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Nouvelle Theologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery.

NOUVELLE THEOLOGIE AND SACRAMENTAL ONTOLOGY: A RETURN TO MYSTERY. By Hans Boersma. Oxford: Oxford University, 2009. Pp. xvi + 325; $120.

The interpretation of pre-Vatican II theology, including the Nouvelle Theologie, is an ongoing project with significant implications for both the internal life of the Catholic Church and ecumenical dialogue. Hans Boersma contributes to this project with a synthetic account of the underlying theological concerns of the Nouvelle Theologie movement during the 20th century. He identifies an internal unity within the Nouvelle Theologie consisting of a "shared sensibility" that envisions created realities as "sacramental means leading to eternal, divine mysteries" (7). While B. admits that the theologians associated with the Nouvelle Theologie did not constitute a homogeneous theological school, he argues that their approach to diverse theological problems--including the interpretation of Scripture, the theology of history, the development of doctrine, nature and grace, and ecclesiology--evinced an underlying sacramental view of reality.

The heart of the Nouvelle Theologie is formed by what B. calls a "sacramental ontology," an account of how created, sensible realities are signs, anticipations, and mediations of divine realities. He endorses this sacramental ontology as a corrective to what he believes was an erosion of sacramentality in both Catholic and Protestant theology following the Reformation. Though this sacramental sensibility is characteristic of Catholic theology, B. believes that it holds promise for Protestants as well. Recent engagement with the Nouvelle Theologie from outside Roman Catholic circles confirms his intuition.

Chapter 2 traces this sensibility through four "Precursors to a Sacramental Ontology": Johann Adam Mohler, Maurice Blondel, Joseph Marechal, and Pierre Rousselot. Chapter 3 argues that Henri de Lubac's doctrine of the desire for the supernatural and Henri Bouillard's account of analogical language about God exemplify their sacramental vision. Created and contingent reality--whether the deepest desire of "the human spirit or [of] human discourse" (115)--functions as a sacrament of union with God. While B. suggests alliances between the "sacramental ontology" of the New Theologians and Neoplatonic metaphysics, he also shows that they integrated the Neoplatonism of the Greek Fathers with a Thomistic metaphysics. Chapter 4 extends his reflection on sacramental ontology through an exploration of Hans Urs von Balthasar's theology of analogy and Marie-Dominique Chenu's reflections on the nature of theology itself. B. constructively situates the debate between Karl Barth and Balthasar on the analogy of being within his treatment of "sacramental ontology."

The centerpiece of the book (chap. 5) concentrates on the spiritual interpretation of Scripture in de Lubac and Jean Danielou. It correlates the earlier material on metaphysics and theological language with the later chapters on the theology of history in Yves Congar and Danielou (chap. 6) and ecclesiology in de Lubac and Congar (chap. 7). Although B. covers a lot of terrain, he reveals that sacramental relationships--between the sign and signified, the letter of Scripture and its spiritual depth, the visibility of the church and its eschatological fulfillment in the kingdom--constitute the pivotal confluence of the diverse theological issues addressed by the Nouvelle Theologie.

B.'s most provocative claim concerns the interpretation of Roman Catholic theology preceding Vatican Ii. He argues that the Nouvelle Theologie was neither theologically continuous with Roman Catholic Modernism nor with "the theological pluralism of the post-Second Vatican Council period" (289), a later theological pluralism that B. never clearly defines. The discontinuity between Modernism and the Nouvelle Theologie rests, he argues, on a "sacramental ontology" that takes its inspiration more from the Scriptures and the Fathers than from a desire to conform Christianity to the modern world. In other words, B. emphasizes ressourcement over aggiornamento. At one point, he alleges that both Modernism and neo-Scholasticism colluded in a nonsacramental mentality. Other authors, such as Jurgen Mettepenningen (Nouvelle Theologie--New Theology: Inheritor of Modernism, Precursor of Vatican II, 2010), find greater continuity between Modernism and the Nouvelle Theologie.

B.'s application of the theme of "sacramental ontology" to the Nouvelle Theologie proves fruitful for examining the underlying motivations of the movement without overlooking the diversity of theological commitments within it. Uniting a breadth of theological themes with its exploration of sacramental depths, B.'s book is one of the best introductions to the Nouvelle Theologie. One can hope that it stimulates continued dialogue about the interpretation of pre-Vatican II theology as well as about the ecumenical potential of "sacramental ontology."


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Author:Flipper, Joseph S.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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