LETTER FROM ENGLAND
Eugen Drewermann’s Trivialization of Theology

October 1992By John Warwick Montgomery

The Rev. John Warwick Montgomery, a Lutheran clergyman, is a practicing barrister and Principal Lectur­er in Law and Human Rights at Luton College in England. He divides his time between London and Strasbourg.

We thought we’d heard it all. The 1960s gave us Episcopal Bishop James Pike in Ameri­ca (“I’ve jettisoned the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the Incarnation”), Anglican Bishop J.A.T. “Honest-to-God” Robinson in England, and the post-Bultmannians on the European continent. The 1970s and 1980s spawned process theologians and liberation theologians aplenty. On the Roman Catholic front, each successive book by Hans Küng has cut away more material from what was regarded as a seamless garment, so that infallibility is no longer found anywhere — not even in Holy Scripture.

Now along comes Eugen Drewermann, a 51-year-old priest and psychotherapist, who, until removed from his position in September 1991, was professor on the Faculty of Theology at Paderborn. Although now under discipline so that he cannot officially preach, he is still carrying on “spiritual conversations” after Mass and is the most popular Roman Catholic theo­logical author in German-speaking Europe. His 38 books, many of them bestsellers, have sold more than a million copies. Der Spiegel fea­tured Drewermann in its pre-Christmas (December 23, 1991) issue, and the interview became a cover story this year in L’Autre Jour­nal, a major magazine of opinion in the French-speaking world.

What does Drewermann believe? As is common in such cases, it is easier to state what he does not believe. He is against clerical celibacy, an all-male priesthood, and the Ro­man Catholic Church’s position on the remar­riage of divorced persons. To be sure, such views could derive — and have been derived by some classical Protestant divines — from serious (though perhaps erroneous) biblical exegesis. Exegesis, however, is not Drewer­mann’s forte.

For him, the Scriptures are to be under­stood in a symbolic, humanistic fashion. He agrees with Bultmann that the historical por­trait of Jesus in the New Testament is thor­oughly impregnated with nonhistorical, mytho­logical elements, but he disagrees with Bult­mann that the Bible should therefore be demythologized — for myth is vital psycholog­ically. Thus, of the Ascension, Drewermann says: “We can only understand the Ascension as a symbol of elevation above human an­guish…. Those who look at it any other way are professing not the faith but superstition.” At the same time, in a spirit of liberal toler­ance, he declares: “Each person ought to have the right to believe in a manner that helps him or her remove anxieties. I am the last person to label a belief heretical.”


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