John (Hans) Wijngaards: Christ’s Idea of Authority in the Church – a Review

A month ago, on the invitation of John  (Hans) Wijngaards, I obtained, with a discount code,  his latest book, Christ’s Idea of Authority in the Church.   I went through it from A to Z. I followed his suggestion to read only one chapter a day, though I could hardly wait till the next day to read the following one.

Each  of the short 28 chapters  begins with a quotation  from  Sacred Scripture:  all, except Chapter 9,  from one of the Gospels.  The book is faithful to its title and   keeps Christ and the exegesis of  his words  about authority  central. Each  chapter has  an amusing cartoon and a relevant incident  from John’s  life,  before  offering  us a  scholarly reflection based on his knowledge of S. Scripture and the history of the Church.

I love autobiography  and each chapter  draws on John’s  life, especially his  lecturing and missionary experience in India as well as his international service as Vicar General of our St Joseph’s Missionary Society and director of the ‘Housetop apostolate’. . I learnt much from his exegesis  as well as from his experiences or accounts of the use/misuse of authority in the Church and agree with his explanation  that  various aspects of Christ’s idea of authority in the Church  have been obscured and neglected to the detriment of the Church’s mission in the world.  As he writes in his introduction, “Because I value ministry in the Church, I am dismayed by the ugly accretions that have attached  themselves to it in the course of the centuries….These cancerous growths were even enshrined in church laws…That is why I wrote this booklet. The authority in the Church which Jesus gave can, in many amazing forms, bring life to every believer. I want us all to reflect on how that authority is exercised in the Church today – to unmask the accretions and rediscover what Jesus had in mind.” (ix)

I would agree with the professional endorsements that are given at the beginning of the book, especially that of Professor  Mary McAleese who   asserts that we need  such a prophetic voice in our time,  “as the Catholic Church wriggles out of its taut imperial chrysalis to fly at last on two wings, male and female, lay and ordained, equal in voice and decision- making, liberated from clericalism and legalism, free to love one another as Christ intended and as he loves us” (Flyleaf). Just  skimming through some of the titles of  the Chapters makes one eager to read and learn from them: Power to bind or loosen; Power to forgive sins; Power to  save lives; Power to  drive out mental demons; Power  to liberate; The authority of  the community; The authority of the catholic  ‘sense of faith’; No authority to enjoy luxury; Authority Reform -step by step; – can a schism be avoided?  etc. I was delighted with what John’s mother said to a religious sister and a priest on the day he was born which implied the need for reform in the Church. It is clear that her son inherited her prophetic spirit which the reader will realise has been at work in the writing of this enlivening and enlightening book!

The 45% discount  code from – CHRISTSIDE A 45 – is still operative for any member of the Society. Give it a go ! I am sure you will learn a lot as well as enjoy the book as much as I did!

John Taylor MHM

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