An Interview with Father Gabriel Flynn

by Gordon Nary



Gordon: Where did you attend University and what degrees did you earn?


Father Gabriel: I studied at the University of Oxford where I spent four happy, fruitful years in the ‘city of dreaming spires’, as the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold called Oxford. I graduated in 2000 with a doctor of philosophy (DPhil) degree in systematic and historical theology. Oxford and my friends of that time will be forever in my heart. My supervisor at Oxford was the late Dr Edward Yarnold, SJ, an acclaimed ecumenist and a patristics scholar of note. The internal examiner for my doctoral dissertation was the late Professor John Webster, sometime Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford, who was a true friend and who was also a ‘son of encouragement’ for a whole generation of Oxford divinity students and research scholars.


Earlier, as a student for the priesthood, I went to Maynooth where I studied at the National University of Ireland (Maynooth) and at St Patrick’s Pontifical University on Maynooth’s South Campus with its elegant buildings, beautiful quadrangles, and world-famous College Chapel, designed by J.J. McCarthy (1817-1882), a disciple of A.W.N. Pugin (1812-1852) who designed St Joseph’s Square in the 1840s. I had a wonderful time at Maynooth and after eight years of study and laughter, prayer and meditation, with many truly great people, I graduated with a BA degree (History and Social Science), a Bachelor of Divinity degree (BD), and a two year research master’s degree in theology (STL), specialising in moral and ethics. I was ordained to the priesthood in 1985.


My first appointment was as Chaplain to St Patrick’s Classical School in Navan, CountyMeath, a Catholic VoluntarySecondary School with approximately 1000 students. These were my best years and I still miss Navan, the beautiful BoyneValley, and the vivacious, lovely young people. I spent my time meeting the students, organising retreats and penance services, visiting the boys’ families, and going to football matches. My good friend, Claire Smith, a Religious Education teacher at St Patrick’s, used to say to me, in her inimitable way, ‘Gabriel, you were born to be a chaplain’. Many of the students and their families became my friends and I have celebrated many weddings and I retain the bond of connection with a good number of them. I also count among my friends, many outstanding teachers with whom I was privileged to work.


Gordon: Where and why do you serve and what services do you provide?


Father Gabriel: I serve as Team Assistant to a lovely cluster of parishes in Sutton, Howth, and Baldoyle, all by the sea in North County Dublin. I help with the celebration of Sunday Masses and baptisms. I love celebrating the sacrament of baptism with its rich symbolism and evangelical call to follow Christ. The people of Sutton and the other parishes of the ‘cluster’ are very engaged in the life of the Church, are deeply responsive and ever appreciative of my homilies. I enjoy preaching and while I don’t write my sermons, I like to have a little map before my eyes. I usually get an idea or inspiration in the course of the week or in prayer and then I develop that at the weekends. I do not retain my notes. I depend on the Lord, Mary, and my saint friends to help me with inspirational thoughts, words, and actions. If Sunday Mass does not move us all to act, to serve, to love, to forgive then something is wrong. Prior to moving to Sutton, I was Parish Chaplain at Dunboyne & Kilbride, CountyMeath for almost twenty years and I miss all my friends from there.


Gordon: Where do you teach and what courses do you teach?


Father Gabriel: I teach at Dublin City University where I am a member of the School of Theology, Philosophy, and Music in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. At undergraduate level, I deliver courses to students of the Bachelor of Religious Education & History / English / Music degrees (BRelEd), the BA (Joint Honours), and the BA (Theology & Religious Studies) degrees, as well as the MA (Theology and World Religions).


I teach History of Christianity, Ecumenism, Theological Anthropology, and Ecclesiology to undergraduates. At graduate level, I teach Contemporary Issues in Ecclesiology, Ecumenism & Interreligious Dialogue, and Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal. I love teaching and I always seek to create a collaborative, interactive approach with the students. The university lecture theatre has its own unique energy and spirit and I enjoy it. I hope the students do too.


Gordon: What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had upon Dublin CityUniversity?


Father Gabriel: Like all Higher Education Institutions in Ireland, Dublin CityUniversity closed its doors to staff and students for the academic year 2020-2021 in line with Government of Ireland directives. The work of the University continued uninterrupted thanks to online teaching, prompt, professional, and innovative responses by all staff and a great spirit of co-operation from the student body. But the human and community elements were missing, and many felt a great isolation. When the students returned to campus for the academic year 2021-2022, there was great joy and excitement. My final-year ecumenism class members were exemplary in their attendance and participation.


We went on two fieldtrips, first, to the Romanian Orthodox Church at Smithfield, Dublin where we were received by my dear friend Father Ireneu Craciun and his young successor Father Petru. We also visited to Christ Church Cathedral, Wood Quay, where the Dean, my good friend, Dermot Dunne welcomed us warmly and gave a tour and a lecture on Anglican spirituality. I do not think I experienced such palpable joy among the students in attendance even on trips to Paris, Taizé, Rome and Florence, as on that windswept day at ChristChurch. The University Libraries also provided click and collect services for books and photocopies of journals so that academics, researchers and students were able to continue their work. The President of the University, Professor Daire Keogh, showed leadership and courage by keeping the University open and all lectures in person on the three campuses of the University in the course of the present academic year.


Gordon: You have authored several books. Please provide an overview of Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology.


Father Gabriel: My idea to do this volume emerged soon after I defended my doctorate in 2000. I wanted to assemble an international panel of scholars in theology, history, scripture, patristics, and philosophy to document the genesis, works, and influence of the acclaimed ressourcement movement. The great work of assessing the place of ressourcement in history and its gargantuan contribution to the Second Vatican Council brings us to the heart of the Christian Church in the twentieth century. I invited my colleague and good friend Professor Paul D. Murray of Durham University to serve as joint editor. He accepted with joy and enthusiasm. We were ably assisted by the Editorial Assistant, Dr Patricia Kelly, who is now Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the School of Divinity, University of St Andrews, Scotland.


Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology provides both a historical and a theological analysis of the achievements of the renowned generation of theologians whose influence pervaded French theology and society in the period 1930 to 1960, and beyond. It considers how the principal exponents of ressourcement, leading Dominicans and Jesuits of the faculties of Le Saulchoir (Paris) and Lyon-Fourvière, inspired a renaissance in twentieth-century Catholic theology and initiated a movement for renewal that contributed to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.


The book assesses the origins and historical development of the biblical, liturgical, and patristic ressourcement in France, Germany, and Belgium, and offers fresh insights into the thought of the movement’s leading scholars. It analyses the fierce controversies that erupted within the Jesuit and Dominican orders and between leading ressourcement theologians and the Vatican. The volume also contributes to the elucidation of the complex question of terminology, the interpretation of which still engenders controversy in discussions of ressourcement and nouvelle théologie. It concludes with reflections on how the most important movement in twentieth-century Roman Catholic theology continues to impact on contemporary society and on Catholic and Protestant theological enquiry in the new millennium. The volume was well received and received highly laudatory reviews internationally in the leading journals of theology and church history. Here is a little sample of what they had to say:


‘An indispensible introduction to the ressourcement movement.’

Paul Richardson, Church of England Newspaper

‘With 34 contributors and 50 pages of bibliography, this book provides a thoroughly documented and masterly analysis, both historical and theological, of the wonderful if wholly unexpected renewal that Catholic theology underwent in the years 1930 to 1960.’

- Fergus Kerr, The Tablet

Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology represents the definitive academic ‘handbook’ for the English-speaking world, for a long time to come, on one of the most important and influential movements in 20th century Catholic theology. The remarkable breadth of topics treated and the impressive variety and consistently high quality of scholars involved bespeaks the significant ongoing impact of the ressourcement movement on contemporary Catholic as well as Protestant theology. This volume will need to belong to the working libraries of all theologians, Catholic or Protestant, who continue to reflect on how one of the most important theological movements of the 20th century continues to impact the theological inquiries and perspectives of the new millennium.’

- Reinhard Hutter, DukeUniversity DivinitySchool

Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology constitutes a landmark in the historical and theological research about the ressourcement movement and we applaud the editors for realizing this project.’

- Ward De Pril, Louvain Studies


Gordon: Please provide an overview of Leadership and Business Ethics.


Father Gabriel: This book was first published in 2008. A second edition of the work has just been published by Springer (January 2022) as part of their innovative Issues in Business Ethics Series. This book offers new and challenging approaches to business ethics that successfully link theory and practice thereby overcoming lacunae and inadequacies in much of the literature concerning ethics and governance, a theme that recurs with remarkable frequency in the history of business ethics as an academic discipline. This work provides imaginative and innovate proposals for the indispensable coupling of virtue, integrity, and character with global business, finance, and banking. The volume seeks to overcome the marginal status of business ethics in universities, business, and enterprise by demonstrating that virtue ethics is an important step in the direction of an adequate response to the leadership issue. This new edition of a popular work points to new ways of achieving an ever more urgent coalescence of ethics and business. My volume was for many years in the top 25% of books for online downloads in Springer’s Issues in Business Ethics Series. The volume proposes practical advice and viable suggestions to businesspeople on what is right and wrong in business. It makes a vital contribution in the area of education that should serve the ongoing development of top leaders. In the important domain of women in leadership, the volume provides new solutions that break boundaries on the global stage. The work challenges unethical marketing of human images with important implications for citizenship and society. The volume contains creative suggestions for the use of spirituality and human development for the enhancement of business and society. The significantly extended second edition includes an exciting line up of leading academics and practitioners in the audacious hope that something may change for the better in the realms of business and banking.


Gordon: Please provide an overview of Yves Congar: Theologian of the Church.


Father Gabriel: I got the idea for this book in Oxford when I was defending my thesis. The work was published simultaneously in French Yves Congar: Théologien de l’Église by Éditions du Cerf (Paris: 2007) and in English by Peeters Publishers (Louvain: 2005) in the Louvain Theological and Pastoral Monographs Series. In 2018, Peeters published a new and expanded edition of the work.


The best overview of the book has been provided by Professor Mark E. Ginter in a review published in the Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review, Volume 71, Number 3, July 2007, pp. 493-496. He writes:


‘Gabriel Flynn presents a commemorative volume to mark the centenary of Congar's birth. Contributors span the political and ecclesial spectrum of Continental and North American Catholic theology, non-Catholic Eastern and Western Christianity, and the allied disciplines of history and philosophy. Flynn deserves commendation for meticulously presenting a highly useful text with notes to spur on more Congar studies. The same passionate spirit that drove Congar to write voluminously inspires Flynn in his ‘Introduction,’ situated within the new evangelization. Likewise, Flynn's ‘Epilogue’ pleads for a ‘new reception’ of Congar's writings and Vatican II's texts. His extremely useful bibliography and index will greatly assist this new reception. Between the introduction and epilogue, twenty scholars in four prefaces and seventeen chapters assess Congar’s work. The chapters are divided into four parts: Yves Congar: Theologian; Yves Congar: Ecumenist; Yves Congar: Historian of Ecclesiology; and Yves Congar and the Theology of Interreligious Dialogue. Among these Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant bishops, cardinals, laity, ministers, and priests, one finds the extremes of hagiography, on the one hand, and critical dismissiveness, on the other. Flynn contributes two chapters himself. In ‘Yves Congar and Catholic Church Reform: A Renewal of the Spirit,’ the Irish theologian gives a favorable exposition of Congar's possibly most original, important, and, thus, influential work, Vraie et fausse reforme dans l'Eglise.’


‘Not since Aidan Nichols’s intellectual biography Yves Congar has a book in print covered the immense breadth of Cougar’s life and thought as well as this one. No serious scholar in the English-speaking world in ecclesiology, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, moral theology, pneumatology, sacramental theology, theology of the laity, twentieth-century Church history, or Vatican II can avoid this book. The best-received councils are built upon the shoulders of giants. Flynn’s book demonstrates the breadth and strength of Cougar’s intellectual shoulders upon which the greatness of Vatican II has been and will be realized.’

Gordon: What are some of the challenges that the Catholic Church is facing in Ireland?


Father Gabriel: The challenges facing the Catholic Church in Ireland are not unlike those facing the Churches of many other developed countries and include secularism, loss of trust, and the near-total abandonment of the Church by many young people and young families, as well as a severe shortage of students for the priesthood, to mention some of the most pressing. In the work of reform and renewal, all church members, the laity and bishops, priests and religious must pray earnestly for the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit or our efforts will be in vain. In addition to the sacred texts of Scripture and the writings of the many holy men and women of the Church across the ages, those engaged in the revival or renewal of the Church in Ireland should consider again the great body of teaching of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) which all the modern popes have taken as their compass to guide the Church.


Without a sound claim to universal validity, Christians cannot maintain a conviction of the truth of their faith. In order to defend the truth of our ‘God-talk’, so to speak, Christians must first respond to the atheistic critique of religion by articulating a sound, convincing, and relevant theological anthropology, one that speaks to people and not just to academics and papal or episcopal advisors.


Personally, I continue to do as I have always done since I was a boy. I pray, I work, I teach and write, I fail and fall, I sin and go to confession to receive the healing balm of Christ’s forgiveness. And since I am surrounded by young people every day in the University, I laugh and talk and walk with them. They help me to respond to the challenges in my life.


Two challenges that I encounter daily at Dublin City University are, first, to dare to speak the name of Christ and the good news of the Gospel and, perhaps even more audacious, to think that I might be a witness to Christ’s love for the students. Any person anywhere wishing to serve the Lord will first have to transcend self-love and shame. We do well to reflect on the words of the great American Catholic activist, Servant of God Dorothy Day (1897-1980) who said somewhere: ‘If I have achieved anything in my life, it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God.’ The greatest challenge for the Church in Ireland, the people of God, will be the same in every age or era, namely, to witness to Christ by speaking his word and sharing his life’s story with anyone who will listen at home, in school, in the university or in the workplace. I conclude by reference to the mission of the Church. In successive ages, Irish people have left our beautiful shores for faraway places in order to share the good news with others, to teach, to evangelise, to heal as nurses and doctors and to raise up the poorest of the poor. The Catholic Church in Ireland has always been a missionary Church, revival and renewal will come at home together with a revival of our missionary, evangelical spirit or it will not come at all.


Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.

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