Summer Reading for June 2015

Our Father, Who Art on Earth: The Lord’s Prayer for Believers and Unbelievers. Jose Tolentino Mendonca, with a Foreword by Enzo Bianchi. (Mahwah, New Jersey/New York: Paulist Press, 2012) 114 pages; $14.95. (Reviewed by Brandon Harvey)

The Dark Night of the Body: Why Reverence Comes First in Intimate Relations. Alice von Hildebrand. (Fort Collins, Colorado: Roman Catholic Books, 2013) 116 pages; paperback $13.05. (Reviewed by Joshua R. Brotherton)

Sacred Liturgy: The Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church. Edited by Alcuin Reid. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014) 446 pages; $21.95. (Reviewed by Br. Joseph Maria Buckley, OSPPE)

Proclamation and Celebration: Preaching on Christmas, Easter, and other Festivals. Susan K. Hedahl. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2012) 176 pages; paperback $20.00. (Reviewed by Roseanne T. Sullivan)

Our Father, Who Art on Earth: The Lord’s Prayer for Believers and Unbelievers. Jose Tolentino Mendonca, with a Foreword by Enzo Bianchi (Mahwah, New Jersey/New York: Paulist Press, 2012) 114 pages; $14.95.

The Lord’s Prayer is a summary of the Gospel (CCC 2761). Because of the uniqueness and centrality of this prayer, as coming from Jesus, it has been of interest to theologians and pastors such as Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian of Carthage, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, Maximus the Confessor, and others. It has served, still to this day, as an essential aspect of Christian catechisms for the treatment of Christian Prayer. The theological tradition of this prayer is great. In Our Father, Who Art on Earth, Jose Tolentino Mendonca seeks to add to this theological tradition by writing a treatise “addressing both believers and unbelievers” by utilizing Scripture, poetry, literature, and wisdom from diverse sources (Foreword, vii).

The book includes some preliminary chapters to prime the conversation on prayer. Prayer is at the heart of man’s life as “we are a prayer” (10). This is because language is, not simply about communication, but rather about relationship; the language of prayer is no different. As Scripture records that Jesus was praying before his disciples requested a lesson in prayer, it must have been their witnessing his intimate relationship with the Father that inspired them to ask for a participation in such intimacy. Then comes Christ’s giving of the Lord’s Prayer to the disciples. It begins with the notion of “Father.” According to the author, the figure of the father needs to be recovered, as negative father images can impact one’s Christian faith in the loving Father.

Jesus never referred to God as “our Father” outside of this prayer. By using it in this moment, Jesus is teaching the disciples the communion that the prayer expresses, and gives to his Church the power to become the adopted sons and daughters of God. Jesus does not simply teach the words “Our Father,” but, by his grace, he prays them with believers. The entire prayer shows this mystery of communion, as all traces of individuality are absent from its formula. By saying that God is in heaven is, not a reference to the sky, but a symbol of being above, as “the heavens are God Himself, his unspeakable glory” (40). Confessing God’s name as “hallowed” is confessing God as Other, and to participate in God’s holiness; to not be holy, to not be a saint, is, perhaps, the greatest sorrow one could experience, according to the author.

St. Augustine, as discussed in this book, explained that the petition for the coming of the kingdom was really for the desire of the kingdom that was already coming. The kingdom is associated with the person and work of Jesus, and is the reason why Christianity is, not a religion of the book, but of a person; Christians continue to pray and work for the coming of Jesus in all aspects of life. This includes the realm of love. To petition for God’s will to be accomplished is to petition for love and the furthering of the new creation over the face of the earth.

The request for daily bread in this prayer is more about the needs of life, represented by actual bread, and the fellowship that it can bring. The author does not go into the explicit Eucharistic connection that the text and tradition indicate, but the connection can still be found implicitly within the book. This fellowship that communion brings, expressed in every petition of this prayer, extends to the realm of forgiveness as well. To pray for forgiveness is to seek and experience the excess of love.

Holiness does not mean ceasing to experience temptations, but rather the ability to cope with these struggles. In the Lord’s Prayer, this ability is requested, and the deliverance from evil is a request for the ability to overcome evil and suffering in life, in order to await the goodness that God will bring from it. In summary, the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that asks God to be a personal Father.

Although this book claims to be for both believers and non-believers, it could leave the non-believer lost in a heap of ideas. The book presumes a basic understanding of Scripture, philosophy, and theology. It is also filled with ideas that require a great deal of theological understanding and some creativity in order to know the intention of the author: ideas like Jesus “is not a prophet” (29); “Baptism does not make us followers,” but companions (30); faith “completely does away with prudence” (67); God is not love, truth, spirit (89), quoting Angelus Silesius); Jesus’ temptations did not happen in a single event, but throughout his entire life (100).

While this book is not for everyone, its unique use of non-biblical sources could be useful for those responsible for preaching homilies. The use of theology, literature, poetry, and psychiatry could give the homilist an opportunity to tease out the meaning of the Scriptures in new and interesting depths. In the end, Our Father Who Art on Earth’s uniqueness is its refreshing perspective and may be a pleasant surprise to those who feel prayer literature is too uniform.

-Brandon Harvey
Teacher, Writer, and Speaker
Omaha, Nebraska


The Dark Night of the Body: Why Reverence Comes First in Intimate Relations. Alice von Hildebrand. (Fort Collins, Colorado: Roman Catholic Books, 2013) 116 pages; paperback $13.05.

The predominant goal of the collection of essays by Alice von Hildebrand, recently published under its provocative and ingenious title, is certainly to debunk what she dubs “common philosophical errors” (7) in Christopher’s West’s “presentation of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body” (6). Fundamentally, she sees lacking, in these texts, a proper sense of shame, understood in the light of her husband’s philosophical works. It would take far too many words to expose all of the latent theological errors in these less than scholarly essays. I find it quite odd that she never attempts her own exegesis of John Paul’s texts, and only once distinguishes between these texts and West’s interpretation of them (49). It is understandable that she, as a devoted widow, would want all the glory to go to Dietrich, but John Paul’s understanding of shame is itself thorough and unique. Rather than compare Dietrich and John Paul on this topic (which would involve a very detailed analysis), I would like to critically assess Alice von Hildebrand’s chief differences with West, hoping to shed a little light on the lingering dispute on the proper understanding of John Paul’s Theology of the Body, a work whose rich complexity will not be fully unraveled for centuries to come. I have to admit, I eagerly await publication of Michael Waldstein’s study on the Theology, sure to be monumental; and it is interesting that Alice refers to him as “my friend” (32) and “a well-known scholar” (99), even though he claims a close friendship with West, and defends him against David Schindler’s accusation of “pan-sexualism,” which Alice reiterates.

In any case, I find her fundamental disagreement with West to be her understanding of how, precisely, human beings are to approach the reality of concupiscence, which flows from her Platonic anthropology, in contradistinction from the Aristotelian anthropology championed by Wojtyla (even if both utilize phenomenological method). Ethically, the concrete question which is consequently answered differently by West and Hildebrand is whether “married couples ‘may do whatever they wish’ as long as they don’t use contraception, ‘both feel loved and respected,’ and the marital act culminates within the woman (Popcak, Holy Sex, 193)” (21), or conjugal relations ought to be “at the same time healthy, simple, and normal (Leclerc, Marriage, 88)” (23).  No doubt, she points to a few risqué comments of West (incessantly designated “diabolic”), which, nevertheless, have little to do with the fundamental anthropological differences she evidently has with the Theology of the Body, at least as it has thus far been presented (and here, I think, would be the starting point for developing a comparative analysis of Dietrich and Wojtyla). Her other complaints have to do with his apparent rhetorical excess, which seems more due to the generational gap than anything else (although, of course, the proper role of prudence is a legitimate philosophical issue), and his attempt to appropriate kenotic theology to render “intelligible” the virgin birth to a contemporary audience, in the details of which, I agree with her, that a suspension of judgment is the wisest course of action. Nevertheless, I would like to focus on the anthropological core of the dispute.

Although she resists the charge of dualism as ambiguous, her Platonic approach to human nature is fraught with the Cartesian problematic. She regards it as a “divine invention” because: “(mysteriously) the body is physical, material, occupying space, visible, divisible … and mortal. None of these characteristics apply to the soul, which is spiritual, does not occupy space, has no sensible characteristics such as color, and is immortal” (37). This is certainly not an Aristotelian, Thomistic, or Wojtylan way of conceiving the relationship between these two dimensions of the human being. Body is not matter and soul spirit. Rather, the soul is simply the animating principle that in-forms, that is, determines, perfects, actualizes the matter that then becomes body, and only in the case of man, is it immaterial. In fact, the souls of animals are considered material forms, and, thus, the human soul, as form, is not distinguished from body, simply, as spirit is from matter. From a more modern scientific perspective, even “purely” material realities are not entirely lifeless, as the complexity of relations constitutive of all reality is permeated by organicity (that is to say, self-organizing and yet always developing in mutual interdependence). Thomas controversially asserted the commonsense truth that a body is not a body without a soul—it is a corpse—and, in fact, a soul is equally defined in terms of the body it in-forms. Even in the case of man, his immaterial soul is not completely fulfilling its raison d’etre when it exists apart from the body; hence, man ceases to be a person at death because his being must be incomplete (and person is the fullness of being), even with the beatific vision, until he is reunited with the body. When a man dies, he does not cease to be a man and become some androgynous spirit; rather, he is a male because his lived personhood was at least, in part, constituted by the corporal expression that is masculinity (however one may understand such a notion). As Ratzinger (an otherwise Augustinian!) affirms in his Eschatology, the immaterial soul retains the form of “bodiliness” after death, yet without its actualization in matter. For Thomas and Wojtyla, since man is not simply a soul in-forming a body, but a personal union of body and soul, it is not exactly true to say with Alice that “the soul ‘personifies’ the body” (38). The soul is, of course, the principle of personhood in man, but the body is as integral an element to his being as is the soul, precisely because bodiliness or corporality is not already intrinsic to spirit (i.e., the immaterial in man receives from the material, as material reality or corporality is itself constituted by form and matter). This is not quite the same as saying that “both the soul and body have full reality,” and, therefore, “the resurrection of the body is another divine invention” (39).

This difference in anthropology may seem slight, but it produces a much more noticeable difference in perspective when it comes to how one views the dignity of the body for fallen (yet redeemed!) humanity. Alice really dislikes the fact that West refers to Hugh Heffner as “tarnished gold” because his sins are so “filthy” (34-35, 45) and because not all sins are equal. But while there are diverse gravities of sin, not only do the saints often refer to themselves as immensely sinful, not distinguishing between themselves and those who have tarnished their own dignity beyond recognition, they also affirm the gold-value of every human being (i.e., man is not “totally corrupt,” but merely damaged). Wishing to combat the “accusation” that she approaches sex in a puritan fashion as “dirty,” she continually undermines the danger of Puritanism over against that of hedonism, and she often utilizes the imagery of being “covered” or bodily “veiled” with “the white robe of innocence” (79) when referring to original innocence. Such a metaphor indicates thinking that requires something to cover the body, whether before or after sin, and thus misses a major point of the Genesis account, in which man was “naked without shame.” The body is originally so good and the community of persons so unalienated from one another prior to sin that its beauty, as the glorious expression of man’s (and woman’s) unique personhood, can be fully exposed without fear of abuse. It appears that in her estimation, the redemption did nothing for man’s body, thus relegating “the redemption of the body” to the eschaton alone; only thus is it shameful to suggest that someone with the gift of purity could see a naked body, thank God for its beauty, and not fall into the sin of lust (43-44). She stops at the truth that no one should presume upon such a gift and willingly put oneself in a situation conducive to lust (in order to test the strength of one’s virtue), rather than going on to acknowledge that a pure love can, in fact, be met with nakedness, and not even be tempted to objectify the other person. It is odd she is clearly resistant even to the notion that one (if not the primary) reason today’s culture is so hedonistic is precisely because it is reacting to the puritan misunderstanding of the body (which is notorious in American history, at least). Instead of acknowledging that abuses of the body stem precisely from misunderstanding its proper “use,” she puts the blame squarely on “too much emphasis on the body” (42)—so much for a theology of such a mundane thing!

Certainly, the redemption restores man to a dignity wherein it is possible to be “naked without shame” in front of one’s spouse by God’s help (particularly, the grace of sacramental marriage); otherwise, she is suggesting sex be both always missionary, in the dark, and with as much skin covered as possible, lest there be an occasion for lust! Forget the opportunity for love that “carrying on” with sinners and practicing virtue in the face of sin may present. Truly, the Theology of the Body is a much-needed “development of doctrine” (51), in her beloved Newman’s words, that acknowledges also the “primary (scriptural) sense” (i.e., the literal sense) of the Song of Songs, unafraid to expose the beauty of the bodies of the Sistine Chapel with the confidence and tact with which Christ entrusts the gift of purity to his glorious bridegroom.

-Joshua R. Brotherton
Teaching Fellow, The Catholic University of America
DRE, Holy Family Catholic Church, Randallstown, Maryland


Sacred Liturgy: The Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church. Edited by Alcuin Reid. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014) 446 pages; $21.95.

Sacred Liturgy reports on the proceedings from the 2013 international conference of the same name, Sacra Liturgia, in which leading liturgists, cardinals, bishops, and scholars from all corners of the world came together to discuss the current state of the liturgy as well as its future direction. Though each of the essays in the book comes from a different person, who necessarily will have differences in opinion, the general consensus is that, after Vatican II, the reforms that the Council promoted were poorly interpreted. As a result, there is a real need for the liturgical reform to go back to what the Council actually decreed, and not to what it was afterwards interpreted as saying. The hope is that the true “spirit and power of the liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Consilium §14) might be rediscovered so that sacred liturgy might once again take its rightful place as the “source and summit” (Sacrosanctum Consilium §7) of the life of the Church. Throughout the book, each author proposes his own sense of what is needed to bring back either the correct understanding or the correct practice, the ars celebrandi, of the liturgy.

The authors that contributed to this book all argue towards restoring the liturgy, focusing often on how Vatican II should be interpreted, as Pope Benedict XVI insisted, in continuity with the past, and not as a break, or turn, in a new direction. They strongly suggest that there is a need to bring out again the treasures that have been part of the liturgy for centuries. They propose that chant should be returned to its pride of place when selecting music for the liturgy; that Latin, which has been pushed aside and shunned in recent years, should be rediscovered as the language of the Church and of the liturgy; that the priest should again say the Mass, ad orientem, facing toward God in the same direction as the people; that what is needed is to gain and promote a correct ars celebrandi, that is, a proper understanding and appreciation of how the Mass is to be celebrated. But the book goes further than this. The Mass needs to be celebrated in the spirit of the New Evangelization, so that, by returning the liturgy to its splendor and solemnity, the Church’s mission in the world might be greatly progressed.

The book, having been written by so many authors with many different and varied backgrounds, is able to bring much to the table that a single author would simply not be able to offer. There are scholarly articles about sacred music and Christian archaeology side by side, both written to the same high academic standard. For anyone involved with the liturgy, there is much information presented from leading experts in the field on what direction liturgical reform needs to take. There are, for example, some articles that deal specifically with sacred music (and a number of others that touch upon it), one of which deals with sacred music from an academic point of view: that is, what is the historical basis for sacred music, what did the Council say about it, and what needs to be done to train people in it. Then there is a complementary article that provides instructions for where to go, and how to obtain, pertinent materials and resources to be able to implement such music programs. On another topic, for anyone interested in the discussion of the ad orientem celebration of the Mass, there is a discussion on what archaeology has to say about altars, effectively dismantling older popular ideas that created the foundation for using the people’s altar instead of the high altar for the celebration of the Mass. This is, of course, just a small sampling of the wide range of issues dealt with throughout the book.

Despite all these strong points, there are some things that might make some readers unhappy with the book. Anyone that is more liberally inclined, and strongly supports the liturgical changes since Vatican II, might find this a turning back into the past and against all the “progress” that has been made. On a different aspect of the book, it is worth mentioning that with so many different contributors, the type, style, level, and interests of the different submissions vary widely. Some might find some of the articles, such as the aforementioned one about altars, to be far too technical in style and challenging to follow. There are also some specialist topics that might be of limited interest to some readers, for example, the article about the bishops and their role in liturgical life in their dioceses.

But, in general, anyone looking for information about the reform of the liturgy, going back to its more traditional roots, rediscovering what the text of Vatican II saw as needed for the liturgy—needs that have not yet been fulfilled—will find this book a valuable resource. For those who are traditionally inclined, this book offers much of the intellectual foundation on how to promote the shaping of the liturgy to fit these ideals.

-Br. Joseph Maria Buckley, OSPPE
Pontifical University Angelicum
Rome, Italy


Proclamation and Celebration: Preaching on Christmas, Easter, and other Festivals. Susan K. Hedahl. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2012) 176 pages; paperback $20.00.

Proclamation and Celebration: Preaching on Christmas, Easter, and other Festivals is the last of nine books published by the late Rev. Dr. Susan K. Hedahl. Dr. Hedahl, who was a retired Professor of Homiletics at her death in 2012, was one of the first generation of Lutheran women to be ordained; in 1975, she was the sixth woman ordained after The American Lutheran Church (TALC) began to ordain women in 1970. TALC eventually merged with other Lutheran denominations to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Proclamation and Celebration was published by Augsburg Fortress, the publishing arm of the ELCA, as part of its Fortress Resources for Preaching series.

I’m presenting Dr. Hedahl’s background up front in this review, because many potential readers might well decide whether they are interested in Hedahl’s writings about preaching, based on their own beliefs about the ordination of woman and the changes that ordained women are bringing to the theology and practice of their denominations. Whatever opinion you might have about these issues, if you read this book for Hedahl’s guidance on how to create sermons for six feasts of the liturgical year, you will find it thought provoking and informative in many ways. You will also find that Hedahl’s intelligence and ability to systematically present her ideas are evident on every page.

After several ministerial assignments after ordination, and earning an M.A. and a Ph.D., Susan K. Hedahl taught for two decades as Professor of Homiletics at Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary, the ELCA seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. She was the first ordained Lutheran woman with a Ph.D. to serve on the faculty there. Her obituary at the seminary’s website lauded her for being active in women’s issues and for helping to make the ELCA more inclusive.

Hedahl’s views on what she believed to be the unfair exclusivity of male-oriented language are well-known and are easily found on the Internet, and her practice of what is called “inclusive language” is evident in this book and other writings. For example, the author of an article about women in ministry quoted Hedahl as saying in an interview that “With their ministry, women have brought an awareness that some of the language that we use has to be revised so that it includes the whole community” (Hedahl interview, 1997).

In another quote from the same interview, Hedahl spoke about the valuable insights that she believed that women ministers are bringing to their denominations: “I think women are raising real crucial issues in theological classrooms across this country, and have been for the last 20 years, about how we think about God, and how we think about very basic doctrines” (Hedahl interview, 1997). Sermons from women are used in this book as frequent illustrations of how to preach about the new doctrinal developments in a new, inclusive way.

According to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America article at Wikipedia, efforts of Dr. Hedahl and others like her working for a more-inclusive ELCA practice, have apparently borne fruit. “The most recent ELCA hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, includes alternate gender-neutral invocations and benedictions. All of the psalms and many of the hymns and parts of the liturgy have been altered to remove masculine pronouns referring to God.”

Challenges in Doctrinal and Scriptural Preaching
In her introduction to this book, Dr. Hedahl quoted high Church Anglican, mystery writer, and Dante translator, Dorothy L. Sayers. “We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—‘dull dogma,’ as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.”

To my mind, this book is most interesting in its inclusion of quotations like the above from Sayers. Especially interesting are its eloquent quotations from sermons and other proclamations from some of the great preachers from the patristic era of the Church, from the close of the first century to the eighth century, saints like Gregory Nazianzen, Augustine of Hippo, and John Chrysostom, who preached long before doctrinal disputes split Christianity into what Dr. Hedahl called the three branches, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant (which was followed by the subsequent splintering into thousands of denominations that continues even now).

The sermon excerpts are included in each of the chapters for each of the festivals she writes about, as examples. As Hedahl wrote, “There is clarity of thought in many of these sermons (from the patristic era) that can continue to serve as homiletical models today.” I would add that there is also clarity of doctrine in those early sermons that also could continue to serve as a model, but the inconsistencies of doctrinal beliefs in today’s Christian denominations are not specifically mentioned in the Hedahl book. Also, Hedahl did not write anything that addresses how to deal with the new formulations of doctrines that are implied in the earlier quote that “women are raising real crucial issues … about how we think about God, and how we think about very basic doctrines.”

By using the Dorothy Sayer’s quotation, Hedahl highlighted the approach that she intended to model. Hedahl promoted what she called dogmatic preaching as preferable to what she described as the prevalent “narrative” method of preaching. Because her approach is also based on the Revised Common Lectionary of Scripture readings for each of the feasts during the liturgical year, her approach to sermon preparation can also be said to be scriptural.

Hedahl didn’t refer to the deplorable lack of union between the thousands of denominations that call themselves Christian, or explain how their legions of often contradictory dogmatic beliefs can be reconciled. Hedahl’s own experiences in the frequently shifting separations and alliances of the Lutheran denominations in America and approval of the doctrinal developments introduced by the inclusion of women as ministers may have made her comfortable with the fact that so many conflicting dogmas are floating around under the name of Christianity.

I personally cannot grasp how one can preach about doctrine unless it is clearly defined. How are individual preachers supposed to discern what variation of doctrine to preach? Hedahl simply mentioned in passing that each preacher must compare the texts of the Scriptural readings with his or her own denomination’s “perspectives,” as she noted mildly “all of which reflect the church’s spectrum of faith and practice.” If the “spectrum” is changing, what then?

Why Six Principal Feasts?
In keeping with the subtitle of this book, Preaching on Christmas, Easter, and other Festivals, Dr. Hedahl discussed how to preach about six Christian feasts: Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Holy Trinity, which she called the principal festivals. In her introduction, Dr. Hedahl wrote:

What are the principal festivals? This phrase is used today liturgically to refer to the six major festivals that trace the historical genesis and ongoing revelation of God’s reign in the world in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I haven’t been able to answer the question that came up for me when I was reading this book, “Why only six?” Even the collection of Martin Luther’s sermons, entitled Martin Luther’s Sermons on the Gospels for the Sundays and Principal Festivals of the Church-Year, included 11 festivals. And there are 12 festivals in the current lectionaries (the Evangelical Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Service Book).

Hedahl’s 6 Martin Luther’s 11 ELCA’s 12
Christmas/Nativity 1. 1. 1.
Epiphany 2. 2. 2.
Baptism of the Lord 3.
Transfiguration 3. 4.
Annunciation 4. 5.
Palm Sunday 5. 6.
Easter 3. 6. 7.
Ascension 4. 7. 8.
Pentecost 5. 8. 9.
Holy Trinity 6. 9. 10.
All Saints 10. 11.
Christ the King 11. 12.

Maybe it’s an ecumenical thing. “Central to the complicated development of lectionaries over the centuries, these festivals have anchored the church year, primarily because they are specifically enunciated in biblical materials.” Hedahl seemed to be implying that the six she wrote about are called the principal festivals mainly because they are found in the Bible. Perhaps these six are agreed upon as important by multiple denominations.

How to Preach with Inclusive Language about the Holy Trinity
It is illustrative to look at the chapter about Holy Trinity (also known as Trinity Sunday). Pages 125 through 146 are devoted to how to preach about this festival and its doctrines. As in the chapters for all the festivals, Dr. Hedahl covered these topics: Festival History, Pericopes (Scriptural Readings from the Lectionary), and Doctrinal Proclamations (sermons and reflections on sermons previously preached about the doctrine).

Under Festival History, for example, Hedahl discussed how Holy Trinity is the last “festival” to have been formally instituted when Pope John XXII established a feast for the Trinity in 1334, and, as she rather oddly phrased it, the “festival permeated different branches of the Christian tradition in the centuries that followed.” It is not clear to this lay person how a festival can permeate. And does Christian tradition have branches?

Hedahl then went on to write this startling statement about what she believed the feast itself accomplishes, “Holy Trinity builds on the revelation of God through Jesus, yet proceeds to explore new vistas concerning divine and human interaction.” Aside from the fact that it is hard to see how a festival can explore vistas, the sentence highlights what I see as one major weakness in the use of language that tries to avoid using masculine nouns and pronouns when speaking about God. If God is being revealed through Jesus, does that not imply that Jesus is not God? If the author wrote instead about “the revelation of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit through Jesus, who is God the Son,” that undoctrinal implication would have been avoided.

The fact is that Hedahl’s writing style expertly exemplifies the non-exclusive language that she championed. When you think about it, it is truly remarkable that Hedahl was able to write about the Trinity for 21 pages without using the masculine names of God the Father and God the Son. Notable exceptions are when she quoted St. Thomas Aquinas about the paternity of the Father, and the filiation of the Son, when she quoted from the actual Gospel verses assigned to Holy Trinity Sunday, and when she quoted sermons from Catholic saints Peter Chrysologus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Pope Leo the Great.

How did Hedahl accomplish this feat of nonexclusivity in her own writing? When she quoted books about the Trinity that use the masculine words “man” or “men” or the pronouns “him” and “his,” she inserted (sic) as if to correct the author’s error!

And Hedahl made deft use of circumlocutions. The Trinity is the “gracious gift of God’s three-fold presence” and “the triune God.” I think Hedahl’s most striking sentence in this vein combines circumlocution with a passive construction that hides the agent of the non-specific action being described: Hedahl wrote this about the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “Baptism is specified as occurring under the aegis of the triune God,” instead of, “Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel to all creation and to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

In summary, if you like that sort of thing, you will see a lot to emulate in this book. And if you don’t, you won’t.

-Roseanne T. Sullivan, M.A.
Freelance writer and photographer
San Jose, California

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