Books in Review

Briefly Noted

Copyright (c) 2000 First Things 108 (December 2000): 58-62.

Deus Trinitas: The Doctrine of the Triune God. By David Coffey. Oxford University Press. 196 pp. $35.

The many books written on the Trinity in the last two decades or so generally assume the following: that at least in the West, the Trinity has suffered disastrous neglect in Christian theology; that a plausible trinitarian theology has to start with the “economic” Trinity (roughly, God as He acts in the history of salvation) rather than the “immanent” Trinity (roughly, God apart from the history of salvation); that the chief problem of trinitarian theology is the relationship between the immanent and the economic Trinity, which must be distinguished from one another in some fashion, but then identified with each other (usually with qualifications); that a satisfactory concept of “person” is both elusive and indispensable for trinitarian theology; and that help with all these problems is more likely to be found in the Eastern than in the Western Christian tradition. David Coffey, an Australian Catholic theologian now at Marquette University, firmly embraces this research program, though he advocates moderate rather than radical versions of its various assumptions. Naturally he also aims to advance the program, especially by proposing a “return model” of the Trinity to complement the more traditional “procession model.” On this view the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit to Jesus, appropriated by Jesus with increasing intensity up to the climactic point of his passion and death, perfectly manifests in time the Father’s eternal gift of the Spirit to the Son, fully returned by the Son; this mutual gift of personal love is the very life of the triune God. Coffey wants to think about the Trinity in a way that avoids shortchanging the Holy Spirit, but even readers quite committed to this aim may be dissatisfied with his reduction of Jesus’ saving significance to the disclosure of a trinitarian pattern of love and faithfulness, which the Spirit en­ ables us to imitate and share. Readers unused to contemporary trinitarian theology may find this book hard going, though it is more lucid than many examples of the genre. Initiates will surely find it thought–provoking, whether they share the current trinitarian agenda or belong to the growing number who think that trinitarian theology would be better off without much of the research program to which Coffey is so clearly committed.

—Bruce D. Marshall

The Trinity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Trinity. Edited by Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, S.J., and Gerald O’Collins, S.J. Oxford University Press. 393 pp. $39.95.

This worthwhile collection, the outcome of a “Trinity Summit” held in New York at Easter 1998, differs from standard current books on the Trinity (see previous review) in two ways. First, it broaches issues usually left aside in trinitarian theology. Thus David Brown offers an illuminating and theologically interesting analysis of the Trinity in art, and Marguerite Shuster a sobering account of the fate of the Trinity in (mostly Protestant) preaching, which concludes with a ringing call for a return to doctrinal preaching. And the book also offers a deliberately wide array of approaches to trinitarian issues, including not only historical and systematic theologians, but biblical scholars and analytic philosophers of religion, writing from a variety of theological and communal points of view—Roman Catholic, Protestant, and, in one case, Jewish (the New Testament scholar Alan Segal, who contributes an instructive if somewhat technical chapter on the role of conflicts between Jews and Christians in the emergence of early trinitarian teaching). At some points this book also challenges the standard research program of current trinitarian theology. In particular Michel Barnes argues against readings of Augustine which, on account of Augustine’s alleged reliance on Neoplatonism, hold him responsible for a supposedly chronic trinitarian deficit in Western theology, only just now made good. Sarah Coakley and Brian Leftow argue against “social” trinitarianism, the former on historical and the latter on conceptual grounds. They say little, though, about the biblical and liturgical considerations that often incline people towards one or another social view of the Trinity, and they consider only the stringent versions of social trinitarianism maintained by some analytic philosophers of religion, leaving aside the muddier, but perhaps more viable, types advanced by systematic theologians. Inevitably in such a wide–ranging collection, there are many loose ends, despite the efforts of the editors to bring unity to the whole. And while a remarkable amount of ground is covered, the vast tradition of Scholastic reflection on the Trinity, modern and baroque as well as medieval, is barely touched. In this the book does stick closely to the standard trinitarian agenda. Yet even a modest familiarity with the Scholastic tradition may lead one to wonder how many of the proposals offered as needed trinitarian novelties, here and elsewhere, have already been scrutinized, and perhaps found wanting, by the long departed inhabitants of that mostly uncharted land.


The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil. By James Davison Hunter. Basic. 314 pp. $26.

The distinguished sociologist of the University of Virginia and author of the acclaimed Culture Wars here undertakes a close examination of what, in theory and practice, “moral education” means in most American schools. His argument, part of which appeared in these pages (“Leading Children Beyond Good and Evil,” May 2000), is that moral education as presently conceived almost inevitably ends up by thinning out moral content, removing the sharp edges of judgment, avoiding normative traditions of moral experience, and thus stifling the factors most crucial to the formation of character. The book is strengthened by its sympathetic reading of the history of moral education, and the demonstration of why so many good intentions have gone awry. Hunter has proposals to make, some of which are surely debatable, but his great contribution is to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that moral education cannot be renewed without reintroducing the truth about good and evil, and he shows how we might go about doing that. A book that should be of very special interest to parents and educators.

The Silent Revolution and the Making of Victorian England. By Herbert Schlossberg. Ohio State University Press. 403 pp. $26.95.

Between the late eighteenth and mid–nineteenth centuries, France and other countries of Europe were convulsed by violent revolutions. By way of sharp contrast, the author convincingly argues, a “silent revolution” of religious and cultural renewal was at the same time happening in Victorian England. Schlossberg describes in fascinating detail the impact of the evangelical awakening on politics, economics, and everyday mores, underscoring that the spiritual and cultural dynamics in play cannot be explained, or at least cannot be explained persuasively, by reference to the presumably “larger” social forces favored by many historians. An important study in religion and public life, which formed the basis of the article “How Great Awakenings Happen” in our October 2000 issue.

The Courage to Be. By Paul Tillich. Yale University Press. 214 pp. $12.95 paper.

“The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.” To many thousands of readers that was a spiritually liberating message when this book was first published in 1952. The New York Public Library lists it as one of the “Books of the Century.” This second edition, with an introduction by Harvard’s Peter J. Gomes, will undoubtedly gain it a new readership. Tillich, who died in 1965, possessed a rhetorical genius in addressing Schleiermacher’s “cultured despisers of religion,” but, as a serious theologian, his work has not worn well. His proposed “correlation” between man’s questions and religion’s answers (which may sometimes, somehow, be God’s answers) usually ends up with the questions trumping the answers. The Courage to Be will be enjoyed by many for its spiritual and rhetorical excitements but, divorced from the truth claims, worship, and life of the continuing community of faith, such excitements are but another option on offer in the marketplace of modern spiritualities.

The Surprising Pope: Understanding the Thought of John Paul II. By Maciej Zieba, O.P. Lexington. 208 pp. $70 cloth, $24.95 paper.

For many readers, this will be a surprising book. Father Zieba, recently elected provincial of the Dominicans in Poland, is a careful student of John Paul II’s writings and a close friend of their author. In a marvelously accessible manner, he here responds to questions on everything from the Pope’s role in the end of communism to his teachings on human sexuality and the nature of democracy. What comes through strongly and convincingly in these pages is the sense that this pontificate holds the promise of a “new springtime” for the Church and the world. Fr. Avery Dulles calls it John Paul’s “prophetic humanism,” and Fr. Zieba offers a bracing introduction to both the prophetic and humanistic aspects of the Pope’s proposal, and does so within a comprehensive understanding of the culture and history of the West (of which, Fr. Zieba insists, Poland is very much part). Introduction by Michael Novak. The Surprising Pope is warmly recommended.

Bonhoeffer: A Theology of Sociality. By Clifford J. Green. Eerdmans. 392 pp. $28 paper.

A revised edition of one of the most important works on Dietrich Bon­ hoeffer’s early life and writings, with a suggestive effort to reconstruct from his unfinished Ethics his justification for joining the resistance effort to kill Hitler. A necessary book for students of one of the most compelling theological and moral figures of the twentieth century.

Christian Perspectives on Politics. By J. Philip Wogaman. Westminster/ John Knox. 374 pp. $29.95 paper.

A revised and expanded version of a textbook designed for mainline Protestant seminaries and colleges. Wogaman, who taught ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary for many years and is now pastor of Foundry Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., tries to be fair to positions deviating from his distinctly leftist views. The book carries warm recommendations from Father Charles Curran, George McGovern, and Bishop Walter Sullivan of the Diocese of Richmond.

The Honor of My Brothers: A Brief History of the Relationship Between the Pope and the Bishops. By William Henn. Herder and Herder. 168 pp. $17.95 paper.

An admirably concise and balanced overview by a professor at the Gregorian University in Rome. Father Henn’s study will please neither papal centralists nor progressive decentralists, but it puts into solid historical and theological context the collegiality between Peter and his brothers mandated by the Second Vatican Council and necessary to the flourishing of the universal Church.

What Makes Charity Work? A Century of Public and Private Philanthropy. Edited by Myron Magnet. Ivan R. Dee. 233 pp. $24.95.

Although the jargon is new, the role of “faith–based” institutions in meeting human needs has a long history, as is admirably demonstrated by these essays from City Journal. Who knows? We may even rehabilitate the term “charity,” which is, after all, simply another word for love, without which nothing works.

Servants of the Gospel. Edited by Leon J. Suprenant. Emmaus Road. 83 pp. $6.95 paper.

Bracing statements by nine Catholic bishops on what it means to be a bishop. The essays were originally published in Lay Witness, the publication of Catholics United for the Faith, in anticipation of a forthcoming Synod of Bishops. Authors include Francis George, Charles Chaput, James Keleher, and Fabian Bruskewitz.

Pope Pius XII: Architect for Peace. By Margherita Marchione. Paulist. 345 pp. $22.95 paper.

As the title suggests, the author strongly defends the World War II pontiff against the numerous charges that began with Rolf Hochhuth’s 1963 dramatic smear, The Deputy, and have in some quarters escalated ever since. As valuable as is her argument, more valuable is the ample presentation of primary evidence from newspapers and Jewish organizations at the time, as well as many pages reproducing ex­ changes between the Pope and various Catholic officials and governments, including the U.S. Pius XII may not have been as heroic as the author contends, but nobody can read the evidence she presents and give the slightest credence to the attacks of John Cornwell, Garry Wills, and numerous others. The book can be read as extended supportive documentation for Michael Novak’s “Pius XII as Scapegoat” in the August/September issue.

The Heretic. By Lewis Weinstein. 378 pp. $24.95.

A novel of generations of conversos— Jews who converted to Christianity— during the years leading up to the Spanish Inquisition. The story reflects the conflicted motives that led churchmen to cooperate with the royal effort to “purify” the Spanish nation, vividly dramatizing the sins that John Paul II has asked Christians to candidly acknowledge. The Heretic is a valuable contribution to understanding a tragedy too often debated in the mire of accusation and defensiveness.

The Making of the Pope of the Millennium: Kalendarium of the Life of Karol Wojtyla. Edited by Adam Boniecki. Marian Press. 938 pp. $45.

A day by day account, with many documents and photographs, of the life of Karol Wojtyla up to his election as pope. A valuable reference for students of his life and thought.

A Free Society Reader: Principles for the New Millennium. Edited by Michael Novak et al. Lexington. 414 pp. $65 cloth, $22.95 paper.

The ideological boxes labeled liberal, conservative, neoconservative, etc. undergo a salutary rearranging by this company of diverse thinkers united by a devotion to freedom, rights, responsibility, virtue, and a market economy within the framework of moral judgment. Eleven major essays by, inter alia, Philippe Beneton, Rocco Buttiglione, Russell Hittinger, Richard John Neuhaus, Thomas Pangle, and George Weigel. An ideal resource for the classroom discussion of political philosophy and practice today.

If It Ain’t Got That Swing: The Rebirth of Grown–Up Culture. By Mark Gauvreau Judge. Spence. 122 pp. $22.95.

Developing an argument published here (“Back to the Future,” August/ September 1999), the author provides reason for hope that the sundry debasements of popular music during the rock era may be coming to an end. The real youth rebellion, he suggests, may be in the resurgence of the world of swing, where people unabashedly, and with high style, have fun, and are not embarrassed by the fact that men and women are, after all, significantly different. The book is itself great fun, as well as an important commentary on popular culture.