Wednesday, September 1, 2010

John Milbank on Radical Orthodoxy's Evolution Toward Historic Orthodoxy

It appears that a big question up for debate now is whether the theological movement known as Radical Orthodoxy will eventually become truly orthodox. A blog "Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex" recently featured an article entitled: "John Milbank: Friend of Catholics or Just Plain Delusional?" in which the author criticized Milbank as " a theological modernist who just happens to love some smells and bells."

Who should happen along in the com box but John M. himself and he had this to say:
"Many thanks indeed for all the contributions above. I just want to clear up two points. Most importantly I have recently celebrated and NOT criticised the ‘romanticism’ of the theologies of both the present and the last Pope with respect to nuptial mysticism in a Modern Theology article which defends their views against the criticisms of Ferkus Kerr OP — whom I hasten to add, I enormously admire in general. Secondly the essays about homosexuality in the RO volume are in certain crucial ways at odds with my own views."
One of the blog authors sent Milbank an email with some questions and Milbank responded. I thought the whole response was interesting enough to post.

Many thanks for your email. RO isn’t a movement that demands ‘assent’ to a list of propositions. In my view that should be for Church bodies alone. It’s a loosely defined ethos, tendency and network, close to several other tendencies and to more specifically defined movements: to Communio, the JP II Institutes, Communio e Liberazione, Focolare (beginning a little), Russian sophiologists and to the entire nouvelle theologie legacy.

RO does not see itself as an Anglican movement, but as an ecumenically Catholic movement that includes Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, and some ‘post-Protestants’ in the Protestant communions.

Anthropology is crucial as you rightly say. I suppose though that theologians might agree in general about human nature and its relation to God and still disagree about questions of gender and sexuality — even though there is an intimate link.

On the latter front, as on some others, I would say that RO has evolved and that currently it is somewhat more ‘conservative’ than it was at the outset. This applies both to a shift in perspective on the part of individuals and the arrival of younger more emphatic people plus the falling-away of some of the first batch who have moved towards a more liberal position. Others of that same batch remain highly sympathetic to RO in many, or even most ways, while being critical in others.

If this helps, I would say that perhaps the most crucial RO-leaning authors are now John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, Conor Cunningham, Simon Oliver, Adrian Pabst, Phillip Blond, Aaron Riches, Andrew Davison, Michael Hanby, Robert Miner, Peter Chandler, John Montag, Anthony Baker, Alessandra Gerolin, John Hughes, Matt Bullimore, Angel Mendez OP and John Betz — along with many other emerging names in the UK and elsewhere. (If I’ve left someone out here inadvertently, then apologies.) But there are several others who would not formally identify with the movement but are very close to it indeed and very supportive of it.

Of the above names, six are Catholics, one is Eastern Orthodox and eight are Anglicans of which three are likely to become Catholics in the future. (This does not at present include me.) The ecumenicity is therefore reflected in personnel as well as in theory.

In terms of my own positions re gender and sexuality I suspect that some Catholics would find me a shade too liberal, but in terms of contemporary positions I would be classed as extremely ‘conservative’: against abortion, experiments on foeteses, against any idea that homosexuality can be the subject of equal rights, in favour of the importance of sexual difference, critical of liberal feminism, and holding the opinion that the separation of sex and procreation is in effect a state capitalist programme of bioethical tyranny etc etc. To my mind the Papacy is the crucial bulwark against this, even if I favour married clergy, ordaining women (my wife is an Anglican priest who is at least as conservative as the current Pope in most ways) and recognising gay civil partnerships (though certainly not gay marriage, which I regard as ontologically impossible — I also think that civil partnerships not linked to sex should be included for reasons of inheritance etc.) Some within RO are more conservative than me on these points.

In more general terms RO represents a desire for a rethought metaphysical realism — linking Thomism to the French Spiritual realist tradition — Biran, Ravaisson, Bergson, Blondel, Lavalle, Bruaire etc. This is what a more philosophical version of the nouvelle theologie needs I think and many on the continent like Emmanuel Tourpe agree. It also of course supports Lubac’s position on the supernatural and reads this in a radical way that favours an integralism of philosophy and theology and of the social and the spiritual in the the practical arena. The Anglicans amongst is also think that the deeper currents in Richard Hooker’s thought go in this direction.

Politically an originally Christian socialist direction has evolved into a post right versus left associationism/communitarianism that stresses civil society and civil economy against both the state and the agnostic capitalist market. In the UK Blond and myself are seen by British Catholics as the best interpreters and supporters of Caritas in Veritate even though we both Anglicans. The CoTP at Nottingham has links to Blond’s thinktank Respublica and Pabst’s embryo organisation Cosmopolis.

I hope that all the above is of some interest and use to you in assessing what is going on here!

All best wishes, John Milbank

I find this response interesting insofar as it shows Milbank's thought obviously moving toward a more traditional and orthodox position. Some big names (eg. Graham Ward) are missing from that list but some of the more conservative people I expected to see are not there (eg. Tracy Rowland). In any case, RO appears to be in flux and it makes me want to read more in the authors named above. I have found Michael Hanby's and John Betz' work to be very helpful and many of the Communio writers and de Lubac to be of great interest. Of course, the present pope and John Paul II are seminal in many, many ways.

It always did seem to me that eventually people would need to go in a liberal Protestant direction or else take Catholic moral theology and theological anthropology more seriously. That sorting out process appears to be in progress.

One problem I see that will need to be faced eventually is the Marxist influence. There is already a hedging going on in the attempt to transcend the left-right divide; the question is whether an outright break with Marxist thought is not inevitable if there is to be a real return to the classical orthodoxy of the Church.

1 comment:

Jhughes said...

Jesus is married to all that love even as he loves,and his spirit is even married to the non human animals too. That is what saves their spirit. Jesus wants us to be one in love,and the catholic church wants us to be divided in hate. I wish All could be one in love.