William P. LOEWE, Lex Crucis: Soteriology and the Stages of Meaning. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016. pp. 381. $79.00 hc. ISBN: 9781451472240. Reviewed by Paul LACHANCE, Independent Scholar.


  Loewe’s Lex Crucis is a masterful study of a specific issue (soteriology) in the works of Irenaeus, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Schleiermacher, and Lonergan. At the same time, it is an excellent introduction to the life and thought of each of these theologians. I could easily see this book being used to introduce graduate students to major periods in the history of systematic theology by professors willing to take deep soundings and be sympathetic to a biographical approach. The charm of the book for me lies in how carefully he listens to his sources and how lovingly he describes their lives, their struggles and achievements, and their limitations. Loewe’s purpose is to go beyond the original insight of Gustaf Aulén that patristic and biblical soteriologies differed in kind from their scholastic and Reformation successors and to offer an account of why they so differed on the basis of how they conceived and executed their theological task. The inspiration for Loewe’s work is the theory of meaning of Fr. Bernard Lonergan and his theological analysis of history. Here, the reader is given a brief overview of Loewe’s framework in the introduction and a more detailed analysis in the chapter on Lonergan himself.

    Drawing on a lifetime of work in Christology, Loewe makes use of excellent historical scholarship to contextualize his interpretations within the life and times of each theologian. Each chapter begins biographically, situating each author in a personal, cultural and religious context. Loewe takes pains to read each author on his own terms. His approach may be called inductive in so far as it begins with what is first with respect to us. It could not be called historicist however because although the ‘us’ is ambiguous, changing with the times, Loewe demonstrates how in each period the authors reached toward what is first in itself by the questions they were asking. Thus, the soteriologies differed in part because the authors were asking different questions emerging from their own historical context and reaching beyond them toward the truth of the Christian mystery. Those questions are threefold: “First, what’s the story? Second, how is the plot of the story intelligible? Third, what generates the story and makes it a saving story?” (6) His examination of the sources in this way is enough to cause one to rethink what one knows about the history of systematic theology, but in each case Loewe also offers an enriching insight of his own concerning the author’s theology of redemption that challenges received readings and raises new further questions.

The cultural context of each author is constituted by the phases or stages in the development of consciousness. Loewe illustrates how the three questions emerge and are pursued within diverse patternings of human consciousness. The question about the story itself emerges in the world of common sense, or symbolic consciousness, expressed in myth. Irenaeus presented a “narrative expression of the significance of Jesus in the story of God and God’s revelatory and redemptive dealings with humankind.” Symbolic consciousness can be very sophisticated, and as myth, the narrative is nevertheless oriented to what is true about redemption and is “governed by the notions of dispensation or economy, recapitulation, and the Pauline Christ-Adam typology” (19). Anselm and Aquinas illustrate the development of theoretic consciousness. Loewe points to Aristotle’s formulation of the distinction between these two modes of consciousness: it is “the difference between descriptive knowledge of things in relation to us and explanatory knowledge of things in relation to one another” (329). Theoretic consciousness expresses itself in post-narrative discourse and aims at systematic meaning. Anselm went beyond aesthetic delight in the story toward the intelligibility of the Passion in order to dispel disbelief. Aquinas expanded Anselm’s soteriology to include the whole life of Christ in his understanding of the saving work of God. Loewe evaluates Anselm’s necessary reasons and Aquinas convenientiae both from within this theoretic context and in relation to the story they seek to systematically understand.

Beginning with Luther, Loewe illustrates the third stage of meaning. Lonergan’s explanation of this stage as emerging from the fruitful tension between the prior two is spelled out in greater detail in the final chapter. In his presentation of Luther, Loewe affirms the observation of Otto Pesch that Aquinas and Luther engaged in diverse modes of theology, which he labeled ‘sapiential’ and ‘existential’. These two modes need not be contradictory, and may be intimately related in terms of what is first for us and first in itself. With Schleiermacher, Luther’s existential orientation becomes an explicit starting point for theology recast as reflective self-understanding of the Christian community. Loewe avers that Schleiermacher begins with a sense of oneself not simply as dependent, but as redeemed. Christian consciousness of redeeming grace constitutes “the heart of his theological vision and the controlling center of the entire Christian Faith.” (244) It is the criterion in light of which Schleiermacher discerned authentic Christian doctrine.

In his final chapter on Lonergan, Loewe presents Lonergan as new wine in the old wine skin of classicist, manual theology; and the biographical context he offers in this chapter is as interesting, informative and accessible as those that preceded it. His narrative of the clash between classicism and modernity as Lonergan sought to meet the issues of his day is illuminative.  Here Loewe develops in greater detail the summary material given in the introduction and elaborates the foundational concepts that inform his evaluation of his sources. Though the book lacks a conclusion, the presentation here brings forward the preceding chapters effecting an integration of the narrative, theoretical, and existential modes of theology from the higher viewpoint of cultural development. Loewe explains how Lonergan’s understanding of the Law of the Cross constitutes the heart his theological analysis of history. Lex Crucis is thus an advanced introduction at the same time to the diverse periods in theological history treated and to the contemporary tasks and challenges of theology.