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Book Review of Long Have I Loved You: A Theologian Reflects on His Church, Orbis Books, 2000, Walter J. Burghardt
by Ron Dart
WN: I so appreciate the wisdom of Professor Burghardt’s book seen in Ron Dart’s excellent review below. I love to discover new witnesses to joy and justice in the faith journey! Please see here for dozens more publications by this author.
There is, gratefully so, a movement afoot these days to return to the classical and Patristic form of contemplative theology (important to note the fact Hans Boersma won the theology book of the year award from Christianity Today, Boersma’s most recent books dealing with Patristic theology). There is, also, a counterforce towards a confessional and exegetical reformed and neocalvinist agenda (the recent publication by Iain Provan, The Reformation and the Right Reading of Scripture, speaks its own telling message, Provan turning on Boersma). The danger, of course, when such cultural cross currents occur is that one side of the tension is idealized and the other either demonized, caricatured or subordinated. There are books worth the reading many times on such topics, and a favourite of mine is Walter Burghardt’s Long Have I Loved You: A Theologian Reflects on His Church (obviously a riff off Augustine’s “Late Have I Loved You”).
There were few in the 20th century that had Burghardt’s depth and range in Patristic theology (he studied with the best of the scholars in the area), but he never unduly idealized, romanticized or froze such a period in history as the golden age in which the purest and finest phase of theology was done (the rest of history but a commentary on such a high season of theology). The 14 chapters in Long Have I Loved You discuss, in much depth and detail, both the appeal and limitations of the Patristic vision and ethos and the need for a mature theology to be in conversation with each phase and season of the epic faith journey as thought and imagination seeks to know God and the relationship of God to humanity and nature. Burghardt knows of what he speaks given the fact he was front and centre in the revival and renewal of the Patristic vision of contemplative theology and his many publications as listed in the lengthy “Appendix” testify to such a fact.
Burghardt often lamented that many forms, types and intellectual interpretations of Christianity are not much more than “homiletic pap and bromides”. The turn to responsible thinking was at the core and centre of Burghardt’s many years of teaching and multiple publications, Long Have I Loved You a literary and theological overview, with decided pastoral implications, for contemporary Christians. Certainly, in this era of ours in which a certain approach to the Patristics is either idealized or denigrated (the past being the best and most mature from which a decline has set in or a more progressive notion of history in which the past is seen as a more immature) Burghardt can offer a more dialogical and interactive approach in doing theology as theology has been done through the centuries of Christian thought and life.
I am often asked, if I was marooned on an island for a few years, what books would I want by my side? Long Have I Loved You is certainly on the upper shelf for me—a read of this full-bodied tome will certainly reveal a way of doing theology that is dynamic and critical, contemplative and pastoral, fully committed to the historic life of the church (amidst many reasons not to be). Indeed, it takes a mature mind and soul to stay the course and do so in a loyal and critical manner, always being guided by love.
May you all have a meaningful Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season.
Amor Vincit Omnia