By BRIAN WICKER
Man, Culture and Christianity
by Giles Hibbert OP (Sheed and Ward 27s, 6d)
THE book is the result of lectures given to the Coventry Newman Association in 1966, and it still bears at times the marks of its origins. The tone is conversational. One can almost hear the questions that were raised, the qualifications that would have been made in discussion and elaboration. This is not a criticism of the book, since it is clearly designed to raise as many questions as it answers.
Its purpose is limited and clear: to present a modern style of theological thinking to an audience whose presuppositions are those of "old style" Roman Catholicism. If this puts it in a very large class of modem books, it also witnesses to a continuing need and demand. If Fr. Hibbert does not contribute anything very new, he presents many familiar conceptions— familiar. that is, to readers habituated to contemporary theological discourse—in a useful and coherent way without alienating sympathy by the use of unnecessary jargon.
One way of describing his book would he to say that it is a short, introductory tour round the perimeter of a new theological encampment. The contents of the encampment are those familiar to the readers of New Blackirkirs. Slant and similar publications: continental phenomenology, Marx, the lit
erary criticism of Leavis and his successors, the socialist cultural critique of Hoggart and Williams, the theology of "salvation history," The danger, by now, is that the encampment will become a fortification against outsiders, even a party-line Fr. Hibbert does not explore the dangers of this very deeply. But he tells interested tourists what the encampment is like and why it had to be put there.
In view of the continuing argument about the status of "radical" theology this is an important function. If he says things that will encourage his listeners to object, explore, and react he will have done a good job.
However, he has one important contribution to make that is new: namely, the re-interpretation of the contemplative, or mystical tradition in Catholicism. One has had the impression hitherto that the "radicals" are not very interested in this and have been content to label the mystics "individualist."
Fr. Hibbert gives us, in tantalising glimpses, a new "slant" on all this. He seems to think that by placing the mystics properly in their own historical and cultural context they can be made relevant to the "radical" theology. St. Augustine, like St. Thomas, is not a bogey, but an ally, he suggests. He says enough, by hints and allusions, to make us await with impatience the major work which we hope will prove his point in detail and thus add a new dimension to radical thinking.