Late Winter Reading

Hope for the World: To Unite All Things in Christ. By Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke and Guillaume D’alançon; paperback; published July 20, 2016. Reviewed by Fr. Ryan Rojo.

Proofs of God: Classical Arguments from Tertullian to Barth by Matthew Levering. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016. Reviewed by: Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.L.

The American Catholic Almanac: A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United States, Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson (Image Books, 2014, 408pp, $24.00). Reviewed by Matthew Rose.

Preaching Politics: Proclaiming Jesus in an Age of Money, Power, and Partisanship. By Clay Stauffer (St. Louis, MI: Chalice, 2016) 105 pages; $15.66. Reviewed by Christopher Emminger.

Sacramental Preaching: Sermons on the Hidden Presence of Christ by Hans Boersma, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2016. Pp xxv, 213. $23.99 Reviewed by Paul Cygan.

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Hope for the World: To Unite All Things in Christ. By Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke and Guillaume D’alançon; paperback; published July 20, 2016. Reviewed by Fr. Ryan Rojo.

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke is championed in many circles as a guardian of Catholic orthodoxy. His theological depth, coupled with his fearless voice, has made him a revered yet controversial personality in our modern-day Church. Guillaume d’ Alançon affirms many of these perceptions, but this interview does well to reveal the humanity of the Church’s prince. The Q&A format is certainly in vogue in Church circles: one must only think of the recently released interviews with Robert Cardinal Sarah, God or Nothing, and Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI’s Last Testament. Most of the book’s content can be summarized with three interrelated emphases: the family; church morality; and the sacred liturgy. It is advantageous to treat each of these in turn.

Cardinal Burke offers many wonderful insights into his childhood. Growing up in rural Wisconsin, the young Raymond learned the value of a hard day’s work. The Church affirms that human labor is in keeping with an authentically Christian anthropology (CCC 2428), and Cardinal Burke admits that this upbringing was truly formative. His family life, moreover, was also the seedbed of his priestly vocation, “In my family, I experienced a great love for the Lord. I then became profoundly attached to the Church” (pg. 22). This love for the Church would later translate into his priestly vocation, and his continued love for the Church is obvious in the content of this interview. The reality of Cardinal Burke’s solid upbringing is perhaps the foundation that informs his continued zeal for families in the Church. Cardinal Burke unpacks the Church’s theology of the family in one entire chapter, but the reality of the family is central for the Church’s mission and identity. An intelligent reading of the most recent synod on the family, along with Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, can and should be complimented with Cardinal Burke’s unshakable voice.

Related to the Church’s theology of the family is morality. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church affirms that life, from conception to natural death, is the condition for the exercise of all other rights (¶155). Cardinal Burke is unapologetic in his defense of human life, and he vehemently opposes any attempt to mitigate the fight for life. For example: d’ Alançon asks if there could ever be a situation in which higher imperatives could lead us to set aside the fight for life. Cardinal Burke responds, with fierce clarity: “Never! There is nothing more fundamental that the right to life. We must always fight for the cause of human life. No other cause can replace it” (pg. 77). The contemporary theological climate seems to be tending towards a flattening of moral issues. The revival of the often named “seamless garment” risks making a return into the consciousness of the Church. Cardinal Burke maintains rightly, however, that the respect for life is the necessary condition for peace in the Church and in the world.

The final theme involves Cardinal Burke’s deep reverence for the Church’s liturgy. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, affirms that the liturgy is the summit towards which the entire activity of the Church is directed (¶10). Cardinal Burke reflects on how formative the Church’s liturgy was for his own life and vocation, and it is in the Church’s liturgy that the salvific work of Christ is presented to the faithful. Cardinal Burke recognizes, moreover, this evangelizing potential for the Church’s liturgy in our secular society, “…young people today, who grew up in a very secularized world, show a great love for the Sacred Liturgy, in which they see Christ as work for our Sanctification” (pg. 60). Liturgy celebrated with the mind of the Church absolutely has the potential to be truly formative.

The book’s strength is in the meeting of Cardinal Burke’s illuminating life and ministry with the Church’s theological and pastoral tradition. Readers should be forewarned that the Q&A format of the book sometimes inhibits the depth that Cardinal Burke can treat any particular question. The inclusion of a bibliography for further study might have proved helpful for beginners looking to appreciate the Church’s theological and pastoral wealth. Nevertheless, this text is fundamental for anyone looking to appreciate the landscape the Church currently finds herself in.

Fr. Ryan Rojo, S.T.L., was ordained a priest for the Diocese of San Angelo, Texas on May 30, 2015. He currently serves as the Parochial Vicar of the Cathedral Church of the Sacred Heart in San Angelo, and he is an associate member of the Society of Catholic Liturgy.

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Proofs of God: Classical Arguments from Tertullian to Barth by Matthew Levering. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016. Reviewed by: Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.L.

In his Proofs of God, Matthew Levering brings together an excellent historical overview of major proofs for the existence of God. Every such collection must be selective, and Levering’s work is no exception to this rule. It would be churlish to judge the text negatively because of this fact. Levering discusses authors from the Patristic era onward, thus considering only thinkers who are post-Christian. In his introduction, he addresses this decision and does provide a brief synopsis of pre-Christian thinkers (especially Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics).

Levering’s summaries of Patristic and Medieval proofs for God’s existence provide a helpful compendium of thinkers who are likely familiar to many readers. Arguably, Tertullian’s rather simple arguments from order (terminating, as they do at a quasi-material Godhead) provide, at best, anecdotal evidence concerning the simple form of early Christian attempts at philosophical explication. However, Levering’s account of Gregory of Nazianzan’s arguments from order and motion show how, by the fourth century, a much more robust account philosophical proofs of God’s existence are being developed in a Christian context. The arguments presented are philosophical, though the close connections to the exigencies of Christian faith are quite obvious. This same contextual point remains quite operative, as is well known, in Augustine and Anselm, whose thought Levering presents with brevity and clarity. He draws on Augstine’s Confessions, City of God, and briefly on The First Catechetical Instruction, and from Anselm he presents not only the famed arguments in the Proslogion (and Anselm’s later debate with Gaunilo) but also several of his earlier proofs in the Monologion, all marked by a Platonic / Neo-Platonic ascent through grades of perfection.

In a more Aristotelian tone, Levering presents John of Damascus’s arguments for God’s existence made in the third part of The Fount of Knowledge, providing demonstrations from the perspective of movement and contingency as well as the harmony, preservation, and governance of creation. Likewise, he briefly discusses John’s treatment of the Divine Attributes. Levering’s account of Aquinas is clear and requires little commentary. He draws on proofs made in the De Ente et Essentia, Summa Contra Gentiles, and the Summa theologiae’s five ways, noting also several other texts in brief. Finally, Levering closes this section with a discussion of Ockham’s significant reductions regarding the possibility of proving God’s existence. Drawing mainly on texts that are easily available in Hackett’s selected texts Venerabilis Inceptor, this chapter helps to introduce the reader to the significant limitations that Ockham imposes upon unaided reason’s abilities to prove God’s existence, unity, and efficient causality of created realities.

In his section on modernity, Levering’s figures divide into two camps (as will also be the case in his third section), namely those who believe some demonstration is possible and those who do not hold God’s existence to be demonstrable. He presents the figures in historical order, which is helpful in this chapter particularly due to the important thematic relations between David Hume’s skepticism and Immanuel Kant’s limited claims regarding our knowledge of God’s existence.

The first positive response comes from John Calvin, who holds that man has an innate sense of the Deity, though one that is obscured by human idolatry. Likewise, Levering presents Calvin’s account of a proof by way of the order of the universe and presents an insightful summary of Calvin’s commentary on Romans 1:19-20. After this, he presents Montaigne’s religious skepticism, followed by the far more rigorous accounts offered by Suárez, who strikes a kind of middle ground between Ockham and Aquinas. The details of both these authors are left to the reader. Levering’s account of René Descartes’s Discourse and Meditations provides a clear overview that is perhaps familiar to some readers but will be appreciated by neophytes in modern philosophy. Finally, Blaise Pascal is presented as an explicit response to Montaigne and Descartes. In the brief course of eight pages, Levering outlines Pascal’s claims regarding the affective manner by which the “heart,” faced with the exigencies of our contingent existence, can lead us to know of God’s existence. Likewise, he presents Pascal’s famed wager as a response to Montaigne. He closes his presentation of Pascal by discussing his similarly well-known “night of fire” that revealed to him the contrast between the revealed God and the God of the philosophers.

In the section on Hume, Levering explains the skeptic’s concerns regarding causality, providing a very fair reading of Hume’s deeply skeptical claims regarding causality in general as well as its utter impossibility of leading us to the notion of a transcendent cause. In addition, Levering provides excellent footnote references that connect the reader with other pertinent texts in Hume, whose thought has been quite influential on Anglophonic skepticism to this day. Following this, Levering presents a well-documented and clear summary of Kant’s accounts regarding our knowledge of God’s existence, helpfully linking Kant’s own writings to the challenges raised by Hume (a well-known connection, of course). This section provides an excellent summary of the Kant’s claims regarding the limits of speculative reason for proving God’s existence and the role of God’s existence as a postulate of pure practical reason. Levering presents the nature of such postulated practical knowledge with great clarity. His accounts of the relevant texts from the Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of Practical Reason provide a good outline from which the reader can approach Kant’s own texts in detail.

The final section of the text takes up figures from the nineteenth and twentieth century. One might wish that he had provided discussions of authors like Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga (and perhaps some of the “classic” atheists of early Analytic thought such as Bertrand Russell and A.J. Ayer), but one book can select only so many texts! Levering’s choice of Catholic thinkers such as Newman, Blondel, Rousellot, and Garrigou-Lagrange is understandable, given his own background. However, it would have been helpful for him to connect post-Kantian thought with the 19th century a bit more explicitly, perhaps by taking up a few thinkers such as Fichte, Hegel, Nietzsche, and perhaps what can be taken from Schleiermacher (especially given Levering’s discussion of Barth). Nonetheless, we must say again: one text can only do so much!

The Catholic authors discussed could be considered in pairs. For Bl. John Henry Newman and Maurice Blondel, the sure paths to knowledge of God were found in reflecting on the exigencies of man’s moral life. Levering draws on Newman’s Grammar of Assent, outlining his argument for awareness of God’s existence through our sense of moral obligation, as well as the broad outlines of Newman’s observations regarding the nature of human assent. Levering’s presentation of Blondel is quite fair and even stirring, emphasizing the dynamic aspect of Blondel’s analysis of human action’s exigencies. Though Levering does not draw attention to the fact, one senses the general Kantianism in the background of Blondel’s focus on practical certitude of God’s existence (though Blondel makes claims that Kant would not make). Likewise, as Levering closes his summary, he cites several passages that show the important ambiguities in Blondel’s treatment of the natural and supernatural orders.

Similar ambiguities are arguably present in the work of Pierre Rousselot, SJ, who together with Blondel, exercised influence on figures such as Joseph Maréchal, Henri de Lubac, and Karl Rahner. Levering draws upon Rousselot’s “Thomist Metaphysics and Critique of Knolwedge” and his Eyes of Faith (taken from what was originally a series of scholarly articles). In the former, Rousselot argues (while claiming to avoid a priori-ism) that the very dynamism of our intellect presupposes that God exists. The judgment “being exists,” which he claims is implicit in all of our cognition, presupposes the synthesis of essence and existence (and, hence, God’s existence). From the latter, Levering draws primarily from Rousselot’s claims regarding the intellect’s inclination to the First Truth and how love opens the eyes of knowledge in both the natural and supernatural orders.

Although Levering then discusses Wittgenstein, a better pairing for Rousselot is Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, whom Levering treats after Wittgenstein. Levering primarily draws upon Garrigou-Lagrange’s The One God, a commentary on the treatise De Deo Uno of Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae. This section provides a good recapitulation of the traditional Thomistic positions, addressing some of the modern concerns regarding causal explanations of God’s existence and the nature of man’s analogical knowledge of God. The relatively brief account of Garrigou-Lagrange could have been supplemented by important remarks that he makes in numerous works, including God: His Existence and His Nature, De Revelatione, and Le sens commun. While the topics covered therein would have been burdensome for the non-experts to whom Levering’s text is addressed, a brief account of these works would have given much “flesh” to this chapter’s account of the great Dominican’s writings on natural theology.

In this final section, Levering also summarizes a trio of dissenters, namely Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, and Karl Barth. The early Wittgenstein is presented as leaving some space for the possibility of mysteries outside of what we can speak. However, the later Wittgentein of the Philosophical Investigations, as Levering presents him, offers even more restricted possibilities for realities that exist outside of the very forms of life structured by our language games. The details of Levering’s presentation of Heidegger are best left to the text itself, in which he presents Heidegger’s difficult thought with admirable clarity, providing accounts based on Heidegger’s Being and Time, Introduction to Metaphysics, and Identity and Difference. Also, he provides an excellent bibliography of texts to help the reader to enter into the dense world of Heideggerian philosophy. Finally, he presents Karl Barth’s Theistic claims regarding the inability of human reason to know anything more than an idol if it attempts to know God outside of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Particularly striking is Levering’s summary of Barth’s reading of Anselm, whom Barth reads in a manner wholly congenial to his own presuppositions regarding the relationship of faith and reason (though not without doing violence to Anselm’s own express words and intent).

The entire text is “book-ended” with excellent synthetic discussions that help to fill in some details that are not congenial to the summary format of the book’s main chapters. The introduction and conclusion (as well as his closing discussions of contemporary authors) allow Levering to discuss the topics in a more reflective manner. These “bookends” are absolutely necessary for readers to contextualize the topics discussed in the body of the text. Levering was well aware that a mere set of summaries would not adequately address the important contemporary debates surrounding matters of proving God’s existence. Hence, these chapters help to round out the discussions and bring them into direct contact with debates directly pertinent to the reader’s immediate intellectual milieu.

Writing as a philosopher, I feel it necessary to register a cautionary remark regarding this excellent text. The work provides a resource that is at once excellent and general. It provides readers with the contours of some important philosophical and theological minds regarding the possibility (or, impossibility) of proving the existence of God. For any detailed investigation into these proofs (and the many philosophical issues surrounding them), a separate, systematic study is necessary. Levering explicitly limited himself to brief textual summaries. It is up to the reader to use his detailed bibliographical offerings in order to encounter these thinkers in greater detail. A word to the wise—natural theology is never easy! It is the highest natural accomplishment of speculative intellection.

I highly recommend the text to interested laymen, pastors looking to review natural theology (which they may or may not have been taught well in seminary), and professors looking for an overview text as part of a course focusing primarily on matters pertaining to natural theology. We should be quite thankful to Dr. Levering for his clear summaries, excellent synthetic overviews, and detailed bibliographical resources!

Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.L. is a Ph.D. Candidate in philosophy, The Catholic University of America, as well as an Adjunct instructor of philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s University.

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The American Catholic Almanac: A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United States, Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson (Image Books, 2014, 408pp, $24.00). Reviewed by Matthew Rose.

Many American Catholics, even those without degrees in history, know a healthy amount about the history of the Catholic Church. They can name important saints, like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius of Loyola. They can name other important Catholics, such as Charlemagne and Dante, and some might even discuss comfortably major events in Church History, such as the Crusades or the Great Western Schism. These Catholics know the role the Church played in shaping Western Civilization. Yet too few American Catholics know the important place Catholics have in the history of the United States.

To help educate the faithful in this regard, Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson have compiled The American Catholic Almanac. The setup of the book is simple. Each day of the calendar year has a short (about a page long) story from American Catholic History. The stories usually center on an American Catholic, though some of the entries discuss momentous events for Catholics in America, for good or for ill. Stories range from the obscure to the famous. Each one is somehow, at least tangentially, connected to the date for which the entry is included. The specific date is included in the story for each day, bolded to stand out from the rest of the text.

For example, if one were to open the book to May 23, one would read an entry entitled “The Belgian Black-Robe.” On May 23, 1873, Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet died; hence the connection to that date. However, the entry does not focus merely on the date of Fr. DeSmet’s death. Instead, it provides in a succinct summary the labors DeSmet went through to minister to Native Americans in the Rocky Mountains region of the United States. The story is told in dramatic fashion, without sparing factual details.

Not all of the dates used for the Almanac are the birth or death dates of famous Catholics; sometimes it is some other important date in a historical figure’s life. For example, on September 2, the book discusses the life and work of comedian Bob Hope, who converted to Catholicism towards the end of his life. The reason for having the entry on September 2 is because on that date in 1993 the United States Navy named a cargo ship after the entertainer.

The book ends with several appendices, each listing information of interest to American Catholics, including a list of American saints and blesseds and a list of minor basilicas in America, the latter especially helpful for any Catholic seeking the spiritual benefits of a pilgrimage. An appendix also lists all of the dioceses in the United States and when they were established. Of course, each of these appendices will become outdated over the years as the Catholic landscape in America changes; however, in this book it provides a snapshot of American Catholic life and devotion at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

For all its strengths as a window into neglected figures and events in American Catholic Church history, the book suffers from one major fault: a lack of additional resources. There is not an accompanying bibliography, nor are there endnotes with the entries indicating their sources. While the book is clearly not an academic one, it does offer true stories for controversial and misunderstood figures and events. There are a few references to outside works in the body of some entries, such as the entry for May 9 when a section from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America is quoted discussing what de Tocqueville noticed about American Catholics in the early 1800s. However, such references are notably small in a work which has a separate entry for every day of the year. Including at least general works on American Catholic Church history might help support the more controversial claims of the text and also direct readers towards resources they might find useful or educational.

Overall, such a flaw does not diminish the worth of this book. It is intelligent, well-written, informative, and spiritually uplifting. Those who feel that the story of American Catholics has not been properly told will find in this fine volume a remedy to that problem. Laymen can read the work as a daily devotional, or read it straight through as they would any historical book. Teachers of American History can draw from the book examples and topics rarely discussed in other American history texts; priests can likewise draw from the book ideas for homilies and other public reflections. In short, this is a book for a wide range of people, all of whom can read, enjoy, and spread the story of our Faith and our Nation.

Matthew Rose is a Roman Catholic theology and history teacher at Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School in Arlington, VA. He holds a BA in History and English Language & Literature from Christendom College and a MA in Systematic Theology from the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. His website is: https://quidquidestest.wordpress.com/

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Preaching Politics: Proclaiming Jesus in an Age of Money, Power, and Partisanship. By Clay Stauffer (St. Louis, MI: Chalice, 2016) 105 pages; $15.66. Reviewed by Christopher Emminger.

In Preaching Politics: Proclaiming Jesus in an Age of Money, Power, and Partisanship, Clay Stauffer attempts to address what he calls “one of the greatest tensions of our time: proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ regarding money and possessions in an age of conspicuous consumption, in which the accumulation of wealth and possessions is glorified and coveted” (p.16). This book was published at an important time in the history of preaching. Recent studies show that the two sides of the political debate are becoming more polarized than they have ever been, thus making it increasingly difficult for a preacher to find any common ground between them. This increases the difficulty of preaching any issue that is even remotely political, and has led to both vague sermons on political issues, or in some cases, the omission of politics all together from preaching. However, in Preaching Politics it is argued that if these issues are not addressed then the total message of Jesus is not being preached, because Jesus called his followers to be engaged in all areas of social justice within society. Stauffer believes that through better study into the life of Christ, a preacher can make connections between Jesus’ teachings and contemporary political issues, and can use this connection to address a congregation in a way which will not alienate them from the church or their neighbor.

Clay Stauffer builds his argument through the use of modern social science and the message of Jesus Christ found in Scripture. His argument rests on his belief that if a person spends time with scripture, then inevitably, the reader’s sense of Christ will influence their politics. However, once he determines that politics cannot be ignored and Jesus’ teachings do address many of the issues brought up by politicians, he illustrates why preaching politics is such a challenge. By citing numerous outside sources by other theologians (e.g. William Barclay, Walter Brueggemann, and Stanley Hauerwas) topics such as fear, greed, envy, and materialism are discussed to illustrate obstacles that much be overcome when preaching policies. The underlying issue is the fact that there is room in the church for many different viewpoints and this book concludes by stating that there is middle ground that can be found by simply looking at scripture which allows for dialogue.

The biggest strength of the book is the fact that Stauffer is able to write a book centered on religion and politics without offending either side of the political aisle. Stauffer believes that conservatives and liberals are both necessary in society because the two complement each other, and there is a danger when either one of the voices is completely silenced. Further, there is an emphasis on the fact that while human beings are political by nature, the very purpose of the book is to draw people to the fact that “our responsibility is to be Christian first, and Republican or Democrats second” (p. 11). Thus Stauffer’s approach allows for the reader to form their own opinions by allowing the message of Christ to be paramount to any political party or position.

There are two glaring weaknesses in this book. First, the author provides the reader with relatively few original ideas. Stauffer brings in numerous outside sources to advance his argument but the reader gets the feeling that they are reading a final paper submitted by an undergraduate student, where the quality of the finished product is sufficient to pass the class, but the author was not exhaustive in his approach to the material. Secondly, the author fails to provide examples on many of the more “controversial” topics which a preacher may need to address (i.e. issues pertaining to life and marriage). The omission of these topics appears to be the result of Shaffer using Adam Hamilton as a model preacher for his ability to find the middle ground in preaching. However, the author notes that one way Hamilton demonstrates his pastoral care is through, “his ability to find the radical center when dealing with a host of controversial issues, including evolution, hell, theodicy, abortion, war, the death penalty, euthanasia, homosexuality, the separation of church and state, and biblical interpretation” (p. 65). Thus in an attempt to find a “the radical center,” Stauffer does not discuss the fact that there are some issues in church teachings where there is no middle ground and how to go about preaching these issues that is both in line with Church teachings and pastoral.

While I would not pick this book up with the expectation that Stauffer has solved the problem of preaching politics without offending anyone, this book is valuable to the reader. His ability to find common ground in politics is a good starting point for preachers and his emphasis that, “no political party has a monopoly on Jesus’ agenda” (p. 26) is a significant concept which preachers should hear and expand upon.

Christopher Emminger is a seminarian for the Diocese of Buffalo, currently in formation at Christ the King Seminary in Buffalo, New York.

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Sacramental Preaching: Sermons on the Hidden Presence of Christ by Hans Boersma, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2016. Pp xxv, 213. $23.99 Reviewed by Paul Cygan.

In this book, Hans Boersma attempts to recover the use of patristic exegesis in preaching and theology in general. The author recognizes that contemporary biblical scholarship has focused primarily on literal interpretation and therefore, has almost totally disregarded the typological or sacramental interpretation that was prevalent during the patristic era. Although this work focuses on the importance of sacramental preaching, it is not a homiletical guide. Rather, Boersma provides fourteen sample sermons to demonstrate a patristic understanding of sacramental living and purpose. His sermons are those that he preached in Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Langley and Regent College, an evangelical graduate school of theology, both in British Columbia. Therefore, the sermons tend to be intentionally academic and exegetical. Each sermon demonstrates how to read biblical texts sacramentally, which Boersma explains as discovering Christ, not imposed on the text, but found within the text. He succeeds in doing so using Old and New Testament texts, all the while pursuing an anagogical or upward movement starting with earthly happiness and arriving at true happiness which is found in God.

The book is divided into four parts, each with sample sermons describing the stages of the anagogical movements: (1) Sensed Happiness, (2) Pilgrim Happiness, (3) Heavenly Happiness, and (4) Unveiled Happiness. In these four parts, Boersma successfully moves the reader from the horizontal perspective of sensual desire, to the vertical perspective of a desire that is fulfilled in seeing God face to face. Boersma demonstrates a command of patristic sources, particularly Gregory of Nyssa whom he favors. For example, in explaining the source of blessedness or happiness, Boersma shares Gregory’s wisdom of participatory ontology, “that our happiness can be found only in God” and the closer the participation in God, the better one can perceive the sacramental reality found in the sacred text and earthly life. Participatory ontology and sacramental reality, while maintaining the worth of patristic exegesis, form the central theme of Boersma’s project.

Boersma provides a convincing argument for the importance of patristic exegesis and sacramental perspective of all existence. His four-fold approach is easily followed and offers the reader a template for building an understanding of finding Christ [res] in the sacred text or in sacramental life [sacramentum]. In addition to the four major sections, Boersma also provides a lengthy section of ‘Preacher’s Notes’ after each sermon describing his exegetical and theological explanation and occasionally including homiletical method. The ‘Preacher’s Notes’ section tends to be his strongest area and outlines well the argument that Boersma intends to lay out.

Although Boersma delivers an insightful recovery of patristic scholarship, it does have some problems. His defense of typology and patristic exegesis is admirable and even necessary. However, Boersma can be too apologetic for typology and comes off as demeaning pre-modern literal and historical critical exegesis (Ex. Pp. 121-123, 137, 162). Contemporary biblical scholars may also consider Boersma’s treatment of scripture as imposing Christ on the text (Ex. P. 65), which Boersma did not intend. On a broader note, one must not confuse Boersma’s work as a homiletics guide. The book would have sufficed to explain the sacramentality of the world without his sample sermons. Lastly, Boersma expresses his dislike of stories in sermons, considering them to “insult listeners’ intelligence,” (p. 11) however, later on he describes storytelling as an “underrated but important homiletical approach.” (p. 164) A slight rectification is found in his comment that a preacher should not restrict himself only to telling stories. Regardless, this leaves the reader confused as to Boersma’s consistency regarding the role of narrative in preaching.

Although it contains these drawbacks, Sacramental Preaching: Sermons on the Hidden Presence of Christ remains a valuable book for those seeking a renewed appreciation for patristic and sacramental exegesis. It can serve as a valuable tool for clergy, catechists and the public at large to grasp the intricacies of the sacramental life.

Paul Cygan is a third year theology seminarian for the Diocese of Buffalo, NY who is studying at Christ the King Seminary, East Aurora, NY. He graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2012 with a BA in Philosophy and Theology.

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Comments

  1. Another note about The American Catholic Almanac: it does not have an entry for February 29, so a reader during Leap Year finds no entry for that day!

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