Academic journal article Theological Studies

The "Third Way" of the Modernist Crisis, Precursor of Nouvelle Theologie: Ambroise Gardeil, O.P., and Leonce De Grandmaison, S.J

Academic journal article Theological Studies

The "Third Way" of the Modernist Crisis, Precursor of Nouvelle Theologie: Ambroise Gardeil, O.P., and Leonce De Grandmaison, S.J

Article excerpt

In searching for the concrete reality hidden behind the term nouvelle theologie--a crisis in theological reform stretching from ca. 1935 to ca. 1965--this term seems often and regularly linked to the reform crisis in which Catholic theology crossed into the 20th century: the crisis of so-called Modernism--"so-called" since, just as for nouvelle theologie, it concerns a term created by the magisterium, which took an adversarial stance toward both movements.

This article focuses on what connects the two theological crises: la nouvelle theologie stands in the extension of a theological current flowing between Modernism on the one hand and anti-Modernism on the other. (1) I try to show that those who represent a "third way" were the spiritual fathers of such theologians as Marie-Dominique Chenu and Henri de Lubac, who contributed to Catholic theology's "return to the sources" in regard to its nature, methodology, and goals.

I do not attempt to offer an exhaustive presentation in the framework of this article; rather, I simply illustrate my thesis on a concrete basis, working from archival documents and primary and secondary literature.

After several preliminary remarks I discuss a third way, a via media between Modernism and anti-Modernism, as it revealed itself at the heart of the Jesuit and Dominican orders. As to Jesuits, I look more closely at the contribution of Leonce de Grandmaison and touch briefly on that of Pierre Rousselot; for the Dominicans I consider the contributions of Ambroise Gardeil and Marie-Joseph Lagrange. The magisterium condemned none of these theologians as Modernists. After the discussion of these four giants, I discuss how this third way nonetheless appears questionable at several points of the nouvelle theologie crisis. I close with several considerations.

Preliminary Notes

I have touched on certain issues that call for some explanation. First of all is the question of what one understands by the words "Modernism" and "anti-Modernism" from a theological viewpoint. These words, commonly used today, are but labels that seem to offer more information about those who chose these words than about the reality they represent. One might notice a remarkable evolution here: since Vatican II the negative connotation of "Modernism" has turned upside down and become a positive valorization of the central aim of Modernism.

During the preconciliar period the anti-Modernists were considered to be the "good guys" who wanted to protect the Church and the Faith against the venom that, according to the magisterium, was being spread everywhere by the "bad guys," who were for the most part members of the clergy. Different studies and developments rooted in Vatican II have reevaluated this point of view: the so-called Modernists, just like those who worked at being anti-Modernists, had good intentions. It would be incorrect to include them all under the same label, whether "Modernist" or "anti-Modernist."

On the basis of this key understanding, each comment concerning Modernism and anti-Modernism can be critically analyzed and must consequently be nuanced. To put it bluntly, not all the Modernists fit the category as coined by the magisterium. In spite of a clear resemblance among the Modernists, it is not possible to present Modernism as a uniform system or organization as the magisterium claimed.

We can nonetheless point to two questions that were at the center of the Modernist crisis. In the first place, the Modernists strongly favored a wholesale introduction of history into theology: consider the attention we give to the development of dogma and the recognition we give to the critical-historical method in biblical studies. The second major question concerns the Modernists' refusal to let themselves be limited to neo-Scholasticism in the practice of theology.

My work on these two questions is complementary: the second is the logical outcome of the first, since neo-Scholasticism is a historical or, rather, metahistorical. …

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