BY JOHN VENNARI
The New Theology is a false “religious” system that became popular among Catholics in Europe from the 1920s onward. Because it was recognized as resurgent modernism, it was kept under a lid by the Vatican and was condemned by Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis. Its primary founders were Maurice Blondel, Father Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar. It enjoys an undeserved popularity today.
What is the main contention of the partisans of the New Theology?
In 1950, The Thomist published an article by Father David Greenstock that warned against the New Theology. He explained that “The main contention of the partisans of this new movement is that theology, to remain alive, must move with the times” and that “traditional theology is out of touch with reality.” Their hallmark has always been scorn for the Magisterium.
How do they scorn the Magisterium?
The Popes have consistently taught that the philosophy and theology of St. Thomas Aquinas (Scholasticism) is the irreplaceable basis for Catholic teaching. In his Encyclical Pascendi, Pope St. Pius X said that Scholasticism was the remedy for modernism. He further warned, “We admonish professors to bear well in mind that they cannot set aside St. Thomas especially in metaphysical questions, without grave disadvantage.” Yet the founders of the New Theology were unanimously resolved that the Aristotelian system on which Thomism is based must be abandoned in favor of new philosophical systems.
Why is this fatally flawed?
Father Greenstock shows that modern philosophies cannot be “synthesized” into Catholic theology because “most people outside the Church suffer from an almost complete incapacity for logical thought. Their basis for argument is sentiment rather than reason. … This incapacity (for logical thought) is a direct result of these modern philosophies which we are now asked to adopt and to baptize — an impossible task.”
Where is the difficulty?
Father Greenstock explained, “we are asked to substitute for the clear metaphysical notions of Aquinas the fluid concepts of modern philosophies, and it is very difficult indeed for us to see how that can be done without harm to the unchangeable doctrines of the Faith.”
Can any examples be given of how the rejection of Thomist philosophy threatens Catholic theology?
One example among many is that it can destroy the Catholic teaching on the Real Presence in the Eucharist as defined by the Council of Trent.
Our definition of transubstantiation reads that the accidents of the consecrated bread stay the same — it still looks, smells, feels and tastes like bread. But the substance is no longer bread, but the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Substance and accidents are foundational terms of Thomistic/Aristotelian metaphysics. Our dogmatic definition of the Eucharist is based on these terms. If these metaphysical terms are not considered stable, and are now subject to new definitions and new meanings, then the very foundation of our doctrine on the Eucharist is shaken, and the definition of the Eucharist will change. Garrigou-Lagrange pointed out that the rejection of Thomistic philosophy places many doctrines in jeopardy such as original sin, sanctifying grace, the finality of the particular judgment and even truth itself.
Has this rejection of the Council of Trent’s teaching on the Eucharist actually happened?
In 1946, Father Garrigou-Lagrange quoted one advocate of the New Theology who said that transubstantiation was conceived of and defined by the scholastics (Thomists) and that “their doctrine is inadmissable.”
Who was Maurice Blondel?
Maurice Blondel [1861-1949], a layman, ultimately formulated the philosophy on which the New Theology is based. In order to “win over modern men” who reject objectivism (the submission of the mind to objective reality) Blondel formulated a “subjectivist” philosophy, more in line with other modern philosophies.
How did he do this?
By stating that religion is not something that goes from the head to the heart (objective reality) , but from heart to head (subjective). He said, “nothing can enter man which does not come from out of him and correspondence in some way to a need he has of expansion.” Hence anything supernatural (sanctifying grace) that is in man ultimately comes from the nature of man himself.
What’s wrong with that?
St. Paul says “Faith comes by hearing” — that is, it comes from God presenting reality to man and then man accepting it. Also sanctifying grace (our created participation in the Divine Life of God) is not natural to us. It is a free gift that is above our nature (more on this later) Neither Faith, nor the supernatural life of grace is “inside man” already. Yet Blondel said “Nothing can enter man which does not come from out of him.” Blondel’s teaching, in fact, is an extension of the Modernist notion of “Divine Immanence” condemned by Pope St. Pius X. That’s why many refer to Blondel as a “neo-modernist”.
Was Blondel in good faith?
The great Dominican, Father Garrigou-Lagrange believed that Blondel was not in good faith. Blondel manifested the standard trademarks of a modernist: 1) Blondel quoted texts of St. Thomas to make them mean the opposite of what they say; 2) he repeatedly met well- argued criticism from his adversaries with a mere categorical denial; 3) he continually claimed to be misunderstood; 4) he was always “explaining” how his thinking is really orthodox, so that to this day it is disputed what he is actually saying; 5) years later, he admitted to Fr. Henri de Lubac that he purposely disguised his true ideas in order to escape certain censure from Catholic authorities.
Who was Father Henri de Lubac?
Father de Lubac [1896, 1991] was a Jesuit who saw in Blondel’s teaching the basis of a New Theology. Blondel had rejected Thomistic philosophy, and de Lubac would incorporate this into a new system that would reject Thomistic theology.
Did the New Theology have any sympathizers in high place?
Even though Pope Pius XII had warned against these new teachings, the Vatican Secretary of State, Msgr. Montini, gave encouragement to the New Theology. At the same time, Montini was also conducting back-door dealings with the Stalinists, again, contrary to the will of Pius XII.
What is the heart of de Lubac’s New Theology?
Building on Blondel’s philosophy, de Lubac taught that the supernatural is a necessary perfection of nature, without which nature is frustrated in its essential aspirations. This means that the supernatural is needed to complete nature which remains incomplete without it. Hence, the supernatural is not a gratuitous gift but a part of nature owed to nature; in other words, the supernatural is not supernatural but natural, and lies within the bounds of nature.
Why is this wrong?
The Catholic Church teaches that the whole supernatural order of grace is exactly that: gratuitous — a sheer gift of God. Nature may be capable or well-suited to supernature, but it in no way strictly requires grace which is of a different order, infinitely superior, and given by God, as God wills, in a manner essentially independent of the received nature. This New Theology leads to pantheism. In 1981, in his book Gethsemane, the lone voice of Cardinal Siri got right to the heart of de Lubac’s confusion. He warned that if de Lubac’s theology is taken to its logical conclusion, “it would mean that either Jesus Christ is not God, or that man is Divine” — again, modernism!
Was de Lubac in good faith?
Father Garrigou-Lagrange exposed de Lubac’s errors in his 1946 article “Where is the New Theology Leading Us?,” pointing out that this new theology is just a re-hash of modernism. De Lubac simply responded with insults and mockery, accusing Garrigou-Lagrange of having “simplistic views on the absoluteness of truth.” When Pope Pius XII condemned de Lubac’s theology in Humani Generis,(#’s 29,30,32,34), de Lubac simply stated that this was “highly one-sided … it doesn’t concern me.”
But wasn’t de Lubac a great expert on the Fathers of the Church?
Writing in The Thomist (1950) Father David Greenstock warned that the only reason that the leaders of the New Theology overwhelm the reader with the Greek Fathers is in order to get around St. Thomas Aquinas, whom they actually disdain, no matter how much they pledge their devotion to him.
Anything else about de Lubac?
Henri de Lubac was an avid defender of the evolutionist/pantheist Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard also propagated great confusion regarding the natural and supernatural orders, claiming that nature evolves into supernature — again, modernism!
Can Teilhard be defended as orthodox?
Not at all. How is it possible to defend a man who makes pantheistic statements such as, “Catholicism deceived me with its narrow definitions of the World … The World around me becomes divine …”
Did de Lubac have any regrets?
At the end of his life, he started to wonder if perhaps he hadn’t allowed himself to stray into forbidden doctrine. He wrote, “This period is as full of error as any … maybe I should have concentrated more on essentials … for the last seven or eight years I have been paralyzed by the fear of confronting head on, in concrete fashion, the essential problems in their scolding reality? Out of wisdom or weakness? Was I right or wrong?” By then, however, he had already done his damage. Today, his cult lives on.
Who Was Hans Urs von Balthasar?
Father von Balthasar was a disciple of the New Theology whose books are extremely popular within “conservative” circles. In the 1930s, he developed a powerful aversion to the scholastic theology of St. Thomas. He then became greatly influenced by Karl Barth, the famous Protestant thinker. Von Balthasar made Christ, rather than the Catholic Church, the center of Christian unity — as if Christ could somehow be divorced from His one true Church — hence, paving the way for “Catholic” ecumenism. He favored and incorporated the philosophy of Hegel, which is the philosophy of “becoming” (never ending movement), as opposed to the sound Thomistic philosophy of “being”. Never-ending-movement, constant flux — again, modernism.
What effects did this have?
Many. One of the most serious is that it established a new principle of “Living Tradition” which holds that Tradition, and therefore doctrine, can change. Father Boulliard, a disciple of the New Theology said, “A theology which is not current [does not keep changing] will be a false theology.”
Did these thinkers have any influence on Vatican II?
These thinkers were THE influence on Vatican II. In his book, Vatican II Revisited, Bishop Aloysius Wycislo, a rhapsodic advocate of Vatican II, writes that “Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis had . . . a devastating effect on the work of a number of pre-conciliar theologians” Wycislo then rejoiced that “theologians and biblical scholars, who had been ‘under a cloud’ for years, surfaced as periti (theological experts advising the Bishops) at Vatican II.” This despite the Council rules that no theologian who had ever been under suspicion should be admitted as a theological expert at the Council. Wycislo mentioned by name these theologians as Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, John Courtney Murray, Yves Congar, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Henri de Lubac.
Did their Theology prevail?
Yes. Father Henrici, S.J., an advocate of the New Theology said that de Lubac’s theology “which insists on the non-opposition between nature and supernature … became the official theology at Vatican II.” Further, Father Henri Boulliard, another disciple of the New Theology, wrote in triumph that the word “supernatural” does not appear in any of the major documents of Vatican II.
Who were some other admirers of the New Theology?
At Vatican II, two prominent admirers were Father Joseph Ratzinger from Germany and Archbishop Karol Wojtyla from Poland. As these two men advanced in today’s Church, so did the influence and acceptance of the “New Theology,” despite its condemnation by Pius XII. In the 1980s, de Lubac and von Balthasar were both named Cardinals, without ever having to retract their dangerous doctrines. Disciples of the New Theology fill many theological chairs at Catholic universities worldwide.
Doesn’t the fact that some of these men were named Cardinals guarantee their orthodoxy?
No. Church history is replete with examples of various types of unsound men being promoted to high position — Judas being the first.
But why do some of the advocates of the New Theology sometimes sound somewhat conservative?
Because they don’t always take the principles of their flawed system to their logical conclusion. The New Theology is subjectivist by nature. Hence there are “conservatives” and “progressives” within the New Theology, just as, St. Pius X warned, there are “conservatives” and “progressives” within Modernism. (Pascendi #27). Further, Blondel, Teilhard de Chardin and others have admitted that they disguised their new doctrine under traditional sounding terminology.
Where has the New Theology led us?
As the clear-sighted Father Garrigou-Lagrange warned in 1946, it has led straight back to modernism. Further, as Suzanne Rini rightly observes, the New Theology should not even be called a “theology” since it is simply resuscitated gnosticism.
What have been the results?
The Vatican II church of ecumenism and neo-modernism, showcase of the “New Theology”, is in shambles. Boulliard’s principle that “a theology that is not current (always changing) is a false theology” is in full force with Vatican II’s “continuous aggiornamento”. Theological confusion now reigns, especially since von Balthasar, de Lubac, et al, are now considered “conservatives” as opposed to the “extreme liberals” like Hans Kung, Charles Curran and Richard McBrien. Those who hold to the uncompromising Catholic Faith of Garrigou- Lagrange, Pope St. Pius X, Pope Pius XII and their predecessors are sneered at as “extremists-on-the-right” and “integrists.”
What do we do?
Hold fast to the traditional Catholic Faith. Don’t bother reading de Lubac, Von Balthasar, or any disciples of the New Theology. Ignatius Press is the main publishing house for main- streaming the leaders of the New Theology into the English-speaking world. Why waste time reading these suspect men when there are so many thoroughly orthodox saints and authors to read?
Is there any hope?
Scripture teaches “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Since the New Theology is built on lies, sooner or later, it will all come crashing down upon itself. In the meantime, our duty is to pray for those infected with these erroneous ideas, live the Fatima Message and keep the Catholic Faith, as the Athanasian Creed admonishes, “integral and inviolate”.
* “Where is the New Theology Leading Us?” — Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Angelicum, 1946. (English translation, Catholic Family News, Aug. 1998).
* “They Think They’ve Won” — sì sì no no’s 10 part series on the New Theology, (Originally published in 1993 in Italy, English translation by the Angelus Press, 1994).
“Thomism and the New Theology”, David Greenstock, T.OP. The Thomist, 1950.
“Gnosticism Resuscitated Under the Cover of “New Theology”, Suzanne M. Rini, (Catholic Famiiy News, Aug, 1998)
Pascendi Dominici Gregis (Encyclical Against Modernism), Pope St. Pius X, 1907.
Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII, Aug. 12, 1950.
Denzinger — The Source of Catholic Dogma, Herder, 1955.
Reality, A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. Herder, 1950.
Gethsemane: Reflections on the Contemporary Theological Movement. Cardinal Siri, Franciscan Herald Press, 1981.
Vatican II Revisited: Reflections by One Who Was There, Bishop Aloysius Wycislo, Alba House, 1987.