The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview.
by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese.
Cambridge University Press. 828 pp. $31.99.
In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln remarked that Northerners and Southerners “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God.” In this volume, consisting largely of previously published articles and book chapters, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese suggest the need to qualify that assertion. As the nineteenth century progressed, they argue, Southerners and Northerners developed different, almost antithetical, understandings of Christianity. They read the same Bible, but they read it very differently, and even the God to Whom they prayed was not quite the same: He remained firmly Trinitarian in the South, while sliding toward Unitarian in the North. Southern Protestant theologians denounced their Northern brethren for leaving the Catholic Church as the sole defender of orthodoxy in the region. Behind it all, the Genoveses claim, was slavery. “The American South ranks with ancient Greece and Rome among the few genuine slave societies,” and it deeply influenced the South's social structure, economy, and culture. Southern defenders of slavery, who increased not only in numbers but in the extravagance of their claims in the 1840s and 1850s, availed themselves of whatever they could find to defend their “peculiar institution.” They challenged the abolitionists to find any place in the Bible where slavery is condemned, and they bolstered their challenge by citing passages where it seemed to be sanctioned. The leading abolitionists were hard put to counter the Southerners' arguments. Most of the abolitionists—John Brown being the most prominent exception—eventually adopted a latitudinarian reading of Scripture, emphasizing the Spirit; some even boldly declared that if the Bible sanctioned slavery they wanted no more to do with it. But the religious differences turned on more than Scripture. The authors paint a picture of different approaches to such meta-religious topics as historical change, social morality, and the legitimacy of government. There was a streak of radicalism in the South—secessionism was itself a radical act—but Southern religious leaders generally inclined toward organic models of social change, the ideal being a gradual civilizing process emanating from traditions of civility and gentility. “Chivalry” was a term frequently heard in the South. Derived from a romanticized Middle Ages in the novels of Sir Walter Scott and others, it folded into the Christian paternalism that was used to justify slavery. As one minister-professor put it, our Negroes, “in common with minors, imbeciles, and uncivilized persons, have a right to be governed and protected.” Another minister used the Aristotelian categories of “commutative justice” (fair exchange of monetary values) and “distributive justice” (allotment of happiness according to rule) to make the same point: Unlike the North, which recognizes only the former, Southerners provide for the happiness of our slaves long after their monetary value has ended. Many Southern ministers regarded the war as the supreme test: Either slavery was brought up to “Abrahamic standards” or God would send the heathens to punish the South, as he had done to the Israelites. The book retains the scholarly texture and intensity of the journal articles that largely compose it. As such, it is sometimes fatiguingly over-documented, piling up example after example; some of those examples would have been better consigned to endnotes. But chief among the book's many virtues is the authors' sympathetic but not uncritical ear to the dominant voices of the South as it drifted toward catastrophe. In the preface they liken their view of the South's former “master class” to that of I.F. Stone toward Thomas Jefferson. When asked how he, a lifelong opponent of racism, could admire a slaveowner like Thomas Jefferson, Stone answered, “Because history is tragedy, not melodrama.”
Righteous Gentiles: How Pius XII and the Catholic Church Saved Half a Million Jews from the Nazis.
by Ronald J. Rychlak.
Spence. 400 pp. $29.95.
Old prejudices die hard; myths, even harder. In his new history of Europe since 1945, Tony Judt laments how “the Catholic Church got off very lightly indeed, in view of Pius XII's warm relations with Fascism and the pro-actively blind eye he turned to Nazi crimes.” That a historian of Judt's distinction could make such a remark, without the slightest compunction, tells you how secure anti-Catholic myths remain within academia. The ideal man for correcting the record is Ronald Rychlak, professor of law at the University of Mississippi and recognized expert on the evaluation of evidence. In Hitler, the War, and the Pope (2000), Rychlak helped turn back the wave of anti-Pius propaganda unleashed by John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope (1999). Cornwell has since retracted his central charge (now saying he finds it “impossible to judge” the motives of Pius), while Rychlak has become America's leading authority on the topic. In Righteous Gentiles, he reviews the various allegations that have recently surfaced against Pius and the Church and methodically responds to each one. The writings of Robert Katz, Garry Wills, James Carroll, Susan Zuccotti, Michael Phayer, and Daniel Goldhagen are subjected to thorough—and devastating—criticism. Pius XII emerges not as a “bystander” but as a principled and determined foe of Nazi anti-Semitism. Righteous Gentiles deals with the entire wartime Church. The documentation provided is overwhelming; Rychlak's command of the relevant literature undeniable. So too is his intellectual honesty and dispassionate evaluation of the evidence. Just as Rychlak never allows a false accusation to go unchallenged, he is the first to acknowledge true wrongdoing where it occurred. His conclusion—that the Catholic Church under Pius XII was imperfect (and therefore open to criticism)—is likely to advance the cause of Pius XII and bring justice to a topic often devoid of it. By sticking closely to the facts, Rychlak has produced a powerful work of scholarship: the finest single study on Pius XII and the wartime Church extant.
—William Doino, Jr.
Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation.
Detailed enough for researchers, readable enough for a general audience, this handy resource offers fifty-seven texts about Christian vocation, each introduced by the editor. Dividing the development of vocation into four periods, Placher retells the history of the Church. “Calling” or klesis in the early Church meant persecution, martyrdom, and, later, asceticism. In the Middle Ages, the term vocatio was reserved for priests, nuns, and monks. With the Reformation, every job became a “calling”—translated Beruf by Martin Luther—and every person was “called”; salvation was by grace alone, the reformers said, and a life in a convent was no more exceptional than one spent making shoes. And now the present day, when, like the first Christians, believers know that simply professing one's faith in an un-Christian culture can be a worthy calling. For the most part, Placher traces all this without passing judgment. He does, though, consider his profession his calling, and recognizes that this can't be the case for the unemployed or what Marx called “alienated labor.” So, is it right to talk about Ignatius' witness, and “your average nine-to-five,” as two equal Christian callings? Barth's selection includes this: “Protestantism successfully expelled monasticism by recalling the fact that klesis is the presupposition of all Christian experience. But it lost sight of the divine grandeur and purity of this idea, which were always in some way retained even by monasticism.” We would do well to remember the grandeur and purity of the Christian calling in its many forms.
Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction.
by Joseph Dan.
Oxford University Press. 148 pp. $18.95.
The Jewish esoteric tradition, by its own account, goes back at least to Moses, if not to Abraham. In some legends of Genesis, practical Kabbalah was part of the Creation itself. Joseph Dan, Gershom Scholem Professor of Kabbalah at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, begins his elegantly brief introduction to this vast subject by tracking the meaning of the word “Kabbalah.” In the second century, Kabbalah was taken to mean “non-individual, non-experiential religious truth, which is received by tradition.” In the Middle Ages, it became the name of a concealed dimension of the received, revealed tradition. Jewish Kabbalah has less to do with the invisible-to-the-naked-eye part of theoretical and experimental science, and more to do with messianic longing and practical redemption. The literary, scriptural and talmudic sources of Kabbalah include Genesis, Ezekiel, the Mishna Tract Hagiga, and ancient treatises with names like “The Extended Description of Genesis,” “The Sword of Moses,” and “The Book of Secrets.” The seminal Sefer Yetzira (Book of Creation), attributed to the Patriarch Abraham, is a kind of scientific grammar of creation, a chemistry with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet as the elements. Another text, the book Bahir, describes ten emanations or sefirot of the divine or upper world, which separate into nine masculine and one feminine power. The divine world is shaped like a tree, with branches in this world. Evil proceeds from the fingers of God's left hand. The central Kabbalistic text is the Zohar, “The Book of Splendor,” written by Spanish Rabbi Moses de Leon in the late thirteenth century. For those who have wandered the many courtyards and chambers of the Kabbalists' house of splendors, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction provides an always-appropriate reminder that no matter how clear each level of exposition, as layers accumulate, the window grows opaque. And, no matter how simple the set of directions, to follow these texts is to walk in a maze.
What Happens at Mass.
Mass guides abound, but Father Jeremy Driscoll has written a modern touchstone. There is nothing extraneous in his brief walk through the Mass, nor is anything given too short a shrift. The book is clear, intelligent, thorough, and touched with awe. Driscoll begins by explaining what Catholics mean by mystery: “a concrete something in which a divine reality is hidden.” He then proceeds through each part of the Mass, from the gathering of the faithful through the liturgies of Word and Eucharist through the dismissal, pointing out each concrete sign and its corresponding moment in Scripture and tradition. Everything is related back to the central mystery of the Trinity. Driscoll's lovely little work ought to be read by anyone who desires to engage more deeply with the Mass.
—Mary Angelita Ruiz
by Michael and Jana Novak.
Basic. 266 pp. $26.
A welcome development of recent years is the number of books debunking the myth that the American founders were post-Christian rationalists or adherents of a vague spirituality conveniently called Deism. In 1837, the first editor of Washington's Collected Works wrote: “If a man who spoke, wrote, and acted as a Christian through a long life, who gave numerous proofs of his believing himself to be such, and who was never known to say, write, or do a thing contrary to his professions, if such a man is not to be ranked among the believers of Christianity, it would be impossible to establish the point by any train of reasoning.” That judgment is convincingly vindicated by the Novaks, who, while focusing on his religious belief and practice, cast new light Washington—a man whose gravitas, contrary to some accounts, was not a pose but a reflection of his deep humility before the God of history Whom he sought to serve.
Participant Observer: Memoir of a Transatlantic Life.
by Robin Fox.
Transaction. 574 pp. $44.95.
In the acknowledgments, Robin Fox calls Irving Louis Horowitz of Transaction Press the “prince of publishers,” and little wonder. Few publishers would put out such a huge and hugely self-indulgent memoir as Participant Observer. That said, the telling of his tale is frequently witty, entertaining, and informative. Robin Fox is an English anthropologist who has authored, with the equally delightfully named Lionel Tiger, The Imperial Animal and many other works making the case for the “nature” side of the interminable nature/nurture controversy over how best to understand why human beings do what they do. Devoutly Christian at first, as a teenager he one day looked out the school room window and decided religion was all fairy tales, although later in life he allows that they might be usefully edifying fairy tales, and maybe even true in one way or another. For those who have the patience, the chief reward of Participant Observer is a first-hand account of the wars of ideas about human nature that have dominated much of the intellectual history of the past half century.