A Response from Benoît-Dominique de La Soujeole on Bellarmine and His Posterity

Benoît-Dominique de La Soujeole has graciously offered to respond to Eric DeMeuse’s critical review of his recent  Introduction to the Mystery of the ChurchThe original post may be read here.

I have read with much interest the critical study which Mr. Eric DeMeuse has made of my book Introduction to the Mystery of the Church, published by CUA press in 2014. I thank him for having expressed his opinion with courtesy, precision, and benevolence.

Mr. DeMeuse hopes that ecclesiology such as it developed beginning in the sixteenth century might be better known since it possesses, like every epoch in the life of the Church, resources which it would be good to harvest. I do not doubt this. I have never said or written that the period which goes from the sixteenth century up to the theological renewal of the twentieth century should be ignored. There are, certainly, epochs that are more or less fruitful (Mr. DeMeuse knows and writes this in response to Mr. A. Kuiper), but they all belong to the life of the Tradition (transmission).

In the first part of my book, Mr. DeMeuse regrets that, regarding the Church as the Body of Christ, after having studied the state of this doctrine in St. Thomas Aquinas, I move directly to Vatican I. I founded this way of proceeding on the works of positive theology of E. Mersch, which are still authoritative (Le Corps mystique du Christ, vol. 2, Louvain, 1933). According to this author (followed also by Y. Congar in particular), the ecclesiological doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ is well known and transmitted in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, but this epoch privileges the personal aspect for the Christian life of being by baptism a member of this Body of which Christ is the Head. It is also a mark of this epoch that, having for its principal task (and not the only one) to respond to Protestant errors, it will avoid using theological themes privileged by the Protestants (“mystical Body” often signifies for them “hidden Body” = invisible). We notice the same phenomenon for baptismal priesthood: it is a theme much developed by the Protestants, and the Catholics avoid speaking of it, privileging the ministerial priesthood that is denied by the Protestants. I believe that this epoch was profoundly positive for Catholicism (there is no conceivable interruption of the Tradition), especially in that it allowed for the saving of truths denied by the Protestants, but by privileging certain themes (which it needed to save) and by not developing others. On this account, the contemporary epoch (which for ecclesiology we can say begins in the nineteenth century) stands as the moment where the whole of the ecclesiological dogmatic is formed anew.

Mr. DeMeuse sees the most decisive reasons for my expressed position in the first part in the way in which I speculatively treat ecclesiology in the second part.

I have no difficulty in admitting what Mr. DeMeuse says of the richness of the ecclesiological work of St. Robert Bellarmine. His thought cannot and should not be reduced to the unfortunate chapters 1 and 2 of the De Controversiis which I cite. In particular, St. Robert presents a doctrine of the mystical personality of the Church which is of great value (see De conciliis, L. II, chap. XIX, and De romano pontifice, L. I, chap. IX). The intention of my book is not to exposit St. Robert Bellarmine for his own sake, but to treat the speculative question of the constitutive unity of the ecclesial being (Lumen gentium 8, §.1 : “ … non duae res sed unam realitatem complexam efformant” [“… they form not two things but one complex reality”]). Now, this question—decisive for achieving the expression of the essential being of the Church—was rendered very difficult in the day of the contemporary ecclesiological renewal because the posterity of Bellarmine, not Bellarmine himself, has privileged the data of the two unfortunate chapters of the De Controversiis. It is not Bellarmine who can be accused, it is his posterity. It seems difficult for me to deny this fact. This posterity, which Bellarmine would probably have rejected if he had known it, appears with great clarity in Cardinal Billot (the Church possesses two forms according to which it is a visible body and an invisible community) and in E. Mersch (the word “Church” signifies the exterior organism and the expression “mystical Body” designates the interior community of grace). There is still some of this in K. Rahner in the 1950s. The problem is always the same in this posterity: one can be part of one aspect without being part of the other; therefore, these two aspects are separable.

I maintain that the contemporary speculative question has been deeply affected by this posterity of Bellarmine and that, this posterity having been abandoned at Vatican II, it continues to exist in other approaches, notably the dialectical approach which I analyzed largely under the expression “binomial thinking.”

Regarding the fact that Bellarmine, uniquely in chapters 1 and 2 of the De Controversiis, joined de facto and not intentionally the major perception of Protestantism (ecclesiological dualism), I see this fact confirmed by two things: 1. current Protestant thought is still characterized by the ecclesiological dualism of the Reformers (see the article Eglise in the Encyclopédie du protestantisme, Genève-Paris, 1995, p. 489); 2. the posterity of Bellarmine that is, in a sense, his interpreter.

Mr. DeMeuse highlights an imperfection in the English translation of the book in relation to the original French. Thus, to have translated “être du Corps” with “part of the Body” (p.365 [French] – p. 363 [English]) is not correct. I fully agree with this remark and thank its author.


Fr. Benoît-Dominique de La Soujeole, O.P.
Fribourg (CH)
Translated by Eric DeMeuse

*Special thanks to Fr. Joseph Mueller, SJ, for reviewing this translation.

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