The Benedictional of Aethelwold
By Robert Deshman
Princeton University Press, 287 pages, $99.50
A true historian of art, Robert Deshman asserts that images are the equal of texts as historical documents. In this monograph on one of the most important medieval Anglo-Saxon illuminated manuscripts, he thoroughly demonstrates the point by an intensive study of the iconographic symbolism underlying the manuscript’s illustrations. Examining the intricate connections between the miniatures, their Carolingian and Byzantine stylistic precursors, and the Benedictional’s text (comprised of the blessings pronounced just before communion), Deshman uncovers recurring themes that unite the illuminations into a systematic cycle. Artistic elements that the modern viewer might take to be merely decorative or incidental prove instead to represent complex theological concepts that parallel medieval exegesis and liturgy. Further, Deshman relates the artistic program to its immediate historical context: the patron, Bishop Aethelwold of Winchester (963- 984), worked closely with King Edgar on monastic reform, and both monastic and royal themes run through the illustrations. Deshman perhaps errs on the side of exhaustiveness in sections, but the book’s clearly organized format makes for easy perusal. Lavish illustrations, with color reproductions of the manuscript miniatures and over 200 b&w photographs of comparative material.
Science and the Founding Fathers
By I. Bernard Cohen
Norton, 368 pages, $25
Thomas Jefferson never much liked politics, or so he said. Were it not for the enormities of the times, he would never have left the tranquil pursuits of science. Following up the suggestion (made by Woodrow Wilson in 1907) that the Constitution is a Newtonian document, Prof. Cohen explores the extent of the Founders’ scientific knowledge and the influence of science in the early days of the revolution. In his thorough account of the literary history of the phrase the laws of nature, the author demonstrates its almost universal association with the laws of motion and argues that a scientific understanding of the laws of nature makes Jefferson’s claim of self-evident truths more intelligible. Prof. Cohen is right to turn to Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia for a strictly scientific account of the law of nature, but his failure to discuss A View of the Rights of British America ”where Jefferson uses the phrase in a purely political context”weakens his analysis and leaves him incapable of explaining exactly how laws of motion entitle one people to assume a separate and equal station . . . among the powers of the earth. Newtonian, non-teleological laws of nature provide no sanction for human actions; one does not declare independence from the British Crown by appealing to Newton. Science and the Founding Fathers fills a void in contemporary scholarship by bringing a comprehensive knowledge of early modern science to bear upon the Founders’ thought. We still require, however, an explanation of the interplay between that science and the political philosophy that also filled the Founders’ minds.
”Brian H. Hook
Essays in the Theology of Culture
By Robert W. Jenson
Eerdmans, 224 pages, $16.99 paper
A regular contributor to this journal, Jenson is one of the most exciting theological minds at work today. These twenty-two essays, written from 1966 to the present, are loosely held together by the theme of theology of culture, although for some it is a reach. They track Jenson’s steady, albeit frequently eccentric, move toward a more culturally conservative and catholic (also Catholic) understanding of God’s ways with the world. The essays are always lively and instructive, and almost always convincing. Warmly recommended.
God Owes Us Nothing: A Brief Remark on Pascal’s Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism
By Leszek Kolakowski
University of Chicago Press. 238 pages, $22.50
This would be a marvelously important book”if only the Jesuits had been right about the Jansenists, the Jansenists about the Jesuits, and Christian theology limited to a choice between the two. Professor Kolakowski is a major scholar of Pascal, and his interpretations of Pascal’s Wager and the more abstruse aphorisms in the Pensees are very helpful. So, too, his readable history of the Port Royal followers of Jansenius helps explain the influence men like the Abbe de Saint-Cyran, Antoine Arnauld, and Pierre Nicole had on French thought. When he claims, however, that the Jesuit and Molinist opponents of Jansenism thought that mere outward obedience to God’s commandments compels God to save us, or, worse, when he writes that Jansenism is faultlessly derived from Augustine’s theology, he betrays a serious misunderstanding of the main streams of Christian theology. The Church has always attempted, not so much to split the difference between Jansenism and Pelagianism, as to affirm a mystery: at one and the same time the freedom of human beings to receive efficacious grace and the freedom of God to confer it. Professor Kolakowski has performed a real service in placing Pascal and the Jansenists in their immediate historical context. The work of discerning their place in the whole of Christian history, however, still remains to be done.
The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880
By D. G. Myers
Prentice Hall, 224 pages, $29.50
What’s next? demanded one language professor when Vladimir Nabakov was proposed for a chair in literature at Harvard. Shall we appoint elephants to teach zoology? But, in the years following World War II, colleges and universities all around the country (but perhaps most famously the University of Iowa) began appointing writers themselves to teach writing, and the objections of the scholars and the philologists were swept aside. Indeed, such objections were taken by innovative deans and English department heads as what validated the appointment of writers”for the sterile world of academia, in which each generation of teachers produced nothing more than the next generation of teachers, was exactly what the innovators wanted to dismantle. A funny thing happened along the way, however, and in clear prose and careful scholarship David Myers, an English professor at Texas A&M, tells the story of how what was supposed to free English literature from the trap of academic disciplines became itself an academic discipline”a discipline that, with its established procedures and validating Ph.D. degrees, prepares a generation of writers for the task of teaching the next generation of writers how to teach the teaching of writing.
The Bible, the Church, and Authority
By Joseph T. Lienhard
Liturgical Press, 108 pages, $9.95 paper
This is a simply splendid little book that should be welcomed by Protestants and Catholics who are not quite sure about how to make the connections between Bible, Church, and authority. The authority, says Lienhard, is Jesus Christ, and it is Christ’s authority exercised by the Church that establishes the canon and thereby makes the Bible the text of the worshiping and proclaiming community. Lienhard very helpfully lays out the ways in which, historically and at present, preaching depends on scholarship and scholarship on preaching. The argument throughout is straightforward and eminently accessible.
Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games Take Lives
By William Brennan
Loyola University Press, 285 pages, $22.95
What Orwell did in the mode of prophetic imagination William Brennan, professor of sociology at St. Louis University, does in cool historical retrospective. The idea that language creates reality is not new, indeed it is the orthodoxy of postmodernism in its several traditions. But perhaps nobody has brought together with such sustained analytical skill the history of deliberate rhetorical maneuvers to put beyond the bounds of the human those who are slated for destruction-from Native Americans in the last century to the unborn children of this century. A contribution as disturbing as it is valuable.
The Sign of the Cross
By Colm Toibin
Pantheon, 296 pages, $24
An Irish author offers up essays of considerable literary grace on his travels in Catholic Europe”Ireland, Spain, Croatia, Rome, and so forth. He conveys with disarming simplicity the feel of different ways of being Catholic, and if the Catholic thing sometimes comes across as nostalgic indulgence, the effect is moving nonetheless.
The Decalogue and a Human Future
By Paul L. Lehmann
Eerdmans, 232 pages, $17.95
Lehmann, who died in 1994, taught at Union Theological Seminary, New York, for many years and was one of the leading influences in Protestant theological ethics in this century. Devoted to the law/gospel, sin/grace dichotomies of the Lutheran tradition, Lehmann came down left of center on most disputed questions, but did so with a thoughtfulness that today has a decreasing audience in the liberal Protestant milieu.
The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness
By Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore
Norton, 224 pages, $22
The authors call this a polemic, and so it is. Not all that polemical, however, except when they get to the odious religious right. For the most part, it is a conventional retelling of the strong separationist version of the country’s constitutional founding. The subtitle, the authors tell us, is an effort to turn on its head the charge of political correctness”to which charge they, with good reason, plead guilty.
Works of Love
By Soren Kierkegaard
Princeton University Press, 561 pages, $65
Translated and edited by Howard and Edna Hong, that redoubtable couple at St. Olaf College who have done more than anyone to bring Kierkegaard to a new generation, this work is located at the midpoint of SK’s reflections on love and, some suggest, represents the high point of his analysis of the sources and forms of love. A must for Kierkegaard scholars and for the many others for whom he is a guiding star in the spiritual and intellectual life.
American Lives: Cultural Differences, Individual Distinction
By Amy A. Kass
Golden Owl (Amawalk, NY 10501), 480 pages, $29.95 paper
Kass, a distinguished teacher at the University of Chicago who has appeared in these pages, offers an anthology of American autobiography that includes, among others, Benjamin Franklin, Jacob Riis, Frederick Douglas, Dick Gregory, Richard Rodriguez, and Theodore Roosevelt. Autobiographical excerpts are laced with insightful commentary and suggestions for discussion, making the book a valuable aid for teachers who want to address what it means to be an American”and a person of distinction.
Fighting for Liberty and Virtue: Political and Cultural Wars in Eighteenth-Century America.
By Marvin Olasky
Crossway, 316 pages, $25
The author is very hot in Washington these days, being a chief proponent of reviving civil society to meet the needs of the disadvantaged. In the present book he argues that what we now call the culture war was very much a factor in the country’s founding period. Writing from an evangelical Protestant viewpoint, Olasky may strain the analogies from time to time, but he succeeds in bringing vividly to life the conflicts that surrounded the founding, and his depiction of Washington, John Adams, Franklin, and others is a bracing antidote to histories that suggest Jefferson (and the narrowly deist Jefferson at that) was the only founding father.
Deity and Domination
By David Nicholls
Routledge, 336 pages, $18.95 paper
The subtitle is Images of God and the State in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, and English theologian Nicholls provides an informed tour of the ways in which theologians, philosophers, and poets have construed the rule of God. A scholarly work that is attentive to the Great Tradition and is decidedly on the side of a God who has enemies”as distinct from a God who is a general meeter of needs and soother of anxieties.
Spiritual Pilgrimage: Texts on Jews and Judaism 1979-1995
By John Paul II
Crossroad, 208 pages, $19.95 paper
This pope, more than any of his predecessors, has pressed home the continuing covenantal connection between Jews and Christians. Here are texts, edited by Eugene J. Fisher of the Catholic bishops conference and Rabbi Leon Klenicki of ADL, drawn from the beginning of John Paul II’s pontificate. An important contribution to the dialogue.
By Stephen Sykes
Abingdon, 233 pages, $16.95 paper
The author, who is bishop of Ely and one of the most respected of Anglican theologians, acknowledges that there is a defensive note in his title. Anglicanism, especially in England and this country, is commonly depicted as a decadent, limp-wristed, woolly minded vestige of a dying establishment. Sykes is well aware of that, but he goes back to the early divines (e.g., Cranmer, Hooker, Herbert) and traces their Anglican genius up through the present, arguing that while Anglicanism may be untidy, that’s the way the Church has always been through the ages. The book is a thoughtfully elegant apologia that may cause some disparagers of the Anglican via media to have second thoughts.
The Luck Business
By Robert Goodman
Free Press, 273 pages, $23
Those who think that the public concern about gambling is a vestigial piece of Protestant moralism should start thinking again. And a good place to begin that rethinking is with this book, whose subtitle tells the story, The Devastating Consequences and Broken Promises of America’s Gambling Explosion. In 1988, only two states allowed casino gambling; now twenty-three do. States and municipalities trying to make up for revenue shortfalls looked enviously at places like Nevada and decided to keep all that money at home. That’s just the problem, Goodman convincingly argues. What they kept at home, what they brought home, are the baneful consequences of gambling, including bankrupt gamblers, people who lose their jobs, and the inevitable criminal activities generated by the accumulation of unmanageable debts. Moreover, the political process is further corrupted when governments exploit human weaknesses, especially the weaknesses of the poor, to raise revenues for which politicians are not accountable to taxpayers. Morally, economically, and politically, the luck business is a shell game in which everybody but the crooks and the pols they control loses in a big way.
Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus
By Gerald O’Collins, S.J.
Oxford University Press, 333 pages, $58
An ambitious and scholarly work that engages the full stretch of the Christian tradition while concentrating on Christological studies of the last hundred years. In treating the various images of Christ and his saving work, O’Collins emphasizes his presence and the Christian relationship with Christ as one of Augustinian friendship. A worthy contribution to a discussion that will end only with the return of its subject in glory.
From Death to Life: The Christian Journey
By Christoph Schonborn
Ignatius, 192 pages, $12.95 paper
The author, recently made archbishop of Vienna, offers a theological-devotional reflection on the last things. He effectively contends against contemporary Christianity’s neglect of death and the hope of life eternal. Solid food for serious Christians.
Religion and Politics in America
By Robert Booth Fowler and Allen D. Hertzke
Westview, 287 pages, $18.95 paper
Two political scientists”Fowler at the University of Wisconsin and Hertzke at the University of Oklahoma”provide an informative overview of the twists and turns in the troubling, and always surprising, connections between religion and politics. One thing they make clear is that nobody should be surprised by (although people are always protesting) the mixing of religion and politics. For a general road map of the developments of the last thirty years and an intelligent guide to those that may still be ahead, Religion and Politics in America is warmly recommended.
The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion
Edited by Jonathan Z. Smith with the American Academy of Religion
HarperCollins, 1,153 pages, $45
A lot of book for the money, although the cheap paper seems to have been recycled once too often. The current unprecedented popular movement toward religious and spiritual awakening, the publishers announce, has created a thirst for new knowledge. To slake that thirst, they are proud to provide a consummate one-volume A-Z guide”bringing to all readers the people, places, concepts, practices, and writings of the entire religious world. Well, not quite. There are many useful bits and pieces here, but of practically nothing is there a satisfactory discussion, most entries being just a few lines. Nor are the interspersed feature articles of unknown authorship particularly helpful. Try telling everything you need to know about Christianity in twenty-seven pages. Nonetheless, it is a reference work that is worth having on hand, although readers might want to wait until it comes out in paperback.