Alfred Loisy

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Alfred Firmin Loisy

Alfred Firmin Loisy (born February 28, 1857 in Ambrières , Département Marne , † June 1, 1940 in Ceffonds , Département Haute-Marne ) was a French Catholic theologian and historian .


Loisy came from a peasant family who lived a sober, traditional Catholicism. The boy of poor health, who did not seem suitable to take over his parents' farm, was allowed to study. In 1872 he was sent to the episcopal high school in Saint-Dizier , where the idea of ​​entering the seminary in Châlons-sur-Marne (1874) matured. At times he considered a religious life. The gifted Loisy was ordained a priest in 1879 and has taught oriental languages ​​and biblical studies at the Institut catholique de Paris since 1889 .

Loisy turned to the project of a comprehensive critical history of the Bible. a. with the question of the divine inspiration of the Bible. He related this inspiration to the whole of Holy Scripture, but emphasized that its historical-contingent character as the product of divine-human cooperation in a certain epoch of the past should be taken into account. The Bible was “true” in its historical context and also without “errors” in the horizon of understanding of its time, because it simply reflected the level of knowledge at the time of its creation, for example in questions of natural history. The truth of Scripture is therefore "purely relative". So the Bible is true in this sense, but only the Church (which must reinterpret it for the current situation) is infallible.

According to the encyclical Providentissimus Deus by Pope Leo XIII. (1893), who claimed against Loisy that the Bible was completely inerrancy, not historically relativized , Loisy lost his teaching post. For several years he worked as a pastor at an educational institute for Dominican women until he fell seriously ill in 1899. As a comprehensively educated scientist and prolific author, he achieved a wide audience among theologians. In the Revue de l'histoire et litterature religieuses , founded in 1896, he wrote together with Joseph Turmel under numerous pseudonyms , which simulated a broad scientific movement and bypassed church censorship .

Loisy is considered to be the founder and leading exponent of what his opponents called modernism , since his hypotheses were the main subject of the magisterial condemnations made by Pope Pius X in 1907 in the Decree Lamentabili and in the encyclical Pascendi . As early as 1904, after his main works had been placed on the Librorum Prohibitorum Index, Loisy himself had given up the belief that the Church was capable of reform. But he found that many sympathetic friends - completely or hesitantly - submitted to the papal judgment. However, it was not the internal church discussion, but rather the difficult historical turning point of the First World War that ended the “modernism crisis” around 1914.

Loisy was the best-known French advocate of what her opponents called exégèse allemande , the historical-critical method in biblical studies. Unlike the liberal theology in German Protestantism, his critical approach aimed at a new apology (defense) of Catholicism by adapting church teaching to the scientific knowledge of the time.

Since Loisy, unlike the biblical scholar Marie-Joseph Lagrange and others, ultimately did not submit to the Pope despite protracted disputes, he was excommunicated in 1908 and declared a vitandus . Catholics were forbidden to interact with him. He taught history of religion at the Collège de France until 1931, radicalizing his conceptions up to pantheism , and died in 1940. The papal newspaper Osservatore Romano dedicated a critical obituary to him.

In the central conflict, Loisy turned with the book L'Évangile et l'Église from 1902 against the "essence of Christianity", as it was conceived by the liberal Protestant theologian Adolf Harnack . He was concerned with the positive appreciation of the public function of the church. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God , but the church (at least!) Came into being. Out of the religious consciousness of the respective epoch, each find a different shape. Loisy went on to explain that key points of Christian doctrine such as the resurrection , the virgin birth or the divinity of Jesus Christ cannot be proven by historical sources, i.e. that a historical Jesus faces the Jesus Christ of faith. This relativization of dogma worried the church's magisterium and, like the whole question of historicism , remains an unsolved historical-theological problem.

Some of Loisy's concerns have been taken up by modern Catholic theologians who recognize him as a forerunner without being able to accept his conclusions.

Works (French)

Histoire du Canon de l'Ancien Testament , Paris 1890.
Histoire du Canon du Nouveau Testament , Paris 1891.
Le Livre de Job , Amiens 1892.
Les Evangiles synoptiques , 2nd vol., Amiens 1893-1896.
La Religion d'Israël , Paris 1901.
Les mythes babyloniens et les premiers chapitres de la Genèse , Paris 1901.
Etudes évangeliques , Paris 1902.
L'Evangile et l'Eglise , Paris 1902.
Autour d'un petit livre , Paris 1903.
Le quatrième Evangile , Paris 1903.
Les Evangiles synoptiques. Traduction et commentaire , 2 vols., Ceffonds 1907-1908.
Simples réflexions sur le Décret du Saint-Office Lamentabili sane exitu et sur l'Encyclique Pascendi dominici gregis , Ceffonds 1908.
Quelques Lettres sur des questions actuelles et des événements récents , Ceffonds 1908
Jésus et la tradition évangélique , Paris 1910.
Choses passées , Paris 1913.
Guerre et Religion , Paris 1915.
La Religion , Paris 1917.
Les Mystères païens et le Mystère chrétien , Paris 1919.
Essai historique sur le sacrifice , Paris 1920.
Les Actes des Apôtres , Paris 1920.
Religion et humanité , Paris 1926.
Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire religieuse de notre temps , 3 vols., 1930–1931.
La Naissance du Christianisme , Paris 1933.
Le Mandéisme et les Origines chrétiennes , Paris 1934.
George Tyrrell et Henri Bremond , Paris 1936.
La Crise morale du temps présents et l'éducation humaine , Paris 1937.

A work edition does not exist. Many of the volumes mentioned were photomechanically reprinted by Minerva, Frankfurt am Main, on the initiative of Kurt Flasch in the 1970s. A new edition in a volume of L'Evangile et l'Eglise , Autour d'un petit livre and Jésus et la tradition evangélique was organized by G. Mordillat and J. Prieur (Paris: Noesis, 2001).


"Jésus annonçait le royaume, et c'est l'Église qui est venue."
"Jesus announced the kingdom of God and the church has come."

- Alfred Loisy

“You may see irony in this word, but also sadness. Instead of the great expectation of God's own kingdom, of the new world that has been transformed by God himself, there is something completely different - and how poor! - come: the church. "

“Objections which seem to be very weighty from the standpoint of a certain theology are of almost no importance to the historian. It is certain, for example, that Jesus did not regulate the constitution of the church in advance, like a state founded on earth and destined to last for a long series of centuries. But something far further from his thoughts and his authentic teaching is the idea of ​​an invisible church, formed for all time by those who had in their hearts the belief in the goodness of God. It has been shown that in the gospel of Jesus there was already a beginning of social structure and that the kingdom should also take on a social form. Jesus announced the kingdom, and that's what the church came for. It came and expanded the form of the gospel that could not possibly be preserved as it was since Jesus' task of suffering was completed. If one establishes the principle that everything has a right to exist only in its original state, then there is no institution on earth and in human history whose legitimacy and value cannot be disputed. Such a principle runs counter to the law of life, which is a movement and a constant striving to adapt to ever changing and new conditions. Christianity has not withdrawn from this law, and it must not be blamed for having submitted to it. It couldn't act otherwise. "

- Alfred Loisy

“From this text, which the Church, including her structures up to the papacy and the dogma of infallibility, wanted to present as a legitimate and indispensable consequence of Jesus 'message, only one sentence remained in the later debates:' Jesus has the kingdom proclaimed 'and the Church has come', and this sentence, in direct contrast to Loisy's argument, was interpreted in such a way that the message of Jesus and the Church appeared as contradictions. "


  • Friedrich Heiler: Alfred Loisy. The father of Catholic modernism. Erasmus, Munich 1947
  • Dietmar Bader: The way Loisys to research the Christian truth. Dissertation. University of Freiburg i.Br. Herder, Freiburg i.Br. 1974.
  • Peter Klein: Alfred Loisy as a historian of early Christianity. Dissertation. University of Bonn, Bonn 1977
  • Otto Weiß : Alfred Loisy's changeful fate in Germany. In: Otto Weiß: Cultures - Mentalities - Myths. On the theological and cultural history of the 19th and 20th centuries. Schöningh, Paderborn 2004, ISBN 3-506-70119-3 , pp. 385-437.
  • Claus Arnold: Alfred Loisy. In: Friedrich Wilhelm Graf (ed.): The classics of theology. Volume 2: From Richard Simon to Karl Rahner. Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-52801-5 , pp. 155-170.
  • Karl-Heinz Menke : The question of the essence of Christianity. An analysis of the history of theology. Schöningh, Paderborn u. a. 2005 (North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Sciences, Lectures G 395), ISBN 3-506-72888-1 , pp. 61–68.
  • Andreas U. Müller: Christian faith and historical criticism. Maurice Blondel and Alfred Loisy in the struggle for the relationship between writing and tradition. Freiburg 2006.
  • Wolfgang Weiß:  Loisy, Alfred Firmin. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 5, Bautz, Herzberg 1993, ISBN 3-88309-043-3 , Sp. 190-196.
  • Claus Arnold: Alfred Loisy. Études bibliques (1903). In: Oda Wischmeyer (Ed.): Handbook of Biblical Hermeneutics. From Origen to the present. De Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2016, ISBN 978-3-11-033027-4 , pp. 593–602.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Owen Chadwick: A history of the Popes, 1830-1914 , pp. 351-352.
  2. ^ Alfred Loisy: L'évangile et l'église , Paris 1902; Bellevue, 1908 4 ; Unchanged reprint: Frankfurt am Main, 1973; ISBN 3865981240 online .
  3. Benedict XVI. : Jesus of Nazareth ; Freiburg i.Br .., Vienna: Herder, 2007; P. 78. See, however, the original passage and the context
  4. ^ Alfred Loisy: Gospel and Church ; Authorized translation based on the second increased, previously unpublished edition of the original by Joh. [Anna] Grière-Becker; Kirchheim, Munich, 1904; P. 112 f.
  5. Peter Neuner: The dispute over Catholic modernism ; Frankfurt am Main, Leipzig: Verlag der Weltreligionen, 2009; P. 70.