Rahner and de Lubac on Nature and Grace S. Joel Garver
S. Joel Garver
Much of 19th century and early 20th century Roman Catholic theology was dominated by a carefully drawn distinction between nature and grace and between nature and supernature. This distinction was often drawn in such a way as to dichotomize the two realms as extrinsically and externally related to one another to the point that the “supernatural” could almost never been seen as bearing upon the “natural.”
Overcoming this extrinsicism was a central element in the theology of Karl Rahner, rooted as it was both in Thomistic thought such as that of Maréchal and in the existentialism of thinkers like Heidegger. Thus Rahner was able to assert, maintain, and defend the essential integrity of nature and grace, nature and supernature.
Nonetheless, Rahner’s version of integralism was not the only way in which theologians attempted to surmount the former extrinsicism1 Another kind of integralism was developed by Henri de Lubac, rooted in the thought of Maurice Blondel and filled in by other participants in the nouvelle théologie (e.g., Hans Urs von Balthasar). 2 The difference between Rahner’s approach and that of de Lubac (and the nouvelle théologie) can be summarized, very roughly and schematically, in the following way: while Rahner’s thought tends to naturalize the supernatural, de Lubac tends to supernaturalize the natural. Thus, where Rahner begins with the subjectivity of the human person, the individual’s infinite spiritual horizon, and its continuity with God’s nonetheless gracious self-revelation, the nouvelle théologie begins with God and his self-revelation as Trinity in the event of Christ as both fulfilling every human aspiration and yet totally unexpected and incomparable.3
In this essay, I will summarize these two versions of integralism, placing them in historical context and noting both points of comparison and the ways in which they contrast. I will also evaluate each version in terms of the way in which it has been criticized from outlook of the other version. Out of this evaluation I will attempt to show that Rahner’s version of integralism, though in many ways impressive, still contains significant problems that render it a less helpful theological construct, especially in a post-modern context. De Lubac’s version of integralism, on the other hand, despite some weaknesses and the ways in which it has sometimes been deployed by conservative theologians, has within it, I will argue, the resources for developing a radically orthodox postmodern theology. In this latter assertion I find myself in sympathy with certain trends among contemporary theologians such as John Milbank.
Before turning to the details of either Rahner or de Lubac, we can begin by tracing the outlines of the kinds of extrinicism against which they are reacting, the neo-scholastic, “two-tier” account of nature and grace. In this view the addition of “grace” was seen as super-added to a human nature that was already complete and sufficient in itself and apart from any intrinsic human need, thereby vindicating, it was thought, an Augustinian emphasis upon the sheer gratuity of grace against all forms of Pelagianism. In taking this step, however, the patristic and medieval notion of a “natural desire for the beatific vision” (desiderium naturale visionis beatificae)—that human persons were somehow naturally “apt” for life with God—became eclipsed and the relationship between an extrinsically related nature and grace developed into a problem. Grace came to be conceived as a “stuff” that functions as an addendum to our nature, but also transforms that nature, yet in a way that lies outside of conscious experience.
The diagnoses of both Rahner and de Lubac offer similar descriptions and implicit criticisms of this picture. Rahner writes that on such a view:
...grace is a reality which we know about from the teaching of the faith, but which is completely outside our experience and can never make its presence felt in our conscious personal life. We must strive for it, knowing as we do through faith that it exists, take care (through good moral acts and reception of the sacraments) that we possess it, and treasure it as our share in the divine life and the pledge and necessary condition for life in heaven. (1992:97)
Or as de Lubac notes, within the neo-scholastic perspective “the supernatural order loses its unique splendor; and…often ends by becoming no more than a kind of shadow of that supposed natural order” (1998:36). In doing this, the tendency of theology is to see
...nature and supernature as in some sense juxtaposed, and in spite of every intention to the contrary, as contained in the same genus, of which they form as it were two species. The two were like two complete organisms; too perfectly separated to be really differentiated, they have unfolded parallel to each other, fatally similar in kind. Under such circumstances, the supernatural is no longer properly speaking another order, something unprecedented, overwhelming and transfiguring... (1998:37)
While the diagnoses of Rahner and de Lubac are, for the most part, quite similar, we can begin to see already where they will eventually diverge, especially in de Lubac’s emphasis on the “unprecedented” character of grace. With that in mind, we can turn to their specific accounts of integralism.
Let’s begin with an overview of Rahner’s version of integralism. In his attempt to overcome the extrinsicism of neo-scholastic theology, Rahner utilizes the insights and tools provided by Joseph Maréchal’s post-Blondelian Kantianism and Martin Heidegger’s existentialist phenomenology. From Maréchal in particular Rahner acquires the epistemological insight that every act of human understanding contains within it an orientation toward infinite Being as the a priori condition of that understanding.4 This focus upon self-transcendence was no doubt further focused by Rahner’s study of Heidegger, but always remained in conversation with Aquinas and the traditions of Thomistic theology. In this construction, Rahner attempts to move beyond older categories of thought—especially overcoming its extrincisism—in order both to give Aquinas a more authentic reading and to speak theologically to a modern world.
Rahner builds up his integralist picture in several steps. First, he is concerned that grace remain grace, not something that human persons can “require” from God, but rather receive only ever as gift. In order to be able to receive it, however, they must have a capacity for receiving it. This fundamental capacity for God, for receiving his grace and love, is what Rahner refers to as an “existential,” a basic aspect of what it means to be authentically human (1992:112).
Second, Rahner insists that this “existential” is, nonetheless, “supernatural” rather than “natural” for human beings. Only by maintaining its supernatural character can the existential be seen as freely bestowed, rather than obligatory, and therefore the grace that it receives be seen as truly grace (1992:112).
Third, Rahner still must retain the concept of a “pure nature” as a formal distinction with regard to human persons, in order to safeguard the true gratuity of grace as something not required by that pure nature in itself. Nonetheless, for Rahner, no “pure nature” ever really exists in any actual human experience apart from the “supernatural existential.” Thus this “pure nature” is only a postulate—in Rahner’s terms, a “remainder concept” (Restbegriff)—having a regulative function, and is never able to be isolated and delimited in any real concrete situation. Nonetheless, the postulate of a pure nature is a “necessary and objectively justified one, if one wishes to achieve reflexive consciousness of that unexactedness of grace which goes other with human beings’ inner, unconditional ordination to it” (1992:114). Thus the existential must be experientially interpreted as supernatural in order for grace to remain received as grace.
Fourth, the “supernatural existential” is not to be identified with any potentia obedientialis that is proper to human nature, but the notion of a potentia obedientialis is not for that reason to be rejected. This potentia is, for Rahner, a movement or ordination within the postulated pure nature that constitutes an openness for the supernatural existential (1992:114). As such, this potentia must be interpreted as more than a mere “non-repugnance.” It must also be seen as an active longing for God that is present in the human pre-apprehension (Vorgriff) of everything—an openness for the whole realm of being—that is granted in every act of understanding and constitutes the uniqueness and self-transcendence of the human subject (1978:18-20).
Fifth, although this natural self-transcendence and the supernatural existential are to be held as formally distinct, in any actual concrete experience “the supernatural existential may already be at work” rendering the ordinary lived experience of the potentia obedientialis as one already laced with traces of actual grace (1992:115). In this way we continue to preserve the gratuity of grace without thereby falling into extrinsicism.
Thus far we have Rahner’s integralist vision—and an imposing one at that, deploying the tools of transcendental philosophy in the service of theology. Before drawing out further implications of Rahner’s views and leveling criticisms, however, let us outline de Lubac’s alternative integralism.
Where Rahner is making use of Martin Heidegger and Joseph Maréchal, de Lubac is building more directly upon Maurice Blondel, particularly his watershed work Action.5 In this book Blondel develops a phenomenology of human action that seeks to demonstrate that human volition is “never equal to itself” and that its natural desires and capacities require something more—transcendent and supernatural—which, nonetheless, cannot be demanded but only accepted as a free gift. While this may sound analogous to Rahner, the difference lies in the fact that whereas Rahner sees this self-transcendence accompanying each and every particular action (or act of understanding) as an a priori condition of possibility (and thus as general), Blondel places this self-transcendence precisely within the particular, historical human actions themselves where what we desire or will permanently escapes us in the doing of it (and thus not in an a priori structure).6 But this will become more clear as we proceed.
De Lubac builds upon Blondel’s basic outlook in his own version of integralism, first in his 1946 work, Surnaturel, but then more decisively in his 1965 book, Le Mystère du Surnaturel.7 While de Lubac’s earlier book had been charged with undermining the gratuity of grace (and Rahner was among its critics), his later work attempts to vindicate his earlier thesis. His argument moves forward in the following manner.
First, he argues that in the Fathers and medieval theologians there is a fundamental continuity between human action and supernatural grace so that the natural desire for the beatific vision is a sign of grace that is always-already present and acting in us, not just a bare possibility of grace being given (1998:24ff., 207ff.). Thus the character of grace must be conceived by way of paradox: that human nature, by nature, has a supernatural end and yet this end cannot be seen as in any way owed to human beings as a debitum, but rather must always be received as pure gift.8
Second, in order to substantiate this claim, de Lubac examines the teaching of a number of Fathers (Origen, Augustine, etc.) and medieval theologians (Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, John Duns Scotus, etc.). He demonstrates that the Aristotelian notion of a “nature” is importantly revised by these figures since for Aristotle, it seems, the natural end of a creature must be in principle attainable by the creature’s own resources and cannot be impeded by anything external to the creature.9 But this is precisely what Christian thinkers have denied, perhaps most fully in Aquinas’ real distinction between existence and essence in the creature and his assertion that it can be the “second act” of a creature that is most proper to it.10
Applying this to the question of nature and grace, this means that what is most unique and proper to a human being is the desire for God, despite the fact that this desire cannot demand its own fulfillment without destroying the very nature of that fulfillment, which lies in the freely given gift of God’s grace and love. Thus what is most intimate to us as human beings is, paradoxically, supernatural to us and only to be enjoyed as a gift (1998:101-118). In support he draws upon many sources, for example, quoting Bonaventure, “Because [the human soul] was made to participate in beatitude...it was made with a capacity for God and thus in his image and likeness” and “Since all creatures were made for God [propter Deum] according to the verse, ‘The Lord has made all things for himself [propter semetipsum]’ (Prov 16:4), the rational creature alone was made to enjoy God, and to be beatified in him, for it alone is in the likeness” (1998:99).11 Likewise, de Lubac cites Thomas Aquinas, “Man was made in order to see God: for this purpose God made him a rational creature, so that he might participate in his likeness, which consists in seeing him” (1998:100).12
Third, this version of integralism gives a significant place to the particularity of the historical, which one would expect, building as it is upon Blondel. In particular, the event of Christ is seen by de Lubac as the place in which the natural desire to see God finds its fulfillment since, in Christ, humanity is united to God by nature, although the event of Christ itself is wholly gratuitous. All other events and actions in which human nature self-transcendently desires God are to be seen by analogy with the event of Christ either as typological anticipations of Christ or the historical outworkings of what Christ accomplished in his own life (1950:55-59).
In this way, then, de Lubac outlines a form of integralism that is in many respects analogous to that of Rahner, but which diverges at a number of points and appears to make less use of the categories of existential phenomenology.
With these points in mind we can now move on to critical interaction between the integralisms of Rahner and de Lubac. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there was little direct and explicit interaction between the writings of these two thinkers aside from some scattered remarks and a few early essays. Nonetheless, there is in both authors what seems to be a significant amount of posturing over against unnamed interlocutors whom, we can gather, represent the alternative form of integralism. Thus some implications can be drawn out from these passages. Let’s start, however, with an evaluation of de Lubac from a Rahnerian perspective.
In 1950 Rahner did write a review of de Lubac’s earlier work, Surnaturel, and that review is a good place to start.13 While Rahner expressed much appreciation for de Lubac’s effort and even agreement insofar as de Lubac was rejecting the older extrinsicism, he was worried that de Lubac’s integralism too easily conflated the gratuity of creation with the gratuity of divine revelation. In doing so, Rahner suggested, de Lubac was confusing nature and grace and, thereby, put the true gratuity of grace at risk. This is precisely what Rahner’s alternative, the “supernatural existential,” was designed to avoid. We will return to this below.
Other comments from Rahner include some passing references, for example, that de Lubac “scorns” the notion of the potentia obedientialis (1992:114) or that even de Lubac must hold “that a spiritual life toward God as an end approached merely asymptotically is not to be dismissed as meaningless from the start” (1992:115). But these passing comments are less than helpful.
For one thing, de Lubac points out that these statements appear to be mistakenly directed at an article in German that he did not in fact write. De Lubac goes on to say that he “must also make it quite clear that I have never ‘scorned’ the concept of potentia obendientialis except in the very sense in which [Rahner] himself resolutely rejects it” (1998:107), that is, either reduced to a mere “non-repugnance” or as something that is actually able to be delimited as part of a pure nature.
With regard to the category of a “pure nature,” it is true that de Lubac rejects it even as a “remainder concept” or formal distinction. Against Rahner, de Lubac asserts that his view does not completely “naturalize” the supernatural or confuse the gratuity of creation with the gratuity of revelation, thereby conflating nature and grace. Rather, de Lubac sepaks of a “twofold gratuitousness” or “twofold initiative” or “twofold gift” of God (1998:51). While this double movement of grace (creation and elevation) needs to be asserted, that gift of grace is, for de Lubac, given in the single creating act of God with no need to posit any additional re-supply of grace.
But this does not, he thinks, result in a conflation of nature and grace. To assert that it does is, de Lubac suggests, to confuse the integrity of human nature with a purported purity of human nature. On this view, Schindler says, the “integrity of [human] nature is to be found only within and not outside the existential conditions of the one concrete order of history, hence only as always-already affected by both grace and sin” (de Lubac 1998:xxiv). This returns us to my original assertion that de Lubac’s integralism actually tends to “supernaturalize the natural.”
While there is further disagreement between Rahner and de Lubac in how they work out the implications of their respective integralisms (e.g., with regard to “anonymous Christianity,” the relation between church and world, and so on), these issues will be better discussed after having outlined de Lubac’s criticisms of Rahner regarding nature and grace.
In point of fact, de Lubac says very little that is directly negative about Rahner’s integralism. Of the nine or so references to Rahner in his The Mystery of the Supernatural, they are all positive quotations of or at least neutral allusions to Rahner’s work.14 Even in as late a work as his A Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace, de Lubac’s few passing references to Rahner seem innocuous.15 Nonetheless, there are some hints of an underlying dissatisfaction with Rahner’s formulation of integralism, particularly de Lubac’s passing mention—“in Rahner’s language...‘existential’...”—followed by a footnote that reads, in part, “Really, to the extent that this ‘existential’ is conceived as a kind of ‘medium’ or ‘linking reality,’ one may object that this is a useless supposition, whereby the problem of the relationship between nature and the supernatural is not resolved, but only set aside” (1998:102). And this serves as key whereby we can detect the places in which de Lubac’s other comments are likely directed against Rahner’s transcendental integralism.
The essence of de Lubac’s critique seems to be the following. Adding another grace-given level of desire for grace (the supernatural existential), in fact does nothing to overcome the paradox of the sheer gratuity of grace and the rejection of extrinsicism. What Rahner achieves is a new two-tier system to replace the old, except now it is expressed in terms of transcendental philosophy rather than neo-scholastic metaphysics. 16 In point of fact, the structure of the supernatural existential is scarcely distinguishable from the purely natural self-transcendence present in the human pre-apprehension (Vorgriff) of limitless being. The concrete experience of both the Vorgriff and the supernatural existential turns out to be, more or less, a longing for something beyond our finitude. The object of that longing, however, is still distinguished by Rahner as a “formal object” whose content remains unspecified until made explicit through Christian revelation.17
On Rahner’s view, from de Lubac’s perspective, it seems that apart from this revelation of grace, universally available as the object of our longing, the historically particular events of grace—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—would remain extrinsic to us. How is the role of revelation, making explicit the content of our longings, supposed to preserve the absolute gratuity—the unexpected and incommensurable character—of grace? Does not the Rahnerian solution, instead, reduce grace to our merely natural expectations (paralleled in the supernatural existential without real differentiation) and thereby “naturalizes” it, precisely as Rahner implies de Lubac is guilty of?
This is where Blondel’s phenomenology of human action and historical events rises to the surface of de Lubac’s integralism. For de Lubac, and his followers, it is precisely and only within and by reference to certain historical events, actions, and symbols, that the supernatural can be identified in all of its unexpected and incommensurable gratuity. De Lubac will not begin, as Rahner, with something universal for every person, inscribed into the a priori structure of knowledge, but with the unique supernatural revelation of God in Christ that, while it does satisfy our natural longings, does so by shattering them with the Good News of God in the flesh to which the proper reaction is to be “struck dumb with amazement” (1998:132-139). Only in light of this supernatural revelation can the full gratuity of the end of human nature be truly known. This perspective is aptly summarized by Medard Kehl,
Even if the creature represents a presupposed reflection of the creator and his love, the historical event of God redeeming us in Christ does not result from this presupposition. The positive content of the analogous correspondence between the created order of nature and the historical order of salvation lies precisely in the (gratuitously given) openness for the, once again, “totally other,” underivable completion of the self-revelation of God in Christ which could never be calculated from creation itself and which is thus to be received only as pure gift. (1982:22)18
This integralist perspective is why I initially referred to de Lubac’s position as “supernaturalizing the natural” and Rahner’s as the opposite, since the tendency of the latter seems more to stress the continuity between grace and human expectation. Therein lies de Lubac’s difficulty with it.
Much of this kind of critique of Rahner’s integralism, however, is merely implicit in de Lubac’s own writings. It does become quite clear and pointed, however, in the writings of de Lubac’s colleague, Hans Urs von Balthasar. He writes, for instance, that
God’s saving acts in history are not “transcendentally” (hence “known” but not “in consciousness”) etched into this [natural human] longing [for God]—even if it had always been under the guidance of grace (supernatural existential)—in such a way that a person, on witnessing God’s mighty deeds, for example, Jesus’ resurrection, would not be impelled to wonder and adore, but could say to himself, “After all, on the basis of my own constitution, I have actually been expecting this all along.” (1986:85)19
Of course, this is something of a caricature of Rahner’s own views, emphasizing certain tendencies in abstraction from his wider body of writings. 20 Nonetheless, it does point to a serious question, one that de Lubac had begun to raise for some time already.
This criticism of Rahner’s integralism from the standpoint of de Lubac’s is also the root of further differences between the two perspectives regarding a wide range of issues from the nature of salvation to the relationship between the church and the political order. And it is here, especially, that I think de Lubac’s perspective is vindicated by its implications for a post-modern theology.
Let’s return to Rahner’s version of integralism for the time being in order to see the way in which he works out the implications of that integralism with respect to history, the social, the community of the church, and some of the consequences of that. Despite the criticisms of de Lubac and von Balthasar, it is not true that Rahner ignores or displaces the historical and social dimensions of the Christian faith. Rather the difficulties lie in exactly how those elements fit into his larger transcendentalism and how that works itself out in terms of further implications.
With regard to history, particularly salvation history, Rahner does give much attention to the historically mediated nature of God’s self-communication to individuals and the way in which those individuals are thoroughly situated in history, in human communities, in interpersonal relationships, and so on. Thus Rahner can write,
The divinized transcendentality of man, who actualized his essence in history and only in this way can accept it in freedom, has itself a history in man, an individual and a collective history…man as subject and as person is a historical being in such a way that he is historical precisely as transcendent subject; his subjective essence of unlimited transcendentality is mediated historically to him in his knowledge and in his free self-realization. (1978:138-140)
Rahner goes on to speak of the ways in which transcendence itself has a history as does the supernatural existential.
He also stresses that the Christian faith is irreducibly social in nature and thus requires the formation of a religious community. Rahner writes,
If man is a being of interpersonal communication not just on the periphery, but rather if this characteristic co-determines the whole breadth and depth of his existence, and if salvation touches the whole person and places him as a whole in with all of the dimensions of his existence in relationship to God, and hence if religion does not just concern some particular sector of human existence, but concerns the whole of human existence in its relationship to the all-encompassing God by whom all things are borne and toward whom all things are directed, then this implies that the reality of interpersonal relationship belong to the religion of Christianity…the Christian understanding of religion is necessarily ecclesial religion. (1978:322-323)
Thus Rahner is well aware of the essentially social nature of the Christian faith and he stresses this explicitly over against the Enlightenment notion of the individual in which “it might perhaps have looked as though a person could appropriate his religion in a kind of private interiority.” Indeed he notes that today, post-Enlightenment, we are “aware…in quite a new and inescapable way that man is a social being, a being who can exist only within such intercommunication with others through all of the dimension of human existence” (1978:323).
Thus, it is not fair to Rahner to criticize him as if he pushed such issues to the side or downplayed the importance of history and of the social. Still, there is a troubling tension within Rahner’s overall outlook that, one can argue, does implicitly displace the social and historical. This can be seen in several ways.
First, there is the problem of Rahner’s methodology. By building his theology largely “from below,” Rahner makes his starting point a metaphysics of human subjectivity that is, in the first instance, purely general, apparently ahistorical, and universal for each individual. While Rahner does qualify this with a discussion of the historicity of the human transcendence, of the supernatural existential, and so on, this subsequent discussion often has the appearance of supplementing an account that is already largely complete in itself. Rahner notes this difficulty himself,
...if God as he is in himself has already communicated himself in his Holy Spirit always and everywhere and to every person as the innermost center of his existence, whether he wants it or not, and if the whole history of creation is already borne by God’s self-communication in this very creation, then there does not seem to be anything which can take place on God’s part. (1978:139)
It would seem, then, that in Rahner’s theology the events of salvation history only serve to make explicit “something which was already present in its fullness from the outset” (1978:139).
While Rahner does give an extended reply to this objection (that he himself raises) and the reply is, in terms of Rahner’s own system, the correct one, it is still the case that we are left with the impression that history and society are only the out-working and open manifestation of what was always-already the case. Thus, for Rahner, the Vorgriff of being in human experience and of the “supernatural existential” universally reveal the general (albeit historical) fact of God’s absolute self-communication while maintaining hidden the holy mystery. It is in history that human beings “actualize” their already-present “transcendentality” (1978:345).
This, in turn, is something that is merely made “manifest” in salvation history in God’s “power to enter into the time and the history which he as the Eternal One has created” (1978:142). Even the Incarnation seems to be presented as something generally continuous with the already-given pattern of human experience of the divine as the place in which the historicity of God’s revelation is “experienced most clearly and comes to light most clearly,” as if simply a more obvious instance of something already present (1978:142).
It is when he speaks in this manner that one begins, like de Lubac, to suspect that Rahner is uncomfortable with fully committing grace and the supernatural into the hands of human action and the historical in all its particularity, incommensurability, and, especially in the case of the Incarnation, unexpectedness and unpredictability. It is not that Rahner would necessarily deny any of this, but that his mode of expression is too often ambiguous at best and at odds with such a picture at worst. This uneasiness on Rahner’s part plays itself out further in his notion of the social and his situating of the individual in relation to larger communities.
Again, upon reading Rahner, one can be left with the impression that his account of the social nature of religion is something that must be fit into an already essentially complete account of the individual subject and the a priori structure of human knowledge for any given person. Thus, while Rahner maintains that Christianity is “necessarily ecclesial” in its understanding of religion, this ecclesiality is, in turn, rooted in his incipiently individualist transcendentalism. Thus he writes that if a person
...could not attain [faith, love, the entrusting of oneself to God in Christ], if he could not really realize them in the innermost depths of his existence, then basically his ecclesiality and his feeling of belonging to the concrete church would only be an empty illusion and deceptive facade. (1978:324)
After all, for Rahner, “God’s salvific work is offered in principle to all people” quite apart from membership in the church or any religious organization (thus de Lubac’s critique of the idea of “anonymous Christianity”). This, of course, does not mean for him that religious orgainizations are unimportant, much less the Christian church, but it does suggest that such organizations form as an addition (even if, in some sense, a necessary addition) to what is true of us most fundamentally apart from them. Therefore Rahner repeatedly speaks of the church as a social entity through which salvation is “mediated” or as an entity over against the individual that is necessary in order to manifest the confrontation between God’s self-communication and the individual.
These expressions, however, embody similar ambiguities to those we encountered earlier with reference to the historicity of the Christian faith, now expressed in terms of the relationship between the pure general structures of the individual subject and the historical particularities of a social organization. Part of the difficulty here is, I suspect, the Kantian underpinnings of Rahner’s metaphysics (filtered through Maréchal) which tends to isolate some one thing as an a priori category of understanding, in Rahner’s case the whole machinery of the Vorgriff of being and the supernatural existential as they function in the individual consciousness. When this is the starting point, problems are naturally going to arise with respect to the historical and social.
My ill-ease here may best be elucidated by outlining what I see as the alternative offered by de Lubac. Where, for Rahner, the tendency is to present the social aspects of salvation as something in addition to the individual and to see the church the mediating structure by which that salvation is confronted, for de Lubac salvation is presented as inherently social and the church is seen not just as a mediator of salvation, but as the very goal of salvation. De Lubac picks up the Gospel theme that reconciliation with God and reconciliation with one’s neighbor are united in a single movement so that the reconciled community of the church together in God is the very content of salvation. Thus salvation requires a historical event of being enfolded into the narrative of the historical people of God in relation to the unique events of the Incarnation and redemption wrought by Christ (1950:50ff.).
In terms of the manifestation of salvation in history, rather than positing some kind of “anonymous” free response to grace on the part of certain individuals, de Lubac situates salvation historically in relation to human events. Recall that de Lubac’s conception of the relation between nature and grace is built upon Blondel’s account of human action as the event of desiring God and accepting grace, not as something that is universally present alongside each action, but as the very particularity of action itself. As such human persons experience the reality of salvation in that particularity insofar as their actions are connected to the historical event of Christ, whether shaped by his influence, by anticipation and preparation, or by some other real, historical (even if unseen) connection.
Moreover, de Lubac’s account does not offer a generalized “salvation” that is identical for each and every individual, but, in its being historically situated, is unique for the person in how it is offered and in the individual response, incorporating that person into salvation with a particular “narratological” relation to both the past history of God’s people and what he or she will contribute to its future. This also overcomes any dichotomy between the individual and the ecclesial since the particularities of salvation for this or that individual are indispensable from the overall shape of Christian history and thus the particularities of salvation for everyone else—each is indispensable for all. (1950: 253-258)The differences here between de Lubac and Rahner have implications not only for the place of history and the church, notions such as “anonymous Christianity,” and the like, but also with regard to the shape of Christian ethics and politics. While I cannot take the space here to trace out these implications, the suggestion is that de Lubac’s integralism more successfully overcomes traditional tensions between the individual and society, between “natural law” and Christian ethics, and between the church and the state. We have already just seen some of these implications with regard to the individual and society.
With regard to natural law, part of the question here is how we conceive of natural law as something that is, in principle, available equally to all as the human rational participation in divine practical reason. And, in particular, what is the relationship of that natural law to the specific content of Christian faith? Do we wish, with Rahner, to think of Christian faith primarily in terms of a motivating force behind our fulfilling of what is humanly rational by virtue of natural law?21 Or, without at all denying the notion of “natural law,” do we wish to maintain that the Incarnation, life, and death of Christ in themselves define the content of “natural law” and thereby transform human action? The latter seems more in keeping with de Lubac’s integralism.22
When it comes to the relation between the church and the state, and the development of a distinctively Christian politics, similar questions also arise. While one can suggest that neither Rahner nor de Lubac consistently worked out a political theory on the basis of their differing integralisms, it is arguable that their different perspectives would give rise to respectively different politics. In the case of Rahner, his thought has often been taken up into the outlook of Latin American liberation theologians, frequently with very mixed results. In particular, it has been argued that Rahnerian themes have regularly led liberation theologians to think of salvation in too individualistic and ambiguously non-social terms, tied too closely to the experience of transcendence as captured in the Vorgriff and supernatural existential. As a result, the social realm comes to be introduced as a supplement to the individual and the religious, allowing theology to baptize the human aspirations already present in Marxist discourse as the will of God and having salvific import.23 Rahner, perhaps, would distance himself from these implications, though they do accurately represent, I think, certain tendencies in his own thought, even if they remain undeveloped there. De Lubac’s integralism would obviously move in a somewhat different direction.24
From the perspective of de Lubac’s integralism, then, the Rahnerian epistemological and transcendentalist apparatus can be jettisoned as implicitly marginalizing the historical and the social, even if ambiguously so. Against Rahner, the supernatural for de Lubac is not present within a particular formally distinguished “space” within human existence (and thus we leave behind the empty category of a “pure nature”) since human existence is not a matter of “metaphysics” (traditionally conceived), but of historical action. Thus, certain events of salvation history may be privileged as defining what is basic to being human and to human history, functioning to transform all of that history, and constituting of salvation as a fully social phenomenon. Rahner’s work does form a monumental corpus that is as insightful and challenging as it is breathtaking. Nonetheless, I am convinced that it is de Lubac’s integralism which provides resources for an account of the Christian faith that is more helpful in constructing an authentic post-modern orthodoxy, in contrast to Rahner’s version which still seems too often caught in the matrices of certain modernist tendencies.25
1. "Integralism" should by no means be confused with "integrism," the pre-conciliar tendency sometimes to collapse the ecclesiastical sphere into the social and political one, or vice versa.
2. The term "nouvelle théologie" or "new theology" was actually coined by the traditionalist critic of de Lubac, the Dominican thomist, Garrigou-Lagrange. The term was, however, quickly adopted by the movement itself, which also included figures such as de Montcheuil, Daniélou, and Bouyer.
3. Unfortunately, I have found there to be very little written directly to address the relationship between these two forms of integralism, beyond some scattered remarks made by various authors in the process of explaining the views of one or the other of these thinkers. A notable exception to this generalization is Stephen J. Duffy’s helpful book, The Graced Horizon: Nature and Grace in Modern Catholic Thought 1992.
4. See Maréchal’s comparison of the a priori in Aquinas and Kant, 1970:117ff.
5. This 1893 work is available in a wonderful translation by Oliva Blanchette (1984).
6. From this point Blondel proceeds to argue that in every action there is contained a "faith" that our actions, though they surpass our intentions and become other to themselves, will nonetheless form a satisfying synthesis. And this requires that an always present divine grace be granted to bring everything to its final end, not just as a transcendental condition for action, but in the particularity of action itself. But now I’m going beyond the limitations of my present topic. See Bouillard 1969.
7. My references will be to Rosemary Sheed’s 1967 translation, The Mystery of the Supernatural, recently re-issued with new introductory material (1998).
8. De Lubac argues in a similar way that the knowledge of God is paradoxical, a matter of both reason and faith, nature and grace, natural theology and revelation, and so on; see his The Discovery of God 1996.
9. A point made repeatedly by Aristotle, but probably most easily seen in the conclusion to his argument that there is one highest end for humans in Nicomachean Ethics I.2 (1024a20).
10. The point regarding Aquinas is my own rather than de Lubac’s per se, though he anticipates it somewhat. It can be found exposited more fully in te Velde (1995:201-33) and Milbank and Pickstock (2000:24-39).
11. The former quote is from Bonaventure, In 2 Sent., 18.1.1 and latter from In 2 Sent. 19.1.2.
12. The quote is from De Veritate 18.1.
13. Rahner’s reply was entitled "Eine Antwort" and was published in Orienterung 14:141-45. My synopsis is largely drawn from David Schindler’s synopsis in the new introduction to the 1998 edition of The Mystery of the Supernatural.
14. In a footnote, de Lubac even makes reference to his "profound estimation for Karl Rahner’s theological work and strong personal affection for him" (1998:107).
15. The work dates, in the original French edition, from 1980. He does, however, refer to Rahner’s writings as "somewhat contorted explanations" (1984:35) not an unfair description, the honest reader will admit, I think.
16. Indeed this might be just what we would expect given that transcendental philosophy itself is an outgrowth of the very neo-scholastic categories that Rahner is attempting to use it to undermine. See the accounts of Gillespie 1995 and Montag 1999.
17. De Lubac develops his own epistemology as an alternative to that of Rahner in his The Discovery of God 1996 (a 1956 development and expansion of his 1945 book, De la connaisance de Dieu).
18. In reality, Medard offers this as a summary of von Balthasar’s position, but it equally applies to that of de Lubac, especially as seen in de Lubac 1950.
19. For more on the relationship between Rahner and von Balthasar, see Rowan Williams’ essay "Balthasar and Rahner" (1986:11-34) which traces some the history of their disagreements.
20. Though the same could not be said with regard to some Rahnerians, e.g. Dupuis 1991.
21. See, e.g., Rahner 1992:299-305 and Fuchs 1980.
22. See Schindler 1994; Murphy 2000; also Hauerwas and Pinchas 1997 provide a helpful Thomistic account of how the shape of the Christian faith can completely convert every natural virtue.
23. In this regard Milbank provides a trenchant critique of the Rahnerian bent of much of liberation theology in 1993:228-245, particularly Gutierrez, Segundo, and Boff. See also an analogous critique of American neo-conservativism (Murray, Neuhaus, Novak, Wiegel) from the perspective of de Lubac’s integralism in Schindler 1996.
24. Unfortunately, de Lubac provides no real alternative in his own writings, sometimes draws back from the radical implications of his own starting points, and has too often been coopted by conservative schemes. Nonetheless, it is arguable that against the backdrop of Blondel and with the fine-tuning of von Balthasar, de Lubac’s i ntegralism provides the resources for an alternative ecclesiology that sees the church as the polis that displaces and re-narrates every human polis, paving the way for a post-modern social theology that is genuinely "socialist" (in the vein of Proudhon and Buchez). See Milbank 1993:206-255, 380-438; 1997:268-292; and Cavanaugh 1999.
25. Again, consult the arguments of John Milbank, particularly "An Essay Against Secular Order" 1987 and his Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason 1993 (esp. chapter 8).
Blondel, Maurice. 1984 . Action: Essay on a Critique of Life and a Science of Practice, trans. by Oliva Blanchette. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Bouillard, Henri. 1969. Blondel and Christianity, trans. by James Somerville. Washington, DC: Corpus Books.
Cavanaugh, William T. 1999. “The City: Beyond Secular Parodies” in Radical Orthodoxy: a New Theology, ed. by John Milbank, C. Pickstock, and G. Ward. New York:Routledge, 182-200.
de Lubac, Henri. 1950. Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, trans. by Lancelot Sheppard. London: Barns and Oates.
------. 1984. A Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace. San Francisco, Ignatius.
------. 1996. The Discovery of God, trans. by Alexander Dru. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
------. 1998. Mystery of the Supernatural, trans. by Rosemary Sheed. New York: Crossroad Herder.
Duffy, Stephen J. 1992. The Graced Horizon: Nature and Grace in Modern Catholic Thought. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.
Dupuis, Jacques. 1991. Jesus Christ at the Encounter with World Religions. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
Fuchs, Joseph. 1980. “Is There a Specifically Christian Morality?” in The Distinctiveness of Christian Ethics (Readings in Moral Theology 2) ed. by C. Curran and R. McCormick. New York: Paulist Press, 3-20.
Gillespie, Michael Allen. 1995. Nihilism Before Nietzsche. Durham, NC: Duke.
Hauerwas, Stanley and Charles Pinchas. 1997. Christians Among the Virtues: Theological Conversations with Ancient and Modern Ethics. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Marechal, Joseph. 1970. A Marechal Reader, ed. and trans. by Joseph Donceel. New York: Herder and Herder.
Milbank, John. 1987. “An Essay Against Secular Order” in The Journal of Religious Ethics 15:199-224.
-----. 1993. Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. Oxford: Blackwell.
------. 1997. The Word Made Strange: Theology, Language, Culture. Oxford: Blackwell.
Milbank, John and Catherine Pickstock. 2000. Truth in Aquinas. New York: Routledge.
Montag, John. 1999. “The False Legacy of Suarez” in Radical Orthodoxy: a New Theology, ed. by John Milbank, C. Pickstock, and G. Ward. New York:Routledge, 38-63.
Murphy, William F. 2000. “Henri de Lubac’s Mystical Tropology” in Communio: International Catholic Review 27.1:171-201.
Rahner, Karl. 1978. Foundations of the Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, trans. by Willima Dych. New York: Crossroad.
------. 1992. Karl Rahner: Theologian of the Graced Search for Meaning, ed. by Geffrey Kelly. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress.
Schindler, David L. 1996. Heart of the World, Center of the Church: Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism, and Liberation. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
------. 1994. “The Culture of Love” in The Catholic World Report. October, 42-49.
te Velde, Rudi. 1995. Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas. London: E.J. Brill.
von Balthasar, Hans Urs. 1986. New Elucidations. San Francisco: Ignatius.
Williams, Rowan. 1986. “Balthasar and Rahner” in The Analogy of Beauty: The Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, ed. by J. Riches. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.