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Aug 22 De Lubac & Spiritual Worldliness

Today we travel to Lyon where the French Jesuit, Henri De Lubac was ordained a priest in 1927. Earlie in his training, the French novitiate had temporarily relocated to St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex because of anti-Church laws in France and de Lubac studied on the Southern English Coast before being drafted to the French army in 1914 due to the outbreak of the Great War. He received a head wound at Les Éparges on All Saints Day three years later which deeply traumatised him and would give him recurring episodes of dizziness and headaches for the rest of his life. However, this did not prevent him from years of accomplished teaching and writing, and In 1983 Pope John Paul II made him the first non-bishop cardinal since canon law had required cardinals to be bishops.


De Lubac, is now considered as one of the most important theologians of the twentieth century and one of the architects of the second Vatican Council. Originally considered to be revolutionary in his thinking, he challenged the status quo of the Catholic theological tradition and suffered a prolonged period of suspicion due to this. It was common at the time to highlight the difference between nature and grace, with the church almost floating above the grubby world. However, De Lubac went against the grain by highlighting the natural desire for the supernatural, and in 1938 he published seminal work, Catholicism (1938). This was a renewal of Catholic Social teaching , saying that it was more that the Church telling politicians what to do, but the Church itself that went beyond politics and anticipated the Kingdom of God. This was seen as a challenge to a Church still living with the Modernist crisis, and viewing the contemporary world – political, cultural and philosophical – with profound suspicion. As the Oxford Dictionary of the Catholic Church puts it succinctly: "De Lubac was one of the thinkers who created the intellectual climate that made possible the Second Vatican Council, largely by opening up the vast spiritual resources of the Catholic tradition which had been cramped by post-Tridentine 'baroque' theology."

As the Second World War consumed Europe, In 1940 Germany invaded the north of France and exercised de facto authority over the Vichy government in southern France. De Lubac had been assigned to Lyon, a centre of the French resistance against Nazism and de Lubac became a figure in the “spiritual resistance.” He was part of a loose network of Catholic lay people, bishops, and priests who risked everything to guide the church during this crisis. The theological foundations for de Lubac’s anti-racism had been outlined in his book Catholicism. There he argued that God sought to heal the divisions among the human race caused by sin and to regather human beings into a true unity. The church is the communio sanctorum, both the means to the unity of the human race and the visible sign of that unity, albeit incomplete this side of eternity. Racism, therefore, is not merely a moral failure. It strikes at the foundation of Christian doctrine. Early on in the German occupation, de Lubac spoke out openly against Nazism.

A series of lectures at the Catholic University of Lyon in 1940 gave de Lubac “an opportunity to attack racism,” European anti-Semites did not reject God’s favor toward a particular people, the Jews, they rejected a God who dispelled the ancient myths and who transcends the universe. They desired a return to the gods of nation and blood. “When we speak of ‘neopaganism,’ that is not a polemical expression,” he explained: “In a renewed form, it is indeed the ancient pagan ideal that is waking to reject Christ.” This amounted to “nothing less than the definitive apostasy of Europe.” When his open opposition to anti-Semitism became more dangerous, he turned to publishing underground journals, One day, returning to Lyon on a trip, he was informed by an anonymous source that there were orders from the Gestapo for his arrest. And under threat of arrest, de Lubac stayed in various religious houses, carrying in a satchel stacks of notecards that would later be organized into books.

As the world emerged into a post war rebuilding there was a backlash from his enemies in the Vatican and in 1950, as de Lubac himself said, "lightning struck Fourvière." The Jesuit philosophate in Lyon France. De Lubac, and four professors were removed from their duties and required to leave the Lyon province. All Jesuit provincials were directed to remove three of his books (Surnaturel, Corpus mysticum, and Connaissance de Dieu) and one article from their libraries and, as far as possible, from public distribution. The action came through the Jesuit Superior General, Jean-Baptiste Janssens, under pressure from the curial office, and was because of "pernicious errors on essential points of dogma." Two months later, Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Humani generis, widely believed to have been directed at de Lubac and other theologians associated with the nouvelle théologie and its willingness to address the ideas and concerns of contemporary men and women, a focus on pastoral work and respect for the competencies of the laity, and a sense of the Catholic Church as existing in history and affected by it.

What de Lubac called "the dark years" lasted nearly a decade. It was not until 1956 that he was allowed to return to Lyon and not until 1958 that the University got verbal approval from Rome for de Lubac to return to teaching the courses he previously taught. Although everything de Lubac wrote during these years was subject to censorship in Rome, he never ceased to study, write, and publish. During these years he brought out a study of Origen's biblical exegesis (1950), three books on Buddhism (1951, 1952, 1955), Méditations sur l'Église (1953 – a text which would have great influence on Lumen Gentium, the document produced at Vatican II on the nature of the church. He was part of the ‘ressourcement’ movement which challenged the church to return to its patristic, sacramental, and spiritual sources which underpinned the council. The Church was still struggling under the weighty influence of Thomas Aquinas and was felt to be stagnating under a dry Thomism.

However, in the years immediately following the Council, Henri de Lubac became impatient with an excessive liberalism, which went too far and accommodated itself far too readily with the culture, and in his view lost its mooring in classical Christianity. And so, along with his colleagues Hans Urs von Balthasar (see pod of Jun 26) and Joseph Ratzinger, he founded the theological journal Communio, which was meant as a counterweight to the liberal journal Concilium. Pope John Paul II, who had the highest esteem for de Lubac, stopped his address during a major talk and acknowledged the presence of de Lubac saying, "I bow my head to Father Henri de Lubac." Subsequently, the Pope appointed him a Cardinal.

His legacy of fine theological writings included the Splendor of the Church a book that has had a particular influence on Pope Francis – particularly a section towards the end on ‘Spiritual Worldliness’ Pope Francis lists it as one if his temptations in Evangelli Gaudium – his first encyclical, and blueprint for the church.

Pope Francis devotes five paragraphs to discussing "spiritual worldliness" as one of the temptations faced by pastoral workers. Quoting de Lubac: ..... if [spiritual worldliness] were to seep into the Church, “it would be infinitely more disastrous than any other worldliness which is simply moral”..... the temptation of "worldliness of mind ... the practical relinquishing of other-worldliness, so that moral and even spiritual standards should be based, not on the glory of the Lord, but on what is the profit of man; If this spiritual worldliness were to invade the Church and set to work to corrupt her by attacking her very principle, it would be something infinitely more disastrous than any worldliness of the purely moral order - even worse than the hideous leprosy that at certain moments in history inflicts so cruel a disfigurement on the Bride; when religion seems to set up the scandalous "in the very sanctuary itself ..."

Pope Francis in the encyclical goes on to offer this commentary Those who have fallen into this worldliness look on from above and afar, they reject the prophecy of their brothers and sisters, they discredit those who raise questions, they constantly point out the mistakes of others and they are obsessed by appearances. Their hearts are open only to the limited horizon of their own immanence and interests, and as a consequence they neither learn from their sins nor are they genuinely open to forgiveness. This is a tremendous corruption disguised as a good.


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