Person, Grace and God. By Philip A. Rolnick


Pp. x, 270 , Eerdmans , Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K. , 2007 , $28.00 .

This book, which is part of the Sacra Doctrina series, which aims to be ‘Christian Theology for a Post-Modern Age’, gives the reader an excellent and comprehensive picture of the state of the question concerning the nature of persons, both human and divine. All the familiar names are there, and so if any scholar is suffering from memory lapses about just what it was that Hugh of St Victor, Boethius or St Thomas Aquinas had to say on the subject of the person, they need look no further than this excellent volume and its index.

There are moderns too who have had an impact on the subject, such as Emmanuel Levinas, whose presence in English-speaking scholarship is a relative novelty. And then there is the newcomer par excellence of whom all theologians must now take note – Richard Dawkins. All credit is due to Rolnick, who, undaunted by science and its jargon, gives us a whole chapter dedicated to considering the concept of person in the light of Darwin and the neo-Darwinians. The second chapter, entitled ‘Darwin's Problems, Neo-Darwinian Solutions, and Jesus's Love Commands’ (pp 63–90) essentially tries to rescue the concept of altruism from the Darwinian idea of the survival of the fittest and Dawkins's ‘selfish gene’. All this is admirable, and indeed essential, if one is to argue, as the whole tenor of this book does, that being a person means being in relation to others, the very opposite of selfishness. However, one feels sad that one has to make the case for altruism at all, and one would like to think that the simple fact of the life of Christ has rendered all arguments about altruism obsolete. But Rolnick's way is the way of dialogue with the world, rather than proclamation to it. Perhaps there is no other way in this post-modern world of ours in which the writings of Darwin are given the respect formerly only given to Holy Writ. Whichever way, this is a finely written, wide-ranging book, for which students of the subject will be truly grateful.