The Suspended Middle offer a provocative insight into the heart of the agenda of the Radical Orthodoxy. Milbank's exploration of de Lubac's Surnaturel and the papal reaction in Humani Generis, is the background against which he proposes a re-reading of the Latin West's history of the doctrine of grace.
The texts of Radical Orthodoxy are rarely, if ever, easy reads. It is, perhaps, open to the accusation that it is theology done for the academy rather than the Church: quite ironic, considering Radical Orthodoxy's critique of the academy. In the midst of intensely academic discourse, however, Milbank has the gift of summarising in short statements key positions of Radical Orthodoxy.
Close to the heart of Radical Orthodoxy is a turn to Plato, rejecting the Aristotelianism that has shaped Western theological reflection, both Reformed and Counter-Reformation. Milbank is definitive in his assessment of medieval scholasticism's reception of Aristotle:
It was the arrival of Aristotelianism that created a crisis for the theology of grace (p.101).
The turn to Plato is, above all, evidence of Radical Orthodoxy's Augustinianism, an Augustinianism freed from the suffocating embrace of catholic and protestant neo-scholasticisms:
For Augustine himself ... the imago Dei that always remains involves some degree of participation in the Godhead, if not the participation of grace, and is destined to rise, by grace, into a similitudo of God (p.37).
De Lubac, says Milbank, offers such a re-reception of Augustine, a re-reception that radically impacts on the West's traditional readings of Augustine and justification:
De Lubac ... wished to stress that the original and authentic Latin patristic understanding of the operation of grace (especially that of Augustine) was not essentially different from the Greek patristic notion of deification (p.16).
And yet, this proclamation of de Lubac - alongside the Orthodox Bulgakov -as "one of the two truly great theologians of the twentieth century" (p.105), does not equate to an uncritical acceptance of the nouvelle theologie movement. Alongside de Lubac, Balthasar towers as a leading figure in this movement. For Milbank, however, Balthasar's defining reflections are open to damning criticism:
Balthasar ... encourages an abandonment of the metaphysics of cosmic harmony in favour of a gnostic hypostasiazation of the violence of the cross (p.73).
For those of us heavily influenced by Balthasar, Milbank's critique should drive us back both to Balthasar's texts - even if we do return unconvinced by such a critique of a theologian whose reflection on the Cross is immersed in Scripture and Tradition.
Finally, Milbank's praise for de Lubac doctrine of grace does not mean that all aspects of de Lubac's theology are to be endorsed. His ecclesiology - shared with Balthasar - differentiated between the Petrine Church of office and the Marian Church of the laity. Milbank forcefully emphasises that this ecclesiology, particularly influential in contemporary Roman theology, falls short of the Church's calling to be Marian in all of her dimensions:
The Petrine function should also be, as such, Marian, in that, at the heart of its shaping activity it also has to do with a receptive giving birth again to Christ in the Eucharist, from whence (according to de Lubac) flows the body of the Church (p.105).
Radical Orthodoxy, after all, is no staid establishment orthodoxy. It is, instead, an authentically radical re-telling of the Tradition, enabling the contemporary Church to proclaim Truth within, and over and against, the cities of this world.