Fr. Henri de Lubac

Fr. Henri de Lubac

August 20, 2012

The editor of the WCR has asked me to respond to Father Robert Barron's article on Father Yves Congar's Vatican II Council journals (WCR, July 16).

Whereas the article in question gives an interesting account of Congar's My Journal of the Council, some of its concluding paragraphs could cause considerable confusion regarding the council itself as well as its aftermath in the life of the Church over the last (approximately) 50 years.

To begin, explaining the life of the Church during these years in function of the split among members of Concilium's editorial board and the subsequent establishment of Communio has become a far too facile way of interpreting what has transpired in the Church since that time.

American theological circles seem particularly prone to put forward the Concilium/Communio "divide" as a sort of hermeneutic (interpretative) principle, facilitating a superficial understanding of "progressive/conservative" interpretations of Vatican II.

Communio grew out of the International Theological Commission established by Pope Paul VI in 1969. The idea of a new international theological review was the result of many conversations of the members of that commission (for example, von Balthasar, de Lubac, Bouyer, Ratzinger and others).

The German edition – the first – was launched in 1972 by seven theologians, the best known being von Balthasar, Ratzinger and Lehmann (now a cardinal). De Lubac became involved later when the French edition of the review began – he was not one of the original founders.

Although the dissatisfaction that the above theologians experienced with the direction Concilium was heading was a factor in the founding of the new journal, it was not at all the main objective for the creation of Communio.

In the most recent issue of the German edition of Communio (celebrating its 40th anniversary), Pope Benedict himself states quite clearly what that objective was: "to serve a living appropriation of the legacy of the Second Vatican Council."


A careful reading of his contribution in this issue, as well as that of others (Meier, Lehmann and Kasper), reveals that these theologians were aiming at what was surely one if not the main objective of Vatican II: to bridge the gap between theology and the concrete life of Christians in this world (or, to put it in other words: to unite theology with spirituality and the pastoral mission of the Church). This was why the founders of Communio placed lay people who were not specialists in theology on their editorial board from the beginning.

Pope Benedict writes that their goal was "to go beyond the specifically theological to look into the essential areas of human existence, in which faith is concretized". He adds that the Communio founders saw the faith "threatened to be submerged by moralizing and intellectual adventures." (Concilium could well be one of the targets here.)

The point to be emphasized is that the founders of Communio were not "against" or in reaction to Vatican II but resolved "to perpetuate the spirit of the council" (and not the opposite, as Barron claims).


Whether one agrees with the manner in which they did this or not, these theologians began a new review because they saw a "state of suspense and indecision" (as Barron writes) not because of Vatican II but because the "spirit" of the Council was not being sufficiently perpetuated theologically.

Far be it for these men to "turn" from the council "with a certain amount of relief in order to get back to (the Church's) essential work" (Barron). Their intention was to turn to the council to incarnate the Church's "essential work" in the 20th century.

They would have been in full agreement with Pope Benedict's words in announcing the Year of Faith to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II: "The texts of the council have lost nothing of their value or brilliance."


Finally – and this is important – the founders of Communio knew well that the Second Vatican Council was considerably different from previous councils – something Barron does not sufficiently consider – both in its goals and the length, language and content of its documents.

Those unaware of this fact would do well to read John O'Malley's What Happened at Vatican II.

(Fr. Don MacDonald is a theology professor at Newman Theological College.)

Letter to the Editor - 09/10/12