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Almost a French Anglican?

11 December 2015

An important study of an unfamiliar name, says Christopher Hill


Practical Theology and Pierre-André Liégé: Radical Dominican and Vatican II pioneer
Nicholas Bradbury
Ashgate £65
Church Times Bookshop £58.50 (use code CT143)


ANGLICANS have heard of the work of the Dominican Yves Congar as one of the fundamental stimuli of the Second Vatican Council. Congar taught Pierre-André Liégé and spoke of him as his best pupil. Liégé is here introduced by Nicholas Bradbury as a radical Dominican and conciliar pioneer, with a foreword by a fellow Dominican, Timothy Radcliffe.

Bradbury has embraced an apostolate for making Liégé more widely known, and, more importantly, making his pastoral theology known and utilised by Anglicans. He makes a convincing case. He opens by describing French Catholicism in the mid-20th century. Further chapters expound Liégé’s pastoral and practical theology, his widespread influence on the Francophone theological world, and his distinctive vision.

For the French Church, in part certainly owing to Liégé’s teaching at the Institute Catholique in Paris, pastoral theology was about engaged, realistic catechetics, and the anchoring of faith and doctrine in the real life of the laity. Liégé focused his practical theology on preaching biblically, and on earthed catechetics. Doctrines should mean something to ordinary people. Theology was not the exclusive preserve of the priest.

He wanted "preachable" theology, and was influenced by Arnold, Rahner, and Jungman from Germany. Pastoral theology was "taking dogmatics and bringing it to life". Liégé’s theoretical method was that of "correlation". Bradbury compares him with Tillich, but I missed a comparison with the work of David Tracey.

Towards the end of the book, Bradbury takes us on a surprisingly imaginative exploration. He imagines an Anglican priest in Sheffield who had espoused Liégé’s pastoral theology from the ’50s to the ’80s. In fact, it was still locked in the French language. Only, I suspect, someone like Alex Vidler, who knew the modern history and thought of the French Church, would have known Liégé’s name.

But Bradbury’s imagined incumbent — taking on at least some of Bradbury’s own theological passion and perspectives — acknowledges the influence of those (mostly Anglicans) who are not too far from Liégé’s concerns, ranging from poets through Christian Socialists to liberal Catholics and the Liturgical and Parish Communion movements.

Bradbury is critical of much that passed for Anglican pastoral theology at this time, and equates pastoralia with what he rejects as a clericalised, therapeutic paradigm, epitomised in Wesley Carr. He is seriously critical of the then lack of adult catechesis. How far does Alpha — less its suspect soteriology — and, rather more, Emmaus now give us a richer trajectory?

If you are interested in the French Church, this book is to be recommended. It is more than required for those of us who also believe, as Liégé did, that doctrine and life go together and make for mature Christians.


The Rt Revd Christopher Hill is President of the Conference of European Churches. He is a former Bishop of Guildford.

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