Tuesday 31 July 2007

Why I love Schillebeeckx

Among modern Catholic theologians, there’s no one I like better than Edward Schillebeeckx. I pay visits to Rahner and Balthasar and Ratzinger, but I come home to Schillebeeckx.

Why do I love Schillebeeckx? There are many reasons. His whole theology is derived from a direct wrestling with the biblical texts. He has the most extraordinary way of perceiving exactly what Christian faith and practice really mean, what they really demand. In contrast both to unthinking conservatisms and sentimental progressivisms, he develops a profound and unflinching christological revision which issues in a rigorous and tough-minded theology of liberation.

Besides that, he also has the most delightfully cumbersome name in the entire history of theology – his full name is Edward Cornelis Florentius Alfonsus Schillebeeckx (and, as a novice of the Dominican Order, he added Henricus as an additional name). No one with fewer names could have written such enormous books, or written so many.

Anyway, here’s a quote:

“The crucified but risen Jesus appears in the believing, assembled community of the church. That this sense of the risen, living Jesus has faded in many [churches] can be basically blamed on the fact that our churches are insufficiently ‘communities’ of God…. Where the church of Jesus Christ lives, and lives a liberating life in the footsteps of Jesus, the resurrection faith undergoes no crisis. On the other hand, it is better not to believe in God than to believe in a God who minimizes human beings, holds them under and oppresses them, with a view to a better world to come.”

—Edward Schillebeeckx, The Church with a Human Face: A New and Expanded Theology of Ministry, trans. John Bowden (London: SCM, 1985), p. 34.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this appreciation, Ben. I love Schillebeeckx too (by the way, pronounced, I am told, Skillabakes).

For me, above all, it's his profound sense (as he put it) "that Jesus did indeed live in the awareness of being loved and accepted by God"; that it is this awareness that constitutes the frame for the ministry and mission of Jesus; and that it is in this awareness that the followers of Jesus are gifted to live.

I also like the story of the turning-point in Schillebeeckx's understanding of vocation. It occured during his year-long novitiate with the Dominicans in Ghent. Edward had written home rather fulsomely about his daily duties, particularly the night office (from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m.). His father replied:

"My boy, your mother and I have to get up three or four times a night to calm a crying baby [they had just had their fourteenth child], and that is less romantic than your night office. Think about it: religion is not an emotional state but an attitude of service."

John Bowden observes: "Edward was never, he said, so ashamed as when he read and reread this letter. Forty years later he was to say that its words were still engraved on his heart."

Anonymous said...

If you had to recommend just two of his works which would they be?

Ben Myers said...

Hi Anon: his two greatest works are the books on christology, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (1979) and Christ: The Experience of Jesus as Lord (1980). But these are very big and complex works, so you probably don't want to start with them (unless you've got lots of spare time)!

If you had to pick just two books to start with, I'd probably recommend Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God (1963), together with the collection of Concilium essays, The Language of Faith: Essays on Jesus, Theology and the Church (1995).

Then again, for something much simpler, you could check out one of his lovely interview-books: God Is New Each Moment (1983) and I Am a Happy Theologian (1994). These are delightful and wide-ranging interviews -- very warm, personal and engaging.

Joel said...

Thanks Ben for your little intro to Schillebeeckx. I had never heard of him until I recently received a carton of books (including some of the titles you mention) from a retired minister clearing out his shelves. Now I know there is some good stuff waiting for me when I finally get around to reading them!

And thanks Kim for the tip on how to pronounce the puzzling name!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip, Ben. I've been thinking about reading Schillebeeckx for a while. So on your suggestion, I just picked up "Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God" and "I Am a Happy Theologian."

Some of his used books are selling for a song on Amazon.

John McBryde

Anonymous said...

Being Dutch I am at least able to pronounce the name of this Flemish theologian, who well read in the low countries, but he also controversial. Many theologians are, I know, but the more conservative catholics and protestants never really adored him. I think that's a pity because he has things to say to all of us. Polarisation has closed many eyes (and hearts) too soon in the past.

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

I have Schillebeeckx' Christ which I picked up in a used bookstore, but I have hesitated to start it because I thought it might be better to read Jesus first.

I am glad to see Ben re-starting this series on loving particular theologians!

Ben Myers said...

Alfred: "being Dutch I am at least able to pronounce the name of this Flemish theologian" -- well, that definitely puts one step you ahead of the rest of us!

On another note: there are quite a few secondary studies available on Schillebeeckx, but the best general introduction is the collection of essays edited by Mary Catherine Hilkert and Robert Schreiter, The Praxis of the Reign of God: An Introduction to the Theology of Edward Schillebeeckx (Fordham University Press, 2002).

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone,

I'm a visitor to this blog but am a M.A. student writing my thesis on Edward Schillebeeckx and Johann Baptist Metz. Anyway, if you're looking for a good, concise introduction to his thought please check out "On Christian Faith: The Spiritual, Ethical and Political Dimensions." It's his Abraham Kuyper lectures at the Free University of Amsterdam published in 1987. Although his trilogy "Jesus", "Christ" and "Church" are all great, this 84-page book pretty much is the boiled-down essence of all of those writings. He gives overviews of his entire theological project and the moral imperatives that such theology entails. Thought I"d share and hope it helps.


Anonymous said...

Henri Nouwen, who knew Schillebeeckx and may have been his student wrote that the second coming (including resurrection and the day of the Lord) is a hidden event, and experience that happened in the first generation of the church, and that happens in every faithful generation.

Did he get this from Schillebeeckx?

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