For many years I have been fascinated and edified by the writings of Professor John Saward. He is a convert from Anglicanism in whose every page one can see that he has passed over into the fullness of Catholicism. Indeed, he is a man who is so profoundly steeped in the Catholic Tradition that he is able to draw with ease from virtually all of the major eras of its two thousand years of development.

Precisely for this reason I was delighted to learn of his latest book which he intends as a sequel to Redeemer in the Womb. That first volume, he tells us,

was an Advent book, a study of the nine months that God-made-man spent in His Blessed Mother’s womb. The second goes on to consider the Nativity and Epiphany of the Lord; it is a systematic theology of the Christmas mystery, the first to be written in many years. …I make no claim to originality. Self-consciously original theology tends always to be heretical theology. Orthodox theology has, by contrast, a blessed familiarity, for it does no more than assist the faithful in understanding what they already believe; its surprises are the outcome not of human ingenuity but of divine infinitude, the sign of a Truth that is ever ancient and ever new. My intention is to draw on the Christmas doctrine of the saints … (p. 14). In effect, with his new book Professor Saward has given us a veritable encyclopedia on the Christmas mystery which could be used as a textbook as well as for meditation.

He tells us that it is the fruit of his four years of teaching at the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria (p. 17), but one might well conclude with even more reason that it is the fruit of a lifetime of theological research, reflection and teaching experience. He presents his stimulating insights from a Thomistic perspective (cf. p. 14), but without ever doing so in a narrow or exclusive way. He quotes abundantly, for example, from the works of Saint Bonaventure and shows a remarkable familiarity with the Fathers, the Doctors and the saints of every period. In a review I can hardly do justice to the riches to be found in this theological cornucopia and will simply point out areas which I find particularly pertinent, realizing that others would choose to highlight yet other topics.

Quite appropriately, his first chapter is an exploration of the concept of “mystery” and explicitly of

why the mysteries of the Word Incarnate, especially those of His birth and infancy, are so great, both in themselves and in what they can do for the poor sons of Adam for whose salvation He was born (p. 50).

In the course of his treatment he offers a rich analysis of the theological concept of “mystery,” particularly the “mysteries of Christ,” while paying particular attention to the insights of the Fathers of the Church, Saint Thomas, Cardinal de Bérulle and the French school, Matthias Scheeben, Blessed Columba Marmion and the teaching of the magisterium. This chapter is a very valuable treatise in itself, an excellent exposition of concepts so fundamental to Christian theology and yet virtually ignored by so much noxious modern scriptural exegesis (pp. 110-115).

After this foundational exposition the author tells us that

The rest of this book will consider, in turn, the nature of our Lord’s human birth, the person of the Blessed Virgin who bore Him, the purpose for which He was born, the time and place in which He was born, and finally His manifestation to His newfound brethren in human nature (p. 120).

The chapter on Our Lady entitled “Mother and Maiden” (pp. 169-233) appropriately occupies the central section of the book and effectively illustrates how a solid Mariology provides the key to Christology. The first part of this chapter deals with the doctrine of Mary as Theotókos and tellingly quotes Scheeben to the effect that

Protestantism has slowly lost the full knowledge of the divinity of Christ because it has refused to Mary the honor due to the Mother of God, supposedly for the sake of God and Christ (p. 175).

He also cites Newman in this regard, who, on the basis of his practical experience, was able to confirm this insight.

The second part of this chapter is devoted to Our Lady’s “Matchless Maidenhood” and provides an admirable presentation of her virginity in conceiving and in giving birth to Christ, and of her lifelong virginity. In each case Professor Saward carefully explains the doctrine and, when appropriate, considers the most common difficulties that have been raised against it as well as the chief reasons for its fittingness (convenientia).

These are but some highlights of a volume which I heartily recommend both as an excellent work of theology and of devotion. It is written in graceful prose and further enhanced with very useful biblical and subject indexes. Once again we are in Professor Saward’s debt.

Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins is an official of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” in Rome, a contributing member of the Pontifical International Marian Academy and the author of Totus Tuus. He is internationally known for his numerous articles on Our Lady and for his scholarly work in the fields of dogmatic and spiritual theology.