Henri de Lubac: The shaping of Modern Theology (A Reader)

by David Grumet

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.

At the time of the pandemic, we all seem to be searching for answers to the questions of life. David Grumet has provided us with the work of Henri de Lubac for our pondering. De Lubac is a theologian in a Church with a Magisterium,he had neither the desire to refound Christian doctrine on first principles. De Lubac, instead, wished to rearticulate doctrine and its implications for a new age, speaking first to theologians and to a wider public. Some of his works, such as those on the supernatural and on scriptural exegesis, are of a scale and complexity that indicate their intended audience to be professional theologians. However, de Lubac produced his works on the Church for a wider audience. The best known of these is Catholicism which has been through multiple printings and offers a powerful synopsis of the essence of Christian belief. I chose this book as it was suggested by another Jesuit, Pope Francis, a wise and courageous man at his Mass at Santa Marta Chapel.

Grumet leads us to an orderly synthesis: “According to the systematic theologian, some classic topics are easier to identify and appraise in de Lubac’s corpus than others. Constructive engagement is not helped by the fact that many of the English translations of his works lack an index. Nonetheless, scriptural exegesis, anthropology, sin salvation, and ecclesiology are the most prominent topics. It is initially less clear where to look for a coherent doctrine of God, Christology, or pneumatology.” However, de Lubac regards these major doctrinal topics as approachable only via the revelation contained in Scripture, as this has been received and articulated by the Church and by means of interior reflection. The author, Grumet, asks the reader to do their homework and stay with the profound and provocative theology.

The Chapter on the Eucharist connects the Eucharist with Scripture in a deeply sacred manner. “”To the one and only Son of God and Son of Man, as to their head, all the members of the body are joined, all those who are received in the faith of this mystery, in the fullness of this love. Thus is in one single body, it is one single person, one single Christ, the head with its members, who raised himself up to heaven and in his gratitude cries out, presenting the Church In its glory to God: “Here is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” And, demonstrating that he and the Church are joined in a true unity of persons, he says again:” and they will be two in one flesh”. Yes, this is indeed a great mystery. The flesh of Christ which, before his Passion, was the flesh of the only word of God, has so grown through the Passion, so expanded and so filled the universe that all the elect who have been since the beginning of the world of this will live, to the very last one among them, through the action of this sacrament which makes a new dough of them, he reunites in one single Church, where God and humankind embrace one another for all eternity. So the sacred meets the mystical. It is sometimes said that in order to understand biblical revelation properly it is necessary to have some sense of history, some sense of evolution, that is to say some notion of the continuity of God’s work in time, the uninterrupted continuity of a homogeneous historical development.

Other topics investigated in this book include: the discovery of God, the Christian faith, the Church, grace and nature, Buddhism, and renewing theology. The text is scholarly laid out with adequate footnotes and endnotes as well as patristic and medieval authors cited. Throughout the text the author lets us know where and what de Lubac is working on. The texts, articles and projects he wrote give ample credibility to his work although not without controversy at times. Some of the criticism comes from the translation from the French. For myself, every time I read a section of this book I am called into contemplation of his thoughts. He has provided another layer of spirituality and a sense of the marriage between the sacred and the mystical. This is a book about de Lubac that is highly usable and readable and recommended to all who take theology seriously.