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Redeemer in the Womb reviews

Ignatius Press Review

"The first place we find Jesus in the Gospels is the womb of Mary." John Saward presents a unique and profound meditation on the nine months the God-man spent in His Virgin Mother's womb. This book, then, is aptly subtitled "Jesus Living in Mary." Saward has combed Scripture, the Fathers and great theologians as well as Christian philosophy, poetry, and literature to show that "the unborn Jesus reveals God." You'll find that this book contains a goldmine of material from some of the Church's best thinkers. The first book of its kind!

Review from Priests for Life Newsletter

Redeemer in the Womb makes for excellent Advent reading and pro-life reflection. Written by John Saward and published by Ignatius Press, this work helps us focus on that phase of Christ's life spent in Mary's womb. Christ joined all humanity to God in Himself. That includes the humanity of the pre-born. We were all once pre-born children, and so was God. Certainly we, as human beings and as representatives of God, have something to say about the pre-born!

From Ecumencial Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary newsletter,
May 1994, Graham Leonard (Now Fr. Graham Leonard)

In 1949. Dr Eric Mascall edited a symposium entitled The Mother of God. written by members of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius. In his own contribution. 'The Dogmatic Theology of the Mother of God', he wrote:

I do not think that we can ever understand either the full meaning
of the Incarnation or the unique position held by Mary among all
created human beings unless we reflect calmly and reverently
upon the fact that for nine months Mary carried God within her
as she went about her work.

Such reflection, he maintained, is necessary if we are to avoid adoptionist or docetic views of Christ.

For those who wish to heed Dr Mascall's words, Professor Saward's hook is quite admirable and most welcome. Drawing upon the Scriptures, the Fathers, St Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages, Berulle and Lancelot Andrewes in the seventeenth century, and such women theologians as Blessed Elizabeth of Dijon and Adrienne von Speyr in recent times. he illuminates our understanding of those nine months magnificently.

While demonstrating that 'Catholic doctrine, Christology, Mariology, eucharistic theology and moral theology is a tightly-woven tapestry', page after page, indeed, sentence after sentence, compels us to pause to reflect more deeply upon the mystery of the Incarnation. Cardinal O'Connor in his Foreword speaks of the book as an extraordinarily rich guide for meditation. That, indeed, it is, and the reader closes the book with thanksgiving for the insights which Professor Saward provides, knowing that he will return for further illumination.

Msgr. Arthur Burton Calkins
Miles Immaculatae XXX (Lugilo/Dicembre 1994)

In his foreword Cardinal John O'Connor says that "this [book] is a most unusual study and a contribution to Mariology of exceptional interest". I heartily agree with His Eminence that this is truly "a contribution to mariology of exceptional interest", but I wonder about his designation "unusual". Perhaps he uses the latter adjective because, while the production of books on Our Lady continues at a steady rate, there are relatively few that mine the richness of the Catholic tradition such insight and effect. This is one of those rare volumes which can be appreciated both as a scholarly study and as a Lectio divina.

This book is, in fact, a sustained meditation on the humble state of the Son of God as a zygote, an embryo, a fetus for nine months in the womb of the Virgin Mary and its implications for us.

As a work on the Incarnation it is at once a book about Jesus and Mary. Certainly there are many today who would think that, having alluded to the dogmatic datum, there is nothing more to be said, but, in reality there are worlds of meaning to be explored because this fact constitutes a mystery of faith which can never be exhausted by our human minds. The enterprise is appropriately decribed by the author as " an essay in reclamation".

The author wears his scholarship lightly and regales his reader with a pleasant style, but on every page he gives us fresh evidence of his mastery of vast areas of Scriptural exegesis and the history of theology. It is truly a Catholic presentation in both the strictly dogmatic and the more comprehensive sense of the word. He treats us to wonderful texts of Maximus the Confessor and Ongen, to the insights of Bonaventure and Duns Scotus and to a very perceptive appreciation of the teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Incarnation (pp.13-21, 68-79) which can be all too facilely devalued by pointing to the limits of his biological information and cavaliery dismissing his treatment of Christ's threefold knowledge
as not in line with modern psychology.

In his second chapter on the Gospels he expatiates beautifully on the themes of Mary as Ark of the Covenant and Daughter of Zion, on the Shekinah, the Magnificat and the role of Saint Joseph. With regard to this final category he follows the general contours of the treatment of Father Ignace de la Potterie, S.J. in his magisterial Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant trans. Bertrand Buby, S.M. (New York: Alba House, 1992) 37-65 which he cites according to the French translation. Saward makes shrewd observations on the matter of the authorship of the Magnificat:

<<In our own times, for a century and a half, radical biblical criticism has tried to wrest this incomparable song from Mary. Authorship has been transferred to Elizabeth and Zechariah. It is alleged to be a cento of Old Testament texts assembled by the evangelist, a Maccabean psalm, or a post-Resurrection Christian hymn. In a breathtaking display of unscientific prejudgement, Raymond Brown has declared that it is "unlikely that such finished poetry could have been composed on the spot by ordinary people". (A visit to the public houses of North Wales, where "ordinary people" improvise "finished poetry" in strict metres of classical Welsh verse, would be suitable penance for Father Brown!)<< (p.33).

It might also be added that many modern critics undervalue the religious-cultural context from which this canticle of praise comes precisely because they undervalue the power of the Holy Spirit and the implication of the Immaculate Conception.

Quite appropriately the chapter entitled "First Step into the World: The Age of the Baroque" is the center piece of this study. In it the author excels as an expositor of the theme of Jesus living in Mary according to the great Cardinal Pierre de Berulle (1575-1629), the founder of the so-called French School of spirituality, and his disciples. Saward had already contributed a chapter on "
Berulle and the French School" to Jones, Wainwright, Yarnold (eds.) The Study of Spirituality (London: SPCK, 1986 & 1992) and quite obviously, as an expert on this extraordinary rich current of thought too little known in the English-speaking world, he has done well to draw directly from the source. I found the subsection entitled "Jesus in Mary: A Union of Hearts" (pp.92-95) particularly evocative. To me this book, which already has so much to recommend it, is invaluable for this chapter alone. Two minor criticisms: The prayer 0 Jesu vivens in Maria is given in Latin on p.1 with no attribution or translation and then on p.101 a poetic English version by Herard Manley Hopkins is provided with no reference to the Latin text. Secondly, the text is attributed to Charles de Condren who is, in fact, the original author, but the Latin version which Saward quotes on which the Hopkins translation is based is in fact the much better known redaction of the Venerable Jean-Jacques Olier (cf. Irenee Noye, P.S.S., "0 Jesus Living in Mary", trans. Roger Charest, S.M.M. Queen of all Hearts 32, No.5 [1982] 7-9, 36).

In the suggestive chapter which follows on Christ's indwelling in Mary, the Church and the Soul, Saward tells us that he is indebted to the definitive study done by Hugo Rabner, S.J. in Symbole der Kirche: Die Ekklesiologie der Vater. In the course of his beautiful treatment on the theme in the liturgy he gives us the benefit several times of his own graceful translations of orations which seem quite superior to the official English translations. In the penultimale chapter he illustrates the theme of Jesus living in Mary in the writings of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, Adrienne von Speyr and Caryll Houselander.

By now the implications of this book for the pro-life movement should also be apparent. It is not a work which bludgeons one with propaganda from page one, but rather, as the author masterfully continues to unfold the mystery of the Incarnation, this ramification becomes ever more obvious. Let us listen to the author:

<<By becoming man at his conception, the Son of God has united every unborn child to himself and made all womb-life not simply sacred but divine, worthy of God himself. He has consecrated "our beginnings". Even the microscopic stage of human existence is "capable of divine mystery". In the womb of Our Lady, God the Son has enobled the very qualities that the Prometheanism of Modern culture dismisses as incompatible with complete humannes - dependence, helplessness, weakness>> (p. 159).

There are many more comments that could be made, but I will satisfy myself by concluding that the book is truly a Christological and Mariological classic which ought to be acquired, read and pondered.

Copyright © Named Authors 1994

This version: 7th February 2003

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