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Aquinas’s Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac

Not Everything is Grace


Fr. Bernard Mulcahy

Twentieth-century Catholic theology was strongly affected by Henri de Lubac’s claim that the western theological tradition went awry by allowing that one could have an adequate idea of human nature without reference to humanity’s supernatural end. According to de Lubac, the culprits were early modern scholastics, and their mistake was the idea of pure nature. Aquinas’s Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac: Not Everything Is Grace contributes to the current literature criticizing de Lubac’s thesis. Specifically, it offers an explanation for its enduring power and popularity with particular attention to the contemporary Radical Orthodoxy movement.


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7. De Lubac’s Heirs: Radical Orthodoxy 179


7. De Lubac’s Heirs: Radical Orthodoxy “OUTSIDE THE teachings of religion there is no answer to the problems of life.”1 Henri de Lubac would not have disagreed, and neither would de Lubac’s most controversial and stimulating interpreters, the theologians of Radical Orthodoxy (RO). Radical Orthodoxy is chiefly associated with the An- glican theologians John Milbank (b. 1952), Catherine Pickstock (b. 1970), and Graham Ward (b. 1955). Variously termed a “movement,” “programme,” “project,” “tendency,” and “sensibility” by its participants, RO is an informal but vigorous theological school with an ecumenical reach. It is mainly active in the English-speaking world, but has drawn wider interest, including the sympathetic interest of the Holy See.2 Besides being ecumenical, RO is decidedly post-modern, being sceptical of Enlightenment rationalism and liberalism, closely attuned to poli- tics, and critical of the normal scholarly ideals of detachment and objectivity. For John Milbank, the best-known theologian of the RO movement, Hen- ri de Lubac’s opposition to scholastic notions of pure nature is crucially im- portant because it strikes at the heart of liberalism and secularism. Milbank considers de Lubac “one of the two truly great theologians of the twentieth century,”3 on the grounds that his thesis concerning grace and the idea of pure nature subverts all affirmations that would limit or domesticate the Gospel. Following de Lubac, RO attributes the decline of faith and the rise of secular- ist ideologies to what is considered the erroneous and early modern notion of natura pura. But RO goes beyond...

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