'1'HF, DYNAMIC ELEMENT IN THE CHURCH, by Karl Rahner, S.J. (Questiones Disputatae I 2) (Herder-Burns and Oates, I 8s.).
FAITH AND THE WORLD, by Albert Dondeyne (Gill, 30s.).
CRISIS OF FAITH, by Pierre Babin (Gill, 25s.).
MISSIONS AND WORLD CRISIS, by Fulton Sheen (Scepter, 30s.).
THE latest Quaestio Disputata to be translated is Karl Rahner's The Dynamic Element in the Church. It comprises three essays written as articles in 1956 and 1957, which may at first sight appear completely disparate.
In Principles and Prescriptions Rahner argues that concrete existential decisions cannot derive simply from abstract principles, even though, as against the view of "situation ethics", they must be limited by them; rather there is an ireeduceably individual and personal element in many, if not all decisions, which he calls "prescription".
In the second essay. from which the whole book takes its title. he insists that we should clearly recognise in the Church two dimensions, its institutional character and its charismatic character. That is to say. it is established with an official and historically continuous hierarchy. but it is also touched at every moment as it were anew, by the Spirit.
The official government itself is touched charismatically. constantly guided by God in its legislation and government. But it is not the sole recipient of charisma in the Church, since all the members of the Church are open to the divine initiative.
Because of these facts, the official Church. itself charismatic. can dare to "institutionalise" the charismatic efforts of her children (as it does in legislating for the observance of evangelical counsels), but at the same time must (and being charismatic is in fact continually guided to) respect the charismatic initiatives of its subjects.
The Church is therefore not and never can he totalitarian. whatever the pretensions of some churchmen: the -promptings of the Spirit break out, all through history. among its lay people as well as among its hierarchic officers. The Church, for all its quite proper monarchism and discipline. is a charismatic democracy.
In the third essay. twice as long as the others. Rahner discusses what St. Ignatius in his Exercises meant by his three ways of Election, ways of reaching decisions about what to do. He analyses how Ignatius, in the Second Was'. supposes a man able to recognise the particular will of God for him.
Rahner holds that it is by an immediate non-conceptual awareness of God (short indeed of "vision") and that this is common in the spiritual life (indeed. if I understand him aright. to be
implied in every genuine moral decision taken by men, whether they are aware of it or not).
The topics appear disparate, but there is a very real unity running through. The idea that we need a theology of the individual, and the concrete, and that this, whether in the conduct of the individual, in the life of the Church, or in spiritual experience. is irreduceable to the abstract and the universal.
Such a theology would be concerned with the dynamic element. the touch of God's grace here and now. The issues raised are extremely controversial — which is exactly what a quaestio disPinata should be.
An error in the otherwise good translation has crept in on page 132: read, eight lines from the bottom. "not intervene" for "intervene". C.R.
The problems of faith, like the poor. are and always will be with us. In these days there is a spate of books on faith, perhaps a sign of the times. Faith and the World by Albert Dondeyne is primarily a confrontation of the world and faith.
Faith in such a context includes, but means more than, an intellectual adherence to propositional truths. A faith "alive unto God" is meant. and a faith which is to be fully lived in a world too often estranged from God and "twisted out of its true pattern". Because of this estrangement. the world around us contrasts violently with the world of God's being and God's way which are laid open to us by faith.
Prof. Donde\ ne has a splendid second chapter on the joyousness of our Faith which should ever retain something of the "tidings of great ioy". But he asks pertinently whether Christians today really do comport themselves as bearers of good news. whether they always gladden the hearts of others with the good news of the gospel.
The author goes on to discuss the attack on faith and the slowness of believers to accept the challenge of the world as it is. In general the book starts on a high level of Scriptural theology but then seems to proceed in a much more prosaic and apologeric vein.
We are shown the infantile notions of contemporary Russian atheistic writers who appear to have no idea of anything except the religious strivings of primitive peoples, and fondly imagine that all religion is of this sort.
There are valuable pages on the relation of faith to civilisation, to morality, to authority. and so on. On the last point we read "frequently we hear the remark that modern man has no longer any respect for authority . . . (yet) the modern student still preserves a very great esteem and respect for the professor who is well-versed in his field and works hard".
True, but respect for competency is surely not proof of respect for authority. Other pages deal with the danger of clericalism. clerical morality, the lack of a sense of history, and technological development.
The latter "is not a dilemma for the Christian believer, but calls for the elaboration of a synthesis. a synthesis of Christian hope". The second half of the book attempts just such a synthesis, and invites Christians "to the sublime heights of evangelical charity which seeks more to console than to be consoled. to understand than to be understood, to love than to be loved".
The subject of faith very soon raises the problem of how to teach and communicate it, particularly to young people. Crisis of Faith by Pierre Babin tackles the problem, and as Fr. Thomas O'Callaghan, S.J.. says in his foreword "no priest or teacher can read this book without feeling that his own effort at teaching Christ to the young has been deficient".
It is a fair judgment of the book, and high praise. Certainly no priest should have any illusions about teaching young adolescents, and he will find help towards greater simplicity and effectiveness from this book.
The act of faith, conversion, growth in faith are all soberly set out. and something of the psychology of young people today is admirably explained. But perhaps the examples do not help. coming as they do from statistics and data taken from America (especially in the chapter "Today's Youth").
Still. the main lessons of the book remain unimpaired. teaching us to approach the young, not with facile knowledge but "a mixture of humility and awareness, friendship and trust, silence and absolute hope in the other".
Scepter Books provide an English edition of Bishop Sheen's Missions and World Crisis of which the American edition has already been noticed in this column,