Schillebeeckx scholar Prof. Van Erp tackles Church, Civil Authority at UST Theological Society Lecture

Foremost scholar on Schillebeeckx Prof. Stephan Van Erp, Ph.D., delivered the lecture titled “Creation, Civil Authority and Salvation: Edward Schillebeeckx’s Political Theology After Vatican II.” The lecture, organized by the UST Faculty of Sacred Theology and UST Theological Society was held on January 17, 2020, at the Central Laboratory Auditorium. The lecture in honor of renowned Dominican theologian, Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., is held annually at the University of Santo Tomas.

Prof. Van Erp is a lay Dominican from the Netherlands. Aside from being a professor at the Catholic University of Leuven, he also holds the Schillebeeckx Chair at Radbound University. He is also the organizer of the biennial Schillebeeckx Lectures in Leuven and Editor-in-Chief of Brill Research Perspective in Theology. 

In his presentation, Van Erp retraced the development of Schillebeeckx’s political theology to demonstrate the theological significance of civil authority and the political significance of ecclesial authority. He pointed out how Schillebeeckx puts forward the hypostatic union as a model for the Church, patterned on Jesus incarnation which actualized God’s love for humanity and validates human history. Thus, Church and civil authority are not static, but are developing historically towards more humanized institutions.

Van Erp said that for Schillebeeckx “the hierarchical structure of the Church was a historically contingent evolution and not a matter pertaining to the core of Christian faith.” As such, the Church’s current structure of authority may be based on historical, ideological, and theological reasons that might no longer represent our present worldview or theology. In light of this, he suggests adopting a form of “ecclesial democracy” as a new way of allowing the workings of the Spirit. 

However, ecclesial democracy cannot be the same as other democracies. Democratic reforms must be made within the ultimate eschatological goal of Christian faith, as a service for those within and outside the Church towards salvation. However, he warns that this may open the Church to the corrupting influence of ideologies, but it is a necessary danger that the Church cannot shy away from.

The panel of reactors was composed of Fr. Emmanuel I. Cruz, S.Th.D., Assoc. Prof. Joel C. Sagut, Ph.D., and Fr. Delfo Canceran, O.P., Ph.D. 

Fr. Cruz, a Filipino expert on Schillebeeckx from the Immaculate Conception Major Seminary in Bulacan, commended how Van Erp developed Schillebeeckx’s thoughts and discussed how the participation and contributions of both laity and clergy become concrete expressions of ecclesial democracy. Sagut of UST Ecclesiastical Faculties explored how Alasdair MacIntyre’s concept of proxy can give voice to the unheard sectors of the Church and become an avenue for ecclesial democracy. Canceran of De La Salle University, raised critical questions on the assumptions of Schillebeeckx’s political theology, showing how it remains open for discussion today. 

After the lecture, tokens and certificates were awarded by UST Theological Society President Br. Siddharta B. Chiong, O.P.

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