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I Want You to Be: On the God of love, by Tomáš Halík

24 July 2020

John Arnold considers the faith of a Czech public intellectual

THERE was a time when I worked closely with Cardinal Miroslav Vlk, Archbishop of Prague. He had been a clandestine priest, working as a window-cleaner, during the Communist period. I did not always agree with him, but I took everything that he said with the greatest seriousness, because he spoke with the authority of experience, experience of the State’s atheism and of the Church’s faith.

Halík comes with the same credentials and with a background in sociology, psychology, and philosophy, as well as theology; and he is a public intellectual in the Central European mould, who returned to Prague from Britain in 1968, rather like Bonhoeffer to Germany in 1939, to become an adviser to President Havel and to engage in dialogue with other religions and with atheism.

He is a prolific author on a wide range of topics, and this book makes an admirable introduction to his theology and main concerns. Its starting-point, as its title suggests, is St Augustine’s “Amo: volo ut sis” (I love you: I want you to be). He tangles with the most profound of atheists, Feuerbach and his beloved Nietzsche. “Vitriolic, disgruntled, and far-sighted, Nietzsche . . . taught me the courage ‘to dare to venture out into the sea of doubt, without a compass’,” and he is grateful to them for their help in stripping away false and sentimental ideas of God.

He draws on Eckhart, Pascal, Buber, and Teilhard de Chardin, among others, encouraging the reader to search widely for witnesses to the truth. At the heart of the book is a reflection on Jesus’s double answer to the single question about the greatest commandment in the Law. Jesus does not just link the love of God to the love of neighbour: he transforms the transcendence of God into the immanence of love for, and service to, one’s fellow human beings. There is a practical answer to the theoretical objections of atheists.

All this and much more is to be found in this treasury of fascinating and challenging insights from one who, like his Master, speaks not as the scribes, but with authority.


The Very Revd Dr John Arnold is a former Dean of Durham.


I Want You to Be: On the God of love
Tomáš Halík
Notre Dame £24.95
Church Times Bookshop £22.45

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