Radical orthodoxy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Radical orthodoxy is a Christian theological and philosophical school of thought which makes use of postmodern philosophy to reject the paradigm of modernity. The movement was founded by John Milbank and others and takes its name from the title of a collection of essays published by Routledge in 1999: Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, edited by Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward. Although the principal founders of the movement are Anglicans, radical orthodoxy includes theologians from a number of ecclesial traditions.


Radical orthodoxy's beginnings are found in the Radical Orthodoxy series of books, the first of which (Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology) was edited by John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward.[1] Milbank's Theology and Social Theory (1990), while not part of this series, is considered the first significant text of the movement. The name radical orthodoxy was chosen initially since it was a more "snappy" title for the book series — initially Milbank considered the movement to be "postmodern critical Augustinianism", emphasising the use of a reading of Augustine of Hippo influenced by the insights of postmodernism in the work of the group.[2] The name was also chosen[citation needed] in opposition to certain strands of so-called radical theology, for example those of John Shelby Spong; those strands asserted a highly liberal version of Christian faith where certain doctrines, for example the Trinity and the incarnation of God in Christ,[citation needed] were denied in an attempt to respond to modernity:[3] in contrast to this, radical orthodoxy attempted to show how the orthodox interpretation of Christian faith (as given primarily in the ecumenical creeds) was the more radical response to contemporary issues and more rigorous and intellectually sustainable.

Main ideas[edit]

Milbank has summarized radical orthodoxy in seven interrelated main ideas:[4]

  1. The denial of a clean distinction between faith and reason, or reason and revelation, such that human knowledge is only knowledge insofar as it is illuminated by divine truth.
  2. All of creation can only be understood as participating in God's being, and as such, gleans for us glimpses of the nature of God, without fully comprehending it.
  3. Human constructs (e.g. culture, community, language, history, technology) also participate in the being of God. It is neither "incidental to the truth" nor "a barrier against it".
  4. Theology functions through theurgy, "a co-operation between human and divine work", which both ultimately belong to God. This work (and its exchanges) is called liturgy, where "a collective human action invites the divine descent".
  5. A rejection of postmodern nihilism, which concludes that since there is no grounding for truth in "an absolutely certain intuitive presence", then there is no such thing as truth to begin with. Radical orthodoxy concedes that truth has no absolute grounding or finite certainty, but reads this lack of grounding as orienting the finite toward the eternal. Rationalism is thus evil because it makes humanity its own arbiter of truth, thereby contradicting the incarnate God's revelation of his own eternal truth. This can be seen throughout all history, but it is most centralized in the Church.
  6. "Without God, people see a nullity at the heart of things. They regard death as more real than life. This means that body gets hollowed out and abstraction becomes the true permanent reality, as in 'all is decay'. Only a belief in transcendence and participation in transcendence actually secures the reality of matter and the body. God transcends body, but is, as it were, even more body than body. So radical orthodoxy insists on a valuation of the body, sexuality, the sensory and the aesthetic"; while still sustaining that asceticism as severe discipline of the body which orients itself to God "is necessary to preserve this valuation".
  7. Humans also participate in the being of nature and of other humans. Because of this, salvation is as much cosmic as it is communal. Salvation then brings forth "a liberation of nature from terror and distress" to its fullest harmony and beauty, and a maximally democratic and socialist cooperation between humans, "on the basis of a common recognition of true virtue and excellence". To this end, the Church foreshadows the fully realized kingdom of God.

Underlying these is the return to theology as the "queen of the sciences" or the highest of all possible human knowledge, and a postmodern reaffirmation of ancient and medieval orthodox theologies.


Henri de Lubac's theological work on the distinction of nature and grace has been influential in the movement's[5] articulation of ontology. Hans Urs von Balthasar's theological aesthetics and literary criticism are also influential.[citation needed] The strong critique of liberalism found in much of radical orthodoxy[6] has its origin in the work of Karl Barth. The Oxford Movement and the Cambridge Platonists are also key influences of radical orthodoxy.

A form of neoplatonism plays a significant role in radical orthodoxy. Syrian Iamblichus of Chalcis (c. 245–325) and the Byzantine Proclus (412–485) are occasionally sourced, while the theology of Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Thomas Aquinas, Nicholas of Cusa, and Meister Eckhart is often drawn upon.

One of the key tasks of radical orthodoxy is to criticize the philosophy of Duns Scotus. Duns Scotus's theory that the term "being" is used univocally of God and creatures is often presented as the precursor of modernity. This reading of Scotus has been criticised itself by Daniel Horan[7] and Thomas Williams[8], both of whom claim that the Radical Orthodox movement confuses Scotus' epistemology and semantics with ontology.

The majority within the movement appear to support John Milbank's "Blue Socialism" in politics, although some have aligned with the traditionalist-conservative "Red Tory" movement in the UK and Canada.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Ream 2015, p. 1022.
  2. ^ Milbank 1991.
  3. ^ Brackney 2012, p. 265.
  4. ^ Milbank, John (2015). "What Is Radical Orthodoxy?" (PDF). University of Freiburg. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  5. ^ Milbank 2000, p. 35.
  6. ^ Insole 2004.
  7. ^ Horan, Daniel (2014). Postmodernity and Univocity: A Critical Account of Radical Orthodoxy and John Duns Scotus. Fortress Press. ISBN 9781451465723.
  8. ^ Williams, Thomas (2005). "The Doctrine of Univocity is True and Salutary". Modern Theology. 21.


Brackney, William H. (2012). Historical Dictionary of Radical Christianity. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-7365-0.
Insole, Christopher J. (2004). "Against Radical Orthodoxy: The Dangers of Overcoming Political Liberalism". Modern Theology. 20 (2): 213–241. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0025.2004.00251.x. ISSN 1468-0025.
Milbank, John (1991). "'Postmodern Critical Augustinianism': A Short Summa in Forty Two Responses to Unasked Questions". Modern Theology. 7 (3): 225–237. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0025.1991.tb00245.x. ISSN 1468-0025.
 ———  (2000). "The Programme of Radical Orthodoxy". In Hemming, Laurence Paul (ed.). Radical Orthodoxy? A Catholic Enquiry. Abingdon, England: Routledge (published 2017). pp. 33–45. ISBN 978-1-351-90695-1.
Ream, Todd C. (2015). "Radical Orthodoxy". In Kurian, George Thomas; Lamport, Mark A. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Christian Education. 3. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 1022–1023. ISBN 978-0-8108-8493-9.

Further reading[edit]

Bell, Daniel M., Jr. (2001). Liberation Theology After the End of History: The Refusal to Cease Suffering. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-24304-9.
Blond, Phillip (1997). Post-Secular Philosophy: Between Philosophy and Theology. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-09778-9.
Cunningham, Conor (2002). Genealogy of Nihilism: Philosophies of Nothing and the Difference of Theology. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-27694-8.
English, Adam C. (2007). The Possibility of Christian Philosophy: Maurice Blondel at the Intersection of Theology and Philosophy. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-77041-5.
Hanby, Michael (2003). Augustine and Modernity. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-28469-1.
Hedges, Paul (2014). "The Rhetoric and Reception of John Milbank's Radical Orthodoxy: Privileging Prejudice in Theology?". Open Theology. 1: 24–44. doi:10.2478/opth-2014-0004. ISSN 2300-6579.
Long, D. Stephen (2000). Divine Economy: Theology and the Market. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-22673-8.
Milbank, John (1997). The Word Made Strange: Theology, Language, Culture. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-20336-0.
 ———  (2003). Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-30525-9.
 ———  (2006) [1990]. Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-3684-6.
Milbank, John; Oliver, Simon, eds. (2009). The Radical Orthodoxy Reader. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-42513-1.
Milbank, John; Pickstock, Catherine (2000). Truth in Aquinas. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-23335-4.
Milbank, John; Pickstock, Catherine; Ward, Graham, eds. (1999). Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-19699-4.
Miner, Robert (2003). Truth in the Making: Creative Knowledge in Theology and Philosophy. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-27698-6.
Oliver, Simon (2005). Philosophy, God and Motion. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-36045-6.
Pickstock, Catherine (1997). After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-20672-9.
Reno, R. R. (2000). "The Radical Orthodoxy Project". First Things. New York: Institute on Religion and Public Life. ISSN 1047-5141. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
Robertson, Benjamin (2013). "Thinking Trivially about Radical Orthodoxy". Second Nature. Greenville, South Carolina: International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity. ISSN 2333-3677. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
Rowland, Tracey (2003). Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-30527-3.
Shakespeare, Steven (2007). Radical Orthodoxy: A Critical Introduction. London: SPCK. ISBN 978-0-281-05837-2.
Smith, James K. A. (2002). Speech and Theology: Language and the Logic of Incarnation. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-27696-2.
 ———  (2004). Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic. ISBN 978-0-801-02735-2.
Ward, Graham (2000). Cities of God. Radical Orthodoxy. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-20256-5.
Woodiwiss, Ashley (2005). "What's So Radical about Orthodoxy?". Christianity Today. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 12 February 2018.

External links[edit]