1 05 2020

So I watched the above presentation and since I am cooped up inside with nothing better to do, I will just make some loose comments on it. I read a lot of De Lubac when I was involved in the Eastern Church a little less than two decades ago. Honestly he was one of the only recent theologians who impressed me, and probably one of the reasons I didn’t convert to Orthodoxy. I really liked his book Catholicism, Corpus Mysticum is a good read, etc. Then I went down the rabbit hole of his writings on the supernatural, which is the subject of this video.  The only aspect I will deal with is what the speaker says was the purpose of de Lubac critiquing the idea of pure nature in the first place, namely, de Lubac was concerned that is was a fifth column of secularism in Catholic theology.

As I said, I was involved in the Eastern Church at the time, and also was engaging with a lot of recent Eastern Orthodox theologians, so this would sort of resonate with those who insinuate that errors in “Latin theology” led to secularism, as if intellectual history is one long equation and getting one variable wrong at the beginning ruins the whole solution. Not sure I buy it, but like I said, it resonated with me at the time. I believe this person when he says that de Lubac was sincere. All of these New Theologians were sincere. It’s true that a lot of 19th and 20th century Thomism was a ramshackle assemblage of premises that were flawed at their heart. The whole idea of the harmony with faith and reason presumes a mind that is capable of belief and which can healthily reason. I am skeptical on both counts. What you are dealing with isn’t really even a matter of first principles, but of primordial subterranean intuitions that you can barely speak of. Catholic philosophy came to the table expecting a rational interlocutor with good intentions, and instead got sucker punched in the face.

That’s why I don’t think it really matters if de Lubac said “heretical” things or not, it was enough that he poked the bear, so to speak. I think that is what the reactionary old guard was afraid of. De Lubac was seeking a more “profound” tradition and instead the whole edifice basically collapsed around him. It’s not his fault, but the problem of the New Theology wasn’t technical, it was one of optics. Yeah, that’s not fair, but look at what happened once they “took power”. You have a bunch of people within the Catholic Church who just pretend everyone believes the same thing, but since they can’t really agree what that is (gotta respect nuance, am I right?) no one can say what that is.

Look, I recognize that distinctions are important, I just think it’s painfully obvious that nobody cares. So you can’t really turn around and complain about it. You can argue that stuff was going to implode around anyway, so they had to do something to recover an “authentic” tradition and just not repeat bad positivist talking points lightly baptized with Scholastic language. But you can’t really argue about the aftermath. Modernity is filled with a bunch of narcissists (theologians among them). So an “authentic past” was just going to get weaponized into a distorted apologia for the present. Not that I am arguing anyone could have stopped it.

Anyway, an idea of a purely natural beatitude is dumb, I admit. Nothing temporary and decaying can be happy in this world, even in the Stoic sense of contemplating the Logos at the heart of the Cosmos with the little life you have here. But if there is an inherent spark is in us that is only satisfied with the Divine, and some achieve it and others (most?) don’t, all of that seems rather arbitrary in my view. The speaker interpreting de Lubac states that the idea of pure nature was something that helped create a separation from God, but maybe the separation was in the chasm between creature and Creator that Christian theology envisions; maybe that is the real instigator of Western materialism.  Honestly, I am not one to look for smoking guns, but to me that seems equally plausible. Maybe they didn’t have a good idea of man, matter, or God in the first place, and none of the historical chess they played with these concepts could get them out of that hole.



One response

1 05 2020

Oversimplifying no doubt, but surely one of the main problems is that Christian theology – both east and west – tries to make everything far too comfortable: God and Man are in their places and if you tick the right boxes everything goes as smoothly as silk. But when you read the Bible we see an unfathomable God and a persistently unfaithful humanity. Where’s the “ease” or “comfort” in that?

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