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Catholicism, Chicago Style

by ellen skerrett, edward r. kantowicz, and steven m. avella

loyola university press, 194 pages, $35 cloth, $21.95 paper 

The City of Broad Shoulders has long considered itself to be the home of a particularly vibrant form of Catholicism. And while the strains of the post-Conciliar years (which were also years of tremendous demographic transformation on the American urban/suburban landscape) have tested that claim as never before, there remain, in this, the sesquicentennial year of the erection of the diocese, many impressive signs of vitality in a local church that has been distinguished for its rich ethnic diversity, its identification of parish and neighborhood, its impressive clerical and lay leadership, its self-conscious social and political liberalism, and its sense of itself as the “lead diocese” in matters ranging from liturgical renewal to Christian social action. Chicago Catholicism has also given the Church in America (and America in general) a vivid cast of characters that has included such diverse personalities as Richard J. Daley, Pat and Patty Crowley, John J. Egan, James T. Farrell, George G. Higgins, and Andrew M. Greeley. Catholicism, Chicago Style is a collection of eight essays, seven previously published. Tighter editing would have smoothed out the factual repetitions and thematic overlaps between some of the chapters. 

Reasonably enough, given the men involved, the authors place considerable emphasis on some of the most important episcopal leaders of the Chicago Church: Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan, and Cardinals George William Mundelein, Samuel Stritch, Albert Meyer, and John Patrick Cody. Bishop Bernard Sheil, founder of the Catholic Youth Organization and a host of other enterprises, and Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, a pioneering liturgical reformer and social activist, also receive chapter-length attention. But for those already familiar with the principal dramatis personae of the Chicago Catholic story, the most compelling chapters in the book will be those on the distinctive and ethnically influenced architecture of Chicago's Catholic churches—a discussion amplified by a magnificent collection of photographs. Here, in stone and brick and glass and wood, was the enduring embodiment of what the authors term “this self-confident Church.”

George Weigel

We Hold These Truths and More: Further Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition

edited by donald j. d'elia and stephen m. krason 

franciscan university press, 263 pages, $15 paper 

Lining up fairly evenly pro and con, sixteen essayists evaluate “the Murray project” and its effort to provide a Catholic legitimation for the American constitutional order. Writers familiar to FT readers include Robert George, James Hitchcock, and Gerard Bradley. The last suggestively argues that dominant notions of “religious freedom” in our political culture have been shaped by Protestant individualism rather than by ecclesial Christianity, with the result of playing into the hands of secularist delusions about the autonomous self.

One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society

by barry a. kosmin and seymour p. lachman 

crown, 312 pages, $25 

The authors, both of the City University of New York, try to make sense out the vast amount of information produced by a much-discussed religion survey conducted by that institution. The analysis is uncertain and uneven, sometimes suggesting that Americans are essentially religious although living in a society with a secular shell, and at other times asserting that Americans are substantively secular with a religious veneer. But then, these are confusions that have marked discussions of religion in American for more than two centuries. The data on religious identification alone make this an invaluable book for students of religion and public life.

Politics and Religious Authority: American Catholics Since the Second Vatican Council

by richard j. gelm 

greenwood, 151 pages, $49.95 

Given the price of this thin volume, its availability will likely be limited to major libraries. Written from a sociological angle, it presents a conventional reading of American Catholics having “come of age” in a still authoritarian church. Save money by picking up almost any issue of America or Commonweal.

Christian Ethics: A Historical Introduction

by j. philip wogaman 

westminster/john knox press, 340 pages, $19.99 paper 

A useful overview of two thousand years of Christian moral reflection written from a liberal Protestant—in this case Methodist—perspective. It is significant, but perhaps not surprising, that almost half the book is devoted to the twentieth century. Christian Ethics will be informative for Catholics and Orthodox who are ecumenically engaged.

Crime and Punishment in American History

by lawrence m. friedman 

basic books, 576 pages, $30 

Although a very big book, there is a once-over-lightly quality to this historical survey cum contemporary punditry. Friedman, Professor of Law at Stanford, concludes that current levels of crime are probably the price we pay for a relatively free society. Politicians and others who propose that there is much to be done about crime are either naive or dishonest. Slight attention is given the work of James Q. Wilson and others who emphasize the moral and cultural grounding of law-abiding citizenship.

Citizen Christians: The Rights and Responsibilities of Dual Citizenship

edited by richard d. land and louis a. moore 

broadman & holman (nashville), 136 pages, $12.99 paper 

The editors are both with the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Contributors include William J. Bennett, Carl F. H. Henry, Beverly LaHaye, and Cal Thomas, and subjects range from church-state relations to pornography to the teaching of morality in public schools. A solid introduction to the ever more reflective arguments issuing from sectors of Christianity seriously engaged in public responsibility.

The Origins of Christian Morality: The First Two Centuries

by wayne a. meeks 

yale university press, 275 pages, $30 

The author's earlier work, The First Urban Christians, has earned an enduring place in scholarship on early Christianity. The present volume, stressing the communal nature of Christian morality in the New Testament and post-apostolic period, should also become a standard reference. Meeks is Professor of Biblical Studies at Yale.

Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History

selected and introduced by william safire 

norton, 957 pages, $35 

Not all, of course, but a good deal of what Matthew Arnold called “the best that has been thought and said” can be found within these pages. There are the usual suspects for a collection of great speeches—Pericles, Mark Anthony, Patrick Henry, Lincoln, Churchill, JFK, Martin Luther King, etc.—and also some new and/or unexpected entries, including many great speeches by infamous evildoers. Readers of William Safire's columns and books will not be surprised by the perspicacity of his introductions in this volume. A book worth spending some time with.

Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America

by stanley hauerwas 

abingdon, 159 pages, $12.95 paper 

The author does not at all mind being called outrageous. He is inclined to take it as a compliment, assuming, as he does, that the Christian message is more than a little outrageous. Here the professor of ethics at Duke Divinity School offers an essay on the authority and interpretation of Scripture, followed by sixteen of his sermons that, he hopes, exemplify what he is proposing, almost always with specific reference to pacifism. In agreement with Stanley Fish's theories in literary criticism, Hauerwas gives priority to the interpreting community, which is to say he gives priority to the Church over Scripture. Since he is a Methodist and not a Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christian, he recognizes that this leaves him with some problems of ecclesial authority. Not, of course, that Catholics and Orthodox don't have problems, but at least they have more plausibly institutionalized the general theory expounded by Hauerwas.

Democracy Against Itself: The Future of the Democratic Impulse

by jean-francois revel 

free press, 278 pages, $24.95 

We cannot create a world or a political order better than ourselves. That is among the sobering truths advanced by Revel, one of democracy's greatest champions in this century. Those who think that thinking about the Cold War is old hat will not appreciate Revel's searing indictment of Western intellectuals who, had they had their way, would have sold out democracy to Communist totalitarianism.