History and Spirit (de Lubac)

“The Law is spiritual.” This one sentence allows Origen to seek “mystical” meanings beyond that of the literal text–and in de Lubac’s hands he does a fairly impressive job. In many ways this work can be seen as a case study of de Lubac’s Medieval Exegsis (3 vols). Henri de Lubac’s argument is that the spiritual sense justifies the literal sense (de Lubac 121). Furthermore, “allegory” (whatever that word means) always has metaphysical and epistemological overtones. What you say about allegory will reflect what you believe about the soul and how you know that. As de Lubac will conclude, allegory is a “symbolic transposition” (437). All thought is mediated and “positioned” by figures. Allegory, although often abused, is simply a logical outworking of this truth.

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De Lubac’s Origen begins by noting correspondences between a trichotomous view of man and the 3-fold sense of Scripture. Man is body, soul, and spirit; not surprisingly, so Origen reads, so is Scripture. Up to a point, anyway. Scripture is unfolded as shadow, image, and truth (250). But we run into a small difficulty. The “three senses of Scripture” aren’t always locked in stone. Sometimes they can be “two senses.” When the mediating term is omitted, Scripture is elevated to the heavenly places. I think Origen paints himself into a corner here but we shouldn’t lose sight of his key epistemological insight: “Truth never appears to us completely free from figures” (253). If Scripture is mediated by figures, then there is nothing inherently wrong with allegory.

All of that is quite wonderful, but if the “mediating term” in Scripture is removed, does that mean the correspondence between Origen’s trichotomism (which I accept) and Scripture’s trichotomism breaks down? I think so. De Lubac leads to that conclusion but he refuses to draw it.

Origen doesn’t use the New Testament in exactly the same way as the Old Testament. There is a principle of New Testament operation: Christ’s actions are symbols of his spiritual operations (253). But “spiritual” doesn’t mean “not really real.” For Origen and Paul, “spiritual” mean eschatological newness (309). Jesus doesn’t explain the Old Testament; he transforms it (316).

De Lubac’s most fascinating chapter is on the relation between History and Spirit and the multiple modes of the Logos. In fact, that’s what the whole book should have been about. Origen’s Logos isn’t the same thing as Philo’s. De Lubac notes, “Philo’s Logos penetrates” into the multiplicity of matter, but Origen’s Logos speaks. He is “as much word as reason” (391).

And it is in this chapter where de Lubac most skillfully weaves together the logos of the soul with the Logos of Scripture. There is a “connaturality between Scripture and the soul” (397). The soul and Scripture “symbolize each other.” Origen applies this reasoning beyond the soul to the whole universe. Reality is an ordered hierarchy.

Conclusion

As wonderful as this book is, there are some negative points. It is about 100 pages too long (a problem with some of de Lubac’s writings). Further, de Lubac hasn’t fully escaped the prison cell of historical criticism, as he somewhat admits.

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2 comments on “History and Spirit (de Lubac)

  1. cal says:

    Could you elaborate more on de Lubac and not escaping historical criticism? What/how does he not escape?

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    • De Lubac seems to accept the claims of “higher criticism” ala Wellhausen. He doesn’t go into detail, so I don’t want to impute too much to him.

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