For me, being a Dominican is being a theologian. And being a theologian for me was incomplete without being a Dominican. Of course it is possible to be a lay Dominican without being a professional theologian, and of course it is possible to be a theologian without being a lay Dominican, but for me personally both a very closely connected.
I was trained as a theologian at the University of Nijmegen by Dominicans: Edward Schillebeeckx, Ad Willems, Ted Schoof. It was their theology that got me hooked. For a while of course I thought that what I was trained in simply was Catholic theology, and that getting a job as a theological researcher at the university, and latter hopefully as a lecturer and a professor, would be enough. It turned out not to be enough.
First of all I was not allowed to get a teaching job at the university because the Dutch bishops conference refused to give me a nihil obstat for reason that never became totally clear, and the Dutch Dominican province recognized the Dominican way of doing theology in what I they saw me doing, and they hired me. It mean that I will be in their debt for the rest of my life.
Now I am back at the university – as a theologian, a director of an institute for interdisciplinary research at the interfaces of theology and the other academic disciplines, but still not at the theological faculty; but I always try to remember our brother Marie-Dominique Chenu who, being one of the most important Catholic theologians of the Twentieth Century, for a while was only allowed to teach in the history department – now I am back at the university, but now I need my being a lay Dominican more than ever.
Because academic theology in North-Western Europe becomes either very ecclesial in the sense of clerical, with very little room for critical understanding or discussion, or academic theology has the tendency to become very academic. I am very much in favor of high academic standards in theology, of theology that without the slightest bit of embarrassment can claim that it belongs at the university as a center of learning, critical research and free discussion. But the problem with the current academic theology is that academic interests have the tendency to rule, that being part of a large research program is more important than having something to say, that publishing in prestigious journals is more important than being read, and that contributing something to your own social and religious context does hardly count.
Being a Dominican does not so much keep me aware of the importance of exactly these things: being relevant, discover a truth that is speaking to people here and now, that makes our concrete contexts visible as the space of incarnation of Gods presence –being a Dominican does not so much keep alive the awareness that that is important. Because I simple feel and know that this is important, and if I would sometimes forget it my daughters and my wife and others will no doubt remind me of it.
But being a Dominican makes me part of a tradition of people who thought that doing theology is important, but to be important and to really be theology, to really speak about God that in Christ Jesus showed himself to be a Deus humanissimus as Schillebeeckx said, that theology should be meaningful in the world in which people live and struggle for their survival and die, the world in which they hope and long for the Kingdom of God. In the current academic context it is not easy to see theology as part of our walking humbly with our God, but the Dominican tradition is filled with people for whom that was and is self-evident, that provide a model of how to do the same thing in circumstances which does not make is particularly easy.
The Dominican Family, both in its history and its presence, provides a community in which it is good and fruitful to work theologically; a week ago in Pistoia, at the conference of Dominican theologians in Europe, I really felt akin to the people there and had the feeling that we were discussing topics that were also my topics, that it were the topics we should discuss, giving the signs of the times. Speaking about the signs of the times, which is our duty as Dominican theologians to do: I am certain that we as lay Dominicans, together with the growing lay communities and movement related to other religious families, I am convinced that we present a sign of the times.
As you will have seen, in the Netherlands right now we are confronted with the necessity to rebuild, to reconstruct, to reinvent the religious life, and maybe even the Church and its Catholicity. If the documents of the Second Vatican Council are right in saying that God is first and foremost among us by being present in the world, how then do we think about and practice new forms of religious life, which are relevant to the world?
How do we thing about and build a Church that supplies answers to the existential questions people in our post-modern and individualized society develop? This question is not over now the brethren, the nuns and the sisters are mostly old, and the search is not less important now the future of the traditional forms of Dominican religious life has become so uncertain. As Dutch Lay Dominican Community, as Dutch Dominican Family we do not have the answers, but we are not simply asking, or posing the question. We are begging the question, with all what we are and all what we have, all our creativity and commitment, all our organizational skills and spiritual awareness. Thus we are in our present situation what we as Dominicans should all be in our different situations: beggars, living from what hopefully will be given to us and thus living for and living from grace, living for and living from God – which is paradoxically exactly the religious life we are searching for.
during a meeting with Carlos Azpiroz Costa, Magister of the Order, October 2006