This book is one of the most stimulating works of Irish theology in recent times. It poses a stirring question, asking about that Europe where the first great inculturation of the gospel took place: how did it, in the age of the Enlightenment, come to reject its great heritage of faith and leave us with the great divide between faith and culture which is such a striking feature of Europe today? The author speaks of the "schizophrenia" that separates Church from society, revelation from history and faith from reason.
The answer to the authors question is both philosophical and theological. Philosophically, the author focuses especially on the sense of the autonomy of the human spirit which emerged partly as a result of the loss of the synthesis of faith and reason which had been taken for granted right up to the high middle ages. The recent article by Andre Cloots in Milltown Studies 61 (Summer 2008) on the work of Marcel Gauchet provides a helpful expansion of some of these notions. One result of this story of decline is that reason comes to be seen as an alternative to faith. In the language of Cardinal Newman, "strong reason" is commonly seen to be on the side of the natural and human sciences, whereas, if reason is conceded a place at all on the side of faith, it is a "weak reason." In response to this situation the author outlines in his second chapter the position of three believing thinkers seeking to restore the place of reason within faith, Newman, Voegelin and Lonergan.
The greater part of this book, however, is theological. In these chapters the author tackles the question of a remedy for the situation, and for this he looks to proposing the faith in a fresh way. Two aspects of revelation are picked out by him for special emphasis. The first is our doctrine of Jesus crucified and abandoned on the cross. This is proposed in the light of the loss of God in our culture as well as in the light of the appalling impact of this loss on recent history.
The second doctrine to be emphasised is that of the Trinity. With Karl Rahner and others, the author regrets how this doctrine has had little concrete impact on the faith and spirituality of ordinary Christians over the centuries. Linking this doctrine to the emphasis in Vatican II on life as communion, the author seeks to put an end to what he calls "the exile" of this dogma from the minds and hearts of Christians. With this in view he devotes several pages to Augustines approach to the Trinity (216-225); but more impressive still is his treatment of the teaching of the Johannine writings on the doctrine of communion as grounded in the Trinity (191-198).
One of the features of this book worthy of mention is its combination of theological depth with a sense of spirituality. In this respect it is a helpful antidote to the ever-present tendency to separate spirituality from theology or to reduce spirituality to a kind of `hand-me-down Buddhism. Fr Norriss work is an object-lesson in how the revitalized theology of the post-Vatican II era is in itself the best apologia for the faith. As the author puts it, "The Fathers from St Justin onwards were convinced that the splendour and attractiveness of the content of the faith are the best evidence for the truth of the faith" (210). Plainly the author has steeped himself in the theology of that post-conciliar era as well as in that of the classical masters of the past. This is a book for every Irish theological library.
- Raymond Moloney, Milltown Studies, No 64, Winter 2009
With books such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens high on the best seller lists in many countries and a more hostile approach evident from governments and media to traditional Christian mores and culture, it seems possible that Christianity in Europe in general and lreland in particular faces new, and at the same time very ancient, challenges to its authenticity, if not its very existence. A recent theological response espouses an Art of Loving as a means of restoring fresh faith in the gospel and the gospels community. The primary goal of A Fractured Relationship , Faith and the Censors of Culture, according to the author Thomas Norris, is to address the serious questions posed to believer and non-believer alike by Europes rejection of its Christian roots and lapse into atheism and nihilism. Pope Benedict XVI described the phenomenon early his papacy as this strange forgetfulness of God. ln two sections, the first dealing with the underlying principles of thinking and reasoning today and the lengthier second section which proposes a radical and loving response to the present spiritual malaise, Dr Norris marshals the intellectual power and radicalism of seminal thinkers such as Cardinal Newman, Eric Voegelin and Bernard Lonergan to serve his thesis on the concrete art of loving. This is a complex yet accessible work that amply repays concentration and attention and demonstrates the mind of a theologian clearly not ensconced in an ivory tower but instead alive with the newness and freshness of the gospel at its heart.
- Fr Paul Clayton-Lea, Intercom
Thomas Norris, an Irish secular priest and member of the International Theological Commission, addresses what (following John Paul II) he describes as the modern Wests `epochal dark night of the soul: `It is as if the sun had set imperceptibly upon our culture, and the resulting darkness had overcome the light (John 1: 7) (pp. 24-25). Europe, where for centuries Christianity had been faithfully passed from generation to generation, is now rife with atheism, indifference, nihilism and relativism. These are, moreover, not `foreign imports to Europe; rather, they have arisen from within the very heart of Christendom itself. In the first third of his book, Norris narrates how and why this came about, focusing especially on the modern divorce of `Faith and `Reason, for which the year 1680 serves as a symbolic watershed. Quoting Bernard Lonergan (who, along with Eric Voegelin and John Henry Newman, is a key influence on Norris account): `Then it was that Herbert Butterfield placed the origins of modern science, then that Paul Hazard placed the beginning of the Enlightenment, then that Yves Congar placed the beginning of dogmatic theology (p.52).
This latter development was especially damaging. As theology withdrew into itself, it abandoned its connection to, and dialogue with, the emerging culture: `Faith had jettisoned Reason, then. And having lost Reason, faith had also lost its reasonableness .... Reason for its part gradually lost interest in Faith .... (p.54) This is, Norris cogently argues, the ultimate foundation of the current `fractured relationship between faith and culture.
Generally speaking, the rest of the book is devoted to how this gaping wound might be healed. Not surprisingly, John Paul IIs 1998 encyclical Fides et ratio takes centre stage. Norris notes, for example, as a telling example of `the epochal dark night, the irony of a Pope berating the modern West for its mistrust and abandonment of reason. Of particular interest here is Norris elaboration on the appeal to Mary in the final article of Fides et ratio. Marys treasuring and pondering in her heart of the angelic revelations to the shepherds (Luke 2:19) is rightly identified as `a living paradigm for the subject matter of Pope John Pauls encyclical (p.84). There is also much of value elsewhere in the book, as for example in a later chapter on trinitarian theology. The undoubted highlight, however, is Norris sustained meditation on the centrality of Christs God-forsakenness on the cross.
Atheism of whatever kind either forgets or deliberately abandons God. But in the reality of Jesus Crucified and Forsaken we have the fact of a God abandoned by God for the sake of those who are without God. And in that great moment on Calvary, Jesus no longer senses the presence of the Loving
Father. Is not this Jesus Forsaken, the God for the atheists? (p.174)
As Norris powerfully states in the books closing paragraphs: `Only if we understand this do we understand that "God is love". Otherwise the summit of New Testament revelation becomes a pious platitude. (p.253)
A Fractured Relationship is a rich and wide-ranging book. At times, however, it feels more like a series of (related) essays than the focused monograph that one might have expected. And indeed, attentive reading (or, rather, inattentive editing) confirms such suspicions regarding the chapters original incarnations: `The purpose of this article ... (p. 162); `We began this paper ... (p. 100). However, these, along with the occasional repetition, only slightly mar an interesting and timely text.
- Stephen Bullivant, The Way, January 2009