"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Google+ Badge

Friday, 20 April 2018


by Father David Bird O.S.B.
monk of Belmont Abbey (U.K.) 

I first visited Taize sometime after my ordination, early in 1962.  I was  twenty five and had just started to study at Fribourg in Switzerland, but I was already very keen on Christian unity and eager to know what was happening at Taize.  I did not realise how privileged I was in being a guest in those early years.  While Taize was famous, it did not draw young people in great numbers, and the community welcomed me with open arms.

Taize was a farming village whose population had emigrated to the big towns.  I think there were about sixty monks, but they were divided into households with around ten monks in each.  Each household cooked for itself.  I was placed in the noviciate house and lived with them for the week I was there.

They were all Protestants from different churches.  As yet, no Orthodox or Catholics had joined them.  Nor were there many Anglicans because, as it was explained to me, the Anglican Church had its own monastic communities.  Moreover, their parent churches had no tradition of monasticism, nor was there much of a "high church" tradition in the christian communities from which they came.  Thus, they had to face so much prejudice from their families and churches before they joined Taize, that most novices remained in the community.   However, although their understanding of the Church permitted Brother Roger to ordain ministers to serve the community, he did not want to turn the monastery into just another sect, and he insisted that monks should be ordained in their church of origin.  Because they retained membership of their own church, the Taize community became a "parable of unity" in a divided Christianity.

The community had borrowed the parish church from the Catholic diocese, and they sang their divine office morning, noon and evening, conscious of the fact that it once belonged to the monks of Cluny.  It was a beautifully composed office, and the psalms were sung to the music of Gelineau.   Each morning, I celebrated Mass and was served by a young monk who was a Lutheran pastor.  I think his name was Brother Rudolf and I seem to remember that he was an ordained pastor of the "landeskirche" in Hamburg, but I may be making it up.

One of the intriguing things about Taize for a young monk was how they were re-thinking their obligations as monks.  Just as John Henry Newman had thought and prayed his way into the Catholic Church for himself and thus helped to renew Catholicism, so Taize was thinking and praying its way along the monastic road and, I thought, could very well help to be a source of renewal within monasticism.

One of the areas for which they had come across a novel solution to a problem was monastic poverty.  I was told that when they bought up the Taize village and farmland, they became aware that the local peasants had a kind of folk memory of a time when the life of their ancestors was completely controlled by the monastery of Cluny, only ten kilometres away.  It didn't matter how gifted they were, how able they were as managers, there was always a monk of Cluny who was their boss.   Thus they welcomed the French Revolution as a liberation.  Taize came to realise that where people were serfs on monastery lands before the revolution, those areas have the least numbers of practising Christians even now.  Many local people did not welcome the arrival of the monastic community of Taize.  

The community hit upon an original solution.   Among the monks there was an agricultural expert.  They held a meeting with the local farmers and presented them with a proposition.  Since the revolution, the farmers divided up their farms among their children, and this process continued until none of the farmers had sufficient lands to make farming economically viable.   The monks offered to hand over all their farming land to a cooperative if the surrounding farmers would to the same.  In this way, they could use modern machinery and modern methods.  The whole scheme would be run jointly by the present owner, including the monks.   Thus everybody was helped, and the monks had learnt a new way of helping people in the third world.

As their visitors grew in numbers and as they became more famous, so they became richer.  They knew from history that this could be their downfall, so they decided that poverty means making themselves  fully dependent on God's Providence.  Every six months they would empty their bank balance and give the money to the poor.  However, they did not want simply to dish out money.   I think they began in Chile, but it might have been somewhere else.  They bought up land and formed a peasants' cooperative as they had done in Taize.  The few monks they sent to set this up formed a mini-Taize, a small, temporary monastery which became a centre of hospitality and prayer.  They called this mini-community a "fraternity".   A few years later, when the cooperative became an economic success, the problem arose of how they could leave and allow the local land owners to take over from the vulnerable peasants what they had built up.  They visited the local bishop and handed over to the Church the ownership of the cooperative.  This was the first time they had worked hand-in-glove with the Catholic Church.  Since then, there have been many cooperatives and schemes to empower the poor, and small communities of Taize monks have lived for a time in many parts to the world.

I did not attend a Eucharist in my first visit and cannot remember why.  However, I conversed with some of the monks about the Eucharist and had the privilege of talking with Brother  Max Thurian, subprior of the monastery, an excellent ecumenical theologian from the Protestant Tradition about the Mass as sacrifice and communion.   I cannot remember exactly what he said except for the fact that we were in agreement.

I remember that some of them said that their way back to an agreement with the Catholic Church on the Eucharist was to return to Luther and Calvin as a basis for their quest.  Luther and Calvin had more in common with the Catholic Church's position than they had with the Protestant understanding that has been filtred through the Enlightenment.  Both held that the contact with Jesus in communion is real and objective, mad real and objective through the power of the Holy Spirit.  If we start there, they said, they are already talking about the same reality and are thus nearer a solution.

I did not meet Brother Roger in my first visit.   He was probably already in Rome for the first session of the Council.  I have been to Taize several times since, my last time in the 1970's.  At 81 and being rather doddery, I don't suppose I will be going again; but I have carried it with me, and Taize became a little bit of what I am, having been one of the factors that has explained why I made some life-changing decisions rather than others.  Looking at Pope Francis, I suggest that an "orthodoxy of communion" as explained by Brother Alois lies at the heart of his pontificate and could clarify some of his more controversial teachings.  

by Brother Alois
Prior of Taize

A young woman who was very ill said to me last year, “I love life.” I remain deeply moved by the inner joy that filled her, in spite of the narrow limits imposed by her illness. I was touched not only by her words, but by the beautiful expression on her face.

And what can we say about the joy of children? Recently I saw some children in Africa whose presence, even in refugee camps where so many tragic stories are concentrated, makes life burst forth. Their energy transforms a mass of broken lives into a nursery full of promise. If they knew how much they help us to remain hopeful! Their happiness at being alive is a ray of light.

We would like to be enlightened by such examples as we undertake, throughout the year 2018, a reflection on joy, one of the three realities—with simplicity and mercy—that Brother Roger set at the heart of the life of our community at Taizé.

With one of my brothers I went to Juba and Rumbek, in SOUTH SUDAN, then to Khartoum, the capital of SUDAN, to better understand the situation of those two countries and to pray alongside women and men who are among the most afflicted people of our time.

We visited various churches and saw their work of teaching, of solidarity, of caring for the ill and the excluded. We were received in a camp for displaced persons, where many children stay who were lost by their parents in the course of tragic events.

I was particularly impressed by the women. The mothers, often very young, bear a large part of the suffering caused by violence. Many had to flee their homes in haste. And yet they remain at the service of life. Their courage and their hope are exceptional.

That visit has brought us still closer to the young refugees from Sudan whom we have been welcoming in Taizé over the last two years.

Before this, two other brothers and I were in EGYPT for a five-day young adult gathering at the Anafora Community, founded in 1999 by a Coptic Orthodox bishop. We spent time praying, getting to know one another and discovering the long and rich tradition of the Egyptian Church. One hundred young adults came from Europe, North America, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Algeria and Iraq; they were welcomed by a hundred young Copts from Cairo, Alexandria and Upper Egypt.

Our attention was drawn in particular to the heritage of the martyrs of the Coptic Church as well as to its monastic roots, which are a constant call to simplicity of life. My brothers and I were warmly welcomed by Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

On our return from Africa, we said to ourselves: people pay so little attention to the voice of those undergoing such grievous trials—whether they are far from us or nearby. It is as if their cry gets lost in the void. Hearing it through the media is not enough. How can we respond to it by our lives?

The following proposals, for the year 2018, are inspired in part by this question.

Frère Alois

Four proposals for the year 2018
First proposal: Dig deeper into the wellsprings of joy
This is what the Lord says: I have loved you with an everlasting love, and so I have continued to show you my affection. (Jeremiah 31:3)

The Lord your God is with you. He takes great delight in you; he will renew you with his love; he will sing with joy because of you. (Zephaniah 3:17)

Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again: rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

Why is it that, every Saturday evening, the church at Taizé, illuminated by the small candles that everyone holds in their hand, takes on a festive air? It is because the resurrection of Christ is like a light at the heart of the Christian faith. It is a mysterious source of joy that our minds will never be able to comprehend fully. Drinking from this wellspring, we can “bear joy within us because we know that ultimately the resurrection will have the last word” (Olivier Clement, Orthodox theologian).
A joy which is not an inflated feeling, nor an individualistic happiness which would cut us off from others, but the serene assurance that life has meaning.
The joy of the Gospel comes from the confident trust that we are loved by God. Far from being a state of exaltation leading us to run away from the challenges of our day, it makes us more sensitive to the distress of others.

Let us find our joy first of all in the certainty that we belong to God. A prayer left by a witness to Christ from the fifteenth century can support us in this: “My Lord and my God, take from me all that keeps me far from you. My Lord and my God, give me all that brings me closer to you. My Lord and my God, take me out of myself and give me completely to you” (Saint Nicholas of Flue).
Our joy is nourished when we pray together in song. “Sing to Christ until you are joyful and serene,” Brother Roger proposed. Singing with others creates both a personal relationship with God and a communion among those who are gathered together. The beauty of the prayer space, of the liturgy and of the songs is a sign of resurrection. Praying together can awaken what the Christians of the East call “the joy of heaven on earth.”
We can also discover reflections of God’s love in human joys awakened in us by poetry, music, artistic treasures, the beauty of God’s creation, the depth of a love, of a friendship….
Second proposal: Hear the cry of the most vulnerable
Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. (Psalm 102:2-3)

Jesus, filled with joy through the Holy Spirit, said: I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, this was your heart’s desire. (Luke 10:21)

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for, in so doing, some have welcomed angels without realizing it. Remember those in prison as though you yourself were in prison with them. And remember those who are treated badly, as if you yourself were suffering. (Hebrews 13:2-3)

Why are so many people undergoing so many trials—exclusion, violence, hunger, sickness, natural disasters—and yet their voices hardly get a hearing?

They need support—with shelter, food, education, work, and medical care—but what is just as vital for them is friendship. Having to accept help can be humiliating. A relation of friendship touches hearts, the hearts of those in need as well as those who show solidarity.

Hearing the cry of someone who has been wounded, looking into their eyes, listening to or touching those who are suffering, an elderly person, someone who is ill, a prisoner, a homeless person, a migrant.... This personal encounter allows us to discover the dignity of the other and enables us to receive something from them, for even the most destitute have something to offer.

Do not the most vulnerable people make an irreplaceable contribution to the building up of a more fraternal society? They reveal our own vulnerability, and in this way help us become more human.

We should never forget that, in becoming human, Christ Jesus was united to every human being. He is present in every person, especially those most forsaken (see Matthew 25:40). When we go towards those wounded by life, we come closer to Jesus, poor among the poor; they bring us into greater intimacy with him. “Do not be afraid to share in the trials of others, do not be afraid of suffering, for it is often in the depths of the abyss that a perfection of joy is given to us in communion with Jesus Christ” (Rule of Taizé).
Through personal contacts we are led to find ways of helping the destitute, not expecting anything in return, but nonetheless attentive to receive from them whatever they wish to share with us. In this way we allow our hearts to widen and become more open.
Our earth is also vulnerable. It is wounded more and more deeply by the ill-use that human beings make of it. We need to listen to the cry of the earth. We need to take care of it. We should seek, particularly by changing our way of life, to struggle against its progressive destruction.
Third proposal: Share trials and joys
Rejoice with those who are rejoicing ; weep with those who are weeping. (Romans 12:15)

Happy those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemias 8:10)

After his resurrection, Jesus still bore the marks of the nails of his crucifixion (see John 20:24-29). The resurrection encompasses the suffering of the cross. For us who follow in his footsteps, joys and trials can coexist; they merge and become compassion.

Inner joy does not weaken solidarity with others; it nourishes it. It even impels us to cross borders to join those going through difficulties. It keeps alive in us the perseverance to remain faithful in committing our lives.

In privileged circles, where people are well fed, well educated, and well taken care of, joy is sometimes absent, as if some people were worn out and discouraged by the banality of their lives.

At times, paradoxically, the encounter with a destitute person communicates joy, perhaps only a spark of joy, but an authentic joy nonetheless.

We always need to rekindle our desire for joy, which is so deeply rooted in us. Human beings are made for joy, not for gloom. And joy is not meant to be kept for oneself alone, but to be shared, to radiate outwards. After she received the message of the angel, Mary set out to visit her cousin Elizabeth and to sing with her (Luke 1:39-56).
Like Jesus, who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35), let us dare to weep in the face of human distress. We can carry in our hearts those who are afflicted. By placing them in God’s hands, we do not abandon them to the fatality of a blind and merciless fate; we entrust them to the compassion of God, who loves every human being.
Remaining alongside those who suffer, and weeping with them, can give us the courage, in an attitude of healthy revolt, to denounce injustice, to reject what threatens or destroys life, or to try to transform an impasse.
Fourth proposal: Among Christians, rejoice in the gifts of others
God made known to us the mystery of his will. It was what he had planned through Christ, to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfillment: to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10)

How good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

God sent Christ into the world to gather into one the whole universe, all creation, to recapitulate all things in him. God sent him to bring humankind together into a single family: men and women, children and the elderly, people from all backgrounds, languages and cultures, and even opposing nations.

Many people long for Christians to be united so they no longer veil, by their divisions, the message of universal fellowship brought by Christ. Could not our unity as brothers and sisters be a kind of sign, a foretaste, of unity and peace among human beings?

As Christians of different Churches, we should have the audacity to turn together towards Christ and, without waiting for our theologies to be completely in tune, to “put ourselves under the same roof.” Let us listen to the call of a Coptic Orthodox monk who wrote: 
“The very essence of the faith is Christ, whom no formulation can circumscribe. So it is necessary to begin our dialogue by welcoming Christ, who is one…. We must begin by living together the essence of the one faith, without waiting to reach agreement about the expression of its content. The essence of faith, which is Christ himself, is founded on love, on the gift of self.” (Father Matta el-Makine, 1919–2006.)
To enter at once into this process, we can begin by thanking God for the gifts of others. During his visit to Lund (Sweden) on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Pope Francis prayed, “Holy Spirit, enable us to recognize with joy the gifts that have come to the Church through the Reformation.” Inspired by this example, let us be attentive to recognize in others the values which God has placed in them and which we may be lacking. Can we try to receive their difference as an enrichment for us, even if it includes aspects that initially put us off? Can we find the freshness of a joy in the gifts of others?

Tuesday, 17 April 2018


The book of Job is among the other Old Testament books both a philosophical riddle and a historical riddle. It is the philosophical riddle that concerns us in such an introduction as this; so we may dismiss first the few words of general explanation or warning which should be said about the historical aspect. Controversy has long raged about which parts of this epic belong to its original scheme and which are interpolations of considerably later date. The doctors disagree, as it is the business of doctors to do; but upon the whole the trend of investigation has always been in the direction of maintaining that the parts interpolated, if any, were the prose prologue and epilogue, and possibly the speech of the young man who comes in with an apology at the end. I do not profess to be competent to decide such questions.

But whatever decision the reader may come to concerning them, there is a general truth to be remembered in this connection. When you deal with any ancient artistic creation, do not suppose that it is anything against it that it grew gradually. The book of Job may have grown gradually just as Westminster Abbey grew gradually. But the people who made the old folk poetry, like the people who made Westminster Abbey, did not attach that importance to the actual date and the actual author, that importance which is entirely the creation of the almost insane individualism of modern times. We may put aside the case of Job, as one complicated with religious difficulties, and take any other, say the case of the Iliad. Many people have maintained the characteristic formula of modern skepticism, that Homer was not written by Homer, but by another person of the same name. Just in the same way many have maintained that Moses was not Moses but another person called Moses. But the thing really to be remembered in the matter of the Iliad is that if other people did interpolate the passages, the thing did not create the same sense of shock as would be created by such proceedings in these individualistic times. The creation of the tribal epic was to some extent regarded as a tribal work, like the building of the tribal temple. Believe then, if you will, that the prologue of Job and the epilogue and the speech of Elihu are things inserted after the original work was composed. But do not suppose that such insertions have that obvious and spurious character which would belong to any insertions in a modern, individualistic book . . .

Without going into questions of unity as understood by the scholars, we may say of the scholarly riddle that the book has unity in the sense that all great traditional creations have unity; in the sense that Canterbury Cathedral has unity. And the same is broadly true of what I have called the philosophical riddle. There is a real sense in which the book of Job stands apart from most of the books included in the canon of the Old Testament. But here again those are wrong who insist on the entire absence of unity. Those are wrong who maintain that the Old Testament is a mere loose library; that it has no consistency or aim. Whether the result was achieved by some supernal sprirtual truth, or by a steady national tradition, or merely by an ingenious selection in aftertimes, the books of the Old Testament have a quite perceptible unity. . .

The central idea of the great part of the Old Testament may be called the idea of the loneliness of God. God is not the only chief character of the Old Testament; God is properly the only character in the Old Testament. Compared with His clearness of purpose, all the other wills are heavy and automatic, like those of animals; compared with His actuality, all the sons of flesh are shadows. Again and again the note is struck, “With whom hath He taken counsel?” (Isa. 40:14). “I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the peoples there was no man with me” (Isa. 63:3). All the patriarchs and prophets are merely His tools or weapons; for the Lord is a man of war. He uses Joshua like an axe or Moses like a measuring rod. For Him, Samson, is only a sword and Isaiah a trumpet. The saints of Christianity are supposed to be like God, to be, as it were, little statuettes of Him. The Old Testament hero is no more supposed to be of the same nature as God than a saw or a hammer is supposed to be of the same shape as the carpenter. This is the main key and characteristic of Hebrew scriptures as a whole. There are, indeed, in those scriptures innumerable instances of the sort of rugged humor, keen emotion, and powerful individuality which is never wanting in great primitive prose and poetry. Nevertheless the main characteristic remains: the sense not merely that God is stronger than man, not merely that God is more secret than man, but that He means more, that He knows better what He is doing, that compared with Him we have something of the vagueness, the unreason, and the vagrancy of the beasts that perish. “It is He that sitteth above the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers” (Isa.40:22). We might almost put it thus. The book is so intent upon asserting the personality of God that it almost asserts the impersonality of man. Unless this gigantic cosmic brain has conceived a thing, that thing is insecure and void; man has not enough tenacity to ensure its continuance. “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” (Ps. 127:1).

Everywhere else, then, the Old Testament positively rejoices in the obliteration of man in comparison with the divine purpose. The book of Job stands definitely alone because the book of Job definitely asks, “But what is the purpose of God? Is it worth the sacrifice even of our miserable humanity? Of course, it is easy enough to wipe out our own paltry wills for the sake of a will that is grander and kinder. But is it grander and kinder? Let God use His tools; let God break His tools. But what is He doing, and what are they being broken for?” It is because of this question that we have to attack as a philosophical riddle the riddle of the book of Job.

The present importance of the book of Job cannot be expressed adequately even by saying that it is the most interesting of ancient books. We may almost say of the book of Job that it is the most interesting of modern books. In truth, of course, neither of the two phrases covers the matter, because fundamental human religion and fundamental human irreligion are both at once old and new; philosophy is either eternal or it is not philosophy. The modern habit of saying”This is my opinion, but I may be wrong” is entirely irrational. If I say that it may be wrong, I say that is not my opinion. The modern habit of saying “Every man has a different philosophy; this is my philosophy and it suits me” – the habit of saying this is mere weak-mindedness. A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon.

The first of the intellectual beauties of the book of Job is that it is all concerned with this desire to know the actuality; the desire to know what is, and not merely what seems. If moderns were writing the book, we should probably find that Job and his comforters got on quite well together by the simple operation of referring their differences to what is called the temperament, saying that the comforters were by nature “optimists” and Job by nature a “pessimist.” And they would be quite comfortable, as people can often be, for some time at least, by agreeing to say what is obviously untrue. For if the word “pessimist” means anything at all, then emphatically Job is not a pessimist. His case alone is sufficient to refute the modern absurdity of referring everything to physical temperament. Job does not in any sense look at life in a gloomy way. If wishing to be happy and being quite ready to be happy constitutes an optimist, Job is an optimist. He is a perplexed optimist; he is an exasperated optimist; he is an outraged and insulted optimist. He wishes the universe to justify itself, not because he wishes it be caught out, but because he really wishes it be justified. He demands an explanation from God, but he does not do it at all in the spirit in which [John] Hampden might demand an explanation from Charles I. He does it in the spirit in which a wife might demand an explanation from her husband whom she really respected. He remonstrates with his Maker because he is proud of his Maker. He even speaks of the Almighty as his enemy, but he never doubts, at the back of his mind, that his enemy has some kind of a case which he does not understand. In a fine and famous blasphemy he says, “Oh, that mine adversary had written a book!” (31:35). It never really occurs to him that it could possibly be a bad book. He is anxious to be convinced, that is, he thinks that God could convince him. In short, we may say again that if the word optimist means anything (which I doubt), Job is an optimist. He shakes the pillars of the world and strikes insanely at the heavens; he lashes the stars, but it is not to silence them; it is to make them speak.

In the same way we may speak of the official optimists, the comforters of Job. Again, if the word pessimist means anything (which I doubt), the comforters of Job may be called pessimists rather than optimists. All that they really believe is not that God is good but that God is so strong that it is much more judicious to call Him good. It would be the exaggeration of censure to call them evolutionists; but they have something of the vital error of the evolutionary optimist. They will keep on saying that everything in the universe fits into everything else; as if there were anything comforting about a number of nasty things all fitting into each other. We shall see later how God in the great climax of the poem turns this particular argument altogether upside down.

When, at the end of the poem, God enters (somewhat abruptly), is struck the sudden and splendid note which makes the thing as great as it is. All the human beings through the story, and Job especially, have been asking questions of God. A more trivial poet would have made God enter in some sense or other in order to answer the questions. By a touch truly to be called inspired, when God enters, it is to ask a number of questions on His own account. In this drama of skepticism God Himself takes up the role of skeptic. He does what all the great voices defending religion have always done. He does, for instance, what Socrates did. He turns rationalism against itself. He seems to say that if it comes to asking questions, He can ask some question which will fling down and flatten out all conceivable human questioners. The poet by an exquisite intuition has made God ironically accept a kind of controversial equality with His accusers. He is willing to regard it as if it were a fair intellectual duel: “Gird up now thy loins like man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me” (38:3). The everlasting adopts an enormous and sardonic humility. He is quite willing to be prosecuted. He only asks for the right which every prosecuted person possesses; he asks to be allowed to cross-examine the witness for the prosecution. And He carries yet further the corrections of the legal parallel. For the first question, essentially speaking, which He asks of Job is the question that any criminal accused by Job would be most entitled to ask. He asks Job who he is. And Job, being a man of candid intellect, takes a little time to consider, and comes to the conclusion that he does not know.

This is the first great fact to notice about the speech of God, which is the culmination of the inquiry. It represents all human skeptics routed by a higher skepticism. It is this method, used sometimes by supreme and sometimes by mediocre minds, that has ever since been the logical weapon of the true mystic. Socrates, as I have said, used it when he showed that if you only allowed him enough sophistry he could destroy all sophists. Jesus Christ used it when he reminded the Sadducees, who could not imagine the nature of marriage in heaven, that if it came to that they had not really imagined the nature of marriage at all. In the break up of Christian theology in the eighteenth century, [Joseph] Butler used it, when he pointed out that rationalistic arguments could be used as much against vague religions as against doctrinal religion, as much against rationalist ethics as against Christian ethics. It is the root and reason of the fact that men who have religious faith have also philosophic doubt. These are the small streams of the delta; the book of Job is the first great cataract that creates the river. In dealing with the arrogant asserter of doubt, it is not the right method to tell him to stop doubting. It is rather the right method to tell him to go on doubting , to doubt a little more, to doubt every day newer and wilder things in the universe, until at last, by some strange enlightenment, he may begin to doubt himself.

This, I say, is the first fact touching the speech; the fine inspiration by which God comes in at the end, not to answer riddles, but to propound them. The other great fact which, taken together with this one, makes the whole work religious instead of merely philosophical is that other great surprise which makes Job suddenly satisfied with the mere presentation of something impenetrable. Verbally speaking the enigmas of Jehovah seem darker and more desolate than the enigmas of Job; yet Job was comfortless before the speech of Jehovah and is comforted after it. He has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.

Thirdly, of course, it is one of the splendid strokes that God rebukes alike the man who accused and the men who defended Him; that He knocks down pessimists and optimists with the same hammer. And it is in connection with the mechanical and supercilious comforters of Job that there occurs the still deeper and finer inversion of which I have spoken. The mechanical optimist endeavors to justify the universe avowedly upon the ground that it is a rational and consecutive pattern. He points out that the fine thing about the world is that it can all be explained. That is the one point, if I may put it so, on which God, in return, is explicit to the point of violence. God says, in effect, that if there is one fine thing about the world, as far as men are concerned, it is that it cannot be explained. He insists on the inexplicableness of everything. “Hath the rain a father?. . .Out of whose womb came the ice?” (38:28f). He goes farther, and insists on the positive and palpable unreason of things; “Hast thou sent the rain upon the desert where no man is, and upon the wilderness wherein there is no man?” (38:26). God will make man see things, if it is only against the black background of nonentity. God will make Job see a startling universe if He can only do it by making Job see an idiotic universe. To startle man, God becomes for an instant a blasphemer; one might almost say that God becomes for an instant an atheist. He unrolls before Job a long panorama of created things, the horse, the eagle, the raven, the wild ass, the peacock, the ostrich, the crocodile. He so describes each of them that it sounds like a monster walking in the sun. The whole is a sort of psalm or rhapsody of the sense of wonder. The maker of all things is astonished at the things he has Himself made.

This we may call the third point. Job puts forward a note of interrogation; God answers with a note of exclamation. Instead of proving to Job that it is an explicable world, He insists that it is a much stranger world than Job ever thought it was. Lastly, the poet has achieved in this speech, with that unconscious artistic accuracy found in so many of the simpler epics, another and much more delicate thing. Without once relaxing the rigid impenetrability of Jehovah in His deliberate declaration, he has contrived to let fall here and there in the metaphors, in the parenthetical imagery, sudden and splendid suggestions that the secret of God is a bright and not a sad one – semi-accidental suggestions, like light seen for an instant through the crack of a closed door.

It would be difficult to praise too highly, in a purely poetical sense, the instinctive exactitude and ease with which these more optimistic insinuations are let fall in other connections, as if the Almighty Himself were scarcely aware that He was letting them out. For instance, there is that famous passage where Jehovah, with devastating sarcasm, asks Job where he was when the foundations of the world were laid, and then (as if merely fixing a date) mentions the time when the sons of God shouted for joy (38:4-7). One cannot help feeling, even upon this meager information, that they must have had something to shout about. Or again, when God is speaking of snow and hail in the mere catalogue of the physical cosmos, he speaks of them as a treasury that He has laid up against the day of battle – a hint of some huge Armageddon in which evil shall be at last overthrown.

Nothing could be better, artistically speaking, than this optimism breaking though agnosticism like fiery gold round the edges of a black cloud. Those who look superficially at the barbaric origin of the epic may think it fanciful to read so much artistic significance into its casual similes or accidental phrases. But no one who is well acquainted with great examples of semi-barbaric poetry, as in The Song of Roland or the old ballads, will fall into this mistake. No one who knows what primitive poetry is can fail to realize that while its conscious form is simple some of its finer effects are subtle. The Iliad contrives to express the idea that Hector and Sarpedon have a certain tone or tint of sad and chivalrous resignation, not bitter enough to be called pessimism and not jovial enough to be called optimism; Homer could never have said this in elaborate words. But somehow he contrives to say it in simple words. The Song of Roland contrives to express the idea that Christianity imposes upon its heroes a paradox; a paradox of great humility in the matter of their sins combined with great ferocity in the matter of their ideas. Of course The Song of Roland could not say this; but it conveys this. In the same way, the book of Job must be credited with many subtle effects which were in the author’s soul without being, perhaps, in the author’s mind. And of these by far the most important remains to be stated.

I do not know, and I doubt whether even scholars know, if the book of Job had a great effect or had any effect upon the after development of Jewish thought. But if it did have any effect it may have saved them from an enormous collapse and decay. Here in this book the question is really asked whether God invariably punishes vice with terrestrial punishment and rewards virtue with terrestrial prosperity. If the Jews had answered that question wrongly they might have lost all their after influence in human history. They might have sunk even down to the level of modern well-educated society. For when once people have begun to believe that prosperity is the reward of virtue, their next calamity is obvious. If prosperity is regarded as the reward of virtue it will be regarded as the symptom of virtue. Men will leave off the heavy task of making good men successful. He will adopt the easier task of making out successful men good. This, which has happened throughout modern commerce and journalism, is the ultimate Nemesis of the wicked optimism of the comforters of Job. If the Jews could be saved from it, the book of Job saved them.

The book of Job is chiefly remarkable, as I have insisted throughout, for the fact that it does not end in a way that is conventionally satisfactory. Job is not told that his misfortunes were due to his sins or a part of any plan for his improvement. But in the prologue we see Job tormented not because he was the worst of men, but because he was the best. It is the lesson of the whole work that man is most comforted by paradoxes. Here is the very darkest and strangest of the paradoxes; and it is by all human testimony the most reassuring. I need not suggest what high and strange history awaited this paradox of the best man in the worst fortune. I need not say that in the freest and most philosophical sense there is one Old Testament figure who is truly a type; or say what is prefigured in the wounds of Job.

G. K. Chesterton: On why I am a Catholic

"G.K. Chesterton on Humour" A Lecture by Ian Ker April 4th, 2012

Lewis and Tolkien: G.K. Chesterton, Myth, and the Imagination

Monday, 16 April 2018


my source: Crossroads Initiative

This article, “Ressourcement theology, aggiornamento, and the hermeneutics of tradition” by Marcellino D’Ambrosio is reprinted from Communio 18 (Winter 1991).  The theological movement the set the stage for the Second Vatican Council shows that the Christian tradition is a vital and dynamic force that is not retrograde, but progressive.  If you would like to open the footnotes for this article in a separate window so you can more easily look at them as you read the text, you can find them here.

The years 1930-1950 marked a time of crisis and change affecting every aspect of European society.{1} During this tumultuous period of transition, a broad intellectual and spiritual movement arose within the European Catholic community in response to the challenge presented by a newly secularized society, a challenge that the reigning neo-Scholasticism seemed sorely ill-equipped to meet. Though this movement drew some of its inspiration from earlier theologians and philosophers such as Möhler, Newman, Gardeil, Rousselot, and Blondel, it also owed a great deal to the French Catholic poets Charles Péguy and Paul Claudel.{2}


Academic theologians involved in this movement included such Belgian and German thinkers as Emile Mersch, Dom Odo Casel, Romano Guardini, Karl Adam, and Dom Anselm Stolz, to name a few. Yet it was France that was the undisputed center of theological activity during this fertile epoch{3} and so it will be to French theology during this period that we will limit our attention here. Led principally by the Jesuits of the Lyons province and the Dominicans of Le Saulchoir, the French theological revival of these years boasted some of the greatest names in twentieth-century Catholic scholarship such as Henri de Lubac, Jean Daniélou, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Yves Congar, Marie-Dominique Chenu, and Louis Bouyer.{4}

The participants in this movement, derisively labeled “la nouvelle théologie” by its opponents,{5} were far from the tightly organized cadre they were often thought to be.{6} On the contrary, they were men from various universities and religious congregations who, though friends and colleagues,{7} nevertheless differed in many respects.{8} What united this diverse group were the convictions that 1) theology had to speak to the Church’s present situation and that 2) the key to theology’s relevance to the present lay in the creative recovery of its past. In other, words, they all saw clearly that the first step to what later came to be known as aggiornamento had to be ressourcementóa rediscovery of the riches of the Church’s two-thousand-year treasury, a return to the very headwaters of the Christian tradition.{9}

For these thinkers, doing theology meant doing history. Yet the distinctive approach to historical theology which they shared was neither mere detached, scholarly reconstruction nor a futile attempt at what Congar calls “repristination.”{10} It was rather a creative hermeneutical exercise in which the “sources” of Christian faith were “reinterrogated”{11} with new questions, the burning questions of a century in travail. With such twentieth-century questions serving as hermeneutical keys, these theologians of ressourcement were able to unlock new rooms in the treasure house of tradition and discover there, surprisingly enough, many of the twentieth-century ideas which neo-Scholasticism neglected or even resisted.{12}

In this essay, I will take a close look at the French theological revival of 1930-1950 with an eye towards 1) capturing the theological ethos of this pivotal epoch which had such enormous impact on the Second Vatican Council and 2) inquiring into what relevance it may have for theology today. I hope to establish that the twin impulses of ressourcement and aggiornamento, which are sometimes erroneously set over and against one another, are, at least in the authors under discussion, inextricably intertwined.

In 1943, a book appeared which broke like a bombshell upon the French Church. Written by Henri Godin, a priest who had been intimately involved with the Young Christian Workers movement (J.O.C.) in France for many years, France, pays de mission?{13} exposed the tremendous religious indifference that existed in France and the Church’s loss of large segments of the working class. Yves Congar saw the publication of this book as nothing short of a historical event: “The man and the book were truly providential and prophetic. . . . Very quickly, this work led to a new awareness of the situation of the world and of the relation of the Church to this world.”{14}

Suddenly, it seemed, the whole French Church became aware of the magnitude of France’s dechristianization and scrambled to do something about it. Incarnation, présence, engagement, and adaptation became the new pastoral buzzwords. A call to missionary activity resounded throughout the Church and gave rise to bold new pastoral initiatives such as the worker-priests. The exciting revival of Catholic life and pastoral practice sparked by Godin’s book seemed to peak in the years immediately following the war. Yves Congar remarks that “anyone who did not live through the years 1946 and 1947 in the history of French Catholicism has missed one of the finest moments in the life of the Church.”{15}

In a provocative article written in 1946, Jean Daniélou, a Lyons Jesuit who taught at l’Institut Catholique of Paris, set out to describe the kind of theology necessary to meet the challenges of the post-war situation.{16} In the course of the article, regarded by some as a sort of “manifesto” of “la nouvelle théologie,” Daniélou indicts theology for being absent from, not present to, the thought world of his day. Indeed, he asserts, Scholasticism is “a stranger to these [contemporary] categories . . . mired” as it is “in the immobile world of Greek thought.” Though history is a central category for every philosophy from Hegel to Bergson, notes Daniélou, neo-Scholasticism has virtually no historical sense. In an existentialist world, it remains resolutely essentialist and objectivist, oblivious to human subjectivity. In fact this theology, he charges, is cut off not only from the contemporary thought world, but from the daily life of the people of God. Hardened in its Scholastic categories, neo-Thomism remains basically incomprehensible to most people and is thus incapable of offering them spiritual and doctrinal nourishment.{17}

Such a “rupture between theology and life,” maintains Daniélou, flies in the face of one of the chief insights of the century, i.e., that thought is not meant merely to contemplate the world, but to transform it. “Theoretical speculation, separated from action and uninvolved in life, has seen its day.” In contrast, what the Church of postwar France needs is a theology “entirely engaged in the building up of the body of Christ.”{18}

Marie-Dominique Chenu and Congar

The Dominican theologians of Le Saulchoir had a similar commitment to what Yves Congar called “the primacy of the pastoral.”{19} In the words of Marie-Dominique Chenu, regent of studies at Le Saulchoir from 1932 to 1942, “before all else, to be a theologian really means not to be cut off from the daily, concrete life of the Church.”{20} In an article published in 1935, Chenu denounced the fragmentation of theology into various compartments and “account books.”{21} For example, he notes that the speculative theology of the day was not only cut off from pastoral practice, but also from spirituality. Other theologians of this period join him in stressing the intimate bond between theology and spirituality{22} In the words of Daniélou,

It is no longer possible to disassociate, as was done too much in times past, theology and spirituality. The first was placed upon a speculative and timeless plane; the second too often consisted only of practical counsels separated from the vision of man which justified it.{23}

Dogmatic theology was also cut off, as Chenu saw it, from the sources of positive theology. Echoing his confrere Louis Charlier and the latter’s teacher R. Draguet, Chenu asserts that revealed data must be given primacy over rational constructs and that theology once again must be centered in the history of salvation. In Chenu’s view, theologians since the seventeenth century had been overly fascinated with closed, clear systems. This excessive preoccupation with clarity and systematization had impoverished Western theology and had seriously diminished its sense of mystery.{24}

The loss of a sense of God’s transcendent mystery by a rationalistic theology was the very thing, noted Daniélou, that Kierkegaard had reacted against. Theology in his day had made God an object, so he affirmed the mystery of a personal God, accessible only through love. In so doing, he recalled to the theologian the attitude of reverence with which the mystery ought to be approached. “We find here one of the characteristic traits of theological renewal, this sense of the mystery of God which gives negative theology its place.”{25} This zeal for the transcendence and unfathomable mystery of God will prove to be one of the hallmarks of the theology of ressourcement. For Daniélou, de Lubac, and others, the existential ethos of the mid-twentieth century helps spark a rediscovery of the Church’s traditional teaching that God is the Supreme Subject, the Person par excellence, whose self-revelation in Scripture is intelligible but never fully comprehensible.{26}

The main question for the theologians under discussion was how to break out of the neo-Scholastic quagmire and begin developing a theology that would truly meet the challenges of the age. Their common instinct was a paradox: in order to go forward in theology, one first has to go backward. Étienne Gilson says it succinctly: “if theological progress is sometimes necessary, it is never possible unless you go back to the beginning and start over.”{27} What was necessary, then, was a “return to the sources”{28} of tradition. The theological revolution which the Church so desperately needed had to begin with, in the words of Péguy, “a new and deeper sounding of ancient, inexhaustible, and common resources.”{29} Hence the term “ressourcement.” In Vraie et fausse réforme dans l’église, Congar notes that it is not certain who coined this noun.{30} However, it seems to him that the essential concept derives from the following passage from Péguy:

a [true] revolution is a call from a less perfect tradition to a more perfect tradition, a call from a shallower tradition to a deeper tradition, a backing up of tradition, an overtaking of depth, an investigation into deeper sources; in the literal sense of the word, a “re-source.”{31}

It is important to note that the ressourcement advocated by these thinkers was not ultimately a work of scholarship but rather a work of religious revitalization. Indeed, in their writings the word “source” only secondarily refers to a historical document; the primary meaning they assign to the term is a fountain-head of dynamic spiritual life which never runs dry.{32} The events and words of Scripture, the rites of the liturgy, the creeds and decrees of the councils, the teaching of the Fathers, Doctors, and great spiritual masters , all of these organs of tradition are, for them, sources inasmuch as they are channels of the one, incomparable Source that is the Mystery of Christ. The ultimate goal of the renewal is not, then, a more accurate historical understanding of Christian origins, but rather, in Congar’s words, “a recentering in the person of Christ and in his paschal mystery.”{33}

By immersing themselves in the forms and categories of ancient Christianity in all their diversity and concrete specificity, these theologians hoped to discover and imbibe that Spirit which was their common inspiration and source. Hans Urs von Balthasar, referring to the Greek Fathers, says: “We would rather hope to penetrate to the vital source of their spirit, to the fundamental and secret intuition which directs the entire expression of their thought.”{34} What the ressourcement theologians sought, then, was a spiritual and intellectual communion with Christianity in its most vital moments as transmitted to us in its classic texts, a communion which would nourish, invigorate, and rejuvenate twentieth-century Catholicism.{35}

In a movement whose goal was a recentering in Christ and his paschal mystery, it stands to reason that liturgical revival should come first both historically{36} and in order of priority. Following upon its heels came the Catholic biblical movement, inaugurated by the establishment of Jerusalem’s École biblique by M.-J. Lagrange, O.P. (1890) and Leo XIII’s encyclical Providentissimus Deus (1893).{37} Surveying the progress of these movements from the vantage point of 1946, Daniélou saw them both as having developed along the lines of a two-phase process. At first the accent was upon archaeology, i.e., critical historical scholarship aiming at situating ancient rites and texts in their original context. Then came more of a focus upon the spirit of the biblical and liturgical sources, with an eye towards identifying their meaning for us today.{38} Furthering this second and more hermeneutical process is clearly what Daniélou believed to be the task at hand in 1946.

One of the great contributions of the Lyons Jesuits{39} on this score was to point out the hermeneutical character and ongoing value of patristic thought. First of all, they underscored the extent to which the entire patristic legacy can be interpreted as one vast commentary upon Scripture, the sacramental mysteries, and the correspondences between them.{40} Secondly, they established the contemporary relevance of the Fathers by demonstrating the remarkable correspondence between patristic theology and several distinctively modern issues. “From certain perspectives,” they write, “the Fathers of the Church seem sometimes closer to us than some later theologians.”{41} Indeed they showed how such pivotal modern categories as history, human solidarity, and personal subjectivity form the warp and woof of patristic thought.{42} Even the patristic proclivity for expressing truth by means of images and symbols, they note, corresponds to a modern preference for the concrete over the abstract and the intuitive over the conceptual.

In their “Réponse” to the criticisms of Labourdette, the Fourvière theologians assert that the importance of the Fathers cannot be reduced to their historical role of preparing the way for the truly scientific theology of the thirteenth century. The fact that St. Thomas assimilated the major patristic insights into his higher scientific synthesis does not mean we can now dispense with the Fathers, relegating them to the archives of historical theology:

The Fathers clearly do not have the same authority [as Scripture]; they are sources which are secondary, derived, never sufficient of themselves; yet this does not prevent them from playing a capital role. And they play this role not only in the past, but they continue to play it in the present. They are sources, not in the restricted sense in which literary history understands the term, but in the sense of wellsprings which are always springing up to overflowing.{43}

As the Fourvière Jesuits see it, the Fathers’ writings provide “intellectual nourishment which is directly assimilable”{44} by the ordinary believer of the twentieth century. The task at hand, then, is to reconnect the individual Christian directly with the patristic tradition, to mediate the past to the present in a nourishing, life-giving way.

This is the significance of the great series Sources Chrétiennes.{45} In explaining the reason for undertaking this project, Daniélou contrasts its goals with those of a patristic collection compiled earlier in the century by Hemmer and Lehay. For these, “it was a question above all of publishing historical documents, witness of the faith of the ancients.” Sources Chrétiennes is different because:

it thinks that there is more to ask the Fathers. They are not only the truthful witnesses of a bygone era; they are also the most contemporary nourishment of men and women today, because we find there a certain number of categories which are those of contemporary thought and which Scholastic theology had lost.{46}

Each volume of Sources Chrétiennes contained a classic patristic text which was carefully translated into French. The Greek Fathers, who had suffered from centuries of neglect in the Western Church, were given special attention. An able use of the critical historical method enabled the editors to situate each work in its historical context by means of introductions that were sometimes quite provocative.{47} Yet, from first to last, the meticulous historical scholarship for which the series became known was motivated by and subordinated to the editors’ self-admitted goal: “to provide a number of readers a direct access to these ‘sources,’ always overflowing with spiritual life and theological doctrine, which are the Fathers of the Church.”{48}

The Fourvière theologians’ love of the Fathers did not, however, induce them to despise or even neglect the medievals, especially St. Thomas.{49} On the contrary, several of them were in fact themselves dedicated Thomists who had a sense that the Thomism of the manuals was not the Thomism of St. Thomas{50} To quote the epigraph of de Lubac’s controversial Surnaturel: “Buried under five centuries of deposits, ignorance of itself is the most serious ill from which Scholasticism is suffering. To cure it, let us listen to the counsel of history.”{51}

Committed to a critical re-investigation of the Scholastic tradition, several of the Lyons Jesuits joined a movement that had been anticipated by Péguy{52} pioneered by Rousselot,{53} and brought to the forefront of theological debate in the 1930s by men such as J. F. Bonnefoy, R. Draguet, and L. Charlier. What gradually became clear was that St. Thomas had not introduced a new method of ‘conclusion theology’ radically different from that of the Fathers. The new methodology had been introduced later by the commentators, especially John of St. Thomas, who can be regarded as the true father of modern Scholastic theology.{54} This is the stream of thought, modified around the beginning of the twentieth century by “heavy doses of Suarezianism and Bañezianism (not to mention [Christian] Wolff and Descartes),”{55} which was known as “neo-Thomism.”

Hence the rigidly non-historical and rationalistic way of thinking characteristic of certain neo-Scholastics was not to be identified with St. Thomas at all! Aquinas, instead, emerges as a much more traditional figure in substantial continuity with the positive theology of the Fathers. As such, he has much more relevance for today than had been commonly thought. In relationship to the thought of St. Thomas, then, the cry “Ad fontes!” took on a bit more militant and critical character. Here the Angelic Doctor’s tradition history was scrutinized in the light of his original texts and found wanting. Gilson expressed well the sentiment of many ressourcement theologians:

Our only salvation lies in a return to Saint Thomas himself, before the Thomism of John of Saint Thomas, before that of Cajetan as wellóCajetan, whose famous commentary is in every respect the consummate example of a corruptorium Thomae. . . . Salvation lies in returning to the real Saint Thomas, rightly called the Universal Doctor of the Church; accept no substitutes!{56}

It is in this light that we should view several of the works of the Théologie series,{57} notably Bouillard’s Conversion et grace chez S. Thomas d’Aquin (Paris: Aubier, 1941) and de Lubac’s Surnaturel (Paris: Aubier, 1946).{58} To quote de Lubac: “‘Returning to the real Saint Thomas’: this was also, as Gilson accurately perceived, my clearly expressed (and I believe always well-founded) intention, whether in Sur les chemins de Dieu or in Surnaturel.”{59}



However passionately the Fourvière and Le Saulchoir theologians pursued the historical recovery of the Fathers and “the real St. Thomas,” it must be clearly understood that they do not advocate any slavish restoration of either one or the other as the solution to the Church’s present problems. In fact, virtually all ressourcement theologians emphatically repudiate all manner of “archaeologism” and “repristination” after the manner of Jansenism or the Protestant Reformation.{61} In this passage, Balthasar makes it clear that, for him, returning to the sources was not all the same thing as returning to the past:

We turn towards a more distant past, but without believing that exhuming the “Greek Fathers” and adapting them, for better or for worse, to the needs of the modern soul will be enough to bring a languishing thought back to life. We are not so naive as to prefer “neo-patristic” theology to a “neo-Scholastic” one! No historical situation is ever absolutely similar to any other preceding period; none can therefore furnish its own solutions as so many master keys capable of resolving our contemporary problems.{62}

As respectful as they are of the great theological syntheses of the past, the ressourcement theologians have no trouble admitting that many aspects of these great achievements are now hopelessly outdated. In fact they contend that we have not only the freedom but the duty to dispense with outmoded conceptual frameworks when translating the Christian message to our own generation. For example, we should not hesitate to jettison much of the Aristotelianism of the medieval doctors which, as Henri Bouillard points out, contains many an obsolete explanation, aged schema, dead notion. They have served in their time to transmit the mystery and, for this reason, are venerable. But, like an obsolete vestment or aged tool, they now obstruct the progress of theological reflection. They prevent those who no longer understand them from grasping the exact meaning of the Christian message. . . . For theology to continue to offer meaning to our mind, to enrich it and to progress with it, it too must renounce these Aristotelian notions{63}

It must be remembered that in their study of Christian origins, it was the “spirit” or “principle” of the tradition that the ressourcement theologians were ultimately after. They were confident that, once fortified with the nourishment provided by this vital “sap,” twentieth-century Christians would be energized and enlightened to solve their problems in a fully contemporary yet entirely traditional way. It was as if the spirit of the tradition, made present again by the Church’s fruitful communion with its origins via ressourcement, was expected to serve as a catalyst that would stimulate new ideas and fresh pastoral initiatives. As Congar aptly put it, “to go back to the beginnings, to ‘re-source,’ as is said today, is to think through the situation in which we are presently engaged in the light and in the spirit of all that an integral tradition can impart to us of the sense of the Church.”{64}

The concept which sheds perhaps the most light on ressourcement’s impact upon the present is supplied by Péguy. In a 1912 letter to his friend Joseph Lotte, the poet speaks of his perception that a Catholic “renaissance” was beginning to break forth in France{65} For Péguy, each new historical period finds the Church once more at the beginning. In every age the Church needs to let the principle of the tradition flower anew and bear fruit in new intellectual and pastoral forms.{66} Tradition, for him, is an exceedingly fertile principle. Whenever it is allowed the proper room to grow and develop, renaissance inevitably results. By restrictively equating tradition with one particular theological synthesis, neo-Scholasticism had actually petrified it. In so doing, it cut itself off from the spiritual vitality upon which true renaissance and adaptation depend. The goal of the ressourcement theologians was to prune away the dead canes and bring the Church back to tradition’s living root so that the vitality inherent in it might give rise to a fresh pastoral and theological renaissance.{67}

In their study of St. Thomas and the Fathers, the ressourcement theologians were struck by the contrast between the traditional theological methodology on the one hand and that of neo-Scholasticism on the other. Whereas the latter had isolated itself from positive theology, spirituality, and the secular intellectual milieu, Aquinas and the Fathers had held theology, spirituality, and pastoral practice in a dynamic and vital unity while at the same time maintaining a fruitful contact with the great cultural forces of their respective periods. These doctors of the Church had, in fact, each allowed the spirit of the tradition to flower anew in their day. The many theological renaissances which resulted from their efforts thus employed different philosophical categories but nevertheless possessed the same spirit.

What Thomas and the Fathers had done was to distill the essence of the tradition for their respective generations. In their organic conception of the unity of theology and life as well as in their hermeneutical effort to re-articulate traditional doctrine in the language of their contemporaries, these classical theologians offer today’s Church a paradigm of authentic theological method. It would, then, be entirely unfaithful to the character of their thought merely to parrot their material categories. Instead, it is necessary to emulate their great achievements in the hermeneutics of tradition. In the words of Balthasar:

In order to remain faithful to herself and to her mission, the latter [the Church] must continually make the effort of creative invention. Before the Gentiles who came to enter a Church which was an heir to the Synagogue, Paul was obliged to invent. The Greek Fathers had to do the same in the face of Hellenistic culture and Saint Thomas in the face of arabic science and philosophy. We must do nothing less before the problems of our own day.{68}

In his pastoral letter of 1947, Cardinal Suhard exhorted the Catholic intellectuals of France in words similar to Balthasar’s: “Your task therefore, Christian thinkers, is not to follow, but to lead. It is not enough to be disciples, you must become masters; it is not enough to imitate, you must invent.”{69} Yet it was an axiom ofressourcement theology that before becoming creative masters, theologians had first to become attentive disciples. In other words, theology can only hope to be “original” if it has first drunk deeply at the “origins” of Christian life and thought. Congar, citing Werner Förster, asserts that “only a profound understanding of the tradition can guide one to discern the useful elements in modernity, to select them with certainty, to adapt them with tact.”{70} He underlines the fact that it is not just a superficial familiarity with historical theology but rather a thorough-going ressourcement, having as its goal the appropriation of the very spirit of the tradition, that is the necessary prelude to a hermeneutically successful aggiornamento. “It is the Catholic principle thus having become the master of the conscience and the mind that makes possible the double task of discernment and assimilation.{71}

Here again. St. Thomas, in his “adaptation” of Aristotelian categories, serves as a model. Congar notes that if Aquinas was able to introduce Aristotle into theology “without doing violence either to Catholic dogma or to the most delicate evangelical spirit, it was without any doubt due to the profound understanding which he had of the tradition, fruit of a docility and an equally intense meditation.”{72} Yet this paradigm of authentic aggiornamento, certain ressourcement thinkers point out, has not always been successfully emulated. Congar, for instance, notes that Church history is unfortunately replete with examples of an “adaptation” that is mechanical and innovating in character.{73} Indeed, both before and after the Council, Bouyer, de Lubac, and others warned that certain programs of “adaptation” or aggiornamento were afoot which, having cut all moorings to tradition, were rapidly drifting towards “servile adaptation to the world and to its changing idols.”{74}

It is true that one of the initial impulses of ressourcement theology was the re-establishment of contact between Catholic theology and contemporary thought. Yet representatives of the movement are careful to clarify their motivation for this. They tell us that they felt no compulsion to search far and wide for remedies to the Church’s problems as if they had lost confidence in the resources of the Christian tradition. Neither were they driven by any desire to “adapt” theology to contemporary thought and values. Rather their goal was to break the “fortress mentality” and compel Catholic theology to engage in a critical dialogue{75} with twentieth-century thinkers, a dialogue that would send theologians back to the sources with new questions, provoking the rediscovery of forgotten or neglected dimensions of the tradition.{76}

Indeed, what the Church needs to update herself and to meet the challenge of the brave, new world is not, according to these theologians, to go farther but to go deeper. The task at hand is not to change Christianity and make it something more, but to make it more itself. In the words of de Lubac:

In the last analysis, what is needed is not a Christianity that is more virile, or more efficacious, or more heroic, or stronger; it is that we should live our Christianity with more virility, more efficacy, more strength, and if necessary, more heroism but we must live it as it is. There is nothing that should be changed in it, nothing that should be corrected, nothing that should be added (which does not mean, however, that there is not a continual need to keep its channels from silting up); it is not a case of adapting it to the fashion of the day. It must come into its own again in our souls. We must give our souls back to it.

The question, be it repeated, is a spiritual one and the solution is always the same: in so far as we have allowed it to be lost, we must rediscover the spirit of Christianity. In order to do so we must be plunged once more into its well-springs, and above all in the Gospel. The Gospel which the Church unvaryingly offers us is enough for us. Only, always new, it always needs to be rediscovered.{77}

Hence, for the ressourcement theologians, the abiding norm governing the adaptation of Catholic theology to a new historical and cultural context is neither modern thought on the one hand, nor the letter of past theological syntheses on the other. It is rather the spirit of the tradition, the Catholic principle, which is intellectually and spiritually appropriated under the pastoral care of the Magisterium through a continual immersion in the classic sources of Christian faith.

It is in the light of their teaching on adaptation that we can see the fundamental ambiguity of the label “la nouvelle théologie”{78} which was attached to many ressourcement theologians by their opponents{79} By and large, the theologians of Le Saulchoir and Fourvière had a horror of any theology that was “new” in the sense of rejecting the legacy of the past in favor of the intellectual fads of the present. Even as Congar criticized “adaptation/innovation” as noted above, so de Lubac years later will criticize those who, not satisfied with theressourcement and aggiornamento stipulated by the Second Vatican Council, want a “whole ‘new theology,’ the foundation of a ‘new Church.'”{80} Thus, when Labourdette accused these men of an “open disparagement of Scholastic theology”{81} and Garrigou-Lagrange charged them with rejecting Thomism, these critics demonstrated an inability to distinguish between St. Thomas and the subsequent Scholastic tradition.{82}

Yet there is a sense in which the theology of the ressourcement theologians was truly a “new theology.” Inasmuch as revolution is new precisely to the extent that it is traditional, as Péguy here so astutely observes,ressourcement was not only new, but even revolutionary:

a revolution is not a full revolution unless it is a full tradition, a fuller conservation, an anterior tradition, deeper, truer, more ancient and thus more eternal. . . It is necessary that, by the depth of its new and deeper “re-source,” it prove that the preceding revolutions were insufficiently revolutionary, and that their corresponding traditions were insufficiently traditional and full; it is necessary that, by a more profound mental, moral and emotional intuition, it conquer the tradition itself by being traditional, by tradition, that it pass under it; far from being a superaugmentation, as is believed much too generally, a revolution is an excavation, a deepening, an overtaking of depth.{83}

Ressourcement theology, then, is actually more authentically traditional than the neo-Scholasticism of many twentieth-century thinkers. In contrast to the latter’s timid staleness, the freshness and newness of ressourcement theology flow from its “more victorious confidence in the eternal youth of the Church.”{84}

Several definite conclusions can be drawn from this brief examination of the French theological revival of the thirties and forties. First of all, we have seen that during this period an unorganized yet clearly identifiable movement arose in order to meet the challenges of the times by means of a recovery of the Church’s tradition. Significantly, no particular time period in the Church’s history was idealized as the “golden age.” Instead, the entire tradition was combed for spiritual and theological “classics”{85} that might serve as “sources” of life for Christians in the twentieth century. “Ressourcement theology” thus seems the most adequate way to refer to this program of renewal because it describes the distinctive theological method and spiritual goal which united its diverse participants into a recognizable movement. The polemical epithet “la nouvelle théologie,” on the other hand, however well established it may be in the theological literature, is an equivocal label which should be abandoned. Not only was this phrase never used by the writers in question, but it was passionately disavowed by several of them as misleading and contrary to the spirit and aim of their work.{86}

Secondly, the ressourcement in which these scholars engaged went considerably beyond detached historical reconstruction. Though the ressourcement thinkers succeeded in making considerable strides forward in understanding the Church’s past,{87} their interest in the past was inseparable from their concern for the present. Dissatisfied with the overly-cerebral aloofness of a neo-Scholastic theology cut off from history, pastoral practice, and prayer, the ressourcement scholars aimed to restore the dynamic links between dogmatics, historical theology, spirituality, and everyday life. Viewing theology’s role as one of service to the Church’s spiritual and pastoral mission, the ultimate goal of their historical research was to nourish and inspire the faithful as well as to enlighten fellow scholars.

Thirdly, the ressourcement impulse was fundamentally a critical one. In order to break through the crust of misinterpretation and get at, for example, “the real” St. Thomas, i.e., St. Thomas’ subtle thought understood in its own historical context, thinkers of this tendency employed a method of historical investigation that was rigorously critical. And once understood critically, the rich thought of the past was then reappropriated critically as well. The kind of appropriation of the past in the present practiced by ressourcement thinkers was very similar to what Gadamer and others describe as a “fusion of horizons.” Such a hermeneutical process of application is, in the words of Richard Palmer, “not a literal bringing of the past into externalities of the present; it is bringing what is essential in the past into our personal present.”{88} This essential element of the past is what Gadamer and others call the “classical,” i.e., “something enduring, of significance that cannot be lost and is independent of all the circumstances of time . . . a kind of timeless present that is contemporaneous with every other age.”{89} In other words, ressourcement thought was in no way congenial to a naïve and anachronistic restoration of outmoded categories or practices, as Wolfhart Pannenberg seems to allege in a recent interview.{90} Confident that the essential or classical dimensions of the ancient tradition, once assimilated, would stimulate the growth of new expressions of Christian life suitable to the present age, the ressourcement championed by these thinkers contains within itself the very notion of aggiornamento and is inseparable from it.

Perhaps the greatest lesson we can draw from the ressourcement theologians is that there is no contradiction between fidelity to tradition and creative freedom. Quite to the contrary, they show us that the latter is actually a product of the former. This is because, as they learned from Péguy and Blondel, the Christian tradition is a vital and dynamic force that is not retrograde, but progressive. In recent years Jaroslav Pelikan has confirmed the most basic insight of ressourcement theology: throughout two thousand years of Christian history, the most creative thinkers have been at the same time the most traditional.{91}

In the wake of such seminal hermeneutical thinkers as Gadamer and Ricoeur, we are in a better position today than we were thirty years ago to appreciate the uncommon hermeneutical acumen of the ressourcement theologians. Their work perfectly illustrates the dialectic between past and present described by Gadamer: contemporary problems and questions enabled them better to understand the past, and this deeper understanding of the past in turn equipped them better to understand and respond to the present. What resulted from their work, then, was a true mediation between past and present.

Ressourcement theology was, in essence, a deft exercise in the hermeneutics of tradition that successfully navigated between the Scylla of archaism and the Charybdis of modernism. Thanks to its acute sense of the inexhaustible fullness of the Christian Mystery, it steadfastly refused to identify that Mystery with any of its past expressions or embodiments. Yet similarly, its confidence in the utter uniqueness and perpetual relevance of Christianity caused it to resist the temptation to accommodate the gospel to modernity in such a way as to deform it. We do well to ask ourselves whether theology today, be it conservative or avant-garde, is as spiritually fruitful, hermeneutically sophisticated, and free from the spirit of conformity as was the theology of ressourcement.

For the footnotes for this article, click here

Originally posted on Apr 01 2017

by Dom David Bird

This excellent article and the passage quoted at the end have one great omission, the mutual relationship between the ressourcement theologians and the Russian Orthodox theologians who lived in France as refugees and who established the Institut Saint Serge in Paris.   It must be remembered that most of the ressourcement theologians were out of grace with the Vatican and subject to restrictions, while the Orthodox theologians were under suspicion from their Orthodox colleagues simply because they lived in the West.   Neither side represented their churches nor considered they were doing anything other than sharing with each other as theologians.  Neither side wanted others to know, because they were in enough trouble already; but these meetings should go down in history as the most fruitful discussions since the Middle Ages, and they had a huge influence on Vatican II and its aftermath.
Fr Nicholas Afanassieff who is
the original theologian of
"eucharistic ecclesiology"

Andrew Louth, an English convert to Orthodoxy and a Russian Orthodox priest, has written a paper called "French Ressourcement Theology and Orthodoxy: A living mutual relationship?"   In a review it says:
"This paper discusses the resssourcement movement that manifested itself in Orthodox theology in the twentieth century, and in particular explores links with Catholic ressourcement. It argues that there was a two‐way influence: Some of the participants in the Catholic movement were inspired by their encounter with members of the Russian émigré population in Paris, while some of those involved in the Orthodox movement were facilitated in their recourse to the Fathers by the fruits of the Catholic movement."
I hope to get hold of that paper one day. 
Fr Georges Florovsky
a giant among theologians with
a theology of Tradition that contributed
much to the development of
ressourcement theology.
It is important to realise that the Catholic theologians didn't see themselves as a a distinct group called "ressourcement theologians", and neither group saw their relationship as an important step in the history of Catholic - Orthodox relations that would leave a permanent mark on Catholic teaching. That is how the Holy Spirit works.  It was simply that two groups of theologians, from very distinct backgrounds and formation, discovered that both sides were troubled by the rise of secularism and the inadequacy of contemporary theology to make an adequate response to it; both sides had identified the "enemy" to a sound response in neo-scholasticism; and both sides found their solution in a creative appeal to Tradition, especially in the Greek Fathers; and that was before they even met!!   There were differences.   The Orthodox tended to look exclusively to Orthodox, Eastern Tradition because they were writing to a mainly Orthodox public, while the Catholics appealed to the whole of Tradition in its different forms, including St Augustine, St Ambrose, a re-interpreted St Thomas Aquinas,  St Bonaventure and Duns Scotus , as well as the Greek and Oriental fathers of the Church; but they agreed that Tradition, born of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church, a product of apostolic preaching and way of life and celebrated in the Liturgy, is the context in which all else must be interpreted and the true measure of all things Christian. Eucharistic ecclesiology, which is now commonplace in western theology after Vatican II and forms the basis of Catholic - Orthodox dialogue on the Church, words like theosis and synergy, became part of the vocabulary of the Catholic theologians taking part in this rich, mutual relationship. 

 Of course, the Catholic theologians were under a Vatican cloud, and all this could have been lost if Divine Providence hadn't sent Archbishop Angelo Roncalli to Paris in 1944 as papal nuncio.  
When, as Pope John XXIII, he announced the new Council, he invited these theologians out of the cold, and the Council bears their stamp, as does Catholicism to the present day.
The Orthodox influence on the ressourcement theologians, perhaps, would not have made the impact it did on Vatican II if it were not for the Melkites.   The interaction between ressourcement theologians and Melkites in Vatican II gave the Eastern Tradition an importance way beyond the number of its representatives at the Council.

The Melkite patriarch and his bishops left the first Vatican Council a day early so that they wouldn't have to sign the dogmatic decrees on the universal jursidiction of the pope and his infallibility.  When Pope Pius IX insisted they should sign, they only did so by adding their own clause to the decrees, that they agreed only in so far as they were accepted by the Greek fathers.  This earned for them the enmity of Pius IX and a privileged place in Vatican II.  They are, very definitely, Orthodox in communion with Rome.   They consider communion with Rome as communion with St Peter, as the Orthodox once did, but they find the dogmas of Vatican I alien to their tradition.  

After Easter, I shall do an article on the Melkites.  They are extremely important in our relations with the Orthodox because they basically agree with the Orthodox while acknowledging Rome as a necessary dimension of catholicity.   They have shown that the "uniate" churches, under the Providence of God, are not so much a means of outreach by the Catholic Church to the Orthodox to convert them, but they are really a means by which the eastern interpretation of our Faith can reach the understanding of the predominantly western mind of the Catholic Church.  They are being used by the Spirit as a means of bending the western understanding of the Catholic Faith to understand the Eastern expression of the same faith.  

Let us, both Catholics and Orthodox, put our confidence, not in ourselves,  but in Christ who reveals himself to us in our understanding of the faith in the power of the Spirit.  It is only in our obedience to the the Spirit that we can call out for Christ's help; and it is only with the help of the Holy Spirit that we can defeat the evil of our own extreme self-sufficiency, whether individually or - even more contradictory- as members of the one, true Church.   

There is something radically wrong when we flaunt the rightness of our church, look across the divide at the others wallowing in error, and make the prayer of the publican our own, thanking God that we are not like those over there.  It seems to me that, paradoxically, we manifest Catholic truth by forgetting ourselves and by embracing our brothers across the divide, letting them see the authenticity of our faith by the depth of our love, identifying ourselves with them and not rejecting them when they do the same, and relying on the Holy Spirit to do the rest.   Christian love is better than argument because it is the sign of the presence of the Spirit.

Search This Blog

La Virgen de Guadalupe

La Virgen de Guadalupe


My Blog List

Fr David Bird

Fr David Bird
Me on a good day

Blog Archive