Words of wisdom from Henri de Lubac

If I keep on reading theologians like Henri de Lubac, I might not be able to resist going Catholic. The main thing that holds me back is my confidence in the appropriateness of my wife’s call to sacramental ministry and a genuine bafflement that iconic representation of Christ would be gendered in light of Galatians 3:28. Well, and then there’s the fact that like the first Protestant, Paul of Tarsus, if the Jerusalem council told me to make the Gentiles avoid sacrificial meats (Acts 15:20), then I would follow Paul’s example of pastoral authority in “interpreting” apostolic authority as something that does not command absolute obedience but should not be scorned (Romans 14). So I’ll probably always remain a Protestant in love with Catholicism but with some degree of personal unmediated access to the Word and Spirit. Still I don’t think Henri de Lubac would excommunicate me if he were the pope, since he was a man who transcended the tyranny of knowledge in its ghastly scholastic/systematic scaffolding to touch the depth of God’s wisdom. All right so I’ll stop babbling and start sharing the words of wisdom that got me giddy from de Lubac’s Paradoxes of Faith.

Paradox is the reverse of what, properly perceived, would be synthesis… Synthesis can only be sought… Paradox is the search or wait for synthesis. It is the provisional expression of a view which remains incomplete, but whose orientation is ever towards fulness. 9

When Christians are appropriately humble in the presence of God’s Word (the person) who speaks through the sacred words of God (the book), then we never pretend to have grasped the entirety of God’s truth. When we try to come up with a comprehensive list of qualities to describe God and take them out of the original Biblical context from which they were mined, it’s easy to fall into two fatal errors that lead to idolatry: 1) to presume that we have explained God exhaustively, 2) to develop an understanding of God’s “traits” that is decontextualized and thus without appropriate nuance so that it becomes possible to say for example that love and holiness are opposed to one another. Living in Christian paradox involves perpetually smacking down the modernist need to close the circle and write the final chapter explaining God’s system forever. The mystery beyond our totalizing grasp can never be the excuse for abandoning the search for God’s truth, but God’s truth must always remain beyond us if it is to remain God’s. So to put this in layman’s terms, read your Bible every day but don’t set boundaries for  your interpretation of what God says in Hebrews based on what He says in Romans as a way of “organizing” information because then you are making a golden calf out of your systematic explanation.

We are too desirous of being set at ease, and we do not consent to being taken out of our usual element. That is why we make a petty religion for ourselves and seek a petty salvation of our own petty proportions. The Gospel paradoxes are wine too strong for us, and we keep our ears closed to the great liberating Call… In our wretched timidity, we leave the freshness and freedom of Christianity in the hands of those who corrupt them… Making it serve pre-eminently natural man, we take away from it its greatest attraction and cause it to blaspheme. 15

Certainly he’s being a little harsh here, but is this not a description of our time? The Bible needs to be self-evident and surface-level-explanatory in order to “set us at ease.” If Adam wasn’t a historical figure or Noah’s flood was an ancient story the Holy Spirit borrowed to make a point, then we lose control over what the Bible is allowed to say and the Jenga tower of our exhaustive, self-glorifying explanation starts to teeter. It really boils down to the need for God to be small and miserly enough that all we are expected to do is take His talent, put it in the ground, and give it back. Just tell me what I need to do to be saved so then I can get on with the rest of my life. Now there is a distinction that needs to made here. The wine is too strong for many, but the Law does indeed “make the simple wise” (Psalm 19:7). God speaks to us on all different levels through His sacred text. That’s the beauty of it. Those who can scuba dive down and plumb the depths should not be scornful of the body surfers. The two abuses which mirror each other in Biblical interpretation are 1) to conflate our knowledge/interpretation with God’s wisdom as a means of giving power to ourselves (the modern error) and 2) to use the presence of mystery as a justification for cynical nihilism and a cop-out for pretending that truth doesn’t exist (the postmodern error).

Faith is surrender. The believer does not have to encumber himself with theories… Faith must share the privilege of charity: it does not seek to lay hold of its object, to monopolize it; it pours forth in it. Faith does not offer us a theory more beautiful than the philosophers’ [or systematic theologians’]: it raises us above theories. It has us breaking their circles. It makes us escape the limits of our own minds. It carries us past all sublime views on God to God himself. It establishes us in Being. Now, this which alone matters, only faith can do. 18

This is key. In our day we idolize “opinions” and “positions” (e.g. Should I call myself sacramental Pentecostal evangelical or Orthodox Bapto-Methodist or navel-gazing middle-upper class white hipster guy?). Opinions and positions are NOT faith. Faith is a relationship of surrender. The idolators of knowledge always rejoin at this point: “You say you trust in Jesus, eh, but which Jesus?” I trust that the Jesus who is will rescue those who want to trust in Jesus from the false Jesuses that all believers in Jesus construct in their minds. When we replace surrendering trust with true/false statements in order to make sure we’ve got the “right” Jesus, “right” gospel, etc, then we undermine the surrender that “does not seek to lay hold of its object” since our savior is a light who cannot be seized by our darkness (John 1:5). Does this mean we get to say we’re trusting Jesus if we’re not interested in what His book has to say to us? NOPE. But it does mean that we listen to what He says through His book without snapping His teachings too quickly into the theories we’ve already established about what He’s allowed to say.

All right. Well I’ve got daddy duty this morning so we’ll get back to de Lubac later.

3 thoughts on “Words of wisdom from Henri de Lubac

  1. Are there bishops *plural*? I’ve only heard of the one. All of the priests and bishops that I’ve worshiped with have been very good about remaining neutral while highlighting the moral issues.

    That the Catholic Church has outlived governments, powers, and religious upheavals despite being run by a bunch of sinner schmucks is a testament to the unique protection of it by God, just as Jesus promised.

    • True. “Look not upon our sins but the faith of your church.” The church is the ekklesia (calling out) itself, not the institution. The Spirit is faithful even within the rottenness of our flesh.

  2. “The main thing that holds me back is my confidence in the appropriateness of my wife’s call to sacramental ministry…”

    Marriage is a sacramental ministry. Anointing of the sick is a sacramental ministry. Being an extraordinary Eucharistic minister is a sacramental ministry. In certain cases, anyone is allowed to administer the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. Your wife is only excluded from the sacrament of Holy Orders and, lacking that, from administering the sacrament of reconciliation.

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