Lights for the Path by John Sullivan (Veritas, €24.99/£22.20)
John Sullivan was formerly Professor of Christian Education at Liverpool Hope University, of which he is now an emeritus professor. Hope University is a unique institution, formed out of three Victorian teachers’ training colleges in an ecumenical union which now prospers as a developing third level institution.
This book, a product of his teaching in that special environment, is an assembly of short biographies of a distinctive group of people, who have given others a guiding light by the nature of their own lives and thoughts. St Patrick, too, has often been seen as a guiding light, but in a way we know too little about him for him to be truly effective. These individuals are different.
These personalities are all so well known that every detail of their lives can be found inspiring. The author says he intends Lights for the Path, to introduce “a range of hidden treasures from the Catholic tradition of men and women who, across the centuries and in diverse contexts, have illuminated how Christians can read and respond to the world”.
I was struck at once just looking at the contents list by the very striking arrangement. The book is in two parts. The first, “Christ and Creation”, deals with three philosophers: Maximus the Confessor, Hildegard of Bingen and Bonaventure.
This selection alone reveals we are dealing with a very different approach from usual. The second part of Lights for the Path deals with “Interiority and Engagement”. Here there stands out at once the essays on Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong treated together, and a chapter on the English poet Elizabeth Jennings, who has been seen as the most distinguished Catholic poet of the late 20th Century.
I have been thinking of McLuhan over recent years, but as yet had not found a way to approach him in context, for he seems now despite his extraordinary global influence back in the 1960s to be a neglected figure. He is linked by Sullivan with the even more interesting person of Walter Ong.
These essays open up ideas and insights that are truly renewing. The others in this part are Edith Stein, Paulo Freire and Etienne Gilson. Sullivan intends his book to be not only for individual reading, but also for collective group use and classroom discussion.
Their approaches certainly provide a fully founded experience of Christian thought in a way one sees hardly ever done. Even the recitation of the names demonstrates the unusual nature of Lights for the Path, which can be warmly recommended.
The author gives a dimension to the notion of faith and belief which one rarely sees in such books. Readers will never regret buying a copy for an understanding of what Christianity is all about. For Irish readers it may give new deeper meaning to the mission of St Patrick, which we celebrate tomorrow.