Recommended Reading Summer

Taking Jesus at His Word
by Addison Hodges Hart
Eerdmans, 2012, 166 pp
Reviewed by Jim Forest

With great economy—the book is only 166 pages—Addison Hart leads his reader on a brisk and challenging pilgrimage through those pages of the New Testament that contain what might be called Jesus’ inaugural address, chap-ters five through seven of the first Gospel, starting with the Beatitudes and concluding with the story of the house built upon sand that, when the floods came, collapsed into ruin.

Hart argues that “either we follow Jesus or we do not.” Full stop. Going to church doesn’t make one a Christian. Hart doesn’t for a moment minimize how hard it is to take Jesus at his word, but why wear a cross or attend Sunday services—why bow toward the Gospel—if we aren’t making a continuing attempt to do what Jesus calls us to?

Hart scatters no sugar over Christ’s words. For example, in writing about Jesus’ special blessing on peacemakers, Hart stresses that these are people “who oppose conflict of any kind, war included.” In keeping with this expecta-tion, no follower of Jesus is given license to justify the alleged “’need’ for this or that war. No war is in fact needful or good. War is always the infliction of an unnecessary evil” (p 30).

Hart quotes the satiric novelist, Kurt Vonnegut, who observes that there are many vocal Christians in America cam-paigning to have the Ten Command-ments displayed on courtroom walls but none advocating that the Beatitudes be enshrined in public places. Is the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount something of an embarrassment to his alleged followers?

The Holy Trinity: In the Beginning There Was Love
by Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, translated by Roland Clark.
Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2012, 94 pp
Reviewed by Gregory McKinney

Fr. Dumitru Staniloae (1903-1993) was an Orthodox priest of the Church of Romania. His numerous works, includ-ing a Romanian translation of the Philokalia and his 1978 masterpiece The Dogmatic Orthodox Theology, have established him as one of the leading Orthodox theologians and academicians of the twentieth century.

The Holy Trinity  is one of a small, but growing number of Staniloae’s works available in English. Staniloae grounds this exposition on the nature of the Godhead and the purely loving re-lationship between the three Divine Per-sons within an intellectually consistent framework of Orthodox dogmatics and sacred Tradition. Quotes from Church Fathers and Scripture underpin his arguments throughout. The prose of this translation is fairly formal, as might befit a theologian, but still accessible. The little book doesn’t require one to be a theologian to appreciate it, but it re-quires some work on the part of a lay reader. You can expect to be richly rewarded for your effort.

The first two chapters are the weightiest, as Staniloae takes us through a proof of the necessity of God’s existence, concluding, “There must be a being in itself, perfect from eternity, in which there is nothing that preceded it” (5). That being’s omnipotence and omni-science are “placed at the service of [its] unlimited goodness, which desires that limited created things enjoy its love, with a joy that gives them the power to love and to draw nearer to infinite goodness” (12).

Chapters 3 and 4 are devoted to establishing the necessity of God’s triune nature: “If the divine being were in a single person, it would not be good or loving from eternity, which would mean that it was not divine” (17); and “A solitary being cannot even be human, let alone God. Its light and joy only exist in communion with other conscious beings…. In God, this conversation of the Father with the Son is only positive, involving only love and joy” (33).

In Chapters 5 and 6, the prose be-comes ever more uplifting as Staniloae describes the Divine Love revealed in Christ and the Incarnation. The grand themes of a cosmic, yet intimate, love challenge us: “If dominion in [God’s] kingdom belongs to the Trinity, humans cannot participate in the kingdom with-out uniting themselves with it, and living, through its power, in community with other men” (46).

Chapters 7 through 10 deal mainly with the Holy Spirit and bring a brightness into the flow of thoughts. Staniloae describes the loving rapport between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and how, through the Spirit, we are invited by grace to stand before God with Christ as our true brother. The final chapter includes Staniloae’s translations of and comments on four traditional prayers, all beautiful reflections on the Holy Spirit and the Trinity.

Although Staniloae doesn’t write at length on interpersonal bonds in light of the loving Trinity at the foundation of creation, pointed observations on human relationships run throughout the book. It is impossible to get through Chapter 7 without being struck by the family as a vision of the love of the Triune God. One would expect that those with children will find the resonance to be loud and clear: “We cannot forget a “Him” when we are in an “I-Thou” relationship. Perhaps the more we love each other, the more we will also feel love for him. We feel the need to be loved by a third and to love a third, and the more we love him together, the more we love one another” (56). The sense of confused loss when the triad of love between man, woman, and child is strained (think teenage years for many of us) and the exultation when a communicative, loving relationship is reestablished can only be a help in relating to the depths of Trinitarian love. Staniloae’s understated observations on the increase in mutual love resulting from our growth in the Faith and in our experience of God are often profoundly affecting and might be the book’s most valuable contribution to the lay reader.

❖ Summer Issue / IC 65 / 2012