McBrien and Schillebeeckx… close ties!

Liberals for decades have been in control of the narrative of what happened at Vatican II, and the real impact of liberal theologians. 

Now that the reins are slipping from their aging hands, they are trying to reassert control.

Inexplicably, Richard McBrien is still writing some of his own stuff for the National Catholic Reporter.  Some of that stuff includes how he thinks Eucharistic devotion is a “doctrinal, theological, and spiritual step backward” … but I digress.

Schillebeeckx: No salvation outside the world
by Richard McBrien on Feb. 01, 2010

One of the fast-diminishing [Who here is not entirely broken up about this?] number of theological giants died Dec. 23. Edward Schillebeeckx, a Flemish Dominican priest, was 95 years old.

Unlike Jesuit Fr. Karl Rahner, (d. 1984) and Dominican Cardinal Yves Congar (d. 1995), for example, the bulk of Schillebeeckx’s major work was done after rather than before or during the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Professor Lieven Boeve, the president emeritus of the European Society for Catholic Theology, [Remember these guys?] of which Schillebeeckx was a member, wrote a brief statement of appreciation following the announcement of the Dominican theologian’s death.

He referred to Schillebeeckx, without any exaggeration, as one of the most important theologians of the post-conciliar period, [Agreed. His books twisted the theology of seminarians and priests for a long time.] singling out his efforts to engage the Christian tradition in dialogue with modern secular culture and society. 

Boeve noted that Schillebeeckx’s insights were the result of a long intellectual journey. He first studied philosophy and theology at the Dominican houses of study in Ghent and Leuven (Louvain).

The formation, however, was typical of the times, which is to say that it was largely neo-Thomistic and classical, [baaaad] although Schillebeeckx did come into contact with phenomenology, [gooood] a philosophical movement that was especially popular in northern Europe, and the writings of one of its leading figures, Maurice Merleau-Ponty (d. 1961).

His most direct philosophical influence, however, was his mentor and fellow Dominican, Dominic DePetter.

One of Schillebeeckx’s best-known books, Christ the Sacrament of Encounter with God (1960; English-language edition, 1963), was strongly influenced by phenomenology and also by the principle of sacramentality in Thomas Aquinas, which was the topic of his doctoral dissertation in 1952.

It was during his post-graduate research in Paris, where he studied at Le Saulchoir and the Sorbonne from 1945, that he came into close contact with Yves Congar and another accomplished Dominican theologian, Marie-Dominique Chenu, both of whom left a lasting impression on the young theologian. Schillebeeckx learned, especially from Chenu, how to understand the development of tradition within the context of history.

He became professor of theology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen in 1958, a position he held until his retirement in 1983. His major works were many, including Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (ET, 1979) and Christ: The Experience of Jesus as Lord (ET, 1980).

[Enough of the biography… let’s get down to what McBrien really thinks…] Unfortunately, the Vatican contributed a number of distractions from his theological work in the form of at least three investigations by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — in 1968, 1979, and 1984, each of which ended without any condemnation. [But the investigations didn’t result in nothing.  Oh… dear… were we supposed to know that?  Just imagine what S. could have accomplished if the CDF hadn’t read his books!]

In 1982 he became the only theologian ever to be awarded the Erasmus Prize for his contributions to European culture. 

In her excellent statement of appreciation in the Jan. 18 issue of America magazine, Domincan Sr. Mary Catherine Hilkert, a devoted friend, fellow Dominican, and master of Schillebeeckx’s work, and a valued friend and colleague of my own at the University of Notre Dame, reported on Schillebeeckx’s final message to his theological colleagues at a symposium held in his honor in Leuven in December, 2008.

That message was Extra mundum nulla salus – "There is no salvation outside the world." [Well… that’s a new take on things.] It was a conviction, Hilkert noted, that "captures the love of the world and the ‘grace-optimism’ that characterized [his] life’s work. …"

From the earliest to his latest books, she wrote, Schillebeeckx "helped readers grasp the core sacramental insight disclosed by the Incarnation: The mystery of God is to be encountered in human life and creation."

For Schillebeeckx, "the creative and saving presence of God’s grace" becomes manifest "wherever human persons minister to one another, especially to the neighbor in need. Human love is an embodiment, a sacrament, of God’s love." He called these experiences "fragments of salvation." [What McBrien is probably trying to reinforce here is that Eucharistic devotion isn’t very good for anyone.]

This sacramental view of the world and of the church’s role within the world were, according to Hilkert, at the heart of Schillebeeckx’s writing, preaching, and teaching for over seven decades, just as they were central to the vision of the Second Vatican Council, where he served as an adviser to Cardinal Bernard Alfrink and the other Dutch bishops. He served in the same capacity at the Dutch Pastoral Council immediately after Vatican II.

Even in moments like our own, Hilkert observed, Schillebeeckx reminded his readers that "God is new each moment," and that wherever injustice occurs, whether in the world at large or in the church itself, the Spirit is actively at work, prompting resistance, hope, courage and change.

We can make Professor Hilkert’s final prayer our own: "May this gifted theologian and preacher of the Gospel now enjoy the fullness of life that he once described as ‘God’s eternal surprise.’ [I will add my prayer to that.  Let’s us pray for God’s mercy for all who die, for his justice we are going to get whether we want it or not.]

notificationIt might be helpful at this point to refer to a 15 Sept 1986 letter of then-Prefect of the CDF Joseph Card. Ratzinger (L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 6 October 1986, p. 2). 

Ratzinger noted that S.,

"continues to conceive and present the apostolicity of the church in such a way that the apostolic succession through sacramental ordination represents a non-essential element for the exercise of the ministry and thus for the bestowal of the power to consecrate the eucharist – and this in opposition to the doctrine of the church." 

For S. the community as a whole provided the ontological ground for who could "preside" at Mass.  Usually that would be a priest.  It didn’t have to be if the community needed someone else at the moment.  Baptism, not sacrament of holy orders, provides that ability through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  It would seem that S. didn’t sufficiently embrace what Vatican II taught in Lumen gentium about the difference in the ontological character of the baptized and the baptized who are also ordained.

On the other hand, Holy Church affirms that what makes it possible to confect the Eucharist is the sacrament of holy orders conferred by a bishop.  That is a sine qua non.  No circumstances a community could face would ever override that.   There is a qualitative difference between the priesthood of the laity and the priesthood of the ordained.

But S. thought that in the early Church there were no distinctions of roles based on sex, etc., and that forms of ministry later developed from the overarching sacrament of baptism.

This would, of course, have huge implications for issues McBrien thinks important such as apostolic succession.  McBrien, for example, thinks that bishops should be chosen by the local church, and so forth.

S. was required by the CDF to correct his views in future writings.

He never did.

And now the story is a bit more complete.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Supertradmom says:

    Those of us in grad school or beyond, who for a short period of time, were taken in by the imagination and so-called artistic design of phenomenology, know now what blind alleys those writings of S., von Balthazar and others were. Schillebeeckx was quoted in an Easter Sunday sermon I heard at the Basilica at Notre Dame by, guess who, Father McBrien, who was defending the idea that the bodily Resurrection of Our Lord did not matter but only the idea of new life as preached by Christ. [Probably code for: “I don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of the Lord.”] I was reminded then, as now, of St. Paul’s quotation in 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 – excuse the translation…”Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is empty, and your faith also is empty. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.”

    Even St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross eschewed phenomenology and returned to Thomism. The frailty of the imagination which has not been purified created chaos. This posting adds to the discussion on modernist heresies-the denial of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection. I quote Lamentabili Sane “It is permissible to grant that the Christ of history is far inferior to the Christ Who is the object of faith.” Please remember the errors are listed as errors and not as correctives.

  2. Supertradmom says:

    Father Z, obviously, you know how the errors are listed. I was just giving a reminder to others.

  3. asperges says:

    These glitterati of the 70s are part of what Church history will certainly forget or at least disregard. I have no way of knowing whether these people had insights which the rest of us will never have: I don’t doubt their intellect. We ought perhaps to give them the benefit of “good faith” out of Charity despite the havoc they wrought.

    However I have long thought that, like many modern philosophers, some of these theologians get lost in their own world of academia to the extent where reality or Truth (which matters more) becomes a stranger to them. For the rest of us mortals, we just plod along and try to live what the Church teaches us.

  4. idatom says:

    Fr. Z.;

    Why has the Vatican allow priest like Frs. McBrian and Schillebeeckx to operate within the Church year after year? I have never under stood this.

    Tom Lanter

  5. Hugh says:

    I’m very reluctant to argue ad hominem, but since the web of Catholic belief is seamless, it’s appropriate to cite E.S.’s (non)belief in doctrine X as a demurrer with respect to his whole “system”.

    There is an interview in NCR with E.S. in the early 1980’s in which he deplores the Church’s teaching against abortion. It’s a short remark, but unambiguous. Perhaps he has elaborated since.

    I was studying him in those days. When I read this in NCR in the seminary common room, I almost threw up.

    You simply have to query a man’s whole theological outlook when it churns out such fundamental errors.

    [P.S. I’d be grateful if someone could resurrect the article. It was an interview with NCR, some time between 1981 and 1984 inclusive.]

  6. Thomas G. says:

    I connect the name E.S. also with “transignification” and “transfinalization”, substitute concepts for transubstantiation that were condemned by Pope Paul VI in “Mysterium Fidei” in 1965. Maybe my memory betrays me . . . .

  7. ejcmartin says:

    It is interesting that S. was an advisor to the Dutch bishops, a country well known for its vibrant Catholic churches.

  8. TNCath says:

    As usual, Father McBrien has nothing better to do than to attempt to bash the Pope and the Church. While I understand why Notre Dame continues to allow him to be there, what I cannot understand is WHY and HOW his bishop continues to allow him to continue spewing this garbage? Can’t his bishop silence and retire him?

  9. Lee says:

    Just two minutes ago I found the call number for one of his books, “Mary, Mother of the Redemption” and am going to Mt. Angel this AM to pick it up for use in a paper that I am writing. From the snippets I’ve seen of it, it looks very good.

    Granted that the overall thrust of his work may be outside the pale, nevertheless it may be that some of his work is still useful. Is that the case?

    I’d like to see a more complete analysis of his work from the standpoint of the teaching of the Church, both the errors of Schillebeecks and his legitimate contributions, if any.

    Meanwhile, I am bringing myself up to speed with the theologians of our age by attending this evening at 7:30 a lecture at the Cathedral Parish of Portland, OR: “Spiritual Giants of the XXth Century, series 1: Karl Rahner.” Naturally I am wondering if Schillebeecks made the cut. There are after all many ways to be a spiritual giant, not all of them good.

  10. Thomas G. says:

    Lee – “Spiritual Giants of the XXth Century: Karl Rahner”? I’m curious as to the leap of logic made by whoever named that series you’re attending. Does “Prominent Theologian” necessarily mean “Spiritual Giant”? I would concede Fr. Rahner the former status, but probably not the latter. Spiritual giants are really the saints.

  11. Justin from Ohio says:

    I think we know all we need to know about both E.S. and McBrien just by looking at their pictures above. Why is it that men such as these simply refuse to wear the collar or any clerical garb whatsoever? Why did they even become priests? It wasn’t necessary to be a priest to get a doctorate in theology and spread dissenting/liberal views? They could just have been lay theologians wearing their suits and ties everyday. Why are they priests? Why are they ashamed to show the outward signs of their vocation?

  12. MattW says:

    May God have mercy on his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed.

  13. Mike Morrow says:

    “May this gifted theologian and preacher of the Gospel now enjoy the fullness of life that he once described as ‘God’s eternal surprise.’ ”

    I can think of an appropriate “eternal surprise” for such a destructive buffoon.

  14. Titus says:

    Was Congar one of this crowd? I have his book on Tradition and it looked promising . . . I’m going to be disappointed if it’s a squishy mess.

  15. Roland de Chanson says:

    Justin: … Why is it that men such as these simply refuse to wear the collar …

    Or even Ratzinger and Rahner?

    Back in the late sixties, a lot of Jesuits went from the cassock and collar to neckties or no ties. The quintessential question therefore is: is their a correlation between heterodoxy and haberdashery?

    If the principle holds in general, I will start shopping at J. C. Penny’s to improve my Latin.

  16. “The formation, however, was typical of the times, which is to say that it was largely neo-Thomistic and classical, [baaaad] although Schillebeeckx did come into contact with phenomenology, [gooood] a philosophical movement that was especially popular in northern Europe …”

    I often see references to neo-Thomism vs phenomenology, and would love to find an elaboration of comparing the two schools of thought somewhere, as I understand the late Pope John Paul II was considered an adherent of the latter.

  17. Gail F says:

    “For Schillebeeckx, “the creative and saving presence of God’s grace” becomes manifest “wherever human persons minister to one another, especially to the neighbor in need. Human love is an embodiment, a sacrament, of God’s love.””

    I just had to read “Christ the Sacrament of Encounter with God” for a class for laypeople at a seminary. I found it extremely upsetting — not so much for what it said, which was bad enough, but because I was actually being taught it at a seminary. While S. had some excellent insights, they don’t make up for the overall implications of the theology. The quotes above show that many of the statements by themselves don’t sound bad or harmful. Who would argue that the creative and saving presence of God’s grace DON’T become manifest wherever people minister to each other? Or that human love is an embodiment of God’s love? But the overall thrust of the book is wrong. While these things can rightly illuminate the central truths of Catholicism, they can’t replace them, and that’s what he was after. People helping other people simply cannot replace the truths of our faith. The implication of the book is that it can and should. People gathered together manifest God, but a bunch of baptized people gathered together is NOT the be-all and end-all of our faith. Protestants are baptized people gathered together, frequently helping each other… and they are missing something vital. And if they aren’t, then what is the Catholic Church? Nothing. That is the problem with his theology.

    As to why he was “allowed” to be part of the Church… Well, IMHO, he really did have some wonderful insights. The best thing I ever read about the sufferings of Christ were in that book. Theology is rightly meant to be a long-term project, and theologians need time to sift out the good from the bad. It seems to me that the bad is pretty evident in Fr. S’s book, but I am not the measure of that. There are great things to be gleaned from him, I’m sure, as there are from phenomenology and all sorts of philosophies and theologies. What’s important is finding out what is true from these ideas, and the Church is always interested in truth, because God is Truth. At least, that’s the way I understand it. The price of finding truth can be high, and today theologians don’t wrestle with things among themselves for decades, their works are widely read outside schools as soon as they come out. Some of the great thinkers of the Church, including some of the Fathers, had some pretty strange ideas. Today’s theologians are no different.

  18. TNCath says:

    Gail F: “Some of the great thinkers of the Church, including some of the Fathers, had some pretty strange ideas. Today’s theologians are no different.”

    Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean they have to publish or even express them.

  19. @Titus

    I am assuming you are referring to The Meaning of Tradition. It is indeed a good work, and I have found a good reference when dealing with the Sola Scriptura challenges to the Church.

  20. Okay, let’s be fair here.

    1. Actually, it’s quite possible for theologians to also be saints. There are a good number of modern theologian folks who might someday be canonized, or who at least are known for living a virtuous life and who have exercised heroic virtue as theologians. A theologian who isn’t deepening his “study of God” experientially as well as academically is doing theology wrong. So for all I know, Karl Rahner is a spiritual giant in the full sense of the word.

    2. Yes, it’s weird for an American priest academic at an American university to wear a suit. But it’s more about aping European priest-academic practices than about dissent. For example, there are many pictures of young Professor Ratzinger in a suit instead of clericals. (American parish priests wearing civvies used to be about dissent. Nowadays it just means obedience to superiors who followed a fashion of well-meaning idiots to express solidarity with laypeople, or not knowing any better because it’s gone on so long.)

    3. Theologians are, to a certain extent, supposed to float weird ideas. They are like test pilots or lab testers for the Church. As long as they don’t contradict established dogmas, they maintain honesty in their arguments, and they submit when the Church tells them an idea is wrong, they are doing their job. Problems arise when these simple rules are broken.

  21. Read that as “an American university run by religious”.

  22. Thomas G. says:

    Gail F: “Some of the great thinkers of the Church, including some of the Fathers, had some pretty strange ideas. Today’s theologians are no different.”

    Yes and no. Where the Fathers delved into strange ideas (like Origen’s apokatastasis) they were working in areas that hadn’t been defined by the Church yet. Today’s theologians get in trouble (and rightly so) when they start questioning or undermining what is defined.

    When a Church Father challenged the Church in a settled area he typically put himself outside the Church and formed/joined a sect that was self-consciously extra ecclesiam, like Tertullian and the Montantists. They had that much integrity at least.

  23. Thomas G. says:

    Suburban – of course theologians can be saints (e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas) – did someone deny that? Might Fr. Rahner be declared a saint someday and hence be a real “Spiritual Giant”? Yes, of course, but that hasn’t happened yet and calling him a “spiritual giant” now seems to be premature (unlike, say, calling him a “theological giant”).

  24. chironomo says:

    Asperges said:

    However I have long thought that, like many modern philosophers, some of these theologians get lost in their own world of academia to the extent where reality or Truth (which matters more) becomes a stranger to them.

    There is another newly launched website dedicated to “Ecumenical discussion” that provides ample evidence for this claim. I believe it was Pope Benedict (then Joseph Ratzinger) who wrote that Theology, when committed to the truth, can never reach conclusions that are in conflict with the teachings of the Church.

  25. robtbrown says:

    Justin from Ohio,

    European priests who weren’t wearing a cassock/habit wore a dark suit with a dark tie. Black suit with collar was the dress of Protestants.

  26. MichaelJ says:


    I am not denying “that some of his [Schillebeeckx] work is still useful” or that he may have made some legitimate contributions, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out why I should bother.

    This is, I know, an entirely pragmatic view, but in order for me to identify the useful pieces of his work or the legitimate contributions he may have made, I will have to compare it to a known good body of work. Why should I glean through all of the chaff in the hopes of finding a grain of truth when I have free access to silo where the grain is stored?

  27. Agnes says:

    Being a convert and an undergrad theology student, it’s a challenge to wade through the muck. It sounds to me like an over-emphasis of the “People of God” concept – that we are all equal (there will be no man or woman, slave or free, etc…) and roles can be flipped around however seems right at the time. The Council of Trent had to emphasize “The Mystical Body” to combat the anti-clericalism of the time – the structural hierarchy and sacramental system needed to be defended and the faithful needed to understand how each member had his particular role in the Body of Christ. Hopefully we’re seeing the pendulum swinging to a right understanding of both – we are the People of God, equal in dignity, but comprised of many members each with his proper role. The hand cannot say to the foot, “I have no need of you.” Is that about right?

    If we were all priests, to whom would we preach? If we were all laity, how could the Eucharist be confected, or sins absolved? And if we were all bishops or theologians, who would we complain about? :-)

    God rest this man’s soul!

  28. EXCHIEF says:

    Is it possible to create a second Dead Theologians Society for the non-orthodox dead and dying breed?

  29. robtbrown says:

    Who would argue that the creative and saving presence of God’s grace DON’T become manifest wherever people minister to each other?

    It depends on what is meant by . If it refers to helping others, then I would say that human nature is capable of that. And so it is not necessarily a manifestation of grace.

    To say otherwise, that only by grace is man capable of helping others, is Protestantism.

    Or that human love is an embodiment of God’s love? But the overall thrust of the book is wrong.
    Comment by Gail F

    Although human love and God’s love are analogous, they are not the same. Human love is not supernatural charity, even though charity utilizes natural faculties.

    Schillebeeckx and Rahner both confuse the orders of nature and grace. That is the basis for their theological errors.

  30. I have the solution to resolve these disputes with progressive theologians such as Fr. Richard McBrien-they should be forced to spend one hour with Mel Gibson.

  31. Peggy R says:

    So, is the CTA logo a pot leaf or poison ivy? Either might well fit.

  32. Peggy… hmmm…


  33. haleype says:

    That message was Extra mundum nulla salus – “There is no salvation outside the world.”

    How is it that such nonsense elevates one to a position of preeminence among theologians in the Church? It boggles the mind. According to the theology I received, there are three things that war against our immortal souls – the world, the flesh and the devil!

  34. Son of Trypho says:

    Noting that Fr Z (and I’m sure others here too) is a Schillebeeckx survivor and not wanting to traumatise him too much I am curious to know if the late Fr S. actually made a comment about the EU’s failure to include a reference to Christianity as a formative influence in Europeean culture in their constitution discussions – taking into account that he won an Erasmus award for his own contribution to European culture – based on his religious work.

  35. catholicmidwest says:

    The academic establishment relied upon by the Catholic Church took an enormous detour in the middle of the 20th century, and we still haven’t gotten over it. And it still hasn’t been dealt with. Students of theology and seminarians are still directed to read some of this stuff, and mighty attempts are made to somehow “bless it off” as orthodox theological thought, but all this gets less and less credible as time passes. At some point, we are just going to have to face the fact that a lot of this was just plain bogus.

    [I am talking about the authors mentioned above and also a few other high profile “experts,” such as Chardin, Lonergan and the like.]

  36. Supertradmom says:

    My son was visiting a seminary recently with some friends and in the library was a huge display of books by Schillebeeckx, the theologian of the month. The guys could not believe it. Do not think the influence is over.

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