The Theology of Elmar Salmann




Elmar Salmann, born May 12 1948 in Hagen (Germany), has studied philosophy, literature and theology at Paderborn, Vienna and Münster. He became a Benedictine Monk of the Abbey of Gerleve (Westphalia) in 1973.

Since 1981 he is professor of philosophy and systematic theology at the Pontifical University St. Anselm (Rome), at the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome) and at the Hochschule für Philosophie (München).

He Deals with poetry and theology, Judaism and Christian faith, modernity and Christianity. And participates in many forums and discussions, even outside the ecclesiastical circles, including The Normale di Pisa, which is a study group on ethics and advertising sponsored by Mediaset.

Salmann is a Christian thinker, modern theologian; lecturer and writer… his major studies focus on the relationship between human experience and symbolism, Christianity and modern culture, mysticism and philosophy, theory of Grace and psychology: Through a comparison between philosophers (Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Levinas… ), theologians (Thomas Aquinas, Rahner, de Lubac, Barth, von Balthasar, Drewermann, Jüngel…), without renouncing the grace of poets (Caproni, Montale, Sbarbaro, Borges, Pessoa…).

Salmann makes a brilliant evocative statement, able to touch many aspects, but to dissolve few knots. Christianity is presented as the religion of the broken body and it is made an excursus into the Scripture and Tradition to highlight this aspect. Some hints focus also on the body’s ambiguity and some attempts to integrate, into theology, the body’s reality, which remains more mysterious than of the spirit.

Salmann’s theology is an attempt to verify the possibility of a style of life and thought inspired by Christianity, yet without the abandonment to be Men of our time. In other words: the central “mysteries” of Christianity may still emerge as fertile grounds of culture in a society such as this, in which the claim to live and think according to the criteria of the Christian faith seems unthinkable or cannot be proposed? This question is still of avail today and in all countries of the world, at a time when economic globalization seems to be the new religion of humanity. Salmann launches his challenge to a lifestyle that is proper to the Christian and at the same time humanly valid, and shows how theology is meant to build culture. Faith: the relationship between Man and God, studied in gestures, in symbols, in language that are used to express the unending pursuit of truth by man, and the offer of salvation that God never tires of offering to Man.




Anna Katharina Emmerick – ihre mystische Existenz aus nachmoderner Sicht. 2007. (collaboration with: von Clemens Engling, Günter Scholz, Nicole Priesching, Carl Möller, Wolfgang Frühwald).

Contro Severino. Incanto e incubo del credere. Casale M. 1996.

Cur Deus Homo: Atti Del Congresso Anselmiano Internazionale Roma, 21-23 Maggio 1998. (collaboration with: Paul Gilbert, Helmut Karl Kohlenberger).

Der geteilte Logos: Zum offenen Prozess von neuzeitlichem Denken und Theologie. Roma 1992.

Die Vernunft Ins Gebet Nehmen: Philosophisch-Theologische Betrachtungen. 2000. (collaboration with Joachim Hake).

Emmerick und Brentano: Dokumentation eines Symposiums der Bischöflichen Kommission “Anna-Katharina Emmerick”. 1983. (collaboration with: von Wolfgang Frühwald, Peter Hünermann, Winfried Woesler, Bernd Wacker, Renate Moering, Hubert Larcher, Basilius Senger, Clemens Engling, Heinrich Schleiner).

Filosofia E Mistica: Itinerari Di Un Progetto Di Ricerca. Roma 1997. (collaboration with: Aniceto Molinaro).

La teologia è un romanzo. Milano 2000.

La Teologia mistico-sapienziale di Anselm Stolz. Roma 1988. (collaboration with: Gerardo J Bekes, Benedetto Calati, Anselmo Lipari).

L’Attualità filosofica di Anselmo d’Aosta. Roma 1990. (collaboration with: von Carlo Huber, Aniceto Molinari).

Le ragioni della fede. Come credere oggi. 1997. (collaboration with: Colzani Gianni; Giustiniani Pasquale).

Le ragioni della fede. Come credere oggi. Milano 1997.

Mysterium Christi: Symbolgegenwart und theologische Bedeutung. Festschrift für Basil Studer. Roma 1996.  (collaboration with: Magnus Löhrer).

Neuzeit und Offenbarung. Studien zur trinitarischen Analogik des Christentums. Roma 1986.

Passi e passaggi nel Cristianesimo. 2009.

Patrimonium Fidei: Traditionsgeschichtliches Verstehen Am Ende? Festschrift Für Magnus Löhrer Und Pius Ramon Tragan. Roma 1997 (collaboration with: Magnus Löhrer, Pius-Ramon Tragan, Marinella Perroni).

Presenza di spirito. Il cristianesimo come gesto e pensiero. Padova 2000.

Scienza e spiritualità. Affinità elettive. 2009.

Wir sehen jetzt im Spiegel rätselhaft: Otto von Simson zum Gedächtnis. 1996. (collaboration with: von Reiner Hausherr, Wieland Schmied, Gottfried Boehm).

Zwischenzeit: Postmoderne Gedanken zum Christsein heute. 2004.






1. The Faith can’t be comprehended anymore by itself. It needs at the end of modern times a reinterpretation of the Christian mystery ‘from outside’ that reconstitutes its laws, its physiognomy and saves the best of tradition and today’s intelligence: theology as school of restoration and rescuing.

2. Each idea is developed in a dual perspective, that of fundamental theology that explores the path to plausibility of a mystery for the reason, it captures the outside light; and the dogmatic view that shows the intrinsic light, the aesthetics of the nexus between the mysteries and the logic of kenotic revelation. Theo-logy is the interlacement between the auto-exploration of experience of life, the reason and the revelation.

3. Such theology needs several starts: trying to reconcile the transcendental style (Rahner), Trinitarian-kenotic (Balthasar), the ontological-classical view (Greeks), and the historic-dramatic (the Jews); history as the exegesis of the spirit (Hegel) and concrete-eidetic glance (Goethe).

Basically, one always is wondering: what is happening? What is phenomenologically true in this context? And how a given phenomenon is interdependent with others, namely with its large field (structuralism)?: Theology is a school of watching.

4. All is gravitating about an ontological Trinitarian with strong pneumatological emphasis. It seeks to highlight the formal and dramatic nexus between Trinity, Incarnation, Cross, Creation, structural ontology of the Christ’s Body, mystical and psychological interiority of man.

5. Salmann does not ‘administer’ a scientific closed system, but stimulates the scholar/student/reader that she/he will find, in own language, a harmony between culture and faith, the kind of personal intelligence and the world of mystery. Hence the method of his examination: everyone can and must prepare a paper/perspective which concerning the matter in question.

6. Such theology of ‘wisdom’ implies some formal laws:

6.1. No phenomenon is completed by itself, comprehended by itself, but it results in itself para-doxical, polar, a part of an elliptical field, and a dialectic of closeness and detachment from others. Everything is rediscovered in view of its opposite: the grace through the abyss of sin, guilt has its measure only in the grace… First and last barycentre: the mystery of the Trinity, extreme unity and extreme diversity of Persons; and Christology: the same person is constituted by the mean of two primordial relationships. For this we need an exquisite touch that does not separate nor confuses the phenomenon, but distinguishes, differentiates and unites them at the same time. The Law of Chalcedon marks the ontology and theological epistemology. So Salmann moves his theology in spiral, he closes to the centre, which is in itself polar, from different complementary angles.

6.2. Each phenomenon is epiphanic and symbolic, opening for the presence of an entire world, and the presence of the divine absence, a point of transition for the Pascha of the Logos. God appears in everything, thinker… which the presence of non-aliud, and in this totally other. Hence the relativity, the lightness and specific weight/burden, the originality and the transparency of every being. Everything may be a sacrament which is inspired, where my freedom emerges. The sacred history, the Bible is the paradigmatic case for this process, which he tries to extend and trace in the history of the spirit, of the Church.

6.3. Nothing is fixed; everything may only be understood in a path of permanent transformation towards/on love, the primordial image, the space that includes us, all is a process of transfiguration. The theology endeavours to follow this process to make it plausible, and to understand the love that comprehends us.




Some categories to give a physiognomy at the intersection between finite and infinite, human existence and a possible acknowledgment of/with the divine or with some reasons that the Christian mystery in this way might appear – precisely as a reason:


1. Luxuriant, mythological, magical – the sinister charm of metamorphosis: Stefano D’ARRIGO (Horcynus Orca) – on the trails of Herman Melville, Gesualdo Bufalino (Kalendas Graecas, especially the poem beginning of ‘Curriculum‘ and the description of the birth; The Night’s Lies). It takes into account the fascination of The Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, the novels of Gabriel García MARQUEZ, the personage ‘baroque-polifrenic’ of Fernando PESSOA, of Cees Nooteboom (Lost Paradise, angels! All Souls Day).

2. Skeptical-laconic-aporical: agnostic agonic poems of EUGENIO MONTALE (All the poems, Mondadori 1984, 827-876); Giorgio CAPRONI and Fernando PESSOA (e.g. Una sola moltitudine 11 79 ff).

3. Skeptical-political-documentary-essay: The life as a suffered essay, open…, Leonardo SCIASCIA (Black on Black, Crossword, In Partibus Infidelium…); Claudio MAGRIS (Danube, Utopia and Disenchantment, Microcosms, The Dramas); Gesualdo Bufalino (Bluff of Words).

4. Apocalyptic: The world in the dim light of Judgement, Elsa MORANTE (History, Aracoeli); Salvatore SATTA (The Mystery of The Process; The Day of Judgment). It remains immeasurable the background of Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The question of theodicy emerges in touching way in: Giovanni D’ALESSANDRo (If A Pitiful God).

5. Phenomenological-biographical dryness with a opening to an another piety: Lalla ROMANO (In Extreme Seas; The Man Who Spoke Alone; A Dream of The North); Giuseppe PONTIGGIA (The Great Night, Born Twice, First Person and his essays…); the mytho-biographical musical’s sequence of poetic collections of Giuseppe UNGARETTI, Luigi dallapiccola, Umberto SABA (e.g. the poem The goat).

6. Melancholic, looking from below, doubtful-delirious: Natalia Ginzburg (Never Must You Ask Me, on believing and not believe in God; The Little Virtues, Family Sayings), and the poems of Camillo Sbarbaro (Shavings, Scampoli…).

7. Metaphysical, boundless, enigmatic: The novels of Giuseppe. O. LONGO (The acrobat, The hierarchy of Ackermann, On few footprints on the snow: Eros-death-math, Central-Europe); and the background of Franz KAFKA, and of Dino Buzzati; the grim and incontrovertible side of the right according to Salvatore SATTA.

8. Gnostic-agnostic: Roberto Calasso (The Ruin of Kasch, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony); Massimo CACCIARI (The Necessary Angel; Icons of The Law; By Steinhof).

9. Prophetic-anguished, mystagogic: Mario LUZI (The Book of Hypatia, For the Baptism of Our Fragments); David Maria Turoldo and his poems (The Last Songs), Michele RANCHETTI and his poems (Verbal, The Musical Mind) and his essays (The Last Priests, Different Writings).

The Christianity appears as a motive, contested and contextualised perspective; and as a mine, prick and ferment, which needs to be read over again at against the light and in the wrong way- that serves Christianity to read over again the world at against the light. The reality appears as a trace of a past god, and faithful as dowser, the landscape of mystery, as mine, discovery, which can enrich the interpretation and management of life.







Salmann looks and sees Christ as figure and event, and as a reflective-projected representative of the reconciliation between love and freedom, finite and infinite. The (kenotic) absolute and historic project. Only in this soteriological context his figure can be individuated. Salmann tries to reconstruct the physiognomy of Christ through different “lenses” of modern Christology.

1. Christ, who are you towards God?

Christ in the logic of Epiphany: the figure of Christ as alienating exposition of the Blessed, and the freedom of man as a gift of love (Balthasar).

2. Christ, who are you towards humans?

Christ in the prophetic human logic: the logic of his existence: Christ as a model of a liberated and liberating freedom (Boff, Schillebeeckx, Küng).

3. Who are you in yourself? You who can do everything!

Christ with a transcendental ontological logic, and the laws of reconciliation between nature and person, infinite and finite in the intrinsic structure of the mystery of the person of the Logos: Logic of the Incarnation. Theological issues: Virginity… (Thomas of Aquino, Rahner).

4. Christ, who are you to us?

Christ with historical-universal logic. The eschatological meaning of the Christological event, and the history as process of liberation and harmonization, logic of the resurrection (Forte, Pannenberg, Teilhard de Chardin).

5. Logic of the cross

Christ in dramatic-transformer logic: the conflictual crisis between God and humans, freedom and love and a starting point of redemption in the mystery of the offspring (Balthasar, Moltmann).

6. Logic of mission

Christ with a pneumatic universal logic: as a pot and inspiration of the Spirit and representative of the Alliance (Kasper, Mühlen, Hegel).



Structural Principles of Christianity: Salmann tries to reconstruct theology and Christology, through a process of reconstruction. He does not hesitate to use any form of arts (musicians, painters, poets…) to understand the mystery, so does not feel ashamed to go to seek help or any form of culture!

He starts at the same moment, as in theology, from culture and cult, philosophy and theology, the human data and the data of revelation… mixes everything but in distinguishing, and distinguishes all but uniting… to be able then to create a mosaic, a picture, a brilliant, bright, crisp, clear, tidy… vision!