Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fr. Cessario: Understanding the Critical Error Of Henri de Lubac

 (Fr. Romanus Cessario, OP)
If you are at all interested in studying theological controversies and a critical error that many new theologians espouse today, then I think you will enjoy a great article by Fr. Romanus Cessario. The great Thomistic theologian Cardinal Cajetan is often attacked for having invented a false view of nature and grace, one which Saint Thomas did not hold. Fr. Cessario however clearly does not agree, and he establishes how the new Communio school of theologians have followed a flawed perspective on Saint Thomas Aquinas concerning nature and grace instead. This modern age of theologians are largely unfocused and appear to me to have an identity crisis. They want to be Thomists, yet on the other hand they want to mix that with a variety of modern concepts and ideas which are not compatible to Thomism. Cessario helps to explain why a proper theological foundation is so important, and how it has been undermined over the last 40 years. In my opinion we need more classical Thomists to emerge in today's theological circles, so that the clergy can be properly formed and equipped to teach the Catholic faith. They are few and far between.

The excerpt below is from an article by Fr. Romanus Cessario, 'Cardinal Cajetan and His Criticis.' The article focuses on young theologians today and the difficulties they face at arriving at a proper understanding of what a theologian is supposed to do, and how they are to do it. Cessario discusses the challenges the young theologian faces in light of the sea of bad theology that has become so prominent over the last 40 years or so since Vatican II. He then focuses on Tracey Rowland, and her book, 'Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II,' which apparently takes the position of de Lubac and asserts falsely that his position on Aquinas trumps that of Cardinal Cajetan's. I won't give the rest of the article away, it is well worth the read. If you are unfamiliar with Thomistic theology and the recent debates concerning this subject, it may be a bit hard to grasp. None the less, a little bit of research on the net will move you along quite well. Below the excerpt from the article, I have included links to two important and reliable books that cover this critical area of theology, and they expose the errors of the likes of de Lubac and co. If you want understand the real Thomistic understanding on this subject then these books are essential for your library.

The Communio school of theology, taken globally, and not as it plays out under the influence of the American edition, is more difficult to define than Thomism. Thomists are those who read Aquinas, and so may be distinguished from those who read and adhere to other major Christian thinkers such as Scotus or St. Bonaventure or Ockham. Partisans of the Communio school, on the other hand, study many authors; their return to the sources embraces a wide range of both ancient and recent theologians and philosophers, and even includes consulting social scientists. Rowland identifies many of these figures in her chapters. Suffice it to remark that a common feature of Communio school theology is that its adherents subscribe without hesitation to a viewpoint that lately has been set forth by Nicholas M. Healy in his Thomas Aquinas:Theologian of the Christian Life: “In his commentary on the Summa theologiae, Cajetan so separates nature from grace that humanity now has two ends, natural and supernatural. . . .” Healy of course repeats an assertion that was set forth with remarkable success in the twentieth century by Jesuit Father Henri de Lubac, later Cardinal of the Roman Church.

It has always struck me as odd that so many good-willed theologians accept the view that a twentieth-century French Jesuit whose intellectual interests were wide-ranging occupied a better position to understand what St. Thomas Aquinas taught about the finalities of the human person than did a sixteenth-century Italian humanist, who had represented Catholic doctrine in person to no less imposing a figure than Martin Luther and whose commentary on the entire Summa theologiae appears by order of Pope Leo XIII in the critical edition of Aquinas’s opera omnia that bears that Pope’s name, the still incomplete Leonine edition. But they do. Many sincere people, including Tracey Rowland, accept the proposition that de Lubac laid bare a huge historical mistake about how to construe the rela- tionship between nature and grace, and they seemingly consider his critique of Cardinal Cajetan and the Thomists who follow him a non-gainsayable principle of all future Catholic theology.What Cajetan obscured, de Lubac grasped with clarté. Nicholas Healy illustrates this conviction:“[T]he influ- ence of the two-tier conception of reality became widespread and was understood by many theologians as a reasonable development of Thomas’s thought.” One could infer from remarks such as these that Tommaso De Vio, Cardinal Cajetan (1469–1534) should be known as the great betrayer of Aquinas instead of his papal approved interpreter. Prima facie, the proposition seems primitive.

Those who want to understand more about this golden apple of twentieth-century theological discord should consult the work of Professor Steven A. Long. His essays on topics such as the obediential potency and other related theological theses repay careful study. Long’s articles reveal the way that theologians have attempted to handle the difficult question of describing adequately the differentiation of finalities that the gratuitous bestowal of divine friendship on the members of the human race introduces into Catholic theology. Because of the centrality that this issue holds in the thought of many of the theologians that Rowland presents to her readers, I think it is important to alert those who will read her book, especially beginners in the discipline, that they should make up their own minds about de Lubac’s critique, and not assume that one eminent French Jesuit and 100,000 Communio followers can’t be wrong. The fact of the matter is that the differentiation of finalities that a Catholic theologian must consider in the human person remains a topic that has been ill served during the period after the SecondVatican Council.

Recommended Books

Natura Pura- Dr. Steven A. Long

The Natural Desire to See God- Dr. Lawrence Feingold


Anonymous said...

There is indeed a great sea of poor theology (as well as heretical theology) in the Church today. However, I don't think the solution is to go back to the medieval theology of St. Thomas. His work is not the foundation of theology, nor its end, but only one important contribution.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Father Cessario and others would strongly disagree with you. Thomism is not really a school of thought which is of a medieval mindset. It is nothing more than the proclamation of truth, and nothing other than that. It is not one contribution among others as if all are somehow equal in stature.