Christ the Heart of Creation

Author: Rowan Williams
ISBN 978-1-4729-4554-9
Bloomsbury Continuum 2018. 304 pp
hardback. £25.00
Pastoral Review bookshop price £22.50

We are fortunate that Archbishop Rowan Williams is gradually publishing hitherto unpublished seminar papers and lecture notes, such as those in his masterful work of a few years ago about Augustine.1 He has now brought out an expanded version of his 2016 Hulsean lectures delivered at Cambridge. The running theme of this collection is this: ‘A great deal of what has been said about Jesus across the centuries is shaped by a very particular concern, which has to do with how we think about the relation between God and what God has made.’ (p. xii) So we are being asked to connect our understanding of Christology - and many in the churches have a very vague Christology - to our theology of creation, which is rightly occupying more of a centre stage than in the past for Christian moral discourse.

This is historical theology, and the signs of chronological development are important: but perhaps surprisingly the very substantial introduction (40 pages) starts our journey with Thomas Aquinas; it is only after this that we enter part one of the book and an exploration of Christology from Paul to Augustine (‘Formulating the Question’). The second chapter in this section (‘Refining the Vocabulary: The Contribution of Early Byzantine Theology’) fill gaps which many have in terms of Byzantine theology in the sixth and seventh centuries, concentrating on the confusingly named Leontius of Byzantium and Leontius of Jerusalem, together with Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascene. Thus we are brought back to Aquinas, and part two of the book examines the many reactions to Aquinas’ vocabulary about the person of Christ – first from other medieval figures such as Scotus, and then at the Reformation Luther and (in much more detail) Calvin. This leads us to the modern period, and primarily Dietrich Bonhoeffer (‘Christ, Creation and Community: Christology in the Shadow of Antichrist’) – Williams points out that the latter’s Christology is a neglected area of study.

Williams is not an easy author from whom to extract easily a short extract for use in a review to give the reader a flavour of his writing, as his sentences are full and ‘packed’, but I will attempt in these snippits to give the reader an idea of his view of Bonhoeffer’s complex Christology:

‘So I cannot think about Christ except as involved with me; a conclusion that, so far from implying an individualistic theological perspective, puts my selfhood in question at its foundation.....what must die in the encounter with Christ is precisely not finitude or createdness but the delusion that we can live in denial of our finitude, our dependence on infinite agency’.

The notions of finitude and dependence has to be crucial to our contemporary theology of creation.

Williams is in my view one of the best commentators on Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, shown in an important article2 and in a public lecture, as yet unpublished, given at St Mary’s University on 12 February 2018.3

This is an outstanding work which needs to be on reading lists for courses both on Christology and the theology of Creation.

Ashley Beck
St Mary’s University, Twickenham

1 Williams, R., On Augustine (London: Bloomsbury 2016), reviewed in the Pastoral Review vol.12 issue 4 (July/August 2016), based on seminar papers from his time in Oxford.
2 Williams, R., ‘Embracing Our Limits The Lessons of Laudato Si’’ Commonweal 23 September 2015.
(https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/embracing-our-limits)
3 ‘The Neighbourhood is my Neighbour: Christian love and ecological perspective. Further thoughts in the wake of Laudato Si’ While the lecture has not been published it was filmed and can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4s2ru
CezNfU&feature=youtube

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