In continuing our tributes to Vítor Westhelle, fellow colleague José David Rodriguez now shares some of his impressions. Both coming from Latin America, both having begun their studies at LSTC together in 1978, Prof. Rodriguez takes a moment to reflect on what it means to be this most Lutheran of things, a theologian of the cross, and how Dr. Westhelle understood that better than most. Read, comment, and share.
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
On Sunday May 13th our Brazilian colleague at LSTC Vítor Westhelle joined my father and others in the company of the Church Triumphant. As Rev. Dr. Carmelo Santos, one of Vítor’s former students and now colleague wrote recently on his Facebook page, we thank Vítor for introducing us to …the liberating mystery of the cross and to the practice of the resurrection. Few theologians have witness to this enigmatic experience that we will all face sooner or later, with the rational clarity and persuasion as Vítor – as demonstrated throughout his many lectures, books and articles. Still fewer have witnessed with their life to what Martin Luther described as the true quality of a theologian of the cross.
The secret lies in the liberating experience that the practice of the resurrection grants as an unmerited gift to those who willingly and faithfully engage the challenges and risks that come with living in the context of the cross.
For Vítor, this witness of faith took place not only in his role of teacher and scholar, but also – and consistently – as husband, father, friend, and colleague. As demonstrated by the testimony of his colleagues, friends, and family during Vítor’s excruciating struggle against cancer, his willingness to come to terms with this terminal condition with hope and endurance was a clear sign of his trust in the liberating mystery of the cross in the context of the power of the resurrection. Now, as Carmelo Santos also claims, …we trust that Vítor rests in peace continuing his theological labors not like one who sees as a dim reflection in a mirror, but as one that sees face to face and knows as he is known.
My relationship with Vítor and his family has run the span of approximately forty years. We began our advanced studies in theology at LSTC in 1978 where he came with Christiane from Brazil; I came with my family from Puerto Rico. Throughout the years we became fellow students, close friends, compadres (I am the godfather of his son Carlos), lecturers at common international events, and since the early nineties, dear colleagues at LSTC.
While my professional experience has led me to incur more administrative labors than Vitor, both of us continued our education in other international institutions of higher learning that enriched our vocation as teaching theologians. For Vítor it was the University of Tübingen in Germany; for me it was The University of the West Indies in Jamaica. Both of us are also ministers of Word and Sacrament and have had significant experience in parish ministry as well as social and political endeavors. Given the precipitous departure of Vítor from our midst, there will be a vacuum that no one among us will be able to fill.
The memorial service for Vítor celebrated at LSTC on May 17th brought together a great number of people whose lives have been profoundly impacted by the creative, scholarly, teaching, and pastoral labors of this extraordinary Latin American theologian. While the full range of contributions of towering figures like Vítor may only be acknowledged with the passing of time, the celebration at LSTC broke down barriers of time and space by including viewers in different geographical locations joining in the memorial celebration. This event reminds us that the relevance of faith in our times, rather than effacing, continues to be a present force of empowerment in the face of today’s challenges with hope and resilience.
May God’s grace, which filters through the fissures of rising walls of doubt and seemingly insurmountable challenges, continue to strengthen our resolve in witnessing to the true quality of a theologian of the cross.
Rodriguez received the bachelor of arts from Universidad de Puerto Rico in the area of Philosophy (with honors). He earned the master of divinity, master of theology and doctor of theology degrees at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Ordained in 1975, Rodriguez has served congregations in Puerto Rico and Chicago, held visiting appointments at the Seminario Evangelico de Puerto Rico and the Comunidad Teologica de Mexico, and has been an adjunct faculty member at Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Ill., and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lombard, Ill., before joining the Lutheran School of Theology faculty in 1985.
His service to the church includes membership on a number of boards, including the editorial boards of the Association for the Theological Education of Hispanics and the Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology. He was co-chair and planner of the first meeting of Hispanic-Latina theologians and ethicists held at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is also member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT). From 1997 to 2001 he was coordinator of EATWOT’s U.S. Minorities Region.
Rodriguez has contributed articles and or book reviews to The Lutheran, Currents in Theology and Mission, Apuntes, Journal of Religion (University of Chicago), and Voces Luteranas. He is currently working on the planning, coordinating, and publishing of the Rev. Evaristo Falco-Esteves lecture series.