The Absolute and The Atonement by Dom Illtyd Trethowan, O.S.B. (George Allen & Unwin, £5)
THIS book is a recent edition to the Muirhead Library of Philosophy and is a worthy companion to such works as Bertram Russell's Analysis of Mind and The Commonplace Book of G. E. Moore. The author tells us that he must be regarded as self-taught in the field of theology, and offers an opinion that he is quite entitled to find certain advantages in his non-professional status. The book is interesting, if at times rather difficult, as might be expected when one is dealing with such rarefied studies.
It is quite impossible to give a detailed summary of the contents, but one may notice from the start that the author has divided his subject between the four main themes of the Absolute, The Theology of Faith, The Atonement, and Mystical Theology.
Regarding the first subject, there may be some readers who do not fully comprehend the title, even if they are already acquainted with Hilaire Belloc's Lines to a Don. in which he recalls those teachers of his youth: Who shout and bang and roar and bawl The Absolute across the hall.
God is, indeed, the Absolute Being in that He is in no manner conditioned by or related to anything outside Himself. Hence the four chapters of the first section, dealing in turn with the rejection of the Absolute by those who deny any supreme being; the secularising of the Absolute; Approaches to the Absolute, and, finally, the Apprehension of the Absolute.
The author puts up from the start a very spirited defence against atheism and the rejection of God, and, in the assessment towards the close of the section, he has some wise advice on the natural knowledge of God, apart from any question of a special revelation, He argues that: "The human mind must he capable, apart from such a revelation, of making, somehow and sometime, that option for which it was created." (p.64).
In the section on the Theology of Faith there is a specially good treatment of the Act of Faith, in which reference is made to Canon Roger Aubert's vast tome Probleme de l'Acte de Foi, in which a quotation from Karl Adam emphasises that the
majority of Catholic theologians "are in agreement that divine faith rests in the last analysis upon an interior and mystical illumination." (p.111). Later, Canon Jean Mouroux's book The Christian Experience is discussed in which the writer insists that: "If I have infused faith, I know with certainty iby an intuitive knowledge that I have it, because the reality of the faith implies this reflection upon itself . ." (6.122).
The subject of the third section on the Atonement, recalls a terrible passage in the late Dr. Walter McDonald's Reminiscences of a Maynooth Professor (Cape, 1925) in which he refers to a former professor who was noted for his obscurity, so that "when we came to deal with the redemption of Christ, one really could gather nothing, except that there was some kind of redemption." (p.56).
Fortunately, Dam Trethowan is able to portray the atonement in a way that is interesting and intelligible, and he quotes two well-known books by Pere F. X. Durwell in proof that "the Resurrection constitutes the basic, prime and total object of the Passion," and that Christ's death "is redemptive in as much as it is his resurrection;
we find expiation for our sins in our salvation, and that salvation is the Resurrection." (p.192).
Later pages discuss the relation between the Resurrection and the Eucharist.
In the final section on Mystical Theology: The Consummation of the Atonement, the author remarks upon the prejudices against mysticism that are still so strong even among Catholics, according to which "it begins with 'mist' and ends in `schism'." (p.228).
Perhaps under this heading more might have been said about the work of the late Pere Reginald GarrigouLagrange, 0.P., whose greatest work, not quoted here, has been translated under the title of The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Prelude to that of Heaven: a reading of which might counteract the author's remark that the works of this great writer are unpopular, being of the "high and dry" Thomist kind.
It is encouraging that Dr. Truman Dicken's book The Crucible of Love receives mention here, as a work that is impregnated throughout with the mystical teaching of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross.
Mgr. John M. T. Barton, D.D.