Bernard COOKE with Bruce MORRILL. The Essential Writings of Bernard Cooke: A Narrative Theology of Church, Sacrament, and Ministry. Foreword by Elizabeth A. Johnson. New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2016. pp. 239. $27.95 pb. ISBN 9780809149759; e-book 9781587685880. Reviewed by Jill RAITT, University of Missouri, Columbia, Columbia, MO 65201.


“Interpretation of human experience”individual and communal, contemporary and historical”as sacramentally revelatory of God’s active presence to people became the fundamental principle guiding Cooke’s lengthy career as a professor and prolific author.”

As I searched for a summary sentence to begin this review, I realized that Bruce Morrill had already written it in his Preface to his splendid presentation of Bernard Cooke’s theology, never before gathered so expertly by Morrill, first Cooke’s student and then his friend of many decades. When Cooke (1922-2013) died, his wife and colleague, Dr. Pauline Turner, asked Morrill to take charge of her husband’s papers that included his memoir. In a stroke of genius, Morrill decided to weave the memoir into a careful choice of Cooke’s works. Morrill succeeded in presenting Cooke’s consistency and personal, experiential integrity throughout this challenging presentation of Cooke’s integrated theological insights.

In 1964-65, I joined Cooke’s unique graduate program to form lay women and men as theologians. His personal magnetism, kindness, intellectual integrity and dedication to his task won him a huge following of Marquette University’s undergraduate and graduate students. So popular were his lectures that overflow crowds of students had to settle for a TV simulcast in an adjacent auditorium. At least once a week, students threw pebbles at his lighted office to persuade him to join them at a pub for more theological talk. He was friend, mentor, spiritual guide, and often confessor to many of us. Cooke was then a Jesuit and wore a soutane rarely buttoned straight. Even then, Cooke was gathering experience on which to reflect; his love of lay-folk and his respect for each of us as students helped us to learn and him to gather experiences that nourished his theology. But when you read this fine book, you will discover, for instance, how influenced he was during his tertianship by German villagers to whom he was sent to celebrate the Eucharist and how at every stage of his life Cooke was alert to the theological implications of his experiences, whether as a Jesuit in formation and then a professor, or as a husband and member of communities, of university faculties, and of organizations.

I knew how dedicated Cooke was to Eucharistic theology; I learned from his and Morrill’s book how Cooke integrated Eucharistic theology into his theologies of ministry and the church.
The book contains Elizabeth Johnson’s Foreword, a brief preface and an Introduction, of which Morrill wrote four pages and Cooke the remaining twenty one. The rest consists in four chapters: One: “Theological Method: Revelation in History, Experience, and Symbol”; Two: Inexhaustible Mystery in Jesus: Spirit, Word, and Power”; Three: “Sacraments: Mystery of Friendships, Human and Divine”; Four: “Church, Ministry, and Tradition”. It also contains a “Bibliography of Publications by Bernard Cooke”, and an index.

The Introduction is exemplary of the rest of the book and consists in three pages by Morrill followed by a complete lecture, which Morrill calls “a tour de force,” given by Cooke at Holy Cross University, “Interpreting and Implementing Vatican II: History and Theology.” This lecture determines the organization of the book. Brief introductions is typical of Morrill’s helpful notes, always in italics, that introduce each chapter and subsections of the chapters. Morrill says just enough to help the reader place the selection in context, then he steps away and we hear Cooke himself in selections from his memoir and from his lectures, articles, and books.

I could not put the book down. As during my year at Marquette, I learned from Bernard Cooke and I am inspired by him to think anew about how to do theology: where it starts, how it proceeds, and the ends it serves. I would love to use it as the basis of a seminar because it is guaranteed to inspire, enlighten, and challenge students and teachers. Whether or not readers agrees with everything for which Cooke argues, his work shines with the integrity, devotion to principle, and intelligence that Cooke brought to all his work.