By Romano Guardini
Translated by Elinor Castendyk Briefs
Regnery, 629 pages, $14.95 paper
These meditations on the person and life of Jesus Christ were originally published in 1937, and translated in 1954. They are “spiritual commentaries of some four years of Sunday services,” written during perhaps the most ominous decade in twentieth-century Christianity. The book's profundity, its endurance for sixty years, and a new preface by Cardinal Ratzinger all highly recommend it. Guardini's refusal of pious sentimentalities and recognition of “the dangers of orthodoxy” continue to challenge believers—just as his skepticism of quests for the historical-psychological Jesus and his recognition of the diabolic power of our “over-enlightened all-destructive age” chastise our unbelief. But such criticisms of belief and unbelief are subordinate to a vision of Jesus as unnormed Lord of all reality who “can never be intellectually unified.” Guardini's seven dozen brief chapters begin with the eternal and temporal origins of Jesus, take the reader through Gospel scenes and themes, and conclude with chapters on Acts, some Pauline epistles, and the Book of Revelation. Ending with the apocalyptic Lord is no accident, for Guardini suspends his readers between time and eternity, leaving us with questions about both. Some will quibble with pieces of this fine translation (e.g., “[God's] autocratic decision” for selbstherrlich Ratschluss; “the complete nullity” for die vollige Belanglosigkeit of “the historical Jesus”). But those who agree that we live in apocalyptic times of war and loneliness will find much here on which to pray.
—James J. Buckley
The Battle for Christmas
By Stephen Nissenbaum
Knopf, 381 pages, $30
Not much escapes the scrutiny of this University of Massachusetts history professor. From the origins of the interior Christmas tree (no, the Hessians did not bring it to America from Germany during the Revolutionary War) to the message of Clement Moore's poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (yes, there is meaning behind St. Nick's placing his finger “aside of his nose”) to an intriguing interpretation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Nissenbaum shows how in the nineteenth century there emerged the tradition that is now, more or less, our way of observing Christmas. Concentrating largely on America, he examines in minute detail the transformation of Christmas from a rather unruly winter carnival to a quiet, domestic, and child-centered event. At times the detail can be numbing, but Nissenbaum keeps the narrative flowing with a minimum of academic vocabulary. Though the epilogue indulges an odd thesis about acceptance of Santa Claus and Christmas trees serving to protect nineteenth-century children from grasping the connection between family life and the commercial economy, the book remains a good reference volume for all those who enjoy learning how we came to do the things we do.
Philosophical Foundations of Tort Law
Edited by David G. Owen
Oxford University Press, 509 pages, $75
“Torts” is the branch of law that provides remedies for injuries as diverse as a punch in the nose, an automobile accident, a bungled surgery, and a defamation of character. Torts law was not much studied until the late 1800s, with most scholarship devoted only to case commentary. More recently, however, interest has begun to emerge in analyzing the very notion of torts law—and this important book is one result, collecting twenty-two essays on the topic. Everyone admits that torts law has no original philosophical foundation, but emerged haphazardly from the old common law writ of trespass. The question that legal scholars face is whether there is any philosophical explanation or justification for contemporary law. As a torts teacher, I am impressed by the sophistication of the philosophical dialogue in this volume, which should become the leading reference for years to come. I remain skeptical, however, about the effort's ultimate success. Legal philosophers typically claim too much for torts law. I prefer a more modest explanation of torts law as a highly particularized process to resolve disputes over the application of general standards for civil responsibility. The failure of most victims to claim compensation suggests that for many injuries there is no dispute compelling enough to require intervention. The use of torts law to resolve conflict may fail to satisfy the philosophers who want it to provide for the victim's economic welfare, or to deter inefficient economic behavior, or to vindicate moral rights and duties. But when it works well American torts law resolves civil conflicts over harmful behavior not so much by applying elaborate principles as by combining the wisdom of legal professionals and lay juries to convert generalized standards into particularized judgments on specific facts. Philosophical explanations of torts law tend to overlook this process. Only one essay in this volume even mentions the role of the jury, but so long as we use jurors in conflict resolution, there will be practical limitations on how much legal philosophers can do for torts law—whether in expanding its scope, or limiting the effect of the sometimes enormous judgments juries bring in, or finding a coherent philosophical theory of the process.
—Carl S. Hawkins
Jesus Living in Mary
Edited by Stefano De Fiores
Montfort Publications (Bay Shore, NY), 1,380 pages, $34.95
This “handbook” of the spirituality of St. Louis Marie de Montfort (1673-1716) is more than a handful. Montfort's True Devotion to Mary, a classic of Christocentric and Trinitarian piety, is finding a new audience today with the growing, and ecumenical, interest in the role of the Mother of God (Theotokos) in the plan of salvation. The contributors to the present book explore that devotion from numerous angles in the course of setting forth Montfort's life, teaching, and continuing influence.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Soviet State (1939-1950)
By Bohdan R. Bociurkiw
Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press (University of Toronto), 310 pages, $39.95
Now that the Soviet archives are opening up, much new light is thrown on the struggle of Christians under the Communist regime. This scholarly volume by a distinguished expert on Eastern Europe at Carle ton University, Ottawa, will no doubt become an essential reference for understanding the complicated relationship between Ukrainian Christianity and the Kremlin under Stalin's brutal repression.
Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy
By Frederica Mathewes-Green
HarperCollins, 245 pages, $20
Mathewes-Green and her husband, an Episcopal priest, entered into communion with the Orthodox Church after many hesitations, doubts, and not a few pratfalls. This is an engaging and frequently humorous account of one family's journey toward what the author depicts as a destination of humanity celebrated and fulfilled in splendor. The book will no doubt be a welcome companion for the many Christians in this country who are considering “the Orthodox alternative.”
Alex: Building a Life
By Alexander Singer
Gefen Books (Hewlett, NY; 1-800-477-5257), 273 pages, $18.95
Alexander Singer was a young American who “made aliyah” (i.e., emigrated to Israel), joined an elite paratroop unit, and was killed on September 15, 1987, his twenty-fifth birthday, in a battle against terrorists near the Israel-Lebanon border. A sensitive young man who sought not glory or adventure so much as the special fraternity of those who share hard trials, he once wrote to his parents that he wanted “only the chance to give more.” Alex: Building a Life is his autobiography in letters, journal entries, and drawings (he was a sketch artist of no mean talent), collected and published posthumously by his family. The book's subtitle is derived from Abraham Joshua Heschel's observation that young people should “remember that there is meaning beyond absurdity. Let them be sure that every deed counts, that every word has power. . . . And, above all, let them remember to build a life as if it were a work of art.” This volume powerfully exemplifies the wisdom contained in Heschel's advice, tracing the inner struggles and self-imposed trials of a young life that had truly been brought to a point. Though its most obvious appeal will be to Jewish readers, Alex: Building a Life will be appreciated as a moving testament by all who subscribe to the view that one finds one's life by giving it. With a foreword by Sir Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill's official biographer.
The Reader's Companion to Military History
Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker
Houghton Mifflin, 573 pages, $45
Good, concise articles on various wars, battles, and military personages, plus accessible treatments of technical aspects of warfare (e.g., logistics, intelligence, disposal of the dead) as well as entries on war as represented in art, film, literature, and music. A weak link, however, is the dearth of useful material placing war in the context of politics and international relations; there is neither an article nor even an index reference to “diplomacy,” for instance. Moreover, while the editors reluctantly concede that they have “privileged” Western wars and methods of battle (PC-speak is everywhere it seems), they give only perfunctory treatment to the contribution of Western religion and philosophy in elaborating principles of the “just war” and in reflecting on the ultimate causes and nature of continuing “wars and rumors of war.” Still, for the most part, The Reader's Companion to Military History succeeds admirably in its stated goal of compressing “to mnageable proportions” that aspect of our fallenness which is war.