Renewing Nouvelle Théologie

There was a depression over the Atlantic. It was travelling eastwards, towards an area of high pressure over Russia, and still showed no tendency to move northward around it. The isotherms and isotheres were fulfilling their functions. The atmospheric temperature was in proper relation to the average annual temperature, the temperature of the coldest as well as of the hottest month, and the a-periodic monthly variation in temperature. The rising and setting of the sun and of the moon, the phases of the moon, Venus and Saturn’s rings, and many other important phenomena, were in accordance with the forecasts in the astronomical yearbooks. The vapour in the air was at its highest tension, and the moisture in the air was at its lowest. In short, to use an expression that describes the facts pretty satisfactorily, even though it is somewhat old-fashioned: it was a fine August day in the year 1913.  —Robert Musil

Robert Musil, the early 20th century Austrian novelist, begins his multi-volume classic The Man Without Qualities (1930-1943) with a meteorological report about a cold front coming in from the West. The famous opening passage mimes and ironizes weather reporting, while also elevating it by insinuating that the meteorological condition does more than simply provide the background scenery of and for human dispositions and actions, but constitutes a happening in a strict sense. This blast of cold from the West is an event that augurs and confirms an entirely new manifold of human thought, disposition, and action. In it is disclosed a reductive rationalist pattern that excises our relations to the past, each other, as well as our basic humanity. And we would say “God,” if Musil thought that God at this stage were even worthy of being a hypothesis. As the novel proceeds we discover that the cold is also the sign of the disintegration of the relation between reason and will, which in turn essentially undoes both: the fragmentation reduces reason to mere use and will to the basest desire. Although by the nature of the case cold fronts and warm fronts are passing; this particular cold front is not. It turns out to be the sign of the interminable winter in which our dreams turn lurid in order to compensate for the cold. Here Musil seems to offer on the social scale what that other Viennese intellectual, Freud, offered on the individual. Although Musil always remains descriptive and apparently uncommitted, it is evident that this cold front is a catastrophe in the strict etymological sense—a kata-strophe—a radical “turn about” or “revolution” in which our lives not only no longer have the shape they have, but are without definite shape: we speculate on versions of ourselves on the screen of possibility. We can be everything, because with the cold, that is, with the modern, we are no longer anything.

To have read Musil is to be convinced that together with Wittgenstein and Freud, this Viennese author, writing in the age of the ascent and denouement of the Third Reich, has much to teach us about our modern estate and especially about our perilous Cartesianism. Still, to take the metereological metaphor in a direction not anticipated by Musil, one can wonder whether he has grasped the full measure of our modern predicament. Perhaps the cold front is violently displaced by a warm front, or somehow the real and extended disturbance is constituted by their meeting. Translated, he might have thought of modernity not simply as constituted by a single band of rationalist assumption that freezes out premodern bands of thought, practice, and form of life, but rather of modernity as a double band of assumption, one, a complex weave of scientific and ethical form of thought laying waste to the non-rational and the local, the other, a correction that attempts after the fact to relink reason and feeling, thought and desire, and compensate for the perceived lack of solidity in practices and forms of life that no longer feel to be embedded in the ways things are.

Charles Taylor as Prompt


If there is any modern philosopher who could be adduced as ascribing to a two-band view of the constitution and nature of modernity it is Charles Taylor. Famously, in his classic narrative A Secular Age modernity is described by the “immanent frame.” The frame serves as a default which shapes our involuntary responses to our social reality, and encourages certain ways of thinking of the world, while excluding others. We can, for example, think of the world as purely material and subject to the laws of physics and ourselves as purely material with knowing being an epiphenomenon. We can think of there being a space for our ethical behavior relatively independent of natural laws or as their highest expression. We can think of our social world as made up of greedy egos each seeking his own or as consisting of purely rational entities looking for the proper equation whereby to construct a thoroughly rational society. To think in any of these ways would be to think after the pattern of the Enlightenment. Equally, however, within the immanent frame we can think of the world as a kind of whole not only greater than the sum of its parts, but also of human beings as having the capacity to recognize and embrace forms of transcendence in immanence and reproduce such transcendence in new practices and forms of life. In any event, in the second of the two bands that constitute the immanent frame, while religion is not entirely dismissed, avowals couched in the standard vocabulary of the transcendent God who made the world as inexplicable gift, and equally inexplicably repaired it, are put out of circulation and replaced by substitutes that do not involve referring to a transcendent dimension distinct from our world. Of course, Christian believers will still be with us, but essentially they are “survivors” and “remnants” of a historical world that had its day. The premodern likely will remain with us, but in the mode of anachronism. This is Taylor the historicist. As is well known, Taylor is not hostile to traditional forms of Christianity, and, arguably, has affection for them and the kind of selves they produced. Simply as a matter of logic, the claims of Christianity might be true—although Taylor does not think that they could be proved—but it might not make much difference. In its premodern form Christianity is no longer viable.

Taylor, whom I am using as a launching pad here, is a Catholic. Still, I do not believe it does him an injustice to say that there is not a great deal in his work to connect him to the Catholic theological tradition in a substantive way, even though he affirms the Catholic emphases on community and sacramentality. His stance is as realist as his tone is one of resignation. Things are as they now are, because this is the way they shook out. It is true that this shaking out is contingent, but a shift in percept, concept, and action seems to have constructed a new order of things, nothing less than a new world. Since the ubiquity of modernity pushes it beyond our control, the sole rational response is to accept it. Avoiding behaving as a modern-day Jeremiah and Cassandra is, for Taylor, the responsibility of the civilized. But it is not only civility and a kind of Stoicism that prevents Taylor going on the attack against modernity, it is also the conviction of the goods modernity has delivered: the value of inquiry and discovery as well as the actual discoveries that have expanded our imaginations and made life less slavish, the genesis of human rights, our greater awareness of our common responsibilities to each other, and perhaps also an emergent sense of our embeddedness in a nature that envelops us and for which we are responsible. Regrets there are a few—perhaps more than a few: the lack of connection between selves which once upon a time porously interconnected, and the loss of practices—or at least their meaning—which joined us to each other and to the cosmos. Taylor is the consummate example of the philosopher as the great accountant making entries into the credit and debit column. It is not clear that he comes to a conclusion himself and that he does not leave it to others to bring in the verdicts of “worth it” or “not worth it.” But he does encourage all of us to get clear what has come and what has gone and how we are weighing losses and gains in a situation that amounts to nothing less than a “revolution,” that is, a rotation of the axis of the world that constructs a “new world.”

Nouvelle Théologie: Naming and Resisting Modernity


With the all-too-brief rehearsal of Taylor’s two-band view of modernity, the purpose of this reflection becomes clear. This is to draw attention to the way in which nouvelle théologie both anticipates Taylor’s double-band view of modernity, and takes a stand against it, especially against its second band of Idealism, Romanticism, and Vitalism which effectively immunizes modernity against a debilitating sense of a loss of transcendence by producing a version consistent with the immanent frame. The two examples of nouvelle théologie I wish to renew for our time, by reading them again, are Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Both Catholic theologians anticipate Taylor’s two-band construction of the social imaginary of modernity. They both think of the Enlightenment as leaving behind premodern ways of thinking and feeling which open out onto the sacred and also those practices and forms of life that constituted a reliable communal universe. Yet, they are just as (if not more) interested in the subsequently emerging forms of thought that are critical of the unintended consequences of the new paradigm and want to correct it without however regressing to premodern Christian habits of thought and action. If the first ideological band of modernity can be characterized as displacement and forgetting, we could speak of the second ideological band as characterized by misremembering. For de Lubac and Balthasar, both bands should be named in an adequate genealogy of modernity. From a Catholic, both should equally be objects of critique.

Against Forgetting: The Need for Productive Memory


Now, with the first band of the two-band ideological complex, that is, the Enlightenment, neither de Lubac nor Balthasar writes a classic text. We do find liberally scattered throughout their works, however, stabs in their own name or under proxies against the anthropological turn of modernity, the invidious rule of method, concept, and evidence when it comes to Christianity, and the whole-scale reduction of Christianity to ethics. It would not be unfair to say that with respect to the Enlightenment band in modernity nouvelle théologie more nearly operates in the mode of response than in the mode of diagnosis. It takes for granted the general outline of the displacement of religion from the center of thought, imagination, practice and form of life, and assumes that despite the manifest and manifold benefits modernity has provided, that it is essentially hostile to Christianity. The issue becomes: how best for Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular to respond to the Enlightenment which continues to argue its case even as it has made its way into the order of assumption. As they begin their writing careers, a certain vocabulary of Catholic response has already been established. The primary option is reactive (if not reactionary) and is exemplified by a studied withdrawal from negotiation with the modern world which, while spotty, was a feature of the middle of the nineteenth century, especially in the Tübingen School and in figures such as Newman and Blondel. Humani Generis (1879), the installation of Scholasticism as the philosophy of the Catholic Church, and the anti-Modernist oath (1910) are indicative of the Catholic sense that to negotiate with modern species of thought and modern practices is necessarily to become infected. Vatican 1 (1870) with its claim for papal infallibility and its censuring of the inquiring intellect provided a significant measure of justification for the Catholic instinct to remove itself to an infection-free zone constructed as a premodern enclave in the wilderness of a world gone mad, or at least irremediably out of joint. A second option is exhibited by thinkers such as Loisy and Tyrrell in what came to be called “modernism.” Fashioned as pejorative by those who had no sympathy for the novelty, this umbrella term covered new-fangled ways to interpret the biblical text (historical-critical method), the value of religious experience (von Hügel), and conceptions of the Church as more nearly democratic than hierarchical. Such ideas were both effect and cause of the insistence on Neoscholastic method in philosophy, the tradition as an indefeasible theological guide, and the magisterium as possessing indefectible authority. The theological ventures of de Lubac and Balthasar say no to both, but spend more effort dealing with the constricted form of Catholic thought legislated by the winning side.

Neither de Lubac nor Balthasar deny that modernism is seriously flawed when it comes to its imperatives regarding biblical interpretation, its very weak sense of both revelation and tradition, and its secular view of the nature of the Church. Whole-scale adoption of historical-critical method avoids asking such fundamental questions about the method such as its provenance, which does not seem to allow that scripture might have to be assigned its own methods of interpretation given its fundamental incommensurability, and its compatibility or incompatibility with traditional forms of Catholic exegesis. Nor has the notion of experience and the nature of the Church been thought through. Is experience a source for theology in the way that scripture and tradition are, or is it more nearly a resource? Is there a form of experience that correlates with the Christian tradition or is experience always and already Christianly formatted? Is the Church best understood on the model of ideal community? Is there no place for hierarchical authority? And is there no place for understanding of the Church as mysterious because grounded in Christ and animated by the Holy Spirit?

But as indicated previously, modernism was not the Catholic status quo for the first half of the twentieth century. Both of our Catholic thinkers felt called on to release themselves from the perceived Babylonian captivity of Neoscholasticism. For de Lubac and Balthasar Neoscholasticism is an expression of despair regarding the possibility of the Church’s ability to evangelize in the modern world, even as it paradoxically operates largely in the same narrow mode of demonstration that characterizes the modern mentality. The claims made on behalf of reason both inside and outside the Church need to be deflated. De Lubac and Balthasar agree with Vatican 1’s insistence as a minimum for Christian negotiation with the ideology of modernity (a) that it be allowed that some realities exceed reason (Christian mysteries) and (b) that reason will on important matters necessarily have to rely on the Christian tradition rather than depend on the flawed and fallible testimony of individual human reason. While de Lubac and Balthasar tend to agree with the overall diagnosis of secular reason, they also think that Catholic response is hardly sufficient. It hardly rises to the kind of bold presentation of Christian witness required to meet the monumental level of the challenge. Nor does either think that the monolithic view of tradition sponsored by Catholicism in the wake of the modernist crisis is correct, nor that the forensic take on magisterial authority is adequate to the complex view of authority offered by the tradition which is far richer, broader, and more multivalent.

With respect to the first band of ideological modernity, nouvelle théologie represented by de Lubac and Balthasar represents a third way. It eschews modernism because of what it regards as uncritical borrowing and yielding to modernity’s forgetting of tradition. It eschews Neoscholasticism because on the one hand, Neoscholasticism repeats some of the more egregious rationalist elements of ideological modernity, and, on the other, its self-imposed isolationism and its dogmatic insistence on Church authority (when that has become unintelligible) cede the public space and thus grant victory to the imperialism of reason. De Lubac and Balthasar agree with Neoscholasticism that modernity is characterized by a form of forgetting of the Christian tradition and a turn to the human subject and her projects that alters the world of thought and action entirely. Should the reign of this view be universal, then it is difficult to see what role God, Christ, sacrament, prayer, and Church could possibly play in the present and in the future. That neither is hopeless about the prospects of Christianity indicate that not only are they not resigned to a historical fate of the death of Christianity, but also that the first ideological band does not have exclusive sway mainly because it does not satisfy or requite all human yearning for meaning, value, and truth.

Nonetheless, the way to contend with this form of ideological modernity cannot simply be to continue to demonize it or even to perseverate in calling it a form of forgetting. While to say that an individual or society is characterized by forgetting is hardly a compliment, it does not touch on the issue of the value of the Christian memory, especially in the situation where it has been lost. Forensically, one might want to point to the Church as the preserver of tradition and thus as memory. But again this provides little traction in a situation where there is also memory of the authoritarianism and general malfeasance of the Church. Even in those pockets of secular culture where there are offsets between memory of ecclesial peccadilloes and wisps of nostalgia, the Church as more than a historical artifact and anything more than another institution among institutions, has become unintelligible. Both de Lubac and Balthasar know that the relation of the Church to ideological modernity has to proceed persuasively rather than forensically. Not that modernity is wrong, but rather why modernity is wrong is the real issue. Ideological modernity is shown to be insufficient by Christian thinkers who show what memory looks like. Rather than pointing to the Church as the bastion or keeper of memory, it is the task of both of these thinkers and voluminous writers to disclose what has been covered over and reveal all of the complex, rich and potentially healing dimensions of the tradition. What de Lubac and Balthasar attempt to do, therefore, is to retrieve a Catholic past that is plural and also coherent, and also a past animated by a reality that exceeds reason by providing the kind of conditions for individual and communal selves commensurate to their yearning. For de Lubac and Balthasar this aim of renewal provides the raison d’être for their historical studies on particular figures, as well as their outlining of more general habits of premodern Christian thought which represent alternatives to ideological modernity’s contraction of the nature of thought and the scope of human inquiry, the horizon of human feeling, action, and forms of life.

For example, de Lubac’s great studies on Origen and Augustine on nature and grace, and his even greater contribution in the monumental, multi-volume The Four Senses of Scripture, are intended to persuade the Christian—and perhaps also at least a few cultured despisers—of the value of remembering in a time marked by forgetting. Origen, Augustine, and past readers of scripture bespeak a past that still matters and has the power to shape our religious imaginations after modernity, but also after the Catholic reaction which made matters worse insofar as it still prioritized logic, simply adding to it the authority of the Church and especially the magisterium as a supplement, when reason on schedule ran aground. One can make a similar point about Balthasar, who is mentored by de Lubac. The point of Balthasar’s studies in the early 1940s on Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus the Confessor is not to illustrate his extraordinary competence in the history of Christian thought, but rather to uncover a plurality of forms of Christian mindfulness at once worthy of retrieval in the modern age, and whose interpretive and intellectual sophistication justify a contemporary hearing. Our task is not to reproduce them; it is to repeat them non-identically, for they in effect show us the same to “go on.” The same can be said of Balthasar’s later studies of Augustine, Anselm, Bonaventure, which make their way into Glory of the Lord. With regard to modern, more or less rationalist forms of the interpretation of scripture, Balthasar’s attitude is pretty much identical to that of de Lubac. His approach, however, distinguishes itself in being two-pronged: it is indirect like de Lubac’s in that it reminds us that there are more holistic and more self-transformative ways of reading scripture than historical-critical method; it is more direct or more directly critical of the regime of historical-critical method. In volumes 6 and 7 of Glory of the Lord and in volumes 4 and 5 of Theo-Drama Balthasar proceeds to show that if historical-critical method is the exclusive method deployed in the interpretation of scripture, then the break with the premodern is confirmed: we lose all sense of the uniqueness of scripture as the Word of God and thus being different in kind from all other classic texts.

One might also say that Balthasar extends and develops the retrieval of Christianity by insisting on the continued value of the disposition and practice of prayer, and also the openness to the sacramental nature of reality in general and liturgy in particular, which supports and is supported by the sacramental imagination. This brings me to my final point with regard to the typical ways in which nouvelle théologie deploys a logic of persuasion regarding memory in the modern age. Although we can see clearly a view of tradition as productive and not simply re-productive memory in operation in de Lubac and Balthasar, neither provides us with the kind of worked out view of tradition that one can find in the nineteenth century in Catholic thinkers such as Möhler, Drey, and Newman, and in the twentieth century by a thinker such as Congar. There has been a shift in basic needs, and both feel that with regards to the merits of memory, it is better to proceed inductively rather than deductively. Both are inviting other theologians, just as they felt invited by Danielou, Chenu and others, to continue remembering: remembering is a communal (thus ecclesial) task, and it is only the bodying forth of memory in all its richness and thickness that will prove a match for ideological modernity pridefully immured in forgetting.

Still, this does not mean that the work of either theologian is devoid of general reflections on the idea and value of tradition. In the case of de Lubac, perhaps the book that most explicitly reflects the value tradition is Catholicism. Tradition is both plural and unitary, or better a plural unity responsive to the revelation of God in history and ultimately the revelation of God in Christ. Both synchronically and diachronically, the excess of revelation (mystery in the strict sense) is what makes necessary a plurality of interpretations on the one integral and mysterious phenomenon. In addition, in the wake of Vatican II, de Lubac wrote a number of essays that insisted on the value of tradition, albeit as ongoing, rather than theological novelty. For de Lubac, in its vast span of forms of thought and practice, the Catholic tradition is the supreme giver of gifts that constructs a world deep, rich, and open to the free and transcendent God who even in relation to the world and human beings remains totally other. In contrast, the secular present is in an arrested state and thus without a transformative future. Balthasar also has a couple of smaller texts which address the more general issue of tradition. Perhaps the best example is Truth is Symphonic which, after the manner of his mentor de Lubac, makes the case for the plurality and coherence of the tradition. Again the fundamental basis of tradition is Christological, although Balthasar shows himself slightly more capable than de Lubac of giving the tradition Trinitarian form and avoiding the sidelining of the Holy Spirit in the theological account of the ongoing process of theological formation and doctrinal formulation, and perduring vitality of Christian practices, and religious and lay forms of life.

Against Misremembering: The Second Challenge


The specific genius of nouvelle théologie’s problematization and response to ideological modernity, however, is not given exclusively or even primarily under its aspect of forgetting. Formally, this would make nouvelle théologie much more like Vatican 1 and counter-modernism than in fact it is, even if materially it by no means reproduced the tone, substance or method of what de Lubac called théologie separé. In the slightly different shapes given to it by de Lubac and Balthasar, nouvelle théologie, however, also deals with a second band of discourses and their correlative practices and forms of life that themselves constitute extra-ecclesial critical responses to modernity characterized by the hypertrophy of reason. Both de Lubac and Balthasar grasp well that in their rejection of the imperialistic claims of reason, Christianity makes common cause with multiple forms of modern thought, synthetic rather than analytic in nature, which present an imaginatively appealing picture of the human and natural worlds and their relations while also taking account of the inalienable human drive towards transcendence. The issue for both theologians is whether common cause means common ground, and whether the discourses and implied practices of Romanticism, Idealism, and Vitalism more nearly facilitate a recovery of premodern forms of Christianity or make it even more unlikely by, on the one hand, taking over the integrative function that Christianity once held in Western culture and, on the other, by actually mimicking the language of Christianity in talking about divinity but supplying a meaning consonant with immanence.

De Lubac and Balthasar are almost unnervingly fair-minded. They are both convinced that the above discourses are more intellectually and aesthetically satisfying than the discourses of the Enlightenment and possess some capacity to alleviate the rampant individualism of modernity as well as the split that hyper-reason introduces into the modern subject. They are both prepared to accord these discourses, as well as the attendant practices and forms of life, considerably greater value than the discourses, practices, and forms of life, of the Enlightenment. They do, however, present significant challenges to a Christianity already traumatized by the imperialism of reason and the anthropological turn. De Lubac and Balthasar worry about Romantic and Idealist discourses coming to function as Christian counterfeits or Ersatzen in the modern world and about Christians and would-be believers giving in to the temptation to accept a counterfeit for the real thing. The problem now is not so much the displacement of Christianity by means of the pledge made to instrumental reason, but the replacement of Christianity in discourses that sacralize humanity, the cosmos or both. Put another way, the new problem is not so much forgetting—although forgetting does not go away and is systemic—as misremembering. That is, the problem is giving sanction to interesting modes of recovery of free-floating religious elements and assigning to them a Christian label or at the very least entertaining the idea that they are compatible with the Christian story of creation and redemption, which involves interaction between God and the world and God and humanity. The problem is the frame of reference which, it turns out, is the problem of what Taylor has called the “immanent frame” in its reductively post-naturalist as well as naturalist form.

As already indicated, while de Lubac takes modern forgetting seriously, by and large his response is indirect rather than direct: refutation takes place not so much by denunciation than the heroic performance of memory in historical and topical works. In contrast, he engages in explicit critique of the second band of discourses that criticize and correct the Enlightenment. Although many of these discourses, for example, those of Feuerbach and Marx, Proudhon and Comte, and Nietzsche are expressly atheistic, not only do they have a religious flavor, it is easy to believe, given the fundamental rightness of some of their criticisms of Christianity, that well-informed Christians would assume it to be credible to take one or other or all of them on board their corrected or reconstructed form of Christianity. De Lubac tackles this problem relatively early in his long and distinguished writing career. The Drama of Atheist Humanism (1944) represents his first major statement. De Lubac does not rail against these discourses that exalt the capacities of human beings. In fact he lavishes attention on their existential value which exposes the thoughtlessness, existential impertinence, and the inability of Christianity in the first half of the twentieth century to build up community. In short, in his view such discourses are responding to intellectual, imaginative, moral, and political needs, while Christianity is not. They constitute a challenge then to a stagnant and remote form of Christianity that has lost the ability to evangelize. This is a reason for their success, though not necessarily the whole reason. The main reason, however, is that unlike Enlightenment discourses these discourses sufficiently resemble Christianity as to make it a matter of taste, like having sugar or sweet-and-low. The function of Dostoyevsky in de Lubac’s great text is to provide, on the one hand, a measure of what Christianity might look like if it made the requisite adjustment towards the world while remaining true to itself and, on the other, the image of temptation, that is, the tendency to accept a counterfeit of Christianity for genuine Christian truth.

Throughout the second part of his career, de Lubac narrows his range of critical vision when it comes to this second band of discourses, which in their relation to Christianity are best cast as discourses of misremembering than forgetting. His concern becomes almost exclusively focused on the Feuerbach-Marx trajectory in modern thought and action, but now with more attention paid to Marx’s roots in German Idealism as well the ways in which Hegelian-Marxist ideas have made it into mainstream theological thought. De Lubac proceeds to deepen his genealogy of modern theological thought further by recurring in his extraordinary two-volume text, La postérité spirituelle de Joachim de Flore (1979-1981) to the medieval apocalyptic thinker as the ultimate origin of Hegelian and Marxist eschatology. If the effects of Hegelian-Marxist and ultimately Joachim can be more readily seen in Protestant theology, nonetheless, de Lubac makes the tantalizing suggestion that the influence of Joachim gets illustrated in post-Conciliar Catholic thought in the uncoupling of Spirit and Christ, which in turn leads to an unhinging of Spirit from the institutional Church. The primary function of the Spirit is neither to support the institutional Church nor to distribute its gifts which give plurality and dynamism. The primary and only focus of Spirit is critique: it has one function and one function alone, that is, to critique the institutional Church.

At a level that, arguably, exceeds de Lubac in terms of scope and diagnostic depth, Balthasar engages the second band of discourses throughout his entire career. As early as his three-volume Apokalypse der deutschen Seele (1937-1939) Balthasar critically engages a dazzling array of cultural discourses in philosophy and literature. Kant, German Idealism, Nietzsche and his epigones, phenomenology, and Russian religious thought all come in appreciative, if critical, commentary. Discussed also are a host of literary figures including Goethe, Hölderlin, Rilke, and Dostoyevsky. To the extent to which these very disparate discourses exhibit a common problem it is that they represent various forms of eschatological imagination that threaten to bypass Christ and the cross. When Balthasar makes his “theological turn” soon after, this opens up the flood of monographs on Patristic thinkers. Here, very much in the spirit of de Lubac, Balthasar is less interested in announcing that modernity is characterized by amnesia than in performing an act of remembering of the Christian tradition whose scope and penetration even de Lubac finds difficult to match. At the same time, like de Lubac, although now in a more theological voice, Balthasar is critical of the second band of discourses. There are some interesting continuities and discontinuities. The Balthasar of the great triptych, Glory of the Lord, Theo-Drama, and Theo-Logic is similar to de Lubac in being suspicious of Hegel and Marx’s influence in modern philosophy, and similar also to de Lubac in conjecturing the range of influence of Joachim who it turns out was not successfully overcome by Aquinas and Bonaventure. Still, Balthasar shows less interest in Marx, effectively uncoupling Hegel and Marx in order to unveil Hegel’s massaging of the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the incarnation and cross, last-things, and conception of human being. There are also a pair of interesting but related discontinuities regarding the figures of Nietzsche and Heidegger. In Apokalypse Nietzsche is a hugely important figure who must be engaged because of his proximity to Christianity. It would seem that long before Balthasar started work on the triptych in the early 1960’s, Nietzsche has been eclipsed by Heidegger, who essentially takes his place. Indeed, one could argue that with Hegel, Heidegger is the other great thinker within the second band of modern discourse who Balthasar is convinced must be engaged, but engaged critically. Both Heidegger and Hegel are post-Enlightenment thinkers, thus not forgetters. But they may well be misrememberers. Indeed, they may well be consummate misrememberers. And if there is a simple lesson to be drawn from the sprawling work of both de Lubac and Balthasar it may well be that misrememberers are far more dangerous to Christianity because in some lights they look just like it.

Featured Image: J.M.W. Turner, Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino, 1839; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100. 


Cyril O'Regan

Cyril O'Regan is the Catherine F. Huisking Chair in Theology at the University of Notre Dame. His latest book is the first installment of a multi-volume treatment of Hans Urs von Balthasar's response to philosophical modernity. The Anatomy of Misremembering, Volume 1: Hegel.

Read more by Cyril O'Regan