Jacques and Raïssa Maritain.
by Jean-Luc Barré.
Notre Dame University Press, 528 pages, $50.
First published ten years ago, this was the first true biography of Jacques Maritain, and it has had no rivals since. There have been memoirs, there have been monographs, there have been studies galore of this or that aspect of his thought, but the man himself has had to be sought in his wife Raïssa's lovely wartime memoirs, We Have Been Friends Together and Adventures in Grace. These remain beautifully evocative and over the years have added posthumous friends to those Raïssa wrote of so movingly. It is rare for a wife to treat her husband so reverently, and it was mutual. Early in their soon-to-be-white marriage, Jacques planned to write a life of Raïssa. After her death, he published her diary. As university students, they had accepted the maxim that there is only one tragedy: not to be a saint. Each clearly thought the other had made the mark. Ra?ssa was the daughter of Russian Jews who had moved to France. Jacques was the grandson of an eminent politician, and when his mother divorced his father, who would commit suicide, she resumed her maiden name. He was raised more or less as a Protestant, but by the time he was at the Sorbonne, he, like Ra?ssa, had lost any faith he had. The story of their conversion to Catholicism has become legend. What marked their lives was the conviction that the intellectual life and the spiritual life must go hand in hand. Did their political radicalism die with their conversion? Barré provides a good account of Jacques' long association with Action Fran?aise but more or less accepts Ra?ssa's claim that the association was due to spiritual advisers. The Church's condemnation of Action Francaise effected a 180-degree turn in Jacques' politics, while the Spanish Civil War strengthened his leftward move and dismayed many Catholics. In Integral Humanism, he argued for a new Christianity, which angered and dismayed many more. But when, late in life, he wrote The Peasant of the Garonne, he was thought to have taken yet another 180-degree turn. Barré wisely situates these political vagaries, if that is what they were, in the deeper soil of Maritain's intellectual and spiritual life. Maritain became one of the leaders of the Thomistic revival, and the range of his philosophical writings can only amaze—logic, philosophy of science, moral and political philosophy, metaphysics, aesthetics, philosophy of history; he seemed to leave nothing untouched, and he brought to whatever he wrote a profundity and even daring that excited generations of readers. It is surprising that this gentle, thoughtful philosopher stirred up controversy again and again. In his twilight years, he wrote only theology. The vagaries of intellectual reputation are one of the mysteries of life. Who would have predicted that, all these years after his death, Maritain would continue to be read so widely? There are associations and journals named for him; the flood of writings inspired by him has not abated. Most of those who contested his views have disappeared into obscurity. His complete works in French have been published, and there is an English collected works in progress. Barré's biography has given new stimulus to this welcome longevity, and Bernard Doering has put us in his debt with his elegant translation.
Muslims in Spain, 1500 to 1614
by L.P. Harvey.
University of Chicago Press, 448 pages, $40.
At the end of the fifteenth century, Spain was the only Christian country with large Jewish and Muslim minorities. Andalusia had been ruled by the Muslims, who conquered Spain in the early eighth century. They had created a rich and diverse Arabic culture that included Jews and Christians. It is likely that the first translations of the Qur'an into Latin can be traced to contacts between Christian and Muslim scholars in Spain. But over the centuries, the Catholic kingdoms in the central and northern part of the peninsula had gradually driven back the Muslims in the Reconquista. With the conquest of Granada in 1492, the Muslims became subject to Christian rule. The expulsion of the Jews (the estimate is 170,000) by the Catholic rulers is well known, but the parallel story, no less lachrymose, is the deportation (or forced conversion) of thousands of Muslim subjects. In this learned and sensitive book, L.P. Harvey, professor emeritus of Spanish at the University of London and author of an earlier volume, Islamic Spain, 1250 to 1500, brings the history of Islamic Spain down to its heartbreaking final chapter. “The final expulsion,” writes Harvey, “was a cruel coup de grace to a community long in decline, not a measure of self-defense taken by Christian folk in any real danger of being demographically overwhelmed and outbred.” Painful as it is to read, this is a history not to be forgotten.
—Robert Louis Wilken
Hillbilly Thomist: Flannery O'Connor, St. Thomas an the Limits of Art.
by Marion Montgomery.
McFarland, 2 vols., 706 pages, $65.
Flannery O'Connor understood faith as the uncomfortable and the painful cross, and she focused in all her works—even the “pain in her bones”—on living that cross. In Hillbilly Thomist, Marion Montgomery contrasts philosophical and literary figures from the “Age of Alienation” to the spiritual advisers of O'Connor, finding that such thinkers as Sartre and Emerson embody society's intellectual and spiritual dislocation, its separation of grace from nature. Because the modern intellectual believes that personal freedom is gained by sin (the ruthless search for personal self-fulfillment without regard to moral principles), while the Christian believes that personal freedom is destroyed by sin, O'Connor must “reveal unexpected spiritual action” through the “totally right and totally unexpected” actions of her characters. Modern man uncovers his own divinity through self-reliance independently of all other causes, by analyzing facts as events standing in their own vacuum, and O'Connor finds such self-sufficiency inadequate: “You do not write the best you can for the sake of art but for the sake of returning your talent increased to the invisible God to use or not use as he sees fit.” When she makes her fiction, she draws man “conflicted by good and evil in a world which now assumes itself beyond good and evil.” She does not intend to defend Catholicism as one belief among many equals or to speculate whether Catholicism is a relative truth. Instead, O'Connor reveals the “fact of the Word made flesh.” Montgomery's massive work contains several chapters on modernism, though his concern with St. Thomas is not specifically outlined. Hence, it is difficult to work through the comparison between O'Connor and St. Thomas. But the aim of Hillbilly Thomist is to synthesize O'Connor's writing with St. Thomas' view on rational man's participation in eternal Reason. Montgomery finds that O'Connor's use of her materials (unique though they were, given her Southern Catholic placement in time and space) reveals something distinctly Thomistic.
—Maria Andraca Carano
The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview.
by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese.
Cambridge University Press, 828 pages, $31.99.
In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln famously remarked that Northerners and Southerners “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God.” In this volume, consisting largely of previously published articles and book chapters, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese suggest the need to qualify that assertion. As the nineteenth century progressed, they argue, Southerners and Northerners developed different, almost antithetical, understandings of Christianity. They read the same Bible but they read it differently, and even the God they prayed to was not quite the same: He remained firmly trinitarian in the South, while sliding toward Unitarian in the more liberal precincts of the North. Southern Protestant theologians denounced their Northern brethren for leaving the Roman Catholic Church as the sole defender of orthodoxy in the region. Behind it all, the Genoveses claim, was slavery. “The American South ranks with ancient Greece and Rome among the few genuine slave societies in world history,” and it deeply influenced the South's social structure, economy, and culture. Southern defenders of slavery, who increased not only in numbers but in the extravagance of their claims in the 1840s and 1850s, availed themselves of whatever devices they could find to defend their “peculiar institution.” One was a literal reading of the Bible. They challenged the abolitionists to find any place in the Bible where slavery is condemned, and they bolstered their challenge by citing passages where it seems to be sanctioned. Indeed, the authors claim, within that hermeneutical box, the leading abolitionists were hard put to counter the Southerners' arguments. Most of the abolitionists—John Brown being the most prominent exception—eventually adopted a latitudinarian reading of Scripture, emphasizing the spirit while glossing over the word; some even boldly declared that if the Bible sanctioned slavery they wanted no more to do with it. But the religious differences between the two regions turned on more than divergent readings of Scripture. The authors paint a larger picture of different approaches to such meta-religious topics as historical change, social morality, and the legitimacy of government. There was a streak of radicalism in the South—secessionism was itself a radical act—but Southern religious leaders generally inclined toward organic models of social change, the ideal being a gradual civilizing process emanating from traditions of civility and gentility. Chivalry was a term frequently heard in the South. Derived from a romanticized Middle Ages in the novels of Sir Walter Scott and others, it folded into the Christian paternalism that was used to justify slavery. As one minister-professor put it, our Negroes, “in common with minors, imbeciles, and uncivilized persons, have a right to be governed and protected.” Another minister used the Aristotelian categories of “commutative justice” (fair exchange of monetary values) and “distributive justice” (allotment of happiness according to rule) to make the same point: Unlike the North, which recognizes only the former, we Southerners provide for the happiness of our slaves long after their monetary value has ended. The authors are quick to note the flimsiness of this argument but insist that its effect was to soften some of the hardest edges of slavery. Many Southern ministers regarded the war as the supreme test: Either slavery was brought up to “Abrahamic standards” or God would send the heathens to punish the South, as he had done to the Israelites. The book retains the scholarly texture and intensity of the journal articles that largely compose it. As such, it is sometimes fatiguingly overdocumented, piling up example after example to make its points; some of those examples would have been better consigned to endnotes. But this flaw, which some patient readers may not even consider a flaw, is slight when compared with the book's virtues; chief among them is the authors' sympathetic but not uncritical ear to the voices of the South as it drifted toward catastrophe.
The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market & Morals.
edited by Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain.
Spence, 316 pages, $29.95.
Who creates the meaning of marriage? If we are to understand and uphold the dignity of this institution, the shouting over same-sex marriage, Jean Bethke Elshtain notes, needs to and must be changed to a serious, thoughtful public debate. A bold and articulate compendium of essays, The Meaning of Marriage strives to advance the case for traditional marriage. The contributing writers—scholars and experts in the fields of philosophy, economics, history, law, public policy, political and social science—presented this research at a Princeton conference sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute. Essayist Roger Scruton observes that the “distinct social aura” that once enveloped marriage is diminishing. Traditional monogamous heterosexual marriage is under siege, as numerous authors note, by an increase in a variety of factors: state power, a secular and legal worldview, a culture of entitlement, and adult-centered gratification. The time-honored understanding of marriage as unitive, procreative, indissoluble, and based on sexual complementarity is in jeopardy. As Scruton suggests in his essay, “Sacrilege and Sacrament,” the welfare state does not “love,” yet it has its hands all over marriage, attempting to redefine and reshape it. In an outstanding analysis, “Soft Despotism and Same-Sex Marriage,” Seana Sugrue exposes the ways in which a top-down view of marriage forces families to rely on state dependence instead of self-governance for survival. When the principle of subsidiarity breaks down, children are the ones to suffer social experiments and “commodification.” After all, same-sex marriage cannot naturally result in children; the state must take an active role in constructing those families. According to Sugrue, this increase in state power over marriage also serves to stigmatize religions whose centuries-old values are at odds with newfound state laws. Several essays focus on the ways marriage is being broken. Don Browning and Elizabeth Marquardt reflect on how modernization has given rise to “multiple separations” of the goods of marriage: committed love from sex, sex from childbirth, and childbirth from parenting. It is this “adultocentric” view that threatens children's well-being. Where marriage has become a matter of “consumer satisfaction,” as Harold James remarks, the “extraordinary institution” David F. Forte describes loses its virtues of selflessness and sacrifice. As the demand for abortion rights, privacy rights, and contraception discussed by Hadley Arkes, Katherine Shaw Spaht, and W. Bradford Wilcox increase, what will happen to what Robert P. George calls the “intrinsic good” of marriage? Jennifer Roback Morse and other authors point out that marriage cannot operate under a market system. This critique of a libertarian approach to marriage is compelling. Marriage is both an intimate and a public union, and it is more than a “bundle of benefits.” It involves raising and caring for a new generation of children. The value of two biological parents raising their children is emphasized in social science evidence presented by Maggie Gallagher. The Meaning of Marriage is a provocative and essential voice of reason in the marriage debate.
—Erin M. Palazzolo
War and Faith in Sudan.
by Gabriel Meyer, photographs by James Nicholls.
William B. Eerdmans, 244 pages, $20.
In January 1992, the Sudanese government formally declared jihad in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan. Khartoum sought to extirpate the Nuba through wholesale murder, abduction, rape, family separation, forced religious conversion, relocation to “peace camps,” and denial of access to humanitarian assistance, says Sudan expert Dr. Millard Burr. Unlike their neighbors in Darfur, the Nuba received no declaration of genocide. They have relied on scholars' and NGOs' reports—overwhelming statistics documenting the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children—to mark their attempted eradication. Now Gabriel Meyer's powerful War and Faith in Sudan provides faces for the statistics. Meyer first visited Sudan in December 1998 at the urging of Macram Max Gassis, the Roman Catholic bishop of El Obeid diocese. The heroic Gassis, a Sudanese Arab who is an advocate for the African Sudanese, invited Meyer to join in defying Khartoum's flight ban and visit his people in the Nuba Mountains. Meyer's moving accounts and James Nicholls' haunting photographs are a tribute to those who have endured years of persecution, starvation, and death with dignity, courage, and—incredibly—forgiveness. Each person is a testimony to war and to faith. There is the “rail-thin” Nuba soldier welcoming Meyer to the “new Sudan.” In a note on Nicholls' photographs, writer Anne Lamott says of these soldiers: “They appear so pathetic at first, turned out in their crazy secondhand clothes. But look how straight they stand, the strength of their determination, their centeredness.” There is the girl whose photograph graces the book's cover. She lost her arm when Khartoum's bombers attacked her school in Kauda on February 8, 2000. There is the SPLA officer and war hero who interprets the recommencing of drumming and dancing in the wake of a Christmas bomb attack. “In celebrating, we are also fighting,” he says. And there is the young man who became a widower before he could become a husband. His teacher fianc?e was killed in the Kauda attack as she attempted to shield students with her own body. A seasoned journalist who has covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Balkan wars, Meyer marvels at the Nubas' lack of bitterness. The juxtaposition of war and faith runs throughout the book, such as when a young SPLA commander says that the most important thing his soldiers need “is to learn to fight and not to hate.” The book's narrative ends in December 2004. Six years after his first trip, Meyer revisits the Nuba Mountains. A localized ceasefire agreement brokered by John Danforth, special envoy to Sudan, in January 2002 will soon be eclipsed by a comprehensive peace agreement. Meyer finds much has changed. But, as before, there is forgiveness. The Nuba are reaching out to their enemies to foster peace in the new Sudan. It appears (please God) that their war is over. Their faith, refined in the fires of war and persecution, remains. This grace that sustains the Nuba is eloquently portrayed in War and Faith in Sudan.