Sebastian MOORE. The Contagion of Jesus. Doing Theology as if it Mattered. Edited by Stephen McCarthy. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 2007; Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008. pp. xiii, 208. $20.00 pb. ISBN-13: 978-1-57075-781-5.
Reviewed by Linda M. MALONEY, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Enosburg Falls, VT 05450

Sebastian Moore, monk of Downside, has now passed his ninetieth year and yet continues to plumb the human consciousness and to challenge readers to go deeper still with him year by year. The Contagion of Jesus is a collection of mostly-unpublished occasional pieces: reflections, sermons, meditations, and poetry, assembled somewhat tenuously by Sebastian’s younger friend Stephen McCarthy in a series of topics. Part One contains material on “The Trinity and Human Relationship,” “Jesus—Our Scapegoat” (the influence of René Girard is palpable and acknowledged), “Resurrection and Eucharist,” “Church, Theology and Culture,” and “Mary and the Feminine” (this last owing much to Sebastian’s conversations with and reading of Tina Beattie).

Part Two speaks of “Focusing—Digging for our Real Desire” (and includes an Appendix on the practice of focusing as described by Eugene Gendlin), “Desire is Love Trying to Happen,” “Love, Sexuality and the Church,” “Friendship and Discipleship.” The middle two sections in this part are well worth the price of the book. Poetry is scattered throughout, but there is a separate Appendix of poetry as well, plus a number of “haiku for focusing” in the second Appendix. The poetry I found less appealing, but tastes differ.

As a parish priest, I have come to measure books of this sort in large part by their usefulness to me in preaching. This one gets high marks: It yielded a Trinity Sunday sermon inspired not so much by the overtly Trinitarian section as much more by “Desire is Love Trying to Happen.” Need I say more?

Piquant for me (an Anglican), in the sexuality section, was an essay opining that Roman Catholicism, with its emphasis on Natural Law, is better able to cope with changing views of sexuality than the churches of the Anglican Communion, at least those of an evangelical stripe that are wedded to the Bible as their first and sometimes only font of revelation (never mind the other legs of the stool!)—although indeed the definition of Natural Law as “that which promotes human flourishing” was not something I recall having learned in school or university! We Anglicans who lovingly maintain the Catholic tradition are in better shape here, of course. I concur with Sebastian when he writes:

. . . in the Anglican reliance on the Bible as the ground for the prohibition of same-sex intimacy, it is the Bible that suffers, since it will serve the bias of those whose culture drives them to abominate what they can take the Bible as forbidding. The Bible becomes the banner of the biased, which, in the finest tradition of Anglican scholarship, is the very last thing that the Bible is. (p. 162). Stephen McCarthy confesses in his editorial note that he is not a trained theologian, hence “my selection criteria were very largely those that served to deepen my own faith” (p. vii). That in itself makes the book an excellent tool for the preacher who seeks to speak to and enlarge the faith of her or his hearers.

Sebastian Moore’s genius has always been to see things aslant and thus to take surprising angles, to get thereby to roots otherwise unsuspected. This collection finds him still in excellent form. His readers may well wish him many more finely-focused years.

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