Church Teaching Authority: Historical and Theological Studies
By John P. Boyle
University of Notre Dame Press, 241 pages, $38.95
In eight scholarly essays, framed by an introduction and a conclusion, Father Boyle examines aspects of the Church's teaching office. The first chapter deals with the Munich Congress of Catholic scholars that met under the direction of Ignaz von Dollinger in 1863 and with the papal letter Tuas Libenter that followed in 1864. This chapter, published in earlier form in 1979–1980, represents original research and sheds valuable light on the origins and meaning of the term “ordinary and universal magisterium.” Other chapters deal with the theology of Joseph Kleutgen, the role of magisterium in the present Code of Canon Law, the competence of the magisterium in matters of natural law, the assent due to noninfallible teaching, and the concept of “reception.” In these areas Boyle generally follows the lead of mentors such as Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, Josef Fuchs, Hermann Josef Pottmeyer, and Francis A. Sullivan. With concerns characteristic of this school, Boyle is critical of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's “Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian.” The writings of John Paul II receive little attention, even though encyclicals such as Veritatis Splendor have much to say about themes here treated. Holding that Vatican II effected a shift from the institutional to the communion model of the church, Boyle minimizes the authority that the council ascribes to the magisterium and the council's responsibility for doctrines that Boyle opposes, such as the obsequium due to noninfallible church doctrine. Boyle pleads for a restoration of the medieval studium to complement the authoritative teaching office. But if theologians claim to be an independent voice in the church, entitled to encourage dissent, the hierarchy must take countermeasures to ensure the faithful transmission of authentic teaching to the faithful. Although this book contains some incisive criticisms of the contemporary magisterium, it contains no corresponding criticism of the theological community. Boyle writes in part as an advocate, seeking to enlarge the rights of theologians as against the hierarchical magisterium.
—Avery Dulles, S.J.
Religion and the Public Schools in 19th Century America: The Contribution of Orestes A. Brownson
By Edward J. Power
Paulist Press, $13.95, 182 pages
This book is mislabeled; it is actually an account of Orestes Brownson, and only indirectly a discussion of religion and public schools. The author's access to the extensive Brownson archives at Notre Dame constitutes the book's chief value for those interested in Brownson's role in the Americanization of Roman Catholicism back in the days when it was strongly identified with lower-class immigrants. A sort of American version of John Henry Newman, Brownson was America's most noted (“distinguished” would put it too strongly) convert to Catholicism in the mid-nineteenth century, a self-publishing journalist who enjoyed a certain success in the defense of his new and very unfashionable faith, only to fade away after the Civil War as the Catholic Church grew increasingly at home in the United States. A man of enthusiasms, Brownson could not resist fighting with his allies once he had scored against their common enemies. Though he was among the opponents of Horace Mann (insisting that “an education which is not religious is solemn mockery”), he later became a critic of Catholic schools, lamenting their poor quality with little regard for the difficulties they faced or the sacrifices made by those he so freely criticized. Eventually his cantankerousness made him a burden for the church that had welcomed him as a convert. Power's presentation of Brownson's views is unsystematic (perhaps inevitable in writing about a journalist), but it would be helpful to know more about the sources and the impact of his ideas. The effort to place these in a broader context of American history is largely unsuccessful and in some respects misleading. The life and times of Orestes Brownson deserve a full-scale and thoughtful presentation, for which this study provides some of the raw materials.
—Charles L. Glenn
Savior or Servant? Putting Government in its Place
By David W. Hall
Kuyper Institute, 399 pages, $8.95 paper
Despite more than two decades of activism, evangelicals have devoted little theological reflection to politics, according to David Hall, Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Editor of the on-line theological journal, Premise. Savior or Servant? attempts to fill that gap. “Sprawling” is too weak for a book that ranges from Genesis to Revelation, and summarizes political theology from Irenaeus to Jurgen Moltmann. Focusing on political theory, Hall ignores the contribution of practice (e.g., the medieval papacy and canon law) to theory. Intent to trace a unified tradition of Christian political reflection, he arrives at a homogenization that is due in part to his quixotic aim to articulate principles for “all times” and that left me with the uneasy sense that he found in his sources only what he was looking for. Nonetheless, Hall sketches a solid if abstract consensus: political authority is good because instituted by God, but its reach must be limited. Though wary of concentrated power, Hall contests antistate conservative rhetoric and cites the biblical example of Joseph to highlight the positive potential of centralization. Hall's choice of historical figures is refreshingly broad, including Aquinas, Machiavelli (whom he surprisingly wants to rehabilitate), Barth, Helmut Thielicke, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as such Reformed thinkers as Johannes Althusius, Samuel Rutherford, and William Groen van Prinsterer. If this book does no more than alert evangelicals to the riches of Christian political thought and impels them to more theological politics, it will have served a worthy purpose.
—Peter J. Leithart
The School of the Church: Worship and Christian Formation
By Philip H. Pfatteicher
Trinity Press International, 141 pages, $14 paper
Dr. Pfatteicher has written a relatively short work that touches a very critical current issue in worship: language. But this book is not about words nor does it play with language and meaning. It treats the eucharistic liturgy (primarily as celebrated in American Episcopal and Lutheran Churches) as an icon: at once recognizable but not completely familiar. Liturgical language strives both to be intelligible and, through the joining of music to words, also to express the ineffable. Of particular pertinence is the final chapter, “Beyond the Boundaries,” where the author helps the reader to appreciate the need for liturgical (do not read “opaque”) language that is neither bland nor in thrall to the politically correct canon, but thoroughly faithful to the written and oral tradition of the Church.
The Hand of God
By Bernard Nathanson
Regnery, 206 pages, $24.95
This is a painful, honest, and at last deeply spiritual confession, by the abortionist who changed his mind. Predestined by his severe and reproachful father to become a physician, Dr. Nathanson was reared in a moral and spiritual vacuum whose only ethics was a medical professionalism. Moved by his desire to help his women patients, the first serious moral impulse of his life, he quickly became a leader in the campaign to legalize abortion—helping to found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws and directing the largest abortion clinic in the U.S. Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, he did not stop his moral reflections with his first impulse, and he came gradually to see both the damage abortion did to his pregnant patients and the death it wrought among their babies. Abandoning his abortion practice, he has devoted himself to fighting the abortion machine he helped create, producing the seminal pro-life film, The Silent Scream, and lecturing widely. The forgiveness offered in Christian theology and the witness of Christian opponents of abortion proved important influences in Dr. Nathanson's spiritual growth, and The Hand of God concludes with a moving account of his preparation to join the Catholic Church.
Word and Silence: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter between East and West
By Raymond Gawronski, S.J.
Eerdmans, 233 pages, $35
More and more people active in interreligious dialogue are coming to realize that the old style of conducting ecumenical discussions has not been yielding the results once hoped for. The typical ecumenical talk-fest in the years just after Vatican II would be run like a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous: everyone would get up and confess the tradition they “came from” and opine how lovely it was to belong to the new shared faith of Ecumenism Itself. When that had the predictable effect of turning conversation into a binge of self-congratulation, the realization at last dawned that those discussions work best that allow each partner to be unabashedly confessional. Hans Urs von Balthasar is nothing if not a theologian who stresses the particular, and his theology was not until recently highly valued for its ecumenical contribution. But now comes Raymond Gawronski to show that the very particularity of this singular theologian bears rich potential for ecumenical dialogue. The only flaw in this book (and given its intention it is a seriously debilitating one) is that it concentrates so heavily on Balthasar that Asia, the dialogue's other partner, is rarely mentioned. Buddhism—and not the “East” in general—is really the only issue that matters for Father Gawronski, but there is so little discussion even of Buddhism that one wonders if this book will prove of benefit to anyone not already a doctoral student working on Balthasar's ecumenism. At one point the author slips and calls the book “this dissertation,” which nicely sums up the flaws of what could, and should, have been a much more substantial contribution.
By Samuel H. Dresner
Fortress, 256 pages, $17 paper
The first book-length treatment of Rachel, who, probably more than any other biblical matriarch, has captivated the imagination of religious Jews and Christians. Professor Dresner, of Jewish Theological Seminary, has produced a work that is both learned and lucid, allowing Rachel's personality, passion, and mystique to emerge with great vividness. The scholarly sources (mainly talmudic and midrashic, but also some Christian), far from making the account dry or academic, actually heighten the near-melodramatic intensity and complexity of Rachel's life. Her influence on the course of biblical narrative and on the piety of future generations is handled skillfully and comprehensively—a powerful refutation of the frequent feminist complaint that the Bible is merely “a guy's story.”
The Play of Parodox
By Bryan Crockett
University of Pennsylvania Press, 213 pages, $32.95
In this wide-ranging account of the Renaissance “Cult of the Ear,” Professor Crockett argues for the cultural unity of Renaissance England and the fact that everyone—Protestant and Catholic, playwright and preacher—shared in the midst of all their disagreements a belief in rhetorical force. If the book does nothing more than remind English teachers once again that they need to read English preaching to understand English literature, that they need to read Donne's sermons to understand Donne's poetry, it will have performed a valuable service. But The Play of Paradox deserves a place in contemporary homiletics as well. Shakespeare's contemporaries in the golden age of English preaching knew what many preachers since seem to have forgotten, that the art of sermonizing is akin to theater—not in its spectacle and showmanship, but in its knowledge of the “holy cozenage” of rhetoric and the power of the spoken word.
Religion in Public Life: A Dilemma for Democracy
By Ronald A. Thiemann
Georgetown University Press, 186 pages, $17.95 paper
A very civilized survey of aspects of the historical background and theoretical arguments that have gone into shaping America's liberal regime. Thiemann, who is dean of Harvard Divinity School, engages the work of Michael Sandel, Michael Walzer, and others who have raised important questions about the limits of liberalism as currently conceptualized and practiced. There is about this exercise, however, a certain smell of the secular academy and defensiveness about the place, or non-place, of religion in that world. This is reflected in the subtitle. Religion in public life is “a dilemma for democracy,” and Thiemann seems at times to be begging his secular interlocutors, hat in hand, to be open to the idea that religion need not be dangerously fanatical. This does not make it a bad book. On the contrary, it is well-intended and thoughtful. It is simply that it seems so very removed from the arguments and conflicts over religion and public life that are currently reconfiguring the American liberal regime.
The Life of the World to Come
By Carol Zaleski
Oxford University Press, 98 pages, $18.95
We cannot imagine being dead, Sigmund Freud once claimed, because the very attempt to imagine being dead requires that we imagine ourselves still alive to do the imagining—and such naive notions as the Christian belief in an afterlife are merely irrational projections of this paradox. What little attention recent intellectuals and journalists have given the topic has mostly followed Freud's line, equating the history of Christian reflection about the afterlife with belief in UFOs and the undying Elvis. In these thoughtful and charming lectures, however, Carol Zaleski demonstrates not only the obvious point that there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of by recent intellectuals and journalists, but also that the afterlife is a proper—indeed, a mandatory—topic for Christian spiritual reflection. Especially good on the uses and misuses of “near-death experiences,” The Life of the World to Come is a mature and spiritually rewarding volume, highly recommended.
What God Allows: The Crisis of Faith and Conscience in One Catholic Church
By Ivor Shapiro
Doubleday, 307 pages, $23.95
There are no surprises in the story line itself: Restless, confused Catholics chafe under the authority of a reactionary pope and will decide by their own conscience (read willfulness) what it really means to be Catholic. That said, however, the account of one year in the life of St. Paul's Church in Kenmore, New York, is both graceful and perceptive, and betrays more of the author's orthodoxy than he is apparently comfortable in admitting. He and Jimmy Breslin are wrong in thinking that “there's no such thing as a lapsed Catholic.” But this book does demonstrate that even a lapsed Catholic is a lapsed Catholic.