Leonard J. DeLORENZO, Work of Love: A Theological Reconstruction of the Communion of Saints. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2017: pp.xiii, 346. ISBN 9780268100933 (hardcover) $55.00. Reviewed by Joseph A. BRACKEN, S.J. , Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH 45207.


This carefully researched book by Leonard DeLorenzo  with copious notes, a lengthy index and an extended bibliography drawn from various sources certainly deserves the attention of scholars even though it does not fit easily into the category of systematic theology.  That is, its focus is not a rational explanation of a given Christian belief (here, the doctrine of the communion of saints) but rather on how belief in the communion of saints should serve as a practical guide to a more fruitful spiritual life for the reader.  Major philosophical issues are as a result not really addressed since the appeal of the book is more to the  priority of practice over theory. 

In Chapter One, for example, DeLorenzo notes that the practice of praying to the saints and blessed of the early Church preceded the acceptance of formal belief in the doctrine of the communion of saints in the Apostles’ Creed. Contemporary Christians, however, tend to be skeptical about belief in The Four Last Things.  In Chapter Two, he attributes this contemporary failure in Christian imagination to evasion of the full reality of death. In return, he argues that the death of Jesus when understood as the entrance into new life in the spirit should be pivotal in the ongoing evaluation and conduct of Christian life in this world. One does not live and die in isolation from but rather in communion with all the saints and blessed who are praying for one’s spiritual welfare.

In Chapter Three, he reflects on the writings of Rahner, Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) and Urs von Balthasar on this topic.  Rahner emphasizes that, while death is the end of one’s free self-determination as a person,  at the same time it is the beginning of a new relationality to the whole of creation within a transformed body. Ratzinger studies the growth of belief in the power of God to overcome the power of death and thus to provide for life after death among the Jewish people in the Old Testament.  Urs von Balthasar proposes that the ancient belief in the descent of Jesus into hell on Holy Saturday is proof of God’s ability to create out of  the non-existence of human life after  death  a new life in the Spirit as represented by the communion of saints.

In Chapter Four, DeLorenzo claims that our natural desire for happiness and self-fulfillment are really not natural but instead  a free gift of a God who in Christ loves us in our particularity.  In Chapter Five he discusses belief in Purgatory as the place where human beings learn to shed their preoccupation with self so as to grow in love for and with others and thus  be ready for life within the communion of saints. He also argues that the Sacraments of the Church serve to preserve and foster the memory of the saving work of Jesus in his passion, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven so as to duplicate  the pattern  of God’s own “memory” of these saving events. What he seems to have in mind here is the transfer of the pattern of Salvation History as known in the mind of God first to Moses and the Jewish people at the time of the Exodus, then to the mind of Jesus in undergoing his life, death and resurrection and ultimately to the mind of individual Christians as they travel through life toward the communion of saints.

The sixth and last chapter of the book is dedicated to a study of the saintly lives of ThĂ©rèse of Lisieux, Theresa of Avila and Dorothy Day who in their gratitude for the gift of God’s forgiving love dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to prayer and work for the temporal and spiritual welfare of others, especially for the well-being of the poor and downtrodden people of this world (Dorothy Day).    

As a philosophically trained theologian, I would have appreciated an appropriate metaphysical underpinning for various assertions of DeLorenza: e.g., how God makes space for human beings to exist in total dependence on God’ mercy and forgiveness and yet be responsible both for their own individual and corporate salvation and for the inclusion of the entire created order within the parameters of the divine life  enjoyed by  the communion of saints.  Likewise, I question whether creatio ex nihilo should be understood  literally or whether instead creatio ex Deo, namely, the emergence of the cosmic process out of the resources of the eternal divine life-system and the return thereto at the end of the world, would not be a more appropriate way to understand the God-world relationship. Creatio ex nihilo is grounded in a fixed ontological dualism of matter and spirit; creatio ex Deo, on the contrary, in a process-oriented panentheism.