Robert Wistrichs Hitler and the Holocaust starts out with great promise. The brevity of the text (240 pages, excluding notes) means that discussions are necessarily concise, and he relies on some controversial sources, but Wistrich does a creditable job discussing the forces that shaped Hitlers belief in a Jewish menace that had to be eradicated. He brings particular insight to Jewish life in the ghetto and aptly contrasts Nazi and Soviet terror. For 117 pages, Hitler and the Holocaust looks like of one the better short volumes written on this subject. Unfortunately, it falls apart starting with Chapter Five, where the author begins to play the blame game. Wistrich finds collaboration all over Europe, indifference to the Jewish plight among the Allies, and lack of compassion from the Christian churches. President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Pope Pius XII, German clergy, and Croatian Cardinal (now Blessed) Alojzije Stepinac are particularly targeted, but no one escapes blame, not even other Jews. Wistrich argues that world leaders and people in occupied nations should have taken a more openly confrontational position against the Nazis. He thinks that this might have reduced the number of Jews who died in the camps, but he never discusses the very real possibility that such actions might also have made things worse. (In fact, in discussing the deportation of baptized Jews from Holland, he does not even mention that it was prompted by a statement of condemnation issued by the Catholic bishops.) Consider what Wistrich writes about Hungary. In 1942, Prime Minister Miklos Kallay rejected German demands to expropriate all Jewish wealth, to impose the yellow star, and to deport Jews to the east. Wistrich reports that this was almost certainly a factor in the German invasion of Hungary nearly one year later. With the invasion came Jewish deportations, which were carried out with Hungarian assistance. Eventually, as Wistrich reports, the Hungarian government did buckle to pressure from the Western Allies, Pope Pius XII, the king of Sweden, and other dignitaries and stopped the deportations. This, in turn, caused the Germans to overthrow the existing government and appoint a new, terribly violent government which tormented and butchered twenty thousand Hungarian Jews. More would have been killed, Wistrich notes, if not for the good work of the papal nuncio, Swiss diplomats, and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. This illustrates the problem with Wistrichs advocacy of more direct confrontation. Resistance to the Nazis repeatedly made things worse for the victims. Wistrichs most important insight is that war made the Holocaust possible. Unfortunately, he misses the important implication stemming from that insight”namely, that efforts to bring about peace were also efforts to end the Holocaust. In the final chapter, on modernity, Wistrich argues that the mechanistic approach to killing made it easier for people to carry out horrible deeds. It is a well“made point; however, he dismisses”or overlooks”the linkage between modernity (including Darwinism and eugenics) and Nazi ideology. One fears that he rejected this argument primarily because it would have undercut his efforts to blame Christianity for the Holocaust.
”Ronald J. Rychlak
Venice: Lion City. The Religion of Empire.
By Garry Wills.
Simon & Schuster. 420 pp. $35.
Venice, the city of the sea, styles itself La Serenissima, the most tranquil or serene city, but Wills writes about another city, the Venice of merchants and admirals, the imperial city of warships and commercial fleets, the Lion City with St. Mark (whose symbol is a lion) as its patron. His is an older, tougher town, one remembered by Italians, as I discovered on a visit there this summer, but hidden to eyes tutored by art historians. In a sixteenth“century painting by Battista dAgnolo, St. Mark at the Recruiting Table , the apostle sits at the end of the table with a book open on his lap, his eyes fixed on three local officials examining new recruits. It is hard to tell, says Wills, whether it is the Gospel he is holding or a list of recruits. Wills has a story to tell and a way to tell it (the history through the art, not the art through the history), but I found the book episodic, the chapters often interesting in themselves, yet only loosely strung together. Wills has obviously read widely and chosen his illustrations carefully (there are 109 black“and“white and thirty“one splendid color plates) and he captures the unique blend of public piety and patriotism that drove the citys life. In the Liturgy of Holy Thursday, for example, the doge wears a long cassocklike robe in scarlet to commemorate the shedding of Christs blood, and in Tintorettos painting Christs Agony in the Garden Christ wears the same scarlet robe. In a suggestive epilogue Wills speculates that the reason many people have difficulty with this Venice (and prefer the Venice of Ruskin the art critic) is that it was not only extremely worldly but extremely religious. For Ruskin, as the world prevails religion must give way, but Wills believes that empire gave purpose and confidence to Venices citizens, nurtured learning and the arts and civic achievement, and inspired fervent religious devotion.
”Robert Louis Wilken
Christian Hope and Christian Life: Raids on the Inarticulate.
By Rowan A. Greer.
Crossroad. 282 pp. $24.95.
This book was written at leisure”and is best read at leisure. It is the work of a mature scholar of the early Church who has been reading sixteenth“ and seventeenth“century English theology and poetry as long as he has been reading the Church Fathers and the Scriptures. In five reflective chapters he offers the fruits of his reading of the New Testament, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, John Donne, and Jeremy Taylor, with poems by George Herbert, Thomas Traherne, and T. S. Eliot added as grace notes. The central theme, as the title suggests, is Christian life lived in hope of the resurrection of the body, but along the way Greer discusses the vision of God, love of God, repentance, forgiveness, justification by faith, and becoming friends of God. He pairs John Donne with Augustine, both of whom view Christian life as anticipation of the life to come (nicely illustrated by Herberts poem The Flower) and Gregory of Nyssa with Jeremy Taylor, who view our lives as capable of participating in our destiny (nicely illustrated by lines from Traherne). Christian Hope and Christian Life can be read as an interpretation of the history of Christian thought, yet Greer does not present his views as points to be argued, but as meditations on enduring Christian truths. The books pleasures are to be found in the many apt citations from these four figures in conversation with the Scriptures and with one another, and in Greers wise and thoughtful musings on their lives and words.
Jay Mechling is an Eagle Scout (once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout, he reminds us) and Professor of American Studies at the University of California, Davis. He loves scouting, and this extended narrative cum analysis of his scouting experience will require the patience of readers who share his passion. The boy problem”how to turn boys into men”brought the Boy Scouts of America into being in 1910 and is much discussed again today. Mechlings enthusiasm for scouting does not extend to the national leadership of the BSA, which he thinks has chosen the conservative side in the culture wars and is making wrong decisions on the much controverted three Gs”God, gays, and girls. On religion, his history of the movement suggests that the founders were far from being orthodox. On gays, he enlists currently dominant theories of gender construction to argue for the admission of homosexual scouts and scoutmasters, which he believes would have the benefit of exposing scouts to different models of what it means to be masculine. On the third G, he tends to side with tradition and common sense in understanding that a distancing from the girl world is required for boys to be boys on their way to becoming men. It may be true that most adolescents are obsessed with sex and matters scatological, but in Mechlings telling of the story, his Troop 49 seems to be over the top. This book will not be popular at BSA headquarters, and will surely be cited as scholarly evidence in continuing litigation aimed at getting the organization to change its ways. On My Honor contains much of interest about the scouts, and about the inescapable anxieties of adolescence, making it more the pity that the author felt obliged to make the improbable argument that the movements cultivation of what it means to be a man would be enhanced by affirming homosexuality. Finally, most troops are sponsored by churches, and anecdotal evidence suggests that most of them are more serious about religious observance than is the by“the“way nature piety of Troop 49. Nonetheless, the book is an informed and generally readable report on one of Americas major institutions, and on the boy problem that will, one may hope, never go away.
Beauty for Ashes: Spiritual Reflections on the Attack on America.
Edited by John Farina.
Crossroad. 292 pp. $15.95 paper
A collection of a couple of hundred statements made in the immediate aftermath of September 11, mainly by religious leaders and institutions”Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist. There are curiosities, such as the assertion of the editor of America , a Jesuit publication, that President Bushs talk about being at war might upset Islamic public opinion. Then there is the pacifist Dalai Lama writing to Bush that violence will only increase the cycle of violence, but acknowledging that what he should do is a very difficult question and ending with, I am sure that you will make the right decision. Beauty for Ashes is a very mixed bag, but, all in all, a valuable collection for the historical record.
Americas First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735“1918.
By Richard Brookhiser.
Free Press. 256 pp. $25.
In considerably less than half the pages David McCullough devoted to John, Richard Brookhiser takes on John, John Quincy, Charles Francis, and Henry. Nor is he as devoted to John, who, like John Quincy, was in Brookhisers view a failure as President. Charles Francis lived up to the family legacy by, when Ambassador to the Court of St. James, keeping Britain from taking the Confederate side in the Civil War. Maybe because he, too, was a writer, the author seems fondest of Henry, who gave his life to mainly caustic reflections on the greatness from which the American experiment had fallen. George F. Will praises the book as a welcome relief from bloated biographies that are larger than their subjects. Perhaps so, but one is left wondering whether these subjects, and especially John, were quite so small.
Clarence Thomas: A Biography.
By Andrew Peyton Thomas.
Encounter. 596 pp. $28.95.
With lively prose and convincing arguments, the author (not a relative) portrays a man of extraordinary talent and toughness who almost broke under the brutal hearings on his nomination to the Supreme Court. The demolition of the confused charges brought by Anita Hill should settle the matter for all but fevered partisans. At the same time, the author believes that Justice Thomas was less than entirely candid in his claim that he had not discussed with others his views on the merits of the Roe v. Wade abortion decision. What comes through most powerfully is a character of true grit in the face of intimidating odds, a thoughtful and articulate jurist determined to make his mark in judicial history, and a deeply convinced Christian who prizes, above all, his once lost and then recovered Catholicism.
Faith and Narrative.
Edited by Keith E. Yandell.
Oxford University Press. 270 pp. $49.95.
Narrative theology and narrative ethics have been all the rage for some time now. In its strong form, the suggestion is that narrative must displace propositional, discursive, or systematic discourse. This book includes essays by thinkers as various as James Billington, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Eleanore Stump, and George Steiner. Paul Griffiths is especially good in explaining why the strong narrative proposal is finally incoherent, while affirming the great but limited benefits issuing from the rediscovery of narrative in contemporary thought, and in theology more specifically.
Religion, Scholarship, Higher Education: Perspectives, Models, and Future Prospects.
Edited by Andrea Sterk.
University of Notre Dame Press. 272 pp. $30.
A batch of mainly thoughtful essays from a seminar on religion and higher education. The essays cover the waterfront, and then some. The subtitle could go on to read in the Light of Reflections about What is Right and Wrong about the World. Some of the essays will no doubt be useful to people in the religion and higher education business, although most are marred by a defensive tone and timid plea that religion be given, as it is said, a place at the table.
Challenging Catholics: A Catholic“Evangelical Dialogue.
By Dwight Longenecker and John Martin.
Paternoster (www.paternoster“publishing.com). 208 pp. $10.99 paper.
Longenecker, a Catholic convert from Anglicanism, and Martin, an evangelical Anglican, engage in candid, informed, and constructive conversation about the important questions. A model encounter between separated brethren seeking to be faithful together.
Sexuality, Marriage, and Family: Readings in the Catholic Tradition.
Edited by Paulinus Ikechukwu Odozor.
University of Notre Dame Press. 536 pp. $50.
A judicious selection, from the patristic era to the present, that recommends itself for classroom use. Divergent views in current controversies are fairly represented and responsibly argued.
John Paul II”Witness to Truth.
Edited by Kenneth D. Whitehead.
St. Augustines Press. 134 pp. $17 paper.
Addresses on the title subject at a meeting of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. Authors include George Weigel, Elizabeth Fox“Genovese, Richard John Neuhaus, Janet E. Smith, and Mary Ann Glendon. Solid stuff.
The Rapture Trap.
By Paul Thigpen.
Ascension Press (West Chester, Pennsylvania). 260 pp. $11.99 paper.
Billed as a Catholic response to End Times fever, this is a popular, easy to read, and theologically reliable statement of what the Catholic Church, on the basis of Scripture, does and does not teach about the consummation of history. It should be welcomed for its positive teaching and as a corrective to the sundry apocalypticisms to which Christians, including Catholics, in this country are prone.
He Shines in All Thats Fair.
By Richard J. Mouw.
Eerdmans. 95 pp. $14 paper.
The president of Fuller Theological Seminary winsomely explains why a Calvinist understanding of common grace provides a basis for engagement with culture and the intellectual life.
The Lost Bible: Forgotten Scriptures Revealed.
By J. R. Porter.
University of Chicago Press. 256 pp. $35.
A stunningly beautiful book, lavishly illustrated, that provides a fascinating introduction to ancient scriptures that did not make it into the Jewish or Christian canons. Its artistic merits will earn it a place on the coffee table, and its engaging scholarly commentary will supply hours of serious reading.