Ideas that influenced 20th Century theological thinking

Gabriel Flynn and Paul Murray (eds)
OUP, hb, £65.00

The figure of Karl Barth still dominates the history of theology in the 20th Century. That could be changing. John Milbank has made a case for regarding Henri de Lubac as the most significant figure in 20th Century theology. Few people are likely to be convinced but at least Milbank’s argument may lead scholars outside the Roman Catholic Church to look at both de Lubac and the group of theologians with which he was associated more seriously. Important though Karl Barth was, there were other figures in the period who are worthy of attention.
De Lubac belonged to what is sometimes called the ‘nouvelle theologie’. The name was first coined by opponents and members of the group that included such figures as MD Chenu, Yves Congar, Jean Danielou, Louis Bouyer, Henri Bouillard and Hans urs von Balthasar as well as de Lubac, who preferred to think of themselves as ‘ressourcement theologians’.
By ‘ressourcement’ they meant a return to the sources of the Christian faith, especially to the scriptures and to the fathers. But their aims were not purely antiquarian. They saw a return to the sources as a way to promote renewal in the church and to help the Christian faith express itself in ways that were appropriate in the 20th Century.
As de Lubac wrote: “Each time, in our West that Christian renewal has flourished, in the order of thought as in life, it has flourished under the sign of the fathers’. That quotation is important because sometimes an attempt is made to make a division between those at Vatican II who were influenced by the ressourcement theology and those who sought ‘aggiornamento’. Ressourcement was also concerned with renewal.
De Lubac and his colleagues took issue with a form of scholastic theology that dominated the Catholic Church in the early years of the 20th Century. This was not the Thomism of St Thomas but a Thomism of the scholastic manuals that reduced theological truth to a string of unchanging propositions. Unchangeable truths were expressed in unchangeable forms. For a time the traditionalists prevailed at Rome and secured the condemnation of the ‘nouvelle theologie’ but it was ressourcement that was to triumph at Vatican II.
Gabriel Flynn and Paul Murray have compiled a collection of essays that form an indispensable introduction to the ressourcement movement. The essays look at the background to the movement, the thought of its leading figures, and the impact of the movement on theology and the church. Gemma Simonds looks at Jansenism as a possible forerunner and Gerard Loughlin looks at the relationship between ressourcement and modernism. Other essays trace the relationship between Maurice Blondel and Etienne Gilson and ressourcement.
All the major figures in the movement are discussed in series of concise but penetrating essays. Edward T Oakes in his essay on Balthasar raises an issue that is perhaps not given sufficient attention in the collection as a whole. Why did some ressourcement theologians become conservative figures in the Catholic Church after Vatican II? Oakes suggests that one problem may be that de Lubac’s work on grace could be easily misinterpreted. Balthasar saw danger in the kind of consequences that could be drawn from de Lubac’s argument that there is no such thing as pure nature in the concrete order.
As essays show, ressourcement’s impact on Vatican II was enormous. It also influenced the renewal of biblical studies in France and promoted a fresh understanding of Thomism. Gerald O’Collins looks at the relationship between ressourcement and the Council and Richard Lennan contributes a stimulating essay asking whether the theology of Karl Rahner constitutes an alternative to ressourcement. There are two essays by Protestant theologians. Hans Boersma of Regent’s College, Vancouver, looks at the ‘sacramental ontology’ of ressourcement and John Webster provides a probing examination of the relationship between Protestant theology and ressourcement. Andrew Louth shows how the movement was influenced by exiled Russian Orthodox theologians living in Paris.
There are strong links between ressourcement and the traditional Anglican stress on the fathers. Anglicans like EL Mascall certainly read and admired ressourcement theologians. It would be interesting to know more about how 20th Century Anglican theologians reacted to the movement.


So far the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer has provoked less interest than the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. John Bunyan, a priest in the Diocese of Sydney, Australia, has produced three pamphlets: Celebrating the BCP: A Map for the Minister, Morning Prayer Matters and Prayer Book Patterns and Principles. They are Aus$10 each or Aus$25 for all three. Please contact the author at
James Runcie has published the first of a new series of crime novels featuring the clerical sleuth, Canon Sidney Chambers. The series is known as the ‘Grantchester Mysteries’ and the first volume, published by Bloomsbury, is Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death.
Rees is a Roman Catholic nun and an authority on Celtic saints. A Dictionary of Celtic Saints (the History Press) is her latest book. It is illustrated by photographs of the places where the saints live. Many of these saints do not feature in conventional dictionaries of saints but they are still remembered and have churches dedicated to them making this a useful work of reference. It will appeal to anyone interested in history, landscape or spirituality.
David Winter needs no introduction to CEN readers. He is a very popular writer, broadcaster and preacher, Now retired himself he has produced The Highway Code for Retirement (CWR), a marvellous guide both for those already retired and those who are approaching retirement. This should be on every parish bookstall. Bishop Michael Baughen gives it a glowing commendation: “Comprehensive yet succinct… it is positive, practical, and challenging with a the warmth of real experience and observation’.
From retirement to dating! Here is another guide for the church bookstall. Rebecca K Maddox has described her search for Mr Right in 20 First Dates (Authentic). After years as a single woman in the church and aged over 30, Rebecca decided to go on a project to meet 20 first dates in 20 different ways. It is a light-hearted and amusing book that also contains a lot of good sense on dating.
Mary C Earle has written an introduction to Celtic Christianity in Celtic Christian Spirituality (SPCK) that makes use of primary texts that direct readers to the book of creation as well as to the scriptures. There are prayers from Wales, the Outer Hebrides, and Ireland as well as sections from the writings of Pelagius, Eriugena, and St Patrick. Modern prayers in the Celtic style are very popular. Here is a chance to use prayers that go back to the Celtic period.
In Loving the Way Jesus Loves (IVP) Phil Ryken turns to Paul’s great passage in 1 Corinthians 13 to gain insight into what it means to love as Jesus loves. This is an inspiring and uplifting book.
In The Later New Testament Writers and Scripture (IVP) Steve Moyise follows up two previous books looking at Jesus and scripture and Paul and scripture to look at how the later New Testament books make use of scripture. The book is readable and accessible and deepens our knowledge of early Christianity.




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