Seldom has a book borne so apt a title. The reader of Wrestling with Angels should expect an intellectual workout. These essays by Rowan Williams, 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, were for the most part written during Williams’s academic years. Mike Higton has subtitled the collection “Conversations in Modern Theology,” and indeed the reader feels like a spectator at a very complex dialogue.
Each essay engages the work of a specific theologian: There are essays on V. N. Lossky (the subject of Williams’s dissertation), Gillian Rose, René Girard, Simone Weil, Don Cupitt, Marilyn McCord Adams, and Maurice Wiles. G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Barth, and Hans Urs von Balthasar merit two essays each, and there is one comparative piece on Wittgenstein and Bonhoeffer. The dates range from 1979 (Lossky) to 1998 (one each on Hegel and von Balthasar). An introduction by the author brings his thinking on these subjects up to date in very brief fashion (7 pages), and Higton, the editor, adds a few pages of his own, emphasizing that this is not a systematic collection, but that the author’s attitude throughout is one of “attentive negotiation.” That seems quite fair.
In essence, one may say that in order to be an intelligent spectator at any of these dialogues, the reader needs to be pretty thoroughly conversant with the respective subject. (Some knowledge of Williams’s own theology wouldn’t hurt, either!) Knowing nothing of Lossky, I was completely at sea in the first essay; being relatively more familiar with the work of Rahner, I was on firmer ground in the von Balthasar pieces. My understanding of the remainder ranged somewhere in between. The last essay, on Wiles, touched at points on an ongoing discussion I was having with some cyberfriends about the reality of Easter. And so on.
The book may be cordially recommended to scholars and to graduate students who are studying one or several of these theologians in depth. There is no mistaking the seriousness or the importance of Rowan Williams’s work. He can write for an amazing range of audiences and hit exactly the right level of discourse for each. This book is most certainly for theologians at a fairly advanced level. They will surely appreciate it.