Emmanuel: The dominant theme of Fr. Spitzer’s third volume on happiness
The third volume of Fr. Robert Spitzer’s quartet on happiness, suffering and transcendence is now available. Those who have followed the progress of this impressive initiative will recall that the first volume explored the nature of human happiness and concluded that our greatest happiness is transcendent in character. Then, in the second volume, Fr. Spitzer explained the strong evidence that that we humans are, in fact, transcendent beings whose deepest yearnings are oriented toward love.
In this new volume, entitled God So Loved the World, the author addresses a major unresolved issue. The first two volumes exhausted what we can know on our own about our transcendent nature and destiny, and yet they left us with further questions. The purpose of the third volume, then, is to demonstrate that the Revelation of Jesus Christ responds perfectly to these unanswered questions. Subtitled “Clues to Our Transcendent Destiny from the Revelation of Jesus”, this volume accomplishes three tasks: (1) It establishes the human need for Revelation and for “Emmanuel” (God-with-us); (2) It reviews the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth is in fact this Revelation and this Emmanuel; and (3) It explores how Jesus described and facilitated our transcendent destiny.
God So Loved the World is in some ways an interesting experiment. If we make the reasonable assumption that most of the readers of this quartet are going to be Christians who are already deeply committed to the Revelation of Jesus Christ, then the material in this volume will be far more familiar than that in the first two. Yet Fr. Spitzer uses the same systematic approach in setting forth his Christian thesis that he used to present the philosophical and scientific issues which marked the development of the first two volumes.
In this case, the chief point of interest in volume three will be not so much what the author presents, but how he presents Our Lord and Savior as a response to the needs and questions raised in the earlier volumes. The “Emmanuel” theme, for example, fits perfectly with the groundwork he has already laid, and so becomes highly significant for the thesis as a whole. Well-grounded Christians can easily skim through this material, but if familiarity reduces interest, then the power of the work will be somewhat diminished.
On the other hand, if it proves that Fr. Spitzer’s quartet draws great attention from those who are seeking but have not yet found, then the systematic treatment of the Christian message—explicitly focused to respond to the questions raised by the previous volumes—will benefit substantially from the 400 pages used to get its important point across. It goes without saying that we are to hope the books will be used widely by both groups of people, but the third volume will have greater potential power for those who have not yet embraced the Christian message.
Overview and high points
The topics covered in the book’s seven chapters provide a strong suggestion of Fr. Spitzer’s method: The supremacy of love; the unconditional love of God; the unconditional love of Jesus; Resurrection and history; Jesus’ miracles and Spirit; Jesus’ identity and mission; and our transcendent destiny. The book concludes by summarizing “our journey to transcendence” through the first three volumes, and what remains to be covered in the fourth.
God So Loved the World offers two remarkable appendices, which should be of considerable interest to all but the most well-informed Catholics. The second appendix is devoted to providing a significant, if necessarily limited, understanding of the central mysteries of the Christian Faith. The headings are “Divine Nature versus Divine Person”, “Making Sense of the Trinity”, and “Making Sense of the Incarnation.”
But for those who do not need a further explication of these mysteries—which will surely include a significant portion of the audience of CatholicCulture.org—it is the first and far larger appendix that will be the “grabber”. Here Fr. Spitzer provides a thoroughly up-to-date treatment of the Shroud of Turin, taking into account all of the historical and scientific evidence relevant to the question of its authenticity. It is as a scientist and a philosopher that Fr. Spitzer has done his most engaging apologetical work (see for example my two part review of his extraordinarily valuable book in 2010, New Proofs for the Existence of God). This new volume’s appendix on the Shroud rises to the same standard.
The Shroud of Turin also gives Fr. Spitzer an opportunity to use uniquely compelling contemporary evidence for the truth that Jesus Christ really is Emmanuel, God-with-us. While Christian faith in no way depends on the authenticity of the Shroud, the Shroud’s claim to authenticity puts questions about God and Christ in a form that modern culture can understand. The Shroud makes it far more difficult for people to remain disengaged for reasons of chronological prejudice. This is the very serious prejudice in the modern world by which we have learned to dismiss as irrelevant old questions with old answers.
Fr. Spitzer closes the main text of God So Loved the World with a quotation from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, a quotation which ends with these words:
For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Rm 8:38-39]
This, of course, is precisely what Fr. Spitzer has been aiming for, the culmination of human transcendence, and all the evidence for it, in an unbreakable bond of Divine love. But the chief objection will be wholly predictable: How can we say that God loves us when He either causes or permits so much pain and evil in the world? This is actually a fair question. It explains why the last volume of this astonishing quartet will be devoted to suffering.
Review of Volume 2: How do we know we are transcendent beings?
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