GODFARING: On Reason, Faith and Sacred Being
by Francis Clark
(St Paul's Publishing, 2000, 230pp, $55.00. Available from AD Books)
Some books are an education in themselves: in my view this is one such.
It presents a complete theological survey, underpinned where necessary by appropriate philosophical clarifications of contentious contemporary issues. To quote: "The central theme of this book is the relation of created beings to divine Being in the light of faith and reason" (p.96).
It is not written - as so many of its kind seem to be - by a specialist for other specialists: it is designed for the serious reader who has some competence in and sympathy for its subject; and, in any case, the reader is helped out by a full and complete glossary of terms.
Francis Clark here offers a systematic survey of Catholic theology starting from the perspective of a sympathetic consideration of natural theology, and including an overview of the great historical and existing religious systems as context in which to present a confident conceptualisation of the Christian mystery. Equally familiar with the new as with the old, the author avails himself of contemporary insights to reflect upon the wealth and strength of the Christian religious heritage and, conversely, what in other religious systems is of perennial value.
Nor is he unwilling to glean what is of value from what might be otherwise seen as simply defective contemporary presentations. As illustration, he takes up and evaluates simply and summarily, calmly and non-polemically, such issues as process theology (as associated with the names of Whitehead and others, p. 135); that of "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" (p. 65ff); universalism and the views associated with the name of Fr Dupuis (p. 87). As instance of his touching on basic philosophical concerns, I might mention his treatment of the problem of causality where he quietly dismisses what he calls "Hume's sophisms".
An attractive feature of the book, and one related to its general lucidity, is that it may be seen largely as a commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (e.g., the citations which introduce several of its chapters). The Catechism throughout is accorded its full magisterial status and not relegated simply, as some theological spokesmen give the impression of doing, to its being seen simply as (school) catechetical background. There is also constant recall of the great doctrinal encyclicals of recent times, viz, Veritatis Splendor and Fides et Ratio. Nor is Vatican II overlooked: Gaudium et Spes is constantly recalled (e.g., p.62) as are more than half the Council's sixteen documents.
Equally significant is that the whole exposition is characterised by a palpable aura of serenity, of theological hope: a feature no doubt deriving from the lessons of a long life with its marked vicissitudes (as explained in the autobiographical appendix). Like the Roman officer in Acts (22:28) it has been "at a great price" that the author has purchased this serenity of faith and the light of that gift of wisdom repeatedly recalled (e.g., p. 60).
My conclusion: for anyone who might read this review I should like to emphasise one lesson that may be learned from this book: we cannot resolve either our personal dilemmas nor meet the Church's institutional crises by a simple fideism (cf, pp. 23, 53). Further, we should realise that the less conscious we are of admitting to any particular philosophical allegiance, the more likely we are to be simply camp-followers of what is of contemporary fashion and dominance, especially today's relativism and nihilism. Here, in my view, is a book for the educated Catholic which offers a general and convincing exposition of the whole Christian mystery, and one which is so beautifully written that it makes for easy reading.