Pp. xi, 428 , Naples, Florida , Sapientia Press , 2007 , $39.95 .
This is one of a series of books published from the very recently founded Ave Maria University. It is a festschrift for Matthew Lamb, formerly of Boston College and famous as Lonergan scholar, for his seventieth birthday. Although many of the contributors are well-known, it would have been helpful for some minimal information to have been provided about them. Fifteen chapters, each in some way honouring the life and work of Father Lamb, cover diverse topics, for example, the nature of the Catholic university, theological formation, the vocation of consecrated religious, Aquinas' biblical commentaries, ecclesiological concerns, Christian anthropology, faith and reason, and Lonergan's theory of history. The essays are well-documented, clearly written, carefully and elegantly argued and offer valuable insights. They seem to emerge from lives soaked in ecclesial fidelity; the authors think with and for the church; they engage seriously the work of scholars who take a different line from themselves; and despite the diversity of topics, specialisations and selected debating partners, the book gives the impression of considerable coherence and cumulatively the essays display a Catholic orthodoxy along the lines conveyed in the journal Communio.
While admiring the modelling of Christian scholarship evident in so many of these essays and granting their perceptive exposure of some of the defects, exaggerations, distortions, short-sightedness and too easy optimism of many of those who advocate a more liberal theological agenda, I often found myself ultimately unpersuaded by their arguments or, more precisely, by what they thought followed from these arguments. However, feeling that there is more to be said on a topic or that another point of view should be weighed more carefully, does not mean that there is not much of significance and worth contained here. Unfortunately there is too little respectful engagement between those of a more liberal and those of a more conservative (as here) orientation in the church; each has something positive to gain from such engagement and from truly listening to the other.
Although scholars outside the Catholic Church should find valuable insights in this book, depending on their areas of interest, the primary readership will (and probably should) be Catholic theologians and scholars in Catholic universities. Despite the clarity and quality of the writing of contributors, this is a book for more advanced readers. Many chapters could be the focus of serious and fruitful debate between scholars of different persuasions. Four chapters speak to the university. Don Briel's chapter on the Idea of a University confirms Newman's view that the involvement of the Church is necessary for the integrity of a university, steadies it in its duties of intellectual education, actively contributes to forming the moral lives of students, but without restricting freedom of enquiry or thought. It remains to be seen, in the reviewer's UK context, whether the Church is adequately equipped or sufficiently interested in higher education to engage seriously with prevailing realities, ground-rules and assumptions to offer a credible contribution in this potentially vital apostolate. Similarly Michael Dauphinais's essay ‘Aquinas and the Catholic University’ provides food for thought in its challenge to follow up Ex Corde Ecclesiae's reminder that the Catholic university should combine a search for truth with the certainty of already knowing the fount of truth. Here the call, in John Paul II's 1998 encyclical Fides et ratio, for a recovery of the sapiential dimension of human knowledge, has a part to play. Avery Dulles's chapter ‘Wisdom as the Source of Unity for Theology’ helpfully unpacks some of the implications of this call for wisdom, usefully delineating the differences between philosophical, theological and infused wisdom. Intellectual penetration is aided by the quality of a person's spiritual development and prayer life. This is a salutary, and much neglected, point, one that some would find provocative and need persuading to consider seriously. Paul Gondreau, in ‘Set Free by First Truth: Ex corde Ecclesiae and the Realist Vision of Academic Freedom for the Catholic Theologian’ contrasts the prevailing voluntarist approach to academic freedom with a realist one that makes freedom depend on an objective order of being and on the objective nature of the human person. This is a valuable corrective to some interpretations of academic freedom, but, without providing some further caveats, Gondreau's assertions (p. 90) that ‘the theologian makes responsible use of his academic freedom when he adheres to the teaching of the Magisterium – [and that] Conversely, to dissent from the teaching of the Magisterium is to allow academic freedom to suffer abuse’– come across as too stark and bare. Later in his essay he does emphasize the mutuality of the relationship between the theologian and the Magisterium. However, overall in this book there is too little acknowledgement of messiness, compromise, ambiguity, abuse of power and sinfulness within church history. Gondreau expects too strict a limitation on the expression of dissent for healthy debate and mature thinking to flourish.
Finally I pick out two other chapters that each provide interesting insights that call out for further discussion. First, Matthew Levering, in ‘Hierarchy and Holiness,’ offers an interpretation of St Matthew's Gospel and of Paul in 1 Corinthians that defends the role of hierarchical authority as essential for and constitutive of the church. His point is that ‘Christ has chosen to give believers this saving power by requiring them to receive it from other believers’ (p. 164) and that ‘the Church becomes a school that teaches us how radically we must receive salvation from outside ourselves' (p. 170). Thus, one might say that the hierarchical mediation of Christ's saving power … [serves] as an antidote to pride, which desires autonomy’ (p. 172), although, of course, questions remain as to the dangers and temptations for those who exercise hierarchical office if there are inadequate checks and balances within the functioning of the church. Second, Lawrence Welch, in ‘The Augustinian Foundations of a Nuptial Theology of the Body’ revisits the place of sexual identity in the scheme of salvation. In contrast to those in the past, such as Gregory of Nyssa, who believed that the male and female aspects of human nature had no relevance for our being made in God's image and likeness, (and would be transcended and left behind at our resurrection) and in opposition to those scholars today, such as Elizabeth Johnson, who rejects any idea of the complementarity of the sexes as rigidly determining the qualities and roles each should cultivate and play because this excuses or disguises the subordination of women, Welch shows that Augustine saw the sexual differentiation of the first couple as a part of God's original creative plan and as something that foreshadowed the unity between Christ and the Church. Welch's positive reading of Augustine's appreciation of maleness and femaleness and sexual union as something illuminated by an understanding of how Christ relates to his church is a contribution to what is now called ‘nuptial theology,’ an elusive term that I am still trying to understand, especially since it sometimes seems more concerned to provide a rationale for maintaining male priesthood than to articulate the nature and significance of sexual relations within marriage.