Monastic Visions: Wall Paintings in the Monastery of St. Antony at the Red Sea.
Edited by Elizabeth S. Bolman.
Yale University Press. 307 pp. $65.
St. Antony is usually regarded as the father of Christian monasticism. He was deeply involved with the disputes of Arius and a staunch defender of Athanasius and the Nicene Creed. Near Antony’s cave at the Red Sea, a monastery (now Coptic) was constructed. This coffeetable book documents the cleaning and restoration of the monastery’s lavishly painted walls. In all, there are fourteen essays and almost 300 plates, over 250 in color. But the essays themselves are worth the price of the volume, many times over. They cover the history of the monastery, its relationship with Muslim rulers, and the techniques employed by the team of Italian restorers, whose efforts have revealed paintings of incredible beauty. Highly recommended to those who seek greater familiarity with this relatively obscure Christian communion’s history (especially after a.d. 641), its iconography, and this monastery’s mission to continue in sometimes adverse situations, not the least of which is the growth of recreational tourism along the shores of the Red Sea.
Speer: The Final Verdict.
By Joachim Fest.
Harcourt. 419 pp. $30.
If anything can be definitive on that subject, Fest’s biography of Adolf Hitler is a contender for the title, and now he has rendered a similar service with this book on Albert Speer, the architect and armaments minister who was viewed by many as being second in power only to the Führer. After he served the twenty years in Spandau prison to which he was sentenced at Nuremberg, Speer spent fifteen years in voluminous writing and incessant interviews trying to understand, and help others understand, the horror that was the Third Reich, and his part in it. Fest’s “final verdict” is that Speer tried to be truthful but was utterly devoid of the moral, spiritual, and religious insights necessary to judging guilt or innocence in his own case or that of others. Like Hitler, he thought “artists” exempt from ordinary moral standards. Speer alternated between pleading that exemption and the contradictory claim that he was no more than an apolitical technocrat. After the war, he infuriated nationalists by his wholesale condemnation of the Hitler period, while pleasing others by his contention that even those in the highest circle of power, such as himself, could have had no direct knowledge of the program to exterminate Jews and other crimes against humanity. Fest explores, in a nonprurient manner, what appears to be the erotic dimension of the friendship between Hitler and Speer, which explains Speer’s being allowed to get away with directly countering Hitler’s orders on numerous occasions. Speer is a fascinating and judicious study in human character, and the lack thereof.
Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century.
By Karl Barth.
Eerdmans. 672 pp. $45 paper.
When Karl Barth’s seminal history of the fate of liberal Protestantism in Germany was first translated into English in 1959, Barth described it as a fragment of the original work. And so it was: whereas Barth’s original was comprised of twenty–nine chapters, the translation contained eleven. Now, thanks to Eerdmans, English–speaking readers have the whole book—and it is every bit as essential as when it first appeared. Barth is a masterful guide to the tradition that he himself had sought to overthrow in The Epistle to the Romans, and he intimately understands the motivation behind it—namely, the desire to find a place for Christianity in the wake of the eighteenth–century Enlightenment. In his early work, Barth gave his own explosive answer to the question of whether the German Protestant attempt to make Christianity relevant to the modern world compromised too much to it, but here he leaves such judgments up to the reader, and that is probably as it should be. Barth’s history will remain essential reading for as long as the question of Christianity and/or modernity continues to preoccupy us—which is to say for quite some time.
Luther’s Lives: Two Contemporary Accounts of Martin Luther.
Translated by Elizabeth Vandiver, et al.
Manchester University Press (distributed by Palgrave). 408 pp. $74.95.
The first and shorter account is by Philip Melanchthon. The second and much longer, which is here translated into English for the first time, is by Johannes Cochlaeus, a contemporary Catholic opponent of Luther. As the translators note, the Cochlaeus biography was, up until the early twentieth century, the standard source for Catholic polemicists. There is no doubt that this chronological telling, which is scrupulously accurate in its lengthy citations of Luther’s writings, provides abundant grist for anti–Protestant polemics. Cochlaeus himself comes across as a learned, sometimes cranky, ecclesiastical pamphleteer who is having a hard time believing that sensible people could take seriously the patent nonsense spouted by Luther against what is, for all its admitted faults, an ecclesial and civil order constituted by God Himself. This report may be only a footnote in Reformation studies, but it is an interesting and important footnote, and one is surprised that it is only now appearing in English.
A Generation Betrayed: Deconstructing Catholic Education in the English–Speaking World.
By Eamonn Keane.
Hatherleigh. 316 pp. $34.95.
It is by no means uncommon to hear Catholic parents complain that, in the religious education programs of schools and parishes, their children do not seem to learn much of anything that is recognizably Catholic. This book traces, with polemical panache, the influence on the “catechetical establishment” of the radical feminist Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, who teaches at the Harvard Divinity School, through her “disciple” Thomas Groome, a former priest teaching at Boston College. The author contends that Fiorenza is, in fact, promoting “another religion,” and the latter’s amply quoted statements suggest that she gleefully agrees. There is no doubt that Fiorenza and Groome are profoundly out of sync with the Magisterium, and Keane makes a convincing case that their influence is one important reason why so many young Catholics are ignorant of what it means to believe and live as a Catholic.
Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc.
By Joseph Pearce.
Ignatius. 320 pp. $24.95.
For their brilliantly contrarian and very Catholic ways, G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc were dubbed by George Bernard Shaw as “Chester–Belloc.” In truth, they were not as close as Shaw, and Joseph Pearce, suggest. As a biography, Old Thunder is marred by an excess of admiration, but it will serve a purpose if it introduces another generation to a figure who embodied the belligerence and bravado that in the first half of the twentieth century marked some unapologetic apologists for Catholicism who refused to be intimidated by its cultured despisers.
Pastor: A Reader for Ordained Ministry.
Edited by William H. Willimon.
Abingdon. 326 pp. $25 paper.
A judiciously selected anthology on sundry dimensions of ministry by the chaplain of Duke University. What it means to be a priest, a counselor, a preacher, an intercessor, an evangelist, and an unworthy servant aspiring to holiness. Wisdom from the ancients (Cyprian, Augustine, Chrysostom), the more recent (Fosdick, Reinhold Niebuhr, Spurgeon), and the contemporary (Hauerwas, Richard Lischer, Sam Proctor, Neuhaus)—Protestant, Catholic, liberal, conservative—and each one guaranteed to occasion pause, self–criticism, and the inspiration to assume anew the impossible possibility of Christian ministry.
Celtic Daily Prayer.
By the Northumbria Community.
HarperSanFrancisco. 826 pp. $29.95.
The Northumbria Community is an association of “companions” around the world who have their meeting place near the Island of Lindisfarne in northern England. Centered in the Community’s own adaptation of the daily office, this book is a collection of texts, old and new, for blessings, meditations, and sacramental rites. Many are of great beauty and delicacy, others veer toward the new–ageish and psycho–spiritualized. For those accustomed to classical traditions, it will seem that the Community is at times trying to reinvent the wheel, meaning in this case the Church at prayer. But, all in all, an interesting mix that should be welcomed by students of Christian spirituality.
In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension.
By Jay P. Dolan.
Oxford University Press. 277 pp. $28.
The tension between a religious tradition and the culture in which it lives is a perennial and important subject for reflection. Regrettably, Dolan quite entirely collapses the tension, as is evident in his final chapter titled, “An American Religion and a Roman Church.” Although Dolan is trained as an historian, this is a tract agitating for the Americanization of Catholicism (what conservative critics refer to as AmChurch) that, as is usual with tracts, proceeds as though there are no arguments to the contrary worthy of being engaged. In Search of an American Catholicism is the kind of thing that gives liberalism, including liberal Catholicism, a bad name.
Thomas Gordon Smith: The Rebirth of Classical Architecture.
By Richard John.
Andreas Papadakis (Antique Collectors’ Club, Wappingers Falls, New York; www.antiquecc.com). 136 pp. $37.50.
Smith, of the School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame, was in the 1970s a key figure in the postmodernist and decontexualist movements, but he has moved on, having rediscovered the imaginative richness of the classical tradition. This handsome book provides an engaging account of what he thinks architecture can again be, along with striking illustrations of his work, including private houses, civic buildings, and churches. If it is true that we are, in significant part, the spaces in which we live, Smith points to a future of greater human flourishing.
By Rohaton Mistry.
Knopf. 488 pp. $26.
A movingly comic and sad story of a Parsi family in Bombay living through accumulated family resentments and eccentricities in an India sliding into the violence and fears of ethnic and religious rivalries. The Persian community with its Zoroastrian devotions, once part of the Bombay establishment, is now on the defensive, caught between nostalgia for the British raj and dreams of beginning anew in Canada. Mistry, a Canadian born in Bombay, vividly conveys the complexities of people living between the times, underscoring without didacticism the indispensability of family, with all its frustrations and loves, in the making and unmaking of our lives.
The Supreme Harmony of All: The Trinitarian Theology of Jonathan Edwards.
By Amy Plantinga Pauw.
Eerdmans. 200 pp. $22.
It used to be lamented that the only thing undergraduates knew about Jonathan Edwards was his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Today it is a rare undergraduate who has heard about Jonathan Edwards at all. But he remains, in the judgment of informed philosophers and theologians, one of America’s brightest intellectual lights. Pauw makes a persuasive case that his trinitarian thought was developed in his earliest years and provides a conceptual framework that is essential to understanding the entirety of his work.
Common Objects of Love: Moral Reflection and the Shaping of Community.
By Oliver O’Donovan.
Eerdmans. 80 pp. $15.
Three impractical essays on the practice of politics. That, in the view of the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford, is not a criticism. He persuasively argues that it is necessary to step back from political applications in order to explore the meaning of community, including political community, and his exploration begins with St. Augustine’s insight that a common life begins with loves held in common. Politics understood in terms of love is, for the Christian, directed to the eternal reign of the Christ.
Searching for God.
By Cardinal Basil Hume.
Paraclete. 250 pp. $14.95 paper.
Selected reflections of the late primate of England and abbot of Ampleforth addressed to his monks but providing a winsome and reliable guide for responding to what the Second Vatican Council called “the universal call to holiness,” which includes all of us.