Sunday, November 14, 2010

Insight Scoop: Rev. Louis Bouyer: A Theological Giant | An Interview with Dr. Keith Lemna

Ignatius Insight: What are some aspects of Fr. Bouyer's work that are deserving of more study and consideration?

Dr. Lemna: Because there has been scant attention paid to Bouyer's work in secondary literature, I would say that every aspect of his work deserves more study and consideration. Bouyer is the least studied of the eminent Catholic theologians of the twentieth century.

Zordan published an 800 page book on Bouyer's theology in France a couple of years ago, and hopefully that will break the ice. But Bouyer's work is immense in its scope and implications, and there should be conferences and scholarly societies dedicated to promulgating his theology.

I think that the biggest obstacle to furthering his thought is that Bouyer wrote in a very polemical style at times, in a way that was off-putting to both "traditionalist" and "progressivist" camps in theology. But the old battles that fueled those polemics are largely a thing of the past by now, and most of the participants in those battles are dead. Bouyer could be equally sharp toward neo-Thomists, Rahnerians, and toward theologians influenced to a great extent by liberal Protestantism. Zordan notes an "anti-Augustinian attitude" in his writing at times. He definitely had, like Newman (as Ian Kerr, the pre-eminent Newman scholar in our day, has shown), a preference for the manner of theology practiced in the Christian East and for the Western monastic theology embodied in the works of a figure such as William of Saint Thierry (12th century). At the same time, as his Dictionary of Theology demonstrates, he saw the central importance of Saint Thomas for Catholic theology. Despite his penchant for polemics, his overall vision of the unity of Catholic doctrine, of the connection between theology and Christian life, and his unrivalled sense of the central importance of sacred liturgy for theology and for the existence of the Church stands out over and beyond all of the heated disputes. Cardinal Lustiger had said that Bouyer was perceived as "untimely" and "unwelcome" to the "very generations" to whom he was "providentially sent." But perhaps in our time we can begin to see more clearly precisely how lucid and comprehensive—and, one might even say, "forward-looking"—was Bouyer's vision of Catholic theology.

Perhaps the most fruitful terrain for future study of his thought at this point would be in comparing his work with Newman, say, or with that of Hans Urs von Balthasar. Balthasar, near the end of his life, placed his own thought in the "school" of Bouyer and the biblical scholars Heinz Schürmann and Heinrich Schlier. He distinguished this "school," all of whose adherents were rooted in biblical theology, from Henri de Lubac's ressourcement theology, with which Balthasar has generally been associated. The coherence between Bouyer's thinking and Newman's is worthy of its own special study. Moreover, only Pope Benedict XVI rivals Bouyer in being both a theologian and a scholar of liturgy. There is much that needs to be said regarding the uniquely liturgical theologies of both of these great men of the Church.

In sum, I would reiterate that Bouyer was one of the major figures in twentieth century Catholic theology. His work needs only to be first acknowledged in its depth and scope in order to be made the object of future study.
The "first impressions" of a person are actually the sensory data (along with the corresponding judgments) we use to form an initial judgment of someone. Is this sensory data chosen or merely received? I think in many cases we choose the data, especially when we are trying to evaluate someone's character. We look for signs of certain personal qualities, or the lack of these qualities. Sometimes this selectivity can be exclusive to the point that we miss other signs, or we judge prematurely. Hence the need for other moral virtues to aid us in making good judgments about character.