Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Revealing God

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Revealing God

Article excerpt

Revealing God Engaging the Doctrine of Revelation: The Mediation of the Gospel through Church and Scripture BY MATTHEW LEVERING BAKER ACADEMIC, 384 PAGES, $44.99

Matthew Levering's prodigious scholarly output, his editing of significant theological handbooks, and his co-editorship of the English edition of the important international journal Nova et Vetera place him in the forefront of American Catholic theology. His work reflects Vatican II's insistence that Scripture is "the soul of theology." At the same time, it cogently affirms the indispensable place of a speculative, indeed, a metaphysical moment in the theological task.

Levering's latest book, Engaging the Doctrine of Revelation, resists what he calls "ecclesiastical fall narratives," which fault the Church for befouling and poisoning the living waters of the Gospel. Against this view, he mounts a forceful and sustained counter-argument: "The Church truthfully mediates God's revelation to us, due to the efficacious missions of the Son and the Spirit." Levering neither denies nor minimizes the failures and scandals in the course of the Church's history. The Church of Jesus Christ is most certainly a corpus permixtum. But its earthen vessels, thanks to the grace of the exalted Christ and the promised Holy Spirit, bear and transmit the divine treasure with which it is entrusted and for which it is commissioned.

Hence Levering argues and affirms a distinctively Catholic "both/and." The divine missions are the source of revelation; but that revelation is communicated and transmitted through human mediation. The law of Incarnation stands fully on display. Through human mediation the Word of God comes to us today and does not remain re legated to a distant past.

Levering traces the multiple modes of mediation in chapters treating Church, liturgy, priesthood, Gospel, tradition, development, inspiration, and philosophy. In each instance the presentation is enlivened and rendered dramatic by his respectful dialogue with contrary views. Respectful dialogue, however, by no means excludes trenchant argumentation and disagreement. Many of the chapters, in effect, present an extensive videtur quod non that provides, often at considerable length, a contrast position to his own. In the process one is introduced to a wide sampling of contemporary theological views, both Protestant and Catholic. The fortyfive-page bibliography at the end of the volume provides striking testimony to the astonishing breadth of Levering's reading. However, at times the laudable effort to consider and do justice to a variety of authors and views can border on overload. The numerous and lengthy footnotes introduce new voices to the discussion, sometime at the risk of distracting from the argument unfolding in the body of the text. But, if these be blemishes, they stem from an admirable intellectual engagement and generosity.

Taking his lead from von Balthasar, Levering considers the mystery of the Church from the vantage of mission. The Church is born of the inseparable missions of the Incarnate Word and the Pentecostal Spirit. Therefore, its very nature is missionary. Though in press before the issuance of Pope Francis's Evangelii Gaudium, the book can appeal to the papal document to support this central ecclesiological claim: The Church is constitutively missionary, permanently "in mission." It is called to mediate, through Word, sacraments, and service, the divine life. To be, in Francis's memorable phrase, the "field hospital" for a needful and wounded world, or, in the striking claim of Vatican II, "the universal sacrament of salvation."

A crucial point in Levering's argument is to identify liturgy, and, in particular, the Eucharist, as the privileged locus for the mediation of revelation and the empowering for mission. Here Levering suggestively draws upon the insights of Orthodox liturgist Alexander Schmemann, as well as those of Joseph Ratzinger. He strongly seconds Schmemann's contention that "theology must begin with our encounter with the risen Christ in the Eucharist. …

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