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

Divorcing Marriage: Unveiling the Dangers in Canada’s New Social Experiment.
Edited by Daniel Cere & Douglas Farrow.
McGill-Queen’s University Press. 208 pp. $22.95 paper.

“Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows: 1. This Act may be cited as the Civil Marriage Act. 2. Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others. 3. It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs. 4. For greater certainty, a marriage is not void or voidable by reason only that the spouses are of the same sex.” These words are the core of a proposed “Civil Marriage Act” written by the Canadian federal government and introduced into Parliament in February 2005. As I write, debate on the bill is beginning, and it is expected to pass. What, then, of this collection by eminent Canadian scholars, published in late 2004? Has the rapidity of events rendered it no more useful than a treatise in favor of shutting the barn door after the horse’s departure? No, it remains one of the more cogent, lively, devastating, and withal irenic examinations of the meaning and nature of marriage in response to the homosexual demand for it. As Douglas Farrow writes, “Our decision about the redefinition of marriage is presented as a decision about whether to give a tiny fraction of the population access to an institution from which they have hitherto been barred”a decision of no importance to marriage as such but of importance to Canada’s conscience as a nation committed to equality . . . . In fact the decision we must take is a decision about whether or not to abandon marriage, and to reinvent it on the lines dictated by sexual self-interest. These are lines on which the institution cannot possibly sustain itself. In redefining marriage Canada is redefining its own social structure, yet it has no clear idea what that definition entails or where its social experiment will lead.” The collection as a whole is well worth reading and should be of great interest to those south of the 49th parallel.

”J.A. Gray

Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver.
By Scott Stossel.
Smithsonian. 704 pp. $32.50.

Scott Stossel, the author of this excellent authorized biography, asks readers to consider what might have happened if Lyndon Johnson had chosen Sargent Shriver, rather than Hubert Humphrey, as his vice presidential candidate in 1964. Would Shriver, a faithful Catholic, have been in a better position to effect the next decade’s realignments within the Democratic Party? Shriver was born in 1915 to a French-German family whose ancestors had arrived in Maryland in the early eighteenth century. Sarge’s parents were both Shrivers”they were second cousins, in fact”but their backgrounds were nonetheless very different. Sarge’s father, Robert Shriver, was a Republican Protestant, while his mother, Hilda, was Democratic and Catholic. The family had built a modest fortune on manufacturing and banking, and they were able to send Sarge to the best schools: first, the lay-run Catholic Canterbury School, where he first met his future brother-in-law John F. Kennedy, and later Yale, where he studied as both an undergraduate and as a law school student. After his combat service with the Navy in the Pacific theater of World War II, he worked briefly as a journalist in New York. There he met Joseph P. Kennedy, for whom he went to work at the Kennedy family’s business in Chicago. After a long courtship, he married Kennedy’s daughter Eunice in 1953. The rest of the book chronicles Shriver’s long life of government service, a life which is exceptional in its breadth of accomplishment. He was the founder of the Peace Corps under Kennedy, led various government programs as the head of Johnson’s War on Poverty, and served as Ambassador to France, where he became a friend of Charles de Gaulle. After leaving government service, Shriver became a partner at a prominent Washington law firm. Until fairly recently, he showed up every weekday at the office of the Special Olympics, which he and his wife founded. And during all this time, the couple also raised five children, who continue the family tradition of public service and dedication to philanthropy. The book explores Shriver’s complicated relationship to the Kennedy family; he remained loyal to the Kennedys even when it could have cost him a political office. Shriver’s story is a useful reminder of how strong Christian convictions can be brought to bear on difficult political debates, and of the frequent tensions between private honor and political achievement.

”C. John McCloskey

Purity of Heart: Reflections on Love and Lust.
By Sam Torode.
Philokalia. 86 pp. $13.95.

The second of four little books presenting John Paul II’s “theology of the body” as set forth in his Wednesday audiences from 1979 to 1984 and here “adapted into everyday English.” The introduction by Christopher West”whose books and talks have done much to popularize this teaching”underscores that this fully ecumenical understanding of sexuality is less about following the rules than about discovering the freedom of living in the truth, especially freedom from the myriad strategies of lust.

The Divine Voice: Christian Proclamation and the Theology of Sound.
By Stephen H. Webb.
Brazos. 256 pp. $24.99 paper.

Webb, the author of American Providence , a groundbreaking study of the idea of divine guidance in American history (see FT, February 2005), here undertakes a different task of discernment, searching for the ways in which sound and sounds disclose the voice of God. To say this is a study in the phenomenology of sound or “acoustemology” may be off-putting to both the speakers and the hearers of the Word. There is something less academic and more urgent at stake here. Webb invites those who have been given the job of preaching to adventure into the mysteries of what it is too easy to do routinely. Alertness to sound, he suggests, prepares us for heaven where “our voices will no longer be carried along by vibrations but instead will travel at the speed of grace.” The Divine Voice is winsome and provocative, leaving the reader with a haunting sense of wonder in the ordinary.

The Best American Spiritual Writing: 2004.
Edited by Philip Zaleski.
Houghton Mifflin. 304 pp. $14 paper.

Philip Zaleski, a contributor to this journal, notes that many aspire to being “spiritual writers” but are not sufficiently alert to the possibility that they are taking their souls, and the souls of others, in hand. The term “spirituality,” once used almost exclusively by Catholics, has over recent decades become pervasive and muddled. Zaleski’s judicious selections from a wide range of sources inclines one to believe that it is perhaps the unavoidable term for a genre of writing that engages the high risks of the soul’s salvation.

Christ and Apollo:The Dimensions of the Literary Imagination.
By William F. Lynch.
ISI. 371 pp. $15 paper.

Flannery O’Connor praised this study when it was first published in 1960, and little wonder, since her work so powerfully exemplifies Lynch’s insistence upon embodiment, finitude, and the adventure of limitation in literature. Dante, Shakespeare, Proust, Eliot, Greene, Trilling, and a host of others are examined with reference to their choice between Apollonian escape from particularity and the ever-so-particular reality of incarnation. Lynch’s argument did not carry the day in literary studies, but it is very much worth reading with a mind open to the possibility that its time may yet come.

A Passionate Pilgrim: A Biography of Bishop James A. Pike.
By David M. Robertson.
Knopf. 304 pp. $24.95.

Bishop Pike, who died in the Judean wilderness in 1969, is not much remembered today, but he was for years one of the most publicized religious leaders in the country. Pike had been Dean of St. John the Divine in New York and then Bishop of California. His death mooted an item on the agenda of the Episcopal bishops who were at the time meeting on the campus of Notre Dame University: it would not be necessary after all to vote on officially declaring him no longer a bishop. His 1960s books, A Time for Candor and If This Be Heresy , along with his quick one-liners advocating “fewer beliefs, more belief,” had made Pike a media favorite. After a while, his role as religious maverick and bad boy began to wear thin. Three marriages, an uncounted number of affairs, the suicide of a son, excursions into bizarre regions of spiritualism, and the abandonment of identifiably Christian belief had all taken their toll. Robertson’s very readable biography is, all in all, sympathetically critical”certainly more critical than the 1976 account by William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne, The Death and Life of Bishop Pike . One has to wonder, however, if there is today an audience for a book about James Pike. Perhaps there is, among those who remember him fondly, among students of religious liberalism, and among those who see him as a precursor of Episcopalianism’s turn toward the wilderness.

Our Lady and the Church.
By Hugo Rahner, S.J.
Zaccheus. 152 pp. $10.95 paper.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger calls this little book, first published in 1961, “one of the most important theological rediscoveries of the twentieth century.” Avery Cardinal Dulles concurs. It helps to remember that, leading up to the Second Vatican Council, there was a powerful revival of Marian piety, reflected in and reinforced by the 1950 definition of Mary’s bodily assumption, and also a theological resurgence of ecclesiology. These two developments seemed to some to be on a collision course. At the Council, there was strong support for a separate document on Mary, but it was finally decided to fold the reflection on Mary into the constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium . It is in that context that one appreciates the importance of Hugo Rahner’s study, which draws upon the early fathers of the Church and their understanding that Mary and the Church are one. Again and again”in systematic treatises, homilies, and poetry”the patristic literature asserts that Mary is the Church and the Church is Mary, both “giving birth to Christ” in the lives of the faithful. St. Augustine plays a particularly prominent part in Rahner’s account. In its historical context and for the continuing life of the Church, this is an extraordinarily instructive book that well deserves the new life given it by the small Zaccheus Press of Bethesda, Maryland.