Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette is well known for his cookbooks including Twelve Months of Monastery Cookbooks. But he isn’t just a monastery chef, he is a Benedictine monk well versed in the Rule’s rhythm of work and prayer and the Great Tradition. In Christ the Merciful he skillfully weaves biblical, liturgical, monastic, ecclesiastical and patristic sources together, providing forty-seven mediations on the many names of Jesus (not all are names, but titles, or modes of addressing and understanding Christ’s significance). Brother Victor contends, “When we meditate on his names, Christ inspires us to revise our expectations of him. He invites us to move beyond our self-centered ideas of who we think he should be and focus instead on his ever-changing, ever-renewed presence in our lives” (introduction, ix).
These names for Christ are derived both from biblical source material and centuries of Christian reflection on who Christ is for us. While Br. Victor is firmly rooted in his own Benedictine tradition he draws generously on the insights of the ancient church and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Christ’s names are organized into five sections. In Part I, Brother Victor reflects on ‘Christ in Images, Names and Symbols’ Here, Br. Victor explores Christ’s divine and messianic titles—what it means to call Christ, God, the prophets’ fulfillment, the Messiah, the Incarnate One, Our Emmanuel, the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God, Lord, Son of the Living God, Good Shepherd, Door and Keeper of the Gate. Part II explores Christ in the gospel tradition, tracing the life of Jesus from Messianic hope and his Bethlehem birth, through His life, death, resurrection and ascension.
Part III describes some of the titles of Christ in the Byzantine (Eastern) tradition such as Christ the Pantakrator, And Christ the Philanthropos (Lover of Mankind). Part IV delves into the place of Christ in the Monastic tradition, (including the Jesus prayer and the role of Christ in a monk’s daily life and devotion). Part V explores Christ in the Human Family (Jesus the child of Mary and Joseph and his relationship to us, the poor, the angels and saints, and the Wisdom of God). At the end of the book Br. Victor has three appendixes exploring the prayers and mystical traditions of Syria, Russia and Romania, respectively.
Each of the meditations in this volume begins with relevant scripture passages, several pages of reflections from Br. Victor, and they usually close with a poetic prayer from a saint, a liturgy, or other writings from the Church’s rich theological tradition. Given the breadth of images and names and the thoughtful coherence of whole book, means that it is impossible to read through these meditations without enlarging your understanding of God’s grandeur revealed in Christ. Christians of all stripes (Catholic, Orthodox or low-roving Protestants) will find these reflections Christ centered and worshipful.
This isn’t to say that Br. Victor is exhaustive in his reflections on Christ’s many names. He doesn’t reflect on a couple of my favorite of Christ’s biblical titles, “Friend of Tax Collectors and Sinners (Luke 7:34), Great Physician (Luke 5:31), or Christ our Brother (Hebrews 2:11). His discussion of Jesus as Lord is apolitical, emphasizing the spiritual meaning but not Christ’s challenge to empire (as N.T. Wright reminds us, to say Jesus is Lord is to say Caesar is not). These omissions do not diminish Br. Victor’s fine prose. Christ is bigger than any of our reflections and all of us see now in part.
Because of the length of this book (forty-seven chapters) and its Christological focus, this would be a wonderful book to read throughout the season of Lent. Though it could really be read at anytime, by those who are interested in contemplating the Christ and live their life in Him. I give this four stars
Note: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.