John D. Groppe
Professor Emeritus of English, St. Joseph’s College, Rensselaer, Ind.
In the middle of the 20th century Catholic theological scholarship, especially biblical scholarship, broke free from its primarily catechetical handbook approach and looked again at the tradition received. Scholars questioned the validity of received ideas in the light of new sources and more reliable understandings of ancient languages and, therefore, of biblical texts. Various branches of theology developed a deeper and more accurate sense of history especially of the cultural influences on all aspects of the church. Catholicism was shaping European civilization, and at the same time European civilization was shaping the church, not always for the better in either case. Catholics in academia and ultimately in the pews recognized that many points of belief and liturgical practices did not come from the apostles and the early church.
Dr. Miller’s book is the fruit of a lifelong encounter with God in family life, in the liturgies and sacraments and as a teacher of theology. He respects the clear and simple received faith of his mother and others he encountered in growing up. but as a person with a questioning mind he sought a reason for the faith that he carried. He sought a faith to which he could give, in John Henry Newman’s terms, real assent, a full intellectual, spiritual, and felt assent to God, as distinguished from notional assent.
He considers a number of aspects of the received faith and offers what he calls modest proposals for viewing them in a new light. These include among others original sin, God’s creation of the human person and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the sacraments as part of eternal life, eternity not as an endless unfolding of moments but a single simultaneous moment, what God is like. In addition he offers insights on how the Bible works and suggestions for developing a prayer life.
His approach is not didactic, not argumentative, not triumphant. Nor is his book individualistic or idiosyncratic. It is conversational and reflective. He suggests that his readers join him and his wife on the deck of their Philadelphia suburban home for some wine and conversation as these ideas are best explored in a degree of intimacy with family, friends, and God. The chapters are somewhat freestanding, and so readers are invited to come to chat on more than one evening on the Miller’s deck and to contribute their own experiences and thoughts. They will be glad they accepted the Millers’ invitation.