Contemplating Christ

The Gospels and the Interior Life

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Vincent Pizzuto
  • Collegeville, MN: 
    Liturgical Press
    , April
     2018.
     228 pages.
     $24.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780814647059.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

For readers like me, encountering a book dedicated to a dog is an immediate reason to assent to the value of its contents. In this instance, the dedication also serves to validate the author’s thesis about how a contemplative life is supported by a perspective that finds God in all things. Indeed, extending the analogy, the half-palindrome god /dog is itself a kind of recognition that mystical meaning is embedded in scripture of all kinds.

In Contemplating Christ: The Gospels and the Interior Life, Vincent Pizzuto offers a way to encounter these kinds of mystical connections and more. He presents a prayerful reflection on the interior life that is directly informed by Christian scripture, not only as it is read on the page but also how it is lived out in our daily lives. Although written in the classic manner of an apologetic, the author demonstrates how his writing satisfies both his intellectual curiosity and his spiritual hunger by applying a tone that is inquisitive, not authoritative. He is suggestive, not declarative. His intended audience of a general readership will find both gentle scholarly engagement with Christian scripture, contemplative traditions, and mysticism, as well as personal observations about how this way of life has deepened the author’s own meditative practices. For readers who wish to take a deeper dive in to the topics Pizzuto introduces, he provides a helpful appendix on the origins of Christian mysticism and an annotated glossary of terms that appear throughout the text.  By adopting this humble approach, Pizzuto’s text implicitly invites not just believers and seekers but anyone interested in how to recognize, articulate, and nourish their own contemplative practices.

Pizzuto—a scholar, educator, and an Episcopal priest—sets forth a threefold purpose for his work. He aims to explore central themes of the contemplative life through his reading of the New Testament. He also aspires to reflect on Christian mysticism as recognized in the interrelated doctrines of incarnation and divinization that underscore his main point: just as Jesus Christ took on human nature through the incarnation, so too did humanity partake in divine nature through this mystical yet embodied act.

Finally, the author offers a variety of ways in which one might actualize aspects of a contemplative life—to become more embodied in one’s divinity just as Jesus Christ became embodied in his humanity. These aims are supported by the author’s conviction that the spiritual life is most faithfully understood not as humanity in search of God, but God in search of humanity. Assuming this posture provides the opportunity for one to experience contemplative discipleship as a way of being in the world that privileges the principle of incarnation: discipleship is not about humanity serving Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ serving others in and through humanity. If we pay attention, we will discover many ways in which we can make time to contemplate and demonstrate this radical kinship.

Pizzuto’s focus in this book is best described by the author in the introduction. Rather than a critical examination of scripture, he offers “a prayerful rumination on the interior life informed by the gospels and the Christian mystical tradition . . . this book is not as much a contemplative commentary of the Bible as it is a biblical commentary on the contemplative life” (5). Pizzuto focuses on scriptural texts that highlight how incarnation becomes the divine response to all manner of human concerns by shifting agency away from humanity’s efforts to understand and love God and towards the ways in which the divine understands and loves humanity. Reading scripture this way supports a contemplative life by continually repositioning humanity as other Christs in the world who are renewed by their engagement with scripture. In turn, scripture generates mystical encounters as one sees the life of Jesus Christ hidden in scripture, a life that narrates how humans find the divine in text, sacrament, and daily activities.

Contemplating Christ is perhaps best understood in theme and form by the grammar of the volume’s title and the title of its concluding chapter. For both the alpha and omega to his work, the author chooses the present participles “contemplating” and “becoming.” When one is “contemplating Christ,” especially through scripture, the experience is a continuous process of “becoming prayer.” Each serves the other in an ongoing attempt to live a life of intentional and engaged discipleship, to walk in the path of Jesus Christ in the world, preferably with a dog by your side.

 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Kimberly Rae Connor is Professor of Ethics in the School of Management at the University of San Francisco.

Date of Review: 
November 14, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Vincent Pizzuto is Professor of New Testament and Christian Mysticism at the Jesuit University of San Francisco.

Keywords: 

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