BEGINNING AT JERUSALEM:
Five Reflections on the History of the Church
by Glenn W. Olsen
(Ignatius, 2004, 236pp, $29.95, softcover. Available from Freedom Publishing)
In a previous review I suggested that the Preface of a particular text should be read with care to clarify an understanding of the writer's technique. In the case of this outstanding work by Glenn Olsen I strongly advise a different approach: begin with a thorough study of Appendix One and Appendix Two.
This will give the reader a clear vision of Olsen's stance regarding our times, thus forming a basis for comprehending all that is surveyed with faith and skill in the "Five Reflections on the History of the Church."
As its title proclaims, Reflection One discusses how much of the ancient world view must be retained to keep Christianity alive in a modern setting. Writers such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Hans Urs von Balthasar and John Paul II form the basis of a text which uses the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the typology of Irenaeus to renew in our times the story of salvation and our role in manifesting God to the world.
Reflection Two reminds us that our present day liturgy is impoverished without many of the riches of worship of early medieval Christianity such as devotions to the saints and angels. Olsen says that our "lost in the cosmos" society needs a revival of Pope Gregory VII's statement that at the Consecration at Mass "the heavens stand open and choirs of angels are present at the mystery".
In his Reflection Three, Olsen ponders the richness of High Medieval Christianity under the inspired influence of Gregory VII's work concerning the relationship between Church and state and the development of the sanctification of the laity based on the humanity of Christ, which led to new religious orders tending to minister to the world rather than flee from it.
God in the world
The focus in Reflection Four is on the Church in the world from Renaissance to Enlightenment as it continues the timeless balance between the sacred and the secular, the incarnational and the humanistic.
Catholic and Protestant approaches to showing how God is in the world are discussed with reference to key writers and artists of the time. The point of view presented in St Thomas More's Utopia and Dant 's De Monarchia and Commedia underpins Olsen's cryptic comment on the wars of religion. He refutes Marcel Gauchet's theory that the Christian era is at an end by an elucidation of a world following the Ignatian spirituality of "all for the glory of God" culminating in deep devotion to the centrality of the Mass in Catholic life.
An overview of the Church at the beginning of the third millennium forms the basis of Reflection Five. Here there is evident reliance on the works of von Balthasar, the Catechism and John Paul II's call to repentance in Tertio Millennio Adveniente.
The signs of the times, the Church's relation to events and culture, and the problems of post-modernism form the basis of this evaluation of Christian life as being "in" but not "of" the world.
The role of the family, parish and its priests in this task is developed with an uncompromising emphasis on this particular need in society today.
Abundant footnotes indicate the breadth of Olsen's research and personal writings. Throughout this inspirational work discussions of the viewpoints of leading writers of the time enlarge the vision of the reader.
In Olsen's own word, Beginning at Jerusalem aims at reflecting on "that mysterious tapestry of history in which God has been, through time, intertwining light thread with dark."