Who is Eugen Drewermann?
Eugen Drewermann (born 1940) is Germany's best-known and most-read living theologian or religious thinker. He has undertaken a fundamental re-interpretation of Christianity and religion from the ground up. While many modern intellectuals are anti-religion, Drewermann is deeply religious but at the same time a questioning and critical thinker. He aims to heal the deep rift in our society between an enlightened unbelief and an unenlightened belief. For him, Christianity is essentially therapeutic, a contagious form of trust. He is active as a psychotherapist, author, public speaker, peace activist and Church critic.
Drewermann describes his work as a Trojan horse, smuggled into the theological institution with the aim of breaking down its walls and opening it up to the world outside. This work of liberating religion from inside consists of three concentric circles, successively penetrating deeper into the heart of religion.
The outermost circle examines the Church's ethical teaching, often using a psychotherapeutic approach to show that a set of rules does not do justice to the complex, often tragic reality of life.
The middle circle consists of exegesis (the interpretation of biblical and other texts). Here he has powerfully challenged academic biblical scholars to go beyond the historical critical method and has provided both fundamental thinking on the theory of interpretation as well as brilliant interpretations of specific texts, including the gospels, Grimm's folk tales, and world literature such as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince and Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
The innermost circle examines fundamental Christian doctrines: God, creation, Jesus, salvation, the soul. Here he engages in a deep dialog with modern science, asserting that while religion and science are fundamentally different, they nevertheless belong essentially together.
Drewermann the Person
Drewermann does not fit any of the usual categories. He is a psychotherapist, yet never charges for the 20 hours of therapy he provides per week. Moreover, he applies his therapeutic approach not just to individuals, but also to the system of the Church as a whole, and even to society.
He is a theologian, yet never aspired to a paid university position in theology. Moreover, he thinks that religion is degraded when it is transformed from a mode of being into a set of teachings that are administered by a hierarchy or defended as objective truth by academics. His ideas are subversive of traditional theology and can even be regarded as an anti-theology.
He is an ordained Catholic priest, yet does not believe that Jesus founded a priesthood and thinks that the Church should be bringing out what is priestly in everyone rather than cultivating a separate group of priests. Moreover, he was suspended from his priestly office and excluded from celebrating and even from receiving mass. On retirement, forced to choose between accepting the Church's pension and continuing his work, he decided to leave the Catholic Church, describing this as "a gift of freedom to myself."