Henri de Lubac

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Henri de Lubac (20 February 18964 September 1991) was a French Jesuit priest who became a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, and is considered to be one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century.



Catholicism (1938)


Catholicism, translated from the fourth French edition (1947) by Lancelot C. Sheppard (London: Universe Books, 1962)

  • The supernatural dignity of one who has been baptized rests, we know, on the natural dignity of man, though it surpasses it in an infinite degree.[…] Thus the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, a supernatural unity, supposes a previous natural unity, the unity of the human race.[…] Was it not shown […] in Genesis where it was taught that God made man in his own image? For the divine image does not differ from one individual to another: in all it is the same image.[…] Whence comes the notion, so beloved of Augustinianism, of one spiritual family intended to form the one city of God.
    • Ch. I. "Dogma", pp. 1–3
  • The Church, without being exactly co-extensive with the Mystical Body, is not adequately distinct from it. For this reason it is natural that between her and it—as within the Mystical Body itself between the head and the members—there should arise a kind of exchange of idioms: Corpus Christi quod est ecclesia. "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." [Acts 9:5] "He who beholds the Church", says Gregory of Nyssa, "really beholds Christ."
    • Ch. II. "The Church", p. 26
    • Corpus Christi quod est ecclesia (Christ's body, which is the Church) is quoted from Augustine of Hippo, Sermo 268, 2. Cf. Col 1:18.
  • In the interests of refuting such chaotic concepts as those which see a divine Church only in a "Church of the saints", an entirely invisible society which is nothing but a pure abstraction, we must not fall into the contrary error. The Church "in so far as visible" is also an abstraction, and our faith should never make separate what God from the beginning has joined together: […] in ecclesiology just as […] in Christology, […] dissociation of the divine and the human […] is fatal. If necessary, the experience of Protestantism should serve us as sufficient warning. Having stripped it of all its mystical attributes, it acknowledged in the visible Church a mere secular institution; as a matter of course it abandoned it to the patronage of the state and sought a refuge for the spiritual life in an invisible Church, its concept of which had evaporated into an abstract ideal.
    • Ch. II. "The Church", pp. 27–28
  • Christian tradition has always looked on heaven under the analogy of a city. Coelestis urbs Jerusalem.[…] It is a city compact like a single house; a close-knit society, gathered like one family under a singe roof […] but at the same time extended to the uttermost.[…] Among those who are received within this heavenly city there is a more intimate relationship than subsists among the members of a human society, for among them there is not only outward harmony, but true unity […], the very consummation of unity, both the image and the result of the unity of the Divine Persons among themselves.[…] The Christian mysticism of unity is trinitarian. The likeness, which in every created soul must be the completion of the divine Image, is not that of a Spinozist God; it is that of a God of Love, of the God whose being is Love.
    • Ch. IV. "Eternal Life", pp. 49–51
  • Christianity, by those doctrinal aspects that we have just emphasized as well as by others, brought something absolutely new into the world. Its concept of salvation is not merely novel in comparison with that of those religions in existence at the time of its birth. It is a unique phenomenon in the religious history of mankind.

    For what do we witness outside Christianity whenever a religious movement rises above the domain of sense and effectively transcends the limit of nationality? In every case, though appearances may differ considerably, the basis is the same—an individualist doctrine of escape. It was this that inspired ancient mysticism, whether it sought to escape the vicissitudes of the sub-lunary world or to pass over the outer circle of the cosmos and to penetrate into the realm of intelligible Essences or even beyond.

    • Ch. V. "Christianity and History", p. 63
  • Flight, Escape: that in fact was Plato's dictum regarding the soul that acknowledges in itself a principle superior to the world. Plotinus, in his turn, recommended to his disciple the "flight of the alone to the Alone", and then Porphyry expiates on the setting free and the withdrawal of the soul. The same terms may be encountered in the religious philosophies of India.[…] With the Buddhist, too, it is the same act of negation, whether he denies the existence of the world or believes in the reality of his present wretchedness; and he who practises charity to a degree that sometimes reaches the sublime in the last resort relinquishes even that. Asanga, the great mystical doctor of the Mahâyâna, when he starts to map out the path of his bodhisattva's ascent from "world" to "world" until he reaches the very highest state, which is that of Nirvâna, as a matter of course describes it as a whole series of evasions: niryàna; so much so that it has been said that Buddhism's only God is Escape.
    • Ch. V. "Christianity and History", pp. 63–64
  • The moral value of the different systems varies very considerably. So does their spiritual depth; but in this connection the achievements of Greek thought, though it reached a very high level, cannot be compared with the heights of Indian thought. Sometimes understanding is imprisoned in myth, and sometimes it is turned inwards in pure reflexion—or what seems to be. Yet running all through these many differences there is always agreement about the basis of the problem and its presuppositions: the world from which escape must be sought is meaningless, and the humanity that must be outstripped is without a history.
    • Ch. V. "Christianity and History", pp. 64–65
  • Outside Christianity humanity can doubtless be raised in an exceptional manner to certain spiritual heights, and it is our duty—one that is perhaps too often neglected—to explore these heights that we may give praise to the God of mercies for them: Christian pity for unbelievers, which is never the fruit of scorn, can sometimes be born of admiration. But the topmost summit is never reached, and there is risk of being the further off from it by mistaking for it some other outlying peak. This is a fact noticed by many missionaries. It is often more difficult—though in the last resort more worthwhile—to bring to the fullness of truth souls whom a relatively more developed religion has stamped with its mark. A critical judgement, not of individual souls—for their precise situation in relation to the Kingdom is never known save to God alone—but of objective systems as found in a society and as offering material for rational examination, shows that there is some essential factor missing from every religious "invention" that is not a following of Christ.[…] Outside Christianity all is not necessarily corrupt; far from it,[…] but what does not remain puerile is always in danger of going astray, or, however high it climbs, of ultimate collapse. Outside Christianity nothing attains its end, that only end, towards which, unknowingly, all human desires, all human endeavours, are in movement: the embrace of God in Christ.
    • Ch. VII. "Salvation through the Church", pp. 111–112
  • It becomes increasingly clear that […] the Christian's watchword can no longer be "escape" but "collaboration". He must co-operate with God and men in God's work in the world and among humanity.
    • Ch. VII. "Salvation through the Church", p. 122
  • No one has the right to say with Cain: "Am I my brother's keeper?" [Gen 4:9] No one is a Christian for himself alone.
    • Ch. VII. "Salvation through the Church", p. 125
  • She is the Catholic Church: neither Latin nor Greek, but universal.[…] Nothing authentically human, whatever its origin, can be alien to her. "The heritage of all peoples is her inalienable dowry." In her, man's desires and God's have their meeting-place, and by teaching all men their obligations she wishes at the same time to satisfy and more than satisfy the yearnings of each soul and of every age; to gather in everything for its salvation and sanctification.
    • Ch. IX. "Catholicism", p. 156
    • "The heritage of all peoples is her inalienable dowry" is quoted from Clement of Alexandria.
  • To see in Catholicism one religion among others, one system among others, even if it be added that it is the only true religion, the only system that works, is to mistake its very nature, or at least to stop at the threshold. Catholicism is religion itself. It is the form which humanity must put on in order finally to be itself.
    • Ch. IX. "Catholicism", p. 157
  • It is […] the very opposite of a "closed society". Like its founder it is eternal and sure of itself, and the very intransigence in matters of principle which prevents its ever being ensnared by transitory things secures for it a flexibility of infinite comprehensiveness, the very opposite of the harsh exclusiveness which characterizes the sectarian spirit.[…] The Church is at home everywhere, and everyone should be able to feel himself at home in the Church. Thus the risen Christ, when he shows himself to his friends, takes on the countenance of all races and each hears him in his own tongue.
    • Ch. IX. "Catholicism", p. 157
  • The Church, trusting in the Holy Spirit that leads her, trusts also all the peoples that she comes to free. That is no sign of naïveté on her part. She […] knows […] that all men are one in community of their divine origin and destiny; and that suffices to give her confidence in face of all the theories engendered by pride and egoism.[…] Besides, does not the only efficacious way to bring out the hidden truth and to avoid extinguishing the good that would break forth lie in a systematic desire to study sympathetically those forms of thought that are most remote from us, and in this study to pay particular attention to privileged cases, however rare they may be? It is at its highest reaches that humanity must be understood; the plains—or the depressions—will always be explored soon enough.
    • Ch. IX. "Catholicism", p. 158
  • The Church's method is not syncretist any more than it is naïve. Syncretism is artificial, generally the work of rulers or literary men, and presupposes declining faith. It is an insult to the living God. In the energetic language of the prophets, syncretism is fornication. In the spiritual order it is barren, like the political system or philosophy from which it springs. It lowers and vulgarizes all the elements it combines[…]. But here again the history of the Church can teach us. Christianity rejected Gnosticism, a representative of the syncretist system; but such an uncompromising boldness has not hindered her in carrying out her work of assimilation with a breadth of vision that is more clearly manifest every day.
    • Ch. IX. "Catholicism", pp. 158–159
  • Protestantism, whether primitive or modern, Lutheran or Calvinist, orthodox or liberal, generally occurs as a religion of antitheses—and liberal theology is not the least marked by this characteristic. Either rites or morals, authority or liberty, faith or works, nature or grace, prayer or sacrifice, Bible or pope, Christ the Saviour or Christ the judge, sacraments or the religion of the spirit, mysticism or prophecy … but Catholicism does not accept these dichotomies and refuses to be merely Protestantism turned inside out.
    • Ch. X. "The Present Situation", p. 169 (ellipsis in original)
  • [D]oes not the mutual love of two beings complete them both, and call forth in each of them higher and more irreducible qualities? That is, in proportion as this love tends the more to true unity, because it is more spiritualized, so are these qualities more fully, more strictly personal.
    • Ch. XI. "Person and Society", p. 179
  • In the One there is no solitariness, but fruitfulness of life and warmth of presence.[…] In the all-sufficient Being there is no selfishness but the exchange of a perfect Gift. The created mind, though so faint a copy of him who is, is none the less a reproduction in some sort of his structure—ad imaginem fecit eum—and practiced eyes can discern the stamp of the creating Trinity. There is no solitary person: each one in his very being receives of all, of his very being must give back to all.[…] Thus it can also be said, to exalt its inner richness and to make clear its character as an end, which all others must acknowledge, that "a person is a whole world", but it must also be added at once that this "world" presupposes others with which it makes up one world only.
    • Ch. XI. "Person and Society", p. 182
    • Ad imaginem fecit eum (In the image [of God] he made him) is quoted from Origen, De principiis III, 6, 1. "A person is a whole world" is quoted from Jacques Maritain, Humanisme intégral (1935), p. 17
  • The Holy Spirit that Christ promised to send […] creates in man new depths which harmonize him with the "depths of God" [Job 11:7].
    • Ch. XI. "Person and Society", p. 186
  • Henceforth the idea of human unity is born. That image of God, the image of the Word, which the incarnate Word restores and gives back to its glory, is "I myself"; it is also the other, every other. It is that aspect of me in which I coincide with every other man, it is the hallmark of our common origin and the summons to our common destiny. It is our very unity in God.

    If, then, there took place in our past some "decisive" event that […] opened out to us the perspective of "the joy of an essentially universal union", we shall know where such an event took place.[…] Anyway, it is a fact that nowhere outside the influence of Christianity has man ever succeeded in defining its conditions; he has always wavered between the imagining of an individual survival in which beings remain separated and a theory that absorbs them in the One.

    • Ch. XI. "Person and Society", pp. 187–188
    • The "decisive" event opening out the perspective of "the joy of an essentially universal union" was hypothesized in various works by Léon Brunschvicg.
  • We realize that the men of each generation could possess no more than the science of the time, that revelation makes no difference here: its light is of another order. Neither the biblical writers nor the Fathers nor the medieval theologians could have known, obviously, about Neanderthal man or Sinanthropus, nor could they have had precise knowledge about the Chinese. But the material narrowness of their view was no hindrance to its formal breadth. And it is this latter which is proper to Catholicism; however remote the horizons which modern science discovers, Catholicism spontaneously incorporates them. Discoveries in astronomy, at first so disturbing, have resulted in the freeing of Christian thought from the confines of an ancient cosmology, ill-suited to its genius; and what was at first taken to be a dogmatic crisis was only a wholesome surprise. Thus we can be assured that the fresh conclusions forced upon us by our history and our empirical origins will help us, after their own fashion, to probe more deeply into the meaning of our Catholicism, in its concern for the whole history of man and its solicitude for each member of the human family.
    • Ch. XII. "Transcendence", pp. 196–197
  • [A] transcendent destiny which presupposes the existence of a transcendent God is essential to the realization of a destiny that is truly collective, that is, to the constitution of this humanity in the concrete. Otherwise it is not really for humanity that the sacrifice is made: it is still, despite assertion to the contrary, for other individuals, who in their transitory outward form contain nothing that is absolute and do not stand for any essentially higher value than those who are sacrificed to them; in the last resort it is all for one generation of humanity—the last—which is yet no greater than the others, and which will pass away like the others.[…] "I have no wish to sacrifice myself to that terrible God called future society," exclaims a character in a contemporary Russian novel. That is a very natural protest, possibly inspired by egoism, but one which cannot be reproved by reason. For no unselfishness can be sustained in face of an absurdity, and to require a worthy object for one's sacrifice is not to transform the sacrifice into self-interest.
    • Ch. XII. "Transcendence", pp. 197–198
    • The sentence cited, from a "novel by Rikachov", was quoted in L'Ordre nouveau (March 1, 1937).
  • In a non-transcendent society, the reduction of man to his "social relationships" will work inevitably to the prejudice of his personal interiority, and will beget a tyranny of some kind, however novel. Moreover, have we not already the right to think, short as is our experience of this sort of thing, that it provides our analysis with its first confirmation? When Marx's followers eventually become aware of this, they will have no longer any inclination to extol that "total revolution" that they suppose themselves to have achieved in human intelligence before implanting it in society. They will have no longer any inclination to sing of their deliverance from "metaphysical agony" and from the "obsession of God". They will have to return to "those accursed eternal questions", as Dostoievski called them.

The Eternal Feminine (1968)


The Eternal Feminine, translated by René Hague (London: Collins, 1971)

  • [S]ince being is analogical, we are quite correct in using the same words, in particular the word 'being', for both God and his creatures.
    • Part 1. "The Eternal Feminine", Ch. 4, p. 73
  • Pierre Teilhard was a consistent personalist. In his youth he may well have experienced the 'fascination of the impersonal and generalized' and confused them with the universal; but as soon as he began to develop his thought, he made a complete change of direction.
    • Part 1. "The Eternal Feminine", Ch. 5, p. 103
  • It is not the universal which takes on for us the appearance of the personal in order that it may make itself apprehensible by giving itself mythical expression; the universe does not become more or less personal and so acquire an added attribute. It is the personal which becomes universal, to the degree in which (subject to certain conditions) it realizes more profoundly its own specific character. Universality is the prerogative of the strongest personality. God, apart from whom nothing subsists, is pre-eminently the personal being, and it is for that reason that nothing subsists apart from him: even more, too, for that very reason, he is the 'personalizing' being. In becoming universal, Christ is not dissolved in the universe; he is the 'plasmatic principle' of the universe, he […] imposes his form on it.
    • Part 1. "The Eternal Feminine", Ch. 6, p. 118

Paradoxes of Faith (1987)


San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987. Translations of Paradoxes (1946) and Noveaux paradoxes (1955)

  • Remember, after all, that the Gospel is full of paradoxes, that man is himself a living paradox, and that according to the Fathers of the Church, the Incarnation is the supreme paradox.
    • Author's Preface, p. 8
  • The Gospel is full of paradoxes, by which the mind is at first troubled. The Savior teaches with great simplicity, yet he says also, "Blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me." And it is a question, at least, whether all substantial spiritual doctrine must not of necessity take a paradoxical form.
    • Ch. I. "Paradox", p. 13
  • Decadence, instability, disintegration, corruption, reversal of attitude, all that arises through the simple fact of one's going on existing without self-criticism, self-renewal, constant self-adaptation, without letting anything in one die, through the simple fact of gradually settling down in the vantage point one occupies, the good conscience one enjoys. Such is the permanent danger of all spiritual life. It is an inevitable deterioration which can only be overcome—and painfully at that—by a watchful mustering of strength—unless it be effortlessly vanquished by a wonderful gift of grace.…

    Whence the necessity of paradox: or rather the perpetual flavor of paradox that truth has, when it is freshly expressed, for the man who clings to a truth when it is in the process of turning into a lie.

    • Ch. I. "Paradox", pp. 14–15 (ellipsis in original)
  • Credulity, sectarianism, and sloth are three natural tendencies of man. Too often he canonizes them under nobler names.
    • Ch. II. "Christianity", p. 21
  • We must come to see that God is not so much the cause of moral obligation or the sanction of duty as the very substance of Good. Then what we call the moral proof brings us in one leap to the true God, revealing himself as God of Charity.
    • Ch. II. "Christianity", p. 24
  • The contact of a believer with a nonbeliever must take the form of a dialogue. The all-powerful action of pure sanctity alone is dispensed from it, since it is not bound by any law. But the dialogue will never get underway if it is not first a dialogue with myself.
    • Ch. III. "Witness", p. 36
  • Habit and routine have an unbelievable power to waste and destroy.
    • Ch. V. "Spirit", p. 58
  • The fear of falling a prey to error must never prevent us from getting to the full truth. To overstep the limit, to go beyond, would be to err through excessive daring; but there are also errors of timidity which consist precisely in stopping short, never daring to go any further than half-truths.

    Love of truth never goes without daring. And that is one of the reasons why truth is not loved.

    • Ch. IX. "Truth", p. 101
  • Everybody has his filter, which he takes about with him, though which, from the indefinite mass of facts, he gathers in those suited to confirm his prejudices. And the same fact again, passing through different filters, is revealed in different aspects, so as to confirm the most diverse opinions.

    Rare, very rare are those who check their filter.

    • Ch. IX. "Truth", p. 102
  • The most unbending thoughts are the most vulnerable to change.
    • Ch. IX. "Truth", p. 105
  • The denser the ignorance, the more enlightened it thinks itself to be.
    • Ch. IX. "Truth", p. 107
  • To seek sincerity above all things is perhaps, at bottom, not to want to be transformed; it is to cling to yourself, to have a morbid love of yourself, just as you are, that is to say, false. It is to refuse release.
    • Ch. X. "Man". p. 127
  • Nothing is more ingenious, more obstinate, nastier—indeed, in a sense, more clear sighted, than mediocrity harrying every form of superiority that offends it.
    • Ch. X. "Man", p. 136
  • There is nothing more demanding than the taste for mediocrity. Beneath its ever moderate appearance there is nothing more intemperate; nothing surer in its instinct; nothing more pitiless in its refusals. It suffers no greatness, shows beauty no mercy.
    • Ch. X. "Man", p. 137
  • If heretics no longer horrify us today, as they once did our forefathers, is it certain that it is because there is more charity in our hearts? Or would it not too often be, perhaps, without our daring to say so, because the bone of contention, that is to say, the very substance of our faith, no longer interests us? Men of too familiar and too passive a faith, perhaps for us dogmas are no longer the Mystery on which we live, the Mystery which is to be accomplished in us. Consequently then, heresy no longer shocks us; at least, it no longer convulses us like something trying to tear the soul of our souls away from us.... And that is why we have no trouble in being kind to heretics, and no repugnance in rubbing shoulders with them.

    In reality, bias against ‘heretics’ is felt today just as it used to be. Many give way to it as much as their forefathers used to do. Only, they have turned it against political adversaries. Those are the only ones with whom they refuse to mix. Sectarianism has only changed its object and taken other forms, because the vital interest has shifted. Should we dare to say that this shifting is progress?

    It is not always charity, alas, which has grown greater, or which has become more enlightened: it is often faith, the taste for the things of eternity, which has grown less. Injustice and violence are still reigning; but they are now in the service of degraded passions.

    • Ch. XV. "Faith", pp. 226-227
  • Though Dogma and theology are always intimately related and can never be separated, yet they are never entirely of the same stuff. Dogma is a vast domain which theology will never wholly exploit. There is always infinitely more in Dogma, considered in its concrete totality, that is to say, in the very Object of divine revelation, than in this "human science of revelation", in this product of analysis and rational elaboration which theology always is. The latter, in its very truth, will always—and all the more in that it will always be rationally formulated—be inadequate for Dogma; for it is indeed the explanation of it, but not the fulness. This weakness is congenital. True theology knows that. It does not confuse the orders.
    • Ch. XV. "Faith", p. 228
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