The 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law.
English translation and scholarly apparatus by Edward N. Peters.
Ignatius. 813 pp. $49.95.
Pope Pius X (1903-1914) put into the hands of Pietro Cardinal Gasparri the task of organizing a single code of canon law. The 1917 Code of Canon Law was a groundbreaking work of legal art, for it distilled and organized some fifteen hundred years of canonical materials into 2,414 canons. It governed the Church for sixty-five years until it was replaced by the revised Code, promulgated in 1983 by Pope John Paul II. But the new Code requires attention to the older for understanding and applying the law. Along with the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the 1917 Code is an essential point of reference. This edition by Edward N. Peters is the first English translation of the 1917 Code. The translation is clean and sturdy. Most usefully, under each canon Peters provides cross-references to the new Code—which allows the reader to trace official developments of individual canons—as well as relevant secondary works and dissertations in English. This edition also includes the magisterial Preface by Cardinal Gasparri, which itself is worth the price of the book.
The Stranger from Paradise: A Biography of William Blake.
By G.E. Bentley Jr.
Yale University Press. 532 pp. $39.95
As to whether William Blake was crazy, Bentley, who is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Toronto and has devoted his life to the study of Blake, makes a convincing case that we should keep an open mind. That he was a poet, painter, engraver, and visionary of genius is beyond doubt. For Blake, the most real world is the world of the imagination, and his imagination was wild. Religiously, he was a dissenter and an Enthusiast with a capital E who was in constant commerce with angels and hardly encountered a heresy—Manichean, Swedenborgian, Muggletonian, and sundry pantheisms—in which he did not find something to admire, although toward the very end of his life there was, perhaps, a turn toward an approximation of Christian orthodoxy. (He asked for a Church of England funeral.) His wife Catherine once remarked, “I have very little of Mr. Blake's company. He is always in Paradise.” In fact, it is a merit of Bentley's biography that it underscores the warmth and productivity of the Blakes' marital companionship. That it is possible, if but partially, to live in paradise now was the core conviction of the one who wrote in “Auguries of Innocence”:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
_ And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
_ Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
_ And Eternity in an hour
The Stranger from Paradise is a splendid account and a fitting capstone to Bentley's lifetime of Blake scholarship. He is rigorously self-denying in refusing to impose his interpretations, being content, as he puts it, to let “the unmediated evidence for Blake's life speak for itself.” The many fine colored plates and other illustrations add to the attractiveness of a book well worth the hours of reading, at the risk of being infected by Blake's strange, and possibly inspired, madness.
Trusting the Spirit: Renewal and Reform in American Religion.
By Richard Cimino.
Jossey-Bass. 214 pp. $24
“American religion” is so vast and various that a book such as this can only dip into it and try to come up with representative samples. Cimino is judicious in his selections and fair-minded in his judgments. He examines the Catholic charismatic renewal, which is strong but, he suggests, a little too tame in its obedience to church authority; the Biblical Witness Fellowship, which tried to return the United Church of Christ to historic teaching and practice, but is now moving into a “post-denominational” mode; the “evangelical catholic” movement among Lutherans, contending for what they believe was the intent of the Reformation, while the Lutheran bodies have drifted into becoming permanently separated Protestant denominations; Taizé, an ecumenical monastic movement in France that has become a moveable feast of youthful enthusiasms also in this country, but has largely lost the ecumenical direction of the founders; sundry “spiritualities” in contemporary Judaism growing out of the havurah movement of the 1960s; and Call to Action, an organization of progressive and aging Catholics who are angrily, and sometimes happily, alienated from what they view as the “institutional church.” Trusting the Spirit is an interesting read and provides insight into movements that claim the allegiance of people who are, usually, admirable in their devotion. All these initiatives are marginal, however, and there would seem to be slight prospect of their being significant forces of “renewal and reform” in the communities they seek to change. Moreover, Cimino tends to view diversity, contention, agitation, and innovation as signs of religious vitality, even suggesting at one point that they might succeed in producing new religions. That, of course, is precisely the opposite of what some movements, such as the Biblical Witness Fellowship and the evangelical catholics in Lutheranism, intend. Nonetheless, this is a book that students of religion in America should not ignore.
Love and Responsibility.
By Pope John Paul II. A simplified version by Monsignor Vincent M. Walsh, J.C.D.
Key of David Publications. 136 pp. $10.
Love and Responsibility, written in the late 1950s by a then-obscure Polish academic named Karol Wojtyla, was the product of an intriguing intellectual collaboration between a priest-philosopher and his students, who were often his penitents as well. The book's analysis of the ethics of sexual love would later provide the philosophical foundation for Pope John Paul II's “theology of the body,” which has drawn increasing attention as a powerful Christian counterproposal to the claims of the sexual revolution. Love and Responsibility is not, however, an easy read; Monsignor Vincent Walsh has done a service by providing this “simplified version,” an outline of the argument of Love and Responsibility written in language that nonspecialists can engage.
The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family.
By William J. Bennett.
Doubleday. 199 pp. $22.95
William Bennett, champion of the virtues, here turns his attention to the pressing problem of family breakdown. Although recent trends indicate that the collapse of the American family may have begun to reverse itself (see David Blankenhorn, “The Reappearing Nuclear Family,” FT, January), there can never be too many books defending an institution still under assault from so many quarters. And when the book is written by someone as thoughtful and morally serious as Bennett, it promises to make an important contribution to debate in the public square. The author delivers on this promise in chapters devoted to cohabitation, illegitimacy, fatherlessness, homosexual unions, and divorce. One by one, Bennett examines and responds to the arguments of those who defend—as well as those who refuse to oppose—alternatives to the traditional two-parent family. Not only is the family good for children, but it is, he argues, intrinsically good, embodying “deep human truths.” While we may lament the fact that circumstances have rendered it necessary to defend what was once thought to be obvious, we should be grateful for books that make the case as powerfully as this one.
Decade of Denial: A Snapshot of America in the 1990s.
By Herbert London.
Lexington. 208 pp. $24
After September 11, there are signs that the frivolousness of the 1990s may be coming to an end. Herbert London, President of the Hudson Institute and Professor of Humanities at New York University, does a splendid job of ensuring that the memory of that decade remains fresh in our minds. In a series of lively chapters on Hollywood, TV, sports, higher education, and various other aspects of popular culture, London traces the vulgarity that reigned in so many of our leading cultural and political institutions over the past ten years to the rebelliousness and political utopianism of the baby boomers, who have done so much to debase the culture since the 1960s. But London is right to admit in his Epilogue that his book consists more of “musings over a couple of hundred pages” than a sustained argument. He intends merely to catalogue our vices and, perhaps, provoke us to future virtue. It is a good intention well executed.
Ugly as Sin.
By Michael S. Rose.
Sophia. 163 pp. $24
The subtitle is “Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces—and How We Can Change Them Back Again.” Ugly as Sin is a spirited and sometimes over-the-top addition to the growing “ain't it awful” literature on what happened to church architecture over the last half century. But it is more than that, and the belligerently slangy title and subtitle do a disservice to that more. Rose offers a helpful overview of the history of Christian architecture and intelligently sets out the core intuitions that made such architecture Christian, and, more specifically, Catholic. “An authentic Catholic church building is a work of art that acknowledges the previous greatness of the Church's architectural patrimony: it refers to the past, serves the present, and informs the future,” he writes. Also in Christian architecture, the winds are blowing in a different and more promising direction. Along with others, such as fine work being done at the University of Notre Dame, Rose's book makes the promise more palpable.
Full of Grace: An Oral Biography of John Cardinal O'Connor.
Edited by Terry Golway.
Pocket Books. 237 pp. $22
Personal testimonies from numerous friends, family members, colleagues, public figures, and strangers whose lives he touched, highlighting the many dimensions of the late Cardinal's personal and priestly life. Despite repetitions and cloying moments, the book offers a moving portrayal of a man of seemingly inexhaustible energy who, with all his public duties, took time to reach out to ordinary people with random acts of kindness. Golway is perhaps too eager to “balance” the perception of O'Connor's vibrant orthodoxy, for which he was “controversial,” with evidence of his liberal propensities, notably with respect to labor unions, but Full of Grace is nonetheless a compelling sketch of a caring and courageous leader who is sorely missed.
The Best Christian Writing 2001.
Edited by John Wilson.
HarperSanFrancisco. 339 pp. $15 paper.
This is the second annual collection edited by Mr. Wilson, and it is splendid. We would say that even if pieces appearing in these pages were not generously represented. Maybe Mr. Wilson is just tapping into something that has been there all along, but this book and its predecessor stimulate the suspicion that something new and welcome is happening in Christian intellectual and literary circles. The pieces collected here manifest confidence, grace, and a sense of joy in exploring the ways in which “the Christian thing” illumines everything.
Coloring the News.
By William McGowan.
Encounter. 278 pp. $25.95.
Complaining about media bias strikes some as an instance of beating a dead horse. Is there anything new to be said? William McGowan, a veteran reporter, answers in the affirmative. The bias of editors and executives has been amply documented over the years, but not much attention has been paid the bias resulting from the quest for “diversity” in the newsrooms of the nation. The author's prime exhibit is the New York Times, but he makes a convincing case that all over the country partisans of special causes—racial, sexual, ideological—exercise what amounts to veto power over stories or features that might offend their “constituencies.” The result, predictably, is less diversity in news reporting. McGowan tells a dreary tale, amply supported by the drearily narrow version of reality printed and broadcast every day as “the news.”
The Anxious Bench, Antichrist, and the Sermon "Catholic Unity."
By John Williamson Nevin. Edited by Augustine Thompson, O.P.
Wipf and Stock. 177 pp. $18
The Mystical Presence.
By John Williamson Nevin. Edited by Augustine Thompson, O.P.
Wipf and Stock. 244 pp. $22
“The Mercersburg theology” was an influential movement in the second half of the nineteenth century that sought to advance Christian unity through an “evangelical catholic” interpretation of Protestantism, and of Calvinism in particular. Nevin was its chief proponent. The Mystical Presence is a catholic defense of the Calvinist doctrine of the Eucharist, and The Anxious Bench includes also Antichrist and the sermon, “Catholic Unity.” Both volumes are edited by a Dominican priest and are valuable in understanding an important part of Christian thought in American history. Nevin was also a most eloquent writer and preacher, and some have compared him with John Henry Newman, albeit without a church that believed what he believed. (The publisher's address is 150 W. Broadway, Eugene, Oregon 97401.)
Spiritual but Not Religious.
By Robert C. Fuller.
Oxford University Press. 202 pp. $25
The subtitle is “understanding un churched America,” and the first thing the author wants us to understand is that the unchurched are not always, not even typically, indifferent to religion. But they prefer to call their religion “spirituality” and to express it outside the maddeningly disorganized worlds of “organized religion.” A sympathetic overview of religious movements, spiritualities, life philosophies, and other phenomena that have been and will continue to be an important part of life in America.
Making Good Citizens: Education and Civil Society.
Edited by Diane Ravitch and Joseph P. Viteritti.
Yale University Press. 346 pp. $35
A useful collection of essays by such as Jean Bethke Elshtain, Nathan Glazer, Charles Glenn, and Robert Putnam on what schools and schooling are supposed to do, and for the most part are not doing, for civil society. The perspective encompasses public, private, charter, voucher, and other forms of education both existing and proposed. With respect to what education can and should be, the different views represented here are an introduction to “the state of the question.”
The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis.
By Robert P. George.
ISI. 400 pp. $24
Robert P. George of Princeton University is one of the most incisive legal and moral thinkers working today, as readers of this journal well know. Several of the fifteen essays presented here, including the title essay, appeared in these pages. Others deal with same-sex marriage, moral neutrality, anti-Catholicism, and debates over bio ethics. Foreword by John DiIulio, former head of President Bush's Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Warmly recommended.
Aftermath: The Clinton Impeachment and the Presidency in the Age of Political Spectacle.
Edited by Leonard V. Kaplan and Beverly I. Moran.
New York University Press. 370 pp. $65 paper.
Twenty-three quite disparate takes on the political, legal, moral, and religious significance of the controversies surrounding the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Contributors include Mark V. Tushnet, Stephen Toulmin, Richard John Neuhaus (adapted from an FT article), and David Novak. The moral squalor of the Clinton presidency may, after September 11, seem a world away, but perhaps not. That is the question that will be decided in coming months and years.
Who Count as Persons? Human Identity and the Ethics of Killing.
By John F. Kavanaugh, S.J.
Georgetown University Press. 233 pp. $24
Kavanaugh is a fine writer and thinker who, regrettably, begins from the premise that it is always morally wrong to intentionally kill another. Without exception. He even anticipates an “attack on the infrastructure of New York” by terrorists and argues that it would be wrong to kill them in order to protect innocent citizens. There is more than a little of false moral symmetry here, such as, “After all, would we allow an Iraqi-controlled United Nations to inspect our munitions and bases?” Yet Who Count as Persons? is much more than a pacifist tract. It is a convincing argument for the intrinsic value of every human life and for the idea of the dignity of the person, severely marred by pacifist abstraction from the frequently sad duties of protecting lives.
Controversies: High Level Catholic Apologetics.
Edited by Karl Keating.
Ignatius. 278 pp. $14.95
“High level” is the operative phrase here. On the Catholic side are John Henry Newman, Hilaire Belloc, Ronald Knox, Arnold Lunn, and Herbert Thurston, locked in civil argument with sundry non-Catholics on matters of abiding, indeed eternal, importance. The excerpts are judiciously chosen, providing the high pleasure of rereading, or reading for the first time, exemplars of elegance in the tradition of Christian disputation.
With All Your Mind: A Christian Philosophy of Education.
By Michael L. Peterson.
University of Notre Dame Press. 280 pp. $18
A thoughtful argument from a broadly ecumenical viewpoint that education does not just happen. Educators, to be effective, must think about what they are doing, and that thinking may result in something like a philosophy of education.