Heavenly Torah as Refracted through the Generations.
By Abraham Joshua Heschel, edited and translated by Gordon Tucker with Leonard Levin.
Continuum. 848 pp. $95.
One of the most delightful effects of Vatican II, with its decidedly positive appreciation of Judaism, has been the publication of significant books of Jewish theology, both classical and modern, by Christian publishers. Recent evidence of that is Continuum’s publication of an English translation of what many knowledgeable Jews consider the greatest work of the greatest Jewish theologian of the twentieth century. Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) wrote a massive work in Hebrew on the idea of revelation in classical rabbinic theology. Two volumes were published during his lifetime. A third volume, put together from an unfinished manuscript, was published posthumously. This excellent translation of all three Hebrew volumes, plus helpful notes and introductions by the translators, is a great boon to anyone interested in classical Jewish theology and Heschel’s rethinking of it. This work demonstrates the opposite of Bernard Lonergan’s bon mot about ideas passed from book to book without any evidence of having gone through a mind. The theology of the Rabbis of the Talmud (whose role in Judaism is at least as important as the role of the Church Fathers in Christianity) comes alive in this work precisely because it went through Heschel’s great mind. The book is thus a profound encounter of a great Jewish mind with what Jaroslav Pelikan (a close friend of Heschel’s) once called the living faith of the dead (as distinct from the dead faith of [some] of the living, an apt designation of too much contemporary theology). Heschel invites living readers to join with him as he himself joined with the ancient rabbis in seeking the Living God of Israel, the Giver of the Torah to Israel and the world. The most basic doctrine of Judaism is the revelation of the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai. That includes not only Scripture but, along with it, the ongoing Jewish tradition. Tracing the great theological debates in premodern Judaism about the extent of the human contribution to that revelation to the debates between two of the greatest rabbinic theologians of the second century A.D., Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Ishmael, Heschel shows how modern Jewish theology is and will be sterile until it enters again into this ancient and perennial debate. Christian readers should compare this work to that of the greatest Christian theologian of the twentieth century, Karl Barth (with whom Heschel has some important commonalities), who began his Church Dogmatics not with the Doctrine of God, but with the Doctrine of the Word of God. Talk of God presupposes God’s talk to man in revelation for both theologians. As one who was privileged to be Professor Heschel’s student when he was writing this great work, I rejoice it is now available to a wider audience. I can well imagine a year-long course on Judaism using this book alone. It is not only about Judaism; it is truly from it. It is surely a primary, not a secondary text, both for Jews and for gentiles, especially for Christians who too worship the Lord God of Israel and study His Torah.
Protestantism and the American Founding.
Edited by Thomas Engeman and Michael Zuckert.
University of Notre Dame press. 296 pp. $25 paper.
This collection of essays examines the controversial amalgam thesis of the American founding offered by political theorist Michael Zuckert. The thesis arises as part of the long-running debate about the relative weight of liberal and republican ideas in early American history. Was it the liberal concern for natural rights and limited government, or the republican concern for active citizenship and public virtue that was more important to the founders? Zuckert’s solution is that the founding is an amalgam of Lockeanism and Protestant politics, in which the Puritan use of Scripture as the basis of politics gave way to the basis of natural rights as defined by Locke. Zuckert uses Luther’s doctrine of Two Kingdoms as a picture for explaining how he sees Locke and Protestantism as amalgamated. Whereas traditional Protestants hold the Bible as authoritative for both kingdoms, Locke made reason dominant in the worldly kingdom and relegated the Bible to the Kingdom of God. Luther argued that Turn the other cheek told the individual Christian how to live in the one kingdom, and Let every person be subject to the governing authorities told everyone how to live in the other. Locke’s argument is that it is not Romans 13 that tells us how to live together in political society, but reason, by which we derive natural rights and a limited government. The volume’s best responses are by Mark Noll and Peter Augustine Lawler, with Thomas West raising some important points as well. Though all broadly sympathetic to Zuckert, they are at their best when they question Zuckert’s claim that the founders perceived a strong distinction between politics based on reason and politics based on revelation. Lawler agrees that Locke and Jefferson often wrote this way, but he would prefer to call attention to other, dissenting founding voices. West also questions the reason-revelation dichotomy but does so by the opposite path: denying that even Locke made such a strong distinction: No Zuckertian convergence between Locke and Protestantism’ was necessary, because Locke was already a Protestant theologian. In West’s reading, Zuckert concludes that Locke cannot be a Protestant theologian because his privileging of reason contradicts the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura, which Zuckert mistakenly defines as a demand for revelation over reason. But if sola scriptura is, rather, a practice that guides the ordering of knowledge and tradition under the discipline of Scripture, Locke could well be a Protestant theologian, though a skillfully subversive one. In fact, seeing Locke’s theological influence better accounts for Zuckert’s own historical evidence. In the closing lines of the book Zuckert writes that the way Protestants turned to Locke is similar to the way Christians now take their astronomy from modern science rather than the Bible. But if that were right, we would have expected founding-era Christians to stop appealing to Romans 13 in political debates, which they did not do. Instead they reinterpreted it. Having read their Locke, Americans re-read their Paul. We can only make sense of this fact by realizing that it was precisely Locke’s Protestantism, unorthodox though it be, that so captured the minds of American Protestants.
Rallying the Really Human Things.
By Vigen Guroian.
ISI. 225 pp. $25.
A reminder that fairytales are not for childhood alone. Loyola College’s Vigen Guroian teaches a course on religion in children’s literature, and over the years he has observed a general lack of moral imagination in his students. Such an incapacity, he notes, characterizes modern society, contributing to a loss of Christian humanity. And so Guroian has collected seventeen of his diverse essays on Christian humanism and the moral imagination. The book’s looseness is forgivable given its range: Eugenics, vocations, and the sexualization of America’s campuses all receive chapters, along with tributes to G.K. Chesterton, Edmund Burke, Flannery O’Connor, and T.S. Eliot. Especially interesting is Guroian’s proposal (informed by his Orthodox theology) to separate the institution of Christian marriage from civil unions. He goes too far, though, when he concludes that natural rights, and the narrative of universal human freedom, are historically false and, at bottom, secular. Still, in all, a pleasant, accessible primer on the importance of the really human things.
On Marriage and Family.
Edited by Matthew Levering.
Rowman & Littlefield, 125 pp. $19.95.
A splendid little set of readings on marriage, family, and human sexuality by, inter alia, Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Birgitta of Sweden, Thomas More, Teresa of Avila, and Teresa of Calcutta. It has been suggested that the theology of the body advanced by John Paul the Great is an effort to counter the tradition’s negativism about sexuality. This small book demonstrates that what its editor calls a radically beautiful invitation to self-giving has been there from the beginning.
Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce.
By Elizabeth Marquardt.
Crown, 288 pp. $24.95.
There are still couples who say they are doing it for the children, but it seems their number is declining. The idea that divorce is better for children than living with parents in a troubled marriage is increasingly being challenged by sociological and psychological studies, and by personal stories such as those told by the author. Foreword by the noted authority on marriage and family, Judith Wallerstein.
In the Vineyard of the Lord: The Life, Faith, and Teachings of Joseph Ratzinger.
By Marco Bardazzi.
Rizzoli, 128 pp. $16.95
A lovely little book that brings together overviews of Benedict’s life and thought. About a third of the book is called In His Own Words, and offers extended quotations on everything from ecclesiology, ecumenism, and liturgical reform to war and peace. For the person who knows little about the new pope and is seeking a basic introduction, this is the book to recommend. The title, of course, is from his first words as pope, in which he described himself as a servant in the vineyard of the Lord.