Unlike some of the hard-line Catholic responses to Milbank’s comments regarding Pope Benedict’s UK visit (here and here), I think Milbank’s take on the matter is completely fair, amicable and presents an great sign of hope for eccleisal unity.  In fact, I was quite happy to read the following quote from Milbank, “temerity” and all:

“With some temerity I would say that I see a very large congruence between Radical Orthodoxy and the theology of the Pope: both stress the unity of faith and reason, the natural desire of the supernatural, the importance of the Platonic legacy for the development of Christian understanding and the view that only a Christian humanism can overcome the inherent drift of secularism towards an amoral nihilism.”

Milbank also happens to remains consistent with his notion of what defines tradition:

“I think that from him [Newman] we can learn a true sense of tradition: namely that we have to respect the gifts of understanding and practice that we have received from the past and have a responsibility to hand them on in an authentic form to the future.

At the same time we can equally learn from Newman that a genuine tradition develops in order to remain true to itself, just as the gospels themselves promise that we shall endlessly draw from their treasury of wisdom things that are new as well as old. I consider that both Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan Williams share this understanding of the true nature of tradition.”

Perhaps this point is overly optimistic, but here Milbank is tipping his hat to the Catholic Ressourcement movement and it demonstrates, I think, what is at the heart of Milbank’s response; namely, the desire to “transcend ecclesial chauvinism.”  In reflecting on the last 10 years or so of Radical Orthodoxy, Milbank writes in his afterward to The Radical Orthodoxy Reader “that Protestants and Catholics alike are the victims of errors deeply inscribed far back in a shared Christian history” (373).

In this light I’m willing to travel with Milbank.  Especially so when he writes the following, which I think represents Milbank at his best:

“In a sense the issue here is about the infinite: beyond Platonism Christianity legitimated a seemingly shocking infinity of desire, because it argues that this desire can be met and satisfied by an infinite God. But once this God has been denied, one cannot put the genie of the infinite back into the pagan bottle. In consequence, the post-Christian does not mean a measured humanism of a Ciceronian variety but rather the despairing, or else demonically Promethean embrace of the infinite as the abyss of nothingness.”

One will find similar comments made by Henri de Lubac in “Christian Resistance to Nazism and to Anti-Semitism” in Theology In History as well as The Drama of Atheist Humanism.

In the end, I suspect that Milbank will take heat from all sides on this issue and this certainly is nothing to be surprised at.  I suppose this comes from the universalizing sense of Milbank’s work, which some misguidedly see as deeply neo-colonial instead of catholic.  Or perhaps it is because they can’t quite wrap their heads around his “metaxological” orthodoxy, as one blog post perceptively laid it out over at The Well at World’s End.  Like de Lubac, Milbank is only echoing the logic of the wider catholic tradition.  As de Lubac states,

“Since divine charity is unable to exist without seeking to be everywhere, the Christian – let us say with the ancients, the homo ecclesiasticus, which is to say the man in whom the consciousness of the Church is incarnated in fullness – seeks to spread it everywhere” (Theology In History 388).

If this is one’s starting point for inter-eccleisal dialogue and theological engagements with the secular, then Milbank’s comments about the Papal visit provide a much needed sense of hope.

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