Sr. Sergia Englund, O.C.D., and Ignatius Press are to be commended for making available this remarkable work by one of the Church's most erudite theologians, French Jesuit priest Henri De Lubac (recently elevated to the Cardinalate by Pope John Paul II).
What a pity that this work, originally published abroad in 1971, did not appear in English years ago! The intellectual prestige of the author together with his profound mastery of patristic thought in many areas (especially ecclesiology, i.e., that branch of theology dealing with the nature of the Church) might have contributed a great deal to counteracting some of the serious doctrinal distortions fostered by certain circles in the Church in our own country. Suffice it to state that this work by Fr. DeLubac is indispensable to every serious student of Vatican II Ecclesiology.
In its pages will be found not only the true interpretations of key doctrinal emphases found in the decrees of the Second Vatican Council but a magnificent defense of the visible, social, hierarchical, mystical and charismatic nature of the Catholic Church. The supernatural unity of the Catholic Church centered on Peter shines with renewed splendor in these pages of a theologian who clearly loves the Church with a deep passion. Fr. De Lubac suffered for the Church in pre-conciliar days and has lived to suffer with it during its post-conciliar crucifixion.
American Catholics who have taken much abuse this past decade for negative judgments they were obliged to render concerning the "progress" alleged to be taking place in certain phases of "post-conciliar renewal" will find such judgments vindicated by one of the Church's greatest scholars. In 1971 De Lubac unleashed this massive indictment of a renewed neo-Modernism in the Church:
- "Everyone knows what has happened: the old seeds of dissolution gaining in virulence;
- a certain para-conciliar agitation foisting itself on public opinion as the only authentic interpreter of the Council's spirit;
- a resentment against the abuses of yesterday producing blindness to the benefits received from the Church;
- the opening-up to the world to be evangelized turning into a mediocre and sometimes scandalous worldliness;
- numerous priests and religious losing the consciousness of their identity in losing that of their mission;
- the trust that the Council has placed in all the faithful in appealing to their initiative betyrayed by influential groups;
- disdain of the tradition which the Council had exalted;
- the arrogance of theologians wishing to impose their own thinking on the Church, all the more tyrannically as it is the more ill-considered and arbitrary;
- small pressure groups getting control of the information media and doing their best to intimidate the bishops – an insidious campaign against the papacy;
- under the pretext of a fight against that eccentricity which is dogmatism, a rejection of dogmatism, which is to say a rejection of the Christian faith in its original two-fold character comprising an objective content received from authority;
- the worst neglect hiding behind the work of flattering slogans;
- a full flowering of pseudo-prophetic pretensions – in the course of the century, a will toward destruction and a spirit of universal contestation against which even a more enlightened faith would have to be on guard;
- moral laxity presented as the adult man's irreversible progress which the Church must confirm;
- an intellectual and spiritual obscuration leading, on the one hand, to the unchecked reign of 'human sciences' which could reasonably be only auxiliaries, and, on the other hand, to a politicalization of the Church;
- We are not painting the picture darker than it is." (pages 25-27)
How familiar all the above to those acquainted with the "Battle for the American Church." Nevertheless, drawing upon his immense knowledge of the Fathers of the Church and his own experience as a 'peritus' at the Council, DeLubac proceeds to reveal the true delineaments of the one and unique Church which Christ instituted for all men's salvation, exploding many of the sophistries about "true Christianity" popularized by Neo-Modernists and other contemporary religious gnostics as well as openly hostile unbelievers. Despite the Gates of Hell raging aginst the Church, the latter remains "Mater et Magistra": Teacher of Christ's Truth and Mother of the souls entrusted to Her, continually nourishing them with Word and Sacrament. De Lubac vigorously defends the unicity of the true Church, the immutability of dogma, Tradition as a perpetual source of renewal in the Mystical Body of Christ, the hiearchical ministry in the Church as rooted in the New Testament, and the Papacy as the center of unity and full communion in the Church.
He has some precious comments concerning the role of the laity in evangelization. His strictures on the working of episcopal conferences and collegiality, pluralism, liberation theology, and religious nationalism make for fascinating reading. He mercilessly exposes the "tendency to loosen in a practical way, through a series of omissions rather than through clearly declared positions, the bonds of (certain local churches) with the center"(page 305). Positive elements in the social thought of Teilhard de Chardin are drawn upon to support sharp criticism of the depersonalizing currents evident in Western societies. Both Catholics and Protestants are reminded:
"Today, just as from the very beginning, it is still through the Church that the Gospel is transmitted to us. Thus, if one thing is certain in this world, it is that, for us, the Church precedes the Gospel... There has never been Christianity without the Church."
Catholic parents who have been surfeited with the endless chattering and posturing about "maturity" by trendy religious educators and catechists will find refreshing De Lubac's simple observation:
"The more each one, on his part, is an adult in Christ... the more intimately he is bound to the Church."
Moreover, contrary to the warped ecclesiology found in all too many catechetical materials imposed on young Catholic children, DeLubac notes:
"There are no grounds for opposing, as a current slogan does, a 'pyramidal' concept of the Church against a 'communal' concept; in their exclusivity, these two concepts are only caricatures, and the influence of either one upon the Church's daily life can be disastrous."
Once again, this is a superb book, rich in doctrine. It admirably fulfills the author's intention to assist his readers to become rooted in the essential mysteries of the Catholic faith. For American Catholics still struggling with the same destructive tendencies that De Lubac analyzes with such penetration and acumen, "The Motherhood of the Church" serves as a badly needed reminder that:
"To the world of today just as to that of yesterday and to that of the first century, it is the same Christ Who must be proclaimed, and it is the same Church Who has the mission of proclaiming Him."