Hitler and the Vatican: Inside the Secret Archives That Reveal the Complete Story of the Nazis and the Church.
By Peter Godman.
Free Press. 282 pp. $27.
Last year the Vatican opened the previously sealed archives that contain correspondence between the Holy See and Germany from the years 1923-1939. Peter Godman, a professor at the University of Rome, was one of the first researchers given access to these archives, and in this book he sets forth his important findings. Based on the documents he uncovered, it can no longer seriously be argued that anti-Semitism influenced the Catholic leaders of that era. To quote Godman, “Both Pius XI and his second-in-command [Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli—the future Pope Pius XII] recognized the Church’s duty to intervene in order to alleviate the suffering of German Jews. Not only Jews converted to Catholicism but all people, irrespective of race, rank, or religion, in need of Christian charity.” The documents show that by 1936 the Vatican understood that Nazi treatment of the Jews violated the law of justice toward all races, which the Supreme Tribunal of the Roman Church regarded as a binding principle. The documents also show that the Vatican leadership worked closely with the German bishops to determine how best to counter the Nazi threat. They drafted several statements, made some public, sent others to the German government, and still others remained unseen until the archives were opened last year. Godman devotes significant attention to the 1933 concordat between the Holy See and Germany. Many critics have argued that this agreement signaled Vatican approval of the Nazi regime. The documents prove otherwise. Godman writes, “The notion that [Pius XI and Pacelli] harbored sympathies for National Socialism, because they continued to negotiate with its leaders, must be rejected.” Despite the evidence that Godman reveals, he is ultimately critical of the Catholic leaders. He believes that although they were strongly anti-Nazi, their prudential decisions caused them to miss an opportunity to limit the horror of the Holocaust. In making this argument, he unfortunately overlooks or minimizes many of the statements that were made and actions that were undertaken. He also devotes far too much attention to seemingly unrelated subjects, such as the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. In the end, the importance of this book comes not in the author’s analysis, but in the new documents, all of which show that Pope Pius XI and Cardinal Pacelli bitterly opposed the Nazis and did what they thought they could to assist the victims, regardless of race or religion.
—Ronald J. Rychlak
God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible.
By Adam Nicolson.
HarperCollins. 281 pp. $24.95.
“Committees thrive on compromise, and compromise produces fudge and muddle.” So writes Adam Nicolson in God’s Secretaries, as he sets out to explore how, “miraculously,” a committee of fifty scholars and vicars succeeded in producing the most beautiful words in the English language and a book of enduring quality. “Five billion copies of this Bible have been sold,” said Nicolson in a televised interview. “It is the Bible that the world knows as the Bible.” His accessible and engaging account of its creation captures a unique moment in English history, the opening of the seventeenth century, when a new monarch, James I, commissioned this new translation as part of a project to unify his realm amid conflicting theologies and styles of worship. Nicolson gives a revealing account of the characters in this drama, including biographical treatments of each of the translators, many of whom were obscure then and are mostly forgotten now. Nicolson conveys the suspense and drama of the age and the intensity of England’s religious conflicts. The book will be of interest to students of early Anglican thought and to anyone who is open to seeing how God’s purposes can be accomplished through frail and fallen human beings.
Educating for Liberty: The First Half-Century of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
By Lee Edwards.
Regnery. 343 pp. $27.95.
What is “the Sharon Statement”? Is it (A) Ariel’s latest pronouncement from Jerusalem; (B) Ms. Stone’s latest press release from Hollywood; or (C) the charter of the Young Americans for Freedom drafted at the Buckley family home in Sharon, Connecticut, in 1960? Those who in their heart know they’re right about the answer (which is C) should enjoy this book exceedingly, as they are presumably already in the conservative fold. Those who did not know the right answer will learn it, and much else about the conservative movement in America, from this “official history” of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), which the author calls “the educational pillar of American conservatism.” The tale is lively and Edwards’ detailed narrative includes a generous sprinkling of bons mots from ISI-affiliated wits. Founded in 1953 to help resurrect liberal arts education and to counter, with newsletters, lecturers, and clubs, the prevailing “socialism” and “statism” on college campuses, ISI was originally the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, but the name was changed in 1966 to Intercollegiate Studies Institute, for it had become clear that the word “individualist” (always troublesome at best) had ceased connoting the “responsible individual” envisioned by ISI’s founders in the ‘50s and now connoted the “autonomous individual” of the antinomian ‘60s. For several generations of college students, ISI’s lectures, colloquia, and fellowships, its growing network of student newspapers, its increasingly influential journals and books, and its popular guides to colleges and academic subjects, have helped to make conservative thought—some would say classical liberal thought—a living presence on campuses, and many ISI alumni have matured into important contributors to American intellectual and political life. Edwards says that “the ISI ethos” is that “politics and economics are secondary to moral and cultural issues” (which is an admirably nonmaterialist ethos indeed) and he recounts that Stephen Tonsor, speaking under ISI auspices in 1986, administered an early tongue-lashing to “neoconservatives,” telling the “former Marxists” and “cultural modernists” in the neoconservative ranks that “they must return to the religious roots, beliefs, and values of our common being.” Fifty years ago ISI was three men (Frank Chodorov, Frank Hanighen, and William F. Buckley, Jr.) armed only with a thousand-dollar check from J. Howard Pew; today ISI has 50,000 members and an $8 million annual budget. But it still has, as Edwards says, a long way to go, “because the road to liberty is never ending.”
Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence.
By Stanley Hauerwas.
Brazos. 256 pp. $19.99 paper.
Eleven essays, two on Bonhoeffer and politics, by Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University. Early on in his career, the author made substantive contributions regarding the role of narrative and character in Christian ethics, and he here reflects with both modesty and appreciation on how lasting those contributions may be. Of particular interest is his friendly response to Jeffrey Stout’s Tradition and Democracy, which is sharply critical of Hauerwas and was sharply criticized in these pages by Gilbert Meilaender (see First Things, April). Hauerwas again accents the churchly nature of Christian ethics. He writes, “That is why theologians are subordinate to the bishop and should be disciplined by the bishop if our work threatens the unity and holiness of the church.” He adds in a footnote, “This sentence of course betrays one of the besetting problems of my work—namely, my ambiguous ecclesial position.” As a freelancer in the liberal United Methodist Church, he need not worry about being disciplined by a bishop. He also recognizes that, writing as he does within the enclave of the university, “I make generalizations that in other contexts might need qualification.” Although his position may be sheltered from realities with which others must contend, and although he may sometimes say one thing and do another, Hauerwas concludes, “Better to have the limits of my life exposed than to say what I know is less than the truth.”
The Return of Anti-Semitism.
By Gabriel Schoenfeld.
Encounter. 193 pp. $25.95.
More than a decade ago, William F. Buckley, Jr. published In Search of Anti-Semitism, yet another effort on his part to purge the conservative movement of a great evil. Those opposed to his argument will say that Gabriel Schoenfeld, senior editor at Commentary, should have adopted Buckley’s book title. Search and you will find. In unhappy truth, however, Schoenfeld does not have to search. He is describing a return, especially but not only in Europe, of a passionate prejudice that many thought had been consigned to past history. He is particularly exercised by a “coterie of preening left-wing Jews,” also in this country, who are leading the attack on barriers against “the poisonous ideas” of anti-Semitism. While Schoenfeld’s book might have been more effective had he more carefully distinguished be-tween anti-Semitism and criticism of the State of Israel and its policies, and while there is slight explanatory value in his invocation of Norman Cohn’s assertion that anti-Semitism is a “collective psychopathology,” the phenomenon described in The Return of Anti-Semitism is all too real. This is a sobering book.
America the Virtuous: The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire.
By Claes G. Ryn.
Transaction. 223 pp. $34.95
Claes Ryn, professor of politics at Catholic University, has no illusions about his argument carrying the day anytime soon. The liberal elites that have so profoundly distorted the American constitutional order can only be effectively countered by another elite that champions the wisdom of the Founders, and that counter-elite is nowhere on the horizon. Populist appeals to the traditionalism of “Middle America” can, at best, slow the pace of liberal disintegration, since traditionalists are, for the most part, just people who are slow to catch on to what is happening. As for conservatism, it is today largely dominated by neoconservatives who are more accurately described as neo-Jacobins. As the Jacobins of the French Revolution assumed their moral superiority and the universal applicability of their righteous rule, so the neoconservatives now in the saddle advocate a reckless and unlimited crusade on behalf of America’s virtuous empire. Ryn’s is a Burkean sensibility as applied to the American constitutional order, with a strong accent on limited government and federalism. On today’s spectrum of political options, his disposition has no party and not even a publicly recognized name. Lonely though his voice may be, Ryn provides a necessary caution about our country’s present course and proposes, however wanly, what he believes is a better way. America the Virtuous is no campaign platform for winning elections, but it is an aid to thinking clearly about this moment in American and world history.
On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions.
By Robert W. Jenson.
Eerdmans. 86 pp. $16 paper.
Gilbert Meilaender’s comment on Jenson’s latest book is entirely on target: “Do not think of it as bedtime reading. Eliminate the word ‘skim’ from your vocabulary. Rid yourself of the idea that philosophers and theologians are engaged in fundamentally different enterprises. Throw out the idea that human existence is unproblematic, but that God’s is a puzzle and can be understood only by reference to our own.” In these few pages Jenson offers thought experiments or, better, thought adventures on the most constitutive concepts relative to being human—death, consciousness, freedom, reality, wickedness, and love. In his writings in systematic theology, Jenson has been at the forefront of the remarkable revival of trinitarian thought, and it is no surprise that each of his “resolutions” is emphatically trinitarian, although it is sometimes surprising how he gets there. Jenson’s command of the theological and philosophical traditions, including contemporary postmodernisms, is everywhere on impressive display. For example: “If I may put it so: what rescues the real God the Father and the real God the Son from the Hegelian face-off, from Oedipal mutual bondage, is God the Spirit, whose biblical role is precisely that he is freedom and love. The Spirit intends the Father and the Son, and the Spirit’s intention for them is that they shall love one another. The Spirit frees the Father to let the Son go, and so actually to love him. The Spirit frees the Son from servility to the Father, and so actually to love him.” These essays are cogitation of a high order in the service of demonstrating, persuasively, that “thinking the human” is best done by rethinking Christian orthodoxy.
The Virgin of Guadalupe: Theological Reflections of an Anglo-Lutheran Liturgist.
By Maxwell E. Johnson.
Rowman & Littlefield. 192 pp. $35.
A Lutheran thinker offers a sympathetic account of the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Because the story was not written, by Miguel Sánchez and later by Luis Lasso de la Vega, until more than a century had passed, some historians have cast doubt on the historicity of the events on which the cult is based. Johnson is judicious: “In the final analysis, with regard to its origins, as to whether or not the Virgin Mary actually appeared to Juan Diego at Tepeyac in December of 1531, the historian cannot offer a conclusive answer. According to the minimal written documentation in existence, ‘something’ indigenous was happening at Tepeyac very early on in relationship to devotion to the Virgin, and therefore there is really no reason to conclude that at least the core of the later versions of Sánchez and Lasso de la Vega is not somehow in continuity with that.” While most Protestants reject Marian devotion tout court, some Lutherans and Episcopalians working among Hispanics have adopted (and superficially adapted) Our Lady of Guadalupe for purposes of evangelizing Latino immigrants. Johnson favors something more honest and more difficult, “a Protestant-Catholic Mestizaje, a synthesis of popular Guadalupanismo and Protestant theological convictions.”
The Reform of the Reform?: A Liturgical Debate.
By Thomas M. Kocik.
Ignatius. 273 pp. $14.95 paper.
The debate over the reform of the rite of the Mass following the Second Vatican Council goes on and on. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s critique of what has gone wrong and right has given currency to the phrase “reform of the reform,” which is what Father Kocik says is very much needed. The first reformers, he says, were “schizophrenically behaving one moment as if a Huxleyan Brave New Church emerged in the 1960s, the next moment as if the Church reached her maturity sometime around the third century.” The result was a severe destabilizing of liturgy, with critics divided between those who want a return to the rite preceding the Council and those who embrace the reforms actually mandated by the Council but oppose the liberties taken by experts claiming the authority of “the spirit” of the Council. The present book includes as appendices the rites of the 1962 and 1970 missals, as well as essays by liturgical scholars on diverse aspects of reforming the reform. All are agreed that what is needed will not happen unless bishops are prepared to challenge the hegemony of progressive experts.
Dictionary of Saints.
By John J. Delaney.
Doubleday. 702 pp. $35
First published in 1980, this lovely book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies and is now updated to include the more recently beatified and canonized—and in the pontificate of John Paul II there have been many. Between this and The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, it is something of a toss-up. Oxford offers more wry and sometimes humorous sidelights, but Delaney is the more current.
The Unformed Conscience of Evangelicalism.
By J. Daryl Charles.
Intervarsity. 277 pp. $14 paper.
Charles teaches religion and philosophy at Taylor University in Indiana, and he here takes fellow Evangelicals to task for neglecting the subject of ethics, especially in relation to culture and public policy. Evangelicals should emulate Roman Catholic intellectuals and, especially, John Paul II in making a reasoned public case for a rightly ordered society, he suggests. As an appendix, Charles offers an illuminating treatment of the advocacy for, and practice of, euthanasia from the beginning of the twentieth century, through the Hitler era, and up to the present. The book’s title, of course, recalls the late Carl Henry’s history-changing argument of 1947, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Charles’ volume is accessible to the general reader and will serve admirably as a text in evangelical colleges and seminaries.