Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx dead at 95

Dutch theological giant Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx passed away from natural causes on December 23. NCR has the story. Thanks be to God for his many contributions to the Church.

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  • Joe

    In my opinion, as 60-year-old Vatican II, thinking, non-Latin-Mass Catholic, Edward Schillebeeckx was a heretic, along with Kung, Rahner, Congar, et. al. Only by the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit did Josef Ratzinger–a former “liberal” Catholic himself–return to orthodoxy. He knows the minds of the heterodox, and hopefully will rid our Church of this scourge. The passing of Schillebeeckx (and I refuse to call him “Father”) is proof that the Church is being renewed one funeral at a time. Hopefully, Schillebeeckx had a deathbead conversion and saved his soul.

    • Michael J. Iafrate


      I thought about deleting your comment but decided to leave it up as is so we can all remind ourselves of the perversion of “Catholicism” that we are up against. Hope your Christmas was a fulfilling one of damning your fellow Christians (not to mention priests in good standing with the church) to hell.

  • MelodyK

    Even Thomas Aquinas wrote some things which ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. My exposure to Schillebeeckx’s work consisted of a book called “Marriage: Human Reality and Saving Mystery” which was required reading for a college theology class. As I remember, it was quite orthodox and contained some similar thoughts to Pope John Paul II’s writings on the Theology of the Body.

    • Michael J. Iafrate

      My hunch, Melody, is that Joe would not be able to offer a paragraph long summary of some of Schillebeeckx’s theological positions. He’s just “supposed” to think he (and Congar and Rahner) is a heretic.

  • Dustin

    Yves Congar was made a cardinal by John Paul II. Guess that makes the late pontiff a heretic, too.

  • Dustin

    (the above: snark, if it wasn’t clear)

  • digbydolben

    Thank you, Michael, for leaving Joe’s comment up. It does, indeed, show what folks are “up against,” in trying to keep the Catholic Church catholic.

  • Henry Karlson

    I love it how Joe confuses vastly different theologians and treats them as if all their thought is the same. It would be like reading Peter Abelard and using his writings to reflect upon St Albert the Great.

    I’m not a real fan of Schillebeeckx. I found his method for Christology to be in error. But there is one thing for disagreement, another thing for declaring someone a heretic which the Church has not condemned as such. The authority for anathema is not in the laity.

    But the real irony was the Donatist expression of that anathema.

  • Michael J. Iafrate

    It also appears that Joe has posted this identical comment far and wide across the web, spreading his damnation on any post having to with Fr. Schillebeeckx. What a strong sense of Christian mission he has!

  • Zach

    I think we can all pray that God has mercy on this man’s soul, as we all can hope he will have mercy on us when we die.

    Joe’s remark is deplorable especially for the following sentence: “The passing of Schillebeeckx (and I refuse to call him ‘Father’) is proof that the Church is being renewed one funeral at a time.” More respect for the man is required because of his office.

    That said, what do the contributors to Vox Nova (Iafrate, Karlson, Kyle, MM) think of heresy? What do you all think of fidelity to the Church? Do you think it’s necessary for sanctity? What do you think of obedience? Should widespread heterodoxy and heteropraxy in the clergy and the laity concern us?

    What I’m getting at is that Joe’s comment is, I think, a perverted concern for the souls of his fellow Catholics. Do you think this concern is at all warranted?

  • Frank

    I also am grateful to Michael for letting Joe’s comment speak for itself, reminding us that some people keep the Spirit of the Inquisition alive in their hearts.

    When submitting a comment to this page while not logged in as a WordPress user, the email entry box is labeled with “E-mail (will not be published) (required)”. Like Michael, I’ve decided not to post as an anonymous coward as a matter of spiritual practice (hope that doesn’t sound too ego-inflated…). If this page promises to keep email addresses unpublished, I wish that would be respected, even when someone exploits anonymity to post attitudes which I find less-than-respectable.

    Joe can anathematize me in the Catholic Diocese of Joe all he wants. Since I don’t have to live in that diocese, it has no meaning to me. But to publish an email address I expected to be held in confidence,… that leaves me vulnerable in a way which would give me pause.

    It’s not my blog and the blogmasters can run it as they see fit, but I’m disturbed that Michael posted Joe’s email in plain text, despite assurance that wouldn’t happen. It seems a bit too much like a tactic the Inquisition might have used against heretics.

    • Michael J. Iafrate

      Frank – Email address has been removed at your request.

  • X-Cathedra

    How Donatist of Joe.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Ironically, while Joe clearly sees himself as an ultra-orthodox Catholic, he thinks through the prism of Protestant dichotomy.

  • David Nickol

    That said, what do the contributors to Vox Nova (Iafrate, Karlson, Kyle, MM) think of heresy? What do you all think of fidelity to the Church? Do you think it’s necessary for sanctity? What do you think of obedience? Should widespread heterodoxy and heteropraxy in the clergy and the laity concern us?

    Fr. Schillebeeckx was not a heretic, nor do I know of any disobedience on his part. He was questioned by the CDF two or three times, but no disciplinary action was taken against him. I am not sure what we have theologians for if all that needs to be said has (1) already been said and (2) has been said in such a way that it is comprehensible in modern terminology that it consistent with contemporary knowledge.

    I read somewhere that Fr. Schillebeeckx wrote over 500 books in his lifetime, and it seems to me that if someone who thinks as deeply and as broadly doesn’t cause a few eyebrows to be raised on occasion, something is probably wrong.

    Even assuming Fr. Schillebeeckx was demonstrably “heterodox” on some issues, the vast majority of Catholics do not know enough to be led astray by him because his writing would be impenetrable to them. Meanwhile, we see polls about what Catholics believe (for example, the Gallup poll from the 1990s that found only 30 percent of Catholics believe in the Real Presence), or about how many attend Sunday Mass regularly, or how many Catholic couples cohabit before marriage and use birth control when they get married. We also hear regularly about how “poorly catechized” Catholics are today. Such things lead me to wonder how significant a contribution to Catholicism it is to go anonymously denouncing well known 20th-century theologians on Catholic blogs.

  • Michael J. Iafrate

    Speaking for myself here and not in the name of Vox Nova:

    That said, what do the contributors to Vox Nova (Iafrate, Karlson, Kyle, MM) think of heresy?

    Heresy bad.

    What do you all think of fidelity to the Church?

    Fidelity good. But is obviously not as black-and-white as folks like Joe — and less extreme folks as well — make it out to be.

    Do you think it’s necessary for sanctity?

    No. There are clear examples of holiness outside of the Roman Catholic Church as well as “outside” of the Body of Christ.

    What do you think of obedience?

    Depends what one means by obedience. And of course it depends on to whom/what commands one’s obedience. Obedience to church officials, if this is what you mean, does not seem to be an absolute to me. There are many examples of holy disobedience in relation to church officials. In fact, obedience can become one’s religion, i.e. an idol, and can be quite destructive.

    Should widespread heterodoxy and heteropraxy in the clergy and the laity concern us?>

    Yes, but again this is not a black-and-white situation. Obviously the Magisterium gets to define what “orthodoxy” and “heterodoxy” are, but it is important to ask whether or not it exerts this power of definition well. This questioning is unavoidable and is what part of being a responsible Christian adult means. It is a role for clergy and laity alike, and among the laity there is a special role for “professional” theologians who have a systematic approach to thinking through Christian belief and praxis. In the end, the Magisterium’s role is to “make the call” but as is always the case in the pursuit of Truth(s), rarely has the final word ever been spoken.

    What I’m getting at is that Joe’s comment is, I think, a perverted concern for the souls of his fellow Catholics. Do you think this concern is at all warranted?

    I don’t think his concern is heresy. I don’t even think the guy knows what “heresy” is. I’m not sure what his real concern is but if it involves damning cardinals to hell for no apparent reason, then no, I don’t think his concern is warranted.

  • brettsalkeld

    May God rest his soul.

    To include Congar, Rahner and Schillebeeckx with Kung is an attempt at guilt by association. (Only one of the 4 was censored and lost his ability to teach in a Catholic institution.) Thankfully the attempt is transparent enough that it says far more about Joe than about Father (I’m sure that’s how Pope Benedict refers to him) Schillebeeckx.

    Speaking of which, I just picked up the good Father’s book on Mary and look forward to reading it soon. You know those heretics and their love of the Blessed Mother! I wonder what Joe thinks of Rahner’s devotion to the Sacred Heart?

  • brettsalkeld

    As to Zach’s question, I quite despise heresy. Eucharistic heresy in particular gets my goat.

    What also gets my goat is people with little to no understanding of how theology is actually done (and no canonical authority!) declaring all kinds of people heretics (which is different from calling a particular position heresy, by the way) who have never been condemned by the Church. Furthermore, being a heretic involves not just error, but ‘pertinacity’. Too many Catholics use the word heretic, when something much milder like, “person who occasionally disagrees with me, but whom I suspect of evil motives” would be much more accurate.

    Swear words become less and less effective the more they are used. They end up making the person look uncouth and nothing more. Accusations of heresy aren’t that different. Use them when they’re absolutely necessary.

  • brettsalkeld

    What do you all think of fidelity to the Church? Do you think it’s necessary for sanctity? What do you think of obedience? Should widespread heterodoxy and heteropraxy in the clergy and the laity concern us?

    As for fidelity to the Church, I do think it is necessary for sanctity, at least for those of us who are aware of the charge given to the Church. (It is hard to imagine that fidelity to the Church was necessary for Enoch’s sanctity.) Perhaps one of the clearest ways it can lead to sanctity is when one’s fidelity calls one to radical obedience.

    I am always struck by the heroic obedience of theologians like Courtney Murray, Rahner, de Lubac and Balthasar who were silenced before Vatican II and obeyed. They were not convinced they were wrong, but they obeyed nonetheless and were vindicated by the Spirit. (That, by the way, is the biggest difference between them and Kung in my view. Whether Kung is right or wrong on this or that point of theology is not what cost him his relationship to the Church. It was his obstinance.)

    To me obedience is trusting that the Spirit works in the Church even when you cannot see how the next move is going to work. If a given theologian is right on something and the Church is balking, it’ll come out eventually. Fighting the Church will only make it worse. (And can do all kinds of related damage.)

    Should widespread heterodoxy and heteropraxy concern us? Absolutely! But again, if Rome hasn’t called Schillebeeckx a heretic, I’m not going to. My concern for orthodoxy does not mean I am willing to close ranks. I would rather win over the uncertain with education and exhortation. I think the worst thing we can do is assume ill-will on the part of those who cannot appropriate certain Church teachings at a given time. That may be the worst part of the rampant overuse of the term ‘heretic’. St. Ignatius has taught us better than that, and he was no slacker on heresy.

  • Zach

    Thanks for the thoughtful responses.

  • samrocha

    Even though I wasn’t asked, I think heresy—insofar as it is true—is not good. The proof, however, is… well you get the point.

  • David Nickol

    Are Protestants — let’s say Anglicans — heretics? Should we pray for their deathbed conversion? And if they don’t convert, will they be damned? I read a brief passage by a book by Avery Dulles that says:

    In spite of disapproval of their positions by the magisterium, theologians such as Kung and Schillebeeckx continued to be very influential with a broad public. Even today, many of the Catholic intelligentsia of Western Europe and the United States either reject the concept of the ministerial priesthood or redefine it in ways that make it scarcely indistinguishable from the concept of ministry in Protestant Congregationalism.

    After exhaustive study, prayer, and reflection, if a Catholic theologian comes to hold such a view, are they in danger of damnation? And what about Protestant Congregationalists? Are they heretics who are destined for hell?

  • Zach

    A heretic is not only a person who has been officially excommunicated by the Church. Heresy, as I’m sure you know, comes from a word that means choice. Heresy is a choice to believe something other than what is proscribed for our belief by the Holy Roman Church. It is an act of the will: it is willful disobedience to the Holy Spirit, for Whom the Church speaks, which is why it is a grave sin. If a person does not truly know they are in grave sin, and that obedience to the Church is part of what makes them Christian, than they do not really condemn themselves (this is the case with many Protestants, who perhaps do not really know that their faith is foundationally heretical. No one likes those words because they sound mean, but I intend only to be descriptive.) In other words, you cannot be totally culpable for something you do not know to be wrong. When it comes to Faith and Morals, Catholics do not really have a choice in the content of their faith. What Catholics have is Divine assurance that what they believe is objectively true. So if a theologian decides to reject something part of revelation, be it Scripture, Tradition or Magisterial Teaching, they are in a sense rejecting Christ. This is generally considered a bad thing to do, especially for those persons who call Christ Master.

  • Frank


    I have no disagreement with your exposition of heresy and heretics.

    … Catholics do not really have a choice in the content of their faith. What Catholics have is Divine assurance that what they believe is objectively true.

    I assume you mean something like “Catholics believe what the Holy Church tells them they must believe because the Holy Church tells them what to believe.” This I don’t believe, based on reasons similar to the “Real Presence” poll results David Nickol quoted earlier.

    Belief is not a simple choice, like choosing what clothes to wear today, or even whom to marry or what Church to attend. I am not capable of changing my own beliefs as a matter of “free” choice, because any such choice is necessarily driven and informed by my experiences in life and my existing belief system. The closest freedom I have to changing my beliefs is the choice to explore my inner world and find out what I truly believe. Then I might become willing to surrender my beliefs and bring them to integrity by spiritual (often painful) practice. If my exploration is genuine, I have no control over what I will find, nor any assurance that what I find will comport with anybody else’s dogma.

    I can choose to be open to new experiences, new perspectives and to God’s grace. When I do that, I have zero “control” over what I will eventually believe. In this context, surrender is obedience, though not obedience to the Church’s magisterial authority.

    If, for example, I believe that all post-Vatican theologians are evil, my confessor might tell me this is not a good idea; I ought to have dinner with a theologian or two, and reexamine my belief. Such an experience might well change my belief about theologians. It isn’t so simple if I don’t believe in the Real Presence. I can read Catholic apologetics and attend Mass daily, yet still it’s a matter of Grace, wholly outside my control, whether I have an experience that leads me to believe in the Real Presence as an objective fact. Without surrender/obedience, my beliefs will never change. With surrender/obedience, I cannot “choose” what to believe or not.

  • Zach

    Frank, I think I agree with you, but before I say I do we ought to have a working definition of belief. Belief is an act of the will and I would define it as rational assent to the truth of an idea. Because it is an act of the will, choosing to believe does not need to flow out of “experiences” if you take experiences to mean sense perceptions. “Blessed are those believe but have not seen.” Because belief is not conditional upon sense perception, your beliefs can change without new experiences. I do like what you say about surrender and obedience. These qualities are part of the virtue of humility which plays a big part in our ability to believe the faith. Does this make sense to you, or have I made a mistake?

  • Frank


    I’m pleased that you agree with the surrender/obedience connection, and I agree that these qualities flow from humility.

    Belief is, indeed, a tricky business. There’s a world of difference between belief as logical/notional assent — how most Catholic Joes I know understand “I believe on one God…” — and a the full commitment to Christ intended by “Credo in unum Deum.” I agree that “credo” expresses an act of the will, but I do not consider logical assent to be an act of the will. A lie about logical assent, however, is clearly an act of the will:

    Members of our Catholic Club get a 50 percent discount. Do you believe all of the Nicene Creed, as well as Papal Infallibility and ensoulment at the moment of conception?

    Sure, I’ll believe that if it gets me the 50 percent discount.

    I don’t see how genuine logical assent can change without new experience to motivate it. In “new” experiences I include include self-examination, prayer, meditation, dreamwork or unexpected spiritual experience, none of which are sense perception, and none externally verifiable (Andrew Newburg’s fMRI studies notwithstanding). On the darker side, mental illness could change logical assent, but I think that also ought to count as “new” experience.

    If we’re talking about notional assent, those who “believe but have not seen” are indeed blessed, not because they did something to bless themselves, but through God’s Grace. I note that the Douay-Rheims translation of John 20:29 reads “Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.” To me, the use of past tense (consistent with Jerome’s crediderunt and Greek pisteusantes) implies a commitment rather than a timeless state of Grace, and so is not consistent with belief meaning notional assent. Those who “crediderunt unum Deum” without having seen have indeed made a great commitment, a great act of the will.

    Coming back to Fr. Schillebeeckx’ passing, the question of heresy, and whether Joe’s perspective represents a typical Catholic “rank and file” version of belief… I think the idea that faith is about conformity and professed belief entrenches a dimished form of Christianity. Maybe it would be better if the new translation of the Creed, rather than playing with singlular/plural versions of “credo,” began with “I am fully committed to the One God,…”

  • Zach

    You are right to say that everything is accomplished through God’s grace. I do not think otherwise. But I do not think there is a contradiction between God’s grace and our will when our will is His will. I think positing this distinction is what caused the Protestant reformation.

    I also think that if Christianity is simply conformity to the faith and professed belief, then it is indeed impoverished. But there’s no reason Christianity can’t be conformity to the faith and professed belief and so much more.

  • brettsalkeld

    I think Frank’s comments highlight an often missed distinction in Catholic discussion of following one’s conscience. In terms of moral acts we all fail to follow our conscience. Think over your day and you will find somewhere where you did what you knew to be wrong. Indeed, one does not sin (in the full sense of the term which implies culpability) as long as one never does what one knows to be wrong, so to say that all have sinned is to say that we have all failed to follow our conscience.

    On the other hand, when it comes to articles of belief, it is actually impossible to not follow one’s conscience. As Frank points out, you believe what you believe and cannot arbitrarily determine otherwise.

    What you can do, however, is take actions which may alter your belief. If you believe something contrary to Church teaching, you cannot simply decide not to believe that something. What you can do is to read, study, pray, examine yourself, etc. Now, for those who believe that the Church never errs, this is a relatively straightforward matter, but since the Church does not teach that it never errs, one can hardly fault another Catholic who takes the more roundabout route in trying to appropriate Church teaching. There is an outside chance, in some circumstances, that the Church is wrong.

    So my answer to David’s question is, if a theologian has DONE everything necessary to appropriate Church teaching but is still unconvinced, his or her salvation is not threatened by this situation.

    One further note: a Catholic theologian who is struggling to appropriate Church teaching has the duty not to use organs of the Catholic Church (schools, parishes etc.), or even their own stature, to publicly bring that teaching into disrepute. They may disagree, even vehemently, in private; they may even publish arguments in appropriate channels that respectfully push the Church to consider alternatives. They may, however, be silenced and, if they are silenced, they must respect this. This is the cross of the theologian and one way in which he or she may be conformed to Christ who was misunderstood in his own way. Someone who is unwilling to bear this cross should consider another profession.

  • brettsalkeld

    As to whether or not we consider other Christians heretics, I was quite happy with the way Ratzinger addressed the question in his little book, The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood. I do not have it to hand right now, so I invite anyone with more access or a better memory to recount Ratzinger’s arguments here, but the gist of it was that it is nonsense to call people heretics who are born into a separate tradition. They simply lack many of the requirements that the traditional definition of heretic makes, notably ‘pertinacity.’ Ratzinger claims that Catholic theology does not currently have a category for those outside of visible communion with the Catholic Church who may hold what we would call ‘material heresies’ but who are not ‘heretics’ in any meaningful sense.

    Does anyone remember more of how he develops this?

  • Michael J. Iafrate

    I think it’s a shame that this is how many of Vox Nova’s readers have chosen to respond to the death of Fr. Schillebeeckx. Could have been predicted though.

  • Zach

    I’m confused – should we not have had the conversation, which you started? And FWIW I began by saying “I think we can all pray that God has mercy on this man’s soul, as we all can hope he will have mercy on us when we die.”

    • Michael J. Iafrate

      I did not start the conversation about heresy.

  • Zach

    Well, sorry if I offended you.

    • Michael J. Iafrate

      You did not offend me.

  • brettsalkeld

    I think it is fair to say that Joe is the one responsible for the turn that has taken place, even if he didn’t stick around to participate. And yes, Michael, I think you’re right that it would be fair to have expected someone to make a comment like that.

    In any case, though debates about heresy may not be the best way to honour the recently deceased, I feel that there has been some value in the discussion. Heresy is a term that gets thrown around an awful lot without much discernment. I wonder if Schillebeeckx ever wrote on it?

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  • paul wood

    Schillebeecks in one place talks of Jesus and Martin Luther King as if they are on a par. Elsewhere he says his reason for not becoming a Communist is that the Church had made him wary of dogmatism. Had he been excommunicated the papers would have criticised the Church for authoritarianism. Life is strange.