Saturday, October 04, 2008

Pronounced Skill-a-Bakes

Edward Schillebeeckx is still hanging in there, just shy of 94 years old

Edward Schillebeeckx OP, at Vatican II

Isn’t there a crisis of faith, a crisis of authority and a crisis of morals? Isn’t there a financial crisis with all it’s bankruptcies, failures, and bank moratoria? It seems to me that these are simply the result of a crisis of faith, authority, and morality and of the mistrust and despair among the nations, which are nevertheless all children of one and the same Father, our Dear Lord and God.
Schillebeeckx at the age 18, in a letter to his father
Edward Cornelis Florentius Alfonsus Schillebeeckx (pronounced Skill-a-Bakes) is one of the last surviving members of the more prominent group of periti who were present at the Second Vatican Council. He was an advisor to the Dutch bishops at the Council at the invitation of Cardinal Alfrink. He was considered either a pioneering and progressive hero of the Council or a modernist devil-incarnate, depending on who you ask. Those in the latter group would certainly point an accusing finger in his direction when they decry how the Dutch church supposedly went off the reservation in the late sixties and early seventies.

He was born in 1914 in Antwerp, the sixth of a Flemish family of fourteen children. His older brother Louis became a Jesuit and served in India. Edward was attending a Jesuit boarding school and was expected to follow Louis, but he chafed under the rigidity of the school and what he considered to be a Jesuit dictum that "a principle is a principle"; that principles took precedence over pastoral concerns, and it put him off. He found himself more drawn to the Dominicans because...

The constant allusion by St. Dominic, in faith, to concrete historical circumstances, out of an intellectual reflection on the faith which so characterizes the theological inspiration of St. Dominic, was most attractive to me.
This fascination with the historical aspects of the faith and the historical Jesus would continue for him and would become a hallmark of his work. That, along with an emphasis on the importance of "orthopraxis" (right practice), of service, in the life of a committed Christian. When he was in the Dominican novitiate, he wrote to his father of his admiration for the friars who got up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning to pray while most of the world was still asleep. What his father wrote back to him stuck with him permanently:

My boy, mother and I get up three of four times a night to calm a crying baby, and that is less romantic than your nocturnal worship. Remember it: religion is not a state of feeling but an attitude of service.

Early on, he began to question, along with many of the other theologians who would later become influential at the Council, the usefulness of the theology being taught in the dry neo-scholastic manuals in vogue at the time. He was an ardent admirer of the German theologian Karl Adam, until he became disillusioned when Adam began to show too many signs of sympathy for the Nazi regime during the 1930s. In time, his work took on it's own character.

After the Council, he was the author of the monumental tomes Jesus (1974) and Christ (1977), which were considered the cutting edge historical-Jesus works of their day. He also wrote The Church with a Human Face (1985). He got jammed up with the CDF around 1980 or so, shortly after the CDF got though with Hans Kung. Schillebeeckx was called to account for using language in his two major works about the divinity of Jesus and of the resurrection that allegedly conflicted with the Chalcedonian Formula. He was never censured, however, and was known to have made a few acidic remarks at his hearing regarding the misrepresentation of his work and the qualifications of the theologians sitting in judgement of him.

Some excerpts from various interviews...

Jesus’ death on the cross is the consequence of a life in radical service of justice and love, a consequence of his option for the poor and outcast, of a choice for his people suffering under exploitation and oppression...

Why has God become a problem for western people? Firstly, there are outward factors. Sociologists of religion speak today of social credibility structures of faith in God in a secularized world. In such a society, personal convictions no longer have a social confirmation. The inwardness of the person is no longer strengthened or encouraged by the concrete society but rather is alarmed and unsettled. Since modern times, every western citizen speaks of the inner side of the person and the more superficial side of human existence, namely its conditioning by social and economic situations. The individual ego appears in dominant western philosophies of subjectivity and most forms of modern sociology as something outside society while society on the other hand lives in an inner space, sometimes hostile and outside individuals: as two independent greatnesses which have contact with each other...

Whatever the problems of faith in God in the pre-modern age, people live, marry and die differently today. What was experienced as socially inevitable was interpreted as necessary. In contrast, modern life is pluralized. This multiform nature appears in a great variety of institutions. The modern person encounters a world with many elective possibilities and is thrown back more than ever on his own inwardness. How long can one maintain a protected milieu in a pluralist society without falling into a ghetto? For every person sharing and really participating in a modern society, the other possibility is a fragment of his own personality structure: an undisturbed security of remaining in truth while others err. This doesn't exist any more. That modern persons including believers spontaneously reject the theory that "salvation is found only in the church" points to a spontaneous opinion and a particular personality structure. Modern people think pluralistically and know that no one owns the truth. Indifferentism - everyone has his own truth - threatens...

As recognized at conferences of Third World theologians, believing and exploited people in the Third World face the secularized and exploiting West. Both problems are connected and cannot be separated. The existence of the "non-person" of the poor and the oppressed in a subcontinent like Latin America or in countries which for centuries have been under the rule of Christians is a scandal for all faith in God. This scandal makes faith in God incredible for many people. Therefore we in the West can no longer speak of God without relating our ideas of God with the massive suffering of people anonymously among us and elsewhere. Western believers have often joined this pressing problem with an appeal to the coming and different better world and with the so-called mantel of love which doesn't dare take sides but through a false concept of reconciliation sides in reality with the oppressive system which is at best disqualified by words, not by deeds.
The following quote about the salvific meaning of Jesus might have been the sort of thing that put him under suspicion. What do you think?
Thanks to the sending of the Spirit, there is salvation for all people apart from personal, Jewish or Christian election. During my whole theological life, I have fought inwardly against the Christian term "salvific significance of Jesus' death". I reject the interpretation that Jesus' death represents universal salvation. Jesus' message and conduct must be included in his life. Within the context of a violent evil world, Jesus' death was in fact the supreme consequence of his life, message and praxis, his charity and service in his sending by God. The assertion of faith that Jesus is the universal Redeemer implies that Christian actually produce the "fruits of God's reign" in our history through their praxis. Otherwise the so-called objective redemption is a speculative slogan or cliche. We must go Jesus' way of life ourselves if our proclamation is to be credible for others. Jesus' way of life is marked by two characteristics which must be found in his disciples to make his message and praxis concretely universal. the first is that Jesus resolutely refused the way of life proposed to him in three temptations as a form of triumphalist messianism and chose the way of vulnerable solidarity with threatened people. As a second characteristic, Jesus' way of life includes the cross and is a way of the cross. "The cross" is not cherished in itself. On account of his solidarity with violently thretened persons, Jesus was expelled by the world powers and accepted by God as a permanent presence on account of his solidarity with rejected persons. Such a way of life has God's blessing.


crystal said...

I reject the interpretation that Jesus' death represents universal salvation. Jesus' message and conduct must be included in his life. Within the context of a violent evil world, Jesus' death was in fact the supreme consequence of his life, message and praxis, his charity and service in his sending by God.

I agree with that. He's so un-atonement :)

I think he was even more in trouble with the Vaticam for his idea of transfinalization (and Rahner his idea of transignification) of the eucharist.

Brother Charles said...

I appreciate the 'passion and death as a result of the authenticity of how he lived' approach to the death of Jesus, and I preach it often. This does not exclude, however, that his death is both vicarious and saving...I think that much is clear from the Scriptures. Back on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross it was very clear from John, "as Moses lifted up the serpent," etc.

Right praxis is our goal and our challenge, personally and historically. But praxis is not salutory. It is a response to God's saving initiative, not a way to get saved.

To be fair to Schillebeeckx, though, I have to say that when I read The Church with a Human Face it really made an impression on me and helped me accept the call to ordination.

Thanks for the post!

Liam said...

I would agree with Brother Charles -- if we think of Jesus's salvation coming only from his death, we risk ignoring the message of his life (that makes me think of certain Christians that only quote Paul to the detriment of the Gospels). However, to ignore the part of salvation that does come from his death is to go against what is written in the New Testament and in the earliest writings of our tradition.

Jeff said...

Hi guys,

Crystal, you're like Origen. :-D Transfinalization! I'm going to have to look that one up.

I know that Europe is one thing, and the developing "Global South" is another, but I think some of those European theologians of that era made too much of modern man's supposed inability to believe. The rise of various forms of fundamentalism and Pentecostalism shows that Biblical literalism still has the ability to speak directly to people in this day and age.

I have no problem with the assertion that non-Christians can be saved, but I still think we can claim that whoever is saved, is saved by Jesus Christ, and even further, that the Church still is the universal sacrament of salvation, even at the risk of sounding triumphalistic.

Liam, how was the Nick Cave concert?

Liam said...

It was great. I saw him 20 years ago, but I thought he might have mellowed out. No, he truly rocked. Tremendous energy from the old guy.

Very loud, very good.