Late Theologian Brian Gaybba Remembered
Brian Gaybba, former priest, Rhodes University dean, and one of South Africa’s foremost Catholic theologians, passed away on February 25 in Grahamstown after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.
Mr Gaybba, who was ordained a priest in 1962 in the Cape Town archdiocese, was also appointed to the first-ever Theological Advisory Commission for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
He was the only secular priest on the commission, which was made up of Catholic academics who would discuss contemporary issues and serve also as ad hoc advisors to the bishops.
He later left the ministerial priesthood and the commission in 1977, and joined the teaching staff of the newly established Theological Education by Extension College, Johannesburg.
His son Richard Gaybba sent The Southern Cross extracts from his father’s reminiscences, wherein he spoke of his love for theology.
“Theology came to be my first love. Learning about our Catholic beliefs, where they came from, how they developed into the form we know today, how to distinguish between the core essence of a doctrine and the particular ideas that specific cultures clothe such a doctrine in — all of this and more I found fascinating,” Mr Gaybba wrote.
His Academic Career
From 1957-62 he attended St John Vianney Seminary in Pretoria where he studied philosophy and theology. From 1963-67 he studied at the Urban University in Rome, obtaining a licentiate in theology in 1964 and a doctorate in theology (summa cum laude) in 1967.
In 1978 he was appointed a senior lecturer in systematic theology at Unisa, the first Catholic theologian to be given such a post in its faculty. He was later promoted to associate professor and then full professor.
He and his wife Monika Gaertner then moved to Grahamstown where he became head of the department of divinity at Rhodes University. In 2003, he retired and was appointed emeritus professor of systematic theology.
Mr Gaybba’s published works include The Spirit of Love; Aspects of the Development of Theology as a Discipline: 12th-14th Centuries; and God is a Community: A General Survey of Christian Theology.
Sydney Duval & Friends Remember Brian Gaybba
Veteran journalist Sydney Duval, a friend of Mr Gaybba’s, remembers him from their student days at St John Vianney onward.
“He was one of the Church’s brightest intellects. His mind was always on the go — like the knotted string he carried about with him which he twirled and swung to his own inner beat.
“Brian was there the day the consul from Taiwan addressed us as ‘honourable gentlemen of the cemetery’. He was also there the day an English lecturer from Unisa brought Gerard Manley Hopkins into our lives with his reading of ‘The Windhover’.”
Mr Duval said they caught up with each other at times through their lives, one of them being in 2001. “I was asked to write a section of Joy Brain’s history of the seminary. Brian was generous with time, input and wit. Our chats were a celebration of shared memory,” he said.
Retired Bishop Reginald Cawcutt recalls Mr Gaybba as a great student.
“I remember the night before our exams began. While all the other students relaxed in our recreation room, Brian would go upstairs and study.
“We often wondered why, since he was brilliant, and if anyone should have been relaxed it was him.”
Fr Larry Kaufmann celebrated Mr Gaybba’s Requiem Mass on March 1 at St Patrick’s church in Grahamstown.