Salvation and Liberation in the Practical-Critical Soteriology of Schillebeeckx

By Simon, Derek J. | Theological Studies, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Salvation and Liberation in the Practical-Critical Soteriology of Schillebeeckx


Simon, Derek J., Theological Studies


INTERACTIONS BETWEEN the realities of salvation and sociopolitical liberation are as complex as they are pivotal for the communication of God's abiding concern for ecohuman well-being amid real histories of suffering. The practical and critical soteriology of Edward Schillebeeckx delineates some of this complexity and constructs the tension between salvation and emancipation as a dialectical exchange. A relationship of fragmented identity and productive difference marks the interaction between salvation and sociopolitical liberation amid histories of suffering reoriented by the eschatological promises of justice and reconciliation.

While Schillebeeckx rejects the false dilemma that unnecessarily places interpersonal and sociopolitical forms of love in competition with each other, (1) he consistently asserts that the offer of salvation from oppression and suffering, communicated by Jesus the Christ and by his praxis of God's inbreaking reign, entails extensive public repercussions for sociopolitical living. (2) It is only an abstract and contested personalism that limits the redemptive initiatives of God's reign to a private interiority or segregated enclosure of intimate relations. (3) Such sectarian withdrawal is vulnerable to political manipulation. (4) The gift of salvation from oppression and suffering entails possibilities of love through justice and reconciliation that sustain a variety of liberating sociopolitical struggles and structural emancipations. (5) For Schillebeeckx, a soteriology with practical-critical priorities maintains that actual historical movements of sociopolitical liberation provide the basis for meaningfully communicating God's saving activity amid current contexts of oppression and humiliation. (6) God's saving activity, while active in the present, offers a future open to the deepest and most ultimate well-being of humankind on earth. Despite ongoing failures and setbacks, the efforts to realize justice and reconciliation are worthwhile in ways that might not yet even be verifiable. These efforts and setbacks remain open to unexpected possibilities in the future. Action and reflection, centered on realizing justice and love, strive therefore to advance tangible movements of liberation despite the overwhelming evidence of suffering and defeat. Sociopolitical liberation resulting from justice and reconciliation is necessary in order that the public conditions for open communication and for the integrity of ecohuman life flourish in response to current crises producing histories of suffering. The interaction between God's salvific initiatives and emancipatory praxes sustaining sociopolitical liberations is intrinsic to the pattern of Schillebeeckx's practical-critical soteriology.

THREE TYPES OF SOTERIOLOGIES

Within the effort to establish a viable connection between salvation and liberation, Schillebeeckx presents a typology of various soteriologies. He defines soteriology as "the teaching of redemption: views and expectations which humans have in respect of their salvation, well-being and wholeness, redemption and liberation." (7) He differentiates three types of soteriologies--instrumental, fideistic, and interactive--in order to clarify better the kind of interaction between salvation and sociopolitical liberation advocated by his practical-critical soteriology. "To sum up, one can speak of (i) horizontal and futurist soteriologies (which look for completely different social structures); (ii) vertical soteriologies (often apolitical in their, perhaps well-intended, religious liberation); (iii) religious and political soteriologies (in which the progressive and political meaning of the religious is stressed)." (8)

This typology distinguishes various kinds of soteriology not simply on the basis of religious criteria but expressly on the basis of their different relations to the political. Horizontal soteriologies are instrumental in the sense of totalizing a finite sociopolitical movement as the definitive agent or absolute disclosure of historical salvation. …

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