This book is a timely contribution to the study of Christian love from the perspective of friendship. Unfortunately the book was published before the appearance of Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est. The author would certainly have put the encyclical into the context of the long tradition on love, friendship and eros. I have rarely read a book like this one that is so comprehensive in its survey of authors and texts. If Carmichael has missed texts crucial to the tradition, one is hard put to name more than a few. I hope that it is not ungenerous to point to the omission of Dante whose Commedia is very much concerned with love and friendship. Yet, to be fair, Carmichael has chosen to concentrate in the Middle Ages on Aelred of Rievaulx and Thomas Aquinas who certainly deserve the extensive treatment that she gives to these two authors who are so critical to the understanding Christian friendship and love.
E. D. H. Carmichael (Liz) has written a text that is truly comprehensive, beginning with ancient Greek,Roman, and biblical sources down to contemporary authors who have written on the subject of friendship and Christian love. Carmichael is a tutorial fellow and chaplain at St John’s College, Oxford. Her interests range broadly from the peace movement in South Africa to the history of Christian theology as well as systematic theology and ethics.
The task that Carmichael has accomplished is extraordinary. She seems to have studied carefully every text that she could unearth on friendship, love and eros. She has read those texts astutely and insightfully. Carmichael writes with a sense of confidence that helps the reader put trust in her reading of the texts. Her book is a survey of literature that will serve as a helpful and reliable reference for anyone who seeks to understand the contributions of a whole host of authors, some well known and others not known to the general reader. It is an overwhelming experience to work one’s way through this book, a book not to be read in a hurry as there is so much to digest in the huge number of texts that are studied. One can sense as one works one’s way through the book the author’s ability to see the tradition of Christian love as it relates to contemporary critical issues; yet, the author refrains from sermonizing.
The book includes a carefully selected bibliography, and the author has placed the texts and authors that she cites in usually brief but helpful contexts. An index of biblical citations as well as an index of authors are an aid in consulting the numerous finely written resumés of texts that constitute the substance of this book. The index of subjects could have been more extensive. The publisher has not been overly kind with the small print and cramped typography of the book that strains the eyes if one is reading large chunks at one time.
One verges on the unkind to pick out some small items with which one disagrees in a text that is an example of truly generous scholarship. Yet, I want to point out a commonly repeated misstatement that often needs to be revised. To say on p. 131 that John of the Cross “was thoroughly grounded in Thomist theology” continues the perception that John of the Cross was a thorough-going Thomist, when, in fact, he was basically a Platonic Augustinian who uses some Thomist doctrines.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who teaches undergraduate and graduate students subjects that are related to the themes of this book. This book will, I am sure, stand the test of time and be a valuable reference for many years to come.