29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2004
Scripture and Metaphysics: Aquinas and the Renewal of Trinitarian Theology by Matthew Webb Levering (Challenges in Contemporary Theology: Blackwell Publishers) (Hardcover) In this major contribution to contemporary theological and philosophical debates, Matthew Levering bridges the gap between scriptural and metaphysical approaches to the triune God.
Levering's argument rests upon St. Thomas Aquinas's understanding of theology as contemplative wisdom. Taking us through Aquinas's theology of God as One and Three, he demonstrates that Trinitarian theology should be a spiritual exercise assisting our movement from self- to God-centeredness. Crucial to the spiritual exercise is the contemplative appropriation of biblical revelation, which, Levering argues, has to be joined to a correspondingly rich metaphysical analysis if the "God" who is revealed is to be understood in a non-idolatrous fashion. In chapters that broadly follow the structure of Aquinas's treatise on God in his Summa Theologiae, Levering engages with a wide range of contemporary theologians, biblical exegetes, and philosophers.
Excerpt: For Aquinas, Trinitarian theology is ultimately ordered to contemplative union, and so at the outset we can note that his Trinitarian theology is not isolated from his doctrine of salvation. In the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the whole Mystical Body shares in Christ's sacrificial fulfillment of Israel's Torah, Christ's members (as the perfect Temple) manifest God's name by worshipping the Trinity. By sharing in the self-emptying form of Christ, revealed by the Spirit in word and sacrament, Christ's cruciform members already mystically "see" the Father. This liturgical union with the Trinity is contemplative, although as a liturgical union requiring the active holiness of Christ's members, Christian contemplation is not thereby bifurcated or cut off from Christian action. As the Fathers and medieval theologians recognized, the contemplative liturgical union with the Trinity that is enjoyed by believers whose faith is formed by charity, is expressed theologically in contemplative and metaphysical modes.
The goal of this book, therefore, is sharing in the Church's manifestation of God's "name" by renewing the practices of theological contemplation. The first chapter of the book treats sacra doctrina, the sacred teaching or wisdom that is knowledge of God and all things in relation to God. This chapter argues that appropriating the revealed sacred teaching has always demanded, even for the biblical authors, metaphysical questioning. Indeed, the practice of metaphysical questioning constitutes a spiritual exercise that purifies from idolatry those who would contemplate the self-revealing God. This unity between rational investigation and contemplative beatitude finds wonderful expression in St. Athanasius's understanding of human sharing in the divine image:
They would be no better than the beasts, had they no knowledge save of earthly things; and why should God have made them at all, if He had not intended them to know Him? But, in fact, the good God has given them a share in His own Image, that is, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and has made even themselves after the same Image and Likeness. Why? Simply in order that through this gift of God-likeness in themselves they may be able to perceive the Image Absolute, that is the Word Himself, and through Him apprehend the Father; which knowledge of their Maker is for men the only really happy and blessed life.
The alleged opposition between metaphysics and salvation history in theology founders when confronted with this understanding of salvation (in history) as holy contemplation, an understanding shared by Aquinas.
The remaining chapters continue in systematic fashion the book's discussion of divine "being" with various theologians, most importantly St. Thomas Aquinas." The chapters span the themes contained in Aquinas's treatise on God in the Summa Theologiae 1, qq.2-42. While not directly treating q.43, on the temporal missions of the Son and Spirit, the bookengages this topic by emphasizing the scriptural and soteriological foundation of Aquinas's theology of God." Chapters 2 and 3 address God in his unity, in dialogue with Jewish and Christian theologians whose concern is that Aquinas's account of God's "attributes" (what one can say about God as one) distort, in a supersessionist and onto-theological manner, the one living God revealed as YHWH to Israel as narrated in the Old Testament. Chapters 4 through 7 then explore aspects of the theology of the Trinity. Chapter 4 asks whether the Paschal mystery of Jesus Christ is revelatory of the Trinity in such a way as to constitute an analogy for the Trinity. This chapter inquires into the modes by which we understand the "distinction" of Persons in God. The fifth chapter extends this topic by directly considering Aquinas's account of the "psychological analogy" as a means of under-standing the Persons as subsisting relations. In both the fourth and fifth chapters, at stake is whether Aquinas's analogy for understanding the Trinity is grounded sufficiently in God's revelation in Scripture."
The sixth chapter turns to Aquinas's description of the Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Here the theologians in light of whose work I contextualize Aquinas's views are biblical exegetes. Aquinas's description
of the Persons can seem far from the narrative reality that one meets in the New Testament and in the "biblical theology" practiced by contemporary biblical exegetes. This chapter inquires into whether Aquinas's highly metaphysical (speculative) account treats the themes of "biblical theology," and if so, what is gained by Aquinas's nonnarrative approach. Lastly, the seventh chapter addresses the movement in theology towards developing a metaphysics that is properly theological, in other words a Trinitarian metaphysics. After examining the work of proponents of this development in light of classical Jewish and Muslim concerns, I argue that Aquinas's nuanced analysis of the relationship of "essence" and "Persons" accomplishes the main goals of proponents of "Trinitarian ontology," without creating the conceptual and interreligious problems that Trinitarian ontology creates. Aquinas's approach retains the integrity of the Old Testament revelation while fully displaying its integration into Christ Jesus' definitive revelation of God.
In short, the book aims both at reordering contemporary Trinitarian theology and at identifying further "signposts," as Walker Percy might put it, along the contemplative path marked out by God himself in Scripture and tradition. I hope to show that by following a path of contemplation (grounded in the active holiness that sharing in Christ's salvific fulfillment of Israel's Torah involves), Trinitarian theology remains fully inserted within Christ's salvific fulfillment of Israel's Temple, where God's name, against the idols, is manifested.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2010
This book is very helpful in many respects. First, it simply is helpful for understanding St. Thomas on God (both one and three - ST I 2-42 [he doesn't expound on the missions in question 43]). Second, it is very helpful in learning the lay of the contemporary theology land inasmuch as in each chapter Levering takes up a few of these contemporary theologians who raise certain objections to Thomas and certain problems in general. Levering then takes Thomas as having something to say about these problems (this is where Levering will explain St. Thomas on certain points while relating them back to these contemporary issues). Third, the book is helpful because it drives home the very purpose of theology, namely, in its being a contemplative wisdom. Overall, Levering is seeking to show how metaphysics in general and Thomas' in particular is necessary in order to read Scripture. I highly recommend this book for its clarity, depth, and comprehensiveness.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2009
Levering's book accomplishes much and does it quite well. Levering successfully places Aquinas' voice in many of today's conversations about Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the theology of the Cross. At the same time, this book serves as a wonderful introduction to Thomas's theology itself. I am not a Thomist, but found I learned much and gained a deeper appreciation of Thomas' biblical vision. I found the highlights of the book to be the chapter on Balthasar and the Paschal mystery and the chapter on the naming of the divine persons.
I don't want to overstate books success, however. At certain points, Levering gives too little attention to the positions of the various interlocuters. This is particularly true of Kendall Soulen's work on Christian supercessionism. I don't think Levering's treatment of Exodus 3:14 was thorough enough either. He establishes that Thomas indeed carefully exegetes this text and does not simply import metaphysics. But I don't think he is convincing that Thomas' is the best exegesis, since Ex. 3:14 is treated in isolation from the larger context. While I don't want to dismiss a metaphysical reading out of hand, I think attention to the broader context should complicate a straightforward Thomistic reading.
Levering makes one crucial admission that keeps me from thinking that Thomas' exegesis is wholly acceptable. On page 142, in a parenthetical note, Levering says that the "purifying pedagogy with which God instructed Israel" is "for Aquinas this means largely the Mosaic testimony to God's being and simplicity, and other attributes." This names the problem of Scripture and metaphysics simply enough. There are some who think the Old Testament is good for more than this.
Thomists will enjoy reading this book and celebrate every time Levering declares another victory for Aquinas. Non-thomists, especially those who favor more modern theological positions would do well to read this book, to hear a different voice, and encounter questions that challenge us all toward a more faithful relationship between Scripture and metaphysics.