Author: Jack Mahoney
ISBN: 978-1589017696
Date: 2011
Price: £18.75
Publisher: Georgetown
University Press

In his book Christianity in Evolution: An Exploration Jack Mahoney sets about detailing the consequences for Christian theology of accepting ‘the truth of human biological evolution’ (p.14), a truth that is, he says, the ‘main attitude’ apart from a militant few who advocate intelligent design (p.ix). He believes he has good warrant for this enterprise from Pope John Paul II no less. Mahoney quotes John Paul’s letter to George Coyne SJ, Director of the Vatican Observatory and to the participants of a conference to study, as Mahoney puts it, ‘the relationships between evolution and religion’. According to Mahoney, John Paul invites a response to the question ‘Does an evolutionary perspective bring any light to bear upon theological anthropology, the meaning of the human person as the imago Dei, the problem of Christology – and even upon the development of doctrine itself?’ (p.ix). And Mahoney obliges by constructing his own ‘theology of evolution’.

Certainly Mahoney is prepared for ‘unease’ generated by the implications of biological evolution for Christian belief (p.ix). According to Mahoney Christianity and the Catholic Church have been ‘strangely silent about the doctrine of evolution’ (p.ix) and he suggests this is because many wish ‘to continue to hold loyally’ onto ‘traditional beliefs’ that are ‘outmoded in an evolutionary context’ (p.165).

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May/June 2012

Editor: Hans S. Reinders
ISBN: 978-0- 8028-6511-3
Date: 2010
Price: £11.99
Publisher: Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Context is all, so it is said, and this book’s context is the community of L’Arche in Trosly-Breuil in France. Here, in 2007, a very diverse gathering of theologians and social scientists gathered to respond to the challenging question of L’Arche’s founder, Jean Vanier: ‘What have you learnt from being with people of disability?’ In 13 chapters – plus a final one that deserves its own comment- the contributors respond with a range of views that demonstrate a remarkable coherence, with occasional overlap. (One exception is Roy Baumeister’s Chapter 4 on the effects of social exclusion, that depended on an element of deception in his experiments). The chapters are all readable, mostly short, and the convictions of all the writers are rooted in personal and spiritual experience. The book as a whole contributes to the growing pastoral concern for the role of people of disability to the Christian community as a whole.
It is undeniable that the charisma and achievements of Jean Vanier himself form the springboard for this interchange. His own experience of the challenge from people with disability crying out ‘Do you love me?’ is a crucial underpinning. I see two axes to the views expressed: the first is a questioning of the ‘normal’ assumptions of cognition, striving for a wider definition to include persons who may not match up to established norms but whose capacity for emotional understanding and love reveals new dimensions of the human. For example, Kevin Reimer (Chapter 5), shows how the western hierarchical path to moral maturity (associated with Lawrence Kohlberg’s moral stages) give an over-rational account of morality: ‘core members’ of L’Arche communities demonstrate patience and forgiveness, for example, but are unable to explain a rational basis for this. John Swinton (Chapter 11) draws on both apophatic and liberation theologies to counter the (arrogant) claim that mentally impaired people can have no relationship with God because this happens on an intellectual level.

Contributors emphasise the transformation of caregivers and the factors influencing this process like life-sharing, presence, patience, receptivity and an organisational culture that includes spirituality: ‘It is a question of doing ordinary things with love’ (Pamela Cushing, Chapter 6). These qualities transform the moral imagination – and trust cements maturity.

The second axis is that of vulnerability and suffering. As Xavier Le Pichon says: ‘Vulnerability is at the core of the exchange of love through communion’(p.99). This is not meant as sentimental idealism but as an indicator of how true community with marginalised people is at the heart of the identity of Church. It is given further depth by Stanley Hauerwas’s exploration of L’Arche as Peace Movement. This is a moving attempt to show how peacemaking means taking time to confront the violence in ourselves – ‘We have all the time we need to do what needs to be done’ (p.120)- to develop trust, and to learn to receive not only to give. But all this needs to happen in the world beyond L’Arche. The voice of Christopher Newell – priest, parent, writer, professor – embodies the book’s title, The Paradox of Disability in the most profound way. The level of suffering that he endures as part and parcel of daily life is extreme. It has almost driven him in despair to want to die. One part of him longs to be rid of pain: the other part is convinced that he would not be the same person without it and that suffering can offer some positive dimensions to personhood and identity – especially within a Christian narrative. In the end it is the quality of care and love of participants at this event that give him hope: it is positive relation that is longed for and bridges the gap with the other. But is this not the longing of every human being?

Mary Grey, St Mary’s University College, Twickenham

May/June 2012

Author: Elizabeth Rapley
ISBN: 978-0-8028-6588-5
Date: 2011
Price: £16.99
Publisher: Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Today, many religious orders seem to be passing into oblivion. This is a book for people to whom this appears to be true. An accessible and readable account of the history of monasticism down the ages, it traces the life of the various orders and shows how they shaped our understanding of Christianity and of Western civilization.

In the early Church, Egyptian monasticism (the word derives from the Greek monos, meaning ‘alone’) was the model for the rest of Europe. It filled the spiritual void created by the Christianization of the Roman Empire under Constantine.

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May/June 2012

Author: Mark Dooley
ISBN: 978-1-4411-1042-8
Date: 2011
Price: £10.99
Publisher: Continuum, London

Advancing a contentious title that captures the reader’s attention, Dooley proposes an interesting and provocative thesis, which starts with the assertion that the contemporary Catholic Church is facing its most problematic crisis since the Reformation. The suggestion is that, during the past twenty years or so, the Catholic Church has not only been confronted with the challenges of moral relativism, secularism and materialism, but it has also had its very authority called into question by the child sex abuse scandal that has enveloped it. Thus, he considers the question why one should be a Catholic in these turbulent times.

In this book Dooley pursues sensitive and controversial issues arising in recent years from child abuse offences in the Catholic Church and, seeking to explain why they took place at all, he considers what might have contributed to them.

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May/June 2012

Author: Gregory Collins OSB
ISBN: 978-1-85607-682-1
Date: 2010
Price: £16.99
Publisher: Columba Press, Co. Dublin

This is a carefully researched, yet accessible, account of the mystery of Christ which, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church has it, ‘participates in the divine eternity’. Influenced by Vatican II and by both Benedictine and Orthodox spirituality, the book’s appeal is wide.

Monastic theology aims at knowledge born of love. It is this liturgically inspired, contemplative vision that is at the heart of this book. Its central tenet is that the whole of life has, through Christ, a ‘paschal’ character.

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May/June 2012

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