The Premodern Condition: Medievalism and the Making of Theory
University of Chicago Press, 2005
272 pp., $34.00
Erin Felicia Labbie
Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2006
288 pp., $26.00
One of the strengths of The Premodern Condition is Holsinger's resolute refusal to observe artificial disciplinary boundaries. Historical theologians trace the influence of French nouvelle theologie on 20th-century Catholicism. Intellectual historians fawn over the avant garde circle of 1960s Paris. In reality, these worlds intersected in all sorts of ways. Barthes attended colloquia on the history of biblical exegesis. Bataille debated the future cardinal Jean Danielou (a prolific author, and editor of the patristic collection Sources chretiennes) about Nietzsche in Marcel More's living room in occupied Paris in March 1944. Danielou and other Catholic intellectuals spent evenings in the company of Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty arguing over Bataille's work on sacrifice and Christianity.
Holsinger also helps makes sense of what could otherwise be an inexplicable "theological turn" within postmodern thought. In the years before his death, Derrida could speak of little but God and gifts and, always, death, and he is as responsible as anyone for the resurgence of interest in Augustine. French phenomenology has taken what some now describe as a "theological turn," and the unclassifiable Slovenian atheist Slavoj Zizek writes about the Apostle Paul. As Holsinger shows, theology is nothing new to theory. Through medievalism, theology was there when the new age dawned in the Sixties. And perhaps, for all its perversities and inadequacies, the "theological turn" is a Mars Hill moment. Perhaps it leaves an opening to say, "This God whom you worship in ignorance, I proclaim to you."
Peter Leithart is professor of theology and literature at New Saint Andrews College and pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho. Among his recent books are Deep Comedy: Trinity, Tragedy, and Hope in Western Literature (Canon Press) and a volume on 1 and 2 Kings in the Brazos Theological Commentary series (Brazos Press).
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
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