Sunday, 6th December 2020

Review – The Furrow

In recent years the Pontifical Irish College, Rome, has published an impressive list of books on a variety of subjects. Beginning with a fine volume on the manuscript history of the College entitled The Irish College, Rome, 1628-1678 in 2003, the College then published Faith, Word and Culture, edited by Monsignor Liam Bergin, the College Rector. A year later Reflections at an Anniversary; Celebrating 75 years of Diplomatic Relations between Ireland and the Holy See, edited by Fr Albert McDonnell, Vice-Rector of the College, was published. In  recent months the College published a very fine volume From Ráth Maoláin to Rome, N. O Muraile ed (2007) to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the Flight of the Earls and plans are well advanced for the publication next year of The Irish College Rome and its World, D, Keogh & A McDonnell eds (2008). In the middle of this significant output comes According to your Word, edited by Liam Bergin, to mark the eightieth birthday of His Eminence, Desmond Cardinal Connell. The College is to be complimented on this impressive list of publications which make a significant contribution to our knowledge of Scripture, history and diplomacy.

According to your Word is a volume which has a fascinating list of papers ranging from ‘The beautiful dangers of being’ to ‘Imagination and affectivity: response to the postmodern cry’. In between these are contributions which cover issues such as the ministry of the bishop in today’s Church as well as reflections on Trinitarian theology and, given the work of the man being honoured by this volume, those on philosophy itself. In fact, the structure of the book follows the career of the Cardinal by talks on philosophy, and in particular metaphysics, then the role of the diocesan bishop and, finally, among others, a reflection on the difficulties of the Irish Church in recent years. The variety of authors matches that of the subjects chosen: the Cardinal Secretary of State at the Vatican, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, successor in office of Pope Benedict XV1, Cardinal Connell himself, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Ms Eileen Kane and many others.

Father Michael Paul Gallagher, describing the work of another Cardinal, John Henry Newman, sets the tone of this volume. He says “Newman, especially in his Grammer of Ascent, broke new ground with his positive interpretation of the role of the imagination on the road to faith. Perhaps his most famous statement was that ‘the heart is commonly reached, not through the reason, but through the imagination’, and he went on to claim that our faith needs to be ‘appropriated as a reality by the religious imagination’… In short, and this is still a powerful insight 136 years later, lives are not really transformed until God’s truth touches people’s imagination” (p.62). As the reader places a sure foot on the stepping stones of the various chapters of this book the imagination is given food for thought and space to explore. Metaphysics, in ‘Beautiful dangers of being’, is infused with opportunities to dip into Coleridge, McNiece, Godfraidh Fionn O Dalaigh, W.B.Yeats and Cornelio Fabro, to say nothing of Plato, Aquinas and Aristotle. In ‘Return to Wonder’, Richard Dawkins and Thomas Nagel then get a chance to add their penny’s worth to the subject, to which Cardinal Connell devoted some thirty five years of his life. Monsignor Bergin, in his chapter ‘Noli me tangere. Painting sacramental life’ gives the reader another chance to let the imagination run riot again and follow its path towards the heart where true faith will find its nourishment.

Running through the volume is a heartfelt appreciation, especially by former students and colleagues, of the work of Cardinal Connell, the teacher, the philosopher, the bishop, ‘the gentleman and the gentle-man’. His work as a diocesan bishop is highlighted by his colleagues in the College of Cardinals and the difficult working conditions in which he found himself as Archbishop of Dublin from 1988 to 2004 is highlighted by his former student Andrew G.McGrady in his chapter ‘Reflections on the brokenness of the Irish Church.’ The golden thread that weaves its way through all this volume is the gentle, scholarly nature of the man to whom it is dedicated. In a world where both qualities seem in short supply it is fitting that we are reminded of their importance. This book, itself, is scholarly and its pace is gentle; a fitting tribute to the octogenarian whom it honours.

Review from The Furrow, Volume 59 Number 2  February 2008, +John Fleming, Ballina, Co Mayo.