Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment
by Eric W. Gritsch
Eerdmans, 172 pages, $25
Eric Gritsch, professor emeritus of church history and former director of the Institute for Lutheran Studies at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, has given much thought over the course of his long and distinguished career to the problem of Luther’s writings on the Jews.
In Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism, he helpfully summarizes his own findings: “Luther’s anti-Semitism is an integral part of his life and work, clearly evidenced in his literary legacy.” But, Gritsch argues, “his anti-Semitism is neither in harmony with the core of his theology nor with the stance of the Apostle Paul regarding the relationship between Jews and Christians.” This leads him to conclude that, “consequently, Luther’s attitude to the Jews is against his better judgment.”
With this assessment, Gritsch rejects two extremes: Historians such as Walther Bienert have offered excuses and apologies for Luther’s writings against the Jews, while others such as Heiko Oberman have argued that anti-Semitism was at the core of Luther’s theological vision. Luther, he believes, should be neither fully pardoned for nor completely defined by his anti-Semitic writings.
Most of what Gritsch offers here he has already said elsewhere, in previous books like the ambitious A History of Lutheranism (2002). Nevertheless, he concisely and helpfully summarizes the wide-ranging historiographical debates that have raged on this controversial topic. The second chapter offers a close textual analysis of Luther’s writings on the Jews. While it may not be required reading for the experts, this book would serve as a useful introduction to anyone unfamiliar with the reformer’s relationship with the Jewish people.
—Ryan Sayre Patrico, a former assistant editor of First Things,
is a doctoral student in history at Yale.
Beacon and Call: A Cistercian Monastic Pilgrimage
by Benedict Simmonds, O.C.S.O.
Orfeo Press, 52 pages, $53.12
In 1993, a company of Cistercian monks, friends of the order, and scholars of Cistercian monasticism, made a pilgrimage through northeast France to ancient Cistercian sites, including Cîteaux. In most (though not all) they were greeted by ruins, but they were able to pray and celebrate the liturgy amidst the broken arches and fractured ribs of buildings where long ago others had lifted their voices in song to the Triune God.
Beacon and Call is a journal of the pilgrimage, written by Brother Benedict Simmonds, a monk at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia, and one of the pilgrims. Its prose is warm and affectionate, and Simmonds lovingly notes what most observers would miss, as in this passage on a cut-stone granary at the Abbey of Chaalis: “The exploring of a thirteenth-century grange, still a working farm, introduced us at the outset to the fineness of detail and care of attention given even to surfaces that would not ordinarily be seen, ‘visible only to the eyes of God.’”
The photos in black and white by Paul Kolnik highlight the play of light and shadow on the worn walls and columns of the crumbling buildings, but also include melancholy pictures of the company of pilgrims processing into an ancient abbey church, where the walls are still in place, though the roof caved in long ago, and the great rose window draws the eye of the observer, though there is no stained glass to be seen.
This is a book to be read slowly, its pages turned with care. It is not only the story of a pilgrimage, it is a gift of grace. In the autumn of 2005, the author, Brother Benedict, made the decision to terminate dialysis against the advice of his doctors, who expected him to live only a few weeks more. Yet “I write now in the spring of 2012,” he tells us, adding that “there is a clearer feeling of approaching departure.”
—Robert Louis Wilken is the William R. Kenan Jr.
Professor of the History of Christianity Emeritus
at the University of Virginia.
Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education
by Stratford Caldecott
Angelico Press, 178 pages, $14.95
Beauty in the Word , Stratford Caldecott’s sequel to his Beauty for Truth’s Sake, surveys not the historical outworking of the liberal arts tradition but rather the inspiration that lies behind it. Specifically, the author—the director of Thomas More College’s Center for Faith and Culture in Oxford and editor of the journal Second Spring—raises the notion of an educational “Trivium” composed of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. This Trinitarian structure requires that we remember that we come from the Father, that we think in accordance with the Son the Logos, and that we communicate in the communion of the Holy Spirit.
In the classroom, this scheme would result in a via media between the two teaching approaches that have tended to dominate educational theory over the last century, what Caldecott terms “romantic” and “classical” tendencies; educational projects that are either child-centered or teacher-centered. Both approaches err by failing to conceive of the child as a “person,” he says.
Personhood, in contrast to individualism, “means the human being determined in his identity . . . by relationships both chosen and unchosen.” Thus, he sees the central dynamic of education as involving a reciprocal relationship between the student and teacher that manifests a third, namely, the Truth that is implicit in the relationship itself.
Caldecott suggests a curriculum grounded in the philosophy behind the Trivium but not limited to its three elements. The fine arts, for example, could associate grammar with music and dance, dialectic with the visual arts, and rhetoric with drama. He also pays heed to the role of the family in education, particularly in relation to the formation of the child’s moral imagination. The ultimate goal is an “education of the heart,” which “represents not merely a training of the emotions, but an integration of feelings and thoughts into a higher unity.”
This book provides a rationale for a liberal arts education that taps deep, even forgotten, arguments with a richness that well-intentioned slogans about the importance of cultural literacy cannot convey. Although Caldecott’s arguments sometimes meander, and each chapter would have been strengthened if he included an introduction of some sort, this is still a book that stands apart in its genre.
—Stephen Richard Turley teaches at Tall Oaks Classical School
in New Castle, Delaware, and at Eastern University.
Cushing, Spellman, O’Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations
by James Rudin
Eerdmans, 157 pages, $18
In this small volume, Rabbi James Rudin introduces three of the more prominent interlocutors in the twentieth-century development of Catholic-Jewish relations. He reminds those who categorize “interreligious dialogue [as] a significant concern only for theological liberals” that the troika under examination was theologically orthodox and yet “worked tirelessly” on a relationship many had dismissed as impossible.
The chapters Rudin, who has spent decades working with Christians as both a public figure with the American Jewish Committee and as an academic, dedicates to dissecting the cardinals’ personalities, motives, and backgrounds make for smart and engaging biographies. Richard Cushing, for example, embodied humility as the son of a blacksmith, while Francis Spellman’s dazzling influence is captured alongside his faults (he was once called “a little popinjay” to his face).
Regardless, the cardinals’ greatest interfaith triumph was undoubtedly their collaboration on Nostra Aetate at Vatican II, particularly their defense of the document’s explicit repudiation of the ancient charge of Jewish “guilt” against myriad critics. In defending their version of the document, which Rudin believes was strongly influenced by the American political project, the cardinals resorted to such unusual tactics as giving public speeches while the document was still under discussion, operating both subtly within and visibly without the usual ecclesial channels.
Rudin reserves his warmest praise for a man who came later: New York’s John O’Connor, whom he considers the apogee of interfaith relations in the twentieth century, and whose witness a generation after the Council ended ensured that its theological encomia became lived realities.
Unfortunately, in the closing pages, the book’s sunny narrative (and some of its nuance) is occluded. Rudin explores “concerns about Benedict XVI,” fretting that the current pontiff “may lack the passion” to continue John Paul II’s interfaith legacy; indeed the author seems broadly apprehensive about the contemporary resurgence of orthodoxy in the Church, and to some extent casts the growth of Catholic-Jewish relations as a tale of vindicated “Americanist” tendencies (contra Leo XIII, he uses the term in a positive manner).
Where do Catholics and Jews go from here? Rudin’s valediction is worth pondering: “Complicating the future [of religious cooperation] is the inexorable march of time. Catholics and Jews who were alive and active during the . . . Second Vatican Council are passing from the scene.” Interreligious dialogue, a radical proposition only two or three generations ago, has now become standard, even expected. Can this remarkable opening be yet made new?
—Matthew Cantirino is assistant editor of First Things.