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Having Life in His Name: Living, Thinking …

28 March, 2012

This book, a festschrift in honour of recently retired Professors Tom Norris and Michael Mullins at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, gathers thoughts of their colleagues on significant aspects of the living, understanding and communication of Christian faith in the challenging context that has emerged for the Church and faith today. The scholars come from a wide variety of disciplines and contexts so that what we have in the book is a rich and broad conspectus of themes and approaches on making sense of the gift of Christian faith today.


Brendan Leahy is professor of theology at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. A von Balthasar scholar, he is involved in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. Séamus O’Connell is Professor of Sacred Scripture at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and an expert on the Gospel of Mark.  



1. From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Reflections on Human Origins — Brendan Purcell
2. Discovering the Gospel of Life: The Role of Scripture in Moral Reflection — Pádraig Corkery
3. Johannine Spirituality — Edmond Cullinan
4. Eucharist and Adoration — Paul McPartlan
5. The Right of the Christian Faithful to Spirituality in Canon 214 — Kevin O’Gorman
6. Mary as the Sacramental Matrix of Ecclesial Personhood in Christ — Oliver Treanor

7. A Luminousness of Explanation which is New’: A Fresh Presentation Of Faith? — Anthony Kelly
8. The Twentieth Century’s Contribution to Trinitarian Theology — Piero Coda
9. Two Approaches to Scepticism — Martin Henry
10. The Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God: New Perspectives — Sara Butler
11. Mathematics and the Mind of God: Emile Boutroux’s Account of Mathematical Laws — Michael A. Conway
12. Hiems Transiit: Song of Songs 2:8-17 and Some of its Readers — Brendan McConvery

13. ‘The Word is Very Near to You’ (Deut 3 :14): The Word that Makes Alive in Moses and Paul — Seamus O’Connell
14. Theology of Beauty: A Way to Unity? — Archbishop Bruno Forte
15. ‘Reaping a rich harvest of humanity’: Images of Redemption in Irish Bardic Religious Poetry — Salvador Ryan
16. The Presence of Jesus Among People as a Pastoral Principle — From the Experience of Bishop Klaus Hemmerle to Small Christian Communities — Wilfried Hagemann
17. The Teaching of Religion — A Resource for Europe — James Cassin
18. ‘Mystery, Communion and Mission’: A Summary Formula for Evangelisation — Brendan Leahy


296 pp. Veritas Publications. to purchase this book online, go to www.veritas.ie


The Gospel that Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed put down its roots in Ireland a long time ago, giving rise to a lively Christian tradition. But in recent times, with church scandals and the complex dynamics of secularisation, a serious crisis of the meaning of the Christian faith and of belonging to the Church has emerged.

No trite formula can capture the extent and depth of the issues raised. But one common voice heard behind the many cries of our times is the call for those who call themselves Christian and who minister in the name of Jesus Christ to manifest the authentic message above all through the life they lead. After all, when Jesus proclaimed ‘I have come to evangelise’ he was telling us that he had come to indicate the path of life. Indeed, he showed himself to be the path of life.

Pope Benedict has compared the situation the Church is reliving today with the experience of the Apostles. Mindful of the needs of thousands of people who wanted to follow Jesus, the question Jesus put to them was: what can we do for all these people? Aware of their powerlessness, the apostles felt unable to respond. And yet Jesus himself showed them that with faith in God nothing is impossible and that a few loaves and fish, blessed and shared, could satisfy the hunger of all. Today, the hunger experienced by people is not solely for material food: there is a deeper hunger that only God can satisfy: ‘Human beings of the third millennium want an authentic, full life; they need truth, profound freedom, love freely given. Even in the deserts of the secularised world, our soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

The title of this book is taken from John 20:31, ‘that we might have life in his name’. At the end of the gospel of John, we hear these words as a reminder to us that Jesus is not only ‘the Resurrected One’, he is for all of us ‘the Resurrection and the life’. This book wants to explore aspects of the life that opened up in the event of Jesus Christ who continues to journey among us. The Christian life, of course, is one of faith and reason. Indeed a ‘thinking’ faith is essential for Christians and never more so than in a secularised age. Not only is it a ‘thinking faith’, it is also a life that seeks spontaneously to ‘communicate’ what it has seen and touched, heard and lived (cf. 1 Jn 1:1-3). The chapters of this book, therefore, are divided under three headings suggested by the interplay of faith and reason in the Christian life: living in his name, thinking the Christian life of faith, and communicating the Christian life in Christ.

LIVING IN HIS NAME. The first section is entitled `Living in his Name’. BRENDAN PURCELL opens up with an extensive reflection on human origins. He presents the seven steps of existence, from created beings to uncreated Being, suggesting that each lower level offers itself as a ‘gift’ to the next higher level. The Big Bang of astrophysics, he writes, gives rise to two questions: one within the natural sciences and the other ontological. With the help of Aristotle, Aquinas and a wide range of contemporary writers and researchers, he brings us through the ontological and interpersonal questions that arise, contending that what it is to be a person is grounded in divine personhood.

Inspired in particular by the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s document, The Bible and Morality: Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct, PADRAIG CORKERY outlines six criteria proposed by the Commission as essential tools for identifying the various kinds of moral norms in the Bible and their respective significance. He does so on the basis of a biblical Christian anthropology. He looks at how some contemporary Church documents employ scripture in moral arguments such as ecology.

EDMOND CULLINAN leads us in a meditative consideration of Johannine spirituality, highlighting the themes of Incarnation, Trinity, Unity and Discipleship. In this light, he reflects on the place of Mary, the sacraments, liturgy and prayer. He concludes that the Johannine spirituality of communion is particularly apt for our times.

Drawing upon a comment made by Pope Benedict XVI during the World Youth Day held in Germany, PAUL MCPARTLAN alerts us to the danger of stopping half-way at the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, without pressing on to understand that he is present in order to be received, so as to transform us into his body, the Church, and to enlist us in his purpose of transforming the whole world. McPartlan proposes elements that might have a privileged place in an ‘updated’ adoration and worship of the Lord in the Eucharist.

In his contribution, KEVIN O’GORMAN seeks to explore the provenance and constituent parts of the ‘right to spirituality’ set out in Canon 214 of the Code of Canon Law — The Christian faithful have the right to follow their own form of spiritual life so long as it is consonant with the doctrine of the Church’ — with a view to interpreting its underlying principles and ultimate prescriptions. He shows how the right referred to in Canon 214 may be interpreted as a right to a spirituality that both flows from and fosters the communio of all the Christian faithful with the divine Trinity, with each another and with the rest of humankind.

Considering together the themes of Mary’s personhood, ecclesial identity and sacramental, OLIVER TREANOR proposes one finds in their correlation important consequences for what in Christ it means to be human. Mary, he concludes, is a model as she is the one who has attained the created perfection that every human being is created to attain in the heart of the Trinity.

THINKING THE CHRISTIAN LIFE OF FAITH. In the first article of the second section of the book, the Australian theologian ANTHONY KELLY, referring to the writings of Eric Voegelin, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Bernard Longeran, reflects on what might be involved in a fresh presentation of faith, proposing how a phenomenology of the Christ-event can contribute to a more adequate theological method.

Italian theologian PIERO CODA’S contribution begins with a brief review of twentieth-century Trinitarian theology and moves on to consider the task that lies ahead. Coda proposes the truth of the Triune God is one that ‘happens’ in our being and thinking ‘in Christ’. The challenge, therefore, is that of journeying while dwelling in this place where our living and thinking in love blossoms and grows.

In his article, MARTIN HENRY notes that while placing a high value on truth, Christianity itself has in a way courted the attentions of scepticism almost from the start. It is the role scepticism plays in the writings of two very different nineteenth-century figures, John Henry Newman and Franz Overbeck, both of whom thought deeply about the meaning of Christianity in the modern world, that his article seeks to examine.

In her contribution, SARA BUTLER examines the writings of Richard Bauckham, Maxwell E. Johnson and David. G. Hunter, showing their relevance to the claim that belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity belongs to the apostolic tradition and so inviting a rediscovery of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

MICHAEL A. CONWAY writes on the work of Emile Boutroux (18451921), whose original work on the laws of nature had an enormous influence on a whole generation of intellectuals that would include Henri Bergson, Maurice Blondel, Henri Poincaré and Pierre Duhem. He was the first to challenge the rapidly expanding idea of determinism with nature that was slowly eroding the legitimacy of any independent discourse on, say, freedom, morality, or religion. Conway shows how Boutroux’s study of the laws of nature makes an important contribution to clarifying the epistemological status of natural laws, and in particular mathematical laws, for the contemporary mind.

One of the best-known moral texts of Jewish Hellenism is the Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides. It is considered an ideal source with which to examine the moral world of the Greek-speaking diaspora. While it wears its Jewish identity lightly, its moral perspective is unmistakably that of the Decalogue and the Wisdom writings. In his essay, BRENDAN MCCONVERY explores some of the main points of contact between Pseudo-Phocylides and the moral values of the New Testament.

COMMUNICATING LIFE IN CHRIST. The third section is dedicated to ‘Communicating Life’. In his contribution, SEAMUS O’CONNELL explores the dynamics of one way of believing, what he calls a ‘struggling surrender’ to hear an initially elusive word, a struggling to hear a word from within. He proposes that if the word within is not heard, or sought, then what is heard in hearing God’s word risks being merely a projection of oneself and ultimately something oppressive, enslaving and destructive, rather than a word which is gentle, liberating, life-filled and alive-making.

Drawing on Augustine, Aquinas and Orthodox writers, the Italian theologian, ARCHBISHOP BRUNO FORTE advocates a rediscovery of the aesthetic dimension of the Christian message as an encouragement and a help on the journey of commitment to unity and a way to announce God today.

Multiple metaphors and models have been employed over the centuries to illustrate the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross and its effects on humanity. SALVADOR RYAN examines Irish bardic religious poetry as one particular genre of late medieval religious literature, in order to demonstrate how a range of models of redemption could continue to coexist in a complex pattern of passion narratives.

WILFRIED HAGEMANN, a German pastoral theologian, writes on the presence of Jesus among people as a principle of pastoral life. He refers in particular to the late theologian and bishop Klaus Hemmerle and the recent development in Germany of small Christian communities, a project based on the Word of God lived by small groups within parishes or local areas.

Education has always been a central concern for the Church. In his article, JAMES CASSIN reports on some recent research on the teaching of religion in schools in Europe, an initiative of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences with the operational and financial support of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. The teaching of religion in Europe has many expressions and may be considered as an interesting laboratory for inter-confessional and inter-religious dialogue, as well as for themes of an ethical character to do with civil co-existence.

In view of the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, BRENDAN LEAHY reflects on the horizons presented by the Council for the evangelising activities of the Church. He proposes that the interrelated themes of mystery, communion and mission are a summary formula for evangelisation, holding together various approaches to the Church’s evangelising activities. He also explores how this summary formula finds its focus in imitation and love of Jesus crucified and forsaken.

We are grateful to the contributors for sharing with us their valuable research and reflection. We know they have done so in recognition of how Professors Thomas Norris and Michael Mullins throughout their academic and pastoral careers have opened God’s word in a way that has brought hope and light to countless people of faith in Ireland and beyond.’ This work celebrates and honours their commitment to living, thinking and communicating the Christian faith among God’s people.

Brendan Leahy and Seamus O’Connell



James Cassin is a priest of Ossory diocese and executive secretary of the Department of Catholic Education and Formation of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

Contemporary Europe is characterised by rapid change resulting in social, cultural and religious transformation. In this context, the Church committed to continue improving its dedication to school education as an effective presence in the service of the younger generations. While there are difficulties today, these can be new opportunities to be grasped In particular, religious education is indispensable as a key part of the Church’s witness to the gospel. It provides an opportunity for the Church in her commitment to the care of people and to the formation of her members and others to become full and active citizens of Europe.

In this article I want to report on recent research on the teaching religion in schools in Europe that took place between January 2005 and November 2007. The research project was an initiative of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) with the operational financial support of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI). CCEE assured the involvement of the European Catholic Churches in the project thereby stimulated an effective shared commitment to the project.

A key objective of the project was to encourage the Catholic Christian communities — the national churches — to follow a common road regarding issues related to religious education, and to bring together their points of view and their experiences. A steering group representative of the Catholic churches in Europe was set up to supervise and monitor the research. Bishops’ Conferences of Europe nominated the personnel of the pro. The following were the key aims of the research project:

• To gather information on the different approaches to religious education in European countries;
• To bring about ecclesial cooperation at a European level with regard to religious education;
• To create a network of people who would provide for an ongoing exchange of knowledge, experiences and studies in the area of religious knowledge.

The project followed the method of action research. This accounts for its originality with respect to other investigations that are under way or have been carried out by study centres, universities and experts in various fields. The intention of this research was not to substitute for such scholarship but to enrich and enhance the work of religious education in the European Catholic churches.

As a result of the research project, a network of people capable of interlinking experiences in religious education of the different churches of Europe was identified. The ‘national reports’ compiled by the churches’ delegates produced a picture of what is taking place with regard to religious education in European schools. A summary framework was prepared by the staff of the project and discussed at the plenary sessions of the delegates to the project.

The information found in the framework document reveals a greater interest in the qualitative over the quantitative aspect of religious education. The intention was to ascertain the opinion of the Catholic churches of Europe, and thus to build a gradual convergence of intent, while maintaining clarity on the diversity of context. What was sought was not so much classificatory rigour, but rather the thoughts and evaluations from the churches involved in the project. What became evident was the diversity with regard to religious education provision that exists in the Catholic churches of Europe.

The national reports, while they differ in presentation style and content, offer a wealth of data. The survey grid itself was not interpreted consistently by the national delegates who carried out the task. A table synopsising the vast amount of information collected from the national churches on the topic was drawn up by the staff of the project and agreed by the national delegates. This allows for a ‘transversal reading’ of the data gathered. All of the materials of the project together with commentaries from specialists in the field of religious education are gathered in a book entitled, L’insegnamento della religione risorsa per L’Europa: Atti delta ricerca del Consiglio della conferenza episcopali d’europa (The Teaching of Religion — A Resource for Europe: Acts of the research of the Counsel of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe) (1). An accompanying DVD presents the research materials in English, French and German. This volume represents a unique reference work and is an important tool for all with an interest in religious education in Europe.

To conclude the work of the survey, the project team prepared a summary report of the research entitled, Final Document — Synthesis and Perspectives — The Teaching of Religion, A Resource for Europe. This reflects the national reports and the collegial work of the project team over a two-year period (2006-2008). The final document highlights the conclusions reached by the delegates of the European churches, and includes reflections and themes that emerged in the research.

In particular, this final document proposes to the Catholic communities of Europe considerations of special importance concerning the commitment to religious education in schools. It proposes religious education as a valuable resource for the young generations and for the construction of European society.

The final document was prepared as a draft by the staff of the project, circulated to the delegates of the European churches, and amended accordingly. At the last meeting of the project, language groups were formed to facilitate mutual understanding, listening and sharing of sensitivities. Despite many differences of opinion, the final document was approved by the delegates to the project.

The summary document, together with the research materials, were presented to CCEE and through it to the churches of Europe not so much as a point of arrival, but rather as a point of departure in ecclesial cooperation, commitment to evangelisation and care for the person, all of which are supported and enhanced by religious education in schools.

In the final document, the project delegates recall that the Catholic Church of Europe is aware of the need to develop a deeper understanding of the many ways of teaching religion in schools in different countries, with their different opportunities and perspectives.

These are the key factors which, according to the final document, explain the similarities and the differences. These factors include the place given to the recognition of religion in a pluralist and secularised society; the attitude of legislators with regard to the religions; the attitude of  Catholics to the culture in which they live; the manner in which people relate to the Church as an institution; the quality of the witness of believers; and their credibility.

The document notes that maturation in faith of the new generations is one of the areas in which the Church continues to invest great energy. As John Paul II wrote, ‘Every generation, with its own mentality and characteristics, is like a new continent to be won for Christ.” Accordingly, now is the time to welcome and accompany young people, respecting, valuing and loving them, so that they can learn to live in communion with themselves and others, in the Church and in society. And it is important to remember that the Church has always considered the school as an important locus for her evangelising mission. From an analysis of the reports of the different Episcopal conferences, key areas have emerged requiring deeper reflection.

In the final document, the teaching of religion in the evangelising mission of the Church is treated under three headings: the teaching of religion and catechesis; the teaching of religion in relation to the family and the parish; the teaching of religion in Catholic schools.

In addressing the teaching of religion in today’s Europe, the document concerns itself with the following issues:
a) Teaching of religion and the common good;
b) How knowledge of the specific religious traditions, of their history, and the educational methods adopted in the service of comparison and dialogue provide a useful contribution to the social and civic formation of the person in Europe, and to his/her conscious and proactive participation in the society of today and tomorrow;
c) Europe and the unsympathetic response to religious education in the curriculum.

What emerges is that the teaching of religion can only achieve its purpose when there are firm institutional and juridical guarantees, when religious education has full academic recognition and inclusion in the curriculum; when religion as a subject is offered to all; when coherent and credible alternatives to religion as a subject are provided; and when there exists an evaluation that is both recognised and efficient.

The research highlighted the importance of the professional competence and witness of teachers. Religion teachers find themselves in different situations in the different countries of Europe with regard to the recognition of their studies, their appointment by the State (as is also the case with the teachers of the other subjects), their salaries and academic workload. These conditions determine their place in the academic enterprise. The Catholic churches of Europe wish to affirm and value religion teachers, to whom the Christian community is vitally linked. She is concerned that they be professionally qualified for their teaching role, and be able to fulfil their mission as credible witnesses within the ecclesial community.

Special attention needs to be given by the churches of Europe to the choice, formation and updating of teachers of religion. They should be offered special spiritual accompaniment and courses of ongoing formation which take account of new programmes, new technologies and flexibility of work timetables etc. There is also need for the formation of groups and associations in which they can dialogue about the themes of their spirituality and professionalism, and on the content of their teaching.

The teaching of religion in Europe takes place in the context of relationships between the different Christian churches/ecclesial communities and the different religions. This is the case both with regard to the institutional aspects — the involvement and cooperation between the different groups — and with regard to the content of the teaching.

It is the very characteristic of religion teaching to influence the total educational process towards the development of the whole person. In that way it lessens the danger of limiting education to the professional requirements of the Labour market.

For these reasons the teaching of religion in Europe in its many expressions may be seen as a laboratory of great interest for inter-confessional and inter-religious dialogue, as well as for themes of an ethical character that give life to civil co-existence. One may imagine the teaching of religion as a locus in which diversities meet and engage each other in a special way. This encounter happens in a perspective of mutual and substantial openness, a perspective which is not without problems and difficulties.

In view of the information gathered in the course of this research, delegates from the European churches concluded by highlighting the following:

I. The need to value the role of the family in supporting the teaching of religion, recalling, as Vatican II taught, the primary and inalienable educative responsibility of parents, and the rights of children and young people to religious formation.

II. The commitment of the Church to improve continuously its dedication to the world of the school as an effective presence in the service of the younger generations. The difficulties of today (institutional, cultural) should not discourage, but should provide new opportunities to be grasped.

III. The conviction that the teaching of religion can be proposed to students, independently of their choice of faith, and with respect for their liberty of conscience. This teaching is best offered, in the European context, in a spirit of ecumenical collaboration and should be open to inter-religious dialogue.

IV. With the differences noted in the various countries, the form of religion teaching which best suits the world of today is that which has a ‘confessional content’, since this puts one in dialogue with a living religion which has real significance for the existence of each person.

V. There is a need of shared occasions of real encounter in the Catholic churches of Europe. Such encounter could comprehensively re-think the initial formation and the service of religion teachers, in light of the changes that are taking place. Such encounters would have the further value of highlighting the valuable service which teachers of religion render both to Church and society.

VI. It is important that the Episcopal Conferences of Europe continue to provide opportunities for ‘networking’ concerning some concrete objectives, e.g. the establishment of a permanent observatory on the teaching of religion in Europe, the sharing of important experiences on some crucial points (ecumenical and inter-religious co-operation, intercultural dialogue, the possibilities for working with states, presenting the views of religious communities…)

1. Conferenza Episcopate Italiana servizio nazionale per PIRG (ed.), L’insegnamento delta religione risorsa per Europa: Atti della ricerca del Consiglio dells conferenze episcopali d’europa (Leumann, Turin: Elledici, 2008).
2. The Pope in Ireland: Addresses and Homilies (Dublin: Veritas, 1979), 52.

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