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John J. Markey (O.P.), MAKING SENSE OF MYSTERY - A PRIMER ON THEOLOGICAL THINKING, (Winona, MN, Anselm Academic Press, 95pp.)

A review by R. B. Williams, O.P.


After reading this very good book, I decided to look up the word "primer" since the title includes the word. I found five definitions: 1) a small book for teaching children to read; 2) an introductory book on a subject; 3) one that primes; 4) a device for igniting an explosive; 5) material for priming a surface. [cf. THE NEW MERRIAM-WEBSTER POCKET DICTIONARY]. I think I can safely eliminate the first definition. The other four might prove useful in describing the book.

Yes, the book is an introduction to a very broad subject. The language is accessible and free of professional jargon that might discourage an ordinary reader, although I think a likely reader will be someone with a desire to go deeper than a basic catechism understanding of their faith. While Markey does write from the perspective of a Roman Catholic theologian and a Catholic context, the book could easily appeal to Christian and non-Christian alike, or even to those who profess to be agnostic or atheistic. Very simply, no one can escape mystery! Discussion questions and bibliographies after each chapter, plus a, glossary and index at the end of the book mean that a lot of content has been packed into this small (less than 100 pages) book.

The reader is introduced right away to mystery and its many manifestations and to the variety of responses that occur. For some folks the encounter with mystery leads to a desire to know more. In that sense, this book is a "primer" for setting off an expansion of faith and knowledge, as St. Anselm would have described it: Fides quaerens intellectum [tr. Faith seeking understanding.] The responses of faith, knowledge, community, tradition and authority, as well as the Christian concept of "conversion" receive clear and inviting treatment.

Markey also "primes" the surface with his treatment of how one goes about "doing" theology. He has a very interesting treatment of "art as theology," using a great renaissance work, The Ghent Altarpiece. In doing this, he opens the world of theological exploration to those who might not be academically oriented but interested in art as a way of expressing faith. For those who do have an interest in the academic field, Markey provides a broad and clear introduction to the way in which theologians serve the broader community of the Church. There are descriptions of the various areas of specialization as well as currents of theological concern: Liberation Theology, Black Theology, Feminist Theology, and Hispanic/Latin@ thought.

This book would be very helpful in RCIA programs, high school and university religious studies programs and to anyone whose sense of wonder at the mystery of God moves them to explore it. The "primer" does its job in many ways and does it well.


Book Review Archive

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