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Nouvelle Théologie (French, "New Theology") is the name commonly used to refer to a school of thought in Catholic theology that arose in the mid-20th century, most notably among certain circles of French and German theologians. The shared objective of these theologians was a fundamental reform of how the Catholic Church was approaching theology. Namely, the movement reacted against the dominance of Scholasticism and the scholastically-influenced manuals of theology, criticism of the Modern Era by the Church, and a defensive stance towards non-Catholic faiths.
Nouvelle Théologie theologians, in response, sought a return of Catholic Theology to (what they perceived was) its original purity of thought and expression. To accomplish this, they advocated a 'return to the sources' of the Christian Faith: namely, Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers. This methodological move is known by its French name, ressourcement (French, "return to the sources"). Along with this, the movement adopted a systemic openness to dialogue with the contemporary world on issues of theology. They developed also a renewed interest in biblical exegesis, typology, art, literature and mysticism.
While the name ‘Nouvelle Théologie’ is today considered the standard designation for the movement, it was originally a pejorative label given the movement by its opponents (usually attributed to the Dominican theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange). The pejorative connotation stems from the critique that theologians of the movement did not ‘return to the sources’ but deviated from the long-standing theological tradition of the Catholic Church, thus creating a ‘new theology’ all their own – a claim they denied. Instead, theologians of the movement generally preferred to call their movement “Ressourcement”. Yet, their own label enjoyed less popular coinage than that of their opponents. Over time, as ‘Nouvelle Théologie’ has gained widespread usage, the debate over the movement’s proper name has largely become a marginal note.
The theologians usually associated with Nouvelle Théologie are Henri de Lubac, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Yves Congar, Karl Rahner, Hans Küng, Edward Schillebeeckx, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Louis Bouyer, Etienne Gilson, Jean Daniélou, Jean Mouroux and Joseph Ratzinger (now, Pope Benedict XVI).
The Nouvelle Théologie had been previously criticized by Pope Pius XII in his enyclical Humani Generis, who felt a tendency towards excessive criticism in Old Testament texts and warned of a resurgence of modernism in many Catholic seminaries.
Theologians from this school of thought had a very significant influence on the reforms brought about in the Catholic Church by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). In the aftermath of the Council, the movement became divided into two camps, splitting in effect into left and right wings, over the interpretation and implementation of the Council, with Rahner, Congar, Schillebeeckx, Küng, and Chenu founding the more progressive theological journal Concilium in 1965, and de Lubac, Balthasar, Ratzinger, and others founding the theological journal Communio in 1972.
- Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald. "Where is the new theology leading us?", English translation of the French article, “La nouvelle théologie où va-t-elle?”, Angelicum 23 (1946): 126-145.