Looking Back at ‘Humani generis’ [HPR Online, 23 December 2013]

Looking Back at ‘Humani Generis’

The First Vatican Council failed to complete its work. Papal encyclical letters instead promoted teaching that was needed on philosophical and theological questions, including some from the council’s own agenda. Nine years after a violent revolution shut down the First Vatican Council, Pope Leo XIII promulgated Aeterni Patris, “On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy.” It may have seemed belated damage control after Kantianism, German Idealism and their baleful offspring.

The 1950 encyclical Humani Generis, “Concerning Some False Opinions Threatening to Undermine the Foundations of Catholic Doctrine,” should be understood in the context of the pontifical effort to reform Catholic intellectual life. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. traced the history from the vantage of 1962. (Weisheipl, 1962).

Between 1879 and 1993 Leo XIII’s encyclical Aeterni Patris addressed the reform problem. We may consider Humani Generis as a certification in the vein of Pascendi dominici gregis and Lamentabili sane exitu of 1907.

In 1994 F. Russell Hittinger explained the 1879 Leonine reform as a story not of errors (as Pope Pius IX expressed it) but of destructively one-sided positions incapable of representing the Church’s tradition and of satisfying man’s thirst for the truth. (Hittinger, 17).

The crucial word is “modernity.” In the years immediately after Aeterni Patris, the Catholic Church endeavored to respond to the intellectual challenges of the Enlightenment and Darwinian science. The Catholic Modernist Movement spanned the decade before and the first decade after the turn of the twentieth century.

Institutional Thomism was the preferred philosophy sponsored by the central teaching office of the church to engage new ideas . Why? Thomist metaphysics accepted the existence of absolute truth or certitude in contrast to the post-Enlightenment secular academy dominated by the proponents of materialism, relativism, determinism and atheism. Thomism was a sure defense against epistemological skepticism and its cousins, moral relativism and metaphysical deterioration. The Thomist system was superior to eclecticism and idealism.

Church historians and historians of theology including Hubert Jedin, Roger Aubert, Yves Congar and James Weisheipl surveyed the first Modernist Crisis. Its progress was interrupted by two world wars.

After the Second World War, another wave of intellectual ferment affected the Church in Europe, especially in France. This development confirmed the age-old adage that “the Church does its thinking in France, but is governed in Rome.”

However in Poland, Adam Stephan Cardinal Sapieha also promoted an intellectual revival. Sapieha ordained Karol Józef Wojtyła in 1946 and then sent him to Rome for advanced studies. Wojtyła earned two doctorates, one of them under the direction of Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. His 1948 dissertation was entitled Doctrina de fide apud S. Joannem a Cruce.

Wojtyła disagreed with Garrigou-Lagrange on a significant point. Wojtyła refused to call God “Object” because for Wojtyła, God was “Person.” Rocco Buttiglione reported that Garrigou-Lagrange objected to Wojtyła’s philosophy on this account. The Italian edition of Wojtyła’s book included Garrigou-Lagrange’s position in the appendix. (Buttiglione, Karol Wojtyła, 35, note 22). Perhaps the seed of a much later disagreement between Wojtyła and Garrigou-Lagrange’s manualist system ripened from this initial discord.

The influential professor of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (the “Angelicum”) in Rome where he taught from 1909 to 1959, and where he served as censor for the Holy Office, Garrigou-Lagrange was an enforcer of Aeterni Patris according to a precise interpretation. For him, Catholic orthodoxy and philosophical Thomism coincided. There was an identification of systematic theology with the doctrinal tradition. His interpretation left no room for historical consciousness, and it devalued historical studies as well as exegesis and biblical theology. Garrigou-Lagrange was said to have accepted Dominican commentaries on Thomas such as Cajetan and John of St. Thomas, perhaps because Thomas died young and never finished his work, as if the commentaries were the real Thomas—just as Jesuits had been accustomed to see Thomas through the trajectory of Francisco Suárez (1548-1617). (Gerald A. McCool, “Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange,” Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians, 205-207).

Father Garrigou-Lagrange began his teaching career when the Modernist Crisis was in full bloom, and he ended it after the second “modernist battle” had been waged by means of Humani Generis. Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange died in 1964.

French Ressourcement Theology or the “retour aux sources” was a theological undertaking from the early twentieth century through the Second Vatican Council. The movement saw the key to the revitalization of both theology and pastoral life in the church as a reappropriation of its fundamentals – in the liturgy, the Scriptures, the Early Church Fathers and the writings of others saints and doctors in whom the Catholic tradition came to especially powerful expression, particularly St. Thomas Aquinas. Thomas himself needed to be exhumed and resuscitated from decadent Scholasticism. In 1940-1941 Henri de Lubac and Jean Daniélou co-founded the collection Sources chrétiennes to make critical editions of the Church Fathers available. Daniélou himself specialized in St. Gregory of Nyssa.

Derisively called the “new theology” or “la nouvelle théologie” by its opponents, this movement found synergy with French theologians including Henri de Lubac (later a cardinal), Jean Daniélou (later a cardinal), Henri Bouillard, Yves Congar (later a cardinal), Louis Bouyer, Marie-Dominique Chenu and the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (later a cardinal-elect).  The ressourcement movement (de Lubac called “imaginary” any idea of a “new theology”) employed the ideas of philosophers and poets, especially Maurice Blondel, Pierre Rousselot, Étienne Gilson and Charles Péguy. R.R. Reno has called these Catholic thinkers “The Heroic Generation.” (Reno, “Theology After the Revolution”, 2007).

Certainly Karol Wojtyła was aware of Garrigou-Lagrange’s opposition to the nouvelle théologie. Its approach was regarded as outside the boundaries of Aeterni Patris and Humani Generis.

Henri de Lubac published his Catholicisme in 1938, and Le Surnaturel: Études historiques appeared in 1946. Garrigou-Lagrange wrote against the nouvelle théologie in 1946 and he most likely thought that more fuel was required for the fire.

Even the much older Dominican view of Jesuit theology was an unhappy one. The influence of Francisco Suárez’s “Thomism” made Jesuit “Thomism” different from that of the Dominicans. More than one brand of Thomism coexisted with dissonance. The history of the “De auxiliis” controversy between Jesuits and Dominicans in the sixteenth century seemed to be replicating itself in the perceived dispute between de Lubac on the one side and Garrigou-Lagrange and perhaps one of his French Jesuit allies from the Gregorian University, Charles Boyer, on the other side. One emphasizes “perceived” since neither party ever publicly acknowledged the other as an adversary. In 1985 de Lubac said that he did not think that he was targeted by Humani Generis. (Susan Wood, “Henri de Lubac,” Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians, 331).

In 1950 Pope Pius XII promulgated Humani Generis. The encyclical named no individuals, but suspicion was widespread that its focus was the “new theology,” chief among them the “ressourcement” French Jesuits who had published. There was speculation that a Dutch Jesuit at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Sebastian Tromp (1889-1975), was the pope’s ghost author for the encyclical. (For more on Tromp, see the studies of Alexandra von Teuffenbach.)

Though he was not the only one to feel the repression, de Lubac was asked by his religious superiors not to publish or to teach (1950-1958). De Lubac in a 1985 interview with Angelo Scola in 30 Giorni said that this silence was in part his own idea.

The mood generated by Humani Generis was dark and fearful. A theologian quipped “the only safe topics today are canon law and Mariology or Josephology.” He might have added angelology! At least one theologian, ironically not a Jesuit but a Dominican, Mathieu-Maxime Gorce, O.P. left the Catholic Church and moved to Switzerland in order to publish freely. It is said that soon after succeeding Pius XII as Pope John XXIII, Angelo Roncalli made it known that he was pained by the atmosphere created by Humani Generis, complaining that he had learned of the papal document only through the newspapers.” (Ventresca, 274).

The refined presentation of “monogenism” and “polygenism” in HG # 36 is probably a reference to the writing of the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who died in 1955. In 1962 the Holy Office issued an explicit warning against the writings of Teilhard de Chardin. At stake was the idea that ancient doctrinal truths could be expressed with different or newer vocabulary. In 1962 Pope John also promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia confirming the importance of teaching theology in Latin.

During the preparatory commission meetings before the Second Vatican Council, Henri  de Lubac and Karol Wojtyła became friends. [An account by the Italian Jesuits is available at http://www.gesuiti.it/storia/24/27/598/491/schedapersonaggio.asp].] There is no information as to whether they corresponded before this period, but the association of de Lubac and Wojtyła in Rome is clear after 1959.

With the election of Wojtyła as Pope John Paul II in 1978, there occurred an implicit re-evaluation of French Ressourcement Theology or the “new theology.” Pope John Paul II, who had the highest esteem for de Lubac, stopped during a major address in 1980 and acknowleged the presence of de Lubac, saying “I bow my head to Father Henri de Lubac.” When Henri de Lubac became a cardinal in 1983, this elevation by itself rehabilitated his intellectual career, including by implication his spirited defense of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Ironically, at the end of his life, de Lubac even defended Thomism. One commentator described de Lubac as loyal to Augustine to the degree of missing points that Augustine so long ago had missed. (For more on de Lubac, see Rudolf Voderholzer’s Meet Henri de Lubac , 2012.)

The broader impact of Humani Generis was a freezing of systematic theology into a Thomist orthodoxy represented by the “twenty-four theses.” It was simply called “manualism.” Thomistic philosophy had created an illusion that theology could be perfectly systematized. This rationalism reduced theological speculation to servility. It became a straightjacket for theology, though this was presumably unintended by the popes. Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan were in the forefront of those opposing manualism or decadent Scholasticism  in their day.

In 1993 Pope John Paul II issued an encyclical which “corrected” Aeterni Patris and Humani Generis. Though the thought of St. Thomas took precedence, other avenues may be explored for the good of the Church. A genuine competition replaced the Leonine strategy of Aeterni Patris and later Humani Generis. Paragraph #29 of Splendor Veritatis stated: “Certainly the Church’s Magisterium does not intend to impose upon the faithful any particular theological system, still less a philosophical one.”

It was widely known that Pope Benedict XVI was an Augustinian.




Jean Daniélou, “Les orientations présentes de la pensée religieuse.” Études 249 (1946): 5-21 (French).

Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., “La nouvelle théologie, où va-t-elle?” Angelicum 23 (1946): 126-45 (French).

Robert Guelluy, “Les antécédants de l’encyclique Humani Generis dans les sanctions romaines de 1942: Chenu, Charlier, Draguet.”  Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique 81 (1986): 421-497 (French).

Richard J. Neuhaus, F. Russell Hittinger, et al., “The Splendor of Truth: A Symposium,” First Things 40 (January 1994): 14-29 (English). Available at http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft9401/articles/symposium.html

Edward T. Oakes, “The Paradox of Nature and Grace: On John Milbank’s The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural,” Nova et Vetera, English Edition 4 (2006): 3, 667-696. Abstract available at q=cache:kEiJ6SJQyxwJ:www.aquinas.avemaria.edu/Nova/PDF/Vol_4_3/Abstracts.pdf+nova+vetera+edward+oakes+humani+generis&hl=en&ct=cl nk&cd=1&gl=us

R.R. Reno, “Defending Truth,” First Things (7 July 2009). Available at http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2009/07/defending-truth/rr-reno


James A. Weisheipl, O.P., “The Revival of Thomism: An Historical Survey”. [Lectio occasionalis a Reverendo Patre Lectore F. Athanasio Weisheipl, O.P., D.Phil. (Oxon), facta A. D. 1962, coram professoribus et alumnis Facultatis Theologiae Studii Generalis Ordinis Praedicatorum atque Seminarii Montis Sancti Bernardi Dubuquensis.]
Available at http://op.org/domcentral/study/revival.htm


Marcellino D’Ambrosio, “Henri de Lubac and the Recovery of the Traditional Hermeneutic,” doctoral dissertation directed by Avery Dulles, S.J. and submitted to the Catholic University of America, 1991. Abstract available at http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/730/Dissertation_Abstract_on_Henri_de_Lubac.html


Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Henri de Lubac: An Overview (San Francisco 1991). (English).

Rocco Buttiglione, Il pensiero di Karol Woytła (Milan 1982). (Italian).

Romanus Cessario, A Short History of Thomism (Washington, D.C. 2005). (English).

Yves Congar, Fifty Years of Catholic Theology, edited by Bernard Lauret (Minneapolis 1988). (English).

James M. Connolly, The Voices of France (New York 1961). (English).

Paolo Dezza, Alle Origini del Neotomismo (Milan 1940). (Italian).

Étienne Gilson, Letters of Étienne Gilson to Henri de Lubac (San Francisco 1988). (English).

Henri de Lubac, Catholicisme. Les aspects sociaux du dogme (Paris 1938; reprinted 1983). (French).

Henri de Lubac, Le Drame de l’humanisme athée (Paris 1944 and revised 1998). (French). *[This is the first in a series of the collected works of Henri de Lubac edited by Georges Chantraine and Michel Sales.]

Henri de Lubac, Surnaturel. Études historiques (Paris 1946). (French).

Henri de Lubac, La pensée religieuse du Père Teilhard de Chardin (Paris 1962) (French);

The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin (New York 1968). (English).

Henri de Lubac, ed., Trois jésuites nous parlent (Paris 1980) (French); Three Jesuits Speak, translated by K. D. Whitehead (San Francisco 1987) (English).

Henri de Lubac, Augustinianism and Modern Theology (New York revised 2000). (English).

Gerald A. McCool, Catholic Theology in the Nineteenth Century: The Quest for a Unitary Method (Seabury 1977). (English).

Gerald A. McCool, The Neo-Thomists (Milwaukee 1994). (English).

Richard Peddicord, The Sacred Monster of Thomism: An Introduction to the Life and Legacy of Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (South Bend 2004). (English).

Robert A. Ventresca, Soldier of Christ: The Life of Pius XII (Cambridge and London, 2013). (English).

Rudolf Voderholzer, Meet Henri de Lubac: His Life and Work (San Francisco 2012). (English).

Jean-Pierre Wagner, Henri de Lubac, collection Initiations aux théologiens (Paris 2001). (French).

Chapter or Article in Book, including signed encyclopedia articles:

Robert J. Henle, “Transcendental Thomism: A Critical Assessment,” in One Hundred Years of Thomism, edited by Victor B. Brezik (Houston, 1981): 90-116 (English).

Robert J. Henle, “The American Thomistic Revival in the Philosophical Papers of R. J. Henle, S.J.: From the Writing of R. J. Henle, S.J., Professor Emeritus of Saint Louis University.” (Saint Louis 1999) (English).

Gerald A. McCool, “Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians, edited by Patrick W. Cary and Joseph T. Lienhard (Peabody reprint 2005) (English).

Henri Rondet, “Nouvelle Théologie,” in Sacramentum Mundi 1: 234-236 (New York 1964) (English).

Susan Wood, “Henri de Lubac,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians, edited by Patrick W. Cary and Joseph T. Lienhard (Peabody reprint 2005) (English).


John A. Hardon, “God the Author of Nature and the Supernatural. Part Two: Creation as a Divine Fact. Section Two: Supernatural Anthropology. THESIS VII: Adam was an Individual Man, From Whom the Whole Human Race Derives Its Origin.”
Available at http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/God/God_012.htm

Michel Fedou, “Le cardinal Henri de Lubac” (French). Available at http://www.jesuites.com/histoire/lubac.htm

Joseph M. de Torre, “Thomism and the Encyclical ‘Veritatis Splendor’” in The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Newsletter vol. 18, n. 2 (April 1995): 21-24 (English). Available at http://www.catholicscholars.org/resources/quarterly/v18n2apr1995.pdf

R.R. Reno, “Theology After the Revolution,” (review of Fergus Kerr’s Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians: from Chenu to Ratzinger), First Things (May 2007), passim. Available at http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/05/100-theology-after-the-revolution


De Lubac: A Theologian Speaks. Interview with Angelo Scola. Twin Circle Publishing Company, Los Angeles, California, 1985. English translation from the Italian. Francis X. Maier, ed.

Papal Documents

For the text of Pope Pius XII’s “Allocutio ad Patres Societatis Jesu in XXIX Congregatio Generali electores” see Acta Apostolicae Sedis 338 (1946): 381-385 (Latin).

For the text of Pope Pius XII’s “Allocutio ad Patres delegatos ad Capitulum Generale Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum”see Acta Apostolicae Sedis 338 (1946): 385-389 (Latin).

For the text of Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Humani generis (1950) see Acta Apostolicae Sedis 42 (1950): 561-578 (Latin); The Papal Encyclicals, vol. 4 (1939-1958), ed. Claudia Carlen, 175-184 (Wilmington, NC: McGrath, 1981) (English); (reprint n.p.: Pieran, 1990) (English). Available at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis_en.html (English).

For the text of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Splendor Veritatis (1993) see Acta Apostolicae Sedis 85 (1993): 1134-1228 (Latin); and Origins (14 October 1993): 297-336 (English). Available at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor_en.html (English)

Brian Van Hove, S.J.
Alma, Michigan

2 responses to “Looking Back at ‘Humani generis’ [HPR Online, 23 December 2013]

  1. Thomistic philosophy had created an illusion that theology could be perfectly systematized. This rationalism reduced theological speculation to servility.

    Actually, the New Theologians are the rationalists because they base theology upon principles they invent, which are contrary to Catholic doctrine and orthodox theology. De Lubac, for example, claimed in his Surnaturel:

    Nothing is said by St. Thomas regarding the distinction which would be forged later by a number of Thomistic theologians between ‘God author of the natural order’ and ‘God author of the supernatural order’

    This is not true; cf., e.g., I q. 23 a. 1 (inter alia).

    De Lubac did exactly what Humani Generis §26 condemned; he “destroy[ed] the gratuity of the supernatural order, since God,” his quote above implies, “cannot create intellectual beings without ordering and calling them to the beatific vision”.

    It was widely known that Pope Benedict XVI was an Augustinian.
    Yes, he was suspected of heresy (along with other New Theologians), and he certainly isn’t Thomistic.
    However, St. Thomas Aquinas himself could certainly be considered Augustinian; he was more influence by St. Augustine than any other Doctor or Church Father.

  2. If Papa Ratzinger was suspected of heresy at age 45, then one must examine his accusers, not him. The Church makes administrative errors every day, before Ratzinger and after him. Bureaucracies are notoriously defective. The Holy Office has no divine foundation. It has only delegated authority. The fine doctrine of the Church is preached and protected, at times, by very poor documents. The day that Henri DeLubac was made a cardinal, and his accusers were aware (those still living), it was clear he and his work were vindicated.

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