At the core of this very brief book is the truth that every moment is sacrament. Bernard Cook once wrote that the fact we are embodied spirits means that we exist symbolically which is to say sacramentally. Every moment is as a ‘glass darkly’, translucent of God’s mysterious presence. As our author says: “If God is not found in the here and now we will not find him in musings about the future or futile regrets over the past.”
21st Century Kick-off
Some historians like to search for an event at the beginning of a century which serves as the signature of what the century meant. If I were looking for a signature event which marked the history of the 20th century I would pick the genocide in Armenia. This preceded the hecatomb in the trenches of France and the later violence of Stalinist Russia. A decade later we witnessed the holocausts in Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then we saw the killing fields of Cambodia, the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and the horrors of Rwanda and Burundi. 9/11 occurred—from one point of view—to stop the sanctions imposed by this country and the US on Iraq which provoked the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqi children.
Larry W. Hurtado, God in New Testament Theology, Abingdon 2010, 152pp,£13.99 (available from Alban Books)
God, who died in the holocausts and war trenches of the 20th century, was resurrected in the early 21st century by militant atheism. If they had left him in his grave, I am sure hardly anyone would have bothered. But here he is again, out and about, in seminars and debates and on the sides of buses. Archbishops Anglican and Catholic, singing from the same hymn sheet, could not have done it so effectively.
For a while God was a hot topic. Now she is once again under the floorboards. But not for the seeker, the believer, the nostalgic ex-believer, nor for people like the author Julian Barnes who once said he did not believe in God, but that he missed him. God is gone but the Spirit still haunts.
Larry Hurtado is Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology at the University of Edinburgh. He has written in a clear and accessible way a brief study of the God of the New Testament. Studies of God in the New Testament are scarce. The NT does not give an orderly exposition of God. Rather its references are according to the occasion or determined by the point a NT writer wants to make.
An interesting criticism is voiced when some scholars assert that the NT studies are excessively “Christo-centric”. This is due to the post-Reformation emphasis on the God who acts in our favour, the Deus pro nobis, and who does so through Jesus Christ. I too sometimes think that we have fallen into a certain “christolatry” due, I suspect, to the hijacking of the image of Christ the High Priest by the ordained clergy.
Our author gives us five chapters which include God in the New Testament, the God of Jesus Christ and God the Holy Spirit. Hurtado notes that despite notable differences in discourse about God in the various writers, there is a notable coherence among them in key matters.
The most obvious example of coherence is the use of the term ‘Father’ to refer to God. Matthew is the most frequent among the Synoptics and John even more frequent. However, Matthew uses the term to underline that God is Father for Jesus and his followers. John uses the term to support his Christological emphasis on Jesus as the unique Son of God. The Book of Revelation views God as the “one who sits on the throne”, the all-powerful cosmic ruler.
I most enjoyed the chapter on the Spirit and God. I made the point above that our church indulges in a certain degree of “Christolatry”. It can seem at times that Christ is the only person of the Holy Trinity. Over the centuries we have forgotten that the risen Christ has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit that the Church lives, that it celebrates the Eucharist, that it preaches the Word, that it is sent (missioned) to the world for the life of the world—not to build up the church. That Spirit is a spirit of life and of faith. By Faith, the Spirit’s gift, we know ourselves loved by God. Therein lays the source of living water that wells up from each of us as we strive to maintain and deepen that relationship with the living Christ.
I learned a lot from Professor Hurtado and can recommend this book to all our readers.
Augustine of Hippo, Trilogy on Faith and Happiness, New City, 2010, 141pp, £10.95
The three works under review here are only a few thousand words of the more than five million that Augustine penned. They are from the young Augustine, written before or shortly after priestly ordination. By the time of writing he had already broken with Manichaeism and was becoming acquainted with the neo-Platonists. Thanks to their influence he was able to think about God as a non-corporeal substance. Up to that time Augustine agreed with the prevalent Stoic corporealism which thought that whatever is not a body is not real.
The central theme which unites the three works is that of happiness, and the relation which faith has to the search for happiness. Augustine will say, in essence, that it is impossible to be happy without a relationship with the incarnate Jesus. They are an interesting introduction to the main body of his work.
The first part of the trilogy is entitled, The Happy Life. The format is a meal followed by a conversation on the topic. The meal continues over the course of three days. Present at the table are his mother Monica, his son Adeodatus and friends Alypius, Trygetius, Navigius, and Licentius.
Happiness is a central concern to the thought of Augustine. It will turn up throughout his works. The whole point of philosophical thought, theological reflection and divine worship is happiness. One of the aspects of the discussion was about who has God. Monica will contribute that everyone has God, but the one who seeks God with a clean heart has God as friend. The one who seeks God with an unclean heart has God as enemy. They pursue the topic over the three days and conclude, again helped by Monica, that the happy life is lived in solid faith, lively hope and burning love.
The second part is entitled Faith in the Unseen. In this reflection Augustine will establish that it is not a contradiction to believe in things unseen. He will take as an example that we do not see the love and good will which a friend has for us, yet we believe in that love, aided by the works of love which the beloved bestows upon us. This is a work of apologetics which also has elements of exhortation.
The final part of the trilogy is called The Advantage of Believing. This is his first publication since priestly ordination in 391. He wrote it to try to retrieve a friend Honoratus from Manichaeism. Augustine addresses two issues: one is the method of appropriating truth and the other is the valid method of interpreting texts. For Augustine, the way to come to knowledge of truth is by believing even that which reason cannot grasp, to purify oneself morally and to subject oneself to authentic authority. Further on Augustine expounds four methods of exegesis of a text. He says that historical exegesis wants to ascertain the content of a text. The second method is the etiological which seeks to throw light the basis of an event or saying. The third is analogical which establishes the agreement between the two Testaments. The last is the allegorical which looks for the figurative meaning of a text.
This is a very interesting book for those interested in the history of dogma and in patrology. It also has relevance when one reflects that the present Pope is an Augustinian in his theology and spirituality and the reader can glimpse certain passages which may have helped to influence the young Ratzinger.