Behold the Christ:
Proclaiming the Gospel of Matthew
by leroy a. huizenga
emmaus road, 448 pages, $27.95
It is a widespread and ecumenical complaint that most of the academic work of biblical interpretation today is useless for preaching, praying, or the life of the Church. Leroy Huizenga, author of the excellent study of St. Matthew’s Gospel The New Isaac (2009) has, since he converted to Catholicism, tried to help his new Church by writing commentaries on individual Gospels that are intended to support homilists and their congregations in the work of “proclaiming the Gospel.”
To help the busy homilist in his sacred task, Huizenga’s Loosing the Lion: Proclaiming the Gospel of Mark (2017) and his latest commentary, Behold the Christ: Proclaiming the Gospelof Matthew, break up their respective Gospels into sections that match the Catholic lectionary. He informs the reader that, for example, Matthew 6:7–15 is read both on Tuesday of the First Week of Lent and Thursday of Week 11 of Ordinary Time. Only then does he provide exegesis and commentary of that passage.
The results are mixed, in no small part because Huizinga’s theological method is in some tension with the Church’s practice of reading the Gospel through the lectionary. Where the lectionary breaks up the Gospel into many small passages and sets them in the context of readings from elsewhere in the Bible, Huizenga’s “narrative theology” approach requires that one read the Gospels as a narrative whole. That is an excellent, reasonable, and spiritually fruitful way to read the Gospels individually. However, for this tired priest looking for inspiration on what to say at the morning Mass on Easter Monday, Huizenga’s commentary was not that helpful. In the end, the virtues of Loosing the Lion and Behold the Christ are their substantive commentaries, while their principle defects result from their being marketed as homiletic aids.
—Fr. Daniel P. Moloney
Kenogaia (A Gnostic Tale)
by david bentley hart
angelico, 434 pages, $22
There is no book that Kenogaia recalls so much as George MacDonald’s Lilith. It is a fantasy novel that explores the boundaries of theological orthodoxy, a celestial dream that looks sometimes like a nightmare. In Kenogaia, Orthodox philosopher David Bentley Hart playfully adapts the “Hymn of the Pearl,” an enchanting Gnostic poem that allows him to indulge his delight in luscious aesthetic detail and express some facets of his theological vision. Kenogaia’s cosmos is described in loving particularity, quickly immersing the reader. Yet this profusion of minutiae, as the book goes on, is unrelenting; it seems, indeed, somewhat ironic that a professedly Gnostic fable should obsess over its own sensual enchantments. The ponderousness of Hart’s pacing, combined with a tin ear for character, hinders the narrative. But in his weaknesses, too, Hart reminds one of MacDonald. The good saint was forever reaching after wonders that exceeded his literary talents, but the world has reason to be grateful for his efforts. So, too, with Kenogaia, which is threaded through with the insight, speculation, and panache which have gained the author a following. His choice to cast his eschatological convictions through a Gnostic fairytale may be surprising, but for Hart, our age is captive to an error opposite to Gnosticism: We have embraced the delusions of materialism, slandered God, and denied the spirit its deepest longings. For us disenchanted moderns, the contingent and temporal simply is the real world. Like MacDonald (and C. S. Lewis after him), Hart uses the old stories in the hope that they will inspire us to dream again of things beyond the horizon of the imminent. Much as we might wish for Hart a more exacting editor, this is a tale worthy of his readership, and one in which others, young and old, may discover some magic.