Wednesday, April 21, 2010

'The Turn to Transcendence'

Dr Glenn Olsen, a brilliant man whom I consider a friend and something of a mentor over many years, has written another book. His latest is entitled The Turn to the Transcendence: The Role of Religion in the Twenty-First Century. Catholic University Press is publishing this book, which will available in early June.

I spoke with Dr. Olsen last evening and Turn to Transcendence will be a Cathedral Book Club selection come this fall with Dr. Olsen leading the discussions. This is something not only to look forward to, but to be excited about.

Among his other published books is Beginning at Jerusalem: Five Reflections on Church History. Which consists of five very good essays, which began life as annual lectures he delivered in New York City. This collection was published in 2004 by Ignatius Press. It contains some fine lines about the angels in our lovely Cathedral of the Madeleine (link is to 3D viewer of the Cathedral). Referring to what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about angels, Dr. Olsen observes:

"This is the best statement of why angels exist. God wishes to share his goodness and gifts. One may hope that others follow the lead of Msgr. Francis Mannion in preserving angels in the restoration of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in which I worship in Salt Lake City. The restored cathedral is full of angels. Especially striking... are eight great angels painted on the ceiling at the transcept crossing above the altar. It is difficult to worship in this church without being reminded of the company of the angels, that God has been much more prolific in his dealing with the universe than early modern science suggested...Every person who enters the cathedral in Salt Lake City is reminded of such a perspective, and this church stands as an alternative to our current impoverishment in matters liturgucal and architectural."
Dr. Olsen, who is an emeritus professor at the University of Utah, my alma mater. He is an internationally known and respected historian whose particular area of study is medieval intellectual history, but he has published in area of patristics, as well as the history of law, and history of sexuality. In addition to teaching at Utah, he has taught at Seattle University, and Fordham University. He has been a visiting professor at St. John's University, Collegeville, MN, the University of Notre Dame, Vilnius University (Lithuania) and Franciscan University in Austria.

I am always hesitant to mention people who have generously taken the time to help shape and form me for fear that it will somehow make them complicit in the on-going internet crime against human sense and sensibility that is this blog. Nonetheless, this post affords me the opportunity to mention how fortunate I was in the mid-90s to work at the Cathedral of the Madeleine and to associate with people like Drs. Olsen and Lindsay Adams, the latter of whom taught me ancient history at the U, particularly the history of Greece and of Rome. I can tell you from experience that it is a daunting thing to mount the ambo during Mass and commence preaching to two of your very distinguished professors! Msgr. M. Francis Mannion, who is largely responsible for me being a deacon, having made the mistake of telling me one day as we were processing into Mass (I was the Cathedral MC then) "I think you'd make a good deacon," was my boss and the one who facilitated my association with these fine men. Additionally, Deacon Owen Cummings and Gregory Glenn have been very indulgent towards me over quite a few years. Without exception, all these people have only ever encouraged me in the most positive ways. I consider it a great privilege to know each of them. This goes some distance towards explaining why I am so excited by Dr. Olsen's latest book.

Even if you're prone to judge a book by its cover, the cover of The Turn to Transcendence features El Greco's painting of St. John.

Christos Anesti


  1. What is the catholic teaching on transcendence?
    Is it okay for one to search for god through the via negativa that Dionysus spoke of?
    He wrote the Celestial Hierarchy which I believe is accepted by the Catholic church.

  2. The so-called via negativa is certainly one means of remaining aware of our transcendent nature.