de la Taille, Maurice
DE LA TAILLE, MAURICE
Theologian; b. Semblancy (Indre-et-Loire), France, Nov. 30, 1872; d. Paris, Oct. 23, 1933. After secondary schooling in England under the exiled French jesuits, he entered the society there in 1890; two of his ten brothers also became Jesuits: a younger, Arthur, who died as a novice, and an older, Timoléon, who survived him as a missionary in China. Maurice studied philosophy at Jersey and theology at Lyon and was ordained at Tours in 1901. From 1905 he taught theology at Angers, and from 1919, at the Gregorian University, Rome. De la Taille interrupted his professorial work in order to serve as a military chaplain during World War I.
The work Mysterium fidei de augustissimo Corporis et Sanguinis Christi sacrificio et sacramento: Elucidationes L in tres libros distinctae grew out of de la Taille's study of the Epistle to the Hebrews while he was a young priest. He developed and wrote it during the years at Angers and completed it in 1915, but the war delayed its publication until 1921. A second improved edition appeared in 1924; a third, in 1931, included Vindiciarum liber unus, in which de la Taille took issue with the major, persistent objections to his work.
The priority given to sacrifice over Sacrament was more than a superficial pedagogical departure from the usual treatises of the time; the specific novelty of de la Taille's work centered precisely on sacrifice. Cardinal Billot, in returning to St. thomas aquinas's theology of transubstantiation, had prepared the way for de la Taille's strong rejection of the post-Tridentine theories of the Eucharistic Sacrifice (Billot and others had, of course, also rejected them, but without giving thorough attention to the true idea of sacrifice itself). However, de la Taille did not think it sufficient, as did Billot, to have an "immolation" (regarded as a necessary part of any sacrifice offered by fallen man) that remained purely in the order of sign. He evolved his own distinctive thesis: that the Last Supper and the cross complemented each other as oblation and immolation to form the one redemptive sacrifice and that each Mass is an oblation of the once immolated Christ, now permanently in the state of victimhood (thus the cross is, equivalently, the one immolation with many ritual oblations). This thesis evoked great enthusiasm for its speculative simplicity and the stimulus it gave to solid Eucharistic piety by centering the worshiper's attention strongly on the glorified victim of the cross; however, it also aroused strenuous opposition. De la Taille devoted not only the lengthy Vindiciarum liber of the third edition of Mysterium fidei, but also numerous articles in periodicals to a defense of this basic thesis; a collection of these appeared as Esquisse du mystère de la foi suivie de quelques éclaircissements (Paris 1925) and was translated in 1930 to form, along with further papers written in the intervening years, The Mystery of Faith and Human Opinion Contrasted and Defined (London 1930).
De la Taille's principal thesis is today abandoned by the majority of theologians on the grounds that it does not have the basis in the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Church Fathers that de la Taille claimed for it, and that it is inconsistent with the doctrine of the Council of trent on the Mass. But even after this rejection, Mysterium fidei remains probably the greatest theological work produced since that of M. scheeben, not only as marking the decisive return to a sound conception of sacrifice nor simply for its ample scope and breadth of vision, but for its permanent contributions to Eucharistic theology in all its aspects and to the integration of this with the rest of dogmatic theology. To these virtues must be added de la Taille's erudition, dialectical skill, and elegant Latin style; his combination of speculative thought with piety, not in artificial juxtaposition but in genuine fusion, his piety emerging organically from his speculative thought. The fostering of the one was the goal of the other according to de la Taille's own ideal (see Mysterium fidei viii).
After Mysterium fidei, de la Taille's major theological contribution consisted of three seminal articles on "created actuation by uncreated Act," providing a speculative theory of the supernatural union of God with man in the three pivotal arenas of the Incarnation, sanctifying grace, and the beatific vision. This theory has been adopted and developed by numerous theologians; and though attacked by others, especially of the Thomist school, it seems to have won a permanent place as a synthesizing explanation of the supernatural. De la Taille was supposedly working on a major treatise on grace that would rival his Mysterium fidei, but nothing further is known of it.
Other articles of de la Taille touched, though in less original fashion, on problems of mystical prayer and of God's knowledge.
Bibliography: "In Memoriam [P. Mauritius de la Taille]," Gregorianum 14 (1933) 635–637. e. hocedez, "Laudem eorum nuntiet ecclesia (Eccli. 44, 15): S. É. le Cardinal Ehrle et le R. P. de la Taille," Nouvelle revue théologique, 61 (1934) 595–603. j. lebreton, "Le Père Maurice de la Taille: In Memoriam," Recherches de science religieuse 24 (1934) 5–11. b. leeming, "A Master Theologian: Father Maurice de la Taille," The Month 163 (1934) 31–40.
[m. j. o'connell]