Elliott C. MALONEY. Saint Paul, Master of the Spiritual Life “in Christ.” Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014. pp. 217. $24.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8265-4. Reviewed by Francis BERNA, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141
Back in the late 1970’s, probably when Br. Elliott was a newer professor at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, I was sitting in a classroom at Aquinas Institute of Theology, then located in Dubuque, Iowa. The course was “Romans” and was taught by Dominican Father Benedict Vivianno. The ecumenical setting had the Lutheran students from Wartburg Theological Seminary sitting up front, the Presbyterians from Dubuque Theological in the middle, and Catholics toward the back. The self-selected arrangement mirrored a willingness to engage the text in Greek. Only a few of the Catholics had even mastered the alphabet!
Undoubtedly that class was one of the finest in my seminary education. Reading Maloney’s text brought back fond memories. He provides a critical analysis of the seven undisputed Pauline letters, extensive scholarship, and the passion to draw out of the texts the spirit of St. Paul for the contemporary Christian.
Rather than framing his work around an exegesis and hermeneutic of each text, the author centers each of the nine chapters on a specific theme. Recognizing that Paul continually laid claim to his own Judaic roots, the text as a whole and each chapter first explores the theme as developed in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Maloney’s book divides into two parts: “Humanity before Christ” and “Humanity ‘in Christ.” Part One takes up the themes of the human condition and God’s work through ancient Israel expressed in Torah. He likewise addresses the tension in the early church of clarifying the place of the Law in the community called church, especially among the Gentiles.
Following a clearly organized plan, an indication of an excellent teacher, Br. Elliott takes up the “Effect of the Christ Event” in two separate chapters. The first provides clear and concise explanations of key Pauline terms: Expiation, Justification, Sanctification, and Reconciliation. While a professor might appropriately spend an entire class on each of the terms, Maloney offers sufficient detail so that the reader can feel comfortable with a beginning knowledge and confident in further exploration. He offers the reader the suggestion to read the short treatment on expiation given by Joseph Fitzmyer, an author he frequently references throughout the text.
The second part of the “Effect of the Christ Event” takes up the themes of Liberation, Transformation, Glorification, and Salvation. Maloney contends that Paul proposes a transformation into a new Creation “in Christ.” Glorification constitutes not a place, but “way of being” in that the believer comes to participate in the “glory of God” (pp. 65-67). The author’s interpretation of the themes of Salvation and Liberation follow a pattern the reader can see throughout the book.
Employing the thought of ancient Israel, Maloney highlights salvation as “a space for freedom and security” (p. 69). Thus, he returns to the theme of Liberation. Br. Elliott repeatedly connects the experience of Israel’s slavery to the condition of slaves in the Roman Empire. Paul would bring to the Gentile community the bitterness of Israel’s slavery and challenge the very structures of oppression that constituted life under Rome’s power. In writing to Philemon, Paul will plead that this slave should now be received “as a brother” (Phlm 1:15). Paul confronts the power of the empire and the power of those who would impose the “Old Law” on new believers. Appreciating that structures of similar power continue to exist, Maloney offers the case of Paul’s proposal to Philemon as an expression of “authority in charity” (p. 165).
Chapter Nine takes up the theme of the “The Praxis of the Christian Life ‘in Christ.’” Here the author departs from his previous schema and examines each of the “Pauline Imperatives” expressed as command, prayer, or wish for the church. Maloney sets out to examine each of the 435 of them! His structure gives a brief consideration to each of the seven letters. This seems to be the weakest of the chapters. The reader can be tempted to move through too quickly and miss some of the gems the study offers. An overarching theme that comes across is God’s merciful love, the power of God’s grace for forgiveness and healing, as well as Paul’s genuine affection for the churches.
Finally, Br. Elliott does not shy away from the difficult topic of Paul and women. He correctly notes that limiting himself to the seven uncontested letters, he avoids the more challenging perspective of Ephesians and other difficult verses. Before providing a solid exegesis both within the body of the text and an appendix, Maloney highlights the rather apparent positive relationships Paul has with women in his churches. He notes how Paul recognizes their ministry and leadership. The exegesis locates Paul’s interpretation of the relationship between the man and woman in the imagery of ancient Israel, and the problematic of “head covering” in the cultural setting of his time. He likewise notes Paul’s instructions regarding men.
Maloney concludes his text with the proposal of an “Ideal Pauline Community.” Here he brings together the core themes developed throughout the text. As a masterful teacher, the author meets the needs of a diverse audience – the front of the classroom to the back – engaging the reader and inviting the reader to embrace the spirit of St. Paul to live “in Christ” in the contemporary world.