Kevin Seasoltz, OSB, who is one of the foremost American scholars on liturgy and worship and whose previous book A Sense of the Sacred: Theological Foundations of Christian Architecture and Art (Continuum, 2005) won First Place for liturgy in the Catholic Press Association’s Awards in 2006, now “gifts” us with another magnificent book, this time on God’s Gift-Giving.
The idea of gift-giving has recently figured prominently in discussions among deconstructionist thinkers, feminist theorists, anthropologists, ethicists, and theologians. Among these the French philosopher and theologian Jean-Luc Marion obtains pride of place. Building upon the concept of gift-giving as gratuitous love and genrosity, giving without expecting anything in return, and above all as irrevocable self-giving, Seasoltz revisits the key elements of Christian theology and suffuses them with new insights. The first chapter expounds the theology of gift-giving as espoused by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean-Luc Marion, and Stephen Webb and hints at the ways in which this concept of gift-giving can enrich our understanding of the Triune God, Christ, sacrifice, the Eucharist, worship in word and sacrament, and the Holy Spirit.
In subsequent chapters these themes are elaborated at length. The second chapter focuses on God’s gift as sacrifice. Despite some contemporary theologians’ severe critique of the concept of sacrifice, Seasoltz is convinced of the “centrality of sacrifice not only in Christian kerygma and therefore in the faith, life and worship of all who call themselves Christian but also in the very constitution of the created universe and the basic physical and biological processes of life itself” (40). Seasoltz applies the concept of sacrifice to God’s act of creation and sees it as an ongoing act of God’s self-giving and self-limiting, and not a once-for-all act of overpowering omnipotence. He goes on to reexamine patripassionism and argues (against Thomas G. Weinandy) for a more nuanced understanding of God’s immutability and impassibility. The next chapter explores the implications of the concept of gift-giving for understanding Jesus’s death on the cross as sacrifice and for the understanding of original sin and of atonement. With regard to the latter, Seasoltz writes powerfully: “This understanding of redemption [as God’s self-gift] makes of God someone other than a child abuser. God did not choose the death of his Son as a solution to the problem of evil in the world” (115). In his discussion of God’s gift in the bible and in the sacraments in the fourth chapter, Seasoltz, following Louis-Marie Chauvet, emphatically stresses their intrinsic unity and their ecclesial context. The next chapter offers a pneumatology that reviews various theologies of the Holy Spirit from the Old Testament to the post-Vatican II era and makes insightful contributions to a theology of God the Creator Spirit.
God’s Gift Giving is a deeply learned book. There is practically no significant theologian, past and present, whose insights have not been discussed and appropriated. Yet the book is highly readable and even spiritually edifying. But if you think you have not had sufficient theological background to fully understand the first five chapters, then by all means read the last one. There Seasoltz unfolds some implications of the theology of God’s gift-giving for pastoral practice and spirituality. Your heart will be warmed by his wisdom, compassion, and inclusiveness. The last paragraph of the book summarizes well its basic thesis and its author’s spirituality: “The eucharist is indeed the gift of God’s food and love for us, but it is given so we in turn might be food and love for another.... And for all that—in fact for all God’s gifts—we give God thanks through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit” (242).