The Spirit of Catholicism by Vivian Boland OP

VIVIAN BOLAND, Dominican friar and theologian, currently professor aggregate of Theology at Angelicum University in Rome, provided a thorough, lucid, and engaging introduction to the nature of the Church and the Catholic Faith. Like all the best introductory books, it is not only suitable for those seeking to familiarize themselves with Catholic teaching on topics such as the nature of the Church, Mary and the Eucharist, but it will also give new perspectives to the more experienced. theologians.

The breadth and depth of Boland’s attention to the Bible will be particularly appreciated by Anglicans. Scriptural references and analysis of biblical themes and motifs saturate the book. Saint Thomas Aquinas – naturally a crucial source for Boland – often provides the hermeneutical lens, but also, at key moments, the Protestant biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann.

Boland approvingly quotes Chesterton’s aphorism that St. Francis of Assisi “saved us from spirituality”, and central to this work is the perception that the Church is not merely spiritual, nor an abstract form (he doesn’t like “church” without the definite article), but an embodied community with a solidly physical sacramental life. The central definition is that of Saint Cyprian of Carthage, who describes it as “a people united by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”.

“The Catholic instinct”, writes Boland, “is above all to maintain unity, to continue to live in the communion which is the goal of the Church’s existence”. Here he contrasts with Protestant theology, which more emphatically emphasizes the exclusivity of, for example, faith in Christ or the authority of Scripture alone. In contrast, Catholicism tends to harmonize and avoid sharp polarities.

One example is the search for coordination between faith and reason, described by Pope John Paul II as “two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth”. Another is Boland’s subtle description of the relationship between the Church and the world. Since the Church is the sacrament of the unity of the human race, it both gives and receives from its social environment, and therefore cannot simply be a separatist counterculture. Yet he must nevertheless retain his prophetic side, and not “follow or accept anything, nor . . . pretending to be in sympathy where it is not the case”.

Perhaps the central part of the book is an in-depth reflection on the triple function of Christ as king, prophet and priest: a prominent theme, among others, in Newman’s writing and the Vatican II document. Lumen gentium. The three offices of Christ are reflected in an institutional-historical (royal) life of the Church, symbolized by Saint Peter; its intellectual-doctrinal (prophetic) aspect, whose guiding figure is Saint Paul, and its mystical-active (priestly) element, which mainly concerns Saint John. Corruption and fragmentation of the Christian body – tragedies of which Boland is acutely aware – tend, he says, to occur when these are not kept in balance, for “each of these aspects has the potential to become ill or to go crazy. ”

This very illuminating triple typology is sometimes pushed a little too far, but that should not discourage anyone in this beautiful book, perhaps in itself prophetic.


Ven. Dr Edward Dowler is Archdeacon of Hastings and priest in charge of St John’s, Crowborough, in the Diocese of Chichester.

The Spirit of Catholicism
Vivian Boland OP
Bloomsbury €16.99
(978-1-44117802-2)
Bookstore of the times of the church 17,99 €

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