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

Bonds of Wool:
The Pallium and Papal Power in the Middle Ages

by steven a. schoenig, s.j.
catholic university of america, 544 pages, $75

Each year on the Feast of St. Agnes, a curious ritual takes place in Rome: Two young lambs are brought to the Church of St. Agnes Outside the Walls, where they are adorned with garland crowns, placed in decorated baskets, and carried to the Vatican to be blessed by the pope. These lambs are later shorn to provide the wool used to make the pallia, slender bands of fabric given by the pope to metropolitan archbishops as a sign of their office. This tradition raises a provocative question: How do the archbishops who receive the pallia resemble the lambs whose wool they wear?

The pallium is more than a band of fabric, as Steven A. Schoenig makes clear in Bonds of Wool: The Pallium and Papal Power in the Middle Ages. Concentrating on the eighth to twelfth centuries, Schoenig shows that the pallium was “a gift with strings attached,” awarded strategically by medieval popes to bind bishops more closely to the papacy. The recipients were rarely as submissive as lambs: Some claimed the pallium as an entitlement, and a few lost it through misconduct. The gift of the pallium was an exercise of papal power, but it also reflected the limits of that power: Popes were obliged to use this gift to win over recalcitrant bishops even as they sought to reshape the episcopacy through new appointments. If the pallium symbolizes submission to the successor of Peter, its history reminds us that shepherds often face a fractious flock. Bonds of Wool is engaging reading for students of church history and for others interested in the exercise of power.

—Fr. Joseph Koczera is a Jesuit priest who lives and studies in Paris.

Holy Bible: Authorized Version, Canterbury Edition
schuyler, 1,693 pages, $200

The Schuyler Canterbury edition of the King James Bible aspires to be a family heirloom. The physical construction of the volume is impressive—beautiful paper, flawless twice-gilt edges, three bookmark ribbons, all encased in a supple goatskin cover. It is a heavy book, and large, suited to be set open on a stand for family readings. It preserves all the idiosyncrasies of the Authorized Version, including the italics (divinely inspired, as some would have it), and the old personal pronouns. Each chapter begins with an ornate dropped capital in maroon, and there are copious headings. The volume really shines in its treatment of the Psalter, which is positively regal.

Having sung its praises, I should note some weaknesses of the edition: It is emphatically not a “reader’s Bible” of the sort that has become trendy in recent years. (More on those another time.) The designers chose to start each verse on a new line, which makes the text uncomfortable for private devotional reading. The letter spacing is slightly excessive, and while the large font makes it an accessible Bible for all ages, it can give one the feeling of staring down into a sea of letters. But the concordance is beautifully done, the cross-references are ample and attractive, and the book as a whole is venerable. It leaves one in no doubt about the terrible value of Scripture.

—Elliot Milco is deputy editor of First Things.

American Law from a Catholic Perspective:
Through a Clearer Lens

edited by ronald j. rychlak
rowman and littlefield,
326 pages, $42

In this assemblage of twenty-two essays, Catholic academics and legal scholars apply Catholic social teaching to the poetic and prosaic aspects of the American legal system. The subjects discussed range from labor and employment issues and family law to property law, religious liberty, and the philosophy of law. The authors attempt to show the commonalities between Catholic teaching and American law; they also point out where the two diverge.

In reading these essays, I was struck more by the latter. Over and over again, we see the deep chasm between the Catholic understanding of the human person and the anthropology implied by American liberalism. The difference is stark. The former conceives of each human being as a person—a relational being, in relationship to God and others and dependent on God and others. The latter sees each human being as an individual who can make and fashion his own being and existence autonomously and apart from God and others. God is a valid choice, but he is just that, a choice. The Catholic lawyer cannot help but feel a dissonance between his deepest beliefs and the law he is called to practice each day. American Law from a Catholic Perspective helps to remind readers where their allegiances must lie. The attentive reader can begin to see the ways in which he must work to change American law at its very roots to help it conform to the truth proclaimed by the Church.

—Conor B. Dugan writes from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Liquid Scripture:
The Bible in a Digital World

by jeffrey s. siker
fortress, 328 pages, $29

What happens when the Bible loses its covers? What difference does it make to reader comprehension if we can tap to navigate the text and replace memorization with quick searches? Jeffrey S. Siker makes clear in Liquid Scripture that the move to digital Bibles results in the loss of true “haptic” reading. Digital Bibles, while useful for textual studies and hermeneutics, ultimately fail to engage readers as physical books do; an app cannot be handled, its pages cannot be flipped, and its margins cannot be annotated. On the other hand, digital Bibles are better for skimming and, ironically, for the close textual analysis and comparison of different passages.

Siker gives us a thorough history of the digital Bible in academic and ecclesial contexts, from the advent of the codex to the invention of digital formats, and he looks at differences in the ways readers process physical and digital texts. He also draws on various surveys and interviews and provides his own analysis of leading digital Bible apps and study programs. Digital and physical Bibles offer different tools and are best used in tandem; one is not absolutely better than the other. In an increasingly digital world where conservative concerns abound, Siker offers a fresh perspective on the uses and disadvantages of new media for Scripture.

—Justin Brendel is a senior at Haverford College.

Men Without Women: Stories
by haruki murakami
translated by philip gabriel and ted goossen
knopf, 240 pages, $25.95

The post-Enlightenment mechanization of the world resulted in the atomization of society and the dissolution of human purpose. This has been great stuff for novelists. With the world disenchanted, they are free to re-enchant it in strange and macabre ways.

Men Without Women is a collection of seven interconnected short stories that, in one way or another, portray the lives of men unanchored and alone. Readers of Charles Taylor will recognize in Murakami a surreal portrait of the disenchanted world: If nature does not bind things, there is nothing to prevent a cockroach from turning into Gregor Samsa, as in “Samsa in Love.” Unless human society is an expression of man’s essence, what’s to keep individuals from drifting away from family and friends, as in “Yesterday”?

Haruki Murakami uses isolation and surrealism to great effect to depict a world where purpose is something to be created individually but may, paradoxically, never mean anything. If there is no teleology or human nature, one must create one’s own authenticity—but then what would authenticity even mean?

—Joel Feil is an attorney in Washington, D.C.

What They Saw in America:
Alexis de Tocqueville, Max Weber, G. K. Chesterton, and Sayyid Qutb

by james l. nolan jr.
cambridge, 306 pages, $27.99

In the wake of 9/11, James Nolan was prompted to reflect on America to find a satisfactory answer to a simple question: “Why do they hate us?” He gives his answer by pairing the critical observations of three widely respected European writers, whose feelings toward America were at worst ambivalent, with those of Sayyid Qutb, an early leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose views were downright hostile.

Common threads in all four of his subjects’ criticisms of America lead Nolan to conclude that many traditional hallmarks of American exceptionalism—liberal democracy and individuality, free markets and free speech, pragmatism and pluralism—can be viewed as quintessentially American vices, and sources of perennial conflict with the outside world.

The problem, for Nolan, isn’t so much what these norms and institutions represent in themselves (which is very little, since most are only negations of positive values). Rather, the problem is what they leave behind once pockets of illiberal opposition, such as orthodox Christianity, fade away: little more than commodity fetishism and libido dominandi. Or so Tocqueville feared, and Qutb raged.

—Connor Grubaugh is assistant editor of First Things.

On Friendship
by alexander nehamas
basic books, 304 pages, $26.99

While Aristotle thought that true friendship only exists between good men pursuing virtue, Alexander Nehamas, professor of humanities at Princeton, argues that morality is sometimes irrelevant to or in conflict with love for our friends. We care more about how enjoyable it is to be around our friends than whether they make us better people. Friendship is a matter of aesthetics, not ethics.

Nehamas shies away from presenting the heroic friendship of Achilles and Patroclus as paradigmatic—as many writers on friendship have done—since “they are uncommonly rare and involve such extraordinary characters.” But then he takes up his own unusual example. Using the heroines of Thelma and Louise, who encourage each other into crime and a suicidal flight from the law, he argues that friendship can encourage immorality. Without an objective account of the good, he argues, “we can’t go from the desire to do well by our friends to our actually doing so. Genuine friendship depends more on our intentions, feelings, and attitudes than on the results of our behavior.” But if Thelma and Louise kept breaking the law, how long could they remain friends? Aesthetics cannot completely escape morality.

—Nathaniel Peters is executive director of the Morningside Institute and lecturer at Columbia University.

The Book of Gomorrah and
St. Peter Damian’s Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption

by st. peter damian
translated by matthew cullinan hoffman
ite ad thomam, 184 pages, $16.95

The Book of Gomorrah is the most famous medieval polemic against homosexual sins. St. Peter Damian was an important figure in the reform movement that was to culminate in the pontificate of Pope Gregory VII, which focused on eradicating simony and violations of clerical celibacy. The common thread linking these two concerns was the desire to liberate the Church from worldliness. Concerns over clerical celibacy were not primarily motivated by a desire to safeguard the institutional power of the Church from patrimonialism, but rather by the desire to ensure devotion to the supernatural good. Hence Peter Damian sees a particular urgency in attacking clerics and monks who engage in infertile “sodomy”—under which he includes masturbation and femoral copulation, as well as sodomy in the modern sense of anal copulation. He sees such acts as perversions worse than fornication, and ones which particularly draw the soul away from supernatural contemplation.

Matthew Cullinan Hoffman is to be applauded for making this important work accessible in a readable translation. If his extensive notes tend to pedantry and the belaboring of the obvious, he makes up for them with his introduction, which forcefully argues for the book’s relevance to current problems with clerical discipline. Cullinan Hoffman makes a good case for why readers should pick up this medieval polemic now: The problems that Peter Damian analyzed have returned.

Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., is a monk of Stift Heiligenkreuz in Austria.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift