By Dr. Jeff Mirus Jun 15, 2015 (from his posting of De Lubac's "Henri de Lubac's fascinating notes on Vatican II)
"De Lubac (1896 - 1991) is a pivotal figure in Catholic theology in the mid-20th century, a man unwillingly locked in a battle on two fronts. On the one side were the largely misguided systematic Thomists who dominated the Roman Curia, expending great energy to secure condemnations of every insight that did not fit conveniently into their own excessively abstract system—almost a philosophy rather than a theology, and increasingly divorced from the sources of theology in Scripture and the Fathers. On the other roamed the Modernists, rapidly rising to leadership in the Jesuit Order and elsewhere, who for many good reasons distrusted the narrow establishment in Rome, but who spiraled into an unbridled secularism which has seriously undermined the Faith.
"I have already traced in the introduction the broad outline of the theological controversy which afflicted the Church for a generation or two before the Second Vatican Council. This was an age of religious formalism, very frequently affecting not only theological thought, but a common attitude toward the life of faith, personal piety, and liturgy. As an historian, I would suggest that three powerful influences contributed to the problem.
A purely theological influence would be the tendency of the followers of St. Thomas Aquinas to devote themselves to extending his theological system through logical reasoning on previously established points, rather than taking the kind of fresh look at the Christian sources which always characterized the method of St. Thomas himself. This insistence that everything be derived from and fit into a particular system was rendered even more problematic by the fact that much of the system building was based on the initial commentaries by major early figures like Cardinal Cajetan, who—on a number of key points—simply misunderstood Thomas’ thought.
A more immediate historical influence might be attributed to the two world wars of the twentieth century. Throughout the West, people came to have a profound respect for military precision and obedience, and all the habits of thought associated with soldiering. Those who can remember the 1950s will remember a society still interested in precise dress, short military hair cuts, and punctilious manners when it came to rank, not to mention the need to concern oneself primarily with one’s own duties, while accepting unquestionably the larger decisions of authority. This lent the entire culture a quality of systemic formalism.
A far broader influence was the long, slow secularization of Western civilization, so that by the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, much had been drained away from the heart of the Christian life. Increasingly, this life consisted of a series of virtuous habits shored up not so much by interior conviction as by social expectations devoid of active spiritual judgment. Every period has its own problems; remember that I am talking here about pervasive cultural trends. A common approach to the spiritual life in those days has been famously captured in a stock question which really was often asked: “Just tell me what I need to do to get to purgatory.” The first half of the twentieth century has been justly described as a period in which Catholicism tended to be lived “prescriptively”, with little immersion in the mystery of God’s life within.
False Understanding of "Natural - Supernatural"
"Interestingly, some of the world’s best theologians from the 1930s through the 1950s began to see quite clearly that this prescriptivism was partly a response to the false view of the natural and the supernatural which characterized the reigning Thomist school. This school, which had enormous power in Rome, had concluded that there was a state of pure nature in which man was created and placed. Adherence to this concept was considered essential (which it was not) to protecting the idea that salvific grace is always gratuitous—that man cannot claim it as something he is owed.
"It was actually de Lubac himself who struck the death blow to this naturalist error, and he did it partly through bypassing the schoolmen and going back to St. Thomas himself. De Lubac insisted (rightly) that the natural order must be understood not as a separate order but as a part of the overall order created by God, that is, as a component or aspect of a single supernatural order. Thus human nature is not in its essence cut off from grace; it is not isolated in a fundamentally different order of being. Rather, human nature has been created and formed such that each person who possesses it tends toward God, depends upon and is designed for receptivity to grace, and finds fulfillment in Divine union.
"De Lubac advanced his thesis in one of the more famous theological treatises in any age of the Church, simply entitled Supernatural, or as it is always referred to in the original French, Surnaturel. One of the results of the reigning error, which ties in closely with the rest of the background I have presented, was that this strict division between the natural and supernatural orders had led to a vast theoretical framework defining a whole separate set of ends natural to man, while categorically refusing any possible intrinsic orientation to God. (I can actually recall this excessive insistence upon separate natural ends in my youth in the 1950s and early 1960s.)[ Blogger: so can I].
Far from attempting to weaken the concept of the supernatural, De Lubac saw this unwarranted separation as a clear theological cause of secularization—the same secularization which was already reducing religion to a kind of formalism, devoid of interior life, rather like a suit of clothes draped over our real natures. Once this happens, of course, Christianity is easily swept away altogether.
Ever since the 1960s we have been hearing how the Council caused this or that tragedy of secularization, but this is a gross distortion of causation. In fact, good bishops were already mentioning from the start of the Council that their priests had fallen out of the habit of prayer, and that Catholicism was increasingly being lived mechanically, with little or no inner substance. Already the better bishops were hoping that the Council would find a solution—a renewal. We now know that many bishops were themselves spiritually ennervated, which makes very striking the difference between what they decided at the Council and how they allowed those decisions to be derailed after they returned home. (This may be taken as a practical proof of the work of the Holy Spirit in an ecumenical council.) Still, a good and by no means isolated example of the better type of bishop can be identified in the auxiliary bishop from Krakow, Karol Wojtyla (who became Pope John Paul II).
In any case, the critical shift in theological perception argued by de Lubac (and others) was ultimately embraced by the Council. But for that to happen, the Council fathers had to reject the many preparatory documents created by the Curia, dominated as it was by commentary-based Thomists of the strict secondary observance—narrow system men. Thus the Council fathers found it necessary to redraft just about everything, and those theologians who had long advocated what is called resourcement—the return to the sources in Scripture and the Fathers for fresh insights and a more secure foundation—finally came into their own.
De Lubac was one of these. Throughout the 1950s, he had been subject (and obedient) to a censor and other limitations on his teaching and writing because of the distrust of the dominant Roman Thomists. It was not until Pius XII died and John XXIII became Pope that de Lubac was called back into the light. He was invited to serve on the committee doing preparatory work for the Council, right along with men who had condemned him, who had circulated vicious rumors about his lack of faith, and who had brought about his not atypical but decidedly unjust censure.
De Lubac himself rarely permitted himself to express bitterness. But the bitter fruit of these years was ripening in many others who would end by vomiting up the faith along with the sour system of petty curial control. To take just one example, consider the rebellion against Humanae Vitae in 1968 at Catholic University in Washington, DC. This became the dominant trend of the immediate post-conciliar period as chanceries, universities and religious orders fell into the hands of previously-secret Modernists, basking in the secularist glow of post-1960 culture, who had rooted themselves not in the faith but in worldly ideals. It meant that de Lubac would soon have as many powerful enemies on the “left” as he had once had on the “right”.
By the time Henri de Lubac, SJ was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 1983, the great theologian had charted a truly ecclesial course between the Scylla and Charybdis of the modern world. But we need go no further here, since almost everything of continuing interest reported in his Council notebooks can now be understood. These notes begin with his unexpected summons to Rome" (where he was to be a peritus in the Second Vatican Council).