Of nearly all the recent theological voices that merit attention, I can’t think of any that are more ignored and underrated than Herbert McCabe. At least by theologians. Philosophers such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Terry Eagleton, and Anthony Kenny all acknowledge the significant infulence of his thought on their own work.
One of the things that makes McCabe so interesting as a theologian is the way in which he combines radical and witty social, political, and theological critique with a razor sharp dogmatic precision. This is what is so rare among theologians. Either you have revolutionary theologians like Stanley Hauerwas who are something of a blunt instrument, despite all their brilliance, or you have systematically precise dogmaticians like George Hunsinger or Paul Molnar who lack innovation and original theological contribution. McCabe is in many ways the best of both worlds.
Always controversial, McCabe is well known for his harsh criticism of Catholic theologian Charles Davis for publicly leaving and denounching the Catholic Church as corrupt. McCabe responded by saying that of course the Church was corrupt but that this was no reason to leave it. In an editorial in New Blackfriars in 1965 he leveled all these critiques at Davis and was subsequently removed from his editorial position for stating that the Church “is quite plainly corrupt”. He was reinstated three years later, and his opening editorial began with the folowing line: “As I was saying, before I was so oddly interrupted…”
Another central aspect to McCabe’s theology is the central role that his sermons played in his theological contributions. Arguably some of the most carefully constructed and articulated sermons ever written, McCabe’s sermons encapsulate many of his central theological themes about our tendency to make God in to “a god” constructed in our own image, about ethics as the proper configuration of social life, and Jesus Christ’s human life and death as the ultimate revelation of the inner life of the Triune God.
I have just about acquired all of McCabe’s major books at last, and I plan to post more on him in the future. Hopefully I can convince you to read this fascinating theologian and churchman. In the meantime, here’s a quote from McCabe on the proper elements of the Eucharist as bread and wine:
The reason why it is hard for me to envisage a Coke and frankfurter becoming the body of Christ is that I have difficulty imagining them as food in the first place.