Stuart Dunn reviews new books by three renowned Catholic theologians, all from Ignatius Press.
It’s been a long time since I’ve really reviewed some books, so today I decided to give you a triple feature from Ignatius Press, one of my favorite Catholic publishers! These books are from three renowned theologians of the Catholic Church – Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Aidan Nichols.
Signs of New Life is a collection of 16 homilies from Joseph Ratzinger decades long life as a priest. They focus on the seven Sacraments (two homilies per Sacrament) and the Church as a whole (another two). Before each chapter you will find the Scripture references for that particular homily. For example, the first homily on Baptism uses a passage from the Letter to the Romans about being baptized in Christ as its inspiration, and the second homily on Baptism uses the passage from the Gospel of Mark with John the Baptist. It discusses our “Yes to Christ” and is quintessential reading for any parent preparing to have their child baptized.
Another excellent homily is the first homily on the Church. It explains how the Church is a structure/building with walls, but the walls lead us inward for shelter and to bring us together. He also explains how the Saints of the Church are both walls and doors, walls to keep the evil away and doors for those seeking God. I always enjoy reading the words of this future saint, and this beautiful book does not disappoint. Highly recommended!
A Short Primer for Unsettled Laymen is a book by Hans Urs von Balthasar which was published 35 years ago. That sounds crazy to say, as I was only 2 at the time, and my wife wasn’t even born yet. The book is aimed at Catholic laymen (and women) who feel that the Second Vatican Council completely changed the Church they knew and loved. The book doesn’t claim to be a catechism or a book of prophecy, merely a “compass” to avoid the wrong path.
Within this book, von Balthasar focused on “catchwords” that have spread throughout the Catholic Church, such as pluralism and reinterpretation. He also speaks about the three strands of Catholic tradition, which are Word, sacrament, and ecclesial authority. What was not discussed in this book are ethical/moral matters such as abortion, contraception, celibacy, and premarital sex. Despite these omissions, the book still holds relevance in the Church today, because it instead takes us to the core issue of the current Church: the degree to which Catholics view their relationship to God, His Church, and His Words in the Gospel. This is a dense book, and I am glad the chapters are short, because you want to read it slowly and methodically to get the full message.
When it comes to studying Catholic theology, there are many different schools of thought to study/follow. Two of the biggest schools of thought are inspired by Thomas Aquinas or Hans Urs von Balthasar, which oddly enough are generally contentious toward each other. This seems like it shouldn’t be so, as we’re all studying theology for the same Church. Father Nichols, therefore, wrote the book Balthasar for Thomists to try and show that these theological views aren’t directly opposed to each other but can be read harmoniously, if you take the time to understand both viewpoints.
Chapter One begins by explaining who Balthasar was, the life and context he grew up in, and the style in which he wrote. The next three chapters cover Balthasar’s seminal work The Trilogy, which introduces theology, focuses on the actions of God and our response, and the nature of Jesus Christ. Unlike Aquinas’ seminal work Summa Theologica, The Trilogy is not intended to be an introduction for theology, but intended to be more of a “manual for seminarians.” The remaining four chapters discuss doctrine, spirituality, and “the underlying principle of Balthasar’s theology,” and how the central theme of Balthasar’s theology is the Paschal mystery. While this book is aimed at introducing Balthasar to proponents of Aquinas, it serves as an excellent entry point for anyone seeking to learn more about Balthasar and his theological viewpoints.
Copyright 2020 Stuart Dunn
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About the Author
Stuart Dunn was born and raised in Mobile, AL and received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Business Administration from the University of South Alabama. Stuart reviews all things Catholic including adult books, children’s books, Bible Study series, Catholic Courses, CDs, and DVDs in addition to board games at his blog Stuart’s Study at StuartsStudy.blogspot.com.