A theologically edifying dialogue between a committed Catholic and an observant Jew about the natures of their faiths and beyond.
Particularly in a religiously divisive age, an unabashed display of theological cooperation between two discussants of different but often related beliefs is simply inspiring. This book is essentially the cataloging of a conversation between two spiritually driven men, Richard Chapin, a rabbi, and Jerome Pitarresi, a lifelong Catholic, who exchange letters covering the basic controversies confronting men of religious conviction. Some of their conversations are scholarly and doctrinally centered, ranging from topics such as faith, the grace of God and the nature of religious belief itself. In these sections, the two interlocutors deftly straddle the fence between deep scholarly erudition and accessibility, soberly discussing issues that could easily devolve into academic minutiae. Most of their discussions, however, center on topics of social controversy that are not irreducibly religious: marriage, tradition, failure, disappointment, anger, sex, forgiveness and elderly care. The reflections on the nature of spiritual life are typically profound and intelligibly presented: “As you suggest, the addition of other forms of so-called spiritual expression—be it yoga, meditation, or a dash of Buddhism here and there—have sufficed for many who choose to lead completely secular lives. I find this development sad and, at worst, tragic. There is nothing wrong with supplementing one’s religion with these so-called spiritual exercises. But one should be careful not to make those supplements to our religion the religion itself!” Underlying the entire dialogue is evidence of a life of friendship; even differences between the two men, sometimes enlivened by a gentle argument, never rise to the level of fiery debate. In fact, one minor failing of the book is that the significant theological differences between the two men and their religious traditions are sometimes lost amid the men’s congeniality. It’s heartening to see a committed Jew and a Catholic converse about such powerful topics without a hint of adversarial conflict; yet their worldviews are powerfully distinct, especially regarding the afterlife and the bonds of marriage.
A philosophically instructive, spiritually uplifting dialogue.