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“Extra mundum nulla salus—There is no salvation outside the world.” That was the final message of Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., to his theological colleagues at a symposium held in his honor in Leuven, Belgium, in December 2008. That conviction captures the love of the world and the “grace-optimism” that characterized the life’s work of this Flemish Dominican, who died at the age of 95 on Dec. 23, 2009.

From his groundbreaking first book, Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter With God, to the final volume of his Christological trilogy, Church, the Human Story of God, Father Schillebeeckx helped readers grasp the core sacramental insight disclosed by the Incarnation: The mystery of God is to be encountered in human life and creation. Throughout his teaching career and in his writing, Father Schillebeeckx emphasized that we experience God’s love, the creative and saving presence of God’s grace, wherever human persons minister to one another, especially to the neighbor in need. Human love is an embodiment, a sacrament, of God’s love. These human “fragments of salvation,” as he called them, are a share in the final triumph of God’s grace, which was promised in a definitive way in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Christians are called to participate in the living story of Jesus by “writing a fifth Gospel with their lives.”

This sacramental view of the world, and of the church’s role within the world, remained at the heart of Father Schillebeeckx’s writing, preaching and teaching for over seven decades. It was also central to the vision of the Second Vatican Council, which he helped to shape as an advisor to Cardinal Bernard Alfrink and the Dutch bishops.

In the decades following the council, Father Schillebeeckx was acutely aware of how difficult it had become for many to believe that God holds open a future full of hope amid a world of radical suffering, especially when the church’s own witness had been compromised. In the face of those real stumbling blocks, Father Schillebeeckx reminded his readers that “God is new each moment” and that in situations of injustice (whether in the world or in the church) the Spirit of God is actively at work, prompting resistance, hope, courage and change.

May this gifted theologian and preacher of the Gospel now enjoy the fullness of life that he once described as “God’s eternal surprise.”

Mary Catherine Hilkert, O.P.

Not-So-Secret Archives

The Vatican Secret Archives have that appellation not because they are secret (in the sense that no one may see them) but because of the Latin word secretum, meaning “personal” or “private.” Still, any mention of them in the media (or Dan Brown’s novels) is catnip to the curious, critical and conspiracy-minded. Perhaps as a sop to those folks, the Vatican has published selections from the archives. Included in The Vatican Secret Archives is a tart note, dated 1550, from Michelangelo Buonarroti, demanding payment for his outstanding expenses and complaining that a papal conclave has interrupted work on the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. A missive to Leo XIII from the Ojibway people, dated “where there is much grass, in the month of the flowers,” thanks the pontiff, or the “Grand Master of Prayer,” for providing lands in northern Ontario and a “custodian of prayer,” that is, a bishop. It was written on birch bark. The illustrated book is already a hot seller at $99.50—a mysterious number that surely carries a hidden meaning known only to the Knights Templar. Sadly, shortly after it appeared on Amazon, all available copies were sold, so some secrets may remain secret until a reprinting.

A Deadly Year

A record number of Catholic men and women religious and members of the clergy were killed around the world in 2009. According to Fides, at least 37 Catholic missionaries died violently last year, nearly double the number reported in 2008 and a record high for the decade. The death toll included 30 priests, two religious sisters, two seminarians and two lay volunteers. Most were murdered in the Americas, where 23 pastoral workers were killed, followed by Africa, where 11 lost their lives. In Asia two priests were killed, and in Europe one priest was killed.

What is contributing to the sudden upsurge in violence against Catholic missionaries? Economic and political instability whipped up by the world’s Great Recession may be factors. Many of the missionaries lived in developing world communities, where a perception that they had some relative wealth made them targets of common criminals.

But another factor may be the advancing average age of Catholic clergy and religious. Most of the victims of violence in 2009 were in retirement, many older than 70. In societies throughout the world it is unfortunately the elderly who are especially vulnerable to crime. The 2009 figures could signal a trend, unless the church takes stronger measures to protect its aging and often isolated retirees in the developing world.

C Walter Mattingly
7 years 3 months ago

I recall first reading about Fr. Schillebeeckx 40 years ago as an undergraduate. It was a rather long book on the sacrament of marriage.  Truthfully, that is about all I can remember-that, and how do you spell that name?

The overview the editors present in this issue reminds me of the themes, as best I can discern, of my favorite modern theologian, Karl Rahner. (In fact, I happened to be sitting with a reprint of Kevin O'Brien's essay published in the May 3, 2004 addition of America concerning his studies of Rahner when I read this editorial.)  The sacramental encounter extending through all creation seems central to both theologians. I have found this to be of great value.  And the presence of Christ in the world through the dawn of creation has been an immense joy to me at certain times, especially as Rahner presents it. When I was at NewGrange in the Boyne Valley outside Dublin and followed that ancient tunnel to the tripartite enclosed room, seeing the simulation of the light that aligned with the rising sun during the winter solstice, those who built the structure hoping for rebirth, I could feel I was not with a strange people or race, but rather with anonymous christians. 

Yet an issue arises which may be common to the issues of both theologians and perhaps to the clergy of the liberation theology movement: if the sacramental encounter occurs when we align ourselves with the teachings and example of Christ, why do I need the liturgical equivalents, if they are one and the same?  Rolheiser has an explanation for this, but frankly I don't quite understand what Rahner's explanation for this was, though I know he certainly administered the sacraments regularly and was a priest devoted to his ministry at all levels.

Perhaps you could clarify this interface for interested readers, making the outline as clear as Kevin O'Brien did his tribute some years ago.

David Pasinski
7 years 3 months ago

The number of murdered men, women and lay church workers shocked me. I read this and many other Catholic publications regularly and have no sense of all but some of the most publicized.  You hint that these were not "martyrdoms" but acts of violence against the vulnerable - for robbery? in dispaced anger or revenge? Other motives? I would love to see a more detailed article about these persons deaths and the motives and adjudications about their assailants.

7 years 3 months ago

I was not shocked but am aware of the violent attitude toward the Church in general.  I can not imagine how much this may be prevalant in the third world.  But then even in our own country, I do not see the respect for the clergy and religious that once existed. The violence that existed in Rome durning the time of the early church was just as, if not more, prevalent.


 I agree, why these brave and holy religious members are not recognized as martyers or saints of the church for all of us to respect.  I hope the message of violence to the religious members of the church could receive more publicity in the future by the media

7 years 3 months ago

Does this number of deceased Catholic religious members not contain those killed in anti-Christian if not anti-Catholic motives. Without research I do remember some Catholic religious members being killed along the faultline stretching from sub-saharan Africa, through South Asia  and along to South-east Asia. Those individuals were killed, in my memory at least, for being Christian and perhaps for being Catholic. Just curious.

naber ahale
7 years 2 months ago

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