Originally published in Dutch in 1999, this first installment of a two-volume work presents, as its sub-title indicates, the theology of the Dominican theologian Edward Cornelis Florent Alfons Schillebeeckx under the rubric of "theology of culture." Borgman, a layman and a member of the Dominican Third Order, was commissioned by the Dutch Dominicans in 1989 "to study Schillebeeckx's theology and its development in relation to its context" (4). The work is not a life history but an "intellectual biography" in which developments in Schillebeeckx's theology are connected with "the contemporary changes in the social, cultural, theological and ecclesiastical landscape" (4).
Given the importance and influence of Schillebeeckx, there have been scores of studies on his theology, but Borgman's work is the first comprehensive, and likely the definitive, presentation which shows how Schillebeeckx was influenced by the manifold contexts of his life and how in turn he shaped them. Borgman acknowledges that "the Schillebeeckx of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s will never become simply a contemporary of present-day readers" (13) and Schillebeeckx himself admits that his earlier writings have no more than historical interest. This does not mean that the early Schillebeeckx has little to say to us and to theology as a scientific discipline today, provided that he is seen as more than a theologian exclusively concerned with intra-ecclesial issues. Here lies the originality and usefulness of Borgman's book. Borgman is interested in discovering how Schillebeeckx's theology in its first fifty years, precisely because it is tied to particular contexts and hence becomes unavoidably dated as these contexts have changed, is in fact a "theology of culture." It is in search of this theology of culture that Borgman reconstructs Schillebeeckx's early thought by placing it in the history of society, culture, church, and theology, especially in Flanders and the Netherlands.
The book comprises five chapters, beginning with Schillebeeckx' birth in 1914 and ending with his work as a theologian at the Second Vatican Council in 1965. The first chapter presents Schillebeeckx's intellectual development from his youth to his inaugural lecture on December 26, 1943 on receiving the office of lector in the Dominican house of studies in Louvain. Of particular interest in this chapter are the situation of (largely conservative) Flemish Catholicism and Schillebecckx's scarce attraction for the Jesuits in spite of lengthy studies with them. The second chapter deals with Schillebeeckx up to the middle of 1940s, in particular his brief stay in France, his influence by the French worker-priest movement, and his reflections on Dominican spirituality, and the impact of all these on his emerging theology of culture. Chapter 3 discusses Schillebeeckx's theology up to 1950s when he went to the Netherlands, a period marked by concern for renewal and hierarchical leadership in the church, as exemplified by Pius XII's Humani generis and the condemnation of the worker-priest movement. Here Borgman concentrates on Schillebecckx's reflections on the role of the laity, the church as a living form of a theology of culture, and Mary. Chapter 4, which is the most technical, discusses Schillebeeckx's theology as it is presented in his class lectures in Louvain, his monumental book De sacramentele heilseconomie, and his Marriage: Human Reality and saving Mystery. Chapter 5 describes Schillebeeckx's teaching at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, his work for the Dutch episcopate in preparation for Vatican II, and his activities at the council itself. Here Borgman concentrates on Schillebeeckx's explicit attempts at producing a theology of culture in a secularized world. The book concludes with a brief postscript on how the nature of theology as this emerges from Schillebeeckx's first fifty years of theological activities. Theology is seen as a historical enterprise and since salvation comes to meet us from our daily life and activity "in the world," from our dealing with "the earthly" (369), theology, which is a scientific reflection on such a history of salvation, is by its nature a "theology of culture."
The value of Borgman's intellectual biography of Schillebeeckx is twofold. It serves as an excellent introduction to the life and work of the Dominican theologian, especially in his early years and through his as yet untranslated writings. It is also an informative survey of the history of society and church, especially in Flanders and the Netherlands, of the first half of the twentieth century, the knowledge of which is a requisite to understand and appreciate Schillebeeckx's theology. It is therefore with eager anticipation that we await the English translation of the second volume of Borgman's work, especially in view of the fact that it is the later Schillebeeckx, with his controversial studies on Jesus and minstry, who will incur the censure of the Vatican. Students of twentieth-century Catholic theology as well as specialists in Schillebeeckx owe Borgman a great debt of gratitude