Consciousness and Transcedence: The Theology of Eric Voegelin.
By Michael P. Morrissey.
University of Notre Dame Press. 353 pages, $41.95.
In the 1940s Eric Voegelin wrote that a solution to the modern crisis would require, among other things, a “new Christian philosophy of history” adequate to the full range of political and cultural developments of recent centuries. The philosophy of history he produced over the next four decades can be seen as a monumental effort toward the satisfaction of that requirement, but whether it is truly “Christian” in character has remained a source of controversy, due both to the principles that guide Voegelin's exposition of meaning in history and to his analysis of Christianity itself. Michael P. Morrissey, a professor of theology, has produced the first book-length study of the questions posed to Christian theology, and theology in general, by Voegelin's work. That it is such a responsible and illuminating study is due largely to Morrissey's solid understanding that it is Voegelin's theory of consciousness, presented and assessed here in detail in its development and refinement, that provides the key to appreciating the theological dimension of Voegelin's philosophy and the basis for working out what Morrissey calls “the principles of a Voegelinian theology.” A late chapter comparing Voegelin's work with the Catholic theology of Bernard Lonergan-whose ambitions in responding to the modern crisis matched Voegelin's and whose work, like his, takes its stand on a foundational account of consciousness-helps Morrissey to bring Voegelin's thought into what he calls a “theological community of discourse” and sharpens his final chapter's presentation of Voegelin's “reconstruction” of Christian theology. However one may respond to Voegelin's philosophy of history, its challenging theological implications are presented without evasion and with exemplary clarity in this well-organized and thorough study.
Being and the Between.
By William Desmond.
State University of New York Press. 557 pages, $74.50 cloth, $24.95 paper.
It takes patience to be in-between, still on the road. William Desmond calls for that kind of patience in metaphysics. With the best of post-modernism he repudiates “totalizing” claims to “have it all figured out.” Whatever timeless truths we know we know in time, and we would be impatient to claim to be home already while still on the way. But we are on the way. Truth is an attainable goal, even truth about the transcendent, so long as we are mindful that we are creatures “in-between” origin and goal. To help us stay humble but vigorous, Desmond proposes a fourfold division of the ways we seek the truth about reality. The univocal understanding of being is the language of clear meanings that make proofs compelling to any mind capable of considering the argument and evidence. The equivocal understanding is an indispensable complement, especially to account for the self, uniqueness, and subjectivity. It may be one world we inhabit, but each person has a particular perspective. Desmond's dialectical understanding of being might be exemplified by a conversation, an attempt to transcend the solipsistic temptation by engaging another whom one cannot control. The metaxological sense (derived from Plato's term for “between”) is Desmond's name for thinking about mediating structures. With St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who defines humility as “a reverent love of the truth,” Desmond stresses the need for openness as well as closure. But in contrast to skeptical paralysis about the foundations for knowledge, there are standpoints reliable for those still in-between, including the call of the goals of truth and goodness as a vocation worthy of human creatures.
—Joseph Koterski, S.J.
A Concise History of the Early Church.
By Norbert Brox.
Continuum. 184 pages, $18.95.
A somewhat schematic account of early Christian history up to the fifth century. What Brox has to say is accurate and up-to-date, but because the book is arranged topically (church life and organization; conflicts, heresies, schisms; theological literature) the great story and the vigorous personalities that make up early Christian history remain on the periphery. One hundred seventy five pages of text is perhaps not enough to bring this period alive.
—Robert L. Wilken
Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in A Christian Capital.
By Neil B. McLynn.
University of California Press. 406 pages, $45.
One of the many interesting details in this new study of Ambrose is that his basilica in Milan was five times the size of Augustine's basilica in Hippo! In contrast to Augustine, however, Ambrose is a strangely inaccessible figure about whom (though he wrote much) we know much less than some of his Christian contemporaries. It is Ambrose's outward behavior on the public stage, writes McLynn, “enfolded in the dignity of his priestly office,” that is the best clue to his historical significance, not his inner life. Ambrose even departed life on his own terms, dying on Easter Saturday so that his corpse became the focus of the Eas-ter vigil. A fine book, fresh and perceptive, on one of the great figures in Christian history.
The Rapture of Politics.
Edited by Steve Bruce et al.
Transaction. 150 pages, $19.95 paper.
This book doubles as an issue of the scholarly journal, Sociology of Religion, and offers eight essays on the “New Christian Right.” The editors employ an epigram from Max Weber: “The early Christians knew full well the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true. Anyone who fails to see this is, indeed, a political infant.” That wisdom informs most of these essays, which range from electoral numbers-crunching to reflections on utopian politics. One chapter on shifting religious voting blocs by Lyman Kellstedt and colleagues gives greater detail in support of their article in these pages, “It's the Culture, Stupid! 1992 and Our Political Future” (April 1994). A valuable collection for students of American politics and religion.
Christianity: Essence, History, and Future.
By Hans Kung.
Continuum. 936 pages, $44.50.
To cut to the bottom line, the author says that “Christians may be sure that Christianity has a future even in the third millennium after Christ.” That, regrettably, is typical of a large book that largely consists of obiter dicta strung along a schema of just about everything that has ever been said about Christianity. While there is an impressive bibliography, very little is argued. Hans Kung hat gesagt. And most of it, including his projection of an eco-theological universal ethic, he has gesagt many times before.
The Next Pope.
By Peter Hebblethwaite.
HarperCollins. 186 pages, $20.
Over his long years of reporting on the Vatican for the Tablet and the National Catholic Reporter, Hebblethwaite made no secret of his belief that the pontificate of John Paul II is one of unmitigated disaster. Written at a point of journalistic certitude about the imminent demise of this pope, and with his candidate, Cardinal Martini of Milan, ready at hand, Hebblethwaite wrote: “A conclave is a moment of freedom, a chance for the Church to make a fresh start. Conversely, the death of a pope is not a matter for gloom. After all, a pope should be better prepared for death than most of us.” This book, which appears shortly after the death of Peter Hebble-thwaite, does his memory no honor.
The Preacher King.
By Richard Lischer.
Oxford University Press. 344 pages, $25.
A professor of homiletics at Duke University offers an admiring biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., with specific reference to his oratory. The theme is the power of the Word and it is effectively developed, although at the expense of neglecting the social forces and institutions that King used and, frequently, was used by. Lischer's original work with King's texts will be valuable to other students of this remarkable figure in twentieth-century history.
Can These Bones Live?
By Ernest Sandeen.
University of Notre Dame Press. 59 pages, $9.95 paper.
A charming collection of new poems by a distinguished octogenarian poet charmed still to be alive, charmed still to arise in the morning and look out at the world, charmed still to write new poems. The themes of the poems are often dark: lost youth, lost chances, lost friends, lost spouses, and-always looming-the soon to be lost life. But in the darkness, Sandeen's joy still shines through, a joy at having lived long enough and well enough to find in each additional day a welcome new friend and in death at last an old friend long-expected. “A Late Twentieth-Century Prayer,” the title poem, and the humorous epigrams “At the Beach” and “A Stranger, Coming and Going” are especially fine and prove that Sandeen's technical skill has also endured.
Either/Or: The Gospel or Neopaganism.
Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson.
Eerdmans. 125 pages, $9.99 paper.
The editors and several of the contributors are familiar to the readers of this journal, so, perhaps not surprisingly, we warmly recommend this spirited guide to Christian faithfulness in an often hostile culture. Do not be fooled by the excessively Barthian (or is it Kierkegaard-ian, or both?) title. The authors of these essays are most favorably disposed toward the Gospel's engagement with the culture, but they understand, as all too few do these days, that real engagement requires uncompromising clarity about the meaning of the Gospel. To the authors: thanks, we needed that.
The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution.
By Michael Lind.
Free Press. 436 pages, $25.
The author, currently with the New Republic, has been writing prolifically in the last few years, mainly against his erstwhile associates in the world called neoconservatism. This book presents itself as a “manifesto” for an American future of “liberal nationalism” that will succeed the various phases in which a “white overclass” has manipulated economic and political power in its own interests. Much of the argument has a familiarly leftist tone, but Mr. Lind works hard at demonstrating that he is not the running dog of any known ideological clique. He has some intelligent things to say about the madnesses of multiculturalism and affirmative action, and rightly deplores the national preemption of questions such as abortion and religion in public education. Some readers, however, will no doubt find the author's relentless straining to be singular and, above all, provocative rather tiresome. On the positive side, his passions are for nationalism and statist action. He calls the latter liberalism rather than socialism, but his advocacy of massive government programs favoring an “unsubtle, crude, old-fashioned redistribution of wealth, through taxation and public spending” is unmistakably socialist in inspiration and consequence. Fortunately, it seems highly improbable that, in the light of recent history, many people will be inclined to take such proposals seriously. On the other hand, memories are short, as witness a young author who apparently sees nothing terribly problematic in advocating what might aptly be described as national socialism or socialist nationalism, albeit with benign intentions.
The Greening of Protestant Thought.
By Robert Booth Fowler.
University of North Carolina Press. 242 pages, $14.95.
A political scientist at the University of Wisconsin reflects in a moderately critical way on varieties of Protestant thought and activism regarding matters environmental. Focusing on differences between “mainliners” and “fundamentalists,” Fowler ends on a note of tempered political hope, urging Christians to plant their confidence on the more solid ground of God's promise to keep faith with His creation.
Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Time.
By Richard M. Weaver.
Intercollegiate Studies Institute. 176 pages, $12.95 paper.
After publishing his well-known Ideas Have Consequences in 1948 and his classic The Ethics of Rhetoric in 1953, Richard Weaver composed a third work in which he hoped to draw together all his themes in a single synthesis. Published a year after his early death in 1963, Visions of Order fell still-born from the press, selling only three thousand copies in the ten years before it fell out of print. Intercollegiate Studies Institute has now republished Weaver's text as a handsome trade paperback, in the hope that the book will find in the nineties the audience it failed to find in the sixties. In eight essays, Weaver argues the serious decay of Western civilization-not, indeed, to promote a Spenglerian thesis of inevitable decay, but to show the necessity and possibility of restoring civilization's losses. Visions of Order, precisely because it relentlessly drives to the heart of things, remains a powerful analysis by a serious conservative thinker.
Saint Peter: A Biography.
By Michael Grant.
Scribner. 212 pages, $23.
A balanced account of what can be known about St. Peter based on recent historical scholarship without reference to religious and theological questions.
Cease Fire: Searching for Sanity in America's Culture Wars.
By Tom Sine.
Eerdmans. 312 pages, $14.99.
Ironically, in calling for a cease fire in the culture wars, the author, a “progressive evangelical,” enters the fray fully armed for rhetorical combat. To be sure, to protect his left flank he lobs a few random handgrenades in the direction of what he calls the PC left (e.g., the feminist RE-imaginers). But for the most part the book consists of well-aimed, highly concentrated fire on the Christian right and the Christian Coalition. He tries to hide his partisanship but just can't pull it off. He's scared out of his wits over Republican political ascendancy and he shows no willingness to seriously engage responsible conservative Christian voices in public life. And then, if one has any doubts, he gives it all away by concluding the book with an extended advertisement for Cry for Renewal, a document written by Jim Wallis, editor of the evangelical left-wing journal Sojourners. When the writings of Wallis and other evangelicals long associated with the Christian left (yes, there was an organization called “Evangelicals for McGovern”) are offered up as a “radical biblical way that transcends the highly politicized agendas” of the Christian right and the PC left, one can't help but think that the whole thing is more than a little disingenuous.