Christoph Cardinal Schönborn receives honorary doctorate at UP

Photo: Jakub Čermák, Vojtěch Duda
Tuesday 12 September 2023, 8:00 – Text: Martin Višňa

Upon the proposal of the Scholarly Board of the Sts Cyril and Methodius Faculty of Theology (CMFT), Palacký University Olomouc has awarded the honorary degree of Doctor Honoris Causa to one of the most important theologians of the late 20th and early 21st century, Archbishop of Vienna and Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, who also contributed to the renewal of academic theological studies in the Czech Republic after 1989. He received the honorary doctorate during a ceremony at the Archbishop’s Palace in Olomouc as part of the celebrations of this year’s 450th anniversary of the foundation of university in Olomouc.

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, who is a prominent figure beyond the borders of Austrian clerical and social life, was introduced to those present by UP CMFT Dean Vít Hušek, who emphasised especially his merits in the preparation of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, when together with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) he prepared a short version of the Catechism; and under Schönborn’s leadership, a shortened text for the younger generation was also created. “It is often said that proper theology should end on one’s knees, but looking at Schönborn’s work one wants to add that it also ends in service to others, in an honest and laborious interpretation of the faith provided for the general public. This is evidenced by the interviews with him, which have already been published several times in book form: it is a manifestation of his effort to bring Christianity and its theological science to a wider audience,” said Dean Hušek.

He also highlighted his relations with Olomouc. The cardinal is known for his support of theological studies in the country, especially within the Dominican Order, with whose Olomouc convent he has worked closely. He also supported the work of the UP CMFT emeritus professor František X. Halas on the Czech translation of the Jerusalem Bible. And he has lectured at Olomouc’s theological faculty in the past, and to this day he is still connected with it both professionally and through friendships. “By honouring him, by honouring a member of a family that was expulsed from our country at the end of World War II, we will hopefully contribute a little to the process of reconciliation with our past,” added Dean Hušek.

 “I am particularly pleased that Palacký University is awarding Christoph Cardinal Schönborn the title of Doctor Honoris Causa in the year in which we commemorate the 450th anniversary of the foundation of the University of Olomouc. After all, the origins of the second oldest university in the lands of the Bohemian Crown, as well as the continuity of higher learning in Olomouc over the centuries, are linked to learning in the field of theology. Your Eminence, let me wish you much energy, health, and success in your future work,” said UP Rector Martin Procházka, who together with the Vice-Rector for Science and Research, Lucie Plíhalová, awarded the honorary doctorate in the form of a diploma and a commemorative medal to the cardinal.

Cardinal Schönborn appreciated the honorary degree as a very moving gesture, not only on a personal level, but also for the Czech Republic, Austria, and the Catholic Church in both countries. “Such an award is always also a commitment for the recipient and a bond between the donor and the recipient,” he said at the beginning of his speech, dedicated to his personal and family history connected with the Czech Republic and especially the topic of freedom in the context of Czech-German relations in the past as well as in the context of current crises and wars.

 “When the large wave of refugees flooded Austria and Germany in 2015, my mother, who was 95 years old at the time, gave a television interview. Her statement moved many people: ‘No one leaves their home voluntarily!’” he recalled, adding that the countries where refugees flee war, dictatorship, and famine show exactly what most people understand by ‘freedom’: security, normal living conditions, a future for their own family, freedom of religion, the pursuit of happiness.

 “Why is Europe the destination of so many refugees today? There is no other reason than the one that drove my mother to flee with her two children to Austria in 1945. I am grateful to God with all my heart that today no one flees from a united Europe for the same reasons. I hope that we are all gratefully aware that such a situation in Europe is by no means self-evident. Therefore, I thank Olomouc’s university from the bottom of my heart for the grand award of an honorary doctorate,” said the cardinal in the conclusion of his speech at the Archbishop’s Palace in Olomouc.

By being awarded the honorary degree by UP, Cardinal Schönborn has joined the ranks of personalities such as Václav Havel, the former Czech and Czechoslovak President; Charles Merrill, UP benefactor and founder of a programme enabling Czech and Slovak students to study in the USA; chemist Antonín Holý; plastic surgeon Bohdan Pomahač; and Tomáš Cardinal Špidlík, who were awarded honorary doctorates by Palacký University after 1990 for their contributions to the development of science, culture, and other activities for the benefit of society and humanity. A list of all UP honorary doctors is available here.

Christoph Schönborn was born on 22 January 1945 in the castle Skalka near Vlastislav in the Litoměřice region. He comes from the Czech branch of an aristocratic family whose members were politicians, patrons, and clergymen in the Czech lands for more than 150 years. After World War II, the family settled in Austria, where Christoph Schönborn entered the Dominican Order after graduating from secondary school.

He studied at the University of Vienna and in Paris, was ordained a priest in 1970, received his licentiate in theology a year later, and successfully completed his doctoral studies in 1974. He then became professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. He also taught the theology of the Christian East. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, he became involved in the renewal of academic life in Catholic theology, was the first foreign lecturer at the theological faculty in Litoměřice, and lectured in Brno and Olomouc. His academic career ended with his appointment as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Vienna in 1991, and four years later he became its head as archbishop, which he remains to this day. In 1998 Pope John Paul II appointed him Cardinal-Priest of the titular church of Gesù Divino Lavoratore. He was President of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference from 1998 to 2020, and has also held various positions in Vatican offices.

Cardinal Schönborn is the author of some twenty monographs, numerous scholarly articles, and chapters in collections and books, written in many languages, many of which have also been translated. His research focuses on Christology viewed from a patrological perspective, as is evident in his early work on Sophronius of Jerusalem or in his doctoral thesis on the theology of the Icon of Christ.


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