Saturday, January 10, 2009

Blessed Columba Marmion, Christ in His Mysteries

In a personal correspondence, Zaccheus Press Editor John O'Leary says: "There are some who think this is Marmion's finest work, including Aidan Nichols (who wrote the Introduction), and Fr. Mark Tierney, the Vice-Postulator (Ret.) for Marmion's Cause for Canonization."

Blessed Columba Marmion, Christ in His Mysteries, translated by Alan Bancroft (Bethesda, MD: Zaccheus Press, 2008) is a sizable book of466 pages. It is not the first book of Marmion's published by Zaccheus Press. Christ, the Life of the Soul was published in December of 2005 (see our post on the book here). In December of the following year, Zaccheus Press published Union with God: Letters of Spiritual Direction by Blessed Columba Marmion (see our post on the book here).

According to Mr. O'Leary, in this book "Marmion is particularly concerned with leading the Catholic faithful toward a deeper understanding and appreciation of the liturgy -- in particular, the many special graces available, if we would but avail ourselves of them, during the course of the liturgical year." In fact, he points out, Marmion's passion for the subject is suggested in a letter he wrote in 1917:
"The good I have been enabled to do to souls -- men, women, children, rich and poor -- by revealing to them the treasures of spiritual life, of light and facility in their relations with God, which are contained in the Liturgy, show me how greatly important it is for every priest, vicar, curate, everyone, to work at making known this well-spring, so sure and so ecclesiastical, of the spiritual life.
Fr. Benedict Groeschel writes in the Foreword:
My advice to the members of this generation is to run to the library for Marmion before you succumb to malnutrition. Read Christ in His Mysteries as soon as possible and you will get some idea of what you have been missing and where to find it.
Again, Aidan Nichols, writing in the Introduction, says:
In Christ in His Mysteries, Marmion’s insight, as simple as it was brilliant, is that practicing Catholics will draw maximum profit from their meditation on the life of Christ if they contemplate its chief happenings through the lens provided by the Church’s liturgical year. In that year those happenings are celebrated in feasts and seasons. The Liturgy is the way the Church as Bride gazes lovingly — and therefore penetratingly — at her Bridegroom, laying out her understanding of His heart: His purposes, the grand design of the Father which He carried out for our sake... Readers of Christ in His Mysteries have opened to them the theological and spiritual treasures of Latin Catholicism at its best.
About the Author
Born in Ireland, Blessed Columba Marmion served for several years as a priest in Dublin before finding a vocation to the monastery. He eventually became the Abbot of Maredsous Abbey, Belgium. One of the foremost spiritual masters of the 20th century, his books were translated into eleven languages and sold some 1.5 million copies.

Firmly rooted in the Bible, the Liturgy, and the writings of the Saints and Doctors of the Church, Marmion explores every aspect of Catholic doctrine, with penetrating insight. His writings are marked both by the remarkable clarity of their exposition, and by their keen psychological insight and sensitivity.

But his greatest contribution to modern spirituality was to restore Jesus Christ to His rightful place at the center of the Christian life — Christ as “the life of the soul” of every Christian: through faith, through the sacraments, and through the liturgy of the Church. Historians note that only a handful of books were universally read by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council: the Bible, the Catechism of Trent, the 1917 Code, and the writings of Columba Marmion. His doctrine is recognizable in several Vatican II documents.

Many of his admirers believe Marmion will one day not only be canonized, but also declared a Doctor of the Church.
[Hat tip to John O'Leary]

C.S. Lewis and Ronald Knox at Oxford

"This book had led me deeper into [C.S.] Lewis' own writings than any I've read," writes Walter Hooper, longtime trustee and literary advisor to the estate of C.S. Lewis, in his preface to Fr. Milton T. Walsh's new book, Second Friends: C.S. Lewis and Ronald Knox in Conversation (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008). Hooper writes:
This—to quote C.S. Lewis—"is the most noble and joyous book I've read these past ten years." It is also one of the most surprising. After immersing myself in the writings of Lewis for half a century I could not, when I first heard Milton Walsh talk about the book, see how C.S. Lewis and Ronald Knox could benefit from being placed together. I am now totally converted.
Carl Olson of Ignatius Insight interviewed Fr. Walsh about his earlier book, Ronald Knox As Apologist: Wit, Laughter and the Popish Creed (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007) last May, and he said this about his second book:
There are many similarities between Knox and C. S. Lewis, and I am currently writing a book comparing their thought. They both came from Evangelical backgrounds; they both combined a love of logic with a romantic view of life. They were both very much at home in the world of Oxford, and wrote in a variety of genres. Knox was about ten years older than Lewis, so they did not know one another in student days. I have found references to each man's writings in the other man's books and letters; they were familiar with one another's work.

When I went to Oxford a couple of years ago I made an interesting discovery. Every afternoon Lewis used to take a walk in the meadow behind Magdalen College, and Knox would take a walk in Christ Church Meadow. I found out they were practically across the street from each other! They had friends in common, and one of them reports that he invited them to lunch one day in 1936. They hit it off very well, and it is enjoyable to speculate what might have happened had Knox not left Oxford a couple of years later. They may have gotten better acquainted, although Lewis' discomfort with "Papists" (excluding such exceptions as Tolkien), and Knox's reticence to go "convert hunting" may have been enough to keep them apart. I like to think they're together now!
Read an excerpt from Ronald Knox As Apologist and the entire interview.

[Acknowledgement: Carl Olson's review posted at Ignatius Insight on June 12, 2008.]

St. Francis, converter of Muslims

As an update to our earlier post (St. Francis: a Mensch of a Saint, Musings, January 14, 2008) reviewing Frank M. Rega's book, St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims (TAN, 2007), here is a link to an interview with the author by Michael Baggot, entitled "St. Francis of Assisi: Not a Birkenstock-Clad Hippie But a Converter of Muslims" (, April 3, 2008).

[Hat tip to blog reader]

Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI, a featured book review by Michael P. Foley

[Christ Pantocrator -- St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai]

During an interview, Peter Seewald once asked Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger a pointed question: How many ways are there to God? Seewalt, a lapsed Catholic, was perhaps hoping to catch the author of the "infamous" document Dominus Iesus--which reaffirms Jesus Christ as the only source of salvation--in a "gotcha" moment of intolerance and rigidity.

But the Cardinal surprised him. "As many as there are people," he replied. "For even within the same faith each man's way is an entirely personal one."1 Though Ratzinger also made clear that the only way to God is through Christ, it was his focus on each man's encounter with the Way that discombobulated the jaded journalist. That same disarming blend of the orthodox and the individual is evident in Ratzinger/Benedict XVI's latest book, Jesus of Nazareth, which the author describes not as an "exercise of the Magisterium" but an "expression of [his] personal search 'for the face of the Lord.'"2

The Historical-Critical Method

The Holy Father's salutary distinction between his office and his opinions does not mean that Jesus of Nazareth has little to do with the teachings of the Church. One of the book's central aims is to rectify that form of biblical exegesis known as historical criticism. Begun in the eighteenth century as an
enlightenment attempt to strip revealed religion of its claims to the supernatural and the miraculous, historical criticism now dominates biblical studies both Catholic and Protestant and shows no sign of abating, despite the rise of other schools of interpretation such as literary criticism.

* * * * * * *
Though Ratzinger also made clear that the only way to God is through Christ, it was his focus on each man's encounter with the Way that discombobulated the jaded journalist.

* * * * * * *

As its ideological beginnings make clear, historical criticism is a mixed blessing for Christianity. On the one hand, it was designed to undermine the believer's confidence in the reliability of the sacred text, and consequently it has destroyed not only many a man's orthodox convictions but his entire faith. For contemporary examples of this one need only think of the twaddle advanced by the "Jesus Seminar" or the articles gracing the covers of Time and Newsweek every Easter that deny the Resurrection on the authority of renowned biblical "experts."

On the other hand, it is thanks to the methodology of modern biblical studies that we have made enormous strides in understanding our biblical manuscripts, in our grasp of the original languages, andin our knowledge of Scripture's historical and cultural context. At its best, historical criticism helps exegetes better understand the literal sense of the text.

Benedict makes clear in his preface that he is aware of historical criticism's "indispensable dimension" as well as its significant "limits" (xv, xvi). Undergirding the conflict between historical-critical studies and Christian orthodoxy, however, is a deeper issue: who is the ultimage interpreter of the Bible--the Church, with its rule of faith, or the Academy, with its own canons of judgment? One of the most chilling passages in Jesus of Nazareth is Benedict's reflections on a short story by Vladimir Soloviev in which the Antichrist comes as a renowned Scripture scholar who believes that one should "measure the Bible against the so-called modern worldview" (35):

The Antichrist, with an air of scholarly excellence, tells us that any exegesis that reads the Bible from the perspective of faith in the living God, in order to listen to what God has to say, is fundamentalism; he wants to convince us that only his kind of exegesis, the supposedly pure scientific kind, in which God says nothing and has nothing to say, is able to keep abreast of the times (36).

It is no doubt statements like this that led Cardinal Renato Martino to say that Jesus of Nazareth is not only a book with "salt and pepper" but with "hot peppers."3

* * * * * * *
Most of the controversy generated by Jesus of Nazareth so far has been not over any of Benedict's interpretations of this or that passage but his underlying conviction that the Church is in a beter position to understand its own sacred texts than the Academy.

* * * * * * *

For Benedict, only eyes fortified by Faith, Hope, and Charity can truly see the living mysteries disclosed in the Scriptures.4 While historical criticism can be useful, it must be firmly subordinated to the Apostolic Faith (xxiii), and it must remain cognizant of the fact that its own reconstructions of the past are hypothetical and hence tentative (xix). Most of the controversy generated by Jesus of Nazareth so far has been not over any of Benedict's interpretations of this or that passage but his underlying conviction that the Church is in a beter position to understand its own sacred texts than the Academy. That this should come as a surprise or a scandal to anyone indicates the extent of the crisis we are in and why the Pope is wise to address it.

[Saint Jerome from a mural]

On the whole, however, Benedict's own approach is more constructive than critical. His Holiness highlights the auspicious "fact that the inner nature of the [historical-critical] method points beyond itself" (xviii). Just as modern science, when it is understood properly, points to the need for a science or scientia greater than itself, so too does historical criticism implicitly (and perhaps unwittingly) reveal the possibility that every word in the Scriptures "contains more than the author may have been immediately aware of at the time" (xix).

A Master Exegete

Hence, there will always be a need to examine what the Church Fathers called the sensus plenior, the fuller Christological meaning of both Testaments made present through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To hold this involves no blind appeal to authority or voluntaristic suspension of discernment. On the contrary, Pope Benedict masterfully demonstrates that the most rational and reasonable way to read the Scriptures is with the recognition that the so-called "Jesus of history" is the "Christ of faith" (xxii), that the dichotomy between the two created by many exegetes invariably butchers the very text they purport ot understand and thus undercuts their own claims to competency. Two examples will suffice to illustrate this point.

In his chapter on the Baptism in the Jordan, Benedict takes advantage of the spectacular discovery of the Qumran or "Dead Sea" scrolls in the 1940s, reflecting on the possible connections between the desert Essenes (an ascetical, quasi-monastic Jewish community) and Saint John the Baptist. But while many scholars tend to reduce John's ministry to that of the Essences, Benedict, looking at the same data, more convincingly argues that in light of what we know from Qumran, "the Baptist's appearance on the scene was something completely new; the baptism he enjoined is different fromthe usual religious ablutions" (14). The Essenes had frequent ritual washings to be sure, but these stand in contrast to the unrepeatable act by the Baptist that is "meant to be the concrete enactment of a conversion that gives the whole of life a new direction forever" (ibid.). Like any good Catholic missionary, John was taking preexisting symbols and transforming their use and meaning to betoken a new and divine reality.

Second, in his chapter on the Gospel of Saint John, Benedict reviews the commonplace contention that while the other three Gospels are more or less historical, John's Gospel is a much later product of theological speculation and hence does not reflect the "real" Jesus. Yet as Benedict points out, this conjecture presupposes that theological reflection is a hindrance rather than an aid to knowing who this Man is, and this is absurd: if Christ is who He says He is, the only way to know him is through faith. Ultimately undergirding the "historical Jesus" obsession is a remarkably naive understanding of history as something that can be captured in a series of transcripts. But as John himself points out in his Gospel through his use of the conceept of memory, "remembering" the story of the Christ can only happen through an awakening of the Spirit that makes the data of the past intelligible (231-34). Benedict's careful exploration of the biblical author's self-understanding provides a key to unlocking the text that modern exegetes have been trying in vain to pick.

Genuine Dialogue

It is no coincidence that Jesus of Nazareth is itself an excellent example of how historical criticism, purified of its pretensions to high science and rightly reordered, can bear much fruit. But the book, which covers the earthly ministry of Our Lord from His baptism to His transfiguration (a second volume on the infancy narratives and the Passion is forthcoming), boldly engages a number of other controversies as well. Perhaps the most fascinating example of this is the Pope's response to Rabbi Jacob Neusner, whom Benedict calls a "great Jewish scholar" (69) and a "truly attentive listner" (118). Neusner is the author of the 1994 book A Rabbi Talks With Jesus (reprinted 2000), in which he imagines himself in the crowd listening to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. As Benedict summarizes:
He listens to Jesus... and he speaks with Jesus himself. He is touched by the greatness and the purity of what is said, and yet at the same time he is troubled by the ultimate incompatibility that he finds at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount.... Again and again he talks with Him. But in the end, he decides not to follow Jesus. He remains--as he himself puts it--withthe 'eternal Israel'" (103-4).
Neusner, a distinguished professor of Judaism at Bard College, was unimpressed with the "Judeo-Christian dialogue [that] served as the medium of a politics of social conciliation" rather than a "religious inquiry into the convictions of the other."5 He lamented the post-WWII "conviction that the two religions say the same thing" and the Enlightenment "indifference to the truth-claims of religion."6 In other words, he was tired of the very same things that make a traditional Catholic bristle when he hears the words "interreligious dialogue."

Neusner's response was A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, in which he takes with the utmost seriousness and respoect the teachings of Jesus even though he ultimately cannot accept them. Why not? Because "the Torah was and is perfect and beyond improvement,"7 whereas Jesus, with His frequent "You have heart it said... But I say unto you" emendations, is clearly going beyond the Torah and hence daring to improve it. Neusner rightly recognizes that with these statements Jesus is claiming to be God, and this astonishing assertion is something to which he cannot assent.

Rabbi Neusner later said of his book that he wanted to explain to Christians why he believed in Judaism, and that this explanation "ought to help Christians identify the critical convictions that bring them to church every Sunday."8 It certainly did for one reader. Benedict writes: "More than other interpretations known to me, this respectful and frank dispute between a believing Jew and Jesus, the son of Abraham, has opened my eyes to the greatness of Jesus' words and to the choice that the Gospel places before us" (69).

* * * * * * *
This is interreligious dialogue at its very best, the kind of serious conversation reminiscent of Saint Thomas Aquinas' turn to Rabbi Moses Maimonedes, where respect for the other does not devalue respect for the truth.

* * * * * * *

In what is the longest treatment of any living author in Jesus of Nazareth, the Pope joins "in the rabbi's conversation with Jesus" (70). He argues that Neusner is absolutely right in his analysis of what Jesus is saying, but he contends that this does not constitute a violation of the Torah. On the contrary, drawing from the testimony of the Hebrew Bible the Pope argues that the Torah points beyond itself, beyond the borders of Israel, that God's "one great definitive promise to Israel and the world" was the "gift of universality" which is made possible by the God-man who comes to save both Jew and Gentile (116).

This is interreligious dialogue at its very best, the kind of serious conversation reminiscent of Saint Thomas Aquinas' turn to Rabbi Moses Maimonedes, where respect for the other does not devalue respect for the truth. Neusner himself was amazed that the Pope should honor him in this way. In responding to Jesus of Nazareth, the rabbi wrote, "Someone once called me the most contentious person he had ever known. Now I have met my match. Pope Benedict XVI is another truth-seeker. We are in for interesting times."9

Theological Wisdom

To dwell as I have done on the Holy Father's disputations with contemporary issues such as biblical criticism and Judeo-Christian dialogue should not, however, obscure the more fundamental fact that Jesus of Nazareth is first and foremost a treasure of timeless theological wisdom. Benedict is a master reader of Holy Writ, a sleuth of the sacred who artfully connects seeminly disparate scriptural passages or Patristic interpretations to reveal a deep and rich teaching. No matter how well you think you know the Bible, the Pope will surprise you.

* * * * * * *
For Benedict, only eyes fortified by Faith, Hope, and Charity can truly see the living mysteries disclosed in the Scriptures. While historical criticism can be useful, it must be firmly subordinated to the Apostolic Faith, and it must remain cognizant of the fact that its own reconstructions of the past are hypothetical and hence tentative.

* * * * * * *

To mention just two examples: Benedict's explanation of why Jesus deigned to be baptized is not that He wished to rid Himself of His guilt (for He obviously had none) but that He wished to "load the burden of all mankind's guilt upon his shoulders" (18). Like Jonah the prophert, Our Lord inaugurated His public ministry by being thrown into the sea so that others may live. Benedict notes that in Eastern icons depicting Christ's baptism, the river Jordan appears "as a liquid tomb," a Hades into which Christ descends and out of which He rises to be greeted by the Father and the Holy Spirit" (19).

Similarly, Benedict offers a powerful exegesis of the three temptations in the desert by framing this event with a difficult question: Why didn't Jesus turn stone into bread (if not to feed Himself then at least others) or take control of all nations in order to bring peace on earth? Indeed "What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world?" (44). "The answer," Benedict continues, "is very simple: God. He has brought God. He has brought the God who formerly unveiled his countenance gradually, first to Abraham and then to Moses and the Prophets, and then in the Wisdom literature.... It is this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the true God, whom he has brought to the nations of the earth" 944).

As this answer suggests, the Pope is never far from the face of the Lord in his exegesis. Everything that Christ says, such as his preaching on the Kingdom of God (ch. 3) or His parables (ch. 7) brings us primarily, not to a doctrine, but to Himself. When Our Lord speaks of the Kingdom of God, for example, He is speaking about His own kingship, Himself. And when He tells the Parable of the Prodigal Son, He is indicating how He Himself is the "concrete realization of the father's" mercy towards the sinner (208).

I mentioned earlier that Peter Seewald was disarmed by Cardinal Ratzinger's answer about the ways of seeking god, and now I should add that that experience reignited his own search for the Lord and his return to the Church. Let us hope that the hot but nourishing peppers in Jesus of Nazareth will have the same effect on those of us whose love of the Lord has grown cool.

  1. Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium: An Interview With Peter Seewald, trans. Adrian J. Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997), 32. [back]

  2. p. xxiii. Cf. Ps. 27:8. [back]

  3. "Cardinal: Pope's Book Goes Against Grain,", 22 July 2007. [back]

  4. Looking at the logical lapses of Rudolf Bultmann, for example, "we see how little protection the highly scientific approach can offer against fundamental mistakes" (220). [back]

  5. Ibid. [back]

  6. Ibid. [back]

  7. Ibid. [back]

  8. Ibid. [back]

  9. Ibid. [back]

[Dr. Michael P. Foley is a professor of Patristics at Baylor University and the author of Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday? The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). The present review of Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Winter 2008), pp. 34-37, and is reprinted here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.]

St. Francis -- a Mensch of a Saint

If you're tired of portraits of St. Francis as little more than a Birkenstock-clad hippie, a Peace Corps social worker, or an effeminate tofu-eating Green Party activist, read this book. Frank M. Rega, St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims (TAN, 2007) reveals the real St. Francis, who, among other things, was also a brave “knight of Christ” who boldly preached Christianity to the Muslims at the risk of his life. St. Francis accompanied the Crusaders to Egypt on the Fifth Crusade, and boldly walked right into the Muslim camp in a spectacular attempt to preach Christianity to the sultan and his followers. His goal was to convert the Muslims, rather than to simply engage in “dialogue” as such. Yet at the same time, he actually was also a supporter of the armed Crusade. He made such an impact with his preaching, that the sultan rebuffed some of his own religious advisors, the imams, who were insisting that Islamic law required that Francis must be beheaded.

This historic event constitutes the focus of this book, yet this volume also includes a comprehensive biography of the saint. Here's what some others are saying about the book:
  • "The most important book on St. Francis in English, in recent years." Brother Alexis Bugnolo, Editor, the Franciscan Archive,

  • "This is a rare and daring approach to the life of St. Francis and one that is so necessary in our world at this time." From the Preface by Father Angelus M. Shaughnessy, O.F.M. Capuchin and EWTN TV Host.
Mr. Rega has been a Third Order (Secular) Franciscan for the past 25 years. His first book, Padre Pio and America, is also published by TAN Books. A Henry Rutgers Scholar and Phi Beta Kappa at Rutgers, Mr. Rega studied at Yale University’s Institute of Human Relations on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. Most recently he was employed by Compuware Corp. as a software engineer on projects for NASA and the Department of Homeland Security.

A 'must read'

Tracey Rowland, Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II (London: Routledge, 2003).

Thomism's influence upon the development of Catholicism is difficult to overestimate - but how secure is its grip on the challenges that face contemporary society? Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II rexamines the crisis of Thomism today as thrown into relief by Vatican II, the 21st ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church. Following the Church's declarations on culture in the document Gaudium et spes - the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World - it was widely presumed that a mandate had been given for transposing ecclesiastical culture into the idioms of modernity. But, says Tracey Rowland, such an understanding is not only based on a facile reading of the Conciliar documents, but is flawed by Thomism's own failure to demonstrate a workable theology of culture that might guide the Church through such transpositions.

A Thomism that fails to specify the precise role of culture in moral formation is problematic in a multicultural age, where Christians are exposed to a complex matrix of institutions and traditions both theistic and secular. The ambivalence of the Thomist tradition to modernity, and modern conceptions of rationality, also impedes its ability to successfully engage with the arguments of rival traditions. Must a genuinely progressive Thomism learn to accommodate modernity? In opposition to such a stance, and in support of those who have resisted the trend in post-Conciliar liturgy to mimic the modernistic forms of mass culture, Culture and the Thomist Tradition musters a synthesis of the theological critiques of modernity to be found in the works of Alasdair MacIntyre, scholars of the international ‘Communio’ project and the Radical Orthodoxy circle. This synthesis, intended as a postmodern Augustinian Thomism, provides an account of the role of culture, memory and narrative tradition in the formation of intellectual and moral character. Re-evaluating the outcome of Vatican II, and forming the basis of a much-needed Thomist theology of culture, the book argues that the anti-beauty orientation of mass culture acts as a barrier to the theological virtue of hope, and ultimately fosters despair and atheism.

What people are saying about the book:
  • “The Second Vatican Council was a turning point, a moment of grace; the Catholic Church, ever suspicious of Western society, at last joined the modern world. As observers feared at the time, however, the Council was much too optimistic about the nature of modern Western culture. In this careful and well-documented study, Tracey Rowland analyses its failure to make a radical critique of the problems that have afflicted Catholicism in the post-Conciliar years.” -- Fergus Kerr OP

  • “Tracey Rowland provides a critical but lucid analysis of the contemporary illusion that it is possible to convert to Christianity a modern culture wrongly thought of as ‘naturally’ Christian. In response, Rowland advocates the development of a Christian culture conscious of its own strong specificity. This book offers valuable insights into how the Christian faith can tackle the cultural challenges it faces today.” -- Serge-Thomas Bonino OP

  • “This ... is an extremely important book, and no serious student of theology or pastor of souls can afford to ignore it.” -- Laudetur

  • “This study...deserves a wide readership...[Rowland's] powers of elucidation and clarification of tangled issues are in full stride in this sustained and persuasive argument.” -- David Forest, Nova et Vetera

  • “For anyone interested in contemporary Thomism or the future of Vatican II's theology, there is much of interest here. ... There is no doubt that anyone interested in current thinking on Vatican II would gain from reading this book. The argument is impressive, challenging, and expressed with clarity and force.” -- Theology

  • “Tracey Rowland's compelling new book ... [is] impressive in many respects.” -- FCS Quarterly
[Tracey Rowland is Dean of the John Paul II institute for Marriage and the Family, Melbourne, Australia, and part of the international ‘Communio’ school of post-Conciliar Catholic theologians.]

Grootheis, "Franky Schaeffer Escapes from Reason," again

Some of you may remember the piece we posted "Jaded: Frank Schaeffer 35 years later" (November 3, 2007). Douglas Groothuis, professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary, has just published a fairly scathing review of Frank Schaeffer's new book, Crazy for God, entitled "Franky Plays Schaeffer Card, Again" (The Pearcy Report, December 18, 2007), in which a persistent question is whether the junior Schaeffer has not lost his faith. A few passages in Schaeffer's book encourage such speculation, such as the one on p. 388 in which he questions the existence of God. Again, there are texts such as these:
“We never have any real information about anything important. . . . The most ridiculous thing in the world is a Ph.D. in theology, an oxymoron if one ever existed” (102).

“Perhaps Mom and Dad were right. In an infinite universe, everything must have happened at least once, someplace, sometime. So maybe there is a God who forgives, who loves, who knows. I hope so.” (end of book)
But then again, maybe Groothuis is wrong, and there is a Franky who really does believe, knows and loves God. I hope so.

[Hat tip to E.E.]

Priestblock 25487

I have just received a review copy of Jean Bernard's Priestblock 25487: A Memoir of Dachau, trans. Deborah Lucas Schneider (Bethesda, MD: Zaccheus Press, 2007) from Zaccheus Press Editor, John H. O'Leary. In an accompanying letter, he notes that the original German edition of the work, published in 2004, was adapted into an award-winning European film called The Ninth Day the same year, but has never before been translated into English.

This is a work of non-fiction, a work of reputed literary merit, which promises to be not only a great read but to offer a tremendous witness to the power of faith. Read some of the consistent five-start Amazon reviews of the film version of the story for confirmation of that.

Here are a number of editorial reviews:
Product Description

In May 1941, Father Jean Bernard was arrested for denouncing the Nazis and deported from his native Luxembourg to Dachau's "Priest Block," a barracks that housed more than 3,000 clergymen of various denominations (the vast majority Roman Catholic priests).

Priestblock 25487 tells the gripping true story of his survival amid inhuman brutality, degradation, and torture.

This important book, originally published in Germany in 1963, was adapted by director Volker Schlöndorff into the film The Ninth Day in 2004.

Introduction by Robert Royal. Preface by Seán Cardinal O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston.

Praise for Priestblock 25487

"Stunning... Casts light into dark and previously neglected corners of the horror that was the Third Reich."
Richard John Neuhaus, Editor in Chief First Things

"Father Jean Bernard's portrait of survival in a German concentration camp is simple, forceful and vivid and therefore impossible to put down or forget. It ranks with the great 20th Century personal testimonies against totalitarian violence... Priestblock 25487 is a diary of Catholic discipleship under extreme conditions that will deeply move all persons of conscience."
Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver

"Gripping! This crisp story of the 3,000-plus Christian clergy at Dachau in 1941 forces me to turn pages quickly, in horror... In its understated power, this brief book is unforgettable."
Michael Novak, author of Washington's God (with Jana Novak)

"Many hundreds of books have been written and published about German concentration and extermination camps during World War II, including at least two or three dozens written or dictated by their actual survivors.

Of these, Father Jean Bernard's Priestblock 25487 is among the very best, because of the exceptional intelligence and honesty of its author. Dachau, where he was imprisoned, was not the worst of all those camps, and Father Bernard was, surprisingly, released after two years of imprisonment: but perhaps because of these very circumstances his diary is extraordinarily telling, convincing, and graphic.
Every scholar and student of that dreadful chapter of twentieth-century history ought to read—and ponder—its contents."
John Lukacs, author of The Hitler of History; and Five Days in London: May 1940

"Father Bernard has left readers with a gripping testimony of the brutal treatment the Catholic clergy received at the hands of the Nazis in Dachau. Despite the grim subject matter, the strong Christian faith held by these men is inspiring."
William A. Donohue, President, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights

"Deeply moving... The suffering of these priests for the sake of the loving God is one of the modern age's glorious mysteries."
Father George Rutler, author of A Crisis of Saints

"It is dramatic. It is brutally honest. I loved the book and could not put it down."
Teresa Tomeo, Ave Maria Radio

"Priestblock 25487 is an important work—a gripping firsthand account of the persecution of anti-Nazi Catholic clergy. I highly recommend this excellent book."
Sr. Margherita Marchione, author of Yours Is A Precious Witness: Memoirs of Jews and Catholics in Wartime Italy

Journet's theology of the Church

A reader points out that Charles Cardinal Journet's The Theology of the Church has just been marked down by Ignatius Press (Amazon has marked down its price as well). "This great contemporary theologian has few readers," he writes. "The translation is seamless." His favorite quote thus far:
How will the faithful as a whole elevate themselves to the Christian usage of exterior goods, of marriage, of liberty, if, from their midst, there do not continually arise some Christians who, in order to affirm with a brilliant intensity the primacy of spiritual ends, choose to renounce completely these very goods? Only the love that moves one to renounce all can, in the Church, sustain that love which makes an instrument of all. And as for those who, being primarily engaged in the broader way of the legitimate use of earthly goods, marriage and liberty, find themselves suddenly stopped short in their momentum and rejected by misfortunes as outcasts from life, if they cast a glance on the marvelous examples of renunciation that the Church makes shine forth around them in every epoch, are they not able to comprehend that God, who seemed to want to break them in his power or abandon them to life's trials, in fact is only calling them in his love to a holier and more sublime vocation, of which they themselves would never even have dreamed? (p. 270)
He also points out that a 31-page Journet article on the Mystery of the Eucharist, Le mystère de l'eucharistie (Cardinal Charles Journet) (Paroisse du Christ-Roi, Fribourg), is a veritable summary of Journet's great work on the Mass.

[Hat tip to A.S.]

Major work on Pope's ecclesiology

As Christopher points out in his post, "New Books by Pope Benedict XVI / Joseph Ratzinger" (Against the Grain, August 21, 2007), Maximilian Heinrich Heim's new book, Joseph Ratzinger - Life in the Church and Living Theology: Fundamentals of Ecclesiology (Ignatius Press, October 2007), at a hefty 500 pages, looks like a major work in Ratzinger scholarship. The publisher's description reads:
This is a major work on the theology of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, by a highly regarded German theologian, priest and writer. Since his election to the Papacy, Ratzinger's theology, and in particular his ecclesiology (theology of the Church), has been in the limelight of theological and ecumenical discussions.

This important work studies in detail Ratzinger's ecclesiology in the light of Vatican II, against the ongoing debate about what Vatican II really meant to say about the life of the Church, its liturgy, its worship, its doctrine, its pastoral mission, and more. Has his theology of the Church changed since Vatican II, or has it continued to develop consistently? Is the Catholic Church one church among many churches? Is she the object of hope or a historical reality?

Ratzinger the theologian figures centrally in this investigation, not as the former Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but as a thinker and as a writer.

[Hat tip to C.B.]

Joseph Pearce's Race with the Devil

Joseph Pearce, author of Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), and many fine biographies of English Catholics (like G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and J.R.R. Tolkien), as well as others whose relationship to Catholicism were more ambiguous (such as Oscar Wilde and C.S. Lewis), has, as he would be the first to tell us, a ... shall we say ... checkered past. In "Race With the Devil: A Journey from the Hell of Hate to the Well of Mercy" (in Journeys Home column of the The Coming Home Network International's July 2008 Newsletter), Pearce relates his early relationships with anti-Catholic terrorist cells, the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defense Association, and petrol bomb attacks in which Catholic-owned shops were looted and destroyed in Derry.

I used to read many more of these Journeys Home stories than I have in recent years, perhaps because of the tyranny of the seemingly more urgent, but I've grown to respect Pearce after making his acquaintance through his writing over the past decade, and I was curious about his background. I had read in one of his books that he had been involved on the anti-Catholic side of the Ulster troubles before his conversion, but I hadn't realized how deeply he was involved.

A few excerpts:
"A sound atheist can not be too careful of the books that he reads." So said C.S. Lewis in his autobiographical apologia, Surprised by Joy. These words continue to resonate across the abyss of years that separates me from the abysmal bitterness of my past. What is true of the atheist is as true of the racist. Looking back into the piteous pits of the hell of hatred that consumed my youth, I can see the role that great Christian writers played in lighting my path out of the darkened depths. Eventually, with their light to guide me, I stumbled out into the dazzling brilliance of Christian day.
I think it may have been in the Introduction to Literary Converts (I cannot lay my hands on our copy at the moment and can't be sure), that Pearce offers a lucidly succinct apologia for the direction he chose to go in his research and writing. As I recall, he didn't think straightforward theological apologetics would be his strongest suit, but that the most effective means of engaging the contemporary culture and its hiatus of meaning and purpose would be through the medium of the great artifacts of Catholic literary culture.

But I'm jumping ahead of myself. Pearce writes:
I grew up in a relatively poor neighborhood in London's East End at a time when large-scale immigration was causing major demographic changes.... racial tensions were high .... It was in this highly charged atmosphere that I emerged into angry adolescence.

At the age of fifteen I joined the National Front, a new force in British politics that demanded the compulsory repatriation of all non-white immigrants....

... At the age of sixteen I became editor of Bulldog, the newspaper of the Young National Front, and, three years later, became editor of Nationalism Today, a 'higher brow' ideological journal....

It was, however, in the context of 'the Troubles' in Northern Ireland that my anti-Catholicism would reveal itself in its full ugliness.... I joined the Orange Order, a pseudo-masonic secret society whose sole purpose of existence is to oppose 'popery', i.e. Catholicism.... As a 'Protestant' agnostic I was allowed to join and a friend of mine, an avowed atheist, was also accepted without qualms....

In October 1978, still only seventeen, I flew to Derry in Northern Ireland to assist in the organization of a National Front march. Tensions were high in the city and, towards the end of the day, riots broke out ... I had experienced political violence on the streets in England but nothing on the sheer scale of the anger and violence that I experience in Northern Ireland.

My appetite whetted, I became further embroiled in the politics of Ulster ... During a secret meeting with the army council of the UVF [Ulster Volunteer Force] it was suggested that I use my connections with extremist groups in other parts of the world to open channels for arms smuggling. On another occasion an 'active service unit' of the UVF, i.e. a terrorist cell, offered their 'services' to me, assuring me of their willingness to assassinate any 'targets' that I would like 'taken out' and expressing their eagerness to show me their arsenal of weaponry as a mark of their 'good faith'.
Pearce served two prison sentences, the last a twelve-month sentence, and both his twenty-first and twenty-fifth birthdays behind bars.
During the first of my prison sentences, Auberon Waugh, a well-known writer and son of the great Catholic novelist, Evelyn Waugh, had referred to me as a 'wretched youth'. How right he was! Wretched and wrecked upon the rock of my own hardness of heart.... Even today, when forced to look candidly into the blackness of my past, I am utterly astonished at the truly amazing grace that somehow managed to take root in the desert of my heart.
What was the catalyst for Pearce? With the wisdom of hindsight, he says he perceive that the seeds of his future conversion were planted at the height of his political fanaticism and anti-Catholic prejudices. The seeds were planted, he says, in "the genuine desire to seek a political and economic alternative to the sins of communism and the cynicism of consumerism." He says that during his confrontations on the streets with his Marxist opponents, he was incensed by their suggestion that, as an anti-communist, he was, ipso facto, a "storm-trooper of capitalism." It was this tension and dilemma that forced his intellectual search.

A friend who suggested that he study the distributist ideas of Chesterton informed him that he should buy Chesterton's The Outline of Sanity, but also that he should read the invaluable essay on the subject, entitled "Reflections on a Rotten Apple," which was to be found in a collection of his essays entitled The Well and the Shallows (rpt., Ignatius, 2006). Pearce purchased the two books and read them. "Imagine my surprise, and my consternation, to discover that the book was, for the most part, a defense of the Catholic faith against various modern attacks upon it," says Pearce. "And imagine my confusion when I discovered that I could not fault Chesterton's logic. The wit and wisdom of Chesterton had pulled the rug out from under my smug prejudices against the Catholic Church." It was, however, destined to be a long journey; and Pearce's essay is far too long for me to relate in any real depth. But it's an amazing journey, to be sure. Pearce was received into the Church on the Feast of St. Joseph in 1989.

Pearce is an excellent writer and historical researcher. All of his biographies provide a literary feast in the exploration of that circle of English, mostly Catholic, writers who have had a remarkable influence upon the Anglo-American Catholic intellectual culture of the last century. The retrieval of that Catholic culture is an invaluable resource for us today. Reappropriating that Catholic culture may help prevent us from being so defenseless amidst the value vertigo of our own times, and help to prepare us for the daunting task of rebuilding a comparable Catholic counter-culture in the future.


Most of Pearce's books are well-worth reading, and many are outstanding. His treatment of Wilde and, more recently, Shakespeare, come to mind. Of all of Pearce's books, however, one that I most frequently recommend is Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000). Here is what the Publisher's description says about it:
Literary Converts is a biographical exploration into the spiritual lives of some of the greatest writers in the English language: Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, Graham Greene, Edith Sitwell, Siegfried Sassoon, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, T.S. Eliot and J.R.R. Tolkien. The role of George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells in intensifying the religious debate despite not being converts themselves is also considered. Many will be intrigued to know more about what inspired their literary heroes; others will find the association of such names with Christian belief surprising or even controversial. Whatever viewpoint we may have, Literary Converts touches on some of the most important questions of the twentieth century, making it a fascinating read.
A reviewer for Publisher's Weekly writes:
This erudite book vividly contrasts the faith that marked the lives of many of Great Britain's more prominent writers of the 20th century with the unbelief that, the author believes, largely marked their times. Many of the book's "converts" began life as Anglicans and then converted to Roman Catholicism, though some, such as C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, remained with the Church of England. Pearce is at his best when he situates writers within the frameworks of a changing Church and a changing world. For example, he claims that the Catholic Church's move away from the Latin mass hastened the emotional deterioration that directly preceded Evelyn Waugh's death....
Now there's an interesting suggestion: Death by Novus Ordo! Well, technically he died three years and several months before the Novus Ordo was actually promulgated by Paul VI in 1970, but the liturgical innovations were by that time already well under way. Read and enjoy!

Two Books on the Mass Published

Two major contemporary works on the Mass will be published in August and September:[Hat tip to A.S.]