Currently there is considerable interest in what has been called the New Theology, at first pejoratively and now a term used by many with awe and admiration. In 2009 Hans Boersma published his Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery (Oxford University Press). Now there is Jürgen Mettepenningen’s study of the New Theology. Mettepenningen’s name will be recognized for the publicity it received when, in the fall of 2010, he resigned in protest from his position as spokesperson for the Belgian Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard. Mettepenningen is a research fellow at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. The author takes his sub-title seriously by regularly referring back to Modernism and more so forward to Vatican II as he explores the content and chief players in the New Theology.
This book is divided into three parts: Part I: Concept, Content, Context and Contours; Part II: Phases/Faces of the Nouvelle Théologie Prior to Vatican II; Part III: Closing Considerations. There is an extensive bibliography (pp. 187-214), and a helpful index.
Particular attention is paid to Yves Congar, M-D. Chenu, H-M. Féret, Louis Charlier, René Draguet, Henri Boulliard, Jean Daniélou, Henri de Lubac with special attention to Edward Schillebeeckx and Piet Schoonenberg. The author’s careful attention to the timing of the various phases and interconnections in the New Theology make his book an asset when one wants to understand the relationships among these various theologians whose ideas eventually and rather quickly had such a thorough impact on the documents of the Second Vatican Council. As is well known, the appellation of New Theology was at first meant as a derogatory term signaling dangerous ideas that did not conform to the Catholic tradition. Now in the post Vatican II era, the term New Theology counts as high praise for theologians who discovered in the tradition ideas that needed to be retrieved so that there would a more authentic tradition in modern times. Moreover, these theologians, while they vigorously defended their research, were unwilling to forsake their allegiance to ecclesial authority. In three instances ecclesial authorities eventually recognized the church’s harsh treatment of these faithful churchmen by conferring on them the honor of the cardinalate: Daniélou, de Lubac and Congar. More importantly for the Christian tradition was the recognition at Vatican II of the value of the research of the theologians whom we call the New Theologians despite their contention that they were not new but very traditional in their recovery of the classical theological resources.
Mettepenningen’ book is thorough, detailed and relentlessly ordered. As one reads this text, one has the feeling that one is reading the highly organized notes of a doctoral seminar. That means that this book is ponderous at times; yet, that process makes for ready access to details that one may wish to pursue.