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Reviews of
Chalice of God


Aidan Nichols O.P.

A theological manifesto

Chalice of God: A Systematic Theology in Outline, Aidan Nichols OP. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota.
ISBN 978-0-8146-3431-8 £15.50

Review by Tim Matthews

CHALICE OF GOD, a theological manifesto for the 21st-century, the well-known Dominican author Fr Aidan Nichols sets out for us a synthesis of a lifetime of research, expressing his own personal convictions about how best to proceed in expounding theology.

In six distinct theses, broken down into sub-sections (1.2. 2; 2.3.1 etc) and punctuated by helpful cross-references, he provides a high-level and co-ordinated overview of Catholic theology, a viewpoint that is at the same time both personal and academic. Subjects range from 'A basic Concept of Theology', to 'A Christological Determination of Biblical History', and a final chapter on 'The Holy Trinity as Matrix and Goal of Persons and the World'. There are numerous illustrations, drawn from Byzantine and Russian art, all of which help to lead minds and hearts upwards to the Christ-centred mysteries.

My fundamental commitment is to high mediaeval scholasticism and the mid-21st-century movement of ressourcement which accessed ancient springs', writes the author. 'My masters are St Thomas in his relations to the partners and Hans Urs von Balthasar in his relation to both at once.' While he finds merit in romanticism, Fr Nichols shows no liking for post-modernism; with complete fidelity to the Magisterium he distils for us the wisdom of the authors he has studied and admired in a lifetime of study - Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican.

He presents his philosophy as a version of Thomism married to a romanticism exemplified by Samuel Taylor Coleridge who asked his readers: '
Hast thou ever raised thy mind to the consideration of EXISTENCE, in and by itself, as the mere act of existing? Hast thou ever said to thyself, thoughtfully, IT IS! heedless in that moment, whether it where a man before thee, or a flower, or a grain of sand? . . . If thou hast indeed attained to this, thou wilt have felt the presence of a mystery'.

He places his work under the patronage of Saint Gregory of Nazianzen, who in his manifesto mirrored the integration of philosophy and theology; while noting that the Church has never required in her schools absolute unity of thought, Fr Nichols nevertheless refuses to allow philosophy rights of governance over theology.

Two key concepts in his philosophical repertoire are 'Person' and 'History'. '
Personhood bespeaks a unique spiritual value for each of us (marking) what is highest in created being . . . Evolution does not contradict the reception of being from its Source. . . Ontological thinking should always begin from the gift of plenitude - in sharpest contrast to Hegel's thought for which the fullness of the Absolute is going to be gained through the process of history'.

Chapter 4 is dedicated to 'Tradition as the Transmission of Revelation'. '
I agree with my confrere, the late Cardinal Yves Congar, that 'Tradition creates a totality, harmony, a synthesis'. . . I define the Church as the community that carries Tradition, understood as a revelation in transmission over time. Even before she put forth her formal Creeds, the Church knew the treasure she bore . . . I regard the loss of Christian memory as the chief reason for diminution of the Church in the estimation of her members'.

It is the liturgy that sustains the eschatological orientation of Tradition . . . The theologian must be steeped in the ambience of liturgical prayer, celebrated according to the mind of the Church as steward of the mysteries, if he is to keep habitually in mind the final outcome of the revelation he serves, without which the chalice of God will not be filled'.

The author's ethics, he says, are unashamedly theological, God centred. '
I applaud the recovery of virtue ethics . . I reject accordingly, as irreconcilable with the Gospel, the Liberalism which conceives moral agency in primarily negative terms as freedom of choice, which might also be described as amoral autonomy . . . I hold that proper autonomy is freedom of choice exercised towards an objective good. I deplore the liberty that has lost its connection with the truth, that is with the ontological order'.

The concluding icon in this thought-provoking book (not one to be read in a hurry) pictures the assembly of creation around the Mother of God, who in her person gathers up creation's praise to the Trinity. '
The outlines of a temple which surmount the whole indicate how this is an ecclesiastical cosmos, when nature has been taken up into that glorifying of God which lies at the heart of all the activity of the Church'. [Tim Matthews]. 1839.78

This book review first appeared in CF NEWS (No.1839) June 24th, 2012 and is reproduced with permission.

Link to this edition of CF News

Review by Jeff Mirus of Catholic Culture Website

This Version: 21st July 2012

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