Communal and Personal: Henri de Lubac’s Catholicism

In a concise foreword to the 1988 Ignatius edition of Henri de Lubac’s classic, Catholicism, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes: “If previously there was a narrowing of the Christian vision to an individualism, we are now in danger of a sociological levelling down” (12). In other words, times have certainly changed since de Lubac’s book was written in 1949, a theological climate characterized by postwar adaptations of philosophical existentialism and the historical-critical method of biblical scholarship. As Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) says, it was the existing and/or rational individual that mattered then.

Now, though, in the wake of academic postmodernism in the humanities and thoroughgoing physicalism in the natural sciences, the confident individual subject of old has all but died–its ashes spread far and wide by the rhetorical categories of socioeconomic status or neuroscience, respectively. If before our hermetically sealed subjectivities made eucharistic community impossible, now our strictly horizontal histories have made that same eucharistic community too boring to even bother with.

Perhaps the most remarkable accomplishment of de Lubac’s Catholocism is its undying commitment to the seamless integration of the deeply communal and personal nature of a Christian manner of being. Although it is the former that forms the central concern of the author (perhaps John Zizioulas’ Being as Communion can be understood as the more recent companion volume in this sense?), there is no question that the book also exemplifies a firm grasp of the latter.

In the next series of posts on this website, I’ll take a closer look at Catholicism through the interpretive lens of these two realities of Christian life, communal and personal. Although some major figures of our theological landscape seem to have emphasized the former over the latter, there is good reason to believe that they must be held in tension. Among other things, this is the profound relevance of de Lubac for us today.

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