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Henri de Lubac, the Bitter Fruit of Old Atheism, and Christian Humanism

Henri de Lubac lived and worked during some of the most violent and confused years in modern European history. In addition to the losses caused by the several wars that ravaged Europe, the violent events of the early twentieth century led to an acute emotional and intellectual anxiety for many citizens of the continent. The First World War, in particular, brought European confidence in unending technological and moral progress to a halt.[i] In 1922, the French poet Paul Valéry wrote,

The Storm is over, and yet we are still uneasy . . . anxious . . . as though it were just now going to break. Nearly all human affairs are still in a state of terrible uncertainty. We ponder on what is gone, we are almost ruined by what has been ruined; we do not know what is to come, and have some reason to fear it. We hope vaguely, but dread precisely; our fears are infinitely clearer than our hopes; we recognize that pleasurable living and abundance are behind us, but confusion and doubt are in us and with us.[ii]

Although war and atrocity are not recent inventions, there was something distinctive, and even surprising, about the violence witnessed during the European wars of the past century. On the one hand, people were surprised by the scale of those wars. Modern technology, which held such promise in agriculture, communications, medicine, travel, and more, also enabled the production of much deadlier weapons than previous eras had known, and the millions of soldiers and civilians killed during the first half of the twentieth century were unprecedented.[iii] On the other hand, the World Wars were shocking because they “contrast[ed] with the expectations, at least in Europe, with which the twentieth century began,” expectations of unrestrained social progress.[iv] Those expectations were inspired, in large part, by a philosophical revolution that took place during the nineteenth century.

Whereas European civilization during the middle-ages was remarkably organic in terms of religion, government, law, art, literature, etc., the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed the unraveling of the old order and a revolt against its authorities and institutions. In France, for example, the role of clergy and nobility were forever diminished with the revolution of 1789.   Then in the nineteenth century, philosophers set out to construct a modern replacement for the older organic civilization.[v]   They did not look to theology and metaphysics, however, as a foundation for modern European society. Rather, they embraced the Enlightenment’s turn to the subject, in the spirit of Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, and endeavored to make a new society, built upon the methods of empirical science and the moral capacity intrinsic to human nature, in which there would be no need for the Christian religion.

The nineteenth was the century of Auguste Comte, Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche and others. It was a century characterized by a great optimism in the ability of humankind to forge its own destiny, unencumbered by the weight of religious authority and superstition. The nineteenth century was the zenith of the great intellectual adventure that began with the European Enlightenment, and its philosophers had a significant influence on the growing secularization of Europe, on expectations of social progress, and on the increasing marginalization of the church. In the pages that follow, I offer an analysis of the thought of Auguste Comte, Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche – all atheistic philosophers who, according to de Lubac, had a significant influence on European civilization.

Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte,the founder of French Positivism who worked very consciously in the shadow of the French Revolution, sought to establish a philosophical system that would bring unity, order, and prosperity to Europe.[vi] For Comte, the revolution of 1789 and the continuing inability of the French people to find an alternative other than populist revolt or dictatorship were a consequence of the intellectual disorder that had replaced the harmonious system of Medieval Christendom.[vii]

Although he could envision no return to the ordered society of the past, Comte believed that a new society grounded on scientific knowledge rather than Christian metaphysics would soon arise. Indeed, he believed that a new order would emerge as the “necessary consequence of the progress of society.”[viii] In the introduction to The Positive Philosophy (1830-1842), Comte outlined the three stages of “a great fundamental law” that, he claimed, explains the “development of human intelligence.”[ix] He suggests that “the law is this: – that each of our leading conceptions – each branch of our knowledge – passes successively through three different theoretical conditions: the theological, or fictitious; the Metaphysical, or abstract; and the Scientific, or positive.”[x]

Comte believed that just as the theological stage gave way to the metaphysical with the rediscovery of nature in the twelfth century so must the metaphysical stage give way to the scientific now that humankind has come to understand the laws of nature, such as “Gravitation.”[xi] However, Comte suggested that the ascendance of the positive stage would come only when society was freed from the grip of theologians and metaphysicians who seemed to have a monopoly “in all treatment of social subjects.”[xii] Since “ideas govern and revolutionize the world,” and “the whole social mechanism ultimately rests upon opinions,” it was necessary to replace the former metaphysical understanding of society with a new scientific/positive view. According to Comte, “Now that the human mind has grasped celestial and terrestrial physics – mechanical and chemical; organic physics, both vegetable and animal – there remains one science, to fill up the series of sciences of observation – Social physics. This is what men have now must need of.”[xiii]

Accordingly, Comte endeavored to establish a “social physics,” or a science of society that he named, “sociology.”[xiv] Whereas the natural sciences tended toward greater and greater specialization and fragmentation, sociology would be at once a science and a philosophy. Sociology would thus serve to systematize all of the other sciences and ensure that they were employed for the betterment of humanity as a whole. Etienne Gilson explains that, for Comte:

The notion of a ‘social physics’ then assumed a decisive importance, for indeed, to him, that was exactly what ‘sociology’ actually was. It became the keystone of his philosophy. His ultimate goal was to provide mankind with a system of ideas capable of uniting all men in a common assent to it; the substance of that system had to be borrowed from science; for that very reason, the philosophical bond of all men could not be formulated before the system of the sciences had been completed; by completing the system of the sciences, then, the discovery of sociology was making it possible to terminate the revolution. By the same token, it was answering the question: on the basis of what system of ideas can a truly organic society be organized in modern terms? Positive philosophy was the answer, and since only the foundation of sociology as a science had made it possible, the vocation of Comte as a social reformer was one in his own mind with his vocation as a creative genius in the field of science.[xv]

Comte believed that with the establishment of the positive science, which would include the unification and systemization of all other sciences, humanity would be able, once again, to benefit from a truly organic system leading to universal agreement on both intellectual and moral issues. Moreover, Comte believed that social physics would enable humankind to grasp the laws of society and human behavior to such an extent that the formulation of social policy would become a matter of scientific prediction, experimentation, and eventual mastery. Thus would European civilization take charge of its own destiny and move forward into a more prosperous and peaceful future.[xvi]

Interestingly, Comte stressed not only the importance of empirical investigation but also the importance of imagination and sentiment. The positive philosophy was to benefit humankind, and because humans are driven by sentiment and not only by facts, it must address the religious dimension of human existence. Whereas The Positive Philosophy (1830-1842) was focused largely on the creation of a philosophical system that could unify the sciences, the System of Positive Philosophy (1851-1854) extended the positivist project into a more thorough treatment of human affections since “the proper function of the intellect is the service of the social sympathies.”[xvii] In the System of Positive Philosophy, Comte developed the idea of a “religion of humanity,” which he had already begun to consider in the 1920s.[xviii] In chapter two of the fourth volume, Comte makes the surprising claim that worship, rather than theory, must be the first issue of concern for the positive program. He explains that the previous arrangement, which had given preference to the belief system, contradicted,

the fundamental formula of Positivism, in which love precedes order, as order precedes progress; and love is the domain of the worship, order that of the doctrine, progress of the life. In the second place, it is contradicted by the general theory of human nature, which puts feeling above intelligence and activity, the two indispensable servants of feeling. Lastly, it is at variance with the regular course of Positive education, in which the succession is: the education of feelings, the education of the intellect, and the education of our active powers.[xix]

Comte was convinced that true social cohesion would never be attained on the basis of the positive belief-system alone. According to Mary Pickering, since Comte was “convinced that a general doctrine and institutional networks were not sufficient to ensure social cohesion, [he] believed that his religion would provide the moral adhesive necessary to hold society together.”[xx] Thus, he formulated a thorough plan for the positive religion, which would be administered by “priests of humanity” and would include a liturgical cycle complete with nine sacraments. Andrew Wernick explains that indoctrination into the religion

would begin at home with Mother, continue in the schools with a revamped curriculum under (male) teacher-priests, and persist in the sermons and ceremonies which Positive Religion would install in a systematic and pervasive ritual round. Prominent among the latter were the sacraments (présentation, initiation, admission, destination, marriage, maturité, retraite, transformation, incorporation) which were to accompany each stage of the life course, and through which each servant of Humanity would solemnly rededicate himself (or herself) to a life of service.[xxi]

In his Positivist Catechism (1852) Comte outlined a plan for the total reorganization of European society on the basis of the religion of humanity. According to his plan, France alone would need 200 regional parishes with one priest for every 6,000 citizens, a multitude of positivist churches and cemeteries, a detailed liturgical calendar, and an established hierarchy. As the religion grew, it would spread beyond Europe, and would be maintained by national and regional councils under the guidance of 7 metropolitans led ultimately by a primate located in Paris.[xxii]

The main purpose of Comte’s religion of humanity would be to direct citizens towards consistent works of charity in order to improve the condition of society as a whole. Although his positivist program was clearly anti-theistic, he used the word “religion” intentionally in order to emphasize the fact that he was offering an alternative to Catholicism.[xxiii] Consistent with his three stages of human progress, Comte believed that the Catholic Church’s time had come and gone and that it must be replaced by something better.

Ludwig Feuerbach and Karl Marx

Whereas Comte was convinced that theistic religion had served a necessary and positive role in society, Ludwig Feuerbach had a somewhat more critical perspective.[xxiv] According to Feuerbach, God is an invention of human beings.[xxv] God, he explained, is simply an objectification of human self-consciousness. In his most famous work, The Essence of Christianity (1841), he suggested that

Religion, at least the Christian, is the relation of man to himself, or more correctly to his own nature (i.e., his subjective nature); but a relation to it, viewed as a nature apart from his own. The divine being is nothing else than the human being, or, rather, the human nature purified, freed from the limits of the individual man, made objective – i.e. contemplated and revered as another, a distinct being. All the attributes of the divine nature are, therefore, attributes of the human nature.[xxvi]

Feuerbach claimed that all of God’s perfections: love, justice, compassion, mercy, etc., really belong to human nature.[xxvii] It is natural, he argued, for humans to desire love, justice, compassion, and mercy, but when they attribute these qualities to a being outside of themselves they are making a mistake with serious consequences. By projecting the qualities that we most cherish onto a non-existent God, claimed Feuerbach, we are depriving ourselves of the very qualities that we most need as humans. He wrote that

the consciousness of the absolutely perfect moral nature, especially as an abstract being separate from man, leaves us cold and empty, because we feel the distance, the chasm between ourselves and this being; – it is a dispiriting consciousness, for it is the consciousness of our personal nothingness, and of the kind which is the most acutely felt – moral nothingness.[xxviii]

Far from seeing Christianity as a positive force, Feuerbach claimed that religion is the “disuniting of man from himself; he sets God before him as the antithesis of himself. God is not what man is – man is not what God is. God is the infinite, man the finite being; god is perfect, man imperfect. . . God almighty, man weak; God holy, man sinful.” However, “in religion man contemplates his own latent nature,” so what is most needed is for humankind to embrace that nature which is mistakenly attributed to God. [xxix] Feuerbach goes even further in his denunciation of Christianity when he suggests that,

The Christian religion is a religion of suffering. The images of the crucified one which we still meet with in all churches, represent not the Saviour, but only the crucified, the suffering Christ. Even the self-crucifixions among the Christians are, psychologically, a deep-rooted consequence of their religious views. How should not he who has always the image of the crucified on his mind, at length contract the desire to crucify either himself or another?[xxx]

Christianity thus projects all human perfections onto a non-existent God and then endorses the imitation of a crucified savior, thus denying persons the possibility of joy in this life. Feuerbach claims that “man negates himself, but only to posit himself again” in heaven. Christians, he argues, deny themselves joy in this life in order to receive it in the next. Accordingly, they “sacrifice the thing in itself to the image.”[xxxi]

According to Feuerbach, humans will never be “true” or “complete” until they stop sacrificing what is real for what is only imagined. Human fulfillment must be found in this, the material world, not in an imagined heaven.   However, as we have already seen with Comte, Feuerbach saw no need to give up explicitly religious language in order to describe the human future. Whereas Comte proposed a religion of humanity, Feuerbach endorsed an anthropotheism in which humans are the highest being. “The new philosophy,” he writes, “makes man – with the inclusion of nature as the foundation of man – the unique, universal and highest object of philosophy.”[xxxii] The goal of Feuerbach’s religious criticism was to enable the relinquishing of God so that humanity would more fully embrace its own best nature. He explains that

The more subjective God is, the more completely does man divest himself of his subjectivity, because God is, per se, his relinquished self, the possession of which he however again vindicates to himself. As the action of the arteries drives the blood into the extremities, and the action of the veins brings it back again, as life in general consists in a perpetual systole and diastole; so is it in religion. In the religious systole man propels his own nature from himself, he throws himself outward; in the religious diastole he receives the rejected nature into his heart again.[xxxiii]

According to Feuerbach God must be done away with to ensure that the diastolic dimension of human religiosity functions properly. Humans must not “divest’ their subjectivity only to lose it to an imagined God. Rather, it must be acknowledged that “Man has his highest being, his God, in himself; not in himself as an individual, but in his essential nature, his species.”[xxxiv] Thus, it is only natural that individuals be self-conscious or contemplative of their own limitations and that they aspire for something above and beyond their individual nature. However, persons will only achieve what they contemplate if they look for it in their species, in humanity as a whole.[xxxv]

With the publication of The Essence of Christianity in 1841, Feuerbach became an immediate sensation.[xxxvi] Among his admirers were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who suggested that with Feuerbach, philosophy had finally come to an understanding of human nature. Although Marx eventually came to the conclusion that Feuerbach’s emphasis on the contemplative dimension of human nature and religiosity was inadequate for a materialist philosophy, there is little doubt that Feuerbach’s critique of religion had a lasting influence on Marx. As Van A. Harvey explains, “Although it was Feuerbach who enabled Marx to appropriate Hegel’s view of Spirit as self-creative activity, this appropriation, in turn, was to provide the basis for Marx’s final break with Feuerbach.”[xxxvii]

According to Marx, Feuerbach’s materialism falls short because it never moves beyond the realm of theory. “Feuerbach,”

writes Marx, “resolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the essence of man is not abstraction inhering in each single individual. In its actuality it is the ensemble of social relationships.”[xxxviii] Marx takes the critique of religion further and suggests that even the religious feeling, which Feuerbach secularizes, is a “social product” belonging “to a particular form of society.” Whereas Feuerbach suggested that religion, and specifically the Christian religion, “alienates” humans from themselves, Marx argues that it is society in general, and religion only as a product of society, that causes human alienation. Religion is not created by the individual contemplating his own nature. Rather, religion is the product of a social system that alienates people from their true nature. Marx adopts Feuerbach’s language of alienation but locates the source of this alienation in society, i.e. in social conditions that oppress and exploit humans. Marx’s critique of religion is similar to Feuerbach’s, but Marx attributes less importance to religion. In the following quotation, both Marx’s dependence on and development of Feuerbach’s thought are evident. Marx writes that,

Man makes religion; religion does not make man. Religion is, in fact, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet gained himself or has lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man, the state, society. This state, this society, produce religion, which is an inverted world-consciousness, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human being because the human being has attained no true reality. Thus, the struggle against religion is indirectly the struggle against that world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.[xxxix]

According to Marx, in order for people to achieve their “true happiness,” they must abolish religion as their “illusory happiness”[xl] and engage in the revolutionary work of changing the social conditions that produce the illusion of religion in the first place. Marx, like Comte, envisioned an all-encompassing program, requiring “hand-to-hand combat” if necessary, through which the people would restructure society completely, including all of its social and economic institutions, in order to achieve true human well-being.[xli] The influence of Marx’s thought on twentieth century European society is well known and needs no elaboration here.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Although he claimed to hold Feuerbach in low esteem, Friedrich Nietzsche offered a critique of religion quite similar to those of Feuerbach and Marx, though he took his attack much further than previous philosophers had taken theirs.[xlii] Nietzsche believed that the Christian religion is a creation of humankind that destroys people by keeping them from achieving their true potential. Like Feuerbach and Marx, he believed that human beings have great potential but that they squander this potential by ascribing power and goodness to God rather than themselves. In the unfinished work that was to be his magnum opus, The Will to Power,[xliii] Nietzsche declared:

Man has never dared to credit himself with his strong and startling moods, he has always conceived them as “passive,” as “imposed upon him from outside”: Religion is the offshoot of a doubt concerning the entity of the person, an alteration of the personality: in so far as everything great and strong in man was considered superhuman and foreign, man belittled himself, – he laid the two sides, the very pitiable and weak side, and the very strong and startling side apart, in two spheres, and called the one “Man” and the other “God.”[xliv]

For Nietzsche, humans must forget about God and assume the power that is within them. The consequence of not doing so, according to Nietzsche, is nihilism. Like Comte, Feuerbach, and Marx, he realized that the organic civilization of the middle ages had forever disappeared, but he despaired that a new world had not yet emerged to take its place. Thus, he felt responsible for proclaiming a reality that others might not be ready to hear, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”[xlv]

In proclaiming the death of god, Nietzsche was merely calling attention to what, for him, was a cultural fact. With the death of the old world, which was held together by a thoroughly theological understanding of reality, God too had ceased to exist. For Nietzsche, however, the death of God was necessary in order for humans to overcome the nihilism inherent in Christianity. He believed that European society was declining into a state of decadence, and he thought that Christianity itself was the cause of the problem. He argued that the Christian conception of God, exemplified in Christ, is “the declaration of war against life, against nature, against the will to live!. . . the deification of nothingness, the will to nothingness pronounced holy!”[xlvi]

Nietzsche argued that the Christian religion had lead to nihilism because Christians, following the Jews, had long ago perverted the truth about what is good, beautiful, and noble. In The Genealogy of Morals (1887), he claimed that because Jews and Christians were a weak and conquered people in the ancient world. They produced, out of their own desire for revenge as well as for power and mastery over life, a conception of morality and goodness that praised weakness and powerlessness. He suggested that

It was the Jew who, with frightening consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value equations good/noble/powerful/beautiful/happy/favored-of-the-gods and maintain with the furious hatred of the underprivileged and impotent, that ‘only the poor, the powerless, are good; only the suffering, sick and ugly, truly blessed.’ But you noble and mighty ones of the earth will be, to all eternity, the evil, the cruel, the avaricious, the godless, and thus the cursed and the damned.[xlvii]

Christian morality was, for Nietzsche, the reason why the masses of people accepted their lives of suffering and despair.   From his perspective, European culture in the nineteenth century was in decline because society had become thoroughly “Judaized or Christianized, or mobized. . . . The progress of this poison throughout the body of mankind cannot be stayed.”[xlviii] In The Antichrist (written 1888, published 1895), he takes his attack to extremes, declaring,

I condemn Christianity. I raise against the Christian church the most terrible of all accusations that any accuser ever uttered. It is to me the highest of all conceivable corruptions. . . . Parasitism is the only practice of the church; with its ideal of anemia, of ‘holiness,’ draining all blood, all love, all hope for life; the beyond as the will to negate every reality; the cross as the mark of recognition for the most subterranean conspiracy that every existed – against health, beauty, whatever has turned out well, courage, spirit, graciousness of the soul, against life itself. . . . I call Christianity the one great curse . . . the one great instinct of revenge. . . . I call it the once immortal blemish of mankind.[xlix]

In order to move beyond this “great curse,” Nietzsche called for a reexamination of everything considered good, noble, and beautiful, including a reconsideration of time itself. He was horrified that the Western calendar began with the great curse of Christianity. “Why not” remake the calendar so that time will begin instead “after [Christianity’s] last day. After today? Revaluation of all values!”[l]

Nietzsche rejected the idea that the crucified Christ or the Christian saint epitomizes the ideal human, so he prophesied the emergence of the “Übermensch” or the “overman,” a superior man. Although he rejected the idea of necessary “progress,” Nietzsche did believe that the overman would emerge from the chaos caused by the realization that God had died.[li] He claimed that the overman would be the successor of both God and humankind imprisoned by their allegiance to God. In his most popular work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the prophet Zarathustra explained that whereas “once one said God when one looked upon distant seas . . . now I have taught you to say: overman. God is a conjecture; but I desire that your conjectures should not reach beyond your creative will. Could you create a god? Then do not speak to me of any gods. But you could create the overman.”[lii]

Nietzsche’s overman was to rise above the weakness and passivity idealized by Christianity. The overman would be strong and disciplined. He would find joy in self-conquest and would be kind to others not out of impotence but out of duty. For Nietzsche, the Christian insistence that salvation would come to humans only by the grace of God was nihilistic. He proposed, instead, that humans are driven by a “will to power” that can lead to self-mastery and human flourishing. Nietzsche, like Comte, Feuerbach, and Marx, was captivated by a religious vision that denied the reality and power of God and placed all hope for a more peaceful and prosperous future squarely on the shoulders of humankind. Nietzsche considered himself a prophet, heralding the death of God and the death of a world whose sense of goodness, nobility, and beauty were theologically and metaphysically defined.

Of course, Auguste Comte, Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche were not the only late modern thinkers convinced that European society had moved beyond its theological and metaphysical heritage. John Stewart Mill, Charles Darwin, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, and many others expressed similar convictions. According to Jean Laxroix, in the nineteenth century “the storm of atheism . . . burst upon the history of humanity. This atheism is both absolute and positive; absolute, for it truly denies God himself; positive, for it is an authentic anti-theism. It is an atheism which demands total commitment, and which would change the face of the earth. It appears as a radical humanism, as a tremendous effort on man’s part to possess his humanity completely.”[liii]

Indeed, all of the above mentioned thinkers had in common a profound confidence in human nature. They placed all hope for the future in humankind’s ability to take control, to improve society and to achieve intellectual and moral self-mastery. Although it would be unfair to exaggerate the direct influence of these atheist humanists on the average European during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there is good reason to believe that the above mentioned philosophers were able to make explicit a pervasive cultural élan.   In their philosophical works, thinkers such as Comte, Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche gave words to a common spirit of the age. De Lubac makes a similar observation in the preface to his The Drama of Atheist Humanism (1944):

Contemporary atheism is increasingly positive, organic, constructive. Combining a mystical immanentism with a clear perception of the human trend,[liv] it has three principal aspects which can be symbolized by three names: Auguste Comte, Ludwig Feuerbach (who must share the honor with his disciple, Karl Marx) and Friedrich Nietzsche. Through a number of intermediaries, and with a number of accretions, admixtures and, in many cases, distortions, the doctrines of these three nineteenth-century thinkers are, even today, the inspiration of three philosophies of life (social and political as well as individual) that all exercise a powerful attraction. . . . Positivism is an immense edifice of scientific philosophy and practical politics; that Marxism, which has received its Summa if not its Bible in Das Kapital, is a vast and powerful system of political and social economy; and that Nietzsche’s ideas offer an extraordinary profusion of pedagogic resources (in the profoundest sense of the term).[lv]

In the early twentieth century, the social, political, and individual lives of Europeans were shaped by these “philosophies of life.” Whether Marx and communist revolution in Russia, Comte and L’ Action françaisein France, or hope for a distorted kind of Nietzschean overman in Nazi Germany,[lvi] the influence of atheist humanism was profound and tragic. Yet, a godless humanism seems to have been the preferred option in early twentieth century Europe. Science and technological innovation appeared then, as they do now, to offer endless possibilities for individual and social improvement. Thus, the hopes and dreams of modern people were wedded to the promises of an emerging technological civilization.[lvii] For this reason, the calamity of world wars, revolutions, and mass genocide created a profound emotional and intellectual crisis for many. In light of the violence and devastation witnessed in early twentieth century Europe, technological utopia and human self-mastery seem to have been an illusion, but where else could persons look for answers to the social ills plaguing modern industrial civilization? Why not the Church? According to de Lubac, the Catholic Church was ill prepared to offer the gospel as an alternative to atheist humanism because it had retreated into a kind of spiritual ghetto.

Apologetics and Theology

According to de Lubac, the Catholic Church was at least partly responsible for its own increasing marginalization and for the ascendance of atheist humanism. He believed that neo-scholastic theologians had failed to engage directly with the atheistic philosophies that were having such a strong and dangerous influence on European society.[lviii] Among the earliest of his works was an article published in 1930 titled “Apologetics and Theology.”[lix] Originally delivered in 1929 as his inaugural lecture in fundamental theology at the Faculté de théologie catholique in Lyon, the article is a call for a reinvigoration of Catholic theology and apologetics, and thus a more earnest engagement with secular thought by Catholic scholars. From de Lubac’s perspective, the neo-scholastic theology that prevailed after Aeterni Patris was too narrow in its outlook and too separated from apologetics. The result of this separation was an extrinsic theology and an apologetics cut off from the content of Christian faith. According to de Lubac, “the error,” for the theologian, “consists in conceiving of dogma as a kind of ‘thing in itself,’ as a block of revealed truth with no relationship whatsoever to natural man.” Clearly, de Lubac’s criticisms were aimed at the kind of neo-scholastic theology contained in the Latin manuals and used widely for the education of clergy.   The prevailing neo-scholastic approach, he goes on to explain, “confines dogma to the extremities of knowledge and, hence, isolates it.”[lx] In a later article, written during the Second World War, de Lubac compared neo-scholastic theology to museum work. He suggested that Catholic theologians

stroll about theology somewhat as if in a museum of which we are the curators, a museum where we have inventoried, arranged and labeled everything; we know how to define all the terms, we have an answer for all objections, we supply the desired distinctions at just the right moment. Everything in it is obscure for the secular, but for us, everything is clear, everything is explained. If there is still a mystery, at least we know exactly where it is to be placed, and we point to this precisely defined site. . . . Thus, for us, theology is a science a bit like the others, with this sole essential difference: its first principles were received through revelation instead of having been acquired through experience or through the work of reason.[lxi]

With regard to apologetics, de Lubac claimed that Catholic apologists were captivated by “a kind of unavowed rationalism, which had been reinforced for a century by the invasion of positivist tendencies.”[lxii] Although “the apologist” during the heydays of neo-scholasticism, “was being reduced to a humiliated condition, he was being granted, within narrow limits, an excessive power that was bound to be disappointing.”[lxiii] That power was to offer a justification of the Christian faith by means of rational, and purely extrinsic, epistemological argumentation.[lxiv] According to de Lubac, Christian apologists had adopted the rationalism and positivism of the age and embraced “the common prejudice that recognized no certitude or even intelligibility that was not scientific.”[lxv] All the while, apologists had lost sight of the most important “reasons for believing” as they worked tirelessly to prove the factuality of revealed dogma. In de Lubac’s view, an extrinsic theology coupled with a scientific apologetics falls very far short of the Church’s great tradition. Boldly, he declared that

Small-minded theology that is not even traditional, separated theology, tagging behind a separated philosophy – it is no more the theology of the Fathers than it is that of St. Thomas, and the worthless apologetics that it shaped in its image is no closer to the apologetics whose model has been given to us across the centuries: Speeches and Letters of St. Paul, Justin’s Apologia, St. Augustine’s De vera religione, St. Thomas’ Contra gentes, Savonarola’s Triumphus Crucis, Pascal’s Pénsees.[lxvi]

Against those who would defend such “small-mindedness,” de Lubac argued that theology must “constantly maintain apologetical considerations” or become “deficient and distorted.” Likewise, in order for apologetics to be authentic and “fully effective,” it “must end up in theology.”[lxvii] At the heart of the issue is the question of whether or not Christian theology has something meaningful to say to the human condition. De Lubac believed that neo-scholastic theologians had turned “dogma into a kind of ‘superstructure,’ believing that, if dogma is to remain ‘supernatural,’ it must be all the more divine.” This kind of theology, he explains, acts “as though the same God were not the author of both nature and grace.”[lxviii]

De Lubac believed that theology is superficial if it fails to show how Christian dogma is a “source of universal light,” that makes the world both more comprehensible and more beautiful.   Thus theologians cannot allow secular philosophies to have the last, or only word on any matter that pertains to the human condition, matters involving economics, politics, marriage, the family, etc. According to de Lubac, the theologian must work to illuminate everything that pertains to human nature in the light of grace. In order to do so, however, the theologian must become an apologist, since the “most formidable adversaries of the Faith, who are also the most interesting, have a conception of the world and a doctrine of life that they deem to be superior to ours.”[lxix] The challenge for the Church, from de Lubac’s perspective, is thus to engage the reigning secular and atheistic philosophies head-on in order to expose their internal contradictions and inherent nihilism and also to offer the Catholic faith as an alternative and more beautiful vision and way of life. In the following chapter, I will show that de Lubac’s major theological works were inspired by a vision of a more fruitful Catholic engagement with secular culture.

The Drama of Atheist Humanism

In The Drama of Atheist Humanism (1943) de Lubac does the work that he recommends in “Apologetics and Theology.” That is, he engages the reigning secular philosophies head-on in order to expose their inherent nihilism. He writes in the preface of The Drama that positivist humanism, Marxist humanism and Nietzschean humanism have a “common foundation in the rejection of God [that] is matched by a certain similarity in results, the chief of which is the annihilation of the human person.”[lxx]   In the previous chapter, we saw that several of the nineteenth century’s most influential atheist philosophers were compelled to reject the Christian faith because of a conviction that humankind is oppressed, held back, and negated by such faith. The irony, according to de Lubac, is that the experience of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Europeans suggests the opposite.   Having witnessed, several decades earlier, the devastation of “the Great War” and writing in the midst of the Nazi terror of World War II, de Lubac suggests that “the ‘death of God’ was bound to have fatal repercussions. Thus we are confronted with what Nicholas Berdyaev . . . has rightly called ‘the self-destruction of humanism.’ We are proving by experience that ‘where there is no God, there is no man either.’”[lxxi]

For de Lubac, once the world is understood from an atheistic perspective, humankind loses all value and meaning.[lxxii] Regarding the work of figures like Comte, Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche, he asks,

What has actually become of the lofty ambitions of this humanism, not only in fact but in the very way of thought of its initiates? What has become of man as conceived by this atheist humanism? A being that can still hardly be called a ‘being’ – a thing that has no content, a cell completely merged in a mass that is in process of becoming: ‘social-and-historical man,’ of whom all that remains is pure abstraction, apart from the social relations and the position in time by which he is defined. There is no stability or depth left in him, and it is no good looking for any inviolable retreat there or claiming to discover any value exacting universal respect. There is nothing to prevent his being used as material or as a tool either for the preparation of some future society or for ensuring, here and now, the dominance of one privileged group. There is not even anything to prevent his being cast aside as useless.[lxxiii]

These words were published not long after the communist revolution in Russia and at the height of the Jewish Holocaust in Western Europe. For de Lubac, there was a clear and obvious connection between nineteenth century atheist humanism and twentieth century European totalitarianism. With regard to the lasting influence of Comte, for example, he suggests that “the positivist formula spells total tyranny.” “Auguste Comte,” he explains, “the worshipper of Humanity, profoundly misjudged human nature.” [lxxiv] The same, of course, can be said of Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche who, in their attempts to rescue and redeem humankind, achieve only a negation.[lxxv]

In contrast to the various atheist philosophies described above, de Lubac claims that authentic Christianity offers a vision and way of life that is truly humanistic.[lxxvi] In other words, it is Christianity and not atheist humanism that understands human nature most profoundly. For de Lubac, it is the Christian gospel in contrast to atheistic philosophies, which offers the ultimate and only lasting hope for humankind.

Christianity offers the only True Humanism

De Lubac’s first book, Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man (1938)[lxxvii] was a programmatic work that offered a bold vision of the Church’s inherently social and universal character. The book was intended “to show the simultaneously social, historical and interior character of Christianity, this threefold mark conferring on it that character of universality and totality best expressed by the word ‘catholicism.’”[lxxviii]   De Lubac had no desire for novelty; rather, his purpose was “simply to bring out clearly certain ideas that are inherent in our faith: ideas so simple that they do not always attract attention, but at the same time so fundamental that there is some risk of our not finding time to ponder them.”[lxxix]

In Catholicism, de Lubac focuses on the classical Christian teachingthat humanity was created for unity with God and other persons, that this unity was destroyed with the fall from grace, and that it is restored through Christ and specifically through his body – the Church. In contrast to the atheist humanists who saw in Christianity only an “opiate,” keeping people from realizing a just and peaceful society on earth, de Lubac argued that the Church’s mission is inherently social and political.

The section begins with a discussion of dogma and endeavors to show that “the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, a supernatural unity, supposes a previous natural unity, the unity of the human race.” To support this claim, de Lubac offers copious examples showing that, for the Church Fathers, the doctrines of creation, fall, and redemption presuppose an originally unified human race “shattered into a thousand pieces” with the fall and brought back together with redemption.[lxxx] “Let us abide by the outlook of the Fathers,” he suggests, so that “the redemption being a work of restoration will appear to us by that very fact as the recovery of a lost unity – the recovery of supernatural unity of man with God, but equally of the unity of men among themselves.”[lxxxi]

Accordingly, this unity (between humans and God and among humans) lies at the heart of the Church’s character and mission. De Lubac explains that the Church which is “Jesus Christ spread abroad and communicated” completes – so far as it can be completed here below – the work of spiritual reunion which was made necessary by sin; that work which was begun at the Incarnation and was carried on up to Calvary. In one sense the Church is herself this reunion, for that is what is meant by the name of Catholic by which we find her called from the second century onward. . . . The Church is not Catholic because she is spread abroad over the whole of the earth and can reckon on a large number of members. She was already Catholic on the morning of Pentecost, when all her members could be contained in a small room, as she was when Arian waves seemed on the point of swamping her; she would still be Catholic if tomorrow apostasy on a vast scale deprived her of almost all the faithful. For fundamentally Catholicity has nothing to do with geography or statistics. . .Catholicity is primarily an intrinsic feature of the Church.[lxxxii]

Citing figures such as Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, and a host of other well-known Fathers as well as more obscure writers – ancient, medieval, and modern – de Lubac argues that the Church has always understood itself, paradoxically, as not “an entirely invisible reality” but nevertheless “as a mystery surpassing its outward manifestations.”[lxxxiii] The Church, he suggests, “is at the same time both the way and the goal; at the same time visible and invisible; in time and in eternity; she is at once the bride and the widow, the sinner and the saint.”[lxxxiv]

The unity of the Church, for de Lubac, is tied to the eschatological unity of the human race in Christ, and the sacraments are instruments of this unity, since they make the eschatological reality actual in the present. Baptism, for example, is entry into the Church and thus “is essentially a social event” in that individuals enter into the fraternity of the visible church. Baptism is also a mystical and spiritual event, however, “because the Church is not a purely human society: whence comes the ‘character’ conferred by baptism. . . . So it is that by being received into a religious society one who has been baptized is incorporated in the Mystical Body.”[lxxxv] Thus, Christian baptism entails entry into the society of the visible church whose true nature and ultimate end is derived from the eschatological unity of the whole human race in Christ. De Lubac cites Irenaeus of Lyon, who understood baptism in this way:

The Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles that all nations might enter into Life. And so they are gathered together to sing a hymn to God in all tongues. In this way the Holy Spirit brought the scattered peoples back to unity, and offered to the Father the first fruits of all nations. Indeed, just as without water no dough, not a single loaf, can be made of dry flour, so we who are many cannot become one in Christ without that water that comes from heaven. That is why our bodies receive by baptism that unity which leads to life incorruptible, and our souls receive the same unity through the Holy Spirit.[lxxxvi]

The eschatological unity of the human race in Christ is also (and especially) made actual, according to de Lubac, in the sacrament of the Eucharist where the body and blood of Jesus are broken and shed and consumed in order that all who partake are united with Christ and with each other in Christ.[lxxxvii] Here again, de Lubac offers abundant quotations from the Church’s tradition. The following from Cyril of Alexandria is characteristic:

To merge us in unity with God and among ourselves, although we have each a distinct personality, the only Son devised a wonderful means: through one body, his own, he sanctifies his faithful in mystic communion, making them one body with him and among themselves. Within Christ no division can arise. All united to the single Christ through his own body, all receiving him, the one and indivisible, into our own bodies, we are the members of this one body and he is thus, for us, the bond of unity.[lxxxviii]

For the Fathers of the Church, the sacrament of the Eucharist was that instrument through which Christians were transformed into the body of Christ. The Eucharist, according to de Lubac, is the sacrament through which the church is made as Christians are transformed into the actual body of Christ.[lxxxix] Accordingly, “true Eucharistic piety . . . is no devout individualism. It is ‘unmindful of nothing that concerns the good of the Church.’ With one sweeping, all-embracing gesture, in one fervent intention it gathers together the whole world. . . . it cannot conceive of the action of the breaking of bread without fraternal communion.”[xc]


De Lubac completes part one of Catholicism with a discussion of eternal life. Having already shown the fundamentally social nature of Christianity as expressed in the Church’s dogmas, claims to catholicity, and sacramental constitution, he asks now: “how can we go on talking of the social character of a doctrine which teaches the survival of the individual soul?”[xci] The answer to this question is obvious enough given all that has been said thus far. Eternal life, according to de Lubac, is a life lived in communion with God and others. It was for this reason that the “Christian tradition has always looked on heaven under the analogy of a city” where the joy of the saints is “derived from their life in community.”[xcii] While de Lubac’s focus on the fundamentally social nature of the Church was meant to challenge Christianity’s philosophical detractors, it was also intended to challenge the pietistic and individualistic tendencies of early twentieth century Christians who had all but abandoned the social and political world to the forces of secular humanism. Clearly, de Lubac’s message is as relevant to Christians today as it was in his own time.



[i] Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 2000), 1-3.

[ii] Jackson Matthews, ed., The Collected Works of Paul Valéry, vol. 10, History and Politics (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1962), 54.

[iii] In a fascinating book entitled Century’s End: A Cultural History of the Fin De Siecle from the 990s through the 1990s, Hillel Schwartz has documented, through newspaper articles, popular magazines, personal letters, sermons, graduation speeches, and much more, the strikingly optimistic attitude that captivated much of western civilization at the close of the nineteenth and the dawning of the twentieth centuries. Like many other commentators, Schwartz paints a picture of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century civilization obsessed with the promise of the future. He writes that “Classical Liberals, Social Darwinists, Progressives, Syndicalists, Anarchists, Marxists, and Socialists of many stripes had sharp disagreements over present intimations of the future, what could be done to shape it or square oneself with it, and who must be its avant-garde,” [Hillel Schwartz, Century’s End: A Cultural History of the Fin de Siecle from the 990s through the 1990s (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1990), 175].

[iv] Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, 3. On page six, Glover adds that “At the start of the century there was optimism, coming from the Enlightenment, that the spread of a humane and scientific outlook would lead to the fading away, not only of war, but also of other forms of cruelty and barbarism. They would fill the chamber of horrors in the museum of our primitive past. In the light of these expectations, the century of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein was likely to be a surprise. Volcanoes thought extinct turned out not to be.”

[v] The French Revolution, in particular, inspired several social movements that were intended to replace the old organic society of the middle ages. Charles Fourier, formulated a plan for a kind of utopian civilization built around small communities of about 1800 persons each. For the most complete account of his teachings, see Francois Marie Charles Fourier, Le Nouveau Monde Industriel Sociétaire, 2 vols. (Paris, France: Bossange, 1829-1830). Another important figure was Claude Henri de Rouvroy de Saint-Simon, founder of Saint-Simonism, who sought to “restore social and political order by rebuilding society on the basis of a scientific truth (reduction of the whole body of science to the Newtonian law of gravitation) as well as of a religious truth (the Christian law of charity understood as a purely natural truth).” See Etienne Gilson, Thomas Langan, and Armand A. Maurer, eds., Recent Philosophy: Hegel to the Present, ed. Etienne Gilson, A History of Philosophy (New York, NY: Random House, 1962), 266. Saint-Simon’s complete works have been published, along with the works of his successor Enfantin, as follows: Claude Henri de Rouvroy de Saint-Simon, Oeuvres de Saint-Simon et D’enfantin, 47 vols. (Paris, France: Dentu and Leroux, 1865-1878).

[vi] For his own, in-depth analysis of Comte’s atheism, see Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism, 131-167.

[vii] Etienne Gilson explains that “Comte admitted that there had existed a really organic society in the middle ages, and that the social bond had then been provided by the common acceptance of one single system of ideas, namely, Christian theology.” Gilson, Langan, and Maurer, eds., Recent Philosophy: Hegel to the Present, 267.

[viii] Auguste Comte, “Operations Necessary for Reorganizing Society,” in Auguste Comte and Positivism: The Essential Writings, ed. Gertrud Lenzer (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1975), 10-11.

[ix] Auguste Comte, The Positive Philosophy, trans. Harriet Martineau, 1974 ed. (New York, NY: AMS Press, 1855), 25.

[x] Comte, The Positive Philosophy, 25.

[xi] Comte, The Positive Philosophy, 26.   For an interesting collection of essays dealing with the “rediscovery of nature” in the twelfth century, see Marie-Dominique Chenu, Nature, Man, and Society in the Twelfth Century; Essays on New Theological Perspectives in the Latin West (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1968).

[xii] Comte, The Positive Philosophy, 30. In his final major work, Comte wrote that “although theology is now palpably on the decline, yet it will retain in principle at least, some legitimate claims to the direction of society so long as the new philosophy fails to occupy this important vantage-ground.”

[xiii] Comte, The Positive Philosophy, 30.

[xiv] Comte, The Positive Philosophy, 444.

[xv] Gilson, Langan, and Maurer, eds., Recent Philosophy: Hegel to the Present, 270.

[xvi] Gilson, Langan, and Maurer, eds., Recent Philosophy: Hegel to the Present, 270-271.

[xvii] Auguste Comte, System of Positive Philosophy, trans. John Henry Bridges, Reprint ed., vol. 4 (New York, NY: Burt Franklin, 1973), 10-12.

[xviii] In order to prove his “complete continuity of thought,” Comte added an appendix to the Système, which included all of his earliest published essays. Included in that appendix is an 1826 essay entitled “Considerations on the Spiritual Power,” which stresses the importance of unifying the temporal and spiritual concerns of humanity in one organic system [Auguste Comte, “Considerations on the Spirutal Power,” in System of Positive Philosophy (New York, NY: Burt Franklin, 1973), 618-653].

[xix] Comte, System of Positive Philosophy, 76.

[xx] Mary Pickering, “Auguste Comte,” in The Blackwell Companion to Major Classical Social Theorists, ed. George Ritzer (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2003), 22.

[xxi] Andrew Wernick, Auguste Comte and the Religion of Humanity: The Post-Theistic Program of French Social Theory (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 2.

[xxii] Auguste Comte, Catéchisme Positiviste, Reprint ed. (Paris, France: Garnier-Flammarion, 1966).

[xxiii] Auguste Comte, Correspondance Générale et Confessions, ed. Pierre Arnaud Paulo E. de Berrêdo Carneiro, Paul Arbousse-Bastide, and Angele Kremer-Marietti, 8 vols., vol. 5 (Paris, France: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 1973-1990), 22.

[xxiv] This is not to suggest that Feuerbach saw no role for religion in the development of human self-consciousness. Van A. Harvey explains that for Feuerbach, “Christianity is a religion proffering salvation but which alienates humanity; nevertheless, Christianity is instrumental to salvation because its doctrine of redemption expresses the truth that mankind is more important than deity; religion is the great educator of mankind but, like all educators, must be left behind in the interests of maturity.” Van A. Harvey, “Ludwig Feuerbach and Karl Marx,” in Nineteenth Century Religious Thought in the West ed. John Clayton Ninian Smart, Steven Katz, and Patrick Sherry (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 301.

[xxv] For de Lubac’s commentary on the thought of Feuerbach and Marx, see Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism, 19-42.

[xxvi] Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1957), 14.

[xxvii] Feuerbach writes that “God as a morally perfect being is nothing else than the realized idea, the fulfilled law of morality, the moral nature of man posited as the absolute being; man’s own nature for the moral God requires man to be as he himself is: Be ye holy for I am holy; man’s own consciousness, for how could he otherwise tremble before the Divine Being, accuse himself before him, and make him the judge of his inmost thoughts and feeling?” (Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 46).

[xxviii] Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 46.

[xxix] Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 33.

[xxx] Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 62. De Lubac believed that many of these atheistic insights were legitimate critiques of a Christian civilization in need of constant renewal. See Henri de Lubac, “Apologetics and Theology,” in Theological Fragments (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius 1989), 97.

[xxxi] Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 182.

[xxxii] Ludwig Feuerbach, Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, trans. Manfred H. Vogel (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966), 70.

[xxxiii] Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 31.

[xxxiv] Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 281.

[xxxv] Feuerbach writes that “No individual is an adequate representation of his species, but only the human individual is conscious of the distinction between the species and the individual; in the sense of this distinction lies the root of religion. The yearning of man after something above himself is nothing else than the longing after the perfect type of his nature, the yearning to be free from himself, i.e., from the limits and defects of his individuality.” Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 31.

[xxxvi] In the introduction to his Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, Manfred Vogel notes that “Feuerbach’s critique hit the German philosophical-theological community of the 1840’s like a thunderbolt. As David Friedrich Strauss once remarked, the decade belonged to Feuerbach. But, like a thunderbolt, he soon passed into oblivion,” (Feuerbach, Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, xxvii).

[xxxvii] Harvey, “Ludwig Feuerbach and Karl Marx,” 305.

[xxxviii] Karl Marx, Loyd David Easton, and Kurt H. Guddat, Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, 1st ed. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967), 402.

[xxxix] Karl Marx and Joseph J. O’Malley, Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’ (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 131.

[xl] Marx and O’Malley, Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’, 131.

[xli] Marx and O’Malley, Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’, 133.

[xlii] De Lubac has provided an in-depth analysis of Nietzsche’s thought in several sections of The Drama of Atheist Humanism, including a comparison with Dostoevsky.

[xliii] Der Wille Zur Macht, or The Will to Power, was published posthumously from the extensive notes left by Nietzsche. For more on the development of Der Wille Zur Macht, see the “Translator’s Preface” in Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, The Will to Power: An Attempted Transvaluation of All Values, trans. Anthony Mario Ludovici, 2 vols., The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche in 18 Vols. (New York, NY: Russell & Russell, 1964), vii-xiv.

[xliv] Nietzsche, The Will to Power: An Attempted Transvaluation of All Values, 115-116.

[xlv] Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, “The Gay Science,” in The Portable Nietzsche (New York, NY: Viking Press, 1962), 95.

[xlvi] Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, “The Antichrist,” in The Portable Nietzsche (New York, NY: Viking Press, 1962), 585-586.

[xlvii] Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Francis Golffing, 1st ed. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956), 167-168.

[xlviii] Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals, 170.

[xlix] Nietzsche, “The Antichrist,” 655-656.

[l] Nietzsche, “The Antichrist,” 656.

[li] Nietzsche’s perspective on progress was quite different from that of Comte and other nineteenth century thinkers who believed that humankind was naturally evolving upward out of the theistic past. He claimed that “progress is a merely modern idea . . . . further development is altogether not according to any necessity in the direction of elevation, enhancement, or strength” (Nietzsche, “The Antichrist,” 571).

[lii] Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” in The Portable Nietzsche (New York, NY: Viking Press, 1962), 197-200.

[liii] Jean Lacroix, The Meaning of Modern Atheism, trans. S.J. Garret Barden (New York, NY: Macmillan Company, 1966), 31.

[liv] Emphasis mine.

[lv] Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism, 11-12.

[lvi] It is well known that Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra was a favorite of Hitler’s. Hitler distorted Nietzsche’s vision of an overman in support of his own Aryan agenda, and Nietzsche’s vision of a unified Europe was distorted in support Nazi military campaigns. For more on this subject, see Steven E. Aschheim, The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany, 1890-1990 (Berkeley,CA: University of California Press, 1992). Also Jacob Golomb and Robert Wistrich, eds., Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism? On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002).

[lvii] Notably, of all the philosophers mentioned above, Nietzsche is the least enthralled with the promise of science and technology. For Nietzsche, “science is not a finished and impersonal system,” whose truths can be mastered and technologically applied in order to overcome societal problems. Rather, Nietzsche believed that science is a “passionate quest for knowledge . . . a way of life” not recently discovered and incapable of improving fundamentally, human nature. See Walter A. Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950), 68-69, 111.

[lviii] It would be wrong, however, to view de Lubac as opposed to the Leonine revival. Rather, de Lubac’s theological program offered one particular way of enacting Leo XIII’s vision of a new relationship between Catholicism and culture. Importantly, De Lubac was considered, and considered himself, a Thomist when he began his teaching career. Throughout his life, he always tried to remain faithful to what he believed, was an authentic Thomism. For his own reflections on the subject, see Lubac, At the Service of the Church, 143-146.

[lix] Henri de Lubac, “Apologétique et Théologie,” Nouvelle revue théologique 57 (1930): 364-365. De Lubac explains that, “apart from a few earlier, insignificant lines,” Apologétique et Théologie “was my first article.” Lubac, At the Service of the Church, 15. An English translation of the article, which I will cite in this chapter, appeared in a collection of essays published in 1989. See, Lubac, “Apologetics and Theology,” 91-104.

[lx] Lubac, “Apologetics and Theology,” 93-94.

[lxi] Henri de Lubac, “Internal Causes of the Weakening and Disappearance of the Sense of the Sacred,” in Theology in History (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius 1996), 233. The Canadian theologian, George Grant, makes a similar criticism of modern humanities research in general. He suggests that humanities research and writing is too often “oriented today towards a ‘museum culture,’ not to knowledge necessary to human existence.” He uses the term museum culture “because museums are places where we observe past life as object” with little consideration of how knowledge of the past might be meaningful for our lives today. See George Grant, Technology and Justice (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986), 97-98.

[lxii] Lubac, “Apologetics and Theology,” 93.

[lxiii] Lubac, “Apologetics and Theology,” 93.

[lxiv] Bernhard Körner, “Henri Lubac and Fundamental Theology,” Communio 23 (1996): 714.

[lxv] Lubac, “Apologetics and Theology,” 93-94.

[lxvi] Lubac, “Apologetics and Theology,” 95.

[lxvii] Lubac, “Apologetics and Theology,” 96.

[lxviii]Lubac, “Apologetics and Theology,” 94-95.

[lxix] Lubac, “Apologetics and Theology,” 97.

[lxx] Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism, 12.

[lxxi] Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism, 65.

[lxxii] For a recent work arguing that the world can have value and meaning in a universe without God, see Erik J. Wielenberg, Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005). I will address and dispute Wielenberg’s thesis in chapter six of this work.

[lxxiii] Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism, 66.

[lxxiv] Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism, 263-267.

[lxxv] Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism, 70-71.

[lxxvi] In describing the “spiritual battle” between Christianity and atheist humanism, de Lubac suggests that “Christianity must be given back its strength in us, which means, first and foremost, that we must rediscover it as it is in itself, in its purity and its authenticity.” Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism, 127.

[lxxvii] Lubac, Catholicism.

[lxxviii] Lubac, At the Service of the Church, 27.

[lxxix] Lubac, Catholicism, 18.

[lxxx] Lubac, Catholicism, 24-35.

[lxxxi] Lubac, Catholicism, 35. Cf. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium,” in Vatican Council II: The Basic Sixteen Documents: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations, ed. Austin Flannery (Dublin, Ireland: Dominican Publications, 1996), 1.

[lxxxii] Lubac, Catholicism, 48-49.

[lxxxiii] Lubac, Catholicism, 64.

[lxxxiv] De Lubac goes on to suggest that “In the interest of refuting such chaotic concepts as those which see a divine Church only in a “Church of the saints,” an entirely invisible society which is nothing but a pure abstraction, we must not fall into the contrary error. The Church ‘so far as visible’ is also an abstraction, and our faith should never make separate what God from the beginning has joined together. . . . Nor do we claim to prove this union by an explanation of it, for the mystery of the Church is deeper still, if that were possible, than the mystery of Christ, just as that mystery was more difficult to believe than the mystery of God.” Lubac, Catholicism, 74. Cf. Henri de Lubac, The Church: Paradox and Mystery (Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1969), 34-39.

[lxxxv] Lubac, Catholicism, 83-84.

[lxxxvi] Tranlated and cited in Lubac, Catholicism, 85-86.

[lxxxvii] For de Lubac, the Eucharist is “the sacrament in the highest sense of the word – sacramentum sacramentorum, quasi consummation spiritualis vitae et omnium sacramentorum finis – the sacrament ‘which contains the whole mystery of our salvation,’ the Eucharist, is also especially the sacrament of unity: sacramentum unitatis ecclesiasticae.” Lubac, Catholicism, 88-89.

[lxxxviii] Translated and cited in Lubac, Catholicism, 91.

[lxxxix] In Corpus Mysticum (1944), de Lubac describes a process, beginning in the twelfth century, when the traditional understanding of the Eucharist as a sacrament through which Christians are transformed into the real body of Christ began to wane. I will discus the thesis and implications of Corpus Mysticum in the following section.

[xc] Lubac, Catholicism, 109-110.

[xci] Lubac, Catholicism, 112.

[xcii] Lubac, Catholicism, 113.

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