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

Catholics and Jews in Twentieth“Century America.
By Egal Feldman.
University of Illinois Press. 323 pp. $34.95.

The book is an account of the history of Jewish“Catholic relations in America for the past one hundred years or so. The author, an American Jewish historian, carefully traces the course of this history and how it turned from being the story of a rather bad relationship into the story of a much more positive relationship. The bad part of the relationship was due to traditional Christian anti“Judaism, and to modern Catholic resentment at the loss of the “Christian civilization” of the Middle Ages, which was sealed by the secularization of society beginning in the late eighteenth century. Whereas many Catholics looked back to the premodern European world with great longing, most Jews associated that world with the widespread persecution of the Jews sanctioned by the Church and were thus happy to be rid of it. Many Catholics saw Jews as, in effect, gloating over the Catholic loss of political and cultural power. This political and cultural battle was brought to America by both Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Europe. Two factors shaped the change in the relationship that began in earnest at Vatican Council II in the 1960s. In addition to the impact of the Holocaust and the painful recognition by Catholics of how easily Christian anti“Judaism lent itself to the extreme anti“Semitism of the Nazis, there was also the role of the American bishops in influencing the Church to recognize a democratic view of modern society, one that does not view the state as the enforcer of any particular religion. Feldman is good at documenting the Catholic and Jewish sources, but he seems to be uncomfortable, perhaps unfamiliar, with the profound theological thinking on both the Catholic and Jewish sides that has made this new relationship much deeper than one of mere secular tolerance. Feldman clearly approves of the new relationship, but he seems to have little trust either in its religious integrity or in its ability to endure. Because of this, when dealing with the Jewish sources, he tends to overemphasize the caution exercised by some of the Jewish participants (including this reviewer) in the dialogue and to underemphasize their considerable enthusiasm for it. For this reason, the book functions better as a historical record than as an analysis of why what has happened did happen to the Catholic“Jewish relationship in America.

David Novak

Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural .
By Ronald C. White, Jr.
Simon & Schuster. 254 pp. $24


With well over half a million soldiers dead but the end of the Civil War in view, Abraham Lincoln gave his Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865. In that short speech, Lincoln delivered a solemn and profound meditation on the war, slavery, reconciliation, and divine purpose. “For too long,” writes Ronald C. White, Jr. in Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural , “the Second Inaugural Address has lived within the shadow of the Gettysburg Address.” With this book, White moves it out of that shadow with a masterly explication of both the text and context of the speech. He brings full meaning to Lincoln’s words by finding the source of his ideas in nineteenth“century Protestant thought, particularly the Presbyterianism that Lincoln always hovered near. White emphasizes a fundamental distinction between fatalism, a secular doctrine of predestination that many assume Lincoln always subscribed to, and providence, the notion of a personal God who operates in and through history. In his immense struggle to make sense of the carnage over which he had presided, Lincoln in the second inaugural embraced the latter and reached a Calvinist conclusion: “The Almighty has His own purposes.” As Allen Guelzo recognized in his masterful 1999 biography, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President , a theological approach to Lincoln is the best way to comprehend his thinking, and White understands this as well. And unlike Garry Wills’ absorbing but flawed Lincoln at Gettysburg , White wisely avoids distracting ideological detours and instead concentrates on his subject. At the inaugural reception at the White House that evening, Lincoln asked Frederick Douglass what he thought of the address that he had heard earlier that day. Douglass responded: “Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort.” He was right.

Gregory J. Sullivan

How Democratic Is the American Constitution?
By Robert A. Dahl.
Yale University Press. 198 pp. $19.95


Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it is not the soul of constitutional discussion. Robert A. Dahl, emeritus professor of political science at Yale University, has written a very short book on an immense subject: the democratic underpinnings of the U.S. Constitution. Dahl spends seven short chapters ostensibly tackling such questions as the Framers’ understanding of the Constitution, comparing the U.S. Constitution to those of twenty“two other democracies, criticizing the composition of the U.S. Senate and the electoral college, and arguing for a Constitution that is more purely democratic. Dahl is concerned less with analyzing competing views of constitutional government than with arguing for changing the U.S. Senate to a body that reflects population (like the House) rather than equal representation for each state. He uncritically assumes that pure democracy is preferable to delegated, representative decision making. Dahl blithely asserts, without support, that the Framers were simply wrong to have feared unmediated democracy. He claims that his purpose is not to propose particular changes to the Constitution, but to change “the way we think about our Constitution.” Yet most of the book is dedicated to advocating specific changes. However, Dahl is pessimistic that his proposals will ever be adopted and acknowledges that “hidden costs and uncertainties” will follow from any constitutional change. Therefore, he proposes greater discussion of our Constitution (and alternatives to it) in the academy, media, and among the citizenry. He also advocates expanding political equality by equalizing “the distribution of political resources .” Dahl fails to expand upon this loaded phrase, as he does most of the other questionable suggestions crammed into this ambitious, if surprisingly unserious, book.

Ian Drake

The Cambridge Companion to Gadamer.
Edited by Robert J. Dostal.
Cambridge University Press. 317 pp. $23 paper.

In a century when the most acclaimed intellectuals embraced theoretical and practical extremism of one kind or another, the late Hans“Georg Gadamer (1900“2002) stood out as a model of philosophical moderation and good sense. Though he owed his greatest intellectual debt to Martin Heidegger, with whom he studied in the 1920s, Gadamer never followed his teacher in supporting Hitler or in rejecting liberal modernity tout court. In his masterwork, Truth and Method (1960; English translation, 1975), he used the “hermeneutic” method of interpreting (mainly religious) texts to examine human life and experience. But unlike the French postmodernists who treat human practices as “texts” in order to “deconstruct” them in the name of anarchistic irrationalism, Gadamer made a far less radical and more fruitful proposal. Philosophy (as well as the other “human sciences”) had to begin, he claimed, by recognizing that all human activity and thought, including philosophic and scientific reflection, is rooted in a prereflective “understanding” of the world. That is, philosophy and science emerge out of, and to some extent inevitably remain dependent upon, pre“philosophic traditions and prejudices. A number of implications follow from this seemingly simple insight. Among the most important is that the modern drive for autonomy from tradition and prejudice cannot succeed, and may even mark a low point in philosophical self“awareness, since those who encourage it fail to understand the crucial and inescapable role of understanding in human life. They do not see that theory is a practice of reflecting on practice, not a form of liberation from it. Plato and Aristotle, whose philosophical work emerged directly out of the commonsense experience of the world and referred constantly back to it for confirmation, had no such illusions about the autonomy of their own intellectual activity““and much of Gadamer’s work, before and since 1960, attempted to reawaken our appreciation for the comparatively mundane mode of thinking they engaged in. In books and essays on the good, the beautiful, education, poetry, literature, science, the relation between religion and ethics, and even the “enigma of health,” Gadamer spent his extraordinarily long life in constant pursuit of that most elusive of goals, philosophical wisdom. Pope John Paul II paid tribute to the enduring importance of his ideas by relying heavily on Truth and Method in explaining the theoretical basis for the Roman Catholic Church’s 1999 statement, Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past . A more academic tribute can be found in the book under review. As with all of the entries in the Cambridge Companion series, the Cambridge Companion to Gadamer contains serious scholarly essays on various aspects of the philosopher’s thought by leading researchers in the field. It will be of greatest use for specialists already familiar with his work. Others will have to seek out one of the many collections of his essays available at any good bookshop. Hans“Georg Gadamer, requiescat in pace.

What’s So Great About America.
By Dinesh D’Souza.
Regnery. 256 pp. $27.95.

Dinesh D’Souza is an American patriot, and he wants us to know why we should be too. Some will say such efforts are superfluous in the wake of September 11, but D’Souza is right to point out the enduring need for “patriotism of the reflective sort,” which he does an admirable job of articulating here. An immigrant to the United States (born in India, he was naturalized an American citizen in 1991), D’Souza draws memorable contrasts between the remarkable freedom and economic prosperity that Americans all too often take for granted and the poverty and oppression that prevails in so many other parts of the world. We have, he wishes to remind us, much to be thankful for”and much that is worth fighting for. If at times he goes overboard in his effort to show that virtually every aspect of “American life as it is lived today [is] the best life that our world has to offer,” D’Souza’s enthusiasm and love for his country is, more often than not, charming and contagious.

Boston’s Cardinal: Bernard Law, The Man and His Witness.
Edited by Romanus Cessario.
Lexington. 368 pp. $26.95 paper.

This book’s biographical sketch of the Cardinal by Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School provides abundant reason for hoping, and believing, that he will not be remembered chiefly in connection with the sex abuse scandals in the Boston Archdiocese, but there is no denying that the appearance of the book is unfortunately timed. From his childhood in Latin America and the Caribbean, through his years at Harvard, to his priestly work against racial segregation in Mississippi, to his years as bishop in Missouri and archbishop in Boston, Bernard Law has combined astonishing energy, intellectual acumen, and an unqualified devotion to Christ and the Church. His influence on the Church in the U.S., where he is the senior cardinal, and in the world will, one expects, be gratefully acknowledged by generations to come. The homilies, speeches, and occasional remarks gathered here testify also to his literary gifts, addressing with craftsman“like care a remarkable range of causes to which he has given himself: ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, racial justice, the culture of life, and economic and human development in the poor nations of the world. Then there is the Catechism of the Catholic Church , which he first proposed at the 1985 extraordinary synod of bishops in Rome. Above all, he has been, in Glendon’s phrase, a “gatherer of peoples” in his eighteen years in Boston. Those who know him only through recent news reports should read Boston’s Cardinal . As should everyone who does not shrink from being challenged by a life and ministry of great devotion.

Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire.
By Peter Brown.
University Press of New England. 160 pp. $15.95 paper

Peter Brown of Princeton is author of the justly acclaimed Augustine of Hippo: A Biography . The present book, delivered as lectures sponsored by the Historical Society of Israel, is the story of the Christian discovery of “the poor.” There was philanthropy in the pagan world of the third century, when Christians were five to ten percent of the population, but it was typically bestowed upon “the city” and aimed at the glorification of the giver. The poor were a “gray mass” that did not impinge upon public consciousness. All this changed with the ascendancy of Christianity. Bishops took the “care of the poor” as a primary responsibility, in exchange for which the state granted tax exemptions and other immunities, in a manner not entirely unlike what are called “faith“based initiatives” today. In order to generate sympathy, bishops frequently employ­ ed rhetorical hyperbole in describing the plight of the poor. Brown wryly notes that modern historians of a socialist bent have frequently taken those descriptions at face value, depicting the late Roman and medieval periods in terms of constant class struggle. The chronically poor who were in need of assistance he estimates at somewhat over five percent of the population, which is approximately the same estimate for developed societies today. Brown shows how charity, hospitals, child care systems, and similar institutions arose from the Christian discovery and privileging of “the poor,” a social category previously unrecognized. This instructive story is winsomely told in Peter Brown’s usual elegant and understated manner.

Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization.
By Iain Gately.
Grove. 405 pp. $25.

Of course the book will infuriate the tobacco prohibitionists, but as Gately points out, prohibition movements come and go while the seductions practiced by the nicotina rustica leaf go on and on. The author’s photo shows him with cigar, so one assumes he is not a disinterested observer of the tobacco wars. But neither is Tobacco a tract in the combat. Gately provides a witty, informative, and frequently surprising account of how tobacco, beginning in South America thousands of years ago with cigars three feet long, conquered the world. Its wide acceptance in Europe in the sixteenth century was greatly boosted by the best medical authorities, who lauded its powers to ward off or cure a multitude of human ills, from melancholy to dementia. He cites many notable philosophers and poets who praised the benefits of the leaf, but somehow missed Johann Sebastian Bach’s marvelous Erbauliche Gedanken eines Tobackrauchers , which ends each stanza with the refrain, “And so on land, on sea, at home, abroad / I’ll smoke my pipe and worship God.” Tobacco is a first“rate entertainment and is sure to offend anti“tobacco crusaders who need to lighten up, even if they decline to light up.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus.
By John A. McGuckin.
St. Vladimir’s Press. 433 pp. $22.95 paper.

Gregory (330“390) is probably the most influential of the Cappadocian fathers and in the East is known simply as Gregory the Theologian. McGuckin, professor of church history at Union Theological Seminary in New York, offers a richly detailed account of his life and thought that, while engaging the pertinent scholarly disputes, is also accessible to the general reader. One wishes there were more on his friendship with Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, the other great Cappadocians, rather than a concentration on their fallings out. Readers should not be put off by the opening chapter in which the author punches his ticket on the usual gender and class concerns, going so far as to indulge in speculation about Gregory’s possible Oedipal problems. Once the story gets going, there is much to be learned both about Gregory’s theological achievements and about the interaction of the aristocracy, to which Gregory belonged, with the growth of Christianity after Constantine’s decree of tolerance. McGuckin’s most controversial proposal is that Gregory “corrected” the Council of Constantinople (381), which did not in its conclusions”embodied in what is commonly called the Nicene Creed but, more accurately, the Niceno“Constantinopolitan Creed”explicitly affirm that the Holy Spirit, along with the Father and Son, is God. That is the affirmation that Gregory fought for, and, when the council balked, Gregory creatively reinterpreted the council as having said what he wanted it to say, McGuckin argues, and that reinterpretation has carried the doctrinal day in both East and West. McGuckin leaves no doubt that he”along with, he says, Gregory”has an understanding of the “development of doctrine” considerably more jagged and episodic than the understanding proposed by, for instance, John Henry Newman.

Christian Contradictions: The Structures of Lutheran and Catholic Thought.
By Daphne Hampson.
Cambridge University Press. 323 pp. $60.

In a compelling and stubborn work of historical theology, the author accuses virtually all of those working in Lutheran“Catholic dialogue of profound unclarity and systematic misunderstanding of one another’s theological positions. The author sharpens to a fine point both Lutheran and Catholic ways of structuring the relationship between the self and God, arguing that disagreements over justification run so deep as to make them virtually irreconcilable. Unfortunately, what begins as an earnest and sympathetic engagement of theological dialogue descends into a browbeating of the “ignorant,” “clueless,” and “incomprehending” interlocutors who have attempted to move the dialogue forward. The argument becomes more annoying still when the author uses perceived disagreements as a platform to promenade her own amusing New Age feminism. For a better appreciation of what is at stake for all Christians on these issues see Louis Bouyer’s classic, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism .

Getting Right with God: Southern Baptists and Desegregation, 1945“1995.
By Mark T. Newman.
University of Alabama Press. 336 pp. $39.95.

Though most Southern Baptists at one time supported segregationist political attitudes, what has gone largely undocumented was their wide“ranging diversity of religious opinions on desegregation. Newman carefully parses the issue in arguing that Southern Baptists were not only far from being monolithic in their racial views, but that their eventual embrace of desegregation grew largely out of their primary religious identity.

The Last Long Pastorate: A Journey of Grace.
By F. Dean Lueking.
Eerdmans. 196 pp. $20 paper.

The author is pastor emeritus of Grace Lutheran Church in a Chicago suburb, and in this memoir reflects on the satisfactions and discontents, but mainly satisfactions, of pastoral ministry. In the battles that split the Lutheran Church“Missouri Synod in the 1960s and 1970s, Lueking was a leader of the “moderate””opponents said “liberal””party. His book gracefully and gratefully recounts one modest ministry that provides a prism through which to view larger changes in American Christianity.

Christ’s Fulfillment of Torah and Temple: A Thomistic Theology of Salvation .
By Matthew Levering.
University of Notre Dame Press. 240 pp. $24.

The author, who teaches theology at Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Michigan, provides an instructive survey and analysis of Thomas’ understanding of the connections between Old and New Testaments, with special attention to the ways in which the Christian understanding of salvation includes the fulfillment of Israel’s law and worship.

Selling the Old“Time Religion .
By Douglas Carl Abrams.
University of Georgia Press. 168 pp. $35.

Selling is the key word. In candid detail Abrams traces how fundamentalism’s move from aloofness to engagement was made possible, in large part, by using popular patterns of consumption to peddle doctrinal rigidity.

Architecture in Communion .
By Steven J. Schloeder.
Ignatius. 265 pp. $24.95 paper.

The subtitle is “Implementing the Second Vatican Council through Liturgy and Architecture,” and the book is about doing just that. Christian architecture has a history and its own language of speaking both to “the world” and to those gathered in adoration. Everyone involved in the building or restoration of churches should read Architecture in Communion .

The Living Christ: The Extraordinary Lives of Today’s Spiritual Heroes.
By Harold Fickett.
Doubleday. 227 pp. $22.95.

Fickett combines fast“paced storytelling with spiritual insight in recounting some truly extraordinary lives, including that of Pope John Paul II. Most of the other heroes and heroines, however, are little known or unknown. All of them challenge us to settle for nothing less than spiritual and moral greatness.