Maxwell E. JOHNSON, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation. Revised and Expanded Edition. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007. Pp. 487. $49.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-6215-1.
Reviewed by James DALLEN, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA 99258

Those who know Max Johnson's work in the area of sacramental initiation need no introduction to this new edition of The Rites of Christian Initiation. In fact, they probably already own it. The 1999 edition was the definitive work on the history and theology of the liturgical rites of initiation and a major contribution to their spirituality. It has been widely used as a textbook, and I am sure that those who have used it have found its clarity and insights as challenging as I have. The new edition, with extensive updating and rewriting, is even better.

The overall structure of the book is unchanged. It provides a straightforward history from the origins of the rites to their situation in the churches today, with a concluding chapter on the place and implications of a baptismal spirituality. Johnson does liturgical and sacramental theology as it should be done, on the basis of the rites in their historical contexts. When he must take a position on competing interpretations or offer a critique, he does so respectfully and cogently. He is careful to show evidence and to admit the lack of it.

The new edition takes into account recent developments in scholarship and in contemporary celebration. In some cases e.g., "Hippolytus" and the Apostolic Tradition, Johnson had in the first edition noted reassessments that were underway. In the new edition there is further precision and additional bibliography, including research that he has done or collaborated on. He also indicates further ecumenical convergence in initiation, especially the adult catechumenate and "confirmation."

The most extensive change in the second edition is a more comprehensive examination of initiation in the Eastern Churches. The single chapter on the pre-Nicene period has been expanded into two, one on the West and one on the East. A new chapter on the East looks in detail at the seven traditions and offers charts that help Western Christians (and probably Eastern as well) see similarities and differences. He notes in particular that the Western disintegration of initiation into separate sacraments did not happen in the East. I wonder, though, about why: is it because the Eastern rites made little attempt at further inculturation?

The new edition has other helpful charts and more extensive quotations from primary sources in translation. Unfortunately, the only way to access new bibliography is by reading through the footnotes; the new edition lacks even the "select bibliography" that was in the first.

The book is indispensable for anyone interested in sacramental initiation.

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