The Church : Theology in History.

Author: Frederick J. Cwiekowski
ISBN: 978-0814644683
Date: 2018
Price: £25.99
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Publisher: Collegeville : Liturgical Press

Understanding the development of any academic discourse outside its historical context is always limiting – if not impossible. When that discourse is the development of an understanding of relationship with God then the role of history is front and centre. Add to that the historical sweep in which the author himself developed his formative theology – in this case during the Second Vatican Council – and the role of temporality is even richer.

Aimed at the specialist and the educated generalist (the former benefitting from rich footnotes) this highly readable book is written at a good pace by Cwiekowski, a Sulpician priest and scholar For example, within a few pages he charts the key themes of the exilic and post exilic period (‘Second Temple Judaism’) showing succinctly how these elements generated the narrative behind that expectation of Jesus’ birth.


The place and importance of naming is captured early on with early followers of disciples self-describing as inter alia ‘believers’ ‘followers’ non-gender specific ‘brothers’ and even ‘sisters. ’Other elements under the spot light and of particular value to the less specialist reader include examinations of baptism, Eucharist, Koinonia, prayer, temple worship, teaching, fellowship, breaking of breads and prayers (the Lucan quartet).
Cwiekowski’s lively and never-intimidating style brings out the real politique of the early Church caught up in its various binary positions [has anything changed?] Inter alia, Hellenist v Hebrew, circumcised v not circumcised temple worship v not so. In addition, the early meetings as precursors to later ecumenical councils are drawn in clear relief, such as the Council of Jerusalem in CE 49 Equally resonant to this day is the place of pragmatism and compromise, exhibited in the early Church. Examples include Paul confronting Peter at Antioch [Gal. 2.11-14] as well as a rich description of the development of ecclesia particularly in the Deutero-Pauline writings but also in Matthew’s Gospel as a model for leadership in Catholic Christianity. In particular, the signature powers to bind or loose in chapter 16 as well as the primacy of Peter and the keys of the kingdom. Continuity, community and mission underpin the Lucan ecclesiology.

Equally, time is once again crucial in locating the events of Jesus’ life in the Greco-Roman history of the day. Central Catholic notions of priesthood and a pilgrim or journeying people are set in the context of specifically priestly discourses such as the Letter to the Hebrews. Also, concern for the poor and the centrality of pastoral guidance are seen emerging in the Letter to St James.

The book continues at a pace charting developments both East and West up to and beyond the Second Vatican Council. An interesting contemporary element is the importance of the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World and the landmark Medellin conference in Brazil in 1968 on the thinking of one Oscar Romero. A Church at one with the poor, centred on evangelisation and committed to justice. Very much in sync with Evangelii Gaudium, the fruit of another Latin American Bishop and, subsequently, Pope Francis.

Prof Simon Uttley, Blessed Hugh Faringdon School, Reading