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Henri de Lubac

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Subject: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner, Covenantal theology (Roman Catholic), Jean Daniélou
Collection: 1896 Births, 1991 Deaths, 20Th-Century French Catholic Theologians, 20Th-Century French Jesuits, 20Th-Century Jesuits, 20Th-Century Roman Catholic Theologians, Cardinals Created by Pope John Paul II, French Cardinals, French Jesuits, French Military Personnel of World War I, French People of World War II, French Roman Catholic Theologians, Jesuit Cardinals, Jesuit Theologians, Members of the Académie Des Sciences Morales Et Politiques, Participants in the Second Vatican Council, Patristic Scholars, People from Cambrai
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Henri de Lubac

His Eminence
Henri-Marie de Lubac, S.J.
Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica
Appointed 2 February 1983
Term ended 4 September 1991
Ordination 22 August 1927
Created Cardinal 2 February 1983
Rank Cardinal-Deacon
Personal details
Born (1896-02-20)20 February 1896
Cambrai, France
Died 4 September 1991(1991-09-04) (aged 95)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Denomination Roman Catholic

Henri-Marie Joseph Sonier de Lubac, SJ (known as Henri de Lubac, French: ; 20 February 1896 – 4 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. His writings and doctrinal research played a key role in the shaping of the Second Vatican Council.


  • Early life and ordination 1
  • Professor and theologian 2
  • "The dark years" 3
  • Return to acceptance 4
  • Second Vatican Council 5
  • Late years 6
  • Selected bibliography 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life and ordination

Henri de Lubac was born in Cambrai to an ancient, noble family of the Ardèche. He was one of six children; his father was a banker and his mother a homemaker. The family returned in 1898 to the Lyon district, where Henri was schooled by Jesuits. A born aristocrat in manner and appearance, de Lubac studied law for a year before, aged 17, joining the Society of Jesus in Lyon on 9 October 1913. Owing to the political climate in France at the time as a result of the French anti-Church laws of the early twentieth century, the school had temporarily relocated to St. Leonard’s-on-Sea, East Sussex, where de Lubac studied 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, 1917[1] which would give him recurring episodes of dizziness and headaches for the rest of his life. Following demobilisation in 1919, de Lubac returned to the Jesuits and continued his philosophical studies, first at Hales Place in Canterbury and then, from 1920-3, at the Maison Saint-Louis, the Jesuit philosophate located at that time in St. Helier, Jersey. De Lubac taught at the Jesuit College at Mongré, in the Rhône, from 1923-4, and then in 1924 returned to England and began his four years of theological studies at Ore Place in Hastings, East Sussex. In 1926, the Jesuit college was relocated back to Fourvière in Lyons, where de Lubac completed the remaining two years of his theological studies. He was ordained to the priesthood on 22 August 1927.

Professor and theologian

In 1929, de Lubac was appointed professor of fundamental theology at the Catholic University of Lyon (the required doctorate having been conferred by the Gregorian University in Rome at the behest of the Father General of the Society of Jesus, without de Lubac's setting foot there or ever submitting a dissertation.[2] He would teach there from 1929 to 1961, though with two interruptions - first during World War II, when he was forced underground because of his activities with the French Resistance, and then from 1950 to 1958, when the Jesuit order, under pressure from Rome, removed him from his teaching responsibilities and sent him away from the Jesuit residence at Fourvière.

During the 1930s de Lubac spent his time teaching at the Catholic University and researching, as well as teaching (between 1935 and 1940) one course at the Jesuit seminary at Fourvière (where he also lived from 1934 onwards).[3] His first book, the now-classic Catholicisme (English title of the current edition: Catholicism: Christ and Common Destiny of Man) was published in 1938, before the war. In 1940,[4] he founded the series Sources Chrétiennes ("Christian Sources"), co-edited with fellow Jesuit Jean Daniélou, a collection of bilingual, critical editions of early Christian texts and of the Fathers of the Church that has reinvigorated both the study of Patristics and the doctrine of Sacred Tradition.

During the Second World War, the first interruption to this pattern came: de Lubac joined a movement of "spiritual resistance," assisting in the publication of an underground journal of Nazi resistance called Témoignage chrétien, or Christian Testimony. It was intended to show the incompatibility of Christian belief with the philosophy and activities of the Nazi regime, both in Germany and also under the cover of the Vichy government in southern France, which was theoretically independent of the Reich. De Lubac was often in hiding from the Germans and several of his co-workers on the journal were captured and executed. Even in hiding, he continued to study and write.

From 1944 onwards, with the end of the Nazi occupation of France, de Lubac came out of hiding and published a number of texts (many of them begun or completed before the war but not published in the early 1940s because of the shortage of paper) which became major interventions in twentieth-century Catholic theology. These included: Corpus Mysticum, which had been ready for publication in 1939, and appeared in February 1944; Drame de l'humanisme athée, published in December 1944; De la connaissance de Dieu published in 1945; Surnaturel: etudes historiques (a book which de Lubac had started at Hastings in his student days), published in 1946 in a print run of 700 copies, because of the ongoing paper shortage.

"The dark years"

In June 1950, as de Lubac himself said, "lightning struck Fourvière."[5] De Lubac, who resided at Fourvière but actually did no teaching there (aside from the one course he had taught between 1935 and 1940) and four Fourvière professors were removed from their duties (in de Lubac's case these included his professorship at Lyon and his editorship of Recherches de science religieuse) 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, Father Jean-Baptiste Janssens, under pressure from the curial office, and was because of "pernicious errors on essential points of dogma."[6]

Two months later,[7] 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, an intellectual movement characterized by renewed attention to the patristic sources of Catholicism, a 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'Eglise, (1953) (a text which would have great influence on Lumen Gentium, the document produced at Vatican II on the nature of the Church),[8] and Sur les chemins de Dieu, (1956).

Return to acceptance

His pioneering study Exégèse médiévale (1959–65) revived interest in the spiritual exegesis of Scripture and provided a major impetus to the development of Covenantal Theology (Roman Catholic).

Just before and during the conciliar years, with the blessing of his order, de Lubac also began to write and publish books and articles in defense of the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, his older friend and fellow Jesuit, who had died in 1955. Teilhard’s ideas had influenced several of the theologians of the nouvelle théologie and had also met with extreme disfavor in Rome.

Second Vatican Council

In August 1960, Pope John XXIII appointed de Lubac as a consultant to the Preparatory Theological Commission for the upcoming Second Vatican Council. He was then made a peritus (theological expert) to the Council itself, and later, by Pope Paul VI, a member of its Theological Commission (as well as of two secretariats). Although the precise nature of his contribution during the council is difficult to determine, his writings were certainly an influence on the conciliar and post-conciliar periods, particularly in the area of Ecclesiology where one of his concerns was to understand the Church as the community of the whole people of God rather than just the clergy.[9] De Lubac's influence on Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, and Gaudium et spes, the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, is generally recognized.[10]

Late years

In 1969 Pope Paul VI, an admirer of de Lubac's works, had proposed making him a Cardinal, but de Lubac demurred, believing that for him to become a bishop, as required of all cardinals by Pope John XXIII in 1962, would be "an abuse of an apostolic office". Paul VI instead elevated de Lubac's junior colleague Jean Daniélou in that consistory, having committed to grant the cardinalate to a Jesuit theologian.

In the years after Vatican II, de Lubac came to be known as a 'conservative theologian', his views completely in line with the magisterium—in contrast to his progressive reputation in the first part of his life. Contributing to this reputation, in 1972 de Lubac, alongside Joseph Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict XVI, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Walter Kaspar and Karl Lehmann, founded the journal Communio—a journal which acquired a reputation as offering a more conservative theology than Concilium.[11]

In 1983 Pope John Paul II offered de Lubac the cardinalate, this time with a dispensation from being consecrated a bishop. De Lubac accepted, and became the first cardinal after 1962 who was not a bishop. In the consistory of 2 February 1983, Pope John Paul II raised de Lubac, at 87, to the College of Cardinals. He was created Cardinal Deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica. Since 24 May 1990, de Lubac was the oldest living Cardinal. He died in Paris in 1991.

Selected bibliography

Primary texts

  • Publication of de Lubac's Oeuvres completes, (50 vols; Paris: Cerf, 1998-) is in progress
  • Catholicisme: les aspects sociaux du dogme, (Paris, 1938) [7 editions were published, the last in 1983.], translated as Catholicism, trans. Sheppard, L. & Englund, E, (London: Longman Green, 1950), and later reissued as Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 1988).
  • Corpus Mysticum: Essai sur L'Eucharistie et l’Église au moyen âge, (Paris, 1944), translated as Corpus Mysticum: The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages, trans Gemma Simmonds with Richard Price and Christopher Stephens, (London, 2006)
  • Le drame de l'humanisme athée, (Paris, 1944), translated as The Drama of Atheist Humanism, trans. Riley, M., Nash, A. & Sebanc, M., (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995) [A translation of the 1983 edition including chapters omitted from the 1949 translation.]
  • De la Connaissance de Dieu, (Paris, 1945) [A greatly expanded version of this book later appeared under the title Sur les chemins de Dieu, (Paris, 1956); this later work was translated as The Discovery of God, trans Alexander Dru with Mark Sebanc and Cassian Fulsom, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996)]
  • Surnaturel: études historiques, (1946). A new French edition issued by (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1991) contains a complete translation into French of all Greek and Latin citations. There is not yet (2013) an English translation. However, Augustinianism and modern theology, (1967) closely follows Part One of Surnaturel, and the conclusion is translated by David Coffey in Philosophy and Theology 11:2, (1999), 368-80.]
  • Histoire et esprit: l'intelligence de l'Écriture d'apres Origene, (Paris, 1950), translated as History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen, trans Anne Englund Nash with Juvenal Merriell, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007).
  • Aspects du bouddhisme, (Paris, 1951), translated as Aspects of Buddhism, trans George Lamb, (London: Sheed and Ward, 1953).
  • Rencontre du bouddhisme et de l'occident, (Paris, 1952)
  • Méditation sur l'Eglise, (Paris, 1953), translated as The Splendor of the Church, trans Michael Mason, (London: Sheed & Ward, 1956), and later reissued as (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986).
  • Aspects du bouddhisme, vol 2: Amida, (Paris: Seuil, 1955), translated as History of Pure Land Buddhism, trans Amita Bhaka, Buddha Dhyana Dana Review 12: 5-6 (2002); 13: 1, (2003)
  • Exégèse médiévale, 4 vols, (Paris, 1959, 1961, 1964), translated as Medieval Exegesis, trans Mark Sebanc (vol i), Edward M Macierowski (vols ii and iii), 4 vols, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998-)
  • Teilhard de Chardin: the man and his meaning, trans Rene Hague, (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1965).
  • Augustisme et théologie moderne, (Paris, 1965), translated as Augustinianism and Modern Theology, (London: G Chapman; New York: Herder & Herder, 1969), and reissued as (New York: Crossroad, 2000)
  • Le Mystere du surnaturel, (1965), translated as The Mystery of the Supernatural, trans. Rosemary Sheed, (London: G Chapman, 1967), and later reissued in a new edition by (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998)
  • The religion of Teilhard de Chardin, trans Rene Hague, (New York: Desclee Co.,1967).
  • Teilhard explained, trans Anthony Buono, (New York: Paulist Press,1968).
  • The Eternal Feminine: a study on the poem by Teilhard de Chardin, trans. René Hague, (New York: Harper & Row,1971).
  • Petite catéchese sur nature et grace, (Paris, 1980), translated as A Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace. trans. Richard Arnauder, FSC, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 1984).
  • Trois jésuites nous parlent: Yves de Montcheuil,1899-1944, Charles Nicolet,1897-1961, Jean Zupan, 1899-1968, (Paris, 1980), translated as Three Jesuits speak: Yves de Montcheuil,1899-1944, Charles Nicolet,1897-1961, Jean Zupan, 1899-1968. Presented by Henri de Lubac, trans by K.D. Whitehead, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987).
  • The Motherhood of the Church, trans Sergia Englund, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982)
  • Paradoxes of Faith. trans. Simon, P., Kreilkamp, S., & Beaumont, E., (San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 1987).
  • The Christian Faith: an essay on the structure of the Apostles' Creed, trans Richard Arnandez, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986).
  • At the Service of the Church: Henri de Lubac reflects on the circumstances that occasioned his writings, trans Anne Englund Nash, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993)
  • Theology in History, trans Anne Englund Nash, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996)
  • More Paradoxes. trans. A. Nash. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2002). [a translation of Autres Paradoxes]

Secondary texts

  • John Milbank. 2005. The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate concerning the Supernatural. Cambridge: William B Eerdmans
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar. 1991. The Theology of Henri de Lubac: An Overview. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. [Based on the 1976 German original]
  • David Grumett. 2007. De Lubac: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: T&T Clark
  • Bryan C. Hollon. 2009. Everything is Sacred: Spiritual Exegesis in the Political Theology of Henri de Lubac. Eugene, OR.: Cascade/Wipf & Stock
  • Rudolf Voderholzer. 2008. Meet Henri de Lubac: His Life and Work. San Francisco: Ignatius Press
  • Susan Wood. 1998. Spiritual Exegesis and the Church in the Theology of Henri de Lubac. Edinburgh: T&T Clark
  • Fergus Kerr. 2007. Henri de Lubac. In: Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians. pp. 67–87. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
  • Jérôme Ducor. 2007. "Les écrits d'Henri de Lubac sur le bouddhisme"; Les cahiers bouddhiques, n° 5 (Paris, Université Bouddhique Européenne, déc. 2007; ISSN 1777-926X), p. 81-110.
  • Antonio Russo, Henri de Lubac: Teologia e dogma nella storia. L'influsso di Blondel, Pref. di Walter Kasper, Edizioni Studium, Roma, 1990.
  • Antonio Russo, Henri de Lubac, Brepols, Paris, 1994.


  1. ^ F Kerr, Twentieth Century Catholic Theologians: From Neoscholasticism to Nuptial Mystery, (Malden, MA; Oxford: Blackwell, 2007) describes this as taking place at Les Éparges in 1916; Jürgen Mettepenningen, Nouvelle Théologie - New Theology: Inheritor of Modernism, Precursor of Vatican II. (London: T&T Clark, 2010), p96 describes it as taking place on All Saints Day 1917, though does not state where.
  2. ^ F Kerr, Twentieth Century Catholic Theologians: From Neoscholasticism to Nuptial Mystery, (Malden, MA; Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), p70
  3. ^ Jürgen Mettepenningen, Nouvelle Théologie - New Theology: Inheritor of Modernism, Precursor of Vatican II,(London: T&T Clark, 2010), p96
  4. ^ Most sources state 1940 - for example David Grumett, De Lubac, (2007), p8. Some others, though, state 1942.
  5. ^ de Lubac, H. (1993) At the Service of the Church, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, p. 67.
  6. ^ de Lubac, H. (1993) At the Service of the Church, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, p. 68.
  7. ^ This is correct, as opposed to some accounts which place Humani Generis first (such as Kerr, Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians, p74)
  8. ^ F Kerr, Twentieth Century Catholic Theologians: From Neoscholasticism to Nuptial Mystery, (Malden, MA; Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), p76
  9. ^ Grumett, D. (2007) De Lubac: A Guide for the Perplexed, London, T & T Clark, p. 51-52.
  10. ^ O'Malley, J. W. (2008) Vatican II: Did Anything Happen?, New York, Continuum, p. 75.
  11. ^ Jürgen Mettepenningen, Nouvelle Théologie - New Theology: Inheritor of Modernism, Precursor of Vatican II, (London: T&T Clark, 2010), p97

External links

  • Bio of Henri de Lubac
  • Henri de Lubac books published by Ignatius Press
  • Henri de Lubac profile and books on Goodreads
  • Works by or about Henri de Lubac in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Julijans Vaivods
Oldest living cardinal
24 May 1990 – 4 September 1991
Succeeded by
Ferdinando Giuseppe Antonelli
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