In and Out of the Mind: Greek Images of the Tragic Self
By Ruth Padel
Princeton University Press, 210 pages, $12.95 paper
Whom Gods Destroy: Elements of Greek and Tragic Madness
By Ruth Padel
Princeton University Press, 276 pages, $29.95
A brilliant book, Padel's first work—now reissued in paperback—examines the philosophy, medicine, religion, and tragedy of fifth-century Greece to capture the Greeks' image of the mind. Padel seeks to show, ultimately, that we ought to understand Greek thought as alien to our own. The fifth-century Greeks did not clearly separate, as we do, human and divine, mind and body, inner and outer, or even metaphorical and literal meaning. For them, what happens to the mind—disease or divination, emotion or madness—comes mainly from outside the mind and mainly from the gods. Padel uses Aeschylus' Oresteia as her model, arguing that tragedy explores, through the central theme of madness, the mind and its relations. In some ways, Padel's newly published second book is a continuation of her first. She returns, in the strongest and most central chapters, to the brilliant linguistic analysis of her first book and to madness as the theme of tragedy. Both books raise for us the question of the cost of establishing the alien nature of Greek thought—a question that first arose with Nietzsche. If Greek tragedy ignores distinctions we now make, if it understands the mind as turned outward and changeable by the gods, if it does not separate metaphorical from literal meanings, what then can we learn from it? Such a question faces not merely classicists, but all who think of Western culture as a continuous history, all who think the Greeks can, somehow, help us. The first book is essential for anyone interested in Greek tragedy or psychology; the latter is recommendable.
— Drew E. Griffin
The Poet's Book of Psalms
By Laurance Wieder
Harper San Francisco, 311 pages, $25
That moving from Robert Burns' rendition of the first psalm to John Milton's of the second doesn't doom this collection from the start testifies to the Psalms' vitality. The compiler, Laurance Wieder, simply chooses what he considers the best poetic rendition in English of each psalm—whether from a poet as old as Miles Coverdale or as new as Laurance Wieder. It was no surprise to me that the modern poets eschew rhyme and metrical regularity, but it was a surprise that only two of the twenty-three earlier poets—Campion and Coleridge—knew better than to render the brawny Hebrew of the psalms in rhyme and meter. The chiming seems trivial, for the most part, and the collection contains hundreds of lines of bad poetry. One major exception is George Herbert's masterful Psalm 23; others include Thomas Wyatt's seldom-anthologized translations. Sir Philip Sidney's psalms are surprisingly bad, but his little-known sister's are surprisingly good. In or out of the madhouse, Christopher Smart wrote with startling clarity. Though Wieder asserts that in the pinch he preferred good poems above good translations, the paler poems in the collection are weak most often because they stick close to the Hebrew. Wieder's own poems—some of which first appeared in First Things—are indeed strong, but one can't exactly call them translations. In Psalm 21, where the Lord has blessed the king and will destroy his enemies, Wieder has, “The haves shall have and have more,” while “The others drink December polar murk.” Not bad, but not precisely what the Psalmist had in mind. This collection is not without its charms, especially for the poetically and religiously experienced reader. But the novice seeking either exact translations or consistently strong religious verse should probably start elsewhere.
Church and State in the Modern Age
Edited by J.F. Maclear
Oxford University Press, 510 pages, $65
This is a five star achievement. Any personal or institutional library that pretends to even a passing interest in church–state questions cannot afford to be without it. Maclear's “documentary history” provides the major texts that crop up again and again in discussions of church–state relations but are themselves frequently inaccessible to all but specialists. Of course there are some of the usual U.S. documents, including Supreme Court decisions, but the sweep of this volume truly includes “the modern age”—beginning with pre-Revolutionary France and taking us up through developments in Central and Eastern Europe on the eve of the Communist collapse. The editor, professor emeritus of history at the University of Minnesota, exercises keen discrimination in focusing on those texts, both official and unofficial, that capture the decisive conflicts in the history of religious freedom. Here is the Syllabus of Errors of 1864, plus Bishop Dupanloup's influential commentary on that historic document, along with Bismarck's Pulpit Law of 1871 and Patriarch Tikhon's Confession during the Bolshevik persecution of the 1920s. Nobody before this has brought together such a wide variety of documentation bearing on the great question of this and every time—the freedom of persons and communities to challenge “the principalities and powers” in the name of Ultimate Truth. Friends of religious freedom everywhere owe a deep debt of gratitude to Professor Maclear and Oxford University Press.
By Charles Colson
Word, 553 pages, $21.99
Charles Colson is a great Christian witness, minister to the imprisoned, champion of unity, and defender of the helpless, born and unborn. A great novelist he is not. The present book (written with Ellen Vaughn) is the story of what goes wrong, terribly wrong, with America when a future president, J. Whitney Griswold, reacts to anti-abortion violence by effectively suspending the Constitution in order to destroy the pro-life movement. It is in part a roman a clef, thinly disguising the particulars of Colson's intimate knowledge of the sordid side of Washington gained from his work in Nixon's White House. (Michael Novak is the only real-life name that is named, somewhat in passing.) The book is in major part a tract contending that the only antidote to pervasive political and personal corruption is Christ. The characters and speeches are often stilted and formulaic, and yet Gideon's Torch is, withal, a powerful and frequently gripping depiction of the truth that “it can happen here.” One leaves the book with a reinforced sense of the fragility of our constitutional order, and of the ways in which abortion and related questions drive to the heart of its sustainability. The message is unqualifiedly opposed to the use of violence in order to achieve good, but also a deeply disturbing reminder that violence is made almost inevitable when the legal and political system is unresponsive to the deepest convictions of millions of Americans. As a literary endeavor, Gideon's Torch will likely receive short shrift, but the argument presented in the form of a novel deserves careful attention and should prompt sobering discussions about the kind of nation we are and could become.
The Recollected Heart
By Philip Zaleski
HarperCollins, 192 pages, $12 paper
Zaleski, a Benedictine oblate and occasional contributor to these pages, offers a winsome invitation to go on spiritual retreat. Here are all the suggestions for making a retreat at home or in some place away, alone or with others. In a time when the word “spirituality” has become suspect—so connected is it with all the flailings about of unbridled desire and dubious therapies—this is a bracingly orthodox guide to fuller communion with God through Christ.
Educational Freedom in Eastern Europe
By Charles Glenn
Cato Institute, 338 pages, $25.95 cloth, $15.95 paper
A valuable contribution by the author of The Myth of the Common School and perhaps our leading authority on comparative education systems. The book is about the painful and confused transitions from Communist totalitarianism—pains and confusions that in different ways attend educational reform also in this country. Glenn is especially sensitive to the role of morality and religion in education, and to the rights of parents in deciding how their children should be reared. A valuable contribution.
The Modern Catholic Novel in Europe
By Theodore P. Fraser
Twayne, 210 pages, $24.95
In his straightforward, surehanded account of the Catholic novel after the late 1800s, Prof. Fraser analyzes the novels of the well-known British Catholics Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene and the novels of the Continental Catholics that have never had the audience in America that they deserve: Bernanos, Mauriac, Green, Chesbron. Especially welcome is the chapter on Scandinavian and German Catholic novelists Undset, Le Fort, and Langgasser. Prof. Fraser's analysis ends somewhat abruptly with the last generation of novelists raised before Vatican II, and thus makes no real advance beyond the well-known analyses of the Catholic novel by Conor Cruise O'Brien and David Lodge. But the book remains what the Twayne World Authors Series is supposed to provide: a useful handbook and introduction for students and interested amateurs.
The Trivialization of God: The Dangerous Illusion of a Manageable Deity
By Donald W. McCullough
NavPress, 172 pages, $16
The president of San Francisco Theological Seminary offers a sprightly and at times disturbing critique of the many ways in which we try to domesticate God—fitting Him into our emotions, concepts, or social—political proclivities. A theologically informed reflection that will benefit Christians of whatever communion or spiritual stripe.
All You Who Labor
By Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski
Sophia, 191 pages, $16.95
These reflections on work and the sanctification of everyday life by the late primate of Poland (d. 1981) had a significant influence on Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement that led to the collapse of communism. In addition to their inherent value, they also throw light on the background of John Paul II's many writings on the meaning of work.
A Faith For All Seasons
By Ted M. Dorman
Broadman & Holman, 391 pages, $27.99
Coming out of years of teaching at Taylor University, a Christian school in Indiana, this book, written by a Protestant, evidences an admirable ecumenical and historical reach. It is an introduction to basic Christian beliefs (in the C. S. Lewis “mere Christianity” mode) and is well suited to undergraduate classroom use.
Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat?
By Tony Campolo
Word, 192 pages, $17.95
The author's answer is that Jesus is neither. It turns out that Jesus agrees with Mr. Campolo, an evangelical Protestant who has, as they say, grown—and grown and grown. Some of the chapter titles are: Do Christians Promote Gay-Bashing? Is Proposition 187 Christian? Does God Have a Feminine Side? Should Christians Support Gun Control? Be assured, you already know his answers. The author says of this silly book, “I suppose I would be less ready to address many of the concerns in this book if I heard other voices articulating the ideas I have tried to express here. But I have not.” The only possible explanation for that is that Mr. Campolo does more writing and speaking than reading and listening.
Reinvesting in America
By Robin Garr
Addison Wesley, 271 pages, $23
Some people talk about welfare reform; others are out there meeting human needs and, most importantly, changing lives. The subtitle tells the story: “The Grassroots Movements That Are Feeding the Hungry, Housing the Homeless, and Putting Americans Back to Work.” The author is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who traveled the country to find examples of local projects that really work. Although his concern is with narrative rather than theory, the tales he tells powerfully support the “mediating structures” approach to social problems, and underscore the importance of religion in transforming the way people live. Fast-paced and engaging, this book is definitely on the right track.
The Mad Among Us
By Gerald N. Grob
Harvard University Press, 386 pages, $16.95 paper
An admirably comprehensive account of the history of the care of the mentally ill in the United States, more admirable for the modesty of its claims. The delusive pursuit of a “cure” for mental illness, says the author, led to the exaggerated claims for institutionalization in the last century and, since World War II, has contributed to the de-institutionalizing policies that have left innumerable “homeless” wandering the streets of America. Grob, professor of history at Rutgers, comes up with no solution, except perhaps for recognizing that there is no definitive solution for the problems of a population that continues to have a moral claim upon the rest of society.
The Catholic Philanthropic Tradition in America
By Mary J. Oates
Indiana University Press, 231 pages, $27.95
In the last century and first part of this one, Catholics established the largest network of charitable institutions in the nation. Oates contends that that great achievement has been weakened in recent decades by depersonalized and often secular forms of fund—raising that have reduced popular participation and commitment to these institutions. The argument would be conceptually stronger by attending to the now large literature on such institutions as “mediating structures,” and politically more pertinent by addressing the dependence of such charitable efforts on government funding. Nonetheless, this is a valuable study that should occasion long second thoughts about the centralizing and secularizing dynamics that have resulted in institutions being both less Catholic and less effective in meeting human needs.