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Henri de Lubac

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Henri-Marie de Lubac, SJ (February 20, 1896—September 4, 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

Henri de Lubac was born in Cambrai to an ancient, noble family of the Ardèche. His father was a banker. A born aristocrat in manner and appearance, de Lubac joined the Society of Jesus in Lyon on October 9, 1913. Owing to the political climate in France at the time, the school located to St. Leonard’s on Sea, East Sussex, where de Lubac studied before being drafted to the French army in 1914. Following a head wound received at Verdun during the Great War, de Lubac returned to the Jesuits and continued his philosophical studies, first in Canterbury and then in St. Helier, Jersey in 1920. In 1924, following a year’s teaching at the Jesuit College at Mongré, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, de Lubac returned to England and undertook his theological studies in Hastings, East Sussex. In 1926, the theologate was relocated back to Fourvière in Lyons, where de Lubac completed the remaining two years of his theological studies before, in 1929, giving his first lecture at the Theology Faculty of Lyons. He was ordained to the priesthood on August 22, 1927, and obtained a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Professor and theologians

De Lubac served as a professor of fundamental theology at the Catholic University of Lyon from 1929 to 1961, except during World War II, when he was forced underground because of his activities with the French Resistance. He declared to the Abbé Pierre (1912-2007) on the day of his ordination in 1938, "Ask to the Holy Spirit that he grants you the saints' anti-clericalism"[1].

His first book, the now-classic Catholicisme, was published in 1938 and was followed by numerous others. In 1940, 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. 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).

In 1950, he was forbidden by his Jesuit superiors to teach or publish, after doctrinal objections were raised against his book Surnaturel. This ban was lifted in 1959. His theology had become controversial after he showed that Francisco Suárez, favorite authority of neo-Thomists, had actually commented on some works by Aquinas which were now known to be spurious.

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.[2]

In the aftermath of Vatican II, however, de Lubac became disappointed by what he perceived as the ensuing disorder. He wrote several works explaining the true teaching of the Council fathers and decrying the uncritical disorder that he believed to have settled over theological minds.

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 1983 Pope John Paul II offered de Lubac the cardinalate again, 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 February 2, 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. At his death he was the oldest living Cardinal.

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Julijans Vaivods
Oldest living cardinal
24 May 1990 – 4 September 1991
Succeeded by
Ferdinando Giuseppe Antonelli


  1. «demandez à l'Esprit saint qu'il vous accorde l'anticléricalisme des saints», quote in Le diable et le bon dieu, Le Figaro, January 26, 2007 (French)
  2. Grumett, D. (2007) De Lubac: A Guide for the Perplexed, London, T & T Clark, p. 51-52.

Selected bibliography

Primary Texts

  • Catholicisme: les aspects sociaux du dogme, 1938, translated as Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man. trans. Sheppard, L. & Englund, E. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 1988.
  • Corpus Mysticum: L'Eucharistie et l’Église au moyen âge, 1944, translated as Corpus Mysticum: The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages, 2006
  • De la Connaissance de Dieu ('The Discovery of God'), 1945-48
  • Surnaturel, 1946
  • Exégèse médiévale, 1959, 1961, 1964
  • A Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace. trans. Richard Arnandez. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 1984.
  • The Mystery of the Supernatural. trans. Rosemary Sheed. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company. 1998
  • The Drama of Atheist Humanism. trans. Riley, M., Nash, A. & Sebanc, M. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.1995
  • Paradoxes of Faith. trans. Simon, P., Kreilkamp, S., & Beaumont, E. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 1987
  • More Paradoxes. trans. A. Nash. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2002.

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. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
  • 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.

External links

cs:Henri de Lubacgl:Henri de Lubacla:Henricus de Lubacno:Henri-Marie de Lubacpt:Henri de Lubac

sk:Henri de Lubac sv:Henri de Lubac

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