Philosophy and Law.
By Leo Strauss. Translated by Eve Adler.
State University of New York Press. 157 pages, $14.95.
In a time when the students of the late Leo Strauss are in various ways advocating “Straussianism,” it is good to have a definitive translation of the book in which the young Strauss himself began to present his position. The poignancy of the place and date of this book (Nazi Germany, 1935) and the Jewishness of its author should not be lost on the reader inasmuch as the book is a call for an intellectual return to the medieval rationalism of the twelfth-century Jewish theologian Maimonides in place of modern ideologies (the most monstrous of which had already targetted Leo Strauss and his fellow German Jews). Maimonides allows for both revelation and reason and a creative tension between the two, whereas modern ideologies deny the necessary role of both, with the result that both the life of practical excellence and the life of contemplative excellence are denigrated. Strauss' largely textual and historical study has profound implications for contemporary political thought, the field in which the more mature Strauss made his mark. Eve Adler's translation is a welcome replacement for a seriously deficient En-glish translation of 1987, and her brief introduction captures the very essence of Strauss' message in this by now classic work.
Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Realism.
By Robin W. Lovin.
Cambridge University Press. 255 pages, $54.95 cloth, $16.95 paper.
As Robin W. Lovin explains in this scholarly but accessible treatment, Reinhold Niebuhr's political realism-i.e., his attentiveness to the facts of power and self-interest-was of a piece with a larger realist worldview, moral and theological as well as political. Because he used experience and coherence rather than metaphysics to make the case for Christian ethics and theology, Niebuhr is sometimes accused (or at least suspected) of reducing Christianity to pragmatism. But Lovin argues persuasively that Niebuhr did accept the reality of Christianity's moral and religious claims, not just their social or intellectual expedience. Niebuhr employed pragmatism, in effect, pragmatically, not as a final proof of Christianity's truth but as the best way to make the Christian case in terms intelligible to the modern world, particularly in America. Sympathetic readers have all along had this sense about Niebuhr's relation to pragmatism and naturalism, but Robin Lovin makes an important contribution by demonstrating that Niebuhr “used” pragmatism, not Christianity.
The Nine Lives of Population Control.
Edited by Michael Cromartie.
Eerdmans. 178 pages, $14 paper.
Although discredited again and again, agitations to do something about an impending “population explosion” keep coming back. Seldom are the pertinent questions so intelligently addressed as in this excellent collection of essays (two of which appeared in the pages of this journal). The pertinent data are marshalled, opposing views are fairly stated and discussed, and the authors then present their best judgment. Recommended as a ready reference on a perennial controversy.
The Invisible God: The Earliest Christians on Art.
By Paul Corbey Finney.
Oxford University Press. 319 pages, $45.
A provocative-dare one say iconoclastic?-argument against the conventional wisdom that iconography and other arts gained Christian favor only with the “corruption” of the Church by Hellenistic influences. That is the line pressed by an army of worthies from John Calvin through Adolph Harnack, and still much favored, especially by Protestants, today. In fact, argues Finney, when the early Christian apologists spoke disparagingly about art and artists, they were pandering to their pagan readers. It was the Hellenists, particularly those of a Platonist disposition, who were most opposed to the representation of the spiritual through the use of the material, and the apologists were trying to curry favor with the pagan despisers of Christianity of that day. There are many pieces to Finney's argument, making it a book that will both encourage and instruct those who believe there is an inherent compatibility, indeed reciprocal necessity, between Christian faith and the visual arts.
Pedophiles and Priests.
By Philip Jenkins.
Oxford University Press. 207 pages, $25.
Since publishers are not indifferent to sales, the unfortunate title is predictable. In no way, however, is this a sensationalistic treatment of the last decade's publicity surrounding instances of clerical sexual abuse, notably by Catholic priests. On the contrary, Jenkins, a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State, has given us a remarkably calm and judicious analysis of the scandals and, most importantly, of the way in which diverse parties have used them to advance their quite different purposes. Catholic traditionalists have used clerical malfeasance to advance their attack on liberal permissiveness, calling on bishops to assert greater control, while liberals have publicized the scandals in order to discredit the hierarchical structure of the church and agitate for such measures as married and women priests. The media exploitation of scandal comes in for close attention as well, and Jenkins offers a refreshingly balanced analysis of the ways in which anti-Catholicism is and is not a factor in media coverage. Along the way, the author provides a marvelously nuanced and well-informed account of the contending forces within American culture and religion, also outside the many worlds of American Catholicism. Especially telling, and disturbing, is his demonstration that Church authorities responding to sexual scandal have typically accepted in an uncritical way the culturally dominant notions of therapeutic treatment, largely abandoning traditional Christian approaches to sin and grace. This is contemporary religious and cultural history the way it should be written.
Caught in the Crossfire: Helping Christians Debate Homosexuality.
Edited by Sally Geis and Donald Messer.
Abingdon. 206 pages, $12.95 paper.
A handbook for teaching about the Christian understanding of homosexuality, this collection gathers essays on either side of a set of divisive issues: homosexual ordination, homosexual marriage, biblical teaching on homosexuality, etc. The essays are interesting, but the editors, in their relentless claim to be superior to the debate, actually succeed in teaching only a sort of “super-ethics” that some readers may think invalidates all the essays in the collection.
Veritatis Splendor: American Responses.
Edited by Michael E. Allsopp and John J. O'Keefe.
Sheed & Ward. 313 pages, $19.95 paper.
Twenty essays make up a mixed but valuable bag of responses to and analyses of the encyclical on moral theology, Veritatis Splendor. Essays range from the condescendingly dismissive to the critically appreciative to the thoughtfully admiring. All in all, the collection serves to advance the reflection that John Paul II called for, even though some authors clearly reject the substance of his argument.
The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition.
By Willmoore Kendall and George W. Carey.
Catholic University of America Press. 168 pages, $14.95 paper.
This conservative classic, first published 25 years ago, employs the thought of Eric Voegelin to argue that American politics and law took an ominous wrong turn with Lincoln's grounding of the tradition in the open-ended promises of the Declaration of Independence. A quarter century later, today's interest in a new federalism is catching up with aspects of the argument advanced here.
Handbook of Catholic Theology.
Edited by Wolfgang Beinert and Francis Schussler Fiorenza.
Crossroad. 783 pages, $75.
It seems a little eccentric in what is included and what is left out, but, all in all, this is a balanced and useful guide to Catholic theology, and is accessible also to lay readers. Almost every article covers the biblical foundations of a teaching, its historical development, and its status with respect to ecclesial authority. It is not intended as the last word on anything, but it is a generally helpful word on nearly everything.
Euthanasia, Clinical Practice, and the Law.
Edited by Luke Gormally.
Linacre Center. 234 pages, $12.95 paper.
A collection of very valuable materials, including the 1993 testimony to the House of Lords' Select Committee on Medical Ethics, which helped persuade the committee to conclude unanimously that euthanasia and assisted suicide should not be legal in the U.K. In addition, there are philosophical and theological examinations of euthanasia, together with an informative update on legal trends and medical practices in the Netherlands. First published by the Linacre Center in London, the book is available here from Hackett Publishing Co., Box 44937, Indianapolis, IN 46244.
Origins of the Salvation Army.
By Norman H. Murdoch.
University of Tennessee Press. 240 pages, $32.
In a time when there is a chance to go back to square one in rethinking our responsibility to the poor, this scholarly study could become a tract for the times. William and Catherine Booth began as Wesleyan evangelists in the 1850s and ended up proposing a plan for the reformation of the world in 1890. That is the period studied by Norman Murdoch, but the Salvation Army is still going strong, even though the world is far from reformed, and the author has some useful thoughts on what the legacy of the Booths might mean for today.
A Chosen Death.
By Lonny Shavelson.
Simon & Schuster. 240 pages, $23.
By including one story about a dying man who did not kill himself, this account of five deaths claims to have found a fair and sensitive middle ground between the proponents and the opponents of mercy killing. Of course, by presenting the man's non-suicide as a “choice,” equal to the choice of death, A Chosen Death in fact plumps wholeheartedly for the right of the dying to compel their doctors and families to murder them. The book's structure as a collection of stories and its self-proclaimed (and self-congratulatory) “compassion” are masks that hide its surprisingly weak analysis of the political, ethical, and philosophical arguments involved in euthanasia. Unintentionally, the book also tells the sad story of how Hospice (a movement originally intended to return care of the dying to the home and family) was betrayed into the hands of the mercy killers and became, for some of its members, an agent of assisted suicide.
Notes from a Wayfarer.
By Helmut Thielicke.
Paragon. 422 pages, $29.95.
Thielicke, who died in 1986, was widely recognized as one of the great preachers of the twentieth century, and his scholarly works in theology still exercise considerable influence today. In this autobiography he engagingly relates the curious turns-ever providentially guided-of a life that yielded some of the best apologetics in our time for the Christian way. He lost his academic position under the Nazis, which resulted in his development as a preacher, and in the late 1960s he believed he saw something very Nazi-like in the student radicalism of the time, which resulted in his being attacked as a pillar of the much-despised establishment. The Waiting Father, his first and most popular book published here, remains a classic of the homiletical uses of biblical scholarship, and his writings on Christian sexual ethics remain entirely pertinent to our present circumstance. As to whether he was Lutheran, Reformed, or something else, Thielicke remained somewhat coy, which perhaps enhanced his appeal to diverse audiences. An insightful foreword by Lutheran scholar (and now bishop) H. George Anderson.
The Humiliation of Sinners.
By Mary C. Mansfield.
Cornell University Press. 343 pages, $39.95.
With the publication of this volume, the general reader may now learn how promising and serious a young scholar was lost in the tragic 1989 automobile crash that killed Mary Mansfield at age twenty-nine. Educated at Cornell and Oxford, Ms. Mansfield wrote The Humiliation of Sinners as her doctoral dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley. Medievalists often put forward the claim that the Fourth Lateran Council, by its decree in 1215 requiring every Christian to attend confession during Lent, prepared the ground for the strong Renaissance and Modern distinction between the public and the private realms. With the elimination of public penance, in this interpretation, Christians lost the social unity of Christendom, leaving merely public excommunication imposed by judicial trial in the public courts of the Curia and private penance imposed by trial of conscience in the private courts of the confessional. By careful reading in a wide range of manuscripts, however, especially from Northern France, Ms. Mansfield demonstrates the survival of public penance long after the penitential revolution to which the Fourth Lateran Council gave official sanction. Neither denying that penitential revolution nor exaggerating its effect, she shows that the public humiliation of sinners remained an important part of high medieval culture-a part that, by contributing to the development of a new understanding of the concept of shame, contributed greatly to the social unity of the late Middle Ages. The Humiliation of Sinners is a young scholar's book, with the occasional missteps that young scholars make. But it is an important book, indicating that Mary Mansfield (the daughter of Harvey Mansfield, the distinguished professor at Harvard University) might have gone on to be one of our most original and important scholars of medieval history.
The Defeat of the Mind.
By Alain Finkielkraut.
Columbia University Press. 165 pages, $22.95.
In 1987, the same year in which Allan Bloom published The Closing of the American Mind, Alain Finkielkraut published in French this brief, aphoristic plaint on the decline of the Enlightenment spirit in Europe-and thereby found in France much the same succes du scandale that Bloom found in America. Available now in English translation, this pithy book traces the betrayal of the Enlightenment to the naive errors made by the Romantics, the willful errors made by the Nationalist Socialists, and the celebration of error made by the Postmodernists. We have at last, Finkielkraut claims, a European culture that has lost any sense of itself and seems devoted only to teaching “youthfulness to the young.” Though antireligious in an old-fashioned, Voltairean sort of way, and oddly determined to present Emile Zola and the Dreyfusards as the apotheosis of Enlightenment thought, The Defeat of the Mind is nonetheless a welcome reminder that even in France-the birthplace of postmodernism-voices are raised against contemporary intellectual and social lunacy.