The risen Christ shows himself in the wounds of the world. This is the apparent paradox—actually, the heart of the good news—that organizes this set of thirteen reflections by the Czech priest Tomáš Halík. The essays were composed in 2008, and the preface to the English translation was written on Easter of 2020—most appropriately, for Halík’s thoughts center on the paschal mystery of death and resurrection, not as events of the past but as realities that challenge the present.
The scriptural passage that grounds his thought is John 20:24-29: Jesus appears a second time to his gathered disciples and shows his wounds to the doubting Thomas, who declares, “My Lord and my God.” Halík draws the intended inference, that as the exalted Lord Jesus bears even in his resurrected body the wounds of his human suffering, so is he to be identified with the fresh wounds of suffering humanity. But in Thomas’s declaration of Jesus as “God,” another truth is disclosed: the Christian God is one who has in Christ identified himself fully with—has participated in—the suffering of all the world, and by doing so has enabled human wounds to be transformed.
Halík offers a vision of Christian existence that is kenotic and thoroughly anti-triumphalistic. He eschews the vision of “Christ the Victor” that he more than once associates with American “Evangelicals” and “fundamentalists,” who enthusiastically fill auditoriums with joyful noise. His starting point is rather the suffering that he has witnessed in his travels among the poor and oppressed of the world. But he observes that people are not only wounded materially; the acute secularization of “advanced” societies has caused suffering of a more subtle but no less hurtful sort, the wound of the loss of meaning that makes it difficult even to speak of God.
The multi-dimensional Halík combines the traits of the philosopher, sociologist, psychologist, theologian, and activist, and serves as the pastor of St. Salvador Parish in Prague. His many interests appear in various ways in the separate essays of this volume, as he engages in a number of intellectual debates (most of them involving his long-time sparring partner, Nietzsche), and social commentary, alongside essays—perhaps originally homilies—that focus on the fundamentally pastoral character of his theme.
The prose in most of the pastoral essays is unadorned and clear. Surely such clarity is not due to the translator, Gerald Turner, but to the homiletic instincts of Halík himself. In contrast, the four essays that are more obviously philosophical or theological in the continental fashion—“Arcana Cordis,” “A Torn Veil,” “A Dancing God,” and “Worshipping the Lamb”—are difficult even for a reasonably knowledgeable reader to appreciate. They clearly serve to give Halík the opportunity to position his thought within the universe of professional thinkers. But they are stylistically congested, clotted with technical terms (in Latin) and constant reference to intellectual authorities. They have the feel of academic exercises (perhaps even journal articles?) that seek more to display knowledge than to pursue wisdom.
The simpler—and in my view also more profound—essays each offer readers a dimension of the wisdom that begins with the fear of the Lord. These reflections have no trace of academic posturing. They are themselves exercises in the kenotic theology that risks the vulnerability of naked thought exposed to public view, not unlike a body baring its wounds to the gaze of others. The opening essays, for example, “Gate of the Wounded” and “Without Distance,” form a set of Easter reflections, developing the distinctive witness of Thomas among Jesus’ disciples, namely to stand as witness between two kinds of “fundamentalist” assertions: the one from the side of believers that claims to possess God as “a given,” and the other from the side of atheists that claims “there is no God.” Thomas represents those who resist such flat reductions and see God as a possibility and a challenge, who find themselves in thought and action within a dialectic movement that includes doubt, rather than in a fixed position of certainty.
A second set of essays focuses on the woundedness of humanity in its contingent and alienated condition. In “Stigmata and Forgiveness,” Halík draws on another theme in the Johannine resurrection passage: the wounded (stigmatic) Jesus sends Thomas and the other disciples to continue his own mission of forgiving sins by them in turn forgiving the sins of others. Halík reflects on the remarkable example of John Paul II seeking out his would-be assassin and offering him forgiveness. Being wounded is not a basis for retreating from humanity or for seeking revenge. It is, rather, an empathic lens that allows the forgiveness of others, who are viewed as also wounded.