An Introduction to the Contemporary Catholic Church
- ISBN: 9780415719438
- Published By: Routledge
- Published: June 2014
The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination and, at least according to its own documentation, consists of more than 1.2 billion men and women. In his book Catholicism Today, Evyatar Marienberg, not himself a Catholic, “intends to familiarize [his] readers with Catholicism and Catholics” (1). Instead of detailed historical and systematic analyses of the development of Catholicism, however, Marienberg is content to describe the present state of things, and “focuses on the state of the Church since the [Second Vatican] Council” (2).
After a brief historical sketch on the development of Christianity in general, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular, Marienberg first provides a systematic overview of the key terms and essential features of the Catholic faith—starting with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan and Apostolic Creeds, and ending with reflections on the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption of Mary. Once Marienberg introduces these core elements of Catholicism, he then turns to an analysis of the ecclesiological structure of the Catholic Church, which he summarizes neatly as follows: “Many Catholic ecclesiologists today will state … that the Church is the ‘People of God,’ the ‘Body of Christ,’ and the ‘Temple of the Holy Spirit.’ In this, they will link the Trinitarian idea of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit to the very structure of the Church. Christ himself is at its head, and the Church, generally referred to as a ‘she’ is the People of God and the dwelling place of the Spirit” (51-52). Based on this self-understanding of the Catholic Church, Marienberg explains different aspects relating to the life of the Church, such as the difference between lay people and ordained men, the special role of the pope, and the essential features of the Institutes of Consecrated Life. Although at times, Marienberg’s treatment of these structures of the Roman Catholic Church could have been more systematic—and the lack of structured headings does not help—the reader gains a good overview of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. After the core of the Catholic faith and the ecclesiological structure of the Catholic Church, Marienberg turns to an analysis of Catholic rituals, in particular, to the seven sacraments and the various sacramentals that are at the heart of Catholic liturgical life. He deals with Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Confession, Matrimony, Ordination and the Anointing of the Sick, and illuminates the respective place and origin of the sacraments in liturgy, as well as the differences between the clergymen including deacons, priests, and bishops. In the next chapter, Marienberg deals with the Catholic calendar and the highlights of the liturgical year before, in the last chapter, providing an interesting treatment of some of the challenges meeting the Roman Catholic Church now and in the future—ranging from a lack of priests, to the question of whether the Church is likely to allow the ordination of women, from secularization to homosexuality and birth control, and from the sexual abuse of young people to the Church’s stance on Jews and Muslims. The book ends with an appendix on Eastern Catholics and Catholics in the United States of America.
According to Marienberg, Catholicism Today “is intended as a coherent and useful introduction for nonspecialists interested in the field” (6). It fully achieves its purpose and, being a Catholic myself, I did not only find nothing to disagree, but enjoyed the author’s external point of view on Catholicism. However, although this was outside the scope of the author, and thus can hardly be considered a criticism, the book would have benefitted from a deeper historic and systematic analysis of at least some of both the defining features of the Roman Catholic Church, and those features that lead to the various schisms still wounding the Church.
Benedikt Paul Göcke is on the faculty of theology and religion at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at the University of Oxford.Benedikt GöckeDate Of Review:October 13, 2017