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The Catholic Historical Review 88.2 (2002) 381-382
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A Life in Dialogue
Bede Griffiths. A Life in Dialogue. By Judson B. Trapnell. (Albany: State University of New York Press. 2001. Pp. xvii, 279. $16.95 paperback.)
Interreligious dialogue has for some time been the subject of scholars and academics. Interested individuals have undertaken the study of history, philosophies, and languages to appreciate and understand non-Western religions. Some have even traveled to distant countries to experience first hand these traditions, and others have spent a greater part of their lives in societies completely different from the country of their birth. Non-Christian religions have always interested a number Roman Catholics, but recently, at least since Vatican Council II, an appreciation of these beliefs has replaced fascination or intellectual curiosity. Moreover, this council also recognized the need for interreligious dialogue and inculturation. Bede Griffiths (1906-1993), an English monk, not only developed an interest in Hinduism, but his desire to fashion a marriage of East and West took him to India in 1955, where he lived until his death.
Judson Trapnell introduces this interesting and informative book by stating emphatically that this work it is not a biography, and he refers the reader to other accounts of Bede Griffiths' accomplishments. "In contrast, this book presents a highly structured interpretation of Griffiths's life and thought, shaped by categories that he himself suggested in later years as he reflected upon the paradigmatic quality of that life" (p. 1). Key aspects of Bede Grittiths' career, however, do form an important element in this study. Not only does Trapnell begin his book by discussing the days leading up to Griffiths' death in India, but he introduces each chapter with events which influenced the development of his thought.
Trapnell divides this study of Griffiths into three chapters which correspond to important periods in his life: God in nature (1906-1932), God in Christ and the Church (1932-1968), and Nonduality, Advaita (1968-1993). The first chapter describes Griffiths' early intellectual journey, especially the importance of symbols and the influence of the Romantic poets. The second, which corresponds with his conversion to Roman Catholicism, his monastic vocation in England, and his departure for India in 1955, explores the theme of the knowledge of God through the symbols of Bible, liturgy, and prayer. In the final chapter, the author discusses Bede Griffiths' role as culture bearer, intuitive wisdom, and the idea of Christian advaita. Hindu traditions and the surrender to God's will emerge as important aspects of this period of Griffiths' life, especially after his health began to decline.
Trapnell has provided anyone interested in Bede Griffiths with an important and significant analysis of his thought and contributions. This book is well organized and explains the main philosophical and theological themes in a clear and concise manner. Moreover, one can easily see the development in Griffiths' thought and understand the tensions within his spiritual journey. The author's in-depth knowledge of his subject's writings and his appreciation of the western [End Page 381] influences on Griffiths' spirituality is obvious. Trapnell is also at home with Hindu thought and culture. To people unfamiliar with his interesting life and his contributions to interreligious dialogue, one of the biographies of Griffiths might prove useful.
Rene Kollar, O. S. B.
Saint Vincent Archabbey