A theological sterling publication

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On Tuesday 26 November 2019, the Faculty of Theology launched the recent publication of Rev. Dr John Berry, Dean of the Faculty. This very intriguing and academically valued volume bears the title: Yves Congar’s Vision of Faith.

Held under the patronage of H.E. Brigitte Curmi, French Ambassador to Malta, at the actual French Residence in Zebbug, the book launch was addressed by Prof. Dominic Fenech, Dean of the Faculty of Arts; Rev. Dr Carmel Tabone, O.P., senior lecturer at the Faculty of Economics, Management and Accountancy; and Rev. Dr René Camilleri, former Episcopal Vicar for Evangelisation and senior lecturer of the Faculty of Theology. The book launch was attended by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Galea Curmi, Prof. Alfred Vella, University Rector; Prof. Joseph Cacciottolo and Prof. Saviour Zammit, Pro-Rectors, and academics from the Faculty of Theology as well as other faculties.

In this book published by Gregorian and Biblical Press, Rev. Dr John Berry explores how the French Dominican adopted a historical method that incorporated the philosophical, theological and cultural movements of his time, and developed a vision of faith that embraces a thorough reflection regarding the totality of revelation in relation to humanity. Yves Congar’s Vision of Faith attempts to answer why and how Christian faith is possible in our times, characterised by a transition from a unitary culture of the medieval Catholic world to a secularised world. Echoing the actual words of Congar, the study concludes that Christian faith not only matters in a secularised world, but actually connects the life of God and humanity in history together.

There were three presentations which introduced this extensive research into the theological journey set out by Congar. In the first presentation, Rev. Dr Carmel Tabone, O.P., gave some very fine insights concerning who was Congar and his vision of faith. Père Congar was the one who lived fully the four pillars of the Dominican charisma of contemplare and contempalta aliis tradere, “to contemplate and to hand on to others the fruits of contemplation,” which are prayer, common life, study and preaching. Thus comments Rev. Tabone O.P:

Undoubtedly, Père Marie-Joseph lived to the full his Dominican vocation all the days of his life, and this helped him to mature his faith, and make him an outstanding theologian of faith. As a faithful member of the Order of Veritas he declared: “I have loved the truth as one is in love with a person.” He lived for the truth, to come to know it in contemplation through study and prayer, and to communicate it to others in his preaching, particularly in teaching theology and writing.

Père Marie-Joseph worked from 12 to 13 hours a day. His activity consisted mainly in reading, writing, and teaching. He had no time to loose and remained active until the end. We could apply to him what we say about St Dominic: ‘He spoke with God and about God’. As ‘Magister’ he could benefit from the dispensation from attendance to the common liturgy of the hours, the regular community prayer three or four times a day. He didn’t avail himself of this dispensation, he was always present in the choir to pray with his brethren. He was very disciplined and systematic, almost by nature, but he still found time to share in his community.

Commenting on Rev. Dr Barry’s book Rev. Dr Tabone OP said: Much has been written about this famous theologian of the 20th century. However Berry’s approach is original. The exploration of Congar’s vision of faith was never addressed in such depth as has been done in this meticulous piece of research. It is a book easy and pleasant to read because its writing style is also fluent and articulate. It instigates us to question, explore and understand, our faith, our life and our role in society and in the Church.

The second presentation was the one given by Prof. Dominic Fenech. Contextualising this great Dominican theological giant within a “France [that] was an ambiguous place for any ecclesiastic in the best of times, Prof. Fenech praised Congar’s long-suffering loyalty to his Church. In fact, his acute suffering for what he believed in the long run paid off, because in the end it was the Church that came round to catching up with him. The arrival of the good pope Roncalli, as John XXIII, threw wide open the windows of the Church to let in the wind of reform, at a time when the world was going through more cultural upheaval, threatening its continuing relevance, especially among the younger generation. Pope John XXIII ascendancy to the papacy saw Congar passing from a suspect on probation to nothing less than the pope’s own consultant.

Regarding Rev. Berry’s publication Prof. Fenech said: Like a modern-day Erasmus, Congar spent his life navigating the thin line between obedience and dissidence, grappling with dogma and the ecclesiastical establishment until at length the historical moment arrived for the Church to acknowledge the urgency of renewal. I have a hunch that John Berry is himself no stranger to that thin line, judging from the way he expertly unravels and deconstructs the long theological journey of his subject, with great insight, and more than a little empathy.

Continuing on the same lines of Congar’s historical context and theological thought, as outlined earlier by Prof. Fenech, Rev. Dr René Camilleri observed that Congar’s vision of faith was too often tested, not by a world becoming secularised and unbelieving, but by those who should have instead shared his vision within the church itself. Rev. Camilleri went on by saying that Congar’s vision of faith was the answer to a question which was not yet being posed by the officialdom of his time. He knew very well what type of theology was mainstream then. He had already recovered the basic theological notions that in turn shaped the renewal and reform of theology and the church in the 20th century. His weight is all over the place in the Conciliar documents on the church, on God’s presence in history, on unity in the church, and on mission.

Congar’s vision of faith remains fresh and life giving because it was only what Christianity in reality should have stood for. His witnesses were the Fathers and the Mystics of the church. Like them, and with equivalent boldness, he kept uncovering the lie the church was living until his vision made its way to revolutionise the church’s agenda for the 21st century.

After all can we think of the Church without the need for a true reform, the role of lay people, [and] a theology that needs to be historical? Rev. Dr. Camilleri concluded: What I consider outstanding in his vision of faith is the fact that in theologising, his standpoint is not that of the institution but of the people.

You, as one of God’s People, the Church, who are searching, now you have the opportunity to find a thorough research which reframes your questioning and helps you express your inner desires for a more relevant faith which engages the here and now of reality. Here is your long-awaited publication Yves Congar’s Vision of Faith’s by Rev. Dr John Berry.

One may obtain a copy of Yves Congar’s Vision of Faith at the price of €28 from the Faculty of Theology at theology@um.edu.mt or from the author at john.berry@um.edu.mt.

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

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