Radical Orthodoxy

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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 John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward. Although the principal founders of the movement are Anglicans, Radical Orthodoxy includes theologians from a number of church traditions.


Radical Orthodoxy's beginnings are found in a series of books edited by John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward. 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 St Augustine influenced by the insights of postmodernism in the work of the group. The name was also chosen in opposition to certain strands of so-called radical theology, for example those of Bishop John Shelby Spong. Such forms of radical theology asserted a highly liberal version of Christian faith where certain doctrines, for example the Trinity and the incarnation of God in Christ, were denied in an attempt to respond to modernity. 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

Radical Orthodoxy is a critique of modern secularism and Kantian accounts of metaphysics. The name "Radical Orthodoxy" emphasises the movement's attempt to return to or revive traditional doctrine ("radical", lat. radix, "root"; "orthodoxy" (Gr. ὀρθός orthōs, "straight", and δόξα dóxa, "opinion"; hence, "correct teaching"). The movement reclaims the original early church idea that theology is the "queen of the sciences". This means that if the world is to be interpreted correctly, it must be viewed from the perspectives of theology. Radical Orthodoxy critiques secular sciences because their worldview is considered inherently atheistic and nihilistic, based on acts of ontological violence (of which the faith/reason, nature/grace separations are examples). What this means is that science, ethics, politics, economics and all other branches of study are interpreted and informed through a theological ontology, with the mainstream secular variations representing heresies (as in deviations from orthodoxy). Its ontology has some similarities to the Neoplatonist account of participation.


Henri de Lubac's theological work on the distinction of nature and grace has been influential in the movement's articulation of ontology. Hans Urs von Balthasar's theological aesthetics and literary criticism are also influential. The strong critique of liberalism found in much of Radical Orthodoxy 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.

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.

Key texts

  • Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, Graham Ward (eds). London: Routledge, 1999 - (ISBN 0-415-19699-X)
  • Theology and Social Theory (2nd ed.), John Milbank. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006 - (ISBN 1-4051-3684-7)
  • Being Reconciled, John Milbank. London: Routledge, 2003 - (ISBN 0-415-30525-X)
  • Post-Secular Philosophy Phillip Blond. London: Routledge 1997 - ( ISBN 978-0-415-09778-9)
  • Truth in Aquinas, John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock. London: Routledge, 2000 - (ISBN 0-415-23335-6)
  • After Writing, Catherine Pickstock. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997 - (ISBN 0-631-20672-8)
  • The Word Made Strange, John Milbank. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997 - (ISBN 0-631-20336-2)


See also

Further reading

External links