Susan A. Ross, professor and chair of Theology at Loyola University in Chicago, has previously authored two works dedicated to feminist sacramental theology. Her latest publication, the fifth in the Engaging Theology Series, seeks to explore that which makes us human, ever mindful that “we are driven by desire. We human beings seek, want, covet, love, ask, and wonder” (p. xi). Although seeking to fill one’s desires can have positive consequences, Ross is keenly aware that the lack of desire can be a sign of depression. To this end, she cautions that “[t]his idea of seeking to fill our emptiness will be one of the main threads of this extended Christian theological reflection on being human” (p. xii). However, what stands out in this fantastic introductory volume to theological anthropology is the myriad of voices that Ross effectively encompasses in her narrative, including Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Lonergan, Rahner, Schillebeeckx, and David Tracy. Two thousand years of wisdom is best summed up by Irenaeus of Lyons, who believed that “[t]he glory of God is [the human being] fully alive” (p. 15).
Ross’ latest publication is logically organized into seven chapters, with units dedicated to anthropological notions in antiquity, Medieval and Reformation periods, modernity, the beauty found in embodiment, and theology, science, and human personhood. In the chapter entitled “Christian Selfhood and Post-Modernity,” we hear the voice of Edward Schillebeeckx, who viewed “Anthropological Constants,” such as human corporeality, human relationality, the connection with social and institutional structures, etc., as fixed human impulses and values which can only apply to a particular time or place. Ross deftly states that the Flemish theologian’s aim “was to outline the dimensions of the human in the face of massive suffering, as well as to respond to views of human experience that attempt to characterize it in transcendent categories….” (p. 77). In the chapter entitled “The Human Capacity for Evil and the Hope for Salvation,” the notion of suffering is amplified through René Girard’s “Theory of Violence and Mimetic Desire.” Here, we learn that there are two basic components of Girard’s theory: violence and imitation, or mimesis. Ross explains that in these elements, “Girard sees the desire to possess what others have as fundamental to the human condition” (p. 115).
Susan A. Ross’ latest publication is highly recommended as an introductory volume to theological anthropology, and appropriate as source material for an undergraduate course regarding Anthropology or Moral Theology. It is well-written, concise, and adequately sourced. However, an extended bibliography with resources for further study would have been greatly appreciated.