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Life Arts    H4'ed 2/20/17

Bishop Voderholzer's Accessible Short Book about Cardinal Henri de Lubac (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Bischof Dr. Rudolf Voderholzer, 99. Deutscher Katholikentag, Regensburg
Bischof Dr. Rudolf Voderholzer, 99. Deutscher Katholikentag, Regensburg
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 20, 2017: My favorite scholar, the American Jesuit polymath Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955) of Saint Louis University (SLU), the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri (USA), attributes the collective American cultural breakdown/breakthrough in the 1960s to the impact of the critical mass of communications media that accentuate sound. He does this most notably in his book The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (Yale University Press, 1967), the expanded version of Ong's 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale University. In 1964, Ong turned fifty-two. (Broadly speaking, the prestigious Terry Lectures center on religious history.)

The title of Ong's book refers to the presence of both the lowercase "word" of our ordinary human experience of spoken language and to the capitalized "Word" in the Christian tradition of thought. The capitalized Word in the Christian tradition of thought is based on the prologue of the Gospel According to John. The capitalized Word in the Christian tradition of thought refers to the supposed person known as Jesus Christ, the supposed divine messiah, who is also known as the second person of the supposed divine trinity.

In any event, when Ong was researching his Harvard University doctoral dissertation on the French logician and educational reformer and Protestant martyr Peter Ramus (1515-1572), Ong was based for three years in the early 1950s at a Jesuit residence in Paris. At that time, Ong first read the French Jesuit paleontologist and religious thinker Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's writings in manuscript form. In a 1952 review essay in a journal published at SLU, Ong became one of the first American Catholics to call Teilhard's thought to the attention of his fellow American Catholics. Ong never tired of referring to Teilhard the rest of his life.

Teilhard's two most enduring books are (1) The Human Phenomenon, translated by Sarah Appleton-Weber (Brighton and Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 1999) and (2) The Divine Milieu, translated by Sion Cowell (Brighton and Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 2004). The secondary literature about Teilhard's thought is extensive.

Briefly, in theological terminology, Teilhard postulated what may be styled an evolutionary christology (i.e., a christology is a theological theory centering on the supposed person known as Jesus Christ, the supposed divine messiah). Not only Roman Catholic theologians but also Protestant theologians write christological works. Now, if you subscribe to the Christian claim about the incarnation of the Word, it is not a big leap to understanding Teilhard's postulated evolutionary christology.

But in Teilhard's lifetime, he was forbidden to publish his writings postulating an evolutionary christology because of the Roman Catholic Church's critique of Darwinian evolutionary theory as an alternative to the literal interpretation of the two accounts of creation in Genesis. However, after Teilhard died in New York City in 1955, his literary executor arranged to have his writings published in French. His published writings were quickly translated into English and other languages. Teilhard's posthumously published writings about evolutionary christology rocked the Roman Catholic world.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII criticized Darwinian evolutionary theory in his encyclical Humanae Generis. But later popes such as Pope John-Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have made their peace with the literal interpretation of the two accounts of creation in Genesis by allowing that Darwinian evolutionary theory may not be incompatible with the way in which God's creation evolved. However, in the United States to this day, certain Protestant Evangelicals have continued to see Darwinian evolutionary theory as incompatible with the literal interpretation of the two accounts of creation in Genesis. In short, American Protestant Evangelicals today tend to resist Teilhard's christological interpretation of the two accounts of creation in Genesis in light of the role of the capitalized Word in creation in the prologue of the Gospel According to John.

Now, in the English-speaking world, the French Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac (1896-1991), who was made a cardinal in 1983 by Pope John-Paul II, is well-known for his books in the 1960s about Teilhard's thought. In the 1960s, de Lubac published the following books about Teilhard's thought:

(1) The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin, translated by Rene Hague (New York: Desclee, 1967; orig. French ed., 1962);

(2) Teilhard de Chardin: The Man and His Meaning, translated by Rene Hague (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1965; orig. French ed. 1964);

(3) Teilhard Explained, translated by Anthony Buono (New York: Paulist Press, 1968; orig. French ed., 1966);

(4) The Eternal Feminine: A Study on the Poem by Teilhard de Chardin, Followed by Teilhard and the Problems of Today, translated by Rene Hague (New York: Harper & Row, 1971; orig. French ed., 1968).

De Lubac also contributed notes and commentary to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Maurice Blonde's Correspondence, translated by William Whitman (New York: Herder and Herder, 1967; orig. French ed., 1965).

In addition, de Lubac contributed a preface to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's Letters from Egypt, 1905-1908, translated by Mary Ilford (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965; orig. French ed., 1965).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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