Bridging the Great Divide: Musings of a Post-Liberal, Post-Conservative Evangelical Catholic
Bridging the Great Divide: Musings of a Post-Liberal, Post-Conservative Evangelical Catholic. By Robert Barren. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004. xvii + 289 pp. $65.00 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).
A priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and professor of systematic theology at Mundelein Seminary, Robert Barren is the author of a growing corpus that adeptly straddles several camps: pastoral and academic, scholastic and (post)modern, Catholic and evangelical. Among his works are Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, And Now I see, and The Strangest Way. Clearly well versed in his own and other Christian denominational traditions as well as with contemporary popular and academic culture, Barron puts all these in dialogue in ways engaging and accessible to a variety of audiences.
The present volume, a collection of essays and lectures published or delivered in a variety of contexts, is the latest addition to Barrons endeavor. Its title might more aptly have been rendered in the plural-divides-for in truth he seeks to make apparent to his readers that a whole collection of realities that modern and contemporary minds see as at odds with one another are finally reconcilable and mutually implicative. Consequently, this volume contains essays that address topics as broad and varied as post-conciliar liturgical renewal and reform, spiritual Trinitarian and Christological readings of Aquinass various texts (especially his second Summa and De potentia Dei), engagements with contemporary philosophers such as Derrida, Marion, and Lévinas on such popular contemporary topics as gift and alterity, as well as popular homiletic briefs on Advent, Christmas, and his own bête noire, the bland reduction of the richness of the tradition to what he calls a beige Catholicism.
Barron’s primary tools in this undertaking, the leitmotifs that reverberate again and again in this work, are as simple as they are traditional: the central Christian themes of creatio ex nihilo, Incarnation as the mutual illumination of God and humanity, God as ipsum esse subsistens or the sheer act of to-be itself (and decidedly not a being among others) with whom we humans are not in competition. These, we might say are employed not so much doctrinally as iconically, as tools or-better-medicines, healing balms for the sinful soul. Thus, even the more scholarly essays in this collection are by no means speculative in the sense of being abstruse, but are readily plumbed for spiritual richness.
What gives this and all Barrons work its special quality is his unparalleled ability to put the riches of the tradition-especially its scholastic and Thomistic manifestations-in vital conversation with a surprisingly vast array of contemporary thinkers and cultural and pastoral concerns. Thus, in these pages we find Barrons Thomas in conversation with a variety of thinkers, from Barth, Tillich, and Balthasar to Dante, Joyce, and even Bob Dylan. In each and every instance, the master is as engrossing as, and sheds further light upon, his more contemporary interlocutor.
If I were to highlight the weaknesses of this volume, there would be two. First, there is a certain repetitiveness, as one might expect from a collection of essays. Even a mind as fecund as Barrons is bound to find its reflections oscillating around certain themes to the relative exclusion of others. The seasoned reader of Barron will no doubt discover this more than the neophyte. second, while the themes developed in this book appeal to a broad array of Christians-and indeed in my view have much ecumenical potential-by and large, these essays were addressed to and originally published within primarily Catholic contexts, and they bear such marks. But these blemishes are minor and do little to undermine the spiritual and theological richness-not to mention sheer pleasure-that await the reader in this volume.
Copyright Anglican Theological Review, Inc. Fall 2005
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