The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century.
Edited by Doris L. Bergen.
University of Notre Dame Press. 312 pp. $18 paper.
The military chaplaincy in the West is the subject of this compilation of essays by historians and scholar-chaplains. The office took shape in the Carolingian era and has retained, with a few prominent exceptions, its noncombatant, ministerial character ever since. Chapters on late Roman predecessors, medieval chaplains, their analogues in early modern England, Frederick the Great’s Prussia, the American Civil War, World Wars I and II, and Vietnam round out the book’s sweeping historical reach. The paradox of serving God from inside the Leviathan preoccupies many of the contributors, and several seem to agree with Herman Melville, as quoted in editor Doris Bergen’s introduction, that a chaplain in the army is “as incongruous as a musket would be on the altar at Christmas.” Surely that was the case for German chaplains in World War II, as Bergen’s disturbing chapter on them reports. She says that few to none of Germany’s chaplains openly challenged Nazi authority, and most ended up pawns or collaborators. Elsewhere the paradox has been less acute, and stories of chaplains ministering to frightened or wounded soldiers constitute much of the substance of The Sword of the Lord. Rabbi Max Wall’s reflections on his experience as a U.S. Army chaplain in postwar Germany are a welcome contrast to the report on Nazi chaplains. Wall helped Holocaust survivors to locate relatives and to get food and supplies from overseas sympathizers, and he even got involved in the growing Zionist movement. (Much of this was in direct violation of Army chaplain protocol, but he was evidently not hindered by Army authorities.) Chaplains today appear to be reversing the paradox altogether. Increasingly, they are transcending their roles as ministers and are instead being asked to play formal roles as moral advisors to policymakers. The U.S. Army began asking as much in the 1970s, and American chaplains have sometimes been strident critics of American policy. Reagan-era Chief of Chaplains Kermit Johnson, a Presbyterian, spoke out against some of his president’s defense policies—and turned out to be wrong, as Anne C. Loveland’s chapter unintentionally demonstrates (Loveland seems to rue the fact that as active-duty officers chaplains have a “limitation on [their] prophetic ministry”). In an age when a thousand American chaplains are charged with ministering to over one million members of the armed forces and their dependents worldwide, the demands on chaplains are already formidable, and it is not clear that enlisting them as moral advisors on policy is a burden that should be added to their load.
Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261 – 1557).
Edited by Helen C. Evans.
Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press. 690 pp. $75.
Those fortunate enough to be in New York City between now and July 4, 2004, can join the enormous crowds coming to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the unique exhibition to which this book is the companion. Those not that fortunate can still be inspired and enthralled by the art presented in the book, and can be educated by the seventeen major essays by a distinguished array of international scholars. Not just a companion to the exhibition, this massive volume is the complete catalogue, with 722 color illustrations, 141 black-and-white photographs, and three maps, along with superb captions, a glossary, and other informative text, bringing to life more than 350 masterpieces of Byzantine art that have been gathered from thirty nations. The artworks (icons, frescoes, mosaics, textiles, illuminated manuscripts, metalwork) are superb in their own right, and the cross-cultural artistic and intellectual currents flowing between Byzantium, the Islamic East, and the Christian West are interestingly explored. The exhibition catalogued in this book is the third in a series by the Met (the others were in 1977 and 1997) covering chronologically the art and influence of Byzantine civilization. This exhibition, like the prior ones, is a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of artworks —and this is a once-in-a-lifetime book. It can be purchased online at www.metmuseum.org.
William Sloane Coffin, Jr.: A Holy Impatience.
By Warren Goldstein.
Yale University Press. 378 pp. $30.
A carefully researched and finely written biography of one of the most publicly prominent American religious figures of the second half of the twentieth century. While Goldstein is almost totally admiring of Coffin’s ever more leftward politics, he has a keenly critical eye for the establishment world of WASPish privilege that shaped the young Coffin, from elite prep schools through the power networks of Yale, including initiation into Skull and Bones. Respected for his connections, energy, manliness, and sharp tongue, young Coffin took to the military and the military took to him in World War II. Goldstein treats with honesty and insight an episode of which Coffin is thoroughly ashamed, the sending of Soviet POWs back to Russia and almost certain death. In the face of the postwar Communist challenge, Coffin flirted with a career in American intelligence but finally chose the Presbyterian ministry. As the official chaplain of Yale, he made the university’s chapel the center of moral argument and activism during the turbulent ‘60s, as well as leading “freedom rides” to promote racial desegregation in the South. In protesting U.S. policy in Vietnam, Coffin skillfully used the platform created by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Father Daniel Berrigan, and then–Lutheran Pastor Richard John Neuhaus, Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam, which was the largest sustained antiwar organization of the time. After Yale, Coffin became senior pastor of the prestigious Riverside Church in New York City where he gave free rein to Cora Weiss, a formidable leader closely connected to the anti-anticommunist Old Left, in turning Riverside into the national base of operations for opposition to the Reagan policies that helped force the collapse of the Soviet Union. After a decade, Coffin left a bitterly divided Riverside to briefly head SANE/Freeze, an organization promoting disarmament. Twice di-vorced, Coffin now lives with his third wife in rural Vermont, and, although in fragile health, is occasionally brought in a wheelchair to left-wing meetings where he is introduced to younger participants as a man who was once very famous. Goldstein refers to the “biblical theology” that marked Coffin’s preaching but shows little interest in what that theology might be. Entirely without mention is Coffin’s involvement—albeit an uneasy involvement—in the 1975 Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation, an ecumenical effort initiated by sociologist Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus to challenge liberal directions in American theology and church life. While Coffin is obviously a hero—indeed a moral and political prophet—to his biographer, the poignant story told here is one of an increasingly disoriented and marginal figure whose great privilege and talent spiral downward into a life and a mission in shambles. An accomplished pianist who once dreamt of a concert career, Coffin has now found, Goldstein suggests, a measure of wisdom, even of tranquility. He employs a musical trope: “As he grows older, Coffin masters less and less; his God plays him more and more.” William Sloane Coffin, Jr.: A Holy Impatience is very much worth reading to recall the excitements and certitudes of a now debilitated liberal Protestant establishment as that establishment was exemplified in a gifted leader whose like we will almost certainly never see again. Bill Coffin was the last blaze of a religious and cultural world now extinct.
Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany.
By Robert A. Krieg.
Continuum. 222 pp. $24.95
The author, a professor of theology at Notre Dame, examines why some Catholic theologians (e.g., Karl Adam and Joseph Lortz) tended to be sympathetic to the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler while others (e.g., Romano Guardini and Engelbert Krebs) were from the beginning opponents of the Third Reich. They were all, within the context of the time, viewed as liberals. Adam, Lortz, and Guardini are still read today, also in the English-speaking world. Adam pioneered an organic, as opposed to an institutional-hierarchical, ecclesiology; Lortz broke new ground with an ecumenical reconsideration of the Protestant Reformation; and Guardini accented a more personalist theology of the kind now associated with John Paul II. Krieg suggests that attitudes toward the Third Reich were largely informed by different ecclesiologies. Adam deplored the rootless individualism of Weimar and hoped that Nazism would foster a more communitarian understanding of both church and society. Guardini, in contrast, was sympathetically disposed toward modernity with its emphasis on the dignity of the person which collectivist Nazism treated with contempt. Krieg also offers an intelligent assessment of the conflicting views of German bishops, some of whom thought they could work out an uneasy accommodation with the Reich while others believed from the beginning that the totalitarian and pagan doctrines of the Nazis posed a lethal threat to the Church. With very few exceptions, Catholic leaders were so preoccupied with the threat to the Church that they gave little attention to what was happening to the Jews and viewed the dissolution of Protestantism as no more than a fate to be avoided. Krieg is for the most part assiduously evenhanded in assessing the different responses to the Reich and recognizes that an ecclesiology based on the concept of societas perfecta (the Church as a “perfect society”) had its considerable strengths, as well as obvious weaknesses, in helping Catholics to resist the ravages of the Hitler regime.
Bonds of Imperfection: Christian Politics, Past and Present.
By Oliver O’Donovan and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan.
Eerdmans. 324 pp. $35 paper.
Oliver O’Donovan of Oxford is known to our readers as the author of Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (reviewed in FT November 1997). The O’Donovans, husband and wife, press with force and style a theo-political challenge to the regnant political philosophies of modernity and the hyper-modernity called postmodernity. The present book includes essays ranging widely, from a fresh interpretation of Augustine’s City of God to the ethical thought of Erasmus to the differences between Protestant theologians Karl Barth and Paul Ramsey on the uses of power. Of very particular interest is Joan Lockwood O’Donovan’s “The Theological Economics of Medieval Usury Theory,” in which she demonstrates that, in the hands of Dominican and Franciscan expositors, Catholic prohibition of usury was not a simple prohibition but part of a sophisticated economic theory of participation, mutual obligation, and particular concern for the disadvantaged and poor. It contained within it the seeds of moral wisdom essential to the conduct of later market economics. The O’Donovans have given us the invaluable reference work, From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought (also from Eerdmans), and the present book should be welcomed as a thoughtful commentary on those formative texts and their continuing vitality in contemporary Christian disputes over the right ordering of the relationship between Christ and Caesar.
The Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer.
By Bert Ghezzi.
Loyola. 120 pp. $16.95
The introduction promises, about twice per page, the “power” mentioned in the subtitle, in language that veers toward the peppy-promotional (“tremendous power,” “life-transforming power,” “plug into a source of spiritual power”). But introductions are hard to write; once the author settles into his subject the echoes of adspeak die away, and the thrust of Ghezzi’s candid and heartfelt reflections becomes clear: the Christian life is more akin to self-immolation than to self-improvement. He quotes this from St. John Chrysostom: “When you mark your breast, your eyes, and all your members with the sign of the cross, offer yourself as a victim pleasing to God”—and he offers many other snippets culled from two millennia of Christian rumination on this seemingly simple gesture. Ghezzi gives a very brief history of the sign, with its themes and variations, mentioning in passing that “some Protestants repudiated the sign of the cross” but noting that Luther, in The Small Catechism, recommended it: “As soon as you get out of bed in the morning, you should bless yourself with the sign of the Holy Cross and say, ‘May the will of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be done! Amen.’” Ghezzi’s purpose is neither historical nor apologetical; he seeks only to propose the sign afresh to those for whom this cruciform sacramental has been vitiated by routine. His insights into spiritual life are often shrewd (“Scripture says that we must crucify our self-indulgence, and crucifixion is a slow, agonizing form of death”), and his enthusiasm for this “easy spiritual discipline” may prove to be contagious—powerfully so.
Modern Social Imaginaries.
By Charles Taylor.
Duke University Press. 215 pp. $18.95 paper.
The noted political philosopher, now at Northwestern University, expands a part of his Gifford Lectures that addresses the question of whether there is one modernity or several. Arguing for the latter, Taylor shows how the Western, mainly European, tradition of modernity—based on ideas of natural law, contract theory, public opinion, equality, and the individual as participant in multiple communities—has evolved in a way that has accommodated the essentially religious grounding of society. The “imaginaries” of the title is, despite his defense of the term, a somewhat idiosyncratic synonym for “imaginations.” As always with Taylor, the writing is marked by erudition, elegance, and generosity of spirit. The book, while hardly mentioning Islam or other traditions, may be seen as a quietly understated thesis congruent with Samuel Huntington’s more pointed reflections on “the clash of civilizations.”