Book Review: Things Seen and Unseen

Things Seen and Unseen: A Catholic Theologian’s Notebook
by Lawrence S. Cunningham
Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2010

One of the key features of writing a book review is to determine a book’s purpose and whether the author achieved it. As the title states, “Things Seen and Unseen” by Lawrence S. Cunningham, a longtime theology professor at Notre Dame, is a notebook – it is a collection of random thoughts on readings and life as a theologian. In reading it, I felt a bit like I was reading a collection of blog posts. As a blogger myself, I can appreciate the value in that. In his introduction, Cunningham quotes what Karl Rahner said about his life as a Jesuit theologian, “I did not lead a life. I worked, wrote, taught, tried to do my duty and earn a living. I tried this ordinary way of serving God.” Cunningham states that this book offers slices from his own ordinary way. In that, he has succeeded.

“Things Seen and Unseen” will appeal most to other theologians. These are short reflections, often referring to other theologians, religious works, etc. The text presumes a certain familiarity with them. One can certainly appreciate the text and the ideas without this knowledge, but one will be missing the fullness of it.

Cunningham certainly offers much food for thought. In these short commentaries, he touches on some wonderful quotes and reflects on them. He comments on public events, changes in life, and the world around him. Like every single one of us, he is attempting to figure out this gift of life. He certainly does not pretend to have all the answers and in many things he is still struggling, but there is much to be learned from his wisdom and experience.

One section that I greatly appreciated was on what it means to be a scholar, to take one’s studies seriously, especially the study of God. “The brute fact is that the only way to become a scholar and to love its life is to sit down and study as a solitary act. Until one does that, he or she has no right to prattle on before folks without having first studied. The psalmist gets it right in the opening of the Psalter: ‘their delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law they meditate day and night’ – that is the counterpoint to those who ‘sit in the seat of the scoffers.’ The wise man knows where to plant his bottom!”

Cunningham writes that he hoped in his teaching to instill the “love of learning and a desire for God” in his students. “Things Seen and Unseen” is one more way for him to achieve that goal.


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