Jesus the Holy Fool

By Elizabeth-Anne Stewart
Sheed & Ward, 1999. 242 pp. Pb. $15.95. ISBN 1-58051-061-2

Reviewed by Herb Meza, Jacksonville, Fla.


The theme of this book is the reconciliation of folly and holiness. In beautifully written paragraphs, folly is described not as foolishness or buffoonery, but as vulnerability; risk above safety; truth above security; love above self-gain; and celebration over somberness. (Harvey Cox's "A Feast of Fools" and Henri Nouwen's "Clowning in Rome" play upon the same theme.)

The willingness to be this kind of fool often leads to mockery and to ridicule. Holy fools, then, are those made mad and merry by their faith in God, and who express their willingness to be taunted for the sake of Christ.

This book is strongly biblical in focus. It seeks to explore a Christology which has been largely neglected. It seeks to make the reader consider a new way of approaching God. The life of Christ and the words of Christ are examined in terms of folly. God and the Holy Spirit come under the same scrutiny. For example, God’s gift of free will at creation was divinely absurd. The gifts of the Spirit, inspired speech (glossolalia and xenoglossia), communal living (counter-culture living) and the spiritual energy devoted to people of low estate — all folly. But in the resurrection, God has the last laugh.

This is a good book — maybe even a great one. The biblical scholarship is solid. A chapter on spirituality is excellent. This is a tonic for today’s church which needs so much to laugh at itself. There is a powerful chapter on the Roman Catholic Church and its modern-day malaise (the author is a Roman Catholic scholar). This malaise consists of “spiritual arrogance,” “collusion with earthly powers” and “dismantling the pyramid of power.” However, the rest of us can learn some lessons, too.