Part of a growing theological focus on the family, Ouellet’s book offers an admittedly incomplete, but insightful, attempt to ground an understanding of the family in Trinitarian theology. The essays contained in Divine Likeness were originally series of lectures given at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family (Part I of the book) and at the Italian Episcopal Conference’s study weeks on marriage and the family over the course of three years (Part II). Throughout, Ouellet draws upon personalist and phenomenological categories to develop his thought, and is animated by the Balthasarian impulse to ground all reality, the family especially, in God the Trinity.
The first part of Divine Likeness, comprising four chapters, develops an understanding of the family as the image of the Trinity. While recognizing the obscurity of this theme in the Christian tradition (Augustine and Aquinas, for example, explicitly reject such an idea), Ouellet draws out and builds upon those elements which are present and which led theologians such as Hans Urs von Balthasar and John Paul II to find the primary analogue for the Trinity in the communion of persons which is the family. Ouellet readily acknowledges that all analogies fall short of the truth, but he still insists that both God and the family are communions of distinct persons living in relations of love which are so intense that they find expression in another distinct person (child/Holy Spirit) who is or embodies the love of the “original” two.
Ouellet moves on to also center this reflection christologically in the nuptial mystery of Christ and the Church. He develops the notion of the family as the domestic church by grounding the ecclesial reality of the family in the same inner-Trinitarian love by which Christ loves the Church. The Holy Spirit, who is that love, pours it forth into the hearts of humans, where it finds the greatest resonance in the family (though also in a different way in religious life). Such love is by definition self-giving and therefore impels the family out to the world in mission to be a leaven for the Bread of Life. In this way, the family is sacramental, effecting what it symbolizes, namely the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Part two is less unified, as it both deepens and draws upon the anthropology presented earlier in order to address a variety of issues. Ouellet discusses the Holy Family as the model for family life, the nature of family ethics, and the problems connected to the canonical form of the sacrament of marriage and the ministeriality of the couple marrying themselves to one another. He also further develops his anthropology of the family in light of the Holy Spirit, sin, and the paschal mystery.
Each chapter ends with a conclusion which aptly summarizes Ouellet’s main ideas and points to areas for further development and practical application. The substantial index will be helpful for those interested in using the book thematically. Divine Likeness also includes an appendix, which is essentially an extended review of a 1996 book by Alain Mattheeuws on the gifts (rather than goods/ends) of marriage.
This book is a valuable and much-needed contribution to a developing area of theology. Ouellet is full of enthusiasm and hope for the revitalization of family life and human culture which is opened up by an anthropology of the family rooted in the Trinity. While the work is far from complete, and while not all readers will agree with all of Ouellet’s arguments or conclusions, Divine Likeness is an insightful read and a constructive addition to an area of great practical importance.