By Romano Guardini
(Pantheon Books, 1964)
Reviewed by Colin Kerr
This is a very pray-able book. Theology books are not always able to straddle the barrier of intellect and spirit – although most of their authors believe their’s do! It’s Advent. This book can definitely fit into your Advent.
Guardini belongs to the short list of great Catholic theologians of the previous generation, references to whom can still be found in the writings of our Pope Emeritus, for instance. He is not as well known today as some of the other significant theologians of that generation, writers like Rahner, De Lubac and von Balthasar. This is perhaps principally on account of the fact that he died just as the Post-Concilliar Era was beginning. As the Council closed, the age of the ‘celebrity-theologian’ began, which included both stalwarts of Orthodoxy like De Lubac and Congar, but more often the brights stars were on the other side: including the likes of Hans Küng, Charles Curran and Edward Schillebeeckx.
Guardini wrote in what might aptly be described as a simpler and more dignified period, a time when – whether for good or ill – theology was the reserve of few clergy and still fewer laymen. In those times one could not make vast sums of money defying the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church, whether in print or in speaking events. Thus, in those days, one had hardly to question the motives of theologians. Of course, the submersion of theology into the university has had its consequences for theology too: the pressure to publish (anything), the pressure to write ecumenically and according to a conception of reason that excludes faith.
Those who have heard of Guardini have likely heard of his Spirit of the Liturgy and The Lord – two works that were immensely influential, again, on our Pope Emeritus, who, for instance, refers to Guardini twice in the second volume of his Jesus of Nazareth. Likewise, his Spirit of the Liturgy acknowledges a fundamental debt to Guardini’s work of the same name. He also wrote in his Memoirs (Ignatius Press, 1997), “In the domain of theology and philosophy, the voices that moved us most directly [while in the seminary] were those of Romano Guardini, Josef Pieper, Theodore Häcker and Peter Wust.”
Yet the field of Christology seems to be a more specialized field than even the liturgy, one in which it is easy to have an opinion, of course, but one in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to possess an educated opinion. Thus, in order to appreciate the historical significance of Guardini’s contribution in his Humanity of Christ, a great deal of background work is first required. Those for whom this constitutes an impossibility, this book, as I’ve suggested, can yet be appreciated in its own right as a spectacular bit of edification. It can be read casually or even taken to prayer. It is accessible partly because it is a ‘modern’ work, if we take this to mean that it is one that attempts to grapple with the mystery of Christ in light of recent advances in the fields of psychology and philosophy. Like Guardini’s The Spirit of the Liturgy, it is a ‘seminal’ work, for, having been written over fifty years ago now, it cannot be taken as having said the last word on the subject but as having supplied contemporary Catholic theologians with some important insights which they cannot afford to ignore. Thus is it true to the subtitle: it makes ‘contributions to a psychology of Jesus.’ I would add the word ‘important’ to that descriptor.
In sum, a spiritually profound book, approachable to many, and a clarion-call to theologians not to translate the real humanity of Christ into an ordinary humanity. No doubt I’ll talk more about this vicious theological tendency in reviews to come.