Thursday, March 31, 2005

Come and See!

Here is a short, but great introduction to this school of theology. The following short excerpt is an article written by a dear friend of mine who earned Ph.D. in Historical Theology under the guidance of Avery Cardinal Dulles.

Ressourcement theology, aggiornamento, and the hermeneutics of tradition
by Marcellino D'Ambrosio
Communio 18 (Winter 1991)
©1991 by Communio International Catholic Review


The Christian tradition is a vital and dynamic force that is not retrograde, but progressive.

The years 1930-1950 marked a time of crisis and change affecting every aspect of European society.{1} During this tumultuous period of transition, a broad intellectual and spiritual movement arose within the European Catholic community in response to the challenge presented by a newly secularized society, a challenge that the reigning neo-Scholasticism seemed sorely ill-equipped to meet. Though this movement drew some of its inspiration from earlier theologians and philosophers such as Möhler, Newman, Gardeil, Rousselot, and Blondel, it also owed a great deal to the French Catholic poets Charles Péguy and Paul Claudel.{2}

Academic theologians involved in this movement included such Belgian and German thinkers as Emile Mersch, Dom Odo Casel, Romano Guardini, Karl Adam, and Dom Anselm Stolz, to name a few. Yet it was France that was the undisputed center of theological activity during this fertile epoch{3} and so it will be to French theology during this period that we will limit our attention here. Led principally by the Jesuits of the Lyons province and the Dominicans of Le Saulchoir, the French theological revival of these years boasted some of the greatest names in twentieth-century Catholic scholarship such as Henri de Lubac, Jean Daniélou, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Yves Congar, Marie-Dominique Chenu, and Louis Bouyer.{4}

The participants in this movement, derisively labeled "la nouvelle théologie" by its opponents,{5} were far from the tightly organized cadre they were often thought to be.{6} On the contrary, they were men from various universities and religious congregations who, though friends and colleagues, {7} nevertheless differed in many respects.{8} What united this diverse group were the convictions that 1) theology had to speak to the Church's present situation and that 2) the key to theology's relevance to the present lay in the creative recovery of its past. In other, words, they all saw clearly that the first step to what later came to be known as aggiornamento had to be ressourcementóa rediscovery of the riches of the Church's two-thousand-year treasury, a return to the very headwaters of the Christian tradition.{9}
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{1} This essay is dedicated to the memory of cardinal Henri de Lubac, S.J., who died on September 4, 1991.
{2} "Take . . . the success from a religious point of view of such authors as Péguy or Claudel. Is it not extremely significant?" H. de Lubac, Catholicisme (1st ed. Paris: Cerf, 1938). [For an English translation from the 4th French ed., see Catholicism, trans. by L. Sheppard (New York: Meridian, 1963), 176.] Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss priest who received his theological education at Fourvière, valued the writings of Péguy and Claudel so highly that he devoted considerable time to translating them into German. For an acknowledgement of his debt to these poets, see his essays "In Retrospect," trans. by Kenneth Batinovich, and "Another Ten Years," trans. by John Saward in The Analogy of Beauty, ed. John Riches (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1986), 210-11 and 233, respectively.
{3} See Mark T. Schoof, A Survey of Catholic Theology 1800-1970, trans. by N. D. Smith (Paramus, NJ: Paulist, 1970), 18. Schoof notes that the initiative for creative theological development passed from the German linguistic zone to France about 1930 and returned to Germany around 1950.
{4} Limitations of space make it impossible to discuss serveral important but less prominent representatives of this movement such as Jean Leclercq, O.S.B. and the Lyons Jesuits Gaston Fessard, Pierre Chaillet, and Yves de Montcheuil. For a good introduction to Montcheuil's life and thought, see H. de Lubac, Three Jesuits Speak , trans. by K. Whitehead (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987). For a biography and bibliography of Fessard, see his Église de France prends garde de perdre la Foi! (Paris: Julliard, 1979).
{5} Though it is common to limit the term la nouvelle théologie to those associated with Fourvière, the Jesuit theologate outside of Lyons, this is arbitrarily narrow since the term was actually coined by Msgr. Pietro Parente in his 1942 Osservatore Romano article attacking M.D. Chenu, O.P. and Louis Charlier, O.P. of Le Saulchoir. It was years later that the term was applied to the Lyons Jesuits by R. Garrigou-Lagrange in "La nouvelle théologie, où va-t-elle?" Angelicum 23 (1946): 126-45.
{6} At Rome, de Lubac had been made out to be the sinister ringleader of "the School of Fourvière." De Lubac takes every opportunity to debunk this "myth." See his Mémoire sur l'occasion de mes écrits (Namur: Culture et vérité, 1989), 69 and De Lubac: A Theologian Speaks, interview by A. Scola, trans. by S. Maddux (Los Angeles: Twin Circle, 1985), 34-35. Congar likewise calls the notion of a "new theology," conceived of as an organized school of thought, a "fantastic idea." See his A History of Theology, trans. by H. Guthrie (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968), 11.
{7} For a poignant testimony to the theological and personal bonds between the Le Saulchoir and Fourvière theologians in the forties, see M.D. Chenu, Jacques Duquesne interroge le P. Chenu (Paris: Le Centurion, 1975), 130. See also ibid., 130 and de Lubac, Mémoire, 144-5 regarding a joint effort planned by Chenu, Congar, de Lubac and others to publish a six-volume treatise on theology "conceived in another spirit and upon another plan than the manuals then in use" (de Lubac, Mémoire, 144). Humani Generis doomed the project.
{8} The Jesuit theologians of Lyons-Fourvière make this quite clear in their common response to the criticisms of Michel Labourdette, O.P. entitled, "La théologie et ses sources: Réponse aux Etudes critiques de la Revue Thomiste (mai-août, 1946)," Recherches de Science Religieuse 33 (1946): 387-8: "We are aware of numerous diversities among us, often profound, in method as well as thought, and only an error of vision would permit our critic to attribute to all of us, and in an exaggerated matter at that, what he wrongly believes he has discovered in the work of one of us."
{9} According to de Lubac, Mémoire, 94, all his works as well as the entire Sources chrétiennes collection are based on the presupposition that "the renewal of Christian vitality is linked at least partially to a renewed exploration of the periods and of the works where the Christian tradition is expressed with a particular intensity." This is as clear and succinct an articulation of the ressourcement mentality as I have ever seen.

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