Sara Grant was a Scottish sister of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who lived in India from 1956 until her death in 2000. Before going to India she received a fairly typical pre“Vatican II, broadly Thomistic theological education, as well as reading classics and philosophy at Oxford (Iris Murdoch was among her tutors there). This book is the first U.S. publication of a series of lectures she gave at Cambridge in 1989. In it, she describes her intellectual obsession with what she calls the question of non“dualism, by which she means the question of how God is related to that which is not God. She found this question not fully or satisfactorily answered by the theological training she had received, not even by Aquinas theory of relations. In India, after intense study of the works of Sankara, the eighth“century founder of Advaita Vedanta, in their original Sanskrit (this was a woman of great intellectual energy: it shines through her prose), she began to understand both Aquinas and Sankara better, and to approach an answer to her question, which is broadly in accord with the tradition that stems from Pseudo“Dionysius. Her formulations can be extreme, and they sometimes go so far as to call Christological orthodoxy into question; but her goal throughout is to understand Christianity better by way of serious intellectual and textual engagement with the Sanskritic Hindu tradition, and in this she is a model of both orthodoxy and devotion. She consistently resists what she calls simplistic and piecemeal solutions to difficult questions, such as how to do interreligious prayer and worship and what to say about universalisms possible truth, and she consistently presses the importance of hard intellectual work. All this should be applauded, as should the prose in which she writes, which in its lucidity, understatement, and elegance is a monument to the now almost defunct educational system that formed her.
” Paul J. Griffiths
At the End of an Age .
By John Lukacs.
Yale University Press. 230 pp. $22.95.
An astonishingly suggestive essay by the distinguished historian and author of, among many other books, Confessions of an Original Sinner and, more recently, The Hitler of History and Five Days in London, May 1940 . The book is about the end of the age that began about five hundred years ago and is best described as the Age of Progress, based as it was upon a scientific dogma of mechanical causality, and a philosophical duality of object/subject, neither of which is believable today. But even that puts it too simply, since it seems that Lukacs is taking on almost everything associated with modernity in this updating of his much earlier works such as Historical Consciousness and The Passing of the Modern Age . Part of the fascination of reading Lukacs is watching an acute intelligence hone ever more sharply what it is that he has come to understand. It is as a historian that he first came to recognize the dominance of mind over matter and of potentiality over actuality in human affairs. In a way very different from the academic fashion shows of postmodernism with their debunkings of foundationalism, Lukacs attends to rigorously honest thinking about thinking that leads to the perception that we understand much more than we know, and that accuracy about facts may often be purchased at the price of certainty about truth. What he came to understand as a historian is powerfully reinforced, he argues, by the indeterminacy and uncertainty unveiled by quantum physics. The insight that all knowledge is personal and achieved by participation will put the reader in mind of Michael Polanyis Personal Knowledge , although Polanyi is not included in the abundant sources cited by Lukacs. While appreciative of the technical applications of science for the betterment of everyday life, Lukacs contends that the past century was in many ways intellectually stagnant, noting the continuing domination of nineteenth“ and early“twentieth“century thinkers such as Marx, Darwin, Freud, and Einstein (the last of whom steadfastly resisted the quantum revolution). In his final chapter, Lukacs”who is, not incidentally, a Catholic”argues that Darwinism, based on a discredited notion of mechanical causality, is wrong not because it conflicts with Genesis but because it is incompatible with our understanding of the historical nature of reality. Lukacs sides with those who would reverse Copernicus by again locating man, the most complex of beings, at the center of the universe, and also at the center of time. The last consideration leads to a tentative probing of whether we should be open to the possibility that the end, as in The End, is near. At the End of an Age is a book that could be written only by a thinker who is coming toward the end of a career of extraordinary scholarship driven by a passion for taking on the really big questions. How is reality constructed? What is a fact? How can we know anything for sure? John Lukacs is not afraid to take risks, nor to admit to what he does not know. In fact, it is part of his argument that it is in the limitations of our knowledge, in the awareness of our ignorance, that we come closest to the truth. The book is, at the same time, provocative and inviting, wild and disciplined, adventurous and carefully reasoned. It is hard to imagine a reader coming away from it without thinking differently about things that really matter.
Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide .
By Bat Yeor.
Fairleigh“Dickinson University Press. 520 pp. $19.95
This volume could hardly be more timely. Dhimmitude refers to the second“class, and frequently persecuted, position of Christians and Jews under Muslim rule. (See the extended discussion of Bat Yeor and her work in FT, Public Square, October 1997.) Her argument runs contrary, of course, to the usual and somewhat romantic idea of Islamic tolerance that was promulgated in the nineteenth century, mainly by Jewish scholars, and has come back to haunt the state of Israel. As the subtitle suggests, Bat Yeor, an Egyptian“born French scholar, sympathetically engages the clash of civilizations argument advanced by Samuel Huntington of Harvard. The author is sharply, some would say unfairly, critical of Christians who are complicit in the Islamization of Judaism and Christianity. One might point out in mitigation that the greatly diminished and lethally threatened Arab Christian community, for instance, is under enormous pressure to maintain good relations with the host society that is militantly Islamic and anti“Israel. The Holy See, of which she is also critical, has no choice but to be solicitous of the imperiled Christian communities of the Middle East. Bat Yeors larger argument, however, is that Christians and Jews must form new and stronger bonds of solidarity in countering Islams religious, cultural, and terrorist aggression. That worthy goal would be more readily ad vanced if so many Jewish writers and organizations were not obsessed with seeing Christianity, rather than Islam, as the threatening Other. In a time when so many thoughtful readers want to get up to speed on Islam and the political Islam known as Islamism, this book should be warmly welcomed.
Measuring Eternity: The Search for the Beginning of Time .
By Martin Gorst.
Broadway. 338 pp. $23.95 .
An enjoyable and instructive ramble through history by a British science writer. The title and subtitle, however, are misleading. The subject of time and eternity is barely touched upon. Gorsts subject is the much smaller, although fascinating, question of dating the age of the universe. He notes that biblical religion broke with all earlier religions and philosophies in asserting that the universe did have a beginning, a claim now taken for granted by all moderns. Gorst is appreciative of the immense scholarly labor of the seventeenth“century Bishop James Ussher who concluded, on the basis of biblical evidence and after considering numerous alternative accounts, that the world was created at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 22, 4004 b.c. From Ussher he moves on through the centuries, portraying eccentrics and geniuses involved in geological, astronomical, and other labors that arrived at the still not secure scientific consensus that the universe is about fourteen billion years old and rapidly expanding toward an unknown end. Like the mountain that is climbed because it is there, exploration and speculation about the beginning of the universe is a project that needs no practical application in order to continue without end. Or at least until the end, if there is one. As to whether the universe has an end in the sense of a purpose, Gorst does not say.
Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church .
By Michael Plekon.
University of Notre Dame Press. 336 pp. $37.50
The author, a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, provides fetching profiles of ten Orthodox figures, mainly of the twentieth century, whose lives were, like icons, windows into eternity. Some of them were also martyrs who died for the faith, reminding us, as we need to be reminded again and again, that the past hundred years are the century of the martyrs, both East and West. Telling the story through these lives, Father Plekon also provides an inviting introduction to an Orthodox world of piety, reflection, and radical devotion that is too little known in the West.
Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Religious Bigotry .
By Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett.
Encounter. 244 pp. $15.95
For the benighted who believe Christianitys contribution to the development of modern science, the rule of law, care of the environment, democracy, and charity was as crucial as the Romans contribution to manned flight, the authors offer a reminder: the historical record.
Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture .
By Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young.
McGill“Queens University Press. 370 pp. $39.95
The authors make a persuasive, if labored, addition to the growing literature documenting a pervasive hostility in popular culture to traditional masculinity. Readers can decide for themselves whether September 11 has taken manly men off the endangered species list.
No Other Gods Before Me: Evangelicals and the Challenge of World Religions .
Edited by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.
Baker. 208 pp. $19.99 paper.
For evangelical Protestants who believe that not only Jesus, but a prescribed conversion experience of Jesus, is essential to salvation, the challenge of world religions is challenging indeed. It says here that the book asks questions such as, Are non“Christian faiths legitimate means of accessing the divine? Accessing the divine? (God@aol.com?) Actually, most of the essays are not so superficial at all, and represent a serious, if preliminary, coming to terms with serious questions by authors who are seriously evangelical.
Detoxifying the Culture .
By John Howard.
America House. 188 pp. $19.95.
We cant turn back the clock? Nonsense, says John Howard, former college president and senior fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society in Rockford, Illinois. This collection of essays, speeches, and personal reflections represents a brand of conservatism that is not afraid to be called simplistic in its call to return to the basics of personal integrity, Christian faith, and life lived as a gift to others. Disarming in its straightforwardness, the message is, for those prepared to receive it, deeply bracing.
Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church .
By H. W. Crocker III.
Prima. 499 pp. $29.95.
Enough of the whimpering and whining. In this ramble through two millennia, Catholicism is a fighting faith, and triumphalism is its way of being in the world. The scholarship is sometimes shaky, and the author is impatient with nuances and qualifying counter“indications, but Triumph is an invigorating tale that will likely be welcomed by readers who are weary of being told that defeatism is a virtue.
In Dominico Eloquio”In Lordly Eloquence .
Edited by Paul M. Blowers et al.
Eerdmans. 438 pp. $45.
A festschrift in tribute to the distinguished church historian Robert Louis Wilken. Twenty“two of his students and colleagues contribute essays on the Church Fathers, with a particular accent on their biblical exegesis, which has been among Wilkens abiding interests. Professor Wilken is a regular contributor to this journal and the editors join in heaping honor upon his hoary head.
Evangelizing the Chosen People: Mission to the Jews in America, 1880“2000 .
By Yaakov Ariel.
University of North Carolina Press. 367 pp. $14.95 paper.
An overview of missionary activity among Jews in America written by an Israeli Jewish scholar who is not a believer in Jesus but is refreshingly fair to Jews who are. The phenomenon of Messianic Judaism, this book suggests, is not unrelated to the decline of religious observance among Jews in America.
On the Virtues .
By John Capreolus. Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Kevin White and Romanus Cessario, O.P. Catholic University of America Press. 395 pp. $79.95.
A new translation of a defense of St. Thomas conclusions on faith, hope, and charity by John Capreolus (1380“1444), the Prince of Thomists. Foreword by Servais Pinckaers.
Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship In Dialogue .
By William A. Dyrness.
Baker. 192 pp. $21.99.
A refreshing summons for Christians to get serious about their role as patrons of the arts or else temper their criticism about what kind of art is produced. The author does a fine job of incorporating the theological aesthetics of Paul Tillich, Simone Weil, and Hans Urs von Balthasar into a Reformed perspective.
Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History .
By N. E. H. Hull and Peter Charles Hoffer.
University Press of Kansas. 315 pp. $35.
The authors announce at the outset that they differ on the abortion question, and the tension that creates is palpable, perhaps even debilitating. In this legal and social history of abortion the story swerves unpredictably between a judicious historiography of abortions place in American history and a hagiography of pro“abortion derring“do. In the end, the book serves the accidental goal of revealing the moral schizophrenia that accompanies any attempt to muddle through the abortion issue without a defining commitment.