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Book Review Archive

John J. Markey: "Christ and the Spirit: Catholic Perspectives Through the Ages," (Winona, Minn: Anselm Academic, 2018, 116 pages.)

Markey begins:

"The goal of this short book is to lay out in clear, comprehensive and accessible manner the central ideas and key developments in the understanding of Jesus Christ (Christology) in the Western Christian theological tradition" (page 10).

In light of his purpose he must include both the story of Jesus Christ and that of the Holy Spirit. In his analysis of the Spirit, drawn from the New Testament, Markey not only reflects on the Spirit in relationship to Jesus, but also the Spirit’s role as the presence of God in our lives. The book also shows how the Spirit evolved in the early theological tradition. But "pneumatology" was incomplete and so the book traces renewed interest in the Spirit in our age.

A creative and unique aspect of this theological understanding of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is, not only an emphasis on the rational, but also an intuitive interpretation of God’s actions in our lives. Markey accomplishes this by offering, with the help of his collaborator Greg Zuschlag, theological insights about Christ and the Holy Spirit through story and films: "Beauty and the Beast," Superman, and the Star Wars movies.

Belle, the heroine of "Beauty and the Beast," is an example of a "Christ-figure" in literature. Belle’s love for the unlovable beast can help us have a deeper understanding of the person and mission of Christ. Superman, on the other hand fails as a Christ-figure because, unlike the human Belle, he is actually an alien and resorts to violence to make things right. "May the Force be with you..." is certainly a well-known contemporary expression. In George Lucas’ Star Wars films, "the Force"is in energy field that connects all living beings. Both "the Force" and the Spirit are primarily spiritual realities which enable their human recipients to lives of spiritual vibrancy, discipline and work for the good.

The book has three chapters. The first studies Jesus Christ from the perspective of the New Testament Gospels. Then it focuses on Paul’s letters, reflecting on such themes as: Christ as the New Adam, the Kenosis of God, the Image of the Invisible God, and Paul’s identification of Christ as one who gives the Spirit to his disciples and who, in turn, gives Christ to believers.

Chapter 2 traces the development of Christology through the questions, trials and struggles the early church faced on a daily basis – Hellenism, and heresies about Christ’s human and divine identity. Markey moves beyond the early centuries to the theologians of the Middle Ages (Anselm, Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus); then to Martin Luther and John Calvin. After them, the Enlightenment. Its emphasis on science and human reason viewed Jesus in completely "natural" terms. The beginning of the modern era (mid-19th to mid 20th centuries) took up the search for the "historical Jesus" – the person behind religious myth and theological interpretation. The mid 20th century saw a renewed theological interest in the Trinity and its significance for both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions.

Markey has a gift for clarity and focus as he gives an overview of the development of Christology and pneumatology through the centuries. I found the book a helpful and unique review of these basic theological themes.

"Christ and the Spirit: Catholic Perspectives Through the Ages," would make a good reading and update for those of us who have been out of the theological classroom for a while. He covers a lot of theological territory clearly and with insight. Each chapter ends with a review, discussion questions and a brief bibliography. Thus, the book would be a useful text for college theology classes and for parish-based study groups.

Markey’s "Conclusion" section asks the questions: "What difference does it make?" He advises the reader not to approach the book as a historical and theological study of the past, but as a prompt to ask ourselves: "Who is Jesus and why does he matter?" And, "Who is the Holy Spirit and why does that matter?" This book will aid our reflection on these questions and help us come to a new understanding of God’s love experienced through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

----reviewed by Jude Siciliano, OP -- Promoter of Preaching, Southern Dominican Province, USA

Book Review Archive

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(The latest submissions are listed first.)

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