Ressourcement: A Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology

Edited by Gabriel Flynn and Paul D. Murray

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


Knowing that the book is dedicated to Henri de Lubac and Yves Congar, two very holy, thoughtfully educated men of the past gives me pleasure in regard to what the book entails. The list of contributors to this awesome work are theologically sound men and women. The renowned generation of French ressourcement theologians whose influence pervaded French theology and society in the period 1930 to 1960, inspired a renaissance in the twentieth-century Catholic theology and initiated a movement for renewal that made a decisive contribution to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-5). The foremost exponents of ressourcement were principally, though not exclusively, leading French Dominicans and Jesuits of the faculties of Le Saulchoir (Paris) and Lyon. Fourviere,respectfully. In brief some form of ressourcement lay behind every reform movement in Western Christianity – and behind every reform movement in Western culture at least up to the Enlightenment. A Host of new initiatives emerged in the French church during and after the Second World War, This included the movement of the reform for the liturgy, which meant the return to biblical and patristic sources. The ressourcement passed through various stages of development. The biblical renewal, which began in Germany in the course of the inter-war period, spread progressively to the rest of the Catholic world and even to what may be considered the less progressive countries. The liturgical renewal is older than the biblical renewal. The biblical renewal and the liturgical movement were completed by a patristic rejuvenation. The movement towards fuller contact with patristic thought is perhaps the most interesting and challenging to the various currents of renewal in theology in the early part of the twentieth century, as it provides an authentic witness to the faith in a way that is sensitive to the ever changing needs of humanity. There were new missionary strategies in France, including the Young Christian Worker/Young Christian Student movements, which developed during the inter-war period, and, during World War II.

The achievement of the ressourcement theologians lay not so much in their rejection of a long since arid Neo-Scholasticism as in their dual concern to engage with the contemporary world and to ensure the essential unity of theology. Indeed, the greatest legacy of the entire ressourcement enterprise rests in its enduring significance for the Christian Churches in the contemporary world. While the ressourcement theologians were the harbingers of the new era of openness, ecumenism and dialogue inaugurated at the Second Vatican Council, it should not be forgotten that the ecclesial reforms and academic freedom for which they labored we won In the midst of bitter acrimony public recrimination and intense personal suffering.


This volume is essentially about theology and history. It attempts to articulate the history of the Ressourcement movement, its antecedents and leading exponents, and to assess the relevance of their prodigious theological output for the contemporary churches and modern society. The book is divided into four parts: Part 1: presents a series of chapters on the background to ressourcement and delineates the historical phases of the so-called nouvelle theologie, Gemma Simmonds reveals a remarkable similarity between seventeenth century Jansenism and key aspects of the later ressourcement. Part II: Consideration of the great thinkers from the faculties of Le Saulchoir (Paris) and Lyon-Fourviere and beyond is complemented by theologians, who viewed the relationship between God and creation as fundamental questions of theology. Part III: Considers Ressourcement as a threefold programme of renewal, takes its title from Roger Aubert’s seminal work La Theologie Catholique au milieu du XX siècle. It has chapters on the renewal in biblical studies, liturgy, and patristics, as an element in theological ressourcement, Part IV: Ressourcement and the Church in the Modern World’, assesses the continued relevance of the twentieth-century movement for renewal, Stephen M. Fields presents a response to an awkward question that may arise in readers’ minds concerning the philosophical underpinnings or ressourcement. Following Aidan Nichols, he argues that the polemic between subjectivity and Thomism and ressourcement concerns integrated patristic insights about subjectivity and event into a sound metaphysics.

The final chapters by Paul d. Murray, John Webster, and Andrew Louth discuss in turn the groundbreaking contribution of Congar to ecumenism and Church reform, the relationship between ressourcement and Protestantism, and the link between French ressourcement theology in the second the third quarters of the twentieth century and the Orthodox scholars who came to settle in the West especially in Paris, during this period. Certain dogmatic differences notwithstanding, Webster suggests that ressourcement theology offers an invitation to Protestant theology to renew its vocation as ecclesial science and to see the present situation of theology for what it is, a moment in the history of redemption. It is not insignificant that Louth argues that the relationship is a mutual one, each side learning from the other, and moreover, that in this engagement one can see something of the dynamics of a genuine mutually receptive ecumenism. In the epilogue, John McDade assesses the legacy of the ressourcement thinkers. The editors and contributors to this volume present the transformative ressourcement vision for renewal and rejuvenation in the hope that future generations will draw strength and life from it.


The introductory chapter can perhaps be fittingly brought to a close with reference to de Lubac’s articulation of the human search for meaning:


To remind man what constitutes the final end is not to tell something that substantially fails to interest him…It is rather to illustrate the total meaning his being by helping him to find and then to interpret the inscription written into his heart by his Creator.”

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