The T&T Clark Companion to Henri de Lubac

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Jordan Hillebert
T&T Clark Companions
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury T&T Clark
    , June
     512 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


English-language scholarship on the work of French Jesuit Henri de Lubac has grown over the past few decades, with the publication of several monograph-length studies as well as a sizeable number of articles in periodical literature. Even those who quarrel with the details of de Lubac’s theological arguments have recognized his significance. In spite of this, de Lubac’s work remains muted for English speakers. In the T&T Clark Companion to Henri de Lubac, Jordan Hillebert has edited a collection of essays that aims to resolve this issue by making the French Jesuit’s work more accessible to an English-speaking audience.

The book is divided into three parts, with essays from well-known scholars on de Lubac’s work in particular, or nouvelle théologie—of which de Lubac was a part—in general. In part 1, de Lubac’s life and work are treated in their historical, theological, and philosophical context. In part 2, major themes from de Lubac’s work are examined, including atheism and humanism, scriptural interpretation, christology, mysticism, ecclesiology, sacramental theology, and the relationship between nature and grace. In part 3, trajectories emerging from de Lubac’s legacy are discussed, such as his engagement with Protestantism, the appropriation of his work by Radical Orthodoxy, implications for political theology, and the relationship between theological anthropology and the Christian life.

Space prevents a detailed treatment of every essay within this volume. However, several stand out. Hillebert offers an excellent introductory essay that places de Lubac within the context of European Catholicism before the Second Vatican Council and French Catholicism in the Third Republic. This chapter is significant for understanding the shape of de Lubac’s work and its relationship to events unfolding around him. As Hillebert writes, “De Lubac is one of those rare theologians whose life is every bit as interesting and instructive as his writings” (5). While this observation—that theology leads us to take history (including the lives of theologians) seriously—is occasioned by examining de Lubac’s context, it is also an insight borne out by his scholarship. Because of this, readers who meet de Lubac for the first time in this volume will not fail to appreciate the ways in which the winding path of his life is interwoven with his thinking on, for example, the relationship between the natural and the supernatural.

Aaron Riches’s discussion of de Lubac’s activities at and after the Second Vatican Council is incredibly insightful. In part, this arises from his robust use of de Lubac’s two-volume journal from the council, Carnets du Concile, which is currently available only in French. De Lubac’s place in histories of the council is often minimal, but as Riches explains, de Lubac’s council activity was characterized by a “‘spectral mode’ by which he was a spiritual protagonist and great presence at the council” (127). That is, he was less visible than other periti at the Council (such as Yves Congar or Edward Schillebeeckx), tending to engage others mostly in informal conversations. Because of this, de Lubac’s unique perspective on the Council and its aftermath shines through more clearly in his journal. Moreover, Riches discusses de Lubac’s concern about what he saw as a contrast between the resolutions of the council and the emphasis of the “para-council” that emerged afterward. Such a detailed perspective on the council and its consequences offers a helpful lens for viewing present-day Catholicism.

Joseph Flipper’s essay on the political theological trajectories emerging from de Lubac’s work is very welcome. Political developments in the twentieth century within Europe (for example, the loss of the papal states) and France (for example, the Act of Separation of Church and State) left Catholics like de Lubac in a turbulent time, one that was marked for some by searching for a new political way forward (such as social Catholicism) and for others by nostalgic hopes for return to Catholic establishment (through organizations such as Action française). De Lubac was particularly attuned to the theological underpinnings of the anti-Semitic fascism ascendant in Germany and in France, and he responded accordingly through his spiritual resistance and participation in the journal Cahiers du Témoignage chrétien. Further, Flipper discusses the political aspects of de Lubac’s work on the natural and the supernatural as well as several contemporary attempts to articulate Lubacian theo-political trajectories. In the end, he finds de Lubac’s approach to be less a principled strategy and more a way of discernment.

On the whole, this volume is an excellent addition to English-language scholarship on de Lubac. Several essays bring still-untranslated primary source material to an English-speaking audience, significantly contributing to further Lubacian studies. It is also worth noting that Rowan Williams has written an outstanding foreword that prompts the reader to reflect on the continuing life of de Lubac’s work in the twenty-first century context. The book, however, is not for everyone. It presumes some familiarity with the broad shape of twentieth-century Catholic thought, even if the reader is unaware of de Lubac himself. Nonetheless, the editor has worked to make sure that the book casts as broad a net as possible without sacrificing its depth of scholarship. As such, it will serve its readers well in providing a robust account of de Lubac’s work, his context, and his abiding significance.

De Lubac once remarked that the ressourcement (return to the sources) approach to theology is not intended to repristinate the past. Instead, it is aimed at gaining a better understanding of the past in order to more fully see the path forward in the present. The T&T Clark Companion to Henri de Lubac does just that, not only for Catholicism, but for the entire Christian church.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Derek C. Hatch is Associate Professor of Christian Studies at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas.

Date of Review: 
January 18, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jordan Hillebert is tutor in theology at St Padarn's Institute and lecturer in theology at Cardiff University.


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