A Review of
Night of the Confessor:
Christian Faith in an Age of Uncertainty
Paperback: Image Books, 2012.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
Reviewed by Seth Forwood
From the subtitle, one might expect Tomás Halík’s book to use the certainty of the Gospel to reduce our uncertainty in life, but he is up to something completely different and much more beneficial. He aims to plumb the depths of exactly how uncertain we truly are and, in that darkness, find a God more immense and mysterious than anything we could imagine. Hopefully, those expecting the former will stay with this provocative and meditative book long enough to embrace the latter.
Relying on the tradition of negative theology, Halík opens the space of uncertainty in the safety of the revelation of God in Christ. Make no mistake though, Halík is out to unsettle. Nietzsche is quoted as frequently as Augustine to further his arguments. He also touches on the work of Teilhard de Chardin, Bonhoeffer, Therese of Lisieux, Karl Rahner, Aquinas, Hans Ur von Balthazar, Nicholas Lash, Jan Potacka, and Martin Buber, to name only a fraction, and uses them to upset misconceptions and heresies in immature belief. The range and intensity of his references may be daunting, but Halík has a way of making his philosophical theology accessible so that they give variety and depth to his reflections.
Halík is at his best when he addresses the individual, their belief, doubt and fear. The most compelling chapters begin with some personal experience and end as evening sets in and quiet descends on the priest readying for prayer. It is a helpful rhythm for those uninitiated to the intellectual rigor of negative theology’s constant smashing of idols or searching through darkness and uncertainty. We begin each concept anchored in an anecdote of someone from his life as a priest or a personal confession and follow Halík through the choppy, open waters of his insight to finally rest in the darkening daylight with him in front of the Eucharist or before a candle in his cottage as he gathers the silence for sleep.
The book spends time in both the individual’s path in the midst of uncertain belief and the uncertainty in modern society for Christianity as a whole. Halík is no less perceptive in describing the post-Christian condition of society. Yet his more abstract chapters later in the book, though framed as responses to Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ or the British TV show Big Brother, lack the careful attenuation to human experience that make Halík’s reflections resonate with wisdom and existential gravity.
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Halik is open to acceptance of other faiths, especially in their tradition of mysticism and negative theology. What we know about God is far exceeded by what we do not know. In a brief summary:
Scriptures, theologians and many religious leaders tell us what the divine is by listing grandiose attributes. Most mystics worship personal aspects of the divine, but they also speak of what it is not. Many of them said that the divine essence is nothing, i.e. no thing, that it is immanent in all things, yet it is transcendent to everything. Mystics consider this seeming paradox to be a positive negation.
Avidya, non-knowledge in Sanskrit, is used in Buddhism for our “spiritual ignorance” of the true nature of Reality. Bila kaif, without knowing how in Arabic, is Islam’s term for “without comparison” to describe Allah. Ein Sof, without end in Hebrew, is the “infinite beyond description” in the Kabbalah. Neti, neti, not this, not this in Sanskrit, refers to “unreality of appearances” to define Brahman. In via negativa, the way of negation in Latin, God is “not open to observation or description.”
Mysticism emphasizes spiritual knowing, which is not rational and is independent of reason, logic or images. Da`at is Hebrew for “the secret sphere of knowledge on the cosmic tree.” Gnosis is Greek for the “intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths.” Jnana is Sanskrit for “knowledge of the way” to approach Brahman. Ma`rifa in Arabic is “knowledge of the inner truth.” Panna in Pali is “direct awareness”; perfect wisdom. These modes of suprarational knowing, perhaps described as complete intuitive insight, are not divine oneness; they are actualizing our inherent abilities to come closer to the goal.
(quoted from “the greatest achievement in life,” my free ebook on comparative mysticism)http://www.peacenext.org/profile/RonKrumpos