Oblate School of Theology has scored a major coup in bringing Father Peter C. Phan to give its 2017 Louis G. Vance Lecture in Systematic Theology Oct. 17 in the lecture’s third year, said Father John Markey, OP, Associate Professor of Theology.
He called Fr. Phan “one of the most significant theologians in the United States and even in the global church,” adding, “His coming is very prestigious and a sign of the commitment of the Vance Chair to bring the most important theological voices into the local conversation here.”
Fr. Phan’s topic in the free public lecture will be “Doing Ecclesiology in the Global Church.” He will discuss the concept of “World Christianity,” outlining the theology of the Catholic Church and exploring its mission, nature and ministry. His lecture will draw insights from Pope Francis and the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences and seeks to respond to the most prominent challenges facing the Church today.
The Vietnam native is the Ignacio Ellacuria Professor of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He emigrated to the United States in 1975 and has earned three doctorates. Fr. Phan taught philosophy at age 18 at Don Bosco College in Hong Kong. He has taught at the University of Dallas, the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Union Theological Seminary in New York, Elms College in Chicopee, Mass., and St. Norbert’s College in De Pere, Wisc. In 2001, Fr. Phan became the first non-Anglo elected President of the Catholic Theological Society of America. In 2010, he received the John Courtney Murray Award, the society’s highest honor for outstanding and distinguished achievement in theology.
“Peter Phan is like the Rosetta Stone of theology. Every theologian in the global church has contact with him. He’s not just a major Catholic theologian; he’s a major theologian, period,”
Fr. Markey said.
Fr. Phan brings the American church and culture to global conversations, and he brings many global perspectives into U.S. church conversations and Catholic theological conversations, Fr. Markey noted. A former president of the ecumenical Association of Theological Schools, he knows what is happening in a variety of other religious denominations and has served on global commissions and projects.
“Peter is one of the best-informed theologians doing theology today. The breadth of his insights in dialogue and conversation brings what’s going on with the global church to many discussions,” Fr. Markey explained. He added that Fr. Phan was at Catholic University when its faculty included “a Who’s Who of theology and who were doing ground-breaking work. The generation after the Second Vatican Council were taking what the Council said and running with it.”
He said that Fr. Phan has a wide and deep world-view because he is attentive to developments in Asia and Africa and reads material in languages to which many American theologians don’t have access.
Fr. Markey noted that the Georgetown University theologian does not seek to control conversations among theologians or have the final word, but peers highly respect him and value his perspectives on topics on which they are writing. “He’s contributed essays for some 20 books because theologians want to know what he thinks,” according to Fr. Markey.
The OST associate professor said that to be a great theologian in today’s context means engaging in multiple conversations, contributing, receiving material and transmitting it to other conversations. “That kind of dialogical approach is what post-Vatican II theology is about, and Peter is the poster child for that kind of theological method and paradigm. Peter is a major voice and player in systematic theology, but he’s broadened his reach and hasn’t limited himself to writing tracts or books with a lot of footnotes.”
He said that Fr. Phan is deeply engaged in pastoral conversations and in sociological and cultural issues. “He’s not the only voice, but he stimulates other people’s thinking; he engages people and offers insights that enable them to grow. He’ll bring something into a conversation and lights up the conference. People say, ‘That helps me explain what I was trying to say.’ That’s what Peter brings.” Post-Vatican II theology is about theologians animating each other’s thinking and moving the conversation forward, he explained. “The goal is not for me to be the expert whom everybody turns to, but to bring my energies to bear on a conversation that I’m going to learn from,” Markey said.
Fr. Phan’s writings deal with the theology of icons in Orthodox churches, patristic theology, eschatology, and the history of mission in Asia. His books include Christianity with an Asian Face; In Our Own Tongues and Being Religious Interreligiously. His writings have been translated into Italian, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and Vietnamese. He is general editor of the multi-volume Theology in Global Perspective for Orbis Books and Ethnic American Pastoral Spirituality for Paulist Press.
Fr. Phan’s lecture, Doing Ecclesiology in the World Church is a free public lecture, provided for by the Louis G. Vance Chair of Systematic Theology. Those wishing to attend may RSVP online or call Brenda at (210) 341-1366 ext. 212.
By J. Michael Parker