Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary by Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, S.J.
Doubleday. 793 pages, $40

Fitzmeyer’s new commentary on Romans is more than a commentary, it is an encyclopedia of the interpretation of Romans. His verse by verse exposition of the text is balanced and intelligent, and his scholarly asides fill in the reader on the wide range of opinion, ancient and modern, on how to understand the book. Indeed, what is most refreshing, and admirable, is that Fitzmeyer has read the traditional commentaries and regularly includes observations and citations from the church fathers and medievals. As his comments on Rom. 1:16-17 indicate, he knows that Romans has figured large in the history of Christian thought. This is a work of great learning and theological understanding, indispensable for any serious study of the book of Romans and of St. Paul.

Robert L. Wilken

The Burdens of Sister Margaret: Private Lives in a Seventeenth-Century Convent By Craig Harline
Doubleday. 359 pages, $24

Those anticipating a potentially lurid tale of sexual harassment and other assorted Perils of the Paulines will be disappointed. Despite its somewhat suggestive jacket cover and the tone of its beginning chapters, this book turns out to be a measured and carefully researched record of the lives of a few Grey Sisters in a Dutch convent in the early seventeenth century. From the unusually lengthy letters of a Sister Margaret Smulders and those of her contemporaries, the author has pieced together a detailed and occasionally fascinating account of the daily struggles and conflicts of the cloistered life.

Kari Jenson Gold

A Tremor of Bliss: Contemporary Writers on the Saints Edited by Paul Elie
Harcourt Brace. 325 pages, $22

A beautiful idea nicely executed. The title is derived from the words of Becket in Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral : “I have had a tremor of bliss, a wink of heaven, a whisper, and I would no longer be denied; all things proceed to a joyful consummation.” After an introduction by Robert Coles, seventeen writers take on as many saints, including Francis of Assisi, Perpetua, Ignatius of Loyola, Catherine of Siena, and Teresa of Avila. Paul Baumann on St. Joseph and what it means to be a husband and Paul Elie on St. Thomas as our “twin” in doubting are especially effective. Notable, too, is Avery Dulles’ appreciation of St. Robert Bellarmine, his patron and obviously his model as a theologian in service to the Church.

The Unrelieved Paradox: Studies in the Theology of Franz Bibfeldt Edited by Martin E. Marty and Jerald C. Brauer
Eerdmans. 231 pages, $14.99 paper

Back in the 1940s at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Martin Marty “discovered” the long-neglected work of Franz Bibfeldt, a Lutheran theologian of sorts. Since then his name and alleged bibliography have been insinuated into numerous library catalogues, and his “legacy” has even been the subject of a scholarly symposium at the American Academy of Religion, which is typically given to discussing less serious matters. A host of people more or less connected with the University of Chicago Divinity School have been tracking Bibfeldt’s very trendy theological career, and here bring together sundry documentations and reflections on Bibfeldt as a template of the hilariously confused state of contemporary academic theology. If Bibfeldt is a joke, this is pushing it pretty far. If not, we’re over the edge. A blurb on the jacket from an anonymous source describes the book as “an otherwise extraordinary achievement.”

Dictionary of Fundamental Theology Edited by Rene Latourelle and Rino Fisichella
Crossroad. 1,222 pages, $75

A valuable addition to any theological library with ambitions. The editors and thirty-seven of the ninety-three contributors are associated with the Gregorian University in Rome, giving the volume a distinctly Catholic and, at times, Jesuit accent, but the reach is also ecumenical. In recent decades “fundamental theology” has been proposed as a replacement for what used to be called apologetics. Much in the present volume suggests that it is but another name for apologetics, which is not at all a bad thing.

Real Choices By Frederica Mathewes-Green
Multnomah (Sisters, Oregon). 257 pages, $8.99 paper.

FT author Mathewes-Green argues that pro-abortion is emphatically anti-woman. The present book, subtitled “Offering Practical Life-Affirming Alternatives to Abortion,” is based on a research project conducted by the National Women’s Coalition for Life, which claims 1.2 million members. Survey research suggests what most people rightly think they already know, that the overwhelming majority of women who have had abortions feel that they were forced to do so. It was most definitely not a choice. Real Choices could launch an entirely different movement-genuinely pro-choice and pro-woman.

Fire From Heaven By Harvey Cox
Addison Wesley. 346 pages, $24

The ever enthusiastic Mr. Cox addresses “the rise of pentecostal spirituality and the reshaping of religion in the Twenty-first Century.” Visiting a number of contemporary pentecostal and charismatic groups, he joins in the excitements but worries that these folk have lost their eschatological fervor and are simply indulging themselves spiritually while getting on with their acquisitive bourgeois lives. On the other hand, he thinks it may be a good thing that they’ve lost their eschatological fervor since religious zealotry can do a lot of bad things. On the dust jacket Cox asks, “Why were so many wise and well-qualified people so demonstrably wrong when they predicted the imminent decline of religion?” Perhaps because many, not necessarily so wise, embraced Mr. Cox’s also very enthusiastic pronouncement that there is no alternative to the secular city. In Fire From Heaven there’s not much that many others have not often said, but it’s bouncy and chock full of the ingenuous good will that makes Harvey Cox such a popular lecturer at the Harvard Divinity School.

Augustine: Political Writings Translated by Douglas Kries and Michael W. Tkacz and edited by Ernest L. Fortin
Hackett (P.O. Box 44937, Indianapolis, IN 46244). 262 pages, $9.95 paper

Large sections of City of God and many lesser writings are translated in a fashion more literary than is usual, with a fine overview of Augustine and politics by Ernest Fortin of Boston College. Of the readings and rereadings of Augustine there is no end, and very rightly so.

Public Religions in the Modern World By Jose Casanova
University of Chicago Press. 320 pages, $17.95

The author, a sociologist at the New School in New York, displays an impressive grasp of the literature on secularization theory and religion, and entertains the notion that religion may now be in position to rescue the achievements of a modernity that was presumed to be necessarily secular. In this respect he agrees with a thesis advanced by R. J. Neuhaus and others, but then concludes by taking a curious “multicultural” turn suggesting that non-Western religions, rather than a resurgent Protestant evangelicalism and Catholicism, may save modernity. The end product of his argument strikes one as thoughtfully confused.

A House United? Evangelicals and Catholics Together By Keith A. Fournier
Navpress (Colorado Springs). 368 pages, $18

The subtitle is from the declaration published in the May 1994 issue of FT, and it is here reprinted in its entirety. Fournier, a Catholic and a lawyer, heads the American Center for Law and Justice, which is connected with the Christian Coalition. Foreword by Pat Robertson. The second subtitle is “A Winning Alliance for the 21st Century,” so one knows that this is a book with a political attitude. A House United? runs the risk of exploiting religion for secular purposes, but the author convincingly contends that his primary concern is Christian unity. This popular tract is perhaps best understood as an exercise in ecumenism for conservative Christians, Catholic and evangelical, who are powerfully suspicious of ecumenism.

Considering Veritatis Splendor Edited by John Wilkins
Pilgrim Press (Cleveland). 182 pages, $12.95 paper.

Articles on the 1993 encyclical that were published in the Tablet (London). Some are almost hysterically negative (e.g., Bernard Haring), others are almost uncritically enthusiastic (e.g., Germain Grisez, John Finnis), a few are appreciatively nuanced (e.g., Maciej Zieba, Oliver O’Donovan), and yet others instruct the Pope on how he just doesn’t get it (e.g., Richard McCormick, Joseph Fuchs, Lisa Sowle Cahill). Of twelve comments, five are mainly “for” and seven are mainly or totally “against,” which is editorial balance of a sort.

Ignatius of Loyola By Jose Ignacio Tellechea Idigoras
Loyola University Press. 626 pages, $23.95 cloth, $12.95 paper

Father Tellechea’s biography, subtitled “The Pilgrim Saint,” has enjoyed considerable success in other languages and is now for the first time in English. Like Ignatius, Tellechea is Basque and that strongly informs his appreciation of the founder of the Society of Jesus who, in his view, is in many respects strikingly like Don Quixote, although, as it turns out, not so deluded. The narrative is burdened by ramblings and repetitions; it is a mark of the devotion of Fr. Cornelius Buckley that he translated all of it.