Theologian; Dutch jesuit; b. Amsterdam, Oct. 1, 1911; d. Nijmegen, Sept. 21, 1999. Schoonenberg entered the Dutch province of the Society of Jesus in 1930 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1939. He studied philosophy, theology, and exegesis in Nijmegen, Maastricht, and the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. In 1948 he received the doctorate in theology at Maastricht with a dissertation on theology as interpretation of faith according to recent French literature (la nouvelle théologie and its critics). After teaching for several years at Maastricht and Amsterdam, he became associated with the Higher Catechetical Institute at Nijmegen in 1957. In 1964 he was appointed ordinary professor of dogmatic theology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, where he became professor emeritus in 1976. A prolific and at times controversial author, Schoonenberg is best known for his contributions to contemporary Catholic rethinking of the doctrine of sin, Christology, and trinitarian theology. He was also significantly involved in the preparation of the De nieuwe katechismus (1966), a widely translated and much-discussed adult catechism commissioned by the Dutch Catholic bishops and prepared at the Higher Catechetical Institute.
Theology. Schoonenberg's writings on the theology of sin seek primarily to expand the idea of original sin to encompass the broader notion of the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29). Instead of understanding original sin as a misdeed at the dawn of human history that results in an inherited privation of sanctifying grace on the part of later generations, he describes original sin as a negative situation effected by the cumulative force of all human sin. Placed in this sinful situation from birth, all human beings are intrinsically and adversely influenced in the subsequent exercise of their personal freedom. While initial explorations in this vein envision original sin as definitively present in the world only since the rejection of Christ, against whom all sin is ultimately directed, this specification is absent from Schoonenberg's later treatments of the issue. Schoonenberg's proposal, while widely credited with stimulating a needed reexamination of the doctrine of sin, is often judged deficient in expressing the intrinsic effect of past sin on human freedom.
Schoonenberg also contributed significantly to contemporary theology in the area of Christology. The publication in 1966 in the Tijdschrift voor theologie of three essays on Christology by Schoonenberg, Ansfridus Huls-bosch, and Edward Schillebeeckx attracted international attention to Christological thought in the Netherlands. Schoonenberg's own position was developed further in The Christ (Dutch original: 1969) and in several subsequent essays that nuanced and clarified his thought. A resolute advocate of a "Christology from below," he strongly emphasized the integral humanity of Christ and proposed speaking of Christ as a human person (in a modern sense of that term, i.e., as a conscious and free subject) in whom God was totally and definitively present (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19); in this sense, the Word of God becomes a person only in and through the Incarnation. This departure from terminology deriving from the Council of Chalcedon (one person [divine]; two natures [divine and human]) occasioned considerable theological discussion and raised questions about the orthodoxy of Schoonenberg's thought. In response to such developments, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith defended traditional christological doctrine in its declaration Mysterium Filii Dei [AAS 64 (1972) 237–241].
Schoonenberg's contribution to trinitarian theology is similarly both stimulating and controversial. Pursuing trinitarian issues more thematically than in his earlier writings on christology, Schoonenberg proposed in 1973 a set of 36 theses on trinitarian theology in which he maintained that human knowledge of the divine nature is too limited to permit us to conclude from the experience of God as triune in the history, or economy, of salvation ("economic Trinity") to an eternal triune existence of God ("immanent Trinity"). While sharply criticized in many quarters and modified in subsequent writings, Schoonenberg's treatment of the mystery of God's triune existence has proven influential in the intensive recent discussion of the relationship of the economic Trinity and the imminent Trinity.
Bibliography: Bibliography (to 1971): Tijdschrift voor theologie 11 (1971): 351–372. For bibliography from 1945–1991: "Bibliografie van Piet Schoonenberg 1945–1991," in De Geest, het Woord en de Zoon (Averbode and Kampen 1991) 219–252. p. schoonenberg, Man and Sin (London 1965); The Christ (New York 1971); "Trinity—The Consummated Covenant," Studies in Religion 5 (1975–76) 111–116; Auf Gott hin denken (Vienna 1986); De Geest, het Woord en de Zoon: Theologische overdenkingen over Geest-christologie, Logos-christologie en drieëenheidsleer (Averbode and Kampen 1991). r. north, In Search of the Human Jesus (New York 1969). s. pujdak, Christological Statements: Fact and Interpretation. A Study in the Christology of Piet Schoonenberg (Ann Arbor 1975). a. kaiser, Möglichkeit und Grenzen einer Christologie "von unten:" Der christologische Neuansatz "von unten" bei Piet Schoonenberg und dessen Weiter- führung mit Blick auf Nikolaus von Kues (Munster 1992).
[j. p. galvin]
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