Virginia Barton

Faith, facts and other phenomena

Catholic Herald, 29 July 1988  

 

Review: The Christians by Peter McKenzie (SPCK, £15.00)

 

The Christians, Their Practices and Beliefs is an adaptation of Friedrich Heiler’s Phenomenology of Religion. This massive work has not apparently been translated into English. Dr. McKenzie’s adaptation of that part of the work devoted to Christianity will be welcomed in a growing English market.

Cross_by_AmythePirateA phenomenon is a “thing that appears or is perceived” and phenomenology is the science that “describes and classifies those phenomena.” It is a subject difficult for the layman to grasp and this book is, I feel, not one for the beginner.

However, diverse and dense though it is, there is plenty in it to tease the average reader into further exploration, and the serious student should find it invaluable. The 23 pages of references and copious index give some indication of the detailed approach and mass of information.

On reflection one realises Christianity didn’t just “happen”, and one cannot view Catholicism in a void. The Christian Church emerged, grew and developed in and against a background of religious experience.

Dr. McKenzie retains sufficient comparative material from Heiler’s Phenomenology of Religion to provide a context of the world religions. With the addition of more modern material, he extends Heiler’s work to build up a rounded picture of a universal faith in all its variety. The author emphasises that world Christianity can only be understood in the light of the “tacit dimension” provided by the other religions of mankind.

Awkward to summarise for review purposes, part one of the book explores Christian phenomena, for example sacred objects, space, time, action, word, writings and persons. Part two describes Christian concepts: creation, revelation, salvation, eternal life. Part three deals with Christian experience including awe, faith, zeal and ecstasy.

These parts form three concentric circles and within them is found the object of religion – ultimate reality, revealed and hidden. The author defends Heiler’s methodology of category and sub-category and the result I found convincing.

In his conclusion Dr. McKenzie states that religion is not philosophy or theology but rather intercourse with the sacred, which rests not in the realm of human initiative but in that of the Divine. “It was You that first moved me and made me look for You,” said Thomas à Kempis in The Imitation of Christ.

 

 

 

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