“Forget Not Love”: The Passion of Maximilian Kolbe
by André Frossard, translated by Cendrine Fontan
Ignatius Press, 199 pages, $11.95
In virtually every Catholic church in Poland today, one finds three portraits: of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, of Pope John Paul II, and of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, the Franciscan priest who, having volunteered himself in place of a Polish prisoner who was the father of a family, died in the starvation bunker at Auschwitz on August 14, 1941—now his feast day in the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. André Frossard's title. Forget Not Love, is taken from Father Kolbe's last instruction to the monks of Niepokalanow, as they were being forced to abandon their monastery (the largest Franciscan foundation in the world) by the Nazis. And the title sets the tone for this volume, which is less a comprehensive biography than a meditation on modern sanctity, built around the life of its protagonist. Readers familiar with Frossard's extended interview with Pope John Paul II, published as Be Not Afraid!, will not be surprised by the author's occasionally breathless style. Moreover, Frossard writes as if his audience were composed almost exclusively of pagans—or, perhaps better, radical skeptics—who regard any notion of “heroic virtue unto death” as mere superstition (although given the book's original destination—France—Frossard may have had something here). But Frossard compensates for occasional lapses into the saccharine and for his avoidance of too close an examination of the anti-Semitism of pre-war Polish culture with a bon mot or two (“the Maginot Line . . . never [stopped] any army but the French”), with his moving depiction of Kolbe's sacrifice, and with a fine, short chapter on the moral squalor of totalitarianism.
Kolbe's case provoked something of a flap in the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. The Congregation agreed that Kolbe was a confessor; but was he a martyr, as that term had traditionally been understood? Pope John Paul II's decision to honor the Franciscan with the red crown as well as the white was, Frossard argues, entirely justifiable, for totalitarianism had defined a new form of odium fidei: systematic odium hominis. And, on the Pope's reasoning, those who had, out of Christian conviction, died in defense of man died also in defense of the faith that taught the truth about man—the truth that totalitarianism denied and persecuted. It is a hard argument to contest at the end of the twentieth century. Praying at the door of St. Maximilian Kolbe's death cell, as I was privileged to do last June, one has no doubts at all that the pope was right.
Toward a Theological Encounter: Jewish Understandings of Christianity
edited by Leon Klenicki
Paulist Press (A Stimulus Book), 168 pages, $8.95
The Stimulus Foundation was established by a refugee from Nazi Germany for the purpose of improving communication between Christians and Jews. Since 1977 it has sponsored the publication of fifteen top-quality books on interfaith relations. Rabbi Leon Klenicki, editor of this and several previous volumes, brings together contemporary Jewish interpretations of Christianity by distinguished scholars (some of them affiliated with this journal): Norman Solomon, Elliot N. Dorff, Walter Jacob, David Novak, Michael Wyschogrod, S. Daniel Breslauer, and David G. Dalin. “Their essays are wide-ranging and authoritative, including, for example, an analysis of the concept of covenant as key to a theology of interfaith relations, a review of Jewish views of interfaith dialogue in the twentieth century, and a plea for a united Jewish-Christian front against modern faithlessness and nihilism.
Introduction to Jewish-Christian Relations
edited by Michael Shermis and Arthur E. Zannoni
Paulist Press, 275 pages, $13.95
Essays by various writers dealing with: the challenge of Hebrew Scripture to Christians, anti-Semitism and the New Testament, the meaning of the Holocaust for Christians, the importance to Jews of Zionism and “the land” for interfaith dialogue, Jesus as Pharisee and Messiah, intermarriage, the theology of religious pluralism, and the role of feminism. Though there is a chapter on the nuts-and-bolts of conducting interfaith dialogue, the book is a bit too short on background to be a true “introduction” to the subject. There is no chapter, for instance, on the history of recent Jewish-Christian relations, the importance of interfaith dialogue as perceived at the institutional level in Judaism and in the churches, or the dialogue's effect on the daily life and thinking of Jews and Christians. These shortcomings notwithstanding, the book is a useful and accessible treatment of an obviously important subject.
On Justice: An Essay In Jewish Philosophy
by L. E. Goodman
Yale University Press, 288 pages, $37.50
There are few books of “Jewish philosophy” among the many Jewish books being published of late, and even fewer that really live up to the name “philosophy.” Most books in this area are studies in the history of ideas. On Justice by a Jewish philosopher at the University of Hawaii, L. E. Goodman, truly corresponds to its subtitle; it is very much “an essay in Jewish philosophy.” Goodman's Jewish philosophy can be seen as the attempt by a religiously committed Jew to deal with the universal human concern for justice. The book is Jewish in the special attention it consistently pays to the classical sources of Judaism. But unlike a theologian, Goodman is not expounding Judaism per se. Although he is most certainly not a Kantian, Goodman's essay is very reminiscent in methodology if not in content of the final work of the greatest modern Jewish philosopher, the Kantian Hermann Cohen (1842–1918), Religion of Reason Out of the Sources of Judaism. Nevertheless, unlike Cohen and just about every Jewish philosopher after him, Goodman is most heavily influenced by Spinoza. Indeed, one of the subthemes of this book is a subtle rereading of Spinoza back into the current enterprise of Jewish philosophy and not just into the past history of Jewish philosophy, as was done by the great historian of philosophy Harry A. Wolfson in his 1934 work. The Philosophy of Spinoza. The book is beautifully argued and written. It should attract the reflective attention of philosophically inclined Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and even of secularists willing to take religious insights seriously.
Wild Hope: Crises Facing the Human Community on the Threshold of the 21st Century
by Tom Sine
Word, 343 pages, $12.99
Change is happening at a blinding pace and Christians aren't ready for it, says this leader of “creativity seminars” again, and again, and again. Wildly breathless is the tone of this evangelical version of Megatrends. Jimmy Carter calls it “an important book for all people of faith,” and maybe it is that, although the remedies proposed are as vague as the alarms raised are indiscriminate.
That They Be One: The Social Teaching of the Papal Encyclicals. 1740-1989
by Michael J. Schuck
Georgetown University Press, 224 pages, $14.95
The author has the misfortune of having committed closure before the appearance of the 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus. He also has the independence of insisting that the social encyclical tradition began before Rerum Novarum of 1891, and that the tradition is riddled with inconsistencies and flat contradictions. A controversial but informative study that should be taken into consideration by students of Catholic social teaching.
Fulfillment in Christ: A Summary of Christian Moral Principles
by Germain Grisez and Russell Shaw
University of Notre Dame Press, 456 pages, $17.95
A straightforward, some would (unfairly) say flatfooted, restatement of Catholic moral teaching. The book is marvelously useful as a text that clearly represents the doctrine from which most Catholic moral theologians are dissenting so promiscuously that they have forgotten the base from which they are deviating.
Communities in Conflict: Evangelicals and Jews
by David A. Rausch
Trinity Press, 204 pages, $18.95
A balanced, somewhat philo-Semitic, treatment of what the title suggests. Rausch has made a noble effort to descry the coherences in two communities that are notoriously diffuse, and he is undoubtedly on the side of the angels in trying to make the case for a mutual entanglement between them that is not entirely of human devising.
Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement
edited by Geoffrey Wainwright et al.
Eerdmans, 1,196 pages, $79.95
A whopper of a book in size and usefulness, and it belongs in any library of moderate ambition. Put it beside the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, for it is in no way limited to “the ecumenical movement” as that is usually more narrowly defined. The more than 600 alphabetical entries are inevitably uneven, but it should become a standard reference nonetheless.
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
edited by Ivor Evans
HarperCollins, 1,220 pages, $20
“Puff. An onomatopoeic word, suggestive of the sound made by puffing wind from the mouth; since at least the early 17th century, applied to extravagantly worded advertisements, reviews, etc., with the implication that they have as much lasting value as a ‘puff of wind.'“ That's a typical entry. Don't ask us what Brewer's Dictionary has to do with religion and public life. It has to do with everything. And it's fun.