A reader asks for direction in getting started with the work of Henri de Lubac.Here are some suggestions.
First, for a very brief summary of his work and contributions, see the chapter on him in Fergus Kerr’s book on twentieth-century Catholic thought.
Second, von Balthasar wrote a brief overview of de Lubac’s life and work, which is still in print.
Third, recommendations regarding de Lubac’s work itself is harder, because his work ranges over many topics.It depends on what your interest is. I think Catholicismis probably the best statement of his distinctive theological contributions. Beyond that, the Mystery of the Supernatural and Augustinianism and Modern Theology are the key works on nature and grace (on which John Milbank’s little book is also helpful). Corpus Mysticum is his great work on sacramental theology, and Medieval Exegesis is his major contribution to hermeneutics.
The Kerr book is Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians: From Chenu to Ratzinger (Blackwell, 2006). R.R. Reno, in a First Things review of Kerr's book, wrote this of de Lubac's theological work:
Henri de Lubac’s most important contribution to Catholic theology was a sustained analysis of the relation between nature and grace. In the 1930s he argued that standard theologies of the neoscholastic tradition used a metaphysically rigid, dualistic account of human destiny that ironically confirmed rather than overcame the modern suspicion that our everyday lives and concerns (nature) have no intrinsic contact with or need for the life of faith (grace). Instead of overcoming the dualisms that have tended to drive modern thought and life toward contrastive and fruitless antinomies, neoscholasticism unwittingly absorbed the tendency into itself.
The von Balthasar book is
The Theology of Henri de Lubac (Ignatius, 1991). Von Balthasar wrote about the daunting task of digesting "the forty or so volumes of Henri de Lubac's writings, with their more than 10,000 pages and hundreds of thousands of quotations," stating that it "feels as though [the reader] is at the entrance of a primeval forest." He also notes the impressive diversity of topics addressed by de Lubac, stating, "not even the smallest detail escapes him..." Of course, if anyone knew about writing thousands of pages and taking on (seemingly) wildly divergent topics, it would be von Balthasar, whose corpus of writings, I think it is safe to say, is even larger than de Lubac's.
In addition to books about nature and grace (Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace,Surnatural [not yet translated to English], The Mystery of the Supernatural) , de Lubac wrote important works on ecclesiology (The Splendor of the Church; The Motherhood of the Church), theism and atheism (The Discovery of God, The Drama of Atheist Humanism), the sacraments (Corpus Mysticum), Scriptural exegesis (History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen,Medieval Exegesis: The Four Senses of Scripture [2 vols.], Scripture in the Tradition), the Catholic faith as a whole (The Christian Faith, Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man), and much more, including books and articles on mysticism, Buddhism, Teilhard de Chardin, and Augustinianism.
I'm hardly an expert on de Lubac, but I agree with Leithart that Catholicism is a great place to start if you've read nothing or very little by de Lubac. It is the first book of his that I read; I bought it used at a Protestant bookstore while still an Evangelical Protestant myself, and it helped me gain a far better sense of the inner unity of Catholic theology, the historical continuity of Catholic doctrine, as well as the social dimension of Catholic soteriology. Von Balthasar describes the book as "programmatic,": "the major works that followed grew from its individual chapters much like branches from a trunk."
Other books about de Lubac's life and work include his memoirs, At the Service of the Church: Henri de Lubac Reflects on the Circumstances that Occasioned His Writings, and the recently published Meet Henri de Lubac: His Life and Work (Ignatius, 2008), by Rudolf Voderholzer (read an excerpt here). Also, you might consider tracking down a 1961 book, The Voices of France: A Survey of Contemporary Theology in France (New York, Macmillan), written by James M. Connolly, an American priest, which has a section on de Lubac, as well as Danielou, Congar, and others. Fr. Connolly wrote that
de Lubac' theological inquiries are solidly based on upon the accurate exegesis of Scripture and upon an enormous erudition of the Fathers. He also brings to theology today a sympathetic attitude toward those outside the Church baffled by the mystery of the supernatural that underlies religion. An inveterate humanist, his concern for human personality and dignity makes him an understanding participant in the theological dialogue seeking to reconcile the differences that separate modern man from the Church.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Book Excerpts:
• The Cardinal | Rudolf Voderholzer | From Meet Henri de Lubac: His Life and Work
• Motherhood of the Entire Church | Henri de Lubac, S.J.
• Origen and Allegory | Introduction to History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen | Henri de Lubac
• The Tragic Misunderstanding of Atheist Humanism | From Chapter One of The Drama of Atheist Humanism | Henri de Lubac
Books by Henri de Lubac translated and published by Ignatius Press:
• History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen
• At the Service of the Church: Henri de Lubac Reflects on the Circumstances that Occasioned His Writings
• Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace
• Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man
• The Christian Faith
• Christian Resistance to Anti-Semitism: Memories from 1940-1944
• The Drama of Atheist Humanism
• More Paradoxes
• The Motherhood of the Church
• Paradoxes of Faith
• The Splendor of the Church
• Theology in History
Books from Ignatius Press about de Lubac:
• The Theology of Henri De Lubac by Hans Urs von Balthasar
• Meet Henri de Lubac: His Life and Work by Rudolf Voderholzer