Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Surnaturel: A Controversy at the Heart of Twentieth-Century Thomistic Thought

Serge-Thomas Bonino's Surnaturel: A Controversy at the Heart of the Twentieth-Century Thomistic Thought (Faith and Reason: Studies in Catholic Theology and Philosophy) contains four sections, guided by Bonino's insight that if in the year 2000 no one is any longer a Thomist in quite the same way he would have been in 1900 or 1945, it is partly because of Fr. de Lubac.

In the first section, Etienne Fouilloux describes the arc of Henri de Lubac's career up to the publication of his Surnaturel; Georges Chantraine, S.J., describes de Lubac's Surnaturel; Henry Donneaud, O.P., describes the early Thomistic response to the book; and Rene Mougel depicts Jacques Maritain's position on the topic. In the second section, focusing on Thomas Aquinas and the medieval period, Michel Bastit inquires into the relationship of Thomism to Aristotle; Jean-Miguel Garrigues explores the grace of Christ; Serge-Thomas Bonino, O.P., describes the variety of medieval positions on nature and grace as seen in theological accounts of limbo; and Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., masterfully summarizes nature and grace according to Aquinas. The third section engages late-scholastic developments: Laurence Renault treats William of Ockham; Jacob Schmutz explores the shifting expositions of concurrence (divine and human causality) between the thirteenth and the seventeenth centuries; and Marie-Bruno Borde, O.C.D., presents the position of the Salmanticenses. Lastly, section four inquires into contemporary developments: Georges Cardinal Cottier, O.P., discusses natural mysticism and the theology of the religions; Gilbert Narcisse, O.P., traces the theme of grace in contemporary theology; Benoit-Dominique de La Soujeole, O.P., explores the situation of contemporary ecclesiology; and Bishop Andre-Mutien Leonard notes the value of the concept of; pure nature; within theological discussions.

Reviews:
Henri de Lubac's 1946 Surnaturel set off a storm of controversy. Serge-Thomas Bonino's 2009 Surnaturel is likely to do the opposite. This carefully edited collection of essays will be met with gratitude across the theological spectrum. Meticulously translated by Robert Williams and Matthew Levering, the volume continues the discussion on pure nature and natural desire, initially set off by de Lubac's controversial book. The superb essays of this volume deal not just with de Lubac's own theological position, but also with his interpretation of St. Thomas, with medieval approaches to the issue of the supernatural, and with contemporary implications of the issue. For all those interested in de Lubac and in questions surrounding the nature-supernatural relationship, this book offers a wealth of insight.
--Hans Boersma, Regent College, Vancouver, Canada

Thomists of various stripes famously disagree about how to interpret Aquinas thought on the question of the final ends of man. Is man naturally proportioned to the supernatural life of grace, and if so in what sense? This superb volume of essays is essential reading for anyone interested in the controversy surrounding Henri de Lubac's Surnaturel, his questionable understanding of Aquinas on this issue, and the theology of grace and nature more generally. The volume shows on multiple fronts in a dispute that is both charitable and academically rigorous why there is not yet acquired consensus on the historical and theological theses of Surnaturel, and many of the essays give nuanced critiques of de Lubac’s views. This book will be theologically controversial, and influential, for some time to come.
--Fr. Thomas Joseph White, O.P., Regent College

When the Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac published Surnaturel in 1946, he irrevocably altered the Thomist understanding of grace. Even more, he changed Thomism itself, which now gives Thomas priority of place over his later commentators by embedding him in the patristic tradition he knew so well. Finally, and most crucially, man is now seen as inherently open to the supernatural. No longer is grace seen as topping out nature, like icing atop a layer cake. Unfortunately, de Lubac had made his case so convincingly that problems soon followed in his overpowering wake. After Vatican II, grace came to be seen as so intrinsic to man that the supernatural gifts of revelation, the Church, and the sacraments seemed, at best, merely symbolic reminders of an already realized redemption. Clearly the time has come, after the doldrums of the post-Vatican II Church, for a reassessment of Surnaturel, magnificently supplied here in this fascinating collection of essays by noted Carmelite, Dominican, Jesuit and lay scholars. Every chapter displays the art of the medieval disputatio to thrilling effect. As with medieval theology at its best, these contributions are all vigorously agued; but they are also uniformly charitable. This book is truly graceful in so many senses of that word.
--Edward T. Oakes, S.J., Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C.
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