Saturday, 19th September 2020

Review – The Furrow

In this book, the author attempts to explore “the meaning and significance of the Apostles Creed”. He reminds us that the creed, which expresses the faith of the early Christian community, was born from people’s experience of the encounter with the living God of Jesus Christ.

For most people, the soteriological significance of the articles of the creed is not immediately apparent. The Trinitarian language of Father, Son and Spirit, the language of incarnation, resurrection and ascension etc. does not immediately resonate with people’s experience today. For older people at least, the creedal formula suggests a propositional model of revelation in which faith is understood as assenting to truths revealed by God. We must believe these propositions even though we are entirely unaware that they may have deep significance for our lives. It is indeed timely that an attempt be made to retrieve the soteriological significance of the articles of the creed by “teasing out how (they) connect with our experience of life as we find it today.”

As the creed is our profession of faith, it is appropriate that the author explores the fundamental meaning of faith at the outset. He reminds us that faith is our response to the God who approaches us in Jesus Christ with an offer of unconditional love. The faith response demands a huge level of trust on our part. But through the gift of the Spirit, we are given the capacity to respond in faith and indeed to develop and grow in faith through the different experiences that life throws up for us.

A wealth of scholarship is utilised in excavating the spiritual riches contained in the articles of the creed. Reflections are conducted in light of contemporary developments in Christology, Pneumatology, Grace, Mariology and Ecclesiology, but with an emphasis throughout on the soteriological implications. Consequently there is an existential resonance evident throughout the book as the primary focus is to explore the meaning for our lives of the various articles. However I must emphasise that readers should not be daunted by these observations as the even the most profound thoughts are expressed in clear and simple prose, which is accessible to everyone. The scholarship is carried lightly and humbly.   The work is framed within the Trinitarian symbol of Father, Son and Spirit, a symbol which emphasis the fact that our God is a God for us. “The exchange of life and love that takes place among Father, Son and Spirit is poured out on the world and freely offered to humanity.” (P41).

All who are seeking to develop a more adult approach to the faith question will welcome the book. I think that preachers will find a wealth of insights in relation to the central doctrines of the Christian faith, which will be of great assistance in the preparation of homilies. Relating the great mysteries of faith such as the Incarnation, or the Marian doctrines or the Holy Spirit to the post-modern sensibilities of parishioners can be very challenging for priests who are run off their feet in parishes today. The explication of the various doctrines (which are implicit in the articles of the creed) is wonderfully insightful. For example, in reference to the Assumption of our Lady, we are reminded that the heaven to which Mary was assumed was not a region in the sky but rather about “the transformation of the human condition from its familiar earthly state to a new way of being in which it shares fully the life and glory of God.” (P61).  In reference to the Ascension, we are informed that it “celebrates humanity being assumed to a new dignity by God.” (P94). Even though we may be familiar with implications for Christian living that flow from the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, (e.g. because of the Incarnation every encounter is a unique moment when we touch another person’s life with the presence of God) nevertheless they are presented with freshness and a vitality that is indeed inspirational.

I would like to emphasise again the accessibility of the prose. It is simple, clear, direct and concise with a beautiful flow that is consistent throughout the book. The writing is imbued with a deep reverence and a prayerfulness that obviously reflects the spiritual depth of the author. I think that this is one of the great strengths of the book. Each section is completed with a prayer, which is carefully chosen or composed to reflect the theme explored. The author successfully bridges the divide between theology and spirituality, a division that has impoverished theology for many centuries. Theology, after all, is faith seeking understanding, which in turn should lead us to deeper faith, and a renewed spirituality, which will be expressed in prayer and worship.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Fr Liam Power in The Furrow, October, 2007