Religion and the Rise of Historicism: W. M. L. de Wette, Jacob Burckhardt, and the Theological Origins of Nineteenth-Century Historical Consciousness.
By Thomas Albert Howard.
Cambridge University Press. 250 pp. $49.95.
Jacob Burckhardt, the great Swiss-German historian of the Renaissance, son of the highest ranking Protestant pastor in Basel and himself intent upon preparation for the ministry, studied theology at the University of Basel (1837-39). There he was deeply influenced by the radical historical criticism of W. M. L. de Wette, who, though now largely unknown, was at the time an important figure on the German theological scene. As a result of this religious crisis, Burckhardt vowed to become an “honest heretic” (rather than a duplicitous theologian) and gave up theology in favor of the study of history. Out of that set of chance circumstances, Thomas Howard weaves a learned narrative about mid-nineteenth-century German intellectual trends, with Burckhardt at the center of the story. After his loss of faith, Burckhardt set about writing a “secular” history of Christianity’s emergence and decline in Europe. Howard demonstrates, however, that the shape of this story is deeply marked by a theological undercurrent that remained embedded in Burckhardt’s thought. The cultural pessimism so characteristic of Burckhardt was, Howard thinks, a transmutation of the Christian teaching of original sin. Thus, Howard provides not only an engaging narrative of events that continue to shape our own thinking but also a theory about the nature of European secular thought as less a fundamental break with our religious heritage than a reworking of older, theological ways of interpreting life. Some readers may be more interested in Howard’s contribution to theoretical arguments about the nature of secularity. Others may be drawn more by the power of his narrative. Both sorts will be richly rewarded.
” Gilbert Meilaender
This little volume by Wendell Berry, who is at once poet and philosopher, novelist and farmer, refreshes the mind and soul in a number of ways, not the least of which is the author’s ability to engage in thoughtful cultural criticism while transcending partisan politics. Much of the book is devoted to a blistering critique of E. O. Wilson’s Consilience, which attempts to achieve a unity of the disciplines but in actuality labors to subject the arts and religion to the materialist dogma that reigns in the realm of modern science. Berry contends that many spokesmen for science have turned it into a religion, and in many ways it rules over us. “I want to know,” asks Berry, “by what power it has crowned and mitered itself.” To Berry, the world Wilson envisions is “a place were the most genetically favored and the most richly subsidized scientists determine the future by plunging ahead,’ each isolated in his or her vision of new terrain,’ and each cut off from any restraining affection for old terrain.” Opposing Wilson’s materialism and reductionism as well as industrialism in general, Berry favors localism, community responsibility, and mutual dependence. His is an eloquent voice at odds with certain reigning ideologies, and a voice deserving of attention.
” Jeff McAlister
This book, appearing in the series edited by Stanley Hauerwas and Peter Ochs, Radical Traditions: Theology in a Postcritical Key, bears all the marks of the work of the best Hauerwas students-a healthy inclination to critique modernity (though coupled with an unhealthy reluctance to subject one’s own instruments of critique to the same criticism), a seriousness about the Christian theological and liturgical traditions, a virtues approach to ethics, and good sense about where to find moral wisdom. This work, like that of Shuman’s editor and mentor, is sometimes deeply flawed and frequently frustrating, but also deeply humane. Shuman’s critique of contemporary medicine and contemporary medical ethics is neither lucid nor compelling. On the other hand, the second half of the book, in which he plumbs trinitarian theology, Christian liturgy, and the writing of Flannery O’Connor and Wendell Berry for an understanding of the body, health, and community, is most welcome and rewarding. Readers will also be grateful for the final chapter on the Church and the virtues of care.
” Thomas D. Kennedy
The author, a Benedictine priest well known for his work in the philosophy of science, here gathers up thirteen previously published essays on Newman with a new chapter to introduce them. Quoting selectively from Newman’s works (especially his Letters and Diaries), Jaki portrays Newman as an intransigent supernaturalist, ada mantly opposed to dissent and ecumenism. Although Jaki is knowledgeable and on some points informative, his depiction of Newman is skewed by his desire to make him a weapon against “new” theologians, Protestant and Catholic alike, and even an adversary of Vatican II. While Jaki has every right to criticize liberal theo logians, his tone is too dismissive. Newman, by contrast, was extremely careful to be fair to his opponents, to understand their point of view, and to enter into their difficulties and answer them patiently.
” Avery Dulles, S.J.
To smite opponents hip and thigh, and do so with wit and elegance, is the particular gift of Roger Kimball, author of Tenured Radicals, a book that is essential for understanding the current embarrassment of higher education. In the present and most worthy successor to that analysis, Kimball traces the astonishing success of those who acted on the exhortation of late 1960s and early 1970s radicals that they should conduct “the long march through the institutions.” They have been marching ever since and, in battle after battle, have generally prevailed. Not surprisingly, many of the craftiest soldiers in the culture wars deny that there are any such wars going on. Their purpose is to bring off a revolution and then declare it to be not a revolution but the normal state of things, progressively considered. Kimball is respectful of his opponents in paying close attention to their ideas before dissecting those ideas with devastating effect. Readers of Kimball’s running cultural commentary in the New Criterion will relish this book’s pulling together a comprehensive argument, and those encountering Kimball for the first time will be given good reason to add the New Criterion to their reading list.
Twenty-three essays, ten of which first appeared in these pages, on the general theme of what it means to live a good life. “In the writing of Gilbert Meilaender moral wisdom is joined to stylistic grace, and perennial truths are renewed in engagement with contemporary concerns. There is nobody writing on ethics today whose work is more consistently rewarding.” That is from the blurb by the Editor-in-Chief of this journal. We asked him, and he says he stands by every word of it.
These “timely essays on timeless paradoxes” demonstrate that Father Schall is a worthy practitioner of the debunking and illuminating exuberance associated with the great GKC.
Wide-ranging but trenchant essays addressing problems of good and evil, life and death, in contemporary cultures by, inter alia, the editors, Stanley Hauerwas, Vigen Guroian, and Richard John Neuhaus. Jenson’s examination of nihilism, “Much Ado About Nothingness,” is outstanding.
Very handsomely illustrated with fifty-eight color plates of the works of nineteenth-century artists Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole, Jasper Francis Cropsey, and others, The Knights of the Brush is cultural criticism of a high order. It is also a poignant and persuasive appeal for the recovery of art in the service of transcendent beauty, which is inseparable, James Cooper contends in agreement with all who have understood civilization, from the good and the true.
An intriguing (yes, that’s the right word) set of reflections on, among other things, the similarities and dissimilarities between the literary imaginations of two peoples ob sessed by language. Included is a long letter to Ari Goldman, a former New York Times reporter, on why his popular book about a year at Harvard Divinity School makes a hash of authentic Judaism and is, in sum, a deep embarrassment.
New York, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Cleveland. The American city is coming back, thanks not least to new public policy thinking grounded in understandings of personal responsibility and what makes for community. Some of the best of that thinking has been promoted by City Journal, whose editor here serves up a rich sampling.
At the outbreak of World War II the Orthodox rabbinate in America organized a rescue effort on behalf of refugee rabbis and yeshiva students, provoking controversy among American Jewish leaders who wanted a united program on behalf of all threatened Jews. A valuable contribution both to Holocaust history and to understanding changing alignments in American Jewish leadership.
The author contends that King was ever so much more radical, economically and socially, than the depiction that accompanies his civic “canonization.” Dyson cites considerable evidence in support of this thesis, as considerable evidence can be cited against it. Either way, the case is not conclusive. Scholars and journalists will continue to debate these questions but, contra Dyson, that debate will have, and should have, little bearing on what was officially intended in making him an American icon.
This is a magnificent achievement deserving of highest praise, and an essential collection at a time when “political theology” is much discussed without reference to its history. The O’Donovans bring together the key texts from the patristic to early modern periods, providing succinct and illuminating introductions that would by themselves make a valuable book. No library aspiring to theological adequacy can be without From Irenaeus to Grotius.
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is frequently and with considerable right called America’s greatest theologian. McDermott of Roanoke College makes an impressive case that Edwards’ much writing against Arminianism was really aimed at the Deism that had established itself as the religion of the Enlightenment in Britain. While he argued on terms largely set by the Deists, Edwards laid the foundation for an appreciation of world religions and even something like universal salvation on solidly Christian grounds. In this, says the author, he was like Karl Barth in providing a way of thinking that leads to conclusions he himself rejected. McDermott’s depiction of Deism, including its links to anti-Semitism in its view of what today is called “the scandal of particularity,” is masterful. His Edwards is emphatically not the Calvinist inveighing against sinners in the hands of an angry God. Whether he goes too far in distancing Edwards from Calvin and Calvinism is something for Edwards scholars to dispute. What is beyond dispute is that McDermott has provided a fetching introduction to the genius of one of America’s greatest thinkers in a book that is both learned and uncommonly well written.
The author takes both liberals and conservatives to task for not recognizing what our “obsession with work” is doing to the family. This is a spirited and informed polemic, with the additional merit of proposing public policies and changes of attitude that can help restore the dignity and satisfactions of domestic life. Especially incisive is Robertson’s account of the way in which sundry feminisms have been captured by the business establishment.
To people who have not been rewired by sundry educational and psychological experts, it may seem obvious that children are children. Hymowitz makes a convincing case against treating children as autonomous rights-bearing agents, and for letting them be dependents who need to be protected as they mature-slowly.
An Anglican born in Britain, J. I. Packer has become one of the most popular and influential writers of evangelical Protestantism, and is a prime mover in the project known as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” This collection, bringing together sixteen essays from the 1950s to the present, is an admirable introduction to his thought and should be welcomed by readers who want to understand the driving ideas in contemporary evangelicalism.
A most welcome reprint of a justly famous little book first published in 1968. Pieper brilliantly explores the ways in which death is both decision and fate, both part of life and the enemy of life. The word that inevitably suggests itself is “classic.”
The unsubtle title is the message. Almost nobody is satisfied with the current process of annulment as it is variously working in the Catholic Church. The essayists present the usual criticisms but do not make a persuasive case that divorce can be squared with the Catholic and biblical teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.
A festschrift for Geoffrey Wainwright, a Methodist at Duke University who has made extraordinary contributions in ecumenical theology. Of the twenty-four essays, of special interest are George Tavard on the similarity between Protestant views of the “assurance of faith” and Catholic teaching on infallibility, and Edward T. Oakes on the place of Christocentric particularity in the ecumenical thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar.
The longtime Vatican correspondent for the Italian paper Corriere della Sera provides a brief, accessible, sympathetic, and altogether useful over view of the man and the pontificate. As one might expect, he is especially astute in discussing the Pope’s relations with the media. Accattoli, like many Europeans, has an anti-American bias that is evident in his shortchanging of John Paul’s teaching on democracy and the market economy, but the bias is mild and does not seriously detract from this otherwise reliable and very readable guide.