The Theological Hermeneutics of Edward Schillebeeckx

Article excerpt

THE QUESTION OF how Christology can be hermeneutically retrieved against different historical-cultural backgrounds is the focus of my article. The theological hermeneutics of Edward Schillebeeckx facilitates a reflection on Christology which is tied to the central notion of experience. This allows Schillebeeckx to update the Christian experience of salvation in Christ from one cultural period to the next. But the overall experiment in Christology, especially in his "Jesus books," fails to acknowledge the methodological limitations imposed for today by his reliance on frameworks of interpretation that too narrowly freeze experiences of salvation within the biblical and traditional horizons of experience. A theology for today in which culture and biblical narrative no longer overlap requires an adjusted theory of religious experiences that both stands within the tradition and remains open to the currents of experience not yet discernible within that same tradition.

Schillebeeckx embarked on just such a theological project to engage the cultural climate of his time. This included extensive studies in Christology. Although these studies have been variously assessed, they utilized the experience tradition to renew Christology without compromising the incarnational, historical, and logocentric frameworks that ensure faithfulness to the particularity of the historical figure of Jesus and its later ecclesiastical tradition. The success or failure of this project contains insights for the present-day challenge posed to Christology by a contemporary pluralistic and postmodern cultural climate where the overlap between faith and experience has been considerably diminished. My examination reviews the work of Schillebeeckx from the point of view of its indebtedness to certain presuppositions and suggests methodological issues important to the question of postmodern pluralism. Contemporary pluralism of experience, while it defines the present cultural environment, demands a thorough re-evaluation of methodological considerations for theology, if one is to evaluate the possibility of a dialogue within and between Christian faith and contemporary culture.


In recent published interviews Schillebeeckx has located his theological point of departure in creation. He has stated: "I regard the creation as the foundation of all theology." (1) Indeed, this has been the central motif characteristic of his theological career. (2) According to Schillebeeckx it is creation that "I have been studying day and night" because it "interests me a great deal." (3) Creation is the pivotal stance for Schillebeeckx's theological work. However, the theology of redemption is intimately related to the theology of creation. He has observed:

Man is not just confronted with a God who is creator--he is also confronted with a God of salvation.... That is why I say that the God of Israel, the liberator God (the God of salvation) is creator. This does away with the entire conceptual difficulty between salvation and creation. Creation is the point of departure for the whole of the covenant and the whole of the movement of liberation in which universal salvation is to be achieved for all mankind. (4)

For Schillebeeckx the Deus Creator is clearly the Deus Salvator. In this way the history of salvation coincides with the history of creation in that the whole of created experience is permeated with God's saving intention. "Creation and salvation thus shed mutual light on one another," (5) Accordingly, any understanding of Christ is grounded in a theology of creation. The Christ phenomenon is concentrated, condensed creation. (6)

Category of Experience

The ideas presented by Schillebeeckx in his 1983 Farewell Speech from the University of Nijmegen eschew this more panoramic view of theology in favor of specifically prioritizing a theological hermeneutics of experience. …