Michael H. CROSBY, Fruit of the Spirit: Pauline Mysticism for the Church Today. Maryknoll: Orbis, 2015, pp. 336.  $24.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-154-6.  Reviewed by Wilburn T. STANCIL, Rockhurst University, Kansas City, MO 64110.  Bill.stancil@rockhurst.edu


Michael Crosby is a Capuchin Franciscan, author of seventeen books, and a popular retreat leader. This book grew out of a series of retreat conferences that Crosby gave to retired women religious.  Though not an expert himself on the letters of Paul, Crosby has done extensive reading and research in the scholarly literature, especially literature focused on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  It is in Galatians 5:22 that Paul delineates the fruit of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is concerned about unnamed “outsiders” who are demanding that circumcision be required of all who embraced the Gospel.  Paul argues that demanding a boundary marker such as circumcision contradicts the true Gospel, which is inclusive of Jew/Gentile, slave/free, male/female.  These outsiders—variously termed by exegetes as “opponents,” “agitators,” or “influencers” (Crosby’s term is “teachers”), are promoting an inauthentic “covenantal nomism” that polarizes the Galatian Christians. 

Crosby believes that Paul’s situation with the Galatian crisis has a parallel in today’s Catholic Church. Even as the Galatians were being seduced by a “covenantal nomism,” the church has been seduced by what he calls a “canonical nomism.”  Crosby locates this seduction in the church’s promotion of its priesthood and episcopacy, which perpetuates a clerical/laity separation.  He considers this “canonical nomism” to be a significant factor in the “massive hemorrhaging of baptized Catholics from participating in its organizational life” (p. 25).  Crosby finds hope in Pope Francis’ vision of the church, which is a church without boundaries, similar to what Paul envisioned for the Galatians.

How can such a vision be realized?  Following Rahner’s definition of a mystic—“one who has experienced something”—Crosby thinks that Paul’s Damascus Road experience was a mystiacal one and the lens through which Paul subsequently developed his theology.  Therefore, the way forward for the Catholic Church is for all baptized members to “develop a mystical awareness” (p. 25), grounded in their baptism, which can break down all barriers.  “Thus, when ordination to the priesthood and episcopacy is interpreted as something ‘higher’ than baptism or the right to be ‘separate’ from the baptized, we can apply Gal. 6:15 to say, ‘neither ordination nor not being ordained is anything’; now all that ultimately matters is that everyone in the church becomes ‘a new creation’” (p. 109).

Crosby argues that all members of the church need to develop the fruit of the Spirit, which will provide them with this mystical approach to all areas of life. He dedicates a chapter to each of the fruits, starting with love, which he considers to be the foundational fruit. While he situates each of the fruits in its original context for the Galatian church, Crosby seeks current applications, especially in light of his concern to uproot “canonical nomism” in the Catholic Church.

Crosby’s exposition and application of each fruit draws from his wide-ranging experience and reading in science, spirituality, and scripture.  His approach is essentially in line with virtue ethics theory.  At several points Crosby emphasizes the need for an intentional commitment to practice these fruits or virtues. This is in contrast to some Protestant ethicists, who would think of the fruit of the Spirit as a lifestyle that emerges from a relationship with God, rather than a series of virtues cultivated by the individual.  For Crosby, this approach would be much too passive for Paul’s context and for ours today.

I recommend the book for both scholars and educated lay people.