23 December 2010

'He that Cometh' Maketh the Church (2)

Henri de Lubac (1896–1991)
IN THE FIRST POST ON THIS TOPIC, I briefly covered Hans Boersma's three reasons for recapturing Henri de Lubac's views on Holy Communion. The first two were glanced at there; some preliminary work as we gear up for the third reason will occupy us here.

Picking up where we left off, the Counter-Reformation scholastics kind of mutilated St. Augustine when it came to the Eucharist (as did their twentieth-century heirs). Case in point, for Boersma, was the way these folks handled the bishop's well-known Sermon 227 on the unity of the body of Christ that resulted from the celebration of Communion. In it, St. Augustine allegorizes the grains that join together to form one loaf, comparing that to individual believers coming together to form one body. There's no talk of real presence, let alone transubstantiation, notes Boersma: "All the focus seems to be on the unity of believers, on their fellowship or communion, which resulted from the many grains being joined together in a loaf of bread." In short, the Eucharist makes the church.

12 December 2010

Bénédictions sur Vous, mon Frère

A MOST BLESSED BROTHER AND FATHER in the faith died yesterday. There will be many places that one can find words on the contours of his life and the arc and trajectory of the ministry God gave him. But here you will find only a reflection.

Brother Roger Nicole (his title of preference) last wrote for Tabletalk this past February (we had hoped to have him interviewed for an upcoming issue—the request was out, but I don't think it was completed). Back in August 2009, he called me a few times regarding his February 2010 article; and a couple of times he left voicemails. I saved them, first, because the Roger Nicole was calling (and how often does one get such a thing from a theologian of his caliber?), and, second, I thought to myself, who knows how long he'll be around? So I wanted an audio record of him and his unforgettable thick accent (which grew thicker with age).

09 December 2010

2K or Not 2K?

. . . so wonders my colleague. Read his review of David VanDrunen's Living in God’s Two Kingdoms and wonder with him (for me, the answer is yes, but not exactly in the [minority] fashion proposed by VanDrunen and others).

08 December 2010

'He that Cometh' Maketh the Church (1)

Henri de Lubac (1896–1991)
IN THE NOV/DEC ISSUE of Books & Culture, Hans Boersma wrote an article, "The Eucharist Makes the Church," in which he uses Henri de Lubac's views on the Supper as a grand moderating position that ought to do three things: (1) help us recapture the pre-modern, sacramental view of the world (over against the rationalism of the High Middle Ages and the neo-scholastic theology of the early 20th century); (2) reappropriate a pre-modern "sacramental" hermeneutic with respect to Scripture (here Boersma has in mind St. Augustine's exegetical approach of literal meaning pointing beyond itself to spiritual meaning); and (3) apply the genuine ecumenical potential inherent in de Lubac's sacramental outlook.

It is the last area that interests me most here. With respect to the other two, simply note that Boersma's narrative (which he implies is de Lubac's) goes something like this: Postmodernity is little more than modernity coming home to roost. These, kicked off, as it were, by the rationalism of the High Middle Ages . . . 

. . . are predicated on the abandonment of a pre-modern sacramental mindset in which the realities of this-worldly existence pointed to greater, eternal realities, in which they sacramentally shared. Once modernity abandoned a participatory or sacramental view of reality, the created order became unhinged from its origin in God, and the material cosmos began its precarious drift on the flux of nihilistic waves.
Recovering de Lubac is of particular importance, therefore, because he fought the same battles many of us are fighting, according to Boersma. What battles? Why, the ones precipitated by the neo-scholastics, of course! They are (1) the strict separation between nature and the supernatural and (2) the rationalist apologetic approach to the Bible and the history of Christian thought.

So, in short, "the pre-critical sacramental outlook of the medieval tradition," good; High Middle Ages, not so good. The Catholic renwal movement of nouvelle théologie
, good; Pope Leo XIII's neo-scholastic love affair with St. Thomas, not so good. Leo's encyclical, Aeterni Patris, and policies "entrenched Thomist philosophy and theology as the normative system of Catholic thought."

With respect to the Eucharist, Boersma casts de Lubac (or, rather, de Lubac casts himself—I need a historical theology expert of this era to confirm or deny) as situated between two extremes: Protestantism on the one hand, and Catholic neo-scholasticism on the other. De Lubac mentions John Calvin by name as one who "watered down" both the reality of Christ's presence in Holy Communion and the traditional idea of the church as the body of Christ. The two go hand in hand, he argues, because with only a "virtual presence" of Christ in the sacrament, one would end up with only a "virtual presence" of Christ in the church, too (I know my friend Keith Mathison would take serious umbrage with this charge of "virtual presence." I am glad to see that Calvin was de Lubac's Protestant target, however—probably because his view is the only Protestant one worth holding; if anyone can figure out Luther's, let me know).

But de Lubac's main antagonist, writes Boersma, was his Catholic compatriot (both his contemporary neo-scholastics and their 17th-century predecessors). All of them were unable to find transubstantiation in the early church, most notably in St. Augustine, and "this difficulty led them to engage in mental gymnastics in their interpretation" of the North African bishop.

Coming up next: We'll look at de Lubac's recapturing of St. Augustine's sacramental outlook and Boersma's attempt to push it in an ecumenical direction. And I'll clear up the title for this post too.

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