Obituary: Edward Schillebeeckx

Edward Schillebeeckx

Edward Schillebeeckx

The internationally renowned theologian Edward Schillebeeckx died on the 23rd of December 2009. Dr Schillebeeckx was Professor of Dogmatics and History of Theology at Nijmegen University from 1957 to 1983. Edward Schillebeeckx has been of major importance to twentieth century and contemporary theology. Many recognize him as a pioneer who connected faith, church and theology with modern humanity in a secular society. He has been an iconic figure for Radboud University Nijmegen.

Edward Cornelius Florentius Schillebeeckx was born into a Flemish family in Antwerp on 12 November 1914, the sixth of 14 children. His father, who was a chartered accountant and an intellectual, influenced him greatly; although dismissive of the clergy, he was a devout Roman Catholic who took his family to Mass every day at 6.30am and made the sign of the cross on their foreheads before they went to sleep at night.

Along with his eight brothers, Edward attended a Jesuit school, but decided, in 1934, to enter the Dominican Order. He served his novitiate at Ghent, then spent three years – which he always described as the best in his life – studying Philosophy at the University of Louvain. In 1941 he was ordained as a priest. Late in 1957, Schillebeeckx was appointed Professor of Dogmatics and History of Theology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, now known as Radboud University Nijmegen.

Second Vatican Council

Schillebeeckx accompanied the Dutch bishops as their advisor during the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965). In 1960 he wrote a pastoral letter for the bishops informing the faithful about the Council. This letter attracted international attention because of the way in which Schillebeeckx described the relationship between the faithful and the hierarchy of the Church: he believed it is the task of the bishops and the Pope to express the live of the faithful, rather than the other way around.

Faith can change the world

In 1974, Schillebeeckx published Jezus, het verhaal van een levende, (translated in 1979 as Jesus: an experiment in Christology), and in 1977 Gerechtigheid en liefde, genade en bevrijding translated in 1980 as Christ: the Christian experience in the modern world). In these books, Schillebeeckx presented Christian faith as a source of inspiration for those who wish to stand up for the poor and oppressed and change the world for good. These books have broken new ground for twentieth-century theology and are still widely read and studied.

Church authorities

Schillebeeckx continued to be involved in the internal affairs of the church after the Second Vatican Council. In addition to his earlier works on the sacraments of the Church (De sacramentele heilseconomie, 1953), his later publications deal with priesthood and the role of the faithful in the Church (Kerkelijk ambt, 1980 and Pleidooi voor mensen in de kerk, 1985, translated as The Church with a human face: a new and expanded theology of ministry). As a result of the innovative character of his works, Schillebeeckx was asked to justify himself to the Church authorities on three occasions. Shortly before his retirement in 1983, he received the prestigious European Erasmus prize. Schillebeeckx’ work is still widely studied, particularly in the United States and Great Britain.

Source: Radboud University/VIS/Edward Schillebeeckx Foundation

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