you please tell us something about your background? How was that
you became interested in the Order of Preachers?
of all, I want to thank you for this interview.
very special or fantastic. As I was in the college, I was thinking
about clarifying my vocation and my life after college. I thought
about priesthood; but manly about looking for a life in community.
I was searching for a more contemplative, even monastic way of life.
And during the college time, we had a retreat preached by a Dominican
friar, and I spoke to him. He said, "just come and visit us....
Because, precisely, Dominican life is what you are searching: a
life of contemplation, community, and study." So, I went to
see the Dominican friars. After some visit to the Dominicans, I
finally decided to join the Order. I was 18 years old when I entered
the Order. It was during the 1960's; a different world! During my
novitiate, the big experience was the opening of the Vatican II
Council. It was very exciting! And we were allowed, as novices,
to watch the television's reports of the Council. Indeed, my religious
life started with this fascinating time of a whole renewal of the
church in the early 60's. It was wonderful to see how the Order
participated in the renewal of Vatican II. Dominicans such as Congar
and Schillebeeckx were crucial in the shaping of the theology of
Vatican II. So we got our formation under the direct inspiration
of this renewal.
Was it gradually that you started to move into the direction
of the intellectual life?
From the very beginning of my formation, I was quite interested
in philosophical studies. Philosophy was "my first love."
They say that you should stick to your first love. I had incredible
teachers of philosophy. The first one was a Dominican friar by the
name of Dominique De Petter, who thought us metaphysics and anthropology
during my time at the studium in Louvain. He had been also the teacher
of Schillebeeckx. He was very involved with a movement of renewal
of philosophy and theology during the 30's and the early 40's. He
was decisive in shaping of Thomistic studies in the Order. He was
also a little bit under suspicion because he was "too modern"
for that time. And he taught us how to understand Saint Thomas Aquinas,
not in an "essentialistic" way, but with the purpose of
using Thomas in new creating way of thinking, as well as an instrument
for facilitating the possibility of a renewal of modern thought.
Fr. Dominique De Peter's main goal was to try finding a link between
philosophical studies, Thomistic renewal, and modern philosophical
disciplines - mainly phenomenology. So, he taught us to directly
read Aquinas, but never forget to read as well Husserl, Heidegger,
Marleau-Ponty, et all.
the very beginning of my formation we were really confronted by
these modern thinkers, and had the opportunity to enter into dialogue
with them. Dominique De Petter was really my first teacher who made
a great impression in my intellectual formation. Another influential
professor I had was Emmanuel Levinas. I met him much later while
I was studying at Freiburg, Switzerland. During that time, Levinas
was came to teach at the university of Freiburg, as a result of
his escaping of the French revolutionary movements of the late 60's.
He taught every week philosophy. He was my second philosophical
teacher. He taught us mainly phenomenology - Husserl, Heidegger...
what he was publishing at that time. But he was also the one who
introduced me to cabalistic thoughts. Levinas was a big discovery
for me during the late 60's and beginning of the 70's.
did my philosophical studies in Louvain, and my theological licentiate
at Freiburg. Then I went to Tubingen in Germany to prepare my master's
dissertation in Paul Tillich: "Philosophy of Culture."
My doctoral dissertation was on the thoughts of Schelling; it was
entitled "Freedom on the Early Works of Schelling."After
finishing my doctoral dissertation, I was send to Zurich, Switzerland,
to be in charge of the Institute for Adult's intellectual formation:
this included theological, philosophical, political, and psychological
formation. I stayed there for 10 years. We offered academic courses,
but had also groups of catechesis, as well as worked with political
and social groups. We had very diverse groups of people attending
to this center: poor and rich, educated and uneducated, divorced
people and married couples, and gay and straight. So this was an
opportunity for me to use my philosophical and theological studies,
but very down to earth, with the main concentration on praxis and
helping people to solve many social problems.
this experience, I moved back, in 1985, to Freiburg where I became
a teacher in the chair of philosophical theology department. It
was until the end of 1993 when Timothy Radcliffe appointed as a
socius of the Intellectual Life of the Order. At that moment I had
already a tenure at Freiburg, and that is why I asked Timothy to
continue teaching and doing academic work while being his socius
- because I think it is important for my position to keep connected
to the academic and ministry contexts. This is hard some times because
it takes a lot of energy and time to be working in the academic
milieu, while at the same time being in charge of the Intellectual
life of the Order and visiting many countries and provinces, as
well as keeping with my ministerial responsibilities.
in all these multiple visits to the brothers around the world, which
would you consider the most nourishing and/or challenging experience
you ever encountered?
was the discovery of the Order as such. A discovery of a worldwide
community of brothers and sisters. I am very grateful for this opportunity
of witnessing the apostolic and intellectual life of the Order around
the world. Certainly, I was most fascinated by my visit to Asia.
Pakistan, for instance; there I experienced a reality of living
in a very difficult situation of dialogue with Islam. It was also
very fascinating to visit Vietnam and to see its tremendous possibilities
of a province with lots of vocations. Very young church and very
refreshing. Certainly Manila was another wonderful experience. University
of Santo Thomas is outstanding. Really, visiting Asia was a great
opportunity for me to discover the richness of different cultures,
languages, and religions.
difficult experience was certainly my visit to Africa, which I still
continue discovering and re-discovering every time I go there. Africa
is a forgotten continent... very rich humanly, but very poor in
financial and economic resources. Africa is very close to my heart
because my province had a mission there: in North East of Congo.
Our missionary work has deeply touched me since early times of my
formation. During their civil wars of independence, in the early
60's, we lost 20 brothers as martyrs from my province. It has been
a learning experience for me to witness the terrible consequences
of colonial past, and the sufferings that the Continent still carry
as a result of the colonial oppression. But not all my experiences
of Africa have been sad; I have also enjoyed the beauty and fascinating
richness of ritual celebrations and dance, and variety of cultural
expressions of their deep faith.
also traveled to South America. I amvery much connected to the Institute
Pedro de Cordova in Santiago de Chile. This institute is very interesting
as well as fragile because of the problems they are facing. In spite
of their problems and fragility, the Institute Pedro de Cordova
is an important center of theological reflection upon church and
social justice issues, particularly on regard to globalization.
Finally, very important experience of traveling around the world,
has been my visits and discovery of Eastern Europe and all its richness,
problems, and especially its renewals within Orthodoxy.
report of the commission on the intellectual life of the Order points
out that the purpose of our study life is not to create "intellectuals"
but preachers of the Gospel to the multiple frontiers of the modern
world. Could you please say more about this relationship between
studying and preaching?
think that one of the main intuitions in Saint Dominique was precisely,
to found a religious Order in which studying and preaching are closely
link. Study is a part of our preaching mission. Teaching is not
just something that we do next to many other things, but an integral
part of our Dominican vocation. Everybody at his or her level has
to conceive that the Word of God can only be preached when it has
gone through a process of "digestion" - using your own
words. In our life we have to go through a process of digestion
of what we study and contemplate and experience in our life as Dominicans.
is really a process of "embodying" what we contemplate
in order to give birth to our preaching. This relationship between
study and preaching is crucial in the life of the Dominican tradition.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, for instance, when he speaks about the different
communities and life styles, he underlines this notion of contemplation
as a dimension that involves an active mind which includes also
the activity of being theoretically engaged and immersed into the
mysteries of Divine reality and revelation. But this activity is
only fully manifested when we bring to people the fruit of our contemplation;
on behalf to the others... for the well-being of our brothers and
sisters. So, for Saint Thomas, this relationship between contemplari
et contemplata aliis tradere is a reflection of Jesus himself and
his relationship with God and humanity. Therefore, our study and
preaching should ultimately imitate Christ and the apostles.
this relationship between studying and preaching reflects the very
dynamics of the Trinitarian relationship; the kenosis of God that
opens self- to- other. Could you please expand your idea regarding
God's kenosis as a model to our efforts to further develop the dialogical
dimension of our study?
is a notion that is very important for me. In a certain sense, this
is also very much linked with our Dominican vocation. Everything
we do and live has to be inspired by a deep experience of misericordia,
compassion, and caring for those who are most needed. Also, this
is very closely linked with the fact that we preach and teach a
Word that is incarnate. Incarnate means becoming flesh, body, human
being... which means entering into the fragility of our own existence.
It is the profoundest ground for all our acts of solidarity and
commitment. This is the core of our life as Dominicans. For us as
preachers and teachers of an incarnate Word, a kenotic Word, means
God's givenness to people: God becoming present in our own fragile
humanity, our words, our acting. Present. That means that God is
sacramentally present. That is the very condition of our Dominican
whatever we do and say has already been touched by this divine presence;
a divine presence that has already being embodied within our selves.
Our preaching is, therefore, not only our entering into a relationship
with God's people. But is even more. The "Face of the Other"
- using Levinas' notion - is God's kenotic presence; the Other,
in his/her fragility and vulnerability call us to care. We do not
begin by "preaching" to the Other, but the first act of
preaching arises from our awareness and serious listening to the
Other who first call us to service.
commission on the intellectual life of the Order reported 10 challenges
in the area of the intellectual life. Among these challenges, which
ones would you consider most urgent, and why?
are two very urgent challenges, which are interrelated. I think
that we must discover our passion for study -- the contemplative
dimension of study. That is one of the most urgent challenges. This
is a very counter-cultural model for today's world. The culture
of today is more preoccupied with the immediate "product,"
and has no patience for developing a contemplative dimension.
other challenge is our need to re-discover the importance and need
of philosophy. Philosophy is a valuable and important mean of understanding
of who we are as human beings and our relationship with one another
and with God.
was interesting to observe that the commission on the intellectual
life did not mention anything in regard to the aesthetic (and the
arts) dimension of study/contemplation. In your opinion, why is
am very glad you make this remark. As a matter of fact this should
have been clearly mentioned in our report. I apologize for this
blind spot in our report.
have gone through two periods of our thinking. When I was in the
studium, we were re-discovering the theoretical, hermeneutical,
and epistemological dimension of our study. We were very influenced
by Continental thinkers from the German school of idealism and the
French phenomenology. But in the 70's and early 80's there was an
important shift of thinking, which was among others influenced by
Levinas. This shift challenged us to become more aware of the ethical
dimension of intellectual life. This was a practical, ethical, understanding
theology results from this relevance of "praxis" in theoretical
affairs. I think that we are approaching to a third stage of our
philosophical and theological development which is quite absent
in Levinas (and it is symptomatic). This third stage regards a new
understanding of the place of arts in the way we understand the
world, ourselves, and God. When I think of Schelling and Hegel,
it was very important for them to integrate the aesthetic dimension
of our intellectual understanding of reality. It is urgent that
we recover this dimension of the arts, particularly in Christianity.
should not just talk about truth at the mere epistemological level,
but must integrate the level of the symbolic and poetic. Veritas
is not only an epistemological and ethical reality, but it also
includes "beauty..." an aesthetic dimension. This is the
way in which the theologian enters into the whole "drama"
of the mystery of faith and salvation. Balthasar, for instance,
is another thinker who reminds us of the importance of the relationship
between theology and aesthetics.
I was also influenced by a book written by Peter Weiss, entitled
Aesthetics of Resistance, where the author talks about the importance
of closely looking at the works of art through out history, and
discover the complexity of realities that are expressed in the art
form: who expresses and what is expressed is manifested in art.
And such an expression often reveals a reality of "resistance"
to the status quo and to many forms of oppression. This is a new
hermeneutical key for our intellectual investigations. Aesthetics
means learn how to see, feel, look, perceive, reality. In this sense,
aesthetics is intimately link with the act of contemplation. Contemplation
is a "sensual" activity, for it involves integrating the
senses -- our whole selves is involved as we experience God and
creation. Aesthetics is not only a fact of our need to renewal theology,
but it is a way of preaching the Word in new, evocative, and inspiring
ways: through dance, painting, poetry, sculpture, and many other
forms of expression. This is part of our tradition as Dominicans,
and we must recover this inheritance.
are some of your near-future academic plans and dreams?
will most probably continue for a while teaching, but will also
love to take a sabbatical. I also would love to continue learning
languages. At the moment I am learning Russian, and want to continue
studying other languages. I would like to travel as well. I am also
interested in doing more research on Postmodern thinkers and write
on this topic. I want to continue as well my research on Levinas
and would like to read more critics of his philosophy.
Thank you very much for your time and generosity in sharing with
us your wonderful insights and talents to the Order at large. Many
blessings in your future plans.
you and God bless.