Sunday, April 5, 2009

Heresies of Henri de Lubac SJ

The author turns to the second "Father" of the "New Theology".

By Arts Entirely New


"The God of ‘classical ontology’ is dead, you say? It may be so; but it does not worry me overmuch."
- Fr. Henri de Lubac, The Discovery of God ,

Considering Pope Pius X’s statement in Pascendi that Modernism is the "synthesis of all heresies," we might easily be led to the hasty conclusion that there is nothing really new to be found in the errors of such men as de Lubac and von Balthasar. We would be very wrong. The title which I have chosen for this article is taken from the very first paragraph of Pascendi:

It must, however, be confessed that these latter days have witnessed a notable increase in the number of the enemies of the Cross of Christ, who, by arts entirely new and full of deceit, are striving to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, as far as in them lies, utterly to subvert the very kingdom of Christ.

Historically, heresies often represented excesses which were the direct opposite of one another. Any notion, for instance, that Arianism (which denied the divinity of Christ) could be synthesized with Monophysitism (which emphasized the divinity of Christ to the point of denying His humanity) would have seemed absurd, and as constituting something impossible to human thought or conviction. Yet, such opposing ideas and statements, as noted by Pius X, are often to be found in Modernist writings and statements, even to the point of espousing both the orthodox and heterodox view on the same issue.

It might be concluded that such duplicity on the part of Modernists is simply a matter of calculated and sinister deceit. However, while such may often be the case, I believe that there are here involved "arts entirely new" which both necessitate and facilitate such deceits. It is these arts which now entrap much of the thinking and practice of the Church, including a great many who appear to be of good will towards Christ and His Church. It will be the purpose of this article to explore these errors, especially in the writings of their most powerful exponent Henri de Lubac.

The Lubacian Principle of Paradox

"In short, to maintain and defend these theories they do not hesitate to declare that the noblest homage that can be paid to the Infinite is to make it the object of contradictory statements! But when they justify even contradictions, what is it that they will refuse to justify?" [Pascendi, #36]

With any particular heresy of the past we encounter the denial of one or more specific doctrines of the faith. Generally speaking, however, we are dealing with people who still acknowledged the integrity and non-self-contradictory nature of truth itself.

Modernism, however, being the synthesis of all heresies, necessarily requires the violation of this principle of non-contradiction. And it is Henri de Lubac who "formalized" a particular philosophy to enshrine and justify the principle of self-contradiction into theology. The fundamental means which he employs to disguise and "sanctify" such an aberration is the concept of "paradox."

We must realize, however, that de Lubac’s first distortion is of the word "paradox" itself.

The commonly accepted definition of paradox is that it is the holding of two truths which appear to be contradictory. The contradiction, we must emphasize strongly, is in appearance only.

The Bible contains many paradoxes. The proper use of paradox can be a very effective tool for imparting truth. Our Lord, for instance, teaches, "For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it." [Luke 9:24] A small child reading this passage might indeed be very confused by the apparent contradiction; but the mature Christian, understanding the concepts and realities involved, sees no contradiction at all in this statement.

Virtually wherever one goes in the works of de Lubac one encounters his use of paradox. Ignatius Press offers two books (Paradoxes of Faith and More Paradoxes) particularly dedicated by de Lubac to this subject. Often, of course, his use of paradox is acceptable. But this is why the extensive use of paradox becomes such a dangerous tool in the hands of an unorthodox writer. A plethora of apparent contradiction becomes the camouflage for real contradiction, and a very powerful literary technique becomes an effective means of assimilating error into the minds and hearts of even the most sophisticated reader.

In the case of de Lubac these errors penetrate to the very heart of our faith. In essence they represent "arts entirely new" which have enabled Modernism to penetrate into the life of the Church with an effectiveness and an all-pervasiveness which was not possible under the earlier and more blatant forms of this heresy.

We must first understand that in the system of de Lubac, paradox is not just a literary technique, but the very "stuff" of reality:

For paradox exists everywhere in reality, before existing in thought. It is everywhere in permanence….Parodoxes: the word specifies, above all, then, things themselves, not the way of saying them….Oppositions in thought express the contradiction which is the very stuff of creation. [Parodoxes of Faith. pp.10-11]

All this, of course, makes the real "stuff" of reality exist outside the laws of logic, and outside of what St. Thomas and the Church have always taught are the absolutely "first principles of being": the Principle of Contradiction, the Principle of Identity and Difference, and the Principle of the Excluded Middle:

Paradoxes are paradoxical: they make sport of the usual and reasonable rule of not being allowed to be against as well as for. Yet, unlike dialectics, they do not involve the clever turning of for into against. Neither are they only a conditioning of the one by the other. They are the simultaneity of the one and the other. They are even something more - lacking which, moreover, they would only be vulgar contradiction [which is exactly, as we shall see, what they often are in the hands of de Lubac]. They do not sin against logic, whose laws remain inviolable: but they escape its domain. They are the for fed by the against, the against going so far as to identify itself with the for. [Ibid. pp. 11-12]

Lubacian "Paradox", in other words, is simple Orwellian "Newspeak" grafted onto the disciplines of Philosophy and Theology. In de Lubac’s theology it is all-pervasive:

And it is a question, at least, whether all substantial spiritual doctrine must not of necessity take a paradoxical form. [Ibid. p.13]

Finally, before entering into particular errors, we should note that it is this "principle of paradox" which makes possible the Modernist substitution of "becoming" for the fundamental Aristotelian-Thomistic concept of Being, and the substitution of the notion of evolving truth for the Catholic concept of truth as a divine deposit which is to be embraced, cherished, and defended. Thus, we have the following from the pen of de Lubac:

Paradoxical in its substance, spiritual truth is also paradoxical in its rhythm. When we discover it and hold it in our hands we do not have time to bring our first look of satisfaction to rest upon it before it has already fled. The eternal story of the Pharisee starts afresh in each of us. To get hold of this elusive truth again, we should perhaps seek it in its opposite, for it has changed its sign. But often we prefer to hug its rotten corpse. And we go rotten with it. [Ibid. p.14]

Clearly, from his perspective, the Catholic Traditionalist is a "rotten corpse."

The de Lubac–von Balthasar Christ

"Remember, after all, that the Gospel is full of paradoxes, that man is himself a living paradox, and that according to the Fathers of the Church, the Incarnation is the supreme Paradox." [Paradoxes of the Faith, p.81. Emphasis mine.]

As Catholics, we do not deny that there are profoundly paradoxical elements in the Incarnation of Christ. Infinite God becomes finite man. Such an Infinite Love and Being is virtually incomprehensible to us, and so we are rightly left with a sense of paradox. In this case, paradox is food for our humility.

This love which is incomprehensible to us, however, is not incomprehensible to God. It is Who He is (without this implying any necessity on the part of God’s in regard to His creatures in general, or the Incarnation in particular). There is, in other words, no paradox in God. There is, therefore, no Paradox in Jesus Christ Himself, or in the Incarnation per se.

Henri de Lubac did not agree. Nor did von Balthasar. At this point, it is important to note the connection between these two "Fathers" of the New Theology.

It is de Lubac who introduced the principle of self-contradiction into the very heart of truth. For him, paradox is the very "stuff" of creation, and "the Incarnation is the supreme Paradox." It is von Balthasar, however, who is the great popularizer of this method of thinking which has become the primary source of confusion in Catholic philosophy and theology.

In a section titled "The Heightened Paradox", in his book Truth is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism (pp.38-40), von Balthasar writes:

Now the final word [concerning the meaning and effectiveness of the Incarnation] is not revelation and precept but participation, communio.

And that in turn, beyond word and deed, implies suffering. It means occupying the place of total and universal closedness, that is, God-forsakenness. God’s Word in Jesus Christ wishes to die with us in this God-forsakenness and descend with us into eternal banishment from God.

Luther’s dictum, that at this point revelation "latet sub contrario" (lies hidden in its opposite) is not too strong, provided it means no more than it formally says. Jesus is in fact the Lord who empties himself, taking the form of a slave. He is the Son, defined by his ultimate intimacy with the Father, but he dies in complete estrangement.

...We must note, however, that in the formula latet sub contrario both aspects (the attribute and its opposite, the proposition and what contradicts it) have the same subject.

…on the Cross itself, he [Christ] experiences this forsakenness so deeply, for the sake of sinners, that he no longer feels or knows anything of the Father’s presence. His relationship with the Father is indestructible, he says, ‘My God’ - but this God is hidden sub contrario. Indeed, the very profundity of his forsakenness is the sign of him who so profoundly conceals himself. Since the subject, God’s Son - in this case identical with his abiding connaturality with the Father-God - holds on so tenaciously through the contrary modes of experience, it is superfluous to go against all the evidence of the text and ascribe particular attributes of his first state (that is, the beatific vision of the Father) to him in his second state. His forsakenness affects his entire relationship with the Father.

All this is a denial of the very essence of Christianity - a denial of the hypostatic union, and the absolutely central Christian dogma that the human soul of Jesus is united with the Nature of God in the One Divine Person Jesus Christ. The human soul of Jesus uninterruptedly possessed the beatific vision throughout His conception, birth, life, and death. St. Thomas writes:

On the contrary, Damascene says (De Fide Orthod. iii): Christ’s Godhead permitted His flesh to do and to suffer what was proper to it. In like fashion, since it belonged to Christ’s soul, inasmuch as it was blessed, to enjoy fruition [the beatific vision], His Passion did not impede fruition." [ST, III, Q.46, A.8]

Uninterrupted possession of the beatific vision is, in other words, absolutely integral to the doctrine of the hypostatic union. To say that Christ died in "God-forsakenness", "eternal banishment from God", "complete estrangement", and "universal closedness" does not express "paradox", but rather total self-contradiction and heresy.

Aggiornamento, Ecumenism and the New Mass

At this point I would imagine that many readers are experiencing a good deal of puzzlement and irritation. Why should anyone want to do what de Lubac and von Balthasar have done to Christ and to His Truth? The following passages from the same work of von Balthasar will give us the answer to this question:

All the same, since it is a question of encompassing the world in all its profanity - for its relation to God has been profaned - there can be no stopping halfway once the path of "concealment in the opposite" has been taken up. It must be followed to the very end: ‘He descended into hell’ (p.40-41) [it is abundantly clear that von Balthasar is not here speaking of the place of those deceased righteous awaiting the redemptive act of Christ, but rather of Hell itself].

If this is the case, then all the organs or gestures of the divine Word in the world must necessarily share in this communion on the part of God with the sinful world, must share in this process of dying and descending into the concealing opposite and rising again on the far side…. So it would be wrong to think that the Church had some kind of immortal framework exempt from destiny (often referred to nowadays pejoratively as "institution") that, while it is inhabited and represented by vulnerable human beings with their changing roles, is somehow timeless…. What applies to office in the Church also applies to the sacraments, to preaching, and to theology. It applies to the Bible just as much as to the Church’s tradition. [pp.41-42]

Thus, Church will suffer the loss of its shape as it undergoes a death, and all the more so, the more purely it lives from its source and is consequently less concerned with preserving its shape. In fact, it will not concern itself with affirming its shape but with promoting the world’s salvation; as for the shape in which God will raise it from its death to serve the world afresh, it will entrust it to the Holy Spirit. We have already observed that nothing in the Church is exempt from death and destiny; there is no ‘structure’ existing independently of the event of Christ. [p.96]

If the Church must die and "descend into its concealing opposite", and then "rise again" on the other side of this experience, and if the Church has no "immortal framework", and consequently must "suffer the loss of its shape" in this death and rising, then we have every right to expect that the new shape (which, according to von Balthasar, includes a "new shape" for the Bible, the sacraments, preaching, and theology) will incorporate elements of all the things into which the Church descends - elements, for instance, of Lutheranism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, atheism, and possibly even Satanism.

Thus, we have the theological justification for aggiornamento and ecumenism, accompanied by that spirituality which necessitates the "turning towards the world" which constitutes the form of the New Mass.

Modernist Principles

In his analysis of the roots of Modernism, Pope Pius X distinguished between two principles, one negative and the other positive.

The negative principle is agnosticism, which is constituted by the following:

According to this teaching human reason is confined entirely within the field of phenomena, that is to say, to things that appear, and in the manner in which they appear: it has neither the right nor the power to overstep these limits. [Pascendi, #6]

Such agnosticism is the direct result of the intimidating nature of reductive science, and the war against being and substance which it has conducted for centuries.

Through this principle everything which is "absolute" in our faith is dissolved of its solidity - such things as dogma and the Deposit of Faith, the Church, the nature of the sacraments, the uncreated Nature of God, the created nature of man, the historical Person of Jesus Christ, the reliability of the Bible.

All these things which were once considered unchangeable truth fixed in objective reality, now must somehow be transformed so that they can be reborn in a subjective realm safe from the ravages of reductive science.

This "transformation" is accomplished by the second principle (the "positive" principle) of Modernism, which is called vital immanence.

Since, for the Modernist, the path to rational, objective truths has been closed by reductive science, truth must now be looked for in the interior of man. Pius X offers a succinct explanation of this principle of vital immanence as the fundamental tenet of Modernism:

Therefore, as God is the object of religion, we must conclude that faith, which is the basis and foundation of all religion, must consist in a certain interior sense, originating in a need of the divine. This need of the divine, which is experienced only in special and favourable circumstances, cannot of itself appertain to the domain of consciousness, but is first latent beneath consciousness… this sense possesses, implied within itself both as its own object and as its intrinsic cause, the divine reality itself, and in a way unites man with God. It is this sense to which Modernists give the name of faith, and this is what they hold to be the beginning of religion. [Pascendi, #7]

In a virtual mirror-image of Pius X’s definition of vital immanence, Henri de Lubac writes:

…the idea of God is mysteriously present in us from the beginning, prior to our concepts, although beyond our grasp without their help, and prior to all our argumentation, in spite of being logically unjustifiable without them; it is the inspiration, the motive power and justification of them all….

In its primary and permanent state the idea of God is not, then, a product of the intelligence. It is not a concept. It is a reality: the very soul of the soul; a spiritual image of the Divinity, an ‘eikon’. [The Discovery of God, pp.42-44]

Here we have the essentials of vital immanence: some sort of divine reality present in the soul of man which is previous to consciousness, and is integral to his created human nature.

Initially, it may seem difficult to understand why this is such a grievous error, and possibly even more difficult to understand how the entire Modernist edifice can be built upon this small seed. And yet such is the case. Pius X further writes:

In the religious sense one must recognize a kind of intuition of the heart which puts man in immediate contact with the reality of God….It is this experience which makes the person who acquires it to be properly and truly a believer…. Here it is well to note at once that, given this doctrine of experience united with that of symbolism, every religion, even that of paganism, must be held to be true. [Pascendi, #14]

Upon careful reflection, we can understand why this is so. If our path to objective, absolutely certain truth is cut off by the principle of agnosticism (we must remember that the principle of agnosticism does not mean that we cannot know or believe anything, but only that we cannot know or believe with objective certainty), then truth has become a matter of subjective experience, and subject to the "religious evolution" which grows out of that experience.

Thus, von Balthasar could write: "There is therefore no cause for dismay in the idea that the truth of revelation, which was originally cast in Hellenistic concepts by the great Councils, could equally be recast in Indian or Chinese concepts." [Truth is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism, p. 56]

One can only wonder if it ever occurred to de Lubac or von Balthasar to question why the Church never recast the "truth of revelation" into Nordic mythology, Druidic belief and practices, or possibly the Aztec concept of a god who demands human sacrifice.

A Gift Defiled: Nature and Grace in Henri de Lubac

As the reader may have ascertained, the principle of vital immanence also necessarily dissolves religious faith into some form of pantheism. The moment we admit into created human nature anything of the "divine reality" which is not there as a grace "added" to human nature, we have destroyed the absolute distinction that must be made between God and His creation, between the supernatural and the natural.

De Lubac detested the idea of grace as being something "merely added" to human nature. And since from the standpoint of "non-contradiction" it is impossible to maintain the truth concerning the gratuitousness of God’s grace in regards to human nature without the Thomistic notion of grace as "superadded" to nature, de Lubac finds it necessary again to invoke his principle of "paradox." As David Schindler writes in the Introduction to de Lubac’s Mystery of the Supernatural:

De Lubac sees it necessary to insist on the simultaneity - and hence just so far the paradox - of the two elements of the twin claim implied here: on the one hand, a gratuity of grace distinct from and unanticipated (but not merely ‘super-added’ to) human nature; on the other hand, a human nature always already called to a divine vocation in Jesus Christ, and hence just so far imbedded from the outset in a supernatural order (p. xxvi).

De Lubac, in other words, wishes to be able to assert the traditional teaching concerning the gratuity of God’s gift of supernatural life, while at the same time also affirming its opposite.

St. Thomas, on the other hand, often teaches the truth that grace must be understood as something which is added or superadded to human nature. He writes:

Higher intelligible things the human intellect cannot know, unless it be perfected by a stronger light, viz. the light of faith or prophecy which is called the light of grace, inasmuch as it is added to nature. ST, I-II, Q.109,A.1

It is this profound and absolutely necessary distinction between the life of God and human nature which such persons as de Lubac and von Balthasar (and also Eastern Orthodox theology) attempt to erase. And it is the teaching of St. Thomas, the primary bulwark against error in this area of Catholic doctrine, that they must demolish or pervert.

For de Lubac, it is a matter of perversion. No single subject occupies more space in his writings than the relationship between nature and grace. And throughout these writings, he attempts to subvert the words of St. Thomas to his own particular heresy.

These subversions rest upon one extraordinarily pathetic error in regard to the thought of St. Thomas. De Lubac attempts to make Thomas say that there exists in human nature, before consciousness, an innate desire for God. In fact, St Thomas teaches just the opposite:

On the contrary, the human soul is naturally like a blank tablet on which nothing is written, as the Philosopher says (De Anima iii,4 ). But the nature of the soul is the same now as it would have been in the state of innocence. Therefore the souls of children would have been without knowledge at birth.[ST, I, Q.101, A.1]

At the same time, St. Thomas rightly speaks of a knowledge, love, and desire of God which are the natural response of the human mind in its encounter with the world. Thus, the "light" of the human mind, created in the image of God, is structured in such a way as not only to be able to reason to the existence of God from such things as the existence of intelligent design and causation in the world; but it is also "naturally" led to love this God, and to naturally desire to see and know His essence.

Nor does all this knowledge, love, and desire of God necessarily have to be the conscious, reasoned process of the philosopher. We may also rightly speak of a sort of natural, intuitive apprehension of the existence and Being of God from the average person’s encounter with the created world.

All this is simply in keeping with St. Paul’s statement in Romans 1:20: "For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity…"

St Paul even goes so far as to say that the existence and nature of God is so overwhelmingly evident from the human mind’s encounter with creation that for man not to acknowledge His reality and presence is "inexcusable." St. Thomas writes: "all knowers know God implicitly in all they know." [De Veritate, Q. 22, a.2]

What is absolutely essential to keep in mind, however, is that all of this "natural" knowledge, love, and desire of God is not present except through the encounter of man’s mind with the world, and through his senses. It is, in other words, natural, but not innate.

Destructive Consequences

De Lubac, and proponents of the "New Theology" in general, simply do not understand "the God of scholastic theology."

To them, the God of St. Thomas and the traditional Church is not sufficiently "vitally immanent." The God Who created us in His own Image, and sustains us every second of our lives with this same creative action; the God Who died for our sins and for our eternal salvation, and draws us into His very own life through baptism and the other sacraments; the God Who gives His Own Son in Holy Communion, Who insures that we are in possession of infallible truth through His Church, and promises His faithful the Gift of the Beatific Vision - this God, and this faith, are too sterile, absolute, and pharisaical for them.

The problem for these people seems to be that all that constitutes the traditional Catholic concept of grace and supernatural life is considered as Gift, and not something that is their own by right, or by nature.

They choose to barter the Infinite Gift of God for the paltry personal possession of an ounce of supernatural life which is somehow independent of this Gift. It is almost unbelievable foolishness; but even more, it amounts to infinite ingratitude.

What we may be sure of is the enormously destructive consequences of their effort. Again, we have the wisdom of Pope St. Pius X in Pascendi [#34]:

The domineering overbearance of those who teach these errors, and the thoughtless compliance of the more shallow minds who assent to them, create a corrupted atmosphere which penetrates everywhere, and carries infection with it.

It has penetrated everywhere. It penetrated to the heart of Fr. Joseph Ratzinger when he said that the survival of Catholicism depended on it being freed from the "constraining fetters of Roman Scholastic Theology." We are now experiencing that freedom - the very freedom which has virtually destroyed the faith of Catholic Europe and much of the rest of the world. It is this atmosphere, created by Modernist philosophy and theology in response to reductive secular science, which must be combated as the primary source of decay in the Church.

We must pray that Pope Benedict XVI receives the grace to engage in this contest. It is a battle which, to a large extent, must be waged against his own past: "The fact is," he wrote in his Principles of Catholic Theology, "as Hans Urs von Balthasar pointed out as early as 1952, that the ‘demolition of the bastions’ is a long-overdue task."

The Holy Father’s sweeping agenda for the Church, set out in his speech to the Roman curia on 22 December 2005, can only be properly understood and analysed in the light of that alarming statement of intent and all its disturbing implications. For whatever his view of the de Lubac-von Balthasar ‘paradox agenda’ may be, the "New Theology" has provided Pope Benedict with his own particular means to achieve the same "demolition."

Original article in "Christian Order"