by clarke d. forsythe
encounter, 496 pages, $27.99
In Abuse of Discretion, the latest book lobbed at the unsteady edifice of Roe v. Wade, Clarke D. Forsythe turns to the Supreme Court justices’ private notes and memos from 1971 to 1973 in order to “solve the puzzle” of the court’s legalization of abortion on demand. The memos reveal, for instance, how Justices Douglas and Brennan conspired to accept Roe and Doecases without any factual record “addressing the difficult legal, historical, or medical questions involving abortion”to determine whether there was a constitutional right to an abortion. Private memos to Justice Harry Blackmun show how Brennan, Douglas, and Marshall pressured him to use Roe to read a right to abortion into the Constitution.
Not only did the court decide the most controversial judicial ruling of modern times with no recourse to any factual record, but it also made a number of mistakes. Forsythe tallies them: The court misinterpreted the judicial premise for the common law protection of fetal life stretching back hundreds of years, relied on articles that provided faulty legal analysis of abortion law, and cited doctored statistics on criminal abortions and abortion-related deaths.
Forsythe provides a fascinating discussion of how the justices concocted a narrow view of fetal viability in order to expand the “abortion right”a discussion even this veteran of the abortion war found particularly new and insightful. The pro-Roe justices initially envisioned a right to an abortion only “within some limited time after conception,” but later seized on a cursory reference to viability in a Connecticut court decision that struck down that state’s law prohibiting abortion. Blackmun’s draft opinion permitted abortions “only” through the first twelve weeks! Pressured by Powell, he extended the “abortion right” to the point of viability. And so the decision drew on an odd personal theory of a Connecticut justicea theory the leading authority on tort law had shown to be faulty.
The book’s criticisms of Roe provide a challenge to those who seek to undo it. Forsythe points out that rulings like Planned Parenthood v. Casey justify abortion as being good for women. He demonstrates, however, that Roe failed to deliver what it promisedthe improvement of women’s lives. He believes it is this failure in “practical results,” and not the personhood of the fetus, that provides the best argument for overturning Roe.
Monica Migliorino Miller is director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society and author of Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars.
by frances young
cambridge, 482 pages, $85
The latest book from Frances Young, an outstanding scholar of the early Church, is at once poignant, brilliant, and unconvincing. The poignancy lies in the quiet presence of Young’s son, Arthur, on almost every page: As hinted in the preface, Young and her husband have spent much of their married life caring for a disabled and dependent son. She is careful to look to those who might typically have been ignored in the past and marginalized because of their disabilities.
Young’s brilliance is shown in how she draws on her vast knowledge of patristic sources to offer theological insights into the contemporary world. Her approach in each chapter is to select a particular theme, to develop a constructive dialogue between the questions being asked in our era and the texts of ancient Christianity, and to conclude with one of her poems.
Flaws, however, are equally present. The major problem is that the world that Young seeks to bring into dialogue with the present is not really a world with which she has a great deal of sympathy. The supernaturalism, the ecclesiology, and the notions of authority (scriptural and ecclesiastical) of the ancient Church are antithetical to the species of modern liberal Christianity that Young is seeking to articulate.
In the chapter on image, there is much play on the elusive nature of language, with reference, for example, to images and shadows in Gregory of Nazianzus. While Young puts this forward as a way of integrating the dogmatic and the mystical aspects of Christianity, one has to say that the accent seems to land on the latter. Far from integrating the two aspects, the reader is left with the suspicion that doctrine has really been dissolved into the mystical or, perhaps better, the psychological, in a way that would have been alien to the Fathers.
Elsewhere, it seems that patristic theology can be shaped so as to guarantee the triumph of Young’s own cultural tastes, albeit with a veneer of objectivity. In the chapter on women’s ordination, she concludes that we need “a hermeneutic that eschews the notion of finding precedents, while discovering the living tradition which remains in continuity with the past but ever seeks renewal through the logic of its trans-cultural instincts.” It would seem in the context that that can be translated as “we need a hermeneutic that provides us with the results we want.”
This is a stimulating book. It raises some good questions and reminds the reader of the importance of remembering the marginal and the weak. Yet one might say that it is not a recapitulation of patristic theology for the present so much as an expression, albeit in a partially patristic idiom, of what liberal Protestantism has become.
Carl Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.
by aidan nichols, o.p.
ignatius, 200 pages, $17.95
In Figuring Out the Church, Aidan Nichols, a Dominican priest of the English Province, offers a concrete picture of the Church, ably handling challenges to each of her four marksone, holy, catholic, apostolicwhile developing, in his own arguments and through analyses of the arguments of others, an uncommonly lucid approach to ecclesiology.
Organized into two sectionsthe first dedicated to developing the implications of each of her creedal marks, and the second dedicated to four masters of the twentieth centurythe book unkinks the often convoluted language of ecclesiologists. Under Nichols’s hand, Henri de Lubac, Jean Tillard, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Charles Journet speak clearly in their distinct voices while achieving a high level of resonance.
Nichols is an indispensable guide, especially for Christians who have faced and will continue to face the question “How can you be part of something with so many obvious faults?” His answer lies in the distinction between each mark’s ontological reality and the mark’s phenomenological or structural manifestation. We perceive the Church’s diversity but must come, through prayer and study, to know her universality; likewise her apologetic and actual holiness, her quantitative and qualitative catholicity, her pedagogical and principled apostolicity, her many personnel and her one person.
How we experience the Church, though important, is just the beginning of a meditation upon her internal and eternal being. For a study of the Church is necessarily an excursive endeavor, from our experience of her in the particular local church and then back to her source, only to return again.
And at the Church’s beginning stands Mary; for it is through her that salvation came into the world. Her fiat is the perfect example of Christian discipleship, her immaculate person where “the holiness of the Church is at present concretely constituted.” Yet the Church does not dissolve into Mary (and neither does it dissolve into Christ).
Though each of the masters places different weight on each mark, Nichols lays the emphasis on unityit is, after all, the first creedal mark for a reason. For we must together profess a belief in “one” Church before we can work to establish harmony between each of our voices. Nichols rightly warns against the dangers of underselling that simultaneous profession of faith, or of hearing it only as a reality to come at the end of time rather than a reality already in some real way present.
He corrects certain theologiansfor example, Tillardwhose “conceptual scheme” sacrifices a strong sense of unity for ecumenical concerns. We must acknowledge, seek out, and place ourselves under the one Church before we try to establish conversational conviviality.
But when we do begin to foster that conversation, our work must be as Christ’s: a work of love. If we love the Church, we make present that unity for which Jesus prayed: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” And if to know the good is to love it, then Figuring Out the Church serves a more expansive purpose than its title suggests.
J. David Nolan is a graduate of Williams College and a junior fellow at First Things.
by daniel kelly
isi, 272 pages, $27.95
One of the most significant figures in postwar American intellectual life, L. Brent Bozell Jr. has long gone understudied and underappreciated. Speechwriter for Joseph McCarthy and ghostwriter of Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative, Bozell first came to prominence as one of the key architects of the conservative movement in America. A traditionalist Catholic, his effort to imagine and realize an authentically Catholic social order led him to abandon political conservatism at the very moment it began to achieve its most significant electoral victories in the late 1960s.
Since the Second Vatican Council, American Catholics left, right, and center have largely denied any inherent contradiction between Catholicism and the fundamental principles of the American founding. Bozell balked at the Founding Fathers’ affirmation of the freedom to believe in any god. Reducing God to a matter of personal choice, the American political tradition was nothing less than a revolt against the authority of Jesus Christ.
Bozell’s contribution to mainstream conservatism has been well documented in earlier studies by George Nash and Patrick Allitt. Daniel Kelly, who taught history at New York University before his death in 2012, rarely touches on the scholarly debates sparked by these works, or on the broader historiography of modern conservatism that has flourished over the last two decades. Those looking for insights into the place of American Catholics in the rise and fall of the New Deal Order should look elsewhere. Instead, through extensive interviews with friends and colleagues, Kelly illuminates the personal dimensions of Bozell’s public career and the less public periods of his earlier and later life.
This light is not always very flattering. Bozell’s famous break with his brother-in-law William F. Buckley at National Review appears, in Kelly’s account, as much a matter of his professional jealousy as his stated commitment to a purer form of political Catholicism. Early on, his struggle to achieve professional success was complicated by his wife Patricia’s alcoholism; later, Triumph, his radically traditionalist Catholic alternative to National Review, collapsed largely because of his own struggles with bipolar disorder.
Unpleasant as these facts may be, Kelly handles them with care and respect. He never uses the personal turmoil of Bozell’s life as grounds for dismissing his ideas. Christianity often appears insane to the non-Christian world. Kelly’s book offers a compelling portrait of a man willing to be considered a fool for Christ.
Christopher Shannon is associate professor of history at Christendom College.
by george william rutler
saint augustine’s press, 184 pages, $24
Much has been made of the ways various Christian groups capitulated to Nazi rule, and with good reason. But even in the heat of World War II, some Christians continued speaking out against the deportation of Jews, eugenicist race theory, and the conscription of their countrymen. Their stories serve as perhaps the most important topic of Fr. George Rutler’s most recent book.
Rutler, a parish priest in the Archdiocese of New York, focuses most on the resistance efforts made by priests and bishops. Some were quite forceful in their approach. In December 1942, Konrad von Preysing, the archbishop of Berlin and a staunch critic of the Nazis from their rise to power, wrote a pastoral letter proclaiming that the present miseries were the result of human contempt for natural and divine law and the espousal of Nietzsche’s ethics: “Every departure from right and justice will sooner or later be broken against these foundations of God’s dominion.”
In Belgium, Cardinal van Roey revived the old custom of recording the recent blessings of God on the Easter candle by having inscribed on it, in Latin, the news that the Communist and Nazi enemies of Christianity were destroying each other in the East and that the African campaign was a sign of hope.
In May of the following year, the auxiliary bishop of Paris died wearing the Star of David in protest against the persecution of the Jews. In Athens, the local Schutzstaffel commander threatened to put the Orthodox Archbishop Damaskinos before a firing squad for ordering his people to hide Jews. Recalling the lynching of the Patriarch of Constantinople by the Turks in 1821, Damaskinos replied, “According to the Greek Orthodox Church, our prelates are hanged, not shot. Please respect our tradition.”
The book draws on a collection of journals, radio transcripts, and newspaper clippings, chiefly from the Tablet, the British Catholic journal, from 1942 and 1943. As a result, the work is more a running commentary on a collection of articles than a work of academic history. Marked by Rutler’s customary erudition, it is driven by his conviction that, while World War II was fought “for multiple and mixed motives,” it was, in its deepest meaning, a “holy war . . . against evil by defenders, consciously or obliviously, of the good.”
Nathaniel Peters is a doctoral student in theology at Boston College.