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Times Bookshop £11.70
THIS is the
third volume published of the occasional writings of Herbert McCabe, the
passionate, combative and controversial Dominican philosopher-theologian who
died in 2001.
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previous collections — God Matters (1987) and
God Still Matters (2002) — this is composed entirely of (2 7) sermons,
only one of which has already seen the light of printed day.
of topics is broad. While all of the sermons engage seriously with scripture,
and most of them take their cue from it, some make it their focus (e.g.
“Abraham and Isaac”, “Jesus and the Sons of Zebedee”).
concentrate on theological matters (e.g. sin, the Trinity), on spiritual and
liturgical practice (e.g. prayer, Ash Wednesday, washing and the eucharist),
and on moral, pastoral and political issues (possession and forgiveness,
self-love, and “Render to Caesar”).
On the one
hand, the substance of these sermons is basically orthodox. McCabe views God
not as a mere symbol but as a (quasi-) personal reality; and he believes in
God’s incarnation in Christ, the Trinity, Christ’s resurrection bodily from
death, and the possibility of life beyond it.
other hand, orthodox substance here does not amount to the tedious recycling of
platitudes. McCabe’s orthodoxy is earthed in a close acquaintance with
flesh-and-blood human weakness, upon which he looks with a heart-lifting
charity and humour that echo the love of his God.
It is also
enlivened by a frank intellect that will not settle for clichés, but which
searches — often in the company of Thomas Aquinas — fo r more honest and more
example of enlightening charity, take the sermon on prayer. Against the
high-minded folk who exhort us not to pray for vulgar material things such as
getting better from sickness, but only for spiritual goods such as becoming
more generous, McCa be argues: “When you pray, consider what you want and need
and never mind how vulgar or childish it might appear. If you want very much to
pass that exam or get to know that girl or boy, that is what you should pray
for. You could let world peace rest for a while. You may not be ready to want
that passionately. . . In true prayer you must meet God and meet yourself where
you really are, for it is just by this that God will move you on . . . If you
pray and acknowledge your most infantile desires, there is every danger that
you may grow up a bit, that God will grow you up.”
And for an
example of enlightening intellect, take the discussion of death in the sermon
on hope. Against those who urge us to accept the platitudinous view that death
is merely the natural conclusion to the natural cycle of life, McCabe observes
that human life is not like other animal life: “we do not just have a lifetime
fitting into the rhythms of nature. Rather, we each have a life-story . . .
Every human life is not just a cycle but an unfinished story that we have been
That is why
we react instinctively to the death of someone we love with outrage, feeling
that a kind of injustice has been done. That is why we yearn instinctively for
a life beyond death, when this injustice will be undone. And that is why
trusting these instincts is not irrational.
God, Christ, and Us is deeply Christian, deeply human, and deeply
intelligent about both. Moreover, its depths are well lit. It is clearly and
engagingly written, and — to borrow from Rowan Williams’s foreword — it is
“accessible to practically any reader”.
Biggar is Professor of Theology in the
and Theology at