Edward Schillebeeckx as Critical Theorist: The Impact of Neo-Marxist Social Thought on His Recent Theology
- The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 48, Number 3, July 1984
- pp. 341-367
- View Citation
- Additional Information
EDWARD SCHILLEBEECKX AS CRITICAL THEORIST: THE IMPACT OF NEO-MARXIST SOCIAL THOUGHT ON HIS RECENT THEOLOGY 'TIHE FLEMISH DOMINICAN, Edward Schilleeeckx , published the Dutch original of his Christ the acrament of the Encounter with God in 1960. In this work, he transposed Catholic sacramental theology into the anthropocentric mode which had been pioneered by Henri de Lubac and Karl Rahner. So involved was he in the existential categories of the anthropological turn that he described " religion " as " essentially a personal relation of man to God, of person to person." 1 The English translation of this influential book appeared in 1963 while Pope John XXIII was in the process of convening the second Vatican Council. Nearly two decades later, the English translation of the second volume of Schillebeeckx's Christological trilogy appeared, bearing the title Christ the Experience of Jesus as Lord. To pass from the first of these books to the second is to traverse a period of singular turbulence in recent Catholic theology. Both books express Schillebeeckx's long standing concern that theology enhance contemporary Christians' experience of Jesus. By 1977, however, Schillebeeckx could no longer designate that experience as primarily one of " personal communing with God." 2 As he put it in his speech on September 17, 1982, accepting the Erasmus Prize for his contributions to European culture, contemporary theology involves "a historical praxis of commitment to mysticism and politics." 3 1 E. Schillebeeckx, O.P., Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1963), p. 4. 2 Ibid. a Schillebeeckx, God Among Us, The Gospel Proclaimed, trans. by John Bowden (New York: Crossroad, 1983), p. 253. 341 342 WILLIAM L. PORTIER Over the past fifteen years Schillebeeckx has studied and made a qualified theological appropriation of the critical theory of society of the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School. In the present article I will argue that the measure of the distance from Christ me Sacrament of the Encounter with God to Christ the Experience of Jesus as Lord is the permanent impact of critical theory on his theology. The exposition of Schillebeeckx's thought which follows will have a fivefold purpose: 1) to consider in a general way why contemporary Catholic theologians are interested in Marxist social thought, 2) to examine the stakes involved in a Christian theological appropriation of ideology critique, 3) to situate the dialogue with the Frankfurt School in Schillebeeckx's intellectual biography as a whole and to delineate that dialogue's impact on his understanding of the nature of theology, 4) to show how this conception of theology is at work in Schillebeeckx's recent work on office in the church, 5) to raise some critical questions about the continuity between this latest development in his thought and its earlier phases, and to question the extent to which Schillebeeckx has succeeded in appropriating the tradition of ideology critique into contemporary Catholic theology. I. Why Marx? For some in the Catholic Church, any dialogue between Christian thought and the Marx-inspired tradition of ideology critique is doomed from the start. Marxism is a closed materialist system, inherently atheistic. For his part, Schillebeeckx views the varying currents in the Marxist stream in a more differentiated way. Marxist thought is a resilient body of ideas, its thinkers capable of self-criticism. Noting what he regards as its fruitfulness in Latin American liberation theology , Schillebeeckx feels that Marxism must "also be a constant source of inspiration tn us " in the political democracies of the industrial West. 4 He locates Marx's claim to our at4 Schillebeeckx, God ig New Each Moment, in conversation with Huub Oosterhuis and Piet Hoogeveen;trans. by David Smith (New York: Seabury, 1983)' p. 95. SCHILLEBEECKX AS CRITICAL THEORIST 343 tention in his identification with the sufferings of those who bore the physical burden of the industrial revolution. Thus Marxist thought makes a present claim on us, not as a function of some pseudo-scientific system of materialist philosophy, but as a function of the extent to which Marx, and those who have attempted to revise his thought, share in what has recently been called the " hermeneutical privilege of the oppressed ." 5 Jesus preached the gospel to the poor, healed the...