Matthew Levering and Nicholas J. Healy, Jr., are co-editors of a new book of essays from Ignatius Press that highlights the important work of several ressourcement theologians while honoring the important work done by Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., founder and editor of Ignatius Press, in bringing numerous books by those theologians to English-speaking readers. Ressourcement after Vatican II: Essays in Honor of Joseph Fessio, S.J. contains an Introduction and respective essays by Levering and Healy, along with essays by eleven other theologians and scholars.
Dr. Levering holds the James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology at Mundelein Seminary. A prolific writer, he has authored or edited over forty books on topics in dogmatic, sacramental, moral, historical, and biblical theology. Prior to teaching at Mundelein, he taught at Ave Maria University and the University of Dayton, and was the Myser Fellow at Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture in 2006-7. Dr. Healy is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Culture at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washingon, D.C. Since 2002 he has served as an editor of the North American edition of Communio: International Catholic Review.
Dr. Levering and Dr. Healy corresponded with Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, about their work together on Ressourcement after Vatican II, the influence of ressourcement theologians on their thought and work, and their appreciation of Fr. Fessio’s decades as scholar, translator, theologian, editor, and publisher.
CWR: What was the inspiration behind this book? And how did it come together?
Dr. Levering and Dr. Healy: First and foremost, the editors wanted to express their gratitude to Fr. Fessio, S.J. for a lifetime of service to the Church. Fr. Fessio founded Ignatius Press in 1978 to make available in English the writings of his teachers, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Joseph Ratzinger. These books have helped to form a generation of theologians and philosophers in the English language realm. We thought that a fitting way to honor Fr. Fessio would be to invite various scholars to contribute a chapter on one or more of the authors published by Ignatius Press. The response was overwhelmingly positive – the contributors were happy to repay a debt of gratitude to Fr. Fessio, to his great teachers, and to the publishing house that he founded.
CWR: You both remark, in the Introduction, on how deeply you were influenced by various ressourcement theologians at pivotal moments in your lives. What did you each read, respectively, that had such an influence on you? And where did that lead?
Dr. Healy: Following the recommendation of my teacher R. V. Young, I subscribed to the journal Communio, which was founded by von Balthasar, de Lubac, and Ratzinger. The first issue that I received (Fall, 1992) was dedicated to the memory of Henri de Lubac, who died on September 4, 1991. I was captivated by the breadth of de Lubac’s theological writings – on the drama of atheist humanism, on the interpretation of scripture, on the mystery of the supernatural, on the relationship between the Church and the Eucharist, etc.
But I think what attracted me most was de Lubac’s understanding of the inseparability of Christ and the Church. Further reading in Communio introduced me to the towering figure of Hans Urs von Balthasar and the growing array of volumes published by Ignatius Press. At this point, I decided to forgo applying to law school. Instead I began graduate studies in philosophy and then theology, guided from afar by David L. Schindler. I completed my studies in England and Germany, where I came into contact with members of the Community of St. John, a secular institute founded by Adrienne von Speyr and Hans Urs von Balthasar. The Community of St. John and the writings of von Balthasar have remained guideposts for my thinking and teaching.
Dr. Levering: I grew up a Quaker, attending Meeting for Worship but not in communities where belief in Jesus or in God was common. I didn’t know theology existed, but during my undergraduate studies I read novels written by believers in Christ, such as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Walker Percy. These novels influenced me with a sense of the depth of meaning possible through Christ, but, during a short stint after college trying to write novels, I realized that novels could not tell me what I needed to know: whether God exists, whether Christ is God, where Christ is found. So I went to Duke Divinity School library, because my wife was getting a Master’s in Public Policy at Duke and we lived in an apartment close by the campus.
Fortunately at this time—it was 1993—Duke Divinity School’s library was acquiring a large number of Ignatius Press books and each week they were on the “new books” shelf. A number of them made a significant impression on me, but none more than Hans Urs von Balthasar’s In the Fullness of Faith, which I continue to teach regularly today. This book taught me how the whole of Catholicism makes sense as a unity, and I also saw Balthasar’s struggle against classically “liberal” (dull!) versions of Catholicism. During this time I read Ratzinger, Bouyer, de Lubac, and others, but most of all I read Balthasar, and fairly soon had read all of Balthasar that Ignatius had published to that point. I read other things as well, such as John Paul II’s theology of the body, Veritatis Splendor, Chesterton, Lewis, and so on. In the midst of this, my wife and I began attending RCIA right after Easter 1994, and we were received into the Church on Easter 1995. Ignatius Press books taught me the excitement and joy of being Catholic and the spiritual depth of the life that is found in Christ’s Church. Everything these books taught me has proven true. In the Fall of 1994, I entered the Master of Theological Studies program at Duke, where I met Tim Gray, Michael Dauphinais, and Michael Hanby, who have remained co-workers in the vineyard.
CWR: Fr. Fessio, as you note in the Introduction, studied under Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Ratzinger. From your perspectives, how would you assess his work, especially through Ignatius Press, in translating those authors and others for an English-speaking audience?
Dr. Levering and Dr. Healy: As a young American Jesuit, Fr. Fessio was sent to France to complete his theological formation. Henri de Lubac, S.J. was in residence in the Jesuit house of studies in Fourvière, and Fr. Fessio began to work as his assistant. De Lubac told Fr. Fessio that he should write a doctoral dissertation on the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar under the direction of Prof. Joseph Ratzinger. The philosopher Ferdinand Ulrich, who recently passed away, helped Fr. Fessio complete his dissertation on the relationship between Christ’s kenosis and the mystery of the Church in the theology of von Balthasar. As David Schindler notes, “such was Fr. Fessio’s educational formation: to have had as his main teachers . . . four of the truly great Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century: de Lubac, Ratzinger, Balthasar, and Ulrich.” When he returned to the United States, Fr. Fessio began several initiatives: he helped to found the Saint Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco, he was instrumental in launching the North American edition of Communio, and he founded Ignatius Press.
This was a difficult time for the Church and for faculties of Catholic theology in the United States. While the Second Vatican Council sought to renew the Church’s missionary dynamism, for a variety of reasons – some internal to the Church, some coming from the culture – what ensued was a waning of the Christian spirit. De Lubac described the self-destructive forces within the Church as follows:
there is a false idea of ‘opening to the world,’ shamelessly preached as being the thought of the Council, that takes away from the faithful what was always the strength of the Christians most involved in the world – the consciousness of their obligation to be an enlivening soul in it – in order to make them poor beings without an identity tagging along behind it.
Unfortunately, de Lubac’s warnings went largely unheeded. Many of the theological faculties in the United States followed the program of Karl Rahner and Edward Schillebeeckx, with an admixture of half-baked sociology, Kantian philosophy, and historical-critical exegesis. The books translated and published by Ignatius Press opened up a different vision of the Church’s faith and the task of Catholic theology. Works by Ratzinger, von Balthasar, and de Lubac (among others) helped students of Catholic theology to enter into the breadth of the Catholic tradition. Above all, these books were a witness to the truth and objectivity of divine revelation which has been entrusted to the Church.
CWR: How would you describe, especially for readers with little or no previous knowledge of these theologians, the importance and place of ressourcement theology in the Church? How is their project, so to speak, different from that of Rahner, Küng, Schillebeeckx, and others from the Concilium movement?
Dr. Levering and Dr. Healy: The aim of ressourcement – term coined by the poet Charles Péguy – was to renew Catholic theology by returning to the sources of scripture, the fathers of the Church, and the great medieval doctors, above all St. Thomas Aquinas. This involved translating and publishing the writings of patristic and medieval texts in a new series titled “Sources Chrétiennes”. For the leading figures of the ressourcement movement – Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, Jean Daniélou, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Louis Bouyer – the return the sources was not simply an exercise of historical scholarship, but aimed at the spiritual renewal of the Church by showing the vitality of the Catholic tradition centered on Christ and the paschal mystery. In the words of de Lubac, the idea “was to make the tradition better known and loved, to show its ever-present fruitfulness.”
Shortly after the Second Vatican Council, there was a parting of ways between theologians associated with the journal Concilium (Karl Rahner, Hans Küng, Edward Schillebeeckx) and the theologians who founded Communio. Both journals claimed to be faithfully interpreting the Second Vatican Council. However, for Concilium the Council represented a new beginning, an utter break with the past. In general, it’s fair to say that the authors associated with Concilium were convinced that some form of accommodation to modernity was necessary even when this meant a departure from solemnly taught Catholic doctrine. The founders of Communio proposed a different path for the renewal of the Church. As Hans Urs von Balthasar notes, the Church’s encounter with the world depends on “a reflection on the specifically Christian element itself, a purification, a deepening, a centering of its idea, which alone renders us capable of representing it, radiating it, translating it believably in the world. . . the true, undiminished program of for the Church today must read: the greatest possible radiance in the world by virtue of the closest possible following of Christ.”
CWR: The ressourcement theologians criticized and fought back against theological liberalism, and yet some today claim that they are liberals, progressives, and even “modernists”? How might you respond to such claims? And how might this volume in particular help demonstrate otherwise?
Dr. Healy: Let me focus your question by reflecting on the life and work of Henri de Lubac. It is true that in the 1940s he was suspected and accused of promoting theological liberalism or even neo-modernism. These charges were based on a fundamental misunderstanding of his writings. Before anything else, de Lubac was a man of the Church – homo ecclesiasticus – deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition and obedient to the Church’s magisterium. His books on the catholicity of the Church, on the mystery of the supernatural, on the interpretation of scripture, and on the relationship between the Eucharist and the Church, are eminently traditional, consisting largely of citations from the Church fathers and medieval theologians. The claim that these works contain novelties or “theological liberalism” is perhaps a sign that certain aspects of the great tradition were too little known at the time. As a side note, although the term “nouvelle théologie” is commonly used as a synonym for “ressourcement“, Henri de Lubac was opposed to this term. As he says, there is little that is new in his theology; his fundamental aim, as noted above, was to make the tradition better known and loved.
In the period after Vatican II, the context and the specific challenges confronting Catholic theology dramatically changed. While he remained grateful for the authoritative teachings of the Second Vatican Council, de Lubac discerned a growing crisis of faith within the Church and a departure from the Catholic tradition. In this sense, he became a sharp critic of certain “progressive” trends in Catholic theology. For example, at a conference in Missouri in May of 1969, de Lubac addressed the post-conciliar crisis and he encouraged Catholic theologians to remain faithful to their ecclesial vocation:
Is it not necessary, when the gravity of the moment demands it, for the theologian to know how to suspend all of his historical inquiries, his constructions and personal research – to which he would be wrong, moreover, to attach excessive importance at any time – in order to remember that his whole existence as a theologian and any authority this profession can earn him are founded above all on the responsibility he has received in view of the defense and the elucidation of the Faith of the Church.
These words convey something of the spirit of de Lubac’s vocation as a theologian before and after the Second Vatican Council. He received all from the Church, and he returned all to the Church.
Although this book does not address many of the recent criticisms of de Lubac, Ratzinger, and von Balthasar, we hope that a careful reader will gain a sense of the catholicity of these authors, and the resources in their work that might help a new generation of theologians hand on the faith of the Church.
Dr. Levering: In recent years, it has become evident how important it is today for ressourcement theologians and Thomistic theologians to bury the hatchet. As many people know, there was a sharp divide between the great ressourcement theologians and their neo-scholastic teachers prior to the Council. The best representatives on both sides agreed about fighting Catholic theological modernism, but they disagreed about how best to fight it. In fact, both sides accused each other of fostering modernism! They clashed mightily with each other, with the result that both sides emerged exhausted after the Council. In post-conciliar Catholicism neo-scholasticism became almost a dirty word, while the ressourcement theologians went from being applauded as bold and cutting-edge, to being considered outdated reactionaries and ecclesiastical functionaries. The “progressives” took over in the universities and seminaries. Between 1966 and 1986, Rahnerian and liberation theology was essentially all that was read by seminarians and graduate students! Today, ressourcement theologians and Thomistic theologians each need to strive to appreciate what is good in their forebears from the other side of the fence. Otherwise, the theologians who affirm the core doctrinal and moral teachings of the Catholic tradition will once again form a circular firing squad, to the benefit of resurgent Rahnerian and liberation theology.
Although there are some real theological disagreements between the spiritual descendants of the ressourcement theologians and the spiritual descendants of the neo-scholastics, we share much more than we realize. It is absurd for each side to try to stamp out the other side, given that we are united in the heart of the Church. We are allies in defending the core moral and doctrinal teachings of the Church’s traditional faith.
CWR: Can you provide a quick overview of the chapters included and what readers can expect to find?
Dr. Levering: Let me note a few highlights from the thirteen chapters.
David L. Schindler’s memoirs of his years of knowing Fr. Fessio, and particularly the early years in which the American edition of Communio was founded, will be a necessary starting point for every historian of the era and for anyone who loves Fr. Fessio.
After this opening, the first essay in the collection is by the great Jesuit David Vincent Meconi. Fr. Meconi sets forth the contributions of four seminal ressourcement theologians to the understanding of the Church as the mystical body of Christ. Other authors in the volume focus on one ressourcement theologian published by Ignatius Press: for example, Michael Dauphinais, who worked closely with Fr. Fessio when the latter was Provost of Ave Maria University, writes on Joseph Ratzinger’s classic Introduction to Christianity. Similarly, Matthew Ramage, a professor of theology at Benedictine College who was a doctoral student at Ave Maria during Fr. Fessio’s tenure as Provost, writes on Pope Benedict XVI’s Catechetical Instructions.
As befits the significance of Hans Urs von Balthasar for Fr. Fessio’s own doctoral work and for Ignatius Press, reflection on Balthasar’s theology forms the core of the essays by Peter Casarella, Stephen Fields, S.J., Matthew Levering, Francesca Aran Murphy, and Anne M. Carpenter. Three essays give special attention to Henri de Lubac: Joseph Flipper treats de Lubac’s theology of Scripture, Aaron Riches treats de Lubac’s understanding of tradition and the Liturgy, and Nick Healy treats de Lubac on doctrinal development. D. C. Schindler, son of David L., meditates on Tradition as conceived by the Thomistic philosopher Josef Pieper, many of whose works Ignatius Press has published.
All of these essays revolve around themes that are at the very heart of Fr. Fessio’s vocation and at the very heart of ressourcement theology. What could be more conducive to perceiving Fr. Fessio’s heart than to reflect upon the realities he loves? Namely (in order of the chapters), the mystical body, the Liturgy, apologetics, Catholic culture, the analogy of being, Scripture, Catholic Marriage as an imago Trinitatis, God’s self-revelation and theological speech, catechesis, Tradition, beauty, and the truth of doctrine.
Dr. Healy: For me, one of the more surprising discoveries in reading the manuscript was learning about Lubac’s love for the Church’s Liturgy as well as his concerns about the shape of the post-conciliar liturgical reform. My thanks to Aaron Riches for his painstaking research and his insights on this theme.
CWR: Stepping back a bit, how do you see ressourcement thought influencing future generations? How do the works of these various theologians inform your own work, both in teaching and in writing?
Dr. Levering: I would begin with Joseph Ratzinger. It seems certain that his theology, both as a private theologian and as Pope Benedict XVI—and also in his role at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II—will continue to shape the Church. He engages deeply with pressing problems and opportunities arising from modern biblical scholarship. He also engages the problems and opportunities that have arisen from modern cultural crises. He is attentive to the challenges flowing from ecumenical and interreligious discussions. I believe that these problems and controversies will be formative for our century and likely will be around far longer. If so, then Ratzinger/Benedict’s theology will remain a touchstone. His approach to these problems and controversies would be unthinkable without the historical and theological approaches characteristic of ressourcement theology.
In addition, the immensely provocative, insightful, and stimulating theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar will continue to be a treasure trove for theologians of all stripes. The reception of Balthasar’s work is a prime area where difference among theologians committed to the realities of faith needs to be allowed. If it is allowed, then Balthasar will become a treasure for the whole Church. De Lubac’s influence will be also felt in the future, especially with regard to interpreting Scripture in accordance with the mind of the Church. The most important area for the future of the Church will be the question of how to receive and understand the truth of Scripture’s witness to Jesus Christ.
I use ressourcement theologians constantly in both teaching and writing, and none of this would be possible without Fr. Fessio and Ignatius Press.
Dr. Healy: The authors associated with the ressourcement movement did not want to start a new school of theology. Their aim was more simple: a spiritual renewal of the Church’s faith by way of making the tradition better known. And the heart of the Catholic tradition is the confession of faith in the crucified and risen Lord, who remains present to us in and through the sacramental Church. What can be learned from the ressourcement theologians is a sense of theology in service to the Church’s faith – and a sense of the Church as something more than an organization or a voluntary association. The Church is the great gift of God, and her true countenance is seen in the Virgin Mary, seat of wisdom.
CWR: Any further thoughts?
Dr. Levering and Dr. Healy: Just a word of thanks to Fr. Fessio and the entire staff of Ignatius Press. The patient work of handing on the Church’s faith will bear fruit.