November 1999

Second Exodus.  By Martin K. Barrack. Magnificat Institute Press (800-370-8201). 388 pages. $14.95.

St. Paul believed that one day the Jewish people would come home to their Messiah: “Now if their trespass means riches for the world…how much more will their full inclusion mean!… If their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Rom. 11:12-15).

The journey of a Jewish person into the Catholic Church can be glorious even as it is fraught with difficulty, confusion, and a thousand questions. Most Jews face opposition from family members, who consider conversion a rejection of one’s people. There has been an increasing number of books and apostolates to help such Jews on their journey, and Second Exodus is the latest to help them along their way. Barrack, a Jew who married a Catholic and twenty years later himself became a Catholic, asked endless questions during his own walk to the Cross. This book incorporates his major questions and the answers he found.

Second Exodus begins with a brief introduction, followed by these straightforward propositions: (1) God exists, (2) Jesus is His Messiah, and (3) of all of the denominations professing Him, only the Catholic Church teaches with His true authority. Barrack’s approach is classic apologetics. By the third chapter, Barrack invites his Jewish readers to meet God in the Persons of the Holy Trinity, and follows with an introduction to the Blessed Mother, the saints, and angels in the fourth chapter, which is lovingly entitled “Meet the Family.” In succeeding chapters, Barrack illuminates the sacramental life of the Church (the chapter on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is worth the price of the book) and God’s unchanging moral law (which he defends vigorously and joyfully). NOR readers will especially appreciate his insightful wrap-up chapter on the spiritual battle currently raging between the Church and Satan.

Barrack addresses the reader as an intimate friend, and guides him through the vast expanse of salvation history. Time and again, Barrack uses powerful images that stick in the mind long after the book has been closed: “We cannot break a covenant. We break ourselves against a covenant by violating it.”

From beginning to end, Barrack’s zest for the Catholic Church shines through, as does his love for his Jewish brethren. He aptly demonstrates that the Jew who becomes Catholic is not giving up anything but is claiming his rightful inheritance and completing his own Judaism. Second Exodus is a romance with our Shepherd, and Catholic teaching is carefully placed within its Jewish setting like a diamond in a wedding ring. Any Catholic would do well to read this book, since one cannot truly know the Holy Catholic Faith without understanding its Jewish roots.

As someone who is married to a Jew who recently converted, I know that Jewish conversions are delicate and often painful, and each soul on the journey has a great need to interact with others who have traversed the same terrain. To facilitate such interaction, this “living book” has its own website for those who seek answers to the many questions that are bound to surface upon reading it (www.secondexodus.com). No less an authority than Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., wrote the foreword to Second Exodus, concluding it with these words: “This volume by Martin Barrack deserves wide circulation.”

- Leila Miller



The Word Has Been Abroad. A Guide Through Balthasar’s Aesthetics.  By Aidan Nichols, O.P. Catholic University of America Press. 268 pages. $23.95.

This book, by one of Britain’s best known theological writers, is the first in an “Introduction to Hans Urs von Balthasar” series being published by Catholic University of America Press. Here Nichols has set himself the task of guiding us through the often difficult seven-volume Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, Balthasar’s vast work on a vast subject: the beauty of God. With this very good book, Nichols has done us a great service.

He begins with a useful introduction to Balthasar, sketching his life and career and mentioning those who most influenced his theology. Nichols’s first chapter, “The Fate of Beauty,” reflects on Balthasar’s lament at the turning away from beauty as a transcendental attribute of Being and highlights his determination to develop not just an aesthetic theology but a theological aesthetics which attends to the beauty of the absolute. Two chapters are then devoted to Seeing the Form (the first of the seven volumes of Glory of the Lord). This lingering by Nichols is helpful, given Balthasar’s own recognition that most readers tend to focus on that first volume as the “form” of his theology of beauty. The “content” of that theology is then explicated, with Nichols devoting one chapter to each of the remaining six volumes.

The two chapters on Seeing the Form deal, first, with the subjective conditions for a perception of beauty and, second, with what is to be perceived. Nichols summarizes Balthasar’s theory of beauty and points out the analogy Balthasar sees between natural beauty and supernatural beauty, between natural forms and Jesus Christ as the form of forms. Nichols rightly shows how Balthasar’s theological aesthetics respects the structures of metaphysics, or (as Nichols puts it) that supernatural piety presupposes a piety of Being. Nichols’s succeeding chapters follow the outline of Balthasar’s project: to study 12 figures who exemplify the richness of the theological-aesthetic reading of divine revelation in the Christian tradition, to trace the emergence and partial occlusion of the metaphysical preconditions of such a reading, and to end with a return to the two Testaments of the Scriptures as the source of theological renewal.

The first group of seminal figures is introduced in chapter four, a fine summary of Balthasar’s reception of Irenaeus, Augustine, Denys, Anselm, and Bonaventure. The second group of stars in Balthasar’s theological sky appears in chapter five. Here we are offered an excellent treatment of Balthasar’s appreciation of Dante, John of the Cross, Pascal, Hamann, Soloviev, Hopkins, and Péguy.

The treatment of metaphysics in the realm of antiquity in chapter six reminds us of the philosophical studies Balthasar undertook while working on his doctorate. Chapter six ends with the recognition that, for Balthasar, Aquinas stands at the axis of ancient and modern metaphysics, and the first part of chapter seven is devoted to metaphysics and mysticism from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period. It takes us from Balthasar’s fascination with Aquinas through the dangers of Scotism and the message of Eckhart. Yet, Balthasar is sympathetic to Eckhart’s idea of abandonment, which he sees salvaged from sub-Christian misinterpretation in a range of spiritual writers from Tauler to Jean Pierre de Caussaude. Here we also find a study of the abandonment theme in female mystics from Angela of Foligno to Catherine of Genoa.

Finally, turning with Balthasar to the Old and New Testaments, Nichols tells us that, for Balthasar, the three ideas of biblical aesthetics are glory, image, and grace. If the Old Testament speaks of man as God’s image and of the grace of the Covenant, the New Testament announces the new and everlasting Covenant established in Jesus Christ as God’s own Image and the supreme epiphany of God’s Glory. While Balthasar acknowledges a transformation of the idea of God’s glory from the Pentateuch to the Johannine writings, he concludes that the steps along the way belong to a whole.

The Word Has Been Abroad is an excellent guide through the dense and lush growth of Balthasar’s thought on aesthetics.

- Thomas G. Dalzell





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