Book Reviews – September 2023

Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics and the Body of Christ. By William T. Cavanaugh. Reviewed by Rev. John P. Cush, STD. (skip to review)

Passions of the Christ: The Emotional Life of Jesus in the Gospels. By F. Scott Spencer. Reviewed by Fr. Vien V. Nguyen, SJC. (skip to review)

Augustine’s Confessions and Contemporary Concerns. Ed. by David Vincent Meconi. Reviewed by Fr. Stephen Rocker. (skip to review)

The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory. By Abigail Favale. Reviewed by Mary Schneider. (skip to review)

Manual for Conquering Deadly Sin. By Dennis Kolinski, SJC. Reviewed by Matthew O’Donnell. (skip to review)

Torture and Eucharist – William T. Cavanaugh

Cavanaugh, William T. Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics and the Body of Christ. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

Reviewed by Rev. John P. Cush, STD.

When one reads the work of some of the founders of the Radical Orthodoxy movement, like Catherine Pickstock and John Milbank, one can be left wondering what exactly is being said. Steven Shakespeare notes: “Books of radically orthodox theology are full of complex, detailed arguments about the minutiae of texts and definitions, crammed with philosophical jargon in a range of languages and laden with grand claims which sound incredibly important if only one could work out what they meant.”1 This is not the case when it comes to the theology of William T. Cavanaugh.

William T. Cavanaugh’s book, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (1998), is not a typical addition to the canon of Radical Orthodoxy. Its author is not trained in a British academic setting under the tutelage of Milbank. Cavanaugh is an American who studied at Duke University under Stanley Hauweras and is a professor of theology at DePaul University.2 His writing style, although solidly academic, is not filled with the sheer verbosity of a Milbank or the linguistic intricacies of a Pickstock. In addition, Cavanaugh is a Roman Catholic writing from his own ministerial experiences as a lay volunteer for the Holy Cross Fathers in Chile. Torture and Eucharist is a work, in my opinion, of immense practicality and I believe that even those who are not at all familiar with the Radical Orthodoxy movement could read it and gain much from it, theologically, spiritually, and pastorally. With the examination of how one concept of ecclesiology led to a failure of pastoral involvement on the part of the institutional Roman Catholic Church in Chile, Cavanaugh issues a challenging and exciting concept of Eucharist and social justice. In it, we see how Eucharistic orthodoxy leads to Eucharistic orthopraxy.

In this book review, I intend to explore Cavanaugh’s thoughts on concrete ways of making the Body of Christ visible, most especially his thoughts on the Eucharistic discipline of excommunication. In order to enhance understanding of Cavanaugh’s Eucharistic theology, I will first explore the context of Torture and Eucharist and the ecclesiology therein.

The title of the book, Torture and Eucharist, is a deliberately provocative title. It wants the reader to try to grasp these two realities, one purely evil and the other purely good. Cavanaugh writes:

Torture and Eucharist are opposing disciplinae arcanorum using different means and serving different ends. Where torture is an anti-liturgy for the realization of the state’s power on the bodies of others, Eucharist is the liturgical realization of Christ’s suffering and redemptive body in the bodies of his followers. Torture creates fearful and isolated bodies, bodies docile to the purposes of the regime; the Eucharist effects the body of Christ, a body marked by resistance to worldly power. Torture creates victims; Eucharist creates witnesses, martyrs. Isolation is overcome in the Eucharist by the building of a communal body which resists the state’s attempts to disappear it.3

In Cavanaugh’s worldview, ecclesiology and sacramental theology go hand in hand with practical political questions. A basic premise of the book is really quite simple and one that seems quite obvious to anyone with a conscience: “Torture is very bad.”4 In his justification of his Eucharistic orthopraxy, Cavanaugh writes: “I argue that a Christian practice of the political is embodied in the Eucharist, the remembering of Jesus’ own torture at the hands of the powers of this world. The Eucharist is the church’s response to torture, and the hope for Christian resistance to the violent disciplines of the world.”5

At first glance, one would assume that, since Torture and Eucharist details the story of the Church in a Latin American country, it would be a work of liberation theology. It is a work of “liberation theology” in the classic sense of that phrase. A working definition of liberation theology would be: “A largely Latin-American movement that (a) is inspired by the Exodus, prophetic calls for justice, and Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom, (b) reads the Bible in the key of integral liberation, and (c) has struck deep roots where structures of injustice and economic dependence oppress great masses of poor people.”6

Yet, in other ways, Cavanaugh is quite critical of some of the leading figures in twentieth-century liberation theology. For example, he rejects Leonardo Boff’s concept of sacrament as ultimately a surrender to the secular. Cavanaugh makes the following conclusion on Boff’s notion of a sacrament: “Although Boff considers the Eucharist to be one of the ‘special’ sacraments, he contends that anything on earth could be a sacrament for a particular individual, provided she look through the object itself and see the presence of God.”7 Cavanaugh is traditional in his notion of the sacraments of the Catholic Church.

Placing Cavanaugh’s theology into context, he opens Torture and Eucharist within three wider discussions. First, he studies the concept of social ethics and human rights. Cavanaugh opines: “I argue that what accounts for the failure of human rights language to stop acts of torture is a misunderstanding of the nature of torture as primarily an attack on individual bodies. While certainly individual bodies suffer grievously, the state’s primary targets in using torture are social bodies.”8

Second, he examines the concept of ecclesiology and the state. This is, I believe, the key to understanding the position that Cavanaugh will assume in terms of his Eucharistic theology. He is actively combatting against two notions that seems to have dominated Western thinking: in the first place, one with which Cavanaugh is in agreement, “is that the removal of the church from the taint of coercive power is a positive development”9; in the second place, Cavanaugh claims that the western world assumes that the sovereign state’s monopoly on coercive power promotes peace as a proper consequence of the separation of two essences that had become confused — religion and politics.”10 Here, Cavanaugh shows his affiliation with the school of Radical Orthodoxy in general and its prime founder, John Milbank, in particular. Cavanaugh claims, like Milbank’s description of the invention of the secular,11 that: “[t]he distinction between politics and religion was not discovered, but invented.”12

Third, Cavanaugh examines sacramental theology and its consequences for ethics. He quotes from the introduction to a 1974 volume of Concilium entitled Politics and Liturgy to exhibit what he does not mean: “Since politics is the control of power in society, the ways in which liturgy uses symbols of power which Christian peoples bring to bear on political questions.”13 Any attempt to make the liturgy relevant, according to Cavanaugh makes the separation between politics and religion more, not less profound. His problem with the concept of Power and Schmidt is the implication that “to enter the political is to leave the liturgical.”14 All is liturgical in this overwhelmingly sacramental worldview. Cavanaugh phrases this sentiment well when he writes: “The point is not to politicize the Eucharist but to “Eucharistize’ the world.”15

It should be made clear to the reader that Cavanaugh, like John Milbank, is a true student of Saint Augustine of Hippo. “The Eucharist is the true ‘politics’ because it is the public performance of the true eschatological City of God in the midst of another City which is passing away.”16 The term “church” for Cavanaugh means “. . . the one Christian church of the one Christ into which all Christians — Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant — are baptized.”17 Yet, it is essential to remember that when Cavanaugh describes the Church in Torture and Eucharist, he is referencing the Roman Catholic Church in Chile.

The regime of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte (1973–1990)18 was cruel dictatorship. Those who opposed Pinochet in any fashion were made to disappear. These women and men were often tortured and never heard from again. At the start of this regime, the bishops of the Catholic Church in Chile were very hesitant to make any criticism of Pinochet’s government.

According to Cavanaugh, this hesitancy to speak up against oppression is a lived example of a fundamentally flawed ecclesiology. In 1925, the Church and the State in Chile made a pact. After this separation of Church and state, the social body of the Chilean people was divided in a rather gnostic fashion. In effect, the “body,” the physical, the secular realm was in the auspices of the state and the “soul,” the spiritual, was under the domain of the Church.

Cavanaugh describes the ecclesiology of the time period of the early twentieth century as one that would describe the Church as otherworldly. This “not-of-this-world” Church of Pope Pius XI is best exemplified in the creation of the lay movement, Catholic Action. He illustrates this in Pope Pius XII’s Letter to Cardinal Bertram on Catholic Action:

Like the mandate entrusted to the Church by God, and like the apostolate of hierarchy itself, this Catholic Action is spiritual, not temporal, supernatural, not of this world, religious, not political. However, it deserves no less because of this to be called social action; for its purpose is precisely to extend the kingdom of Christ and by this extension to procure for society the greatest of all benefits, from which all others spring, that is to say all those which concern the organization of a nation and which are termed political.19

This is further exhibited by the thought of Maritain in his book Primaute du spirituel (1927). In it, “the spiritual is identified with an interior, incommunicable realm, while the body is left to the state.”20 Cavanaugh states that even Maritain did not envision the state being left to do what it wanted; he thought that the state must provide for the common good. The temporal is subordinated to the spiritual, just as the body is subordinated to the soul.21

The Church, according to Maritain, by following this model, is free to be a “purely spiritual religion.” The Church, which cannot be separated from culture, has to work on the culture spiritually to transform it. Modernity has destroyed the old Christendom. By doing so, it has freed the Church from all temporal responsibilities. This new Christendom is a state informed and formed by a Christian spirit.22 It is a lay, secular society. By secular, Maritain means that the Church is not bound to any culture in particular and not bound by any temporal affairs.

The Church represented the soul; the state represented the body. In the case of Chile, with the Church allowing herself to be marginalized, simply involved in the spiritual realm, the state grows in power over the bodies of the Chilean people. The withdrawal from relevancy by the Church allows the State to do what it wants in the daily life of the people. Individual laity could and would act, having had their moral conscience formed by their faith, but the Church never voiced her opinions on the actions of the state. Religion is on one side (in the realm of the Church) and politics was the realm of the State and rarely was this dichotomy breached. The holism of the Body of Christ of the Chilean people was rendered asunder. It is precisely this ecclesiology, perhaps naïve and too trusting, that leads to a public irrelevancy of the Church in Chile.

Cavanaugh believes that this basically means that the Church, due to her lack of practical engagement, had surrendered the bodies of the Chileans over to the Pinochet regime. He identifies politics as what the state is allowed to do with the bodies of her citizens. For Cavanaugh, torture is the absolute example of what the state can do to a body — anything it wants.

But what is at the root of this ecclesiology? Cavanaugh believes it is a confusion of the concept of Corpus Mysticum. Cavanaugh believes has created dichotomy between a corpus mysticum and a corpus verum23 and a Eucharistic ecclesiology. According to Cavanaugh, there is a great problem with the term Corpus mysticum. He writes: “The designation of the church as ‘mystical’ rather than the ‘true’ body of Christ has often served the imagination of a disincarnate church which hovers above the temporal, uniting Christians in soul while the body does its dirty work.”24

When the treatment of the Chilean people grew worse and worse, the Church finally got involved, making a stand. The Church recognized that she should defend the body in the name of Christ. This was not a call to arms, like a political, Marxist revolution, but a definitive readjustment of ecclesiology: a disavowal of an older model of Church coming from Jacques Maritain’s ideas of a New Christendom and Pope Pius XI’s concept of Catholic Action being the presence of the Church in the social sphere. Cavanaugh makes it clear that he is NOT blaming Pius XI or Maritain’s thoughts as the cause of this separated ecclesiology in Chile; he mentions that it simply informed the ecclesiology of a generation in Chile and indeed the whole world.25

Finally, the Church begins to speak up in Chile against the injustice of the regime. The response of the Pinochet regime is never to publicly attack the Church but to make people disappear. The Church would then have to make a public statement and claim the bodies of the disappeared as her own. This would be a public action of standing with the oppressed. If the Church does this against the quiet, silent program of torture, then she is in a public fight and violating the Maritain ecclesiology of New Christendom with its dualistic, ethereal approach. This ecclesiology makes the Kingdom of God in a space outside of time. To counterbalance this, Cavanaugh describes his view of the Kingdom of God: “. . . in the Eucharist the Kingdom irrupts into time and ‘confuses’ the spiritual and the temporal. The Eucharist thus realizes a body which is neither purely ‘mystical’ nor simply analogous to the modern state: the true body of Christ.”26

Cavanaugh has placed the term martyr within its original meaning: witness. The state, in their clandestine activities, created invisible victims. The Church, active in the world, a social body, the Body of Christ, claims the bodies of her martyrs and publically challenges the regime with her witness of solidarity. Torture and disappearance are not simply a private matter, but an attack on the integrity of the Body of Christ, the Church. By standing up for the disappeared, Catholic Christians act together in solidarity, in communion and thus are Church.

Martyrdom, by its nature, is part and parcel of the nature of the Church. Tertullian in his Apologeticum famously commented, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and indeed it is true. All are called to martyrdom if they wish to live the life of a Christian. Perhaps it will not be a bloody, ‘red” martyrdom, as was and is seen throughout the centuries from the Holy Innocents of the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, but there will most certainly be the “white martyrdom” of self-sacrifice with the misunderstandings and judgments that can come from both within and without our ecclesiastical circles and the daily sacrifices of our most precious commodities: our time and our presence.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella describes martyrdom well:

The church needs the martyrs, to highlight fully the reality of a love that freely accepts death while also becoming forgiveness of the persecutor. The martyrs, however, belong to the church not only because it in its two thousand years of history has always been characterized by the presence of martyrs, but rather because the church itself is by nature a martyr. Before being ecclesia martyrum, the church is ecclesia martyr. Indelibly once and for all impressed in the church’s ontological constitution is the forma Christi, expressed in the Son’s kenosis culminating in his passion and death on the cross.27

The ultimate witness to the credibility of revelation is martyrdom. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). By publicly manifesting solidarity with each other, Christians become the Body of Christ in word and in deed.

Cavanaugh gives some concrete ways in which the Body of Christ can be made manifest, to become visible: A first way is to offer relief to those victimized and tortured by the state. This support is manifested as making the Church a center of organization for the people. An action of Solidaridad,28 this is a Eucharistic action, according to Cavanaugh, building up the true body of Christ as a counter-discipline to the state.29 He writes in explanation of a non-liturgical action being Eucharistic:

The work of the Vicaría is Eucharistic because it is not just any body which the church realizes but the Body of Christ, Christ’s true body is enacted here by the incarnation of the church in the bodies of the poor. The true body of Christ is the suffering body, the destitute body, the body which is tortured and sacrificed, The church is the body of Christ because it performs an anamnesis of Christ’s sacrifice, suffering in its own flesh the affliction taken on by Christ. In the church’s communities of solidarity, the poor are fed by Christ but, insofar as they become Christ’s body, they also become food for others.30

A second way that the Church witnesses is by subversive street liturgies, by acts of peaceful, prayerful protest that make the tortured body of Christ visible and draws attention to the disappeared. These public denunciations of torture by the Sebastián Acevedo Movement were an “anti-liturgy” against torture.31 Cavanaugh writes: “The ritual is designed to make the tortured body, which has been disappeared by the state, miraculously appear in the bodies of the protesters.”32 The terrible actions in the clandestine prison are made know to the world. The victims are now martyrs. This witness is also a Eucharistic action, according to Cavanaugh. As he writes: “The members of the Sebastián Acevedo become Eucharist by uniting their bodies in sacrifice with the body of Christ.33

Cavanaugh gives a third way, perhaps the most serious way of manifesting the Body of Christ: by denying Holy Communion to those who participate in the governmental torture. Excommunication is the price paid for all those complicit with these acts. Cavanaugh writes: “Eucharistic discipline does not anticipate future condemnation but rather future reconciliation. Excommunication is the formal offering of reconciliation in the hope that even the most hardened offender will be saved.”34 Thus, this action manifests the Church’s solidarity with the poor and makes visible the rift that was created by those who would harm the Body of Christ and, at the same time, expresses a concretized hope and expectation that this therapeutic excommunication will bring the one who, by his or her actions, has separated from the body of Christ to realize the errors of his or her ways and to desire reconciliation with the body of Christ. Against those who might believe excommunication to be too judgmental, too severe a punishment, Cavanaugh writes:

Excommunication, therefore, is not the expulsion of the sinner from the church, but a recognition that the sinner has already excluded himself from communion in the body of Christ by his own actions. Excommunication by the community clarifies for the sinner the seriousness of the offense, and, if accompanied by a proper penitential discipline, shows the sinner the way to reconciliation with the body of Christ while shielding the sinner from the adverse effects of continued participation in the Eucharist in the absence of true reconciliation. As an invitation to reconciliation, then, excommunication done well is an act of hospitality, in which the church does not expel the sinner, but says to her, “You are already outside our communion. Here is what you need to do to come back in.” Excommunication does not abandon the sinner to her fate: in fact, precisely the opposite is the case. It is failure to excommunicate the notorious sinner that leaves her to eat and drink her own condemnation.”35

The issues raised by Cavanaugh bring to mind several aspects of daily life in the Roman Catholic Church in the western world today. I can only speak to the situation of the Catholic Church in the United States of America, but the issue of Roman Catholic politicians who actively campaign and support attitudes and ideals which deliberately go against the teachings of the Church on issues of the sanctity of life from conception to natural death and the sanctity of marriage come to mind. I believe that the challenge that Cavanaugh issues can be applied to that particular situation. While, like Cavanaugh, I would not want to see the issuance of excommunication edicts for minor offenses,36 perhaps the shock to the system of being reminded of the teachings of the body of Christ, the Church and the need to live in accordance with those teachings might need to be a more common therapeutic remedy. Far from a radically conservative action, a polemicizing, doctrinaire move, the exclusion from the reception of Holy Communion might have to be made more public, despite the oft-times political minefield which will accompany it.

Saint John Henry Newman, in his “Biglietto Speech” is quoted as saying the following: “Commonly the Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her own proper duties, in confidence and peace; to stand still and to see the salvation of God. Mansueti hereditabunt terram. Et delectabuntur in multitudine pacis.”37 The business of the Church is to be Church. As we have seen, this does not mean relegating the Church to the sacristy and the cloister but by being a presence of Christ in the world.

All too often, the Church is seen as saying no to everything in the world. And yet, nothing could be farther from the truth. Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, is seen as a champion of what has been described as “Affirmative Orthodoxy.”38 Cardinal Dolan, in an interview in 2012, said:

The Catholic Church affirms, strengthens, expands what’s most noble, most beautiful, most sacred, in the human project. I like to quote a line from Father Robert Barron, that the Church only says no to another no, and two no’s make a yes. It’s only when the yes of humanity is threatened that the Church will say no, to protect the yes.39

By reserving Holy Communion to those who not only profess belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist with their lips but also try to live it out in their lives, the Church is making a powerful statement. It is saying yes to the Body of Christ, the People of God. It is saying yes to the Christ present in the Eucharistic species whose dignity we uphold by doctrine and whom we worship in our liturgy. If we are most Church when we celebrate the Eucharist, those who rupture the unity of the Body of Christ need this reminder and this firm yet fair invitation back to the fold of Christ. Recognizing the fact that each of us can and do sin in our lives, acknowledging the fact that we as a collective entity can participate in social sins, we can still strive to build up and preserve the Corpus verum, our brothers and sisters here with us.

Cavanaugh ends his book by reminding his readers that the Church began with a disappearance: the Risen Lord from the empty tomb. Yet, the Lord does not leave them alone; he gives them his own body that gives them unity, peace and everlasting life. Cavanaugh uses a phrase from J. B. Metz, “dangerous memory,” to describe the Eucharist. It is indeed the dangerous memory of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ that impels those who receive the body of Christ to act in this world as the Body of Christ, to recognize the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in our midst. That Kingdom which is, as is expressed in Italian as “gia, ma non ancora,” “already, but not yet,” is made manifest when believers act in the Person of Christ in the world.

Torture and Eucharist brings the Church into the secular realm in a very concrete way. In its tough stand on actions which would harm the Body of Christ, the Eucharistic community formed as Church today, it is perhaps the most “radically orthodox” of any book I’ve ever read.

Rev. John P. Cush, STD, is Professor of Dogmatic Theology and Director of Seminarian Admissions at Saint Joseph’s Seminary and College, Dunwoodie, New York and, since 2022, also serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

Passions of the Christ – F. Scott Spencer

Spencer, F. Scott. Passions of the Christ: The Emotional Life of Jesus in the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021. 304 pages.

Reviewed by Fr. Vien V. Nguyen, SCJ.

Is Jesus “a tough-as-nails strongman and hyper-stoical martyr” as commonly accepted in biblical scholarship and Christian thought? (8). F. Scott Spencer disagrees with such a notion. Drawing on ancient and modern theological, philosophical, and psychological sources, he argues that “without full emotional capacity, Jesus can lay no claim to full participation in human experience” (3). Thus, Spencer attempts to illustrate the emotional life of Jesus as presented in the Gospel narratives.

The book is divided into three parts. Part One (Chaps. 1–2) examines emotion theory and the portrait of divine impassability from theoretical and theological lenses. Chapter 1 focuses on emotion theory and Jesus’s passions, giving special attention to the meaning of the word “passion” in Greek thought and Christian parlance and the importance of emotion in human nature. In Chapter 2, Spencer continues the conversation on emotion theory in the context of theology and Christology. He contends that the investigation of Christ’s emotions or passions suffers a “fatal logical flaw” in biblical scholarship and Western Christian theology, in which God is depicted as impassable and unaffected by external forces (21).

Part Two comprises Chapters 3–6, focusing on Jesus’ vehement emotions. Chapter 3 treats incidents in which Jesus is angry as seen in his deep emotion toward the leper for requesting healing (Mk 1:40–45), his anger toward the Pharisees for resisting his healing the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Mk 3:1–6), his inner turmoil at Lazarus’ gravesite (Jn 11:33–38), and his anger at the merchants working in the temple courts (Mt 21:12–17; Mk 11:15–19; Lk 19:11–27; Jn 2:13–22). In Chapter 4, Spencer investigates episodes in Jesus’s ministry that trigger his anger and anguished grief: the Pharisees’ hardheartedness and deep-seated objection to his restorative and redemptive mission (Mk 3:1–6), the loss of a beloved friend, Lazarus (Jn 11:33–38), and his teary breakdown over Jerusalem’s imminent destruction (Lk 19:41–44).

Chapter 5 studies two major episodes in which Jesus displays intense fear and anxiety, anguish and grief in the face of death. At Gethsemane, on the eve of his death, the anguished Jesus confides his grief and anxiety with God and the disciples about the impending, humiliating, violent death (Mt 26:36­–46; Mk 14:32–42; Lk 22:39–46). At Golgotha, on the cross, Jesus cries out at the horror of the perceived abandonment by God (Mt 27:45–49; Mk 15:32–36). In Chapter 6, Spencer discusses how Jesus, the victim of disgust, identifies and sympathizes with those labeled disgusting by society to help them reclaim their human dignity, as well as “to short-circuit the abuse cycle and defuse the disgust dynamo” (115). However, Spencer notes that Jesus also shows disgust toward others, e.g., his dealing with Lazarus’ rotting corpse (Jn 11:33–44) and his reference to a non-Jewish female supplicant as a scavenging dog (Mk 7:24–30). Spencer also analyzes two parables in Luke to explain the emotion of contempt: the parable of the widow and the unjust judge (18:2–5) and the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (18:10–14).

Part Three comprises Chapters 7–10 that highlight Jesus’s positive emotions of love and joy. Before delving into these two positive emotions, Spencer dedicates Chapter 7 to discussing two Gospel incidents that deal with Jesus’s amazement at his hometown’s distrust of his claim of divine authority leading him not able to perform many miracles there (Mk 6:1–6) and Jesus’s amazement at the unexpected belief of a centurion’s trust in his healing power (Mt 8:5–13; Lk 7:1–10). In Chapter 8, Spencer highlights Jesus’s love as seen in his compassion for the hungry crowds (Mt 14:13–16; 15:32; Mk 6:34–37; 8:1–3), for blind persons (Mt 9:27–31; 20:29–34; Mk 10:46–52), for a distraught father pleading for his spirit-seized son (Mk 9:14–29), and for the grieving widow at Nain (Lk 7:11–17).

Chapter 9 examines Jesus’s deep love for his disciples. To the rich young man seeking eternal life, Jesus explains the rigorous requirements of discipleship and God’s kingdom with agapic love rather than with condemnation when the rich man is not ready to let go of his earthly possessions (Mk 10:17–27). For the rest of the chapter, Spencer presents Jesus’s love for his followers in four images in the Johannine Gospel: beloved, served servants (13:1–30), beloved obedient children (13:33–35; 14:18–31; 15:9–12), beloved intimate friends (15:12–17), and beloved model disciples (13:23–25; 19:26–27; 21:1–23). For Chapter 10, Spencer presents the “joyous Jesus” with attention to two episodes. The first involves Jesus’ joy of seeing his disciples returning from their mission (Lk 10:17–24). The second is Jesus’ desire for joy and love for the disciples in the Farewell Discourse (Jn 16:6, 20–24).

Written by a thorough, reputable scholar, this engaging and well-written book is a valuable contribution to the study of Jesus’s emotions, ranging from anger and anguish to love and joy. It is an excellent resource for scholars, biblical students, and readers interested in the emotional life of Jesus, which is often glossed over in biblical studies. In his presentation, Spencer closely contextualizes relevant Gospel texts in their literary and cultural contexts and engages with secondary sources — ancient and modern, philosophical and psychological — to further his explorations and sharpen his interpretations of Jesus’s emotions.

Spencer succeeds in his stated objective: “My project aims to correct skewed images of Jesus as a tough-as-nails strongman and hyper-stoical martyr” (8). He points out how readers and interpreters often dismiss or gloss over Jesus’s human experiences of thinking and feeling (95). He presents thought-provoking insights into Jesus’s human emotions in ten tightly argued and meticulously analyzed chapters, enabling readers to relate to the “emotional” Jesus. Readers and interpreters are challenged to read Jesus’s emotions in fresh ways. Passions of the Christ is a must-read for students in Christology courses.

Fr. Vien V. Nguyen, SCJ, is a priest and provincial superior of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians or SCJs) in the United States. Holding a doctorate in Sacred Scripture, Fr. Vien was vice rector and an assistant professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, before his election to provincial leadership.

Augustine’s Confessions and Contemporary Concerns – David Vincent Meconi, ed.

Meconi, David Vincent, ed. Augustine’s Confessions and Contemporary Concerns. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Saint Paul Seminary Press, 2022, 288 pages.

Reviewed by Fr. Stephen Rocker.

Augustine’s Confessions and Contemporary Concerns is a collection of papers given at a conference in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 2019. There were thirteen papers given, one for each book of Augustine’s Confessions, by thirteen scholars. Collections of this type vary according to the outlook and scholarship of each writer from which one can read randomly or according to a particular area of interest. This collection, however, can also profitably be read from start to finish because it follows the order of Augustine’s work and illuminates the themes of each book. Together these books present Augustine’s journey from restlessness to rest and show the relevance of that journey to all humankind.

These papers also strive to offer insights on, and corrections to, contemporary practices or cultural phenomena. In general, Augustinian thought is seen to counter prevalent ideas of relativism, autonomy, materialism in the sciences, and secularism in the general culture. All the essays strive by way of Augustine’s inner journey and his insights to illuminate concerns particular to our time. Though perhaps strained in some instances, all the scholars offer thoughtful applications of Augustine’s theology. I note a few of these applications.

Christopher Thompson, in presenting Book 5, notes that for Augustine, the individual must reorder his/her life according to the order of things in creation. Thompson criticizes such groups as Alcoholics Anonymous that suppose individuals are to direct themselves in relation to a subjectively conceived higher power where the goal is self-satisfaction. Similarly, for the gay pride movement “[a]ny framing of non-telic sexual practices as dystonic is rejected [. . . . and] the call to chastity is received as an invitation to self-loathing.” Thus individuals are abandoned to their own “self-enclosed horizon of therapeutic feelings.”

In Book 8 Paul Ruff reads Augustine’s account of his conversion by way of modern psychological accounts of conversion to the “true self.” It seems to this reviewer Ruff’s paper is more properly addressed to psychologists to show how psychology as a science is inadequate to religious reality if psychology does not recognize the limits imposed by the kind of metaphysical and epistemological suppositions it holds.

In Book 10 on memory, Hilary Finley sees in the internet a faux form of unifying the world; and in technology applied to our biological makeup, she sees a dangerous attempt to remake the self. To this reviewer Finley’s bemoaning the state of contemporary Western culture seems appended to Augustine’s search for God as he develops the theme of memory in Book 10. In Book 11 Veronica Roberts Ogle explains Augustine’s presentation of the inherent incompleteness of each vanishing moment and how that incompleteness points toward eternity. She then applies Augustine’s insights on time consciousness to how our consumption of electronic screen time aggravates the fragmenting nature of time in our experience. Ogle offers the solution of participation in liturgical action as a means of bringing the eternal into time.

For Book 12 Margaret Blume Freddoso contrasts Augustine’s understanding of contemplation with Centering Prayer as developed by Trappist monks in Spencer, Massachusetts. “If a person were to practice Centering Prayer as a replacement for the true way of contemplation, then she would never return to God . . . , remaining imprisoned within herself.” Whether Eastern meditation practices such as yoga, Zen, and transcendental meditation can be integrated with Christian prayer without also adopting their metaphysical expression is a matter for study and discussion. In any case Freddoso’s essay is intelligent and provocative.

As a whole this collection offers a selection of quotations with elucidation from Augustine’s most famous work and demonstrates the continual relevance of this classic work of God’s search for us in our search for God. Some of the essays were not sufficiently proof-read by their authors, and evidently there was no general editorial proof-reading. A couple of the essays were heavy with psychological language that this reader thought could have been given better literary expression, for example, “the project of transformational psychological healing might be seen as a fractal instantiation, guided perhaps by prevenient grace, of the larger soteriological drama.” Whatever small criticisms this reviewer has, this collection of essays is a good addition to the great body of writing on Augustine’s theology and its relevance to the issues of our time.

Fr. Stephen Rocker is a priest of the Diocese of Ogdensburg (New York) and is currently serving as chaplain at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire.

The Genesis of Gender – Abigail Favale

Favale, Abigail. The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2022. 248 pages.

Reviewed by Mary Schneider.

The purpose of The Genesis of Gender is to create an authentically Christian feminism that moves feminism away from the strong influence of postmodernism, which has led to the genesis of contemporary gender ideology, and to reconcile it with the Christian, essentialist recognition of sexual dimorphism and of the unity of the body and soul found in the book of Genesis. Abigail Favale is a convert, writer, and professor with a doctorate in English and a background in gender studies, who is currently on the faculty of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

Favale begins the book by describing her personal odyssey from Evangelical Christianity through different phases of feminism and, finally, to the Catholic Church, where she now resides as a heretic to feminism. Her experience indicates that it is possible to be a feminist and a Christian but that one cannot fully assent to both. She then discusses Genesis, which shows that God created man as body and soul and that the unity between the two is such that the body reveals the person (40). He also created man as male and female and while the two sexes are different, they are complementary and equal, and their differences are a “gift” (51). However, Original Sin “created a fracture” in the unity of the body and soul, leading to concupiscence, and “fractured the call to unity between the sexes” (47), resulting in the “dynamic” of male domination that distorted the reciprocity and equality between them that God had originally intended (49).

Favale then compares the Genesis account with the evolving concepts of sex and gender feminism has proposed over the last sixty years that led to the development of gender ideology and the worldview, or paradigm, that supports it. The feminism of the 1960s and 1970s promoted contraception and abortion because it wanted to free women from their biology and make them like men. Thus, it severed sex from procreation and turned it into a recreational activity, reducing the dignity of the body, especially the female body, to an instrument of pleasure. It also separated sex from the concept gender, which it defined as the “collection of socially constructed norms and ideals” (147). In the 1980s and 1990s feminism adopted the postmodernist view that gender is “a socially compelled performance” that imposes heteronormativity on society (74), and it dismissed biological sex as a social construct. By 2012 feminism had fully embraced critical theory, particularly intersectionality, and concluded that a woman is not a biological female.

By denigrating the body, disfiguring the relationship between the sexes, and replacing sex with gender, feminism produced the gender paradigm, which asserts that reality, truth, and gender are social constructs, and that freedom consists in an “unfettered choice” that the body must not limit (82–83), even to the point of changing it to align with gender. However, since gender has been divorced from biology, affirming it means changing appearances and behaviors to conform to the sexual stereotypes that feminism once rejected (158). Favale presents stories from several trans individuals who now regret changing genders and she points out the harmful effects of so-called gender-affirming treatments, including puberty blockers, cross hormones, and surgeries. She is especially worried about the sharp rise in the number of girls and young women who are now getting these treatments, which she blames on trans websites and on society’s hypersexualization of women.

To refute the gender paradigm, she proposes a Christian feminism which sees the body as a gift from God and “sacrament” that reveals the “divine reality of the person” (136), and which affirms the goodness of the two sexes, whose conjugal union symbolizes “the relationship between God and humankind” (236). Although Favale emphasizes that there are real physical differences between men and women, she does not think that these relegate the sexes to different social roles. While she describes the male body as an image of the husband and father, and the female body as an image of the bride and mother (238), she does not say whether these impose different rights and duties on men and women.

The Genesis of Gender deftly analyzes feminism and the gender paradigm and it unites a Christian theology of the body with a feminism shorn of hedonism and postmodernism. However, the author does not develop this theology into a fully Catholic one that explains how the sexes should relate to each other in real life. She does not mention chastity, which upholds and guards the dignity of the body. Nor does she promote marriage as the vocation of most people, in which the spouses, through their total gift of the self to each other, transmit human life and create a communion of persons. These are the real antidote to the gender paradigm. This is an ambitious, informative book but it falls short of its goal.

Mary Schneider is a retired technical writer and communications specialist. She and her husband have six children and two grandchildren and live in Ohio.

Manual for Conquering Deadly Sin – Dennis Kolinski, SJC

Dennis Kolinski, SJC. Manual for Conquering Deadly Sin. Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 2017. 336 pages.

Reviewed by Matthew H. O’Donnell.

The Woodstock music festival in August of 1969 and the Roe v. Wade decision in January of 1973 were catalysts of the sexual revolution. That revolution caused seismic aftershocks felt to this present day. When I was growing up, in the summer of 1987, MTV hosted an event touted as Hedonism weekend. This fleshed out (pun intended) the definition of hedonism being the ethical theory that pleasure, in the sense of satisfaction of desires, is the highest good and proper aim of life. For the MTV crowd, that meant drinking, one-night stands, and all sorts of debauchery. Our modern milieu finds us in a humanistic philosophy, attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. In Manual for Conquering Deadly Sin, Fr. Dennis Kolinski, SJC, masterfully weaves timeless Catholic teaching with an eye for the signs of the times.

We Catholics are taught to be in the world, but not of the world. The world has become very cynical and so have Catholics. People don’t care to give credence to teachings like those of Pope Pius XII who said, “Perhaps the greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin.” As my philosophy professor once said, “For people today the only thing that is called sin is having a chocolate molten lava cake for dessert.” A sin by any other name is still a sin. Fifty years ago, Karl Menninger, M.D. wrote his book Whatever Became of Sin? He examined how society has given new names and diagnoses for things that used to be known as sins. Fr. Kolinski observes, “In the past it seemed we had to go out of our way to be bad; today it seems we must go out of our way to be good.” As the saying goes, who are you to judge, right?

Fr. Kolinski proceeds throughout the remainder of his Manual to illustrate the deadly sins joined with their opposing virtues that “root out the vice from one’s will.” For lust, cultivate chastity; for gluttony, temperance; for avarice, generosity; for sloth, diligence; for anger, meekness; for envy, generosity/kindness; for pride, humility. Catholics need formation, all Catholics, not just clergy. For the well-instructed Catholic knows the reality of sin. He or she who prays daily, who examines his or her conscience, who receives Reconciliation and the Eucharist, will increase in virtue and eradicate vice.

One example of “everything old is new again” is the example of the early monastic writers who referred to acedia, or sloth, as the “noonday devil.” This was that time in the heat of the day when the devil tempted monks to lethargy, sadness, and despair, trying to convince them that it would be better if they left their cells and ceased their spiritual exercises. Fr. Kolinski states that we too may “experience the ‘noonday devil’ as the demon who whispers in our ear that it’s not necessary to go to church on Sunday because God is everywhere, and you can pray to him wherever you are.” This spiritual sin is characteristic of our overstimulated, fast-paced modern culture, in which people have often become uninterested in or even have an aversion to spiritual matters because they aren’t as exciting or entertaining as other activities.

Anger is another deadly sin prominent in our society. With the platforms of social media, the comments sections of websites, and not to forget road rage, anonymous anger runs unbridled. The virtue to extirpate anger is meekness. Some think meekness is weakness. In the movie Dead Poets’ Society, one of the students quips to another, “The meek may inherit the earth, but they don’t get into Harvard.” Rather, meekness is strength with gentleness. Yes, Jesus drove the merchants and money changers out of the temple. But he did it with righteous anger, that is, expressing outrage in perfect conformity with right reason.

There is much more within Manual for Conquering Deadly Sin than I can address here. Reflecting on the deadly sins in modern society orients the reader for the rest of the book. It continues to treat traditional understandings of the deadly sins and their remedies. Quotes from St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Augustine of Hippo, and more illustrate the vast richness of our Faith. The title of this book might be a turnoff for people engrossed in entertainment culture. But for those in the fold of the Good Shepherd, Fr. Kolinski’s Manual is a treasure of edification. Whatever became of sin? It never left.

Matthew O’Donnell is a graduate of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland and John Carroll University. He and his wife, Leah, are parishioners of St. Mary parish in Chardon, Ohio.

  1. Steven Shakespeare, Radical Orthodoxy: A Critical Introduction, (London: SPCK), 3.
  2. (accessed August 13, 2023).
  3. William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics and the Body of Christ (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 206.
  4. Cavanaugh, 2.
  5. Cavanaugh, 2.
  6. “Liberation Theology,” Gerald O’Collins and Edward G. Farrugia, A Concise Dictionary of Theology, Revised and Expanded Edition (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2000). 139–140.
  7. Cavanaugh, 13.
  8. Cavanaugh, 3.
  9. Cavanaugh, 4.
  10. Cavanaugh, 4.
  11. John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, Second Edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 4.
  12. Cavanaugh, 5.
  13. Cavanaugh, 11. Quoting David Power and Herman Schmidt, “Editorial,” in Politics and Liturgy, ed. Herman Schmidt and David Power (New York: Herder and Herder, 1974), 9.
  14. Cavanaugh, 11.
  15. Cavanaugh, 11.
  16. Cavanaugh, 14.
  17. Cavanaugh, 15.
  18. Cavanaugh, 2.
  19. Pope Pius XII, letter to Cardinal Bertram, in The Lay Apostolate, 29–91 as quoted in Cavanaugh, 139.
  20. Cavanaugh, 160.
  21. Cavanaugh, 160–161.
  22. Cavanaugh, 165.
  23. Cavanaugh, 16.
  24. Cavanaugh, 207.
  25. Cavanaugh, 124.
  26. Cavanaugh, 206.
  27. Rino Fischella, “Martyr” in Dictionary of Fundamental Theology, R. Latourelle and R. Fisichella, eds. (New York: Crossroad, 1994), 620.
  28. Cavanaugh, 266.
  29. Cavanaugh, 267.
  30. Cavanaugh, 267.
  31. Cavanaugh, 273.
  32. Cavanaugh, 276.
  33. Cavanaugh, 277.
  34. Cavanaugh, 240.
  35. Cavanaugh, 243.
  36. Cavanaugh, 247–248.
  37. John Henry Newman, “Biglietto Speech,” May 14, 1879, as quoted in Javier Martinez, Some Contemporary Problems for the Life and Thought of the Church as seen from the West,” ( (accessed August 13, 2023).
  38. Affirmative orthodoxy is described by John Allen thus: “By ‘affirmative orthodoxy,’ I mean a tenacious defense of the core elements of classic Catholic doctrine, but presented in a relentlessly positive key. Benedict appears convinced that the gap between the faith and contemporary secular culture, which Paul VI called ‘the drama of our time,’ has its roots in Europe dating from the Reformation, the Wars of Religion, and the Enlightenment, with a resulting tendency to see Christianity as a largely negative system of prohibitions and controls. In effect, Benedict’s project is to reintroduce Christianity from the ground up, in terms of what it’s for rather than what it’s against.” (accessed August 13, 2023).
  39. John R. Allen, Jr. A People of Hope: Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation with John L. Allen, Jr. (New York: Image, 2012), 129.
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