Ignatius Press has just published its edition of The Church of God: Body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit by Fr. Louis Bouyer (first published in English by Franciscan Herald Press in 1982). And Bouyer's book on Newman, Newman: An Intellectual & Spiritual Biography of John Henry Newman, will be available soon, and my understanding is that Ignatius Press will be publishing other works by Bouyer in the years to come.
The first book by Bouyer that I bought and read was the short book, The Liturgy Revived (University of Notre Dame, 1964), which I took up shortly before becoming Catholic in 1997. I soon read what is perhaps his best-known book (at least in many circles), The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism. The Church of God was one of the texts for a course in ecclesiology in my MTS program, and it is one of my favorite works by Bouyer—at least of those I've read—along with the wonderful work, The Meaning of Sacred Scripture (University of Notre Dame, 1958).
Bouyer was prolific and wrote on a wide range of topics. And he is regarded by many (including myself, for what it's worth) to be one of the most important Catholic theologians of the 20th century, even if he isn't as well known as Ratzinger, de Lubac, Rahner, von Balthasar, and others.
Last year, I interviewed Dr. Keith Lemna, Visiting Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Saint Meinrad School of Theology, who has studied the life and thought of Bouyer for many years. Here is part of that interview:
Ignatius Insight: Who was Fr. Louis Bouyer?
Dr. Lemna: Louis Bouyer was a priest of the Oratory, a convert to Catholicism from Lutheranism, which he had served as a minister, an eminent liturgiologist and historian of spirituality, an influential scholar of Newman (whose studies of Newman helped to pave the way for Newman's eventual beatification), and, perhaps most importantly of all, one of the greatest Catholic theologians of the twentieth century.
Ignatius Insight: What were some of Fr. Bouyer's significant contributions in the realm of Catholic theology?
Dr. Lemna: Fr. Bouyer is known most of all as a scholar of liturgy and spirituality, and it is in these areas that his work has exercised its most overt impact on the course of Catholic theology as a whole. In the area of liturgy, Bouyer, himself drawing on the work of Dom Odo Casel, is the figure who is most responsible for the emphasis that has been placed in recent decades on the theme of the "Paschal Mystery" as central for understanding the mystery of the faith, and he, as much or more than anyone, oriented sacramental theologians to a focus on the liturgical event as the basis for theological reflection on the nature and meaning of the sacraments.
Bouyer was also one of the great ecumenical theologians of the twentieth century, who was committed to dialogue with Protestants, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox Christians, although always with a firm commitment to the Catholic Church as the fullness of Christ's sacramental presence on earth. Bouyer's book The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism is one of the most illuminating studies on the relationship of Protestantism to Catholicism to have ever been written.
Many converts to Catholicism have noted that this book was of inestimable value to them on their journey to the Catholic Church. Bouyer sees aspects of the Protestant Reformation in a positive light, but he notes that the positive goals of the Reformation can only be truly met if they are carried out in the communion of the Catholic Church. At the same time, he fully unmasks the problems with the nominalism adopted by Luther and the Reformers and the concomitant repudiation of analogical thinking. This leads, he shows, to a rigid either-or approach to theology and to the hardened positions of faith alone, Scripture alone, and grace alone.
Moreover, Bouyer was close friends with Sergei Bulgakov and Vladimir Lossky, the two greatest Russian Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century. Bulgakov was a "sophiologist" greatly influenced by Vladimir Soloviev (19th century). Lossky, who rejected Bulgavkov's approach to theology, was a "neo-Patristic" theologian who sought to root theology in the concepts developed by the Church Fathers. Bouyer's corpus bears the influence of both of these men. One might wonder if any Catholic theologian in the twentieth century was as deeply knowledgeable and sympathetic to the Christian East as Bouyer, while remaining firmly rooted in the Western tradition. It is no coincidence that Hans Urs von Balthasar, the eminent Swiss theologian, dedicated his famous study of the great Eastern Patristic theologian Maximus the Confessor (Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor [Ignatius Press, 2003]) to Bouyer. Bouyer travelled in the Christian East and held that the modern Western Church should seek to integrate its life with liturgy in the way that was still, at the time of Bouyer's travels, commonplace in the East. In liturgical matters, Bouyer was a proponent of what one might call "high sacrality," and he was greatly disappointed with the practical implementation of the liturgical reform after the council.
Bouyer's knowledge of the Anglican tradition was no less formidable than his knowledge of Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy. More than any single influence, Bouyer was marked by his study of the theology and biography of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. Indeed, if there is such a thing as a "Newman School" in systematic theology, Bouyer would surely be its pre-eminent advocate. As early as the 1970s, Bouyer was calling for the sorts of provisions for Anglican converts that Pope Benedict XVI has given us with Anglicanorum Coetibus. Bouyer was steeped in Anglophone thought and culture. He read deeply in the tradition of English Christian Platonist theology, and he was personal friends with both J.R.R. Tolkien and T.S. Eliot. His use of the early modern English tradition of theology in his works on systematic theology is unique and worthy of further exploration and development.
It is important to note, in this regard, that Bouyer composed and published a nine-volume treatise on systematic theology, one of the most powerful syntheses (though he refused to label it or even to think of it as such) of Catholic doctrine to have appeared in the twentieth century. Unfortunately, it has been too little noticed by Catholic theologians. It is immensely stimulating for theological reflection. Bouyer writes very much in the style of Newman, that is, in a flowing, even poetic manner, basing himself, like Newman, in historical theology but, at least in Bouyer's case, without neglecting the importance of metaphysics. On the other hand, Bouyer's approach to the theological discipline in these volumes is very much influenced by the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl, in that he seeks most of all only to bring to display, in the context of modern thought, the surpassing love of God revealed in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.
Read the entire interview on Ignatius Insight.