Scott Hahn Writes His "Most Important Book"

New Book, “First Comes Love»

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( author of best-selling mass-market books added another new book to the bookstores on May 7, likely to be both influential and controversial.

Scott Hahn is a respected theologian and Scripture scholar, and co-host of two popular television shows. His newest book, “First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity” (Doubleday).

Zenit interviewed Dr. Hahn about a book that is likely to be influential — and controversial.


ZENIT — Of the 10 books you’ve authored or co-authored, you say this is your most important. Why?

HAHN — Because this is the first book in which I’ve been able to give the big picture of why I became Catholic. My other books bore fruit in a systematic or apologetic way, which many people appreciated. But none of that would have been possible without the biblical theology you find in “First Comes Love.” With this book, I’m getting to the roots, which, for me, come down to three ideas: covenant theology, family solidarity, and the mystery of the Trinity. When I was a Protestant, I affirmed all of these; I just never connected them. What I found, over time, was that the three converge in Catholicism.

ZENIT — How do you see these ideas converging?

HAHN — Perhaps no one has brought it all together more concisely than Pope John Paul II. The first time he left the Vatican as Pope, he traveled to America and gave the world a key to understanding his papacy. It was a Trinitarian key, but it was also familial and covenantal. He said: “God in His deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since He has in Himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of the family, which is love.”

ZENIT — That’s a compact statement. How do you develop these ideas and their interrelationship?

HAHN — I usually explain them in terms of the “Family of God,” and there are layers of meaning in that phrase. On the most superficial level, it means that the family — your household and mine — belongs to God, and thus the Christian family is a domestic Church. Taking it to the next level, we see that the Catholic Church is the earthly household of God, and that every member of the family has a distinctive role to play, a particular vocation. That’s why the language of the Church is saturated with family terms. We call priests “father” and nuns “sister.” We speak of baptism as “birth” and Eucharist as a family meal. All of this is beautiful, and yet all of this is secondary. The most profound revelation of all is that God Himself is a family. When He revealed His name, his essential identity, He did so in family terms: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

ZENIT — But aren’t those words meant to be metaphors? Wasn’t God trying to reveal Himself in terms that everyone could understand?

HAHN — No and yes. In revelation, God always accommodates Himself to human ability, either by stooping down to our level or by lifting us up to His. I would say, however, that the family language — and the family itself — is one way that God lifts us up to His own level. It’s not His “role” that He’s revealing here, as lawgiver or creator or redeemer. God is all those things because of the things He has done. But “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is something of a different order. It’s not a title; it’s a name. And the name represents not something He’s done, but Someone He is. A person’s name, in the ancient world, stood for your soul, your most essential identity. And so the family is not something metaphorical about God, but something metaphysical. “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is Who God is, from all eternity — unlike “lawgiver,” “creator,” and “redeemer,” which are terms that depend upon His action in time. It would be more accurate to say that my family, the Hahns, are a metaphor for the Trinity than to say that “Father, Son, and Spirit” is a metaphor for God.

ZENIT — If the idea of the Family of God is so essential to Christianity, why do Christians in the third millennium find it startling?

HAHN — I think it’s because we no longer know what family is. We read Jesus’ words, and we nod at all the talk about God’s fatherhood and human brotherhood. But we really are not equipped to understand what Jesus means. We don’t know anything like the institution that Jesus called the family.

ZENIT — Why? Because of the breakdown of the family in Western society?

HAHN — No, it goes much deeper than that. Ancient cultures — in Rome, China, Israel, Africa — viewed the family primarily in religious terms. Your family was not the nuclear family, or even the extended family, but all your relatives in the present generation as well as in the past and the future. To describe this, I’ve borrowed a term from Carle Zimmerman of Harvard, who called this transcendent bond the “trustee family.”

ZENIT — How does the covenant fit?

HAHN — Covenant is what held the trustee family together. In the ancient world, a covenant was the sacred oath that sealed or renewed a family bond. Marriage was a covenant, and so was adoption. In the Old Testament, God entered a covenant relationship with His chosen people. In the New Testament, Jesus renewed this and called it the “new covenant” in His blood. With that action, He created and sustains the Church as His abiding family, a trustee family.

ZENIT — What did the ancients have that modern Christians lack?

HAHN — I think it’s this profound religious sense of the family. Today, we talk about family values, and we even preach the religious foundations of these values. But we’re still miles away from the trustee family. In the trustee family, a sacred bond united members in the present generation with the ancestors who gave them life; the same bond united them with their future descendants, who would perpetuate the family name, honor, and worship. This is hardly what most folks today mean when they speak of “the family.” But this is exactly what Jesus meant. Until we recover His vision, we can’t adequately understand His Church and His sacraments. Nor can we begin to understand and praise the Blessed Trinity, Who is the heavenly archetype of all human families.

ZENIT — Many denominations would claim to be God’s trustee family…

HAHN — But only the Catholic Church can make the claim credibly. It’s the only contender that is truly universal, united throughout the world as it is one through time. The true Church transcends ethnicity, class, and everything else that divides people. James Joyce was right when he defined Catholicism as “Here comes everybody.” This is the trustee family writ large, as only God can write it.

ZENIT — You develop the doctrine of the Trinity in ways that will surprise even your longtime readers. I’m thinking in particular of how you describe the “bridal maternity” of the Holy Spirit. This sounds like the stuff of controversy.

HAHN — I hope it’s just the stuff of Scripture and Tradition. There’s no time to sketch out the idea here. It takes up an entire chapter and a large portion of the endnotes in my book. But it’s an idea I’ve found expressed throughout the Bible. It echoes in the Fathers of the Church — especially the Syriac Fathers such as St. Ephrem and Aphrahat — and in the saints, from Catherine of Siena to Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein. For theological support, I’ve relied upon the great Matthias Scheeben as well as Cardinals Congar and Ratzinger.

ZENIT — That sounds rich.

HAHN — It is, but God wants to lavish His riches upon us. The beauty of the faith is that God makes His revelation available so that anyone can think deeply without a doctorate. He makes the raw materials for contemplation of the mysteries available to ordinary people, like garage mechanics, shop workers, journalists like you, and dads like me.

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