The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural
French Jesuit Henri de Lubac (1896–1991) was arguably the most revolutionary theologian of the twentieth century. He proposed that Western theology since the early modern period had lost sight of the key to integrating faith and reason—the truth that all human beings are naturally oriented toward the supernatural.
In this vital book, John Milbank defends de Lubac’s claim and pushes it to a more radical extreme. The Suspended Middle shows how such a claim entails a “non-ontology” suspended between rational philosophy and revealed theology, interweaving the two while denying them any pure autonomy from each other.
Since de Lubac’s writings on the supernatural implicitly dismantled the reigning Catholic (and perhaps Protestant) assumptions about Christian intellectual reflection, he met with opposition and even papal censure. Milbank’s sophisticated account of de Lubac delineates the French theologian’s relations with other proponents of the nouvelle théologie, such as Hans Urs von Balthasar, and clarifies the subtle but crucial divisions within recent Roman Catholic theology.
The most substantial treatment in English of de Lubac’s as-yet-untranslated Surnaturel and the subsequent debate, Milbank’s Suspended Middle lays down an energetic challenge that every serious student of theology and Christian philosophy will want to engage.
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- Recent and essential scholarship on modern Catholic theology
- Bibliographical references and an index
Praise for the Print Edition
An encounter of two true authors is not very frequent in theology today, but it is just such a privileged moment that the reading of this little book offers. While it introduces the reader to the work of Henri de Lubac, The Suspended Middle also introduces some key themes of John Milbank’s thought. How should we think about the paradox of the supernatural? How is grace able to remain a free gift, while it seems required by spiritual creatures as their necessary accomplishment? Milbank does not content himself with comparing—albeit magisterially—the response of de Lubac with the principal theological positions of the past century on this question. He also deepens it. . . . Readers will be kept in suspense from one end of the book to the other by the theological spirit intensely present in each sentence.
—Olivier-Thomas Venard, coauthor, Radical Orthodoxy
Henri de Lubac is a difficult theologian: as a major historian of Latin theology, he is a master in the art of concealing his own theology behind the erudite discussion of past and present works. It is not the smallest merit of John Milbank’s book, therefore, to prove that de Lubac is more a theologian than a historian of theology. . . . Milbank’s provocative book manages to make [de Lubac’s theology] relevant for modernity as well as for postmodernity. This is probably the most exciting book ever written on de Lubac.
—Jean-Yves Lacoste, author, Experience and the Absolute
- Title: The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural
- Author: John Milbank
- Publisher: Eerdmans
- Publication Date: 2005
- Pages: 127
About John Milbank
John Milbank is a research professor of religion, politics, and ethics at the University of Nottingham in England and the director of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy. His previous books include Theology and Social Theory, The Word Made Strange, Radical Orthodoxy (coeditor), and Being Reconciled.