Henri de Lubac’s Catholicism (pt. 2)

In the first part of Catholicism, Henri de Lubac explores the profound solidarity of humanity as a whole in the person of Jesus Christ. In what follows, I will now attempt to sketch a brief summary of the second part of the book, which deals with the substance of Christian witness and its implications for the “common destiny” of humanity.

The first major theme is a unique contribution of Christianity: namely, our developed notions of time and history. In Plato’s pagan Greece, the flow of time simply means the “moving image of a motionless eternity” (141). The empty shadows dance on the cave walls showing glimpses of pristine reality, but there is no sense of headway or progress here. Platonism cannot imagine an eschatological struggle; rather, it is more correct to say that something like an “escape” is the only means by which salvation is possible. For this reason, de Lubac argues that “the achievements of Greek thought, though it reached a very high level, cannot be compared with the heights of Indian thought” (139). Whereas Greek paganism remains mired in the meaninglessness of the eternal return, Hinduism and Buddhism provide the salvific space of nirvana as an ultimate solution.

The uniqueness of Christian history receives its substance from its Hebraic heritage. For Christians, God is active in history, but he himself is not history. Even the various tragedies of schism in church history do not waiver on this point:

[T]hat Christian tradition is unanimous, whatever the doctrinal differences–numerous and sometimes deep as they are–about the end of time or its beginnings, or even about the necessity for a temporal development of the human world at all…[Origen] says: Indeed we think that the goodness of God through Christ has recalled his universal creation unto one end. (143)

For Christians, history matters precisely because history is the vehicle of salvation. Indeed, it is no accident that Christ became a particular human being who “dwelt among us.” God became man to “reconcile the world to himself,” creatively restoring humanity as one so that they might  inhabit the New Jerusalem.

This vision of history bears some important implications for the interpretation of Scripture. The Bible as a whole–Old and New Testaments alike–derives its meaning from Christ. Like “a masterpiece that is preceded by a series of rough sketches,” the story of the Israelites and their Patriarchs is a “shadow” of what is to come in Christ (173). An important consequence of this is the oft-misunderstood nature of allegory in the Scriptures. Far from being a recent innovation of modern liberalism’s attempt to “save face” in light of scientific and critical advancements, allegory is rooted deeply in this Patristic model of christological hermeneutics. As David Bentley Hart has remarked recently in an interview about his book Atheist Delusions, allegory does not mean that there “secret messages hidden throughout the text.” Instead, it means that the Christian must develop a certain spiritual maturity in participation with Christ and his Church in order to make any sense of the Scriptures. If Christ is the exact representation of God’s essence, then the Scriptures are true insofar as they are made sense of in light of his revelation.

Following this discussion of biblical interpretation is de Lubac’s engagement with the Church’s role in salvation. In doing so, he acknowledges the apparent tension between “salvation [only] through the Church” and the “common destiny of humanity in Christ.” On one hand, it appears that salvation must be limited to those who participate in the mission of the Church visible. She is, after all, the ongoing presence of Christ in the world. On the other hand, though, it would seem that humanity as a whole participates in salvation to the extent that it is united by the creative power of Christ.

The Creator and Redeemer, the Church adds, are one and the same God; therefore there can be no conflict between their works, and it is to stray from the true path to believe the second can be magnified at the expense of the first. The Word that became incarnate to renew and complete all things is also he who “enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world.” (284;  Origen In Joannem).

On this perhaps controversial rendering, de Lubac again emphasizes the common destiny of humanity in the perfect saving work of Christ. He is careful to avoid the heresies of syncretism for inclusivity’s sake alone and liberal tolerance for the sake of the modern nation-state.  Yet, in a manner of vulnerable honesty, de Lubac finishes his thoughts on the subject: “We must give souls to God, not conquer them for ourselves. If this is to be thought liberalism, it is, in any case, none other than the liberalism of charity. Da mihi amantem et scit quid dicam (Give me someone who loves and he will understand what I say).”

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