Sunday, June 13, 2010

Abbe de Nantes: "A Theology for our Times--Kerygmatics"

It was during his campaign "Tomorrow, Vatican III", in 1971, that the Abbé de Nantes began to give public effect to the task of renewing theology. To this end, he formulated certain propositions regarding the development of dogma by deducing more precise expressions of truth, allowing one to set aside Vatican II’s equivocations and exclude its errors.

Even from heresies: taking the wheat, leaving the chaff

"Heresies", the Abbé de Nantes will write, "are not entirely without profit, and doubtless this is what justifies Saint Paul’s famous words to the Corinthians: ‘Oportet hæreses esse’, it is necessary that heresies arise (1 Co 11.19)! Rarely if ever will heresy fail to make its own particular contribution and to suggest some progress in our understanding of the Mystery of God, even though it does so by casting an impudent and sacrilegious look at this mystery. The fact is that we are required to believe with all the strength of our intelligence. Christian theologians, moralists and philosophers have always had a recognised function within the Church: great heresies arise from time to time to shake them out of their apathy, often catching them unprepared and forcing them to define and explain more precisely the elements of Revelation and their interrelations."

Then, in magnificent fashion he will pursue the work of his earlier lectures at the Mutualité, in 1972-1973. He will in fact elaborate a theology that is both ancient and new, a theology termed "kerygmatic", one that is inspired by a concern to provide a true response to the enquiries of the men of our time.

"It is no longer", he will explain, "a matter of simply setting out what the Church teaches and what she obliges one to believe: dogmatic theology, which the modernists accuse of simply repeating formulas without providing any real ‘communication’. Nor is it a matter of deducing intellectual systems from these dogmas to provide them with a logical explanation: speculative theology, which stands accused of stating truths which are lifeless. Nor is it a matter of demonstrating the preambles of the faith to unbelievers or agnostics: rational apologetics which deals with supernatural facts independently of the faith which provides their real meaning. Nor again is it a matter of attempting to persuade the heart: the apologetics of immanence, which we accuse of surrendering the faith to the whim of human desires.

"However, we refuse to fall into the double trap of contemporary ‘fundamental theology’, which is wholly dependent on Kant and Hegel: a hermeneutic theology which claims to reinterpret Christian events by reference to their religious significance and in accordance with the mentality of modern man, in order to make them ‘credible’. Such ‘hermeneutics’ are the product of a shameful indecisiveness about the revealed faith and of an idolatrous attitude to modern man, the measure of all things. It is this type of critique that opens the way to the likes of Cardonnel.

Kerygmatic: Both Ancient and New

"The theology of our era must be kerygmatic. The preaching (Kérugma ) of the Word of God today should be the frank, unvarnished and paradoxical proclamation of evangelical salvation, without the rational, universal and timeless mediation of a philosophical system (1). Its locus should be in the particularity of human situations and in the questions raised by the listener who, whilst acting as the interrogator, will in his own turn find himself interrogated and pressed to reply to this Word which upsets his existence and his plans.

"Rather than the transcendental deduction of classical theology – which was surreptitiously enriched by a whole raft of human experiences via a series of individual inductions – here instead we have human induction, systematically directed, propelled and reoriented by the resonant appeals of evangelical preaching."

In his monthly lectures on "kerygmatics", the Abbé de Nantes would always devote the first part to studying the doctrine of one of the most audacious heretics of the twentieth century, men like Cardonnel, Xavier Léon-Dufour and Teilhard. He would assimilate their thought, going almost so far as to make it his own, and explaining it sympathetically in all its vigour, often in a manner that was clearer than the author himself had expressed it. In the second part he would counter the novelty with the traditional point of view, at the same time remarking on the weak and narrow reactions of individual integrists or conventional conservatives. Then he would propose a fully Catholic solution, in the form of a synthesis integrating the original intuition of the heretic and revealing, in the freshness of the apostolic kerygma, the totality of the Christian mystery in all its immensity and truth, on offer to every soul searching for the truth.

From Clash to Breakthrough (not breakdown)

With this kerygmatic theology, one could make excellent theological progress and at the same time return to the Church's origins. From the clash of contradictory theses in the Church, there resulted a fusion effected by a synthesis of a wholly new dialectical style, a fusion which in reality was nothing but the initial evangelical and apostolic revelation, better examined, better defined, and therefore better stated.

Furthermore, it is notable that his wholly original metaphysical thesis on The person and his relations proved itself to be extremely fruitful. It allowed him to resolve certain theological difficulties which until then had proved insurmountable and to compose a renewed body of Catholic doctrine. But let us not jump ahead to the teachings that the Abbé de Nantes will present later on, in the 80’s.

In 1977 he devoted himself to a systematic and in-depth study of each of the sacraments to "gain a serene appreciation of the precise value, or non-value, of the postconciliar innovations11. Sapientis est ordinare: wisdom involves putting each thing in its proper place and appreciating everything according to its true worth, without defect or excess." At the end of this study, he was able to confide: "I believe I have learned much in the course of this study and that I have also taught my audience and my readers a good many things: about the tradition, which for the most part they had never suspected of being so rich and varied; also about the considerable work undertaken by a whole host of contemporary liturgical scholars; and finally about the solid foundations and excellent reasons for certain conciliar and postconciliar reforms or innovations.

"We are conscious of having assisted, in our own minimal way, in the distant preparation for that necessary and reconciling synthesis which will be the work of Vatican III. It will be then that the routines of the past will be definitively restored and corrected in the light of today’s novelties, which in their turn will be amended and purged of their disfiguring errors. Does that complicate the strategy of the opposing parties, by breaking the manichean dualism from whence they draw their militant strength? No more than it reinforces the only party to which we adhere, which is that of the Church. It is only by following this unique path that I can see any solution or light ahead."

Through his doctrinal labours the Abbé de Nantes was continuing the Church’s age-old struggle to explain her dogmas, develop her liturgy and preach her mysteries, convinced that the advances he was accomplishing – for example in teaching a new theology of the Eucharist – would make an effective contribution to the restoration of Catholic institutions and to a marvellous renewal of devotion, when the hour of the Renaissance should finally sound in the Church.

"In the future it will be seen", he wrote, "that, by the grace of God, the pioneers of the Counter-Reformation were, during those times of struggle, the true reformers and the bold creators of tomorrow’s Church. Not that they sought this. But simply because of their vibrant fidelity. So it was with the greatest saints of the Catholic Counter-Reformation of the sixteenth century, who paved the way for the wonderful and wholly new Catholic Reformation of the seventeenth century."

More on the work of the Abbe de Nantes

(1) Notice he is speaking of preaching here, not scholastic theology-philosophy per se.