tend to overlook (e.g., Truth in Aquinas - a work that, although asserting a thesis with which I find sympathy, simply lacked the solid historical/etymological work that is necessary to support its weight.)

    Still, your post is highly informative for any scholar who is wrestling with these issues, and I hope it does not go unnoticed.

  • At 7/02/2010 3:47 PM, Anonymous Robb said…



    Thanks for this post. I stumbled across your blog from The Land of Unlikeness. I felt compelled to comment, as I share a lot of your sentiments in regards to RO and my own intellectual path.

    Though, I’m curious: do you still think your critique would hold up to the later Milbank; that is, the Milbank beyond TST (notwithstanding The Suspended Middle)? I ask because I believe some of his thinking, particularly in regards to ecclesiology, has changed or shifted in emphasis since his early days. For example, I see Being Reconciled as an attempt to clarify the nebulous Christology of “The Name of Jesus.” Of course, how successful he might be is another matter. His recent collection of (previous) essays in The Future of Love is informative, too. I think some of the more interesting aspects of Milbank were overshadowed by the stir over narratives of peace, violence, nihilism, secularism, etc. It’s nice to see him now bringing to the fore talk of the Gift, distributist principles, and his interpretation of de Lubac.

    With that last point, would you be willing to clarify your de Lubac criticism? “The denial of the distinction between nature and grace follows from a mistaken perception that all such distinction translates into the modern separation of subject matter. The theological and philosophical consequences are not hard to show, ironically undermining Milbank’s very own concerns.”

    I’m curious about this because I’m looking forward to extending my MA work into the PhD arena on this very topic. Actually thinking about CUA.

    Brendan, with your studies at CUA, do you have any further thoughts on this? Have you spoken with Chad Pecknold about this topic by chance?

    Thanks again for the thoughtful post.



  • At 7/10/2010 9:45 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…


    I think you hit the nail on the head. A few years ago I wrote the following:

    "But overall, my greatest problem with RO: its ecclesial ambiguity. Where is its home? I tend to think a huge problem with its ineffectiveness is that it is not grounded in any determinate body of Christ. How then ultimately affect a “movement” of Christ’s members in a substantial and spiritually rich way?"

    On this point, can one be any further from la nouvelle theologie? De Lubac must be rolling over in his grave.

    RO seems inextricably wed to a certain appropriation of tradition: that is the "orthodox" part. But somehow it seems to dodge the most fundamental question that such an appropriation must wrestle with. Christopher Blosser makes this point nicely. Any attempt by contemporary theologians (Protestants especially) to provide an apparatus for securing orthodoxy will have to address the claims of the Catholic Church. For no claim to orthodoxy could conceivably be made outside of the very body that Christ Himself founded to be the measure of both "right teaching" and "right practice." The Catholic Church claims to be that very body and to possess the requisite authority. Seeing as Milbank so often adorns his thought with the term "Catholic," wouldn't one expect the elements of Catholic theory to lead him toward the Church for consistency's sake(to follow, as it were, the path of Newman)?

    Though Milbank hasn't entirely dodged the ecclesial question. In various works he makes passing reference to a strand of Ultramontanist Tridentine theology of papal power or something of the sort; one he seems to associate with all of the bad stuff coming out of Scotus and univocity. So he seems to have made some sort of judgment, but at the end of the day concrete ecclesial identity is still elusive. Can anything secure the orthodoxy of the radical except for his own personal judgments about what counts as "right teaching"?

    Pax Christi,

  • At 7/10/2010 10:35 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…


    Thanks for you comments. It's probably fair to say that most of my points pertain to the Milbank of TST, The Word Made Strange, and "Postmodern Critical Augustinianism: A Short Summa...". They were targeting that Milbank. Though he strikes me as a thinker who would resist admitting to anything more than emphatic shifts. The Future of Love is hard to pin down too because, I believe, it draws texts from across his career and on different subjects. Which ones did you have in mind specifically?

    You may be right that Being Reconciled is an attempt to tighten up his Christology from The Word Made Strange. It seems clear to me that his Christology and ecclesiology in WMS are some of the silliest things he's ever written and demonstrate the problems with trying to reduce every res to signum (Bauerschmidt and Hankey have criticized this accurately). The Christology and ecclesiology of Being Reconciled are certainly better. However, even in his chapters on ecclesiology (and indirectly politics), I don't recall him coming any closer to the kind of concrete ecclesial identity that his "catholicism" seems to necessitate. Much of what he says about "The Church" in Being Reconciled is sympathetic to de Lubac (at least to the nature of the catholica as expounded in Catholicisme: Les aspects sociaux du dogme). But in the end what I mention in my response to Brendan above still holds I think. It has been a while since I wrote the list in this post and since I read BR, so your thoughts are most welcome.

    Beyond the issue of the Church, some of the other points still seem valid. The exegetical imprecision seems to stretch throughout his career after TST: Truth in Aquinas is rife with inaccuracies and has been lambasted like no other work I know; the narrative about Scotus fails to make important distinctions about univocity (just head over to The Smithy to read about how reductive the read on the Subtle Doctor really is) though this is arguably more Pickstock than Milbank); finally, even The Suspended Middle contains questionable interpretations of de Lubac, inaccurate and dismissive pictures of "paleolithic Neo-Thomists," and one of the least charitable readings of Balthasar that I've ever seen. Not to mention there are some mistaken citations, including the notorious blunder of referring (multiple times) to Lawrence Feingold as "Lawrence Feinberg" in the midst of dismissing his work. It would be difficult to argue that he's made improvement on that front.

    Its clear post-TST that he favors a kind of revived Augustinian illuminationism which clearly influences his reading of Thomas in Truth in Aquinas. But it also seems to be at work in The Suspended Middle and his reading of the whole natural-supernatural debate. He never did adequately address the arguments for the Thomist modification of this tradition, seemingly because he was so concerned to portray Thomas as an illuminationist and (related to it) as favoring Plotinian ontology over Aristotelian epistemology. Consequently, he misses all that Thomas's reading of Aristotle did to modify Augustine on this point.

    I'll address your question about nature and grace below...

    Pax Christi,

  • At 7/10/2010 11:45 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…

    As to The Suspended Middle, there are at least a few points. I'll leave aside the fact that his entire read of de Lubac's relation to Humani Generis (and Balthasar's for that matter) is highly questionable and almost certainly not that of de Lubac himself. Nor will I mention the poor reading of Balthasar as a Bonventurian-Barthian and the simply baffling criticisms of de Lubac's ecclesiology at the end of the book (he was, apparently, locked in the patriarchal prejudices of his generation). Nor will I mention the fact that the book is far too short to sufficiently support his positions with the requisite citations, to adequately address the criticisms of the so-called Neo-Thomists, or even to intelligibly separate his own points from what de Lubac actually said. Though I suppose I just did mention those things...

    Milbank's main point seems to be that de Lubac's Surnaturel made Radical Orthodoxy a reality: it alone overcame the nature-grace dichotomy and traditional ways of doing theology, not only making any hard and fast distinction between nature and grace non-existent, but also undermining any distinct autonomy for natural reason/philosophy. In multiple places Milbank radicalizes de Lubac's rhetoric about these distinctions and ultimately finds in him justification for saying that nature is always already grace; for in some sense, the natural desire must be a positive dynamism toward supernatural beatitude, participating in it, and thus, from the beginning, grace.

    Milbank argues that it is at the level of ontology (mediated through his interpretation of Thomas) that the space of the "suspended middle" is made possible. His main point here is to stress that the Neoplatonism involved allows de Lubac to conceive of creation as a "unilateral exchange," the gift of a gift to a gift. He argues that grace can not and need not have nature as ground or "contrasting necessity" to maintain its gratuity; and thus, it seems, any distinction between the two must be transitory at best.


  • At 7/10/2010 11:45 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…

    Suffice it to say that the ontology is interesting and not entirely incorrect. But as I mention above, and as his treatment of the Thomist critics demonstrates, Milbank has little tolerance for the Aristotelian dimension of Thomas that guides his thought on natural desire and the distinctions between nature and grace. Now I happen to think this is precisely where de Lubac gets Thomas wrong (Milbank accurately notes his belief that Thomas broke with Aristotle on the relation between nature and spirit), so in that sense Milbank is in line with de Lubac. But he attempts to draw conclusions that de Lubac did not explicitly draw.

    My original point was that Milbank is eager to overcome the "dichotomy" between nature and grace. But in thinking that his ontology of the "suspended middle" is the only way to do so, he ends up presupposing that the Neo-Thomist distinctions are fundamentally dichotomies rather than merely distinctions. As I phrased it, he seems to assume that any ultimate distinction, any relative "autonomy" of nature, translates into the positing of two distinct subject matters, two realms, rather than two aspects or the same reality; and thus ultimately you get a kind of secularity or space devoid of the supernatural (extrinsicism). This is far, far from Thomas's understanding.

    But if you go so far as to conflate the two gifts, than whether he likes it or not, you are reducing the gratuity of grace to the gratuity of creation (believe it or not, Rahner was right on this and his comments pertain even more glaringly to Milbank). You get an intrinsicism so great that you end up undermining the paradox that de Lubac thought was constitutive of the mystery. Finally, if nature as a principle is ultimately reduced to grace as a principle (their contrastive relationship being done away with), then there is nothing metaphysically to ensure that humans remain human even when they are transfigured by grace. Grace would, technically, be the gift of an entirely new kind of being and would leave sinful humanity unredeemed (even destroyed). That is a different, but it seems no less dangerous kind of extrinsicism. De Lubac did indeed attempt to think the fundamental orientation that created spirits have to their supernatural end in a away that overcame extrinsicism (as did Balthasar). But he was far more sensitive, careful, and precise than Milbank is in consciously radicalizing his thought.

    When it comes to Thomas, both de Lubac's and Milbank's projects rely heavily upon particular readings of how ontology and epistemology work for him. But on these points, the Thomist scholars have won the debate hands down. They pay attention to the texts that both de Lubac and Milbank ignore. I would look into Fr. Torrel, Fr. Thomas Joseph White, Stephen Long's Natura Pura, and Reinhard Huetter's “Desiderium Naturale Visionis Dei: Some Observations about Lawrence Feingold’s and John Milbank’s Recent Interventions in the Debate over the Natural Desire to See God,” in Nova et Vetera: The English Edition of the International Theological Journal 5 (2007), 81-131.

    Sorry for the length. Hope that helps. It's a great topic for PhD study

    Pax Christi,

  • At 7/18/2010 6:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    Thanks for the taking the time to write a thoughtful response.

    The issues you raise about who or what determines orthodoxy outside the Catholic Church are completely fair, as they’re questions that all Protestants have to ask themselves. I think you anticipate the response someone like Milbank would probably give, referring to something about Ultramontanist Tridentine theology or some such.

    About the Bauerschmidt critique of Milbank’s Christology, I completely agree with you. I don’t see BR as solving all the ‘problem’s of the WMS articles on Christ by any means, although it’s a step in the right direction. It’s been awhile since I’ve read Hankey’s critique, though I remember being less impressed.

    Regarding the Scotist/Univocity issue, I am in agreement with RO on this one, but not simply because of RO. That is, the critique of what happened after 1277 and the ensuing “shift” that occurred is hardly unique to RO. E. Gilson, von Balthasar, along with a few contemporary Reformed theologians (albeit those sympathetic to RO) have all raised similar concerns about what happened after the High Middle ages. What is unique to Pickstock and Milbank is that they bring this point to the fore by tying it to issues of secularization and Continental philosophy.

    One question that I hope to explore is why the univocity/analogia entis viz Thomas and Scotus never really comes up for de Lubac (I think he might have one brief passing reference in The Mystery of the Supernatural). I’m not quite sure how to articulate this yet, but it seems like it very well should be an issue for de Lubac, given his take on grace (such as you outline in your second response).

    About the Suspended Middle, I think the book was way more about Milbank’s own project. And I do agree, it was way too short. I wish Milbank would have pulled more from Blondel or de Chardin (David Grumett is working on this). Milbank is explicitly radicalizing de Lubac and he is attempting to draw conclusions that de Lubac never explicitly drew. But I don’t think it’s completely unwarranted that Milbank does this. De Lubac is notorious for being hesitant when it comes to drawing the political conclusions of his work (Chad Pecknold notes this in a recent Political Theology essay, Migrations of the Host); I think Milbank takes a stab at it and something provocative happens. I once asked Milbank what’s the difference between himself and the Communio scholars. He had an interesting response, basically stating that by improvising vs. merely repeating or copying, one can attend to the original element in a more faithful manner. Take that as you will... I think this then takes us back to your comments about what is Orthodoxy. As an Anglican (since last I heard), Milbank would probably agree with Rowan Williams that Orthodoxy is made, not copied, or something like that. Again, take that as you will.

    More below...

  • At 7/18/2010 6:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Also, thank you for your comments on the nature/grace debate. I’m going to mull this over for awhile, especially the your point about confusing dichotomies and distinctions.

    I’m curious though, do you really think the Thomist scholars have “won the debate hands down?” That is, is de Lubac’s natural desire for the supernatural argument done for? On the one hand, I suppose that according to many of the scholars you mention, this might very well be the case (I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read Hutter’s essay; so I’m trying to be careful here). On the other, Milbank makes the distinction between the “classicism” or “Thomistic form” of Aquinas scholarship, preferring to side instead with the Communio school and the “neo-patristic and sophiological currents of Orthodox thought” ( as he mentions in his 25th anniversary article of Modern Theology). Isn’t he righto point out the different approaches to Aquinas that might be more sympathetic to de Lubac?

    I a little behind in my research, playing a lot of catch up now. So thank you for the reading recommendations. Looks like the book, Surnaturel: A Controversy is next on the list.

    Again, thank you for the thoughtful and careful response. Very helpful indeed.



  • At 7/20/2010 1:31 AM, Anonymous Tony Hunt said…

    What an enjoyable conversation to stumble upon. As a young, inexperienced, probably naive yet "unwavering Milbankian" it is instructive to hear how some Roman Catholics talk about about him.

    For what it's worth, in response to some of his critics with respect to the 'location' of his ecclesiology, including the venerable Rowan Williams, Milbank composed an essay entitled "Where Is the Church" and I know it can be found in his new collection, already mentioned, "The Future of Love."

    I'm not sure if it was previously published elsewhere.


  • At 7/23/2010 9:50 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…


    Thanks to you for your continued comments.

    I think you are right about the univocity bit: this is by no means unique to RO. In fact, Reinhard Huetter once quipped that Thomists have held Milbank's basic position longer than he has. And you rightly note some of the big names (Jean Luc Marion is also in that mix). Milbank and Pickstock just represent one very vocal section of that crowd.

    But I'm worried by their tendency to assert things about Scotus rather than actually construct arguments based on texts. Barring the one essay of Pickstock's on Scotus, I can't think of a single work that even tries to comprehensively address Scotus on his own terms. It seems more often they tend to make hyperbolic claims about him without much in the way of evidence.

    I am, a priori, sympathetic to the critique of Scotus (I can't help it, there's too much Thomist in me). But the Scotist backlash against RO has just been overwhelming. Overwhelming enough to give me pause and make me question my seat on the bandwagon. If you can find me a Scotist who acknowledges that Milbank gets Scotus right exegetically, but just disagrees with his assessment of the implications, then I'll be more willing to bend in RO's direction. But I have yet to find such a Scotus.

    Lee Faber and Michael Sullivan are Scotists who have railed against Milbank's and Pickstock's interpretation. Seeing as I am severely under-read on the Subtle Doctor, it at the very least inspires hesitation, if in their opinion, Milbank's and Pickstock's view of Scotus is so off it's laughable. Here are the posts that come up on their site in a search for "Milbank": http://lyfaber.blogspot.com/search?q=milbank

    The post on Robert Barron is particularly good because it addresses the kind of take on Scotus that resembles the RO account. But the kinds of things that are often glossed over by such an account are the distinction between Scotus' univocal concept of being and a univocal ontology (which he does not advocate). Univocity as Scotus interprets it entails neither a secular space of self-grounded entities,nor the inclusion of God in a finite genus of being. As Faber notes, all Scholastics believed that Aristotle had sufficiently shown that being is not a genus. So the way in which the concept of being is common to God and creatures can't be in the sense of a common genus (Faber cites the Ordinatio I d.8 pt. q.3).

    I've written quite a bit on the dangers of univocal thinking that posits a common genus between God and creatures. And maybe the Scotist idea of a non-generic univocal predication is ultimately inconsistent. But I think it's safe to say Milbank would have to put in a lot more work to demonstrate that sufficiently.

    You raise a good question about de Lubac and the analogia entis. I can't think off the top of my head why he its not more of a theme for him, especially given the nature-grace problematic. I've only read bits from the French version of The Discovery of God (Sur les chemins de Dieu), but I bet that's the place to go for something like the (implicit) analogia in de Lubac...

  • At 7/23/2010 10:23 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…

    ...I also agree that The Suspended Middle is much more a book about Milbank. I'm all for "improvising." But if you're going to be "that cop" who "improvises" and "plays by his own rules," you have to make sure you end up getting the bad guy and averting disaster. There is always the danger that you will just hurt a bunch of innocent people. So one always has to take the "improvisation" hermeneutic to orthodoxy with a grain of salt and not allow it to become a free pass to make orthodoxy a matter of one's own eisegesis. On top of that I think that's an insufficient way of contrasting himself with the Communio folks: do we really want to say that the Communio thinkers just repeat or copy tradition? Garrigou-Lagrange is rolling over in his grave!

    By claiming that I think the Thomist critics of de Lubac have won the debate "hands down," I don't want to say that there is no merit left in de Lubac's argument or that we shouldn't try to interpret Thomas in a way sympathetic to de Lubac. My favorite piece on the issue tries to do just that (or rather, tries to interpret de Lubac in a way that is consistent with Thomas): David Braine's article “The Debate Between Henri de Lubac and His Critics,” Nova et Vetera, Summer 2008.

    However, if we are going to try and reconcile Thomas and de Lubac, we cannot selectively appropriate some texts and ignore others. This is one thing I find annoying about a lot of non-Thomists and non-Catholics who arbitrarily accept de Lubac's version of Thomas without actually having read Thomas: "as de Lubac rightly interprets Thomas..." It seems part of the process of synthesis has to be honestly identifying where de Lubac has failed to take texts of Thomas into account, or has failed to interpret passages of Thomas within the context of the work as a whole, or has excised certain influences that are hermeneutically necessary to read Thomas and happen not to fit de Lubac's picture quite as well (e.g. Aristotelian principles).

    Here the Thomist critiques go a long way, because the ones I cite are based more on pointing out de Lubac's own hermeneutical failures rather than trumping up their own opposing hermeneutical presuppositions (though they have them). If you're going to challenge Thomists on familiarity with Thomas's texts, you have to bring your A-game, because the odds are stacked against you; you have to bring a gun to the knife fight.

    Even if de Lubac's interpretation of Thomas is found to be lacking, it is still just a negative judgment on the self-consciously Thomist nature of his enterprise. One could just say: its more Augustinian, so there. But I highly recommend the Braine article. It honestly addresses what he sees as flaws in de Lubac's appropriation of Thomas on philosophical grounds and attempts to reconcile his overall vision with Thomas as an Augustinian. The Surnaturel volume is also filled with good people.

    Pax Christi,

  • At 7/23/2010 10:25 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…


    Thanks for the heads up! I've had that collection for well over a year now and have read a good deal of the essays in it. HOW did I miss THAT one!?!?!?

    I may have some self-correcting to do...

    Pax Christi,


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