The Suspended Middle
Henri De Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural
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French Jesuit Henri de Lubac (1896-1991) was arguably the most revolutionary theologian of the twentieth century. He proposed that Western theology since the early modern period had lost sight of the key to integrating faith and reason - the truth that all human beings are naturally oriented toward the supernatural.
In this vital book John Milbank defends de Lubac's claim and pushes it to a more radical extreme. The Suspended Middle shows how such a claim entails a 'non-ontology' suspended between rational philosophy and revealed theology, interweaving the two while denying them any pure autonomy from each other. As de Lubac's writings on the supernatural implicitly dismantled the reigning Catholic (and perhaps Protestant) assumptions about Christian intellectual reflection, he met with opposition and even papal censure.
Milbank's sophisticated account of de Lubac delineates the French theologian's relations with other proponents of the nouvelle theologie, such as Hans Urs von Balthasar, and clarifies the subtle but crucial divisions within recent Roman Catholic theology.
The most substantial treatment in English of de Lubac's as yet untranslated Surnaturel and the subsequent debate, Milbank's Suspended Middle lays down an energetic challenge that every serious student of theology and Christian philosophy will want to engage.
"The Suspended Middle is to be welcomed to the extent that it raises the profile of a central, yet underacknowledged, figure in twentieth-century theology. (...) The central relevance for Millbank of the Lubac's account of the history of the supernatural lies in its potential to address the crucial turning point in Radical Orthodoxy's account of intellectual history. (...) To those already persuaded, the case is strengthened by his careful narration of the differences and continuities between pre-modern, modern and postmodern theology, the clear implication of the impossibility of any simple retrieval of pre-modern forms of theological expression, and his commitment to the cultural embeddedness of Christianity."-- Russell Re Manning, TLS, September 1 2006.
"Millbank argues that de Lubac's position does not in fact 'undermine the foundations of Catholic doctrine', but is on the contrary more radically true to Aquinas and Thomist critics and others. For all the highly technical nature of Millbank's argument, at its heart is no matter of purely internal theological dispute. Millbank's claim is that the autonomy of 'pure nature', which de Lubac denies but which the bulk of modern and postmodern western thinking takes for granted, 'is likely to result in joyless disciplinary programs for the maximizing of corporeal efficiency, and in the long run in nihilistic cults of individual and collective power' (p.21), to which might be added that a theology of grace detached from created nature is likely for its part to result in one variety or another of religious authoritarianism, making the questions at issue here deeply important to both Church and world today."-- Michael Kitchener, St Boswells, Theology, Nov/Dec 2006.
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