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The History of Courts and Procedure in Medieval Canon Law
edited by wilfried hartmann and kenneth pennington
catholic university of america, 512 pages, $75

In this lively and detailed collection of articles concerning the development of judicial practice during the Middle Ages, the reader is presented with a broad and sometimes colorful picture of the history behind many of the institutions we take for granted in modern civil law.

Many of the sacrosanct principles in civil practice have their genesis in the combination of civil law and canon law that began at the University of Bologna under Gratian and Irnerius. Kenneth Pennington and Wilfried Hartmann have previously done great service in providing an awareness of the medieval development of law. Here, they again present us with a collection that reveals many of the historical bases of modern institutions. One could mention, for example, Barbara Deimling’s exploration of the ecclesiastical origins of civil court architecture in the medieval church sanctuary, or James Brundage’s account of the development of law practice by laymen.

This wealth of information is given from an academic perspective, using terms borrowed from Latin legal practice and often left untranslated. Moreover, the localized discussions of legal practice in the second half explore a large variety of developments in a short time, and demand an awareness of their relevance to the bigger picture of law which the lay reader may not have. That said, they all reward attentive reading.

—Thomas Sundaram is a judge in the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Angelus & Diabolus:
The History of Good and Evil in Christian Art

by maria-christina boerner
h. f. ullmann, 800 pages, $250

H. F. Ullmann, the German press which produced Ars Sacra—to my knowledge the greatest single-volume anthology of Christian art currently in print—has recently released a companion volume, Angelus & Diabolus. By virtue of its subject matter (depictions of angels and demons), this new volume tends to focus on peripheral figures in the masterworks of the Christian tradition. It is comparable in quality and beauty to Ars Sacra, but somewhat less awesome because of its more constricted focus. The volume collects hundreds of great scenes of angelic missions, the heavenly host, the last judgment, and hell. I know I will benefit from mulling over its contents for years to come. Ars Sacra is a devotional treasure. Angelus & Diabolus may not rise to that level, but it is nonetheless an extraordinary and valuable collection. Either book would make a venerable addition to any library.

Elliot Milco is deputy editor of First Things.

Sin in the Sixties:
Catholics and Confession, 1955–1975

by maria c. morrow
catholic university of america, 336 pages, $65

Only two generations ago, American Catholics attended confession frequently, abstained from meat every Friday, and fasted regularly. Nowadays, abstinence and fasting are a rarity, and confession lines are empty. What happened? Sin in the Sixties tackles this question, examining the reasons for the shift in American Catholic practice that took place after the Second Vatican Council.

Maria C. Morrow identifies three major causes: the collapse of Catholic subculture as Catholics moved to the suburbs, the adoption of a postmodern view of sexuality, and an emphasis on liberty rather than obligation. Mandatory pieties were replaced with “voluntary” penances, and the numbers of Catholics fasting and attending confession rapidly declined. In light of these new freedoms, many concluded that other rules (e.g., those regarding birth control and Mass attendance) were also optional. Confusion reigned, and the Church did little to cut through the murk.

By attempting to address legitimate problems with penitential practice, American Catholics threw the baby out with the bathwater, and were left with no practice at all. Though proposals for a renewal of penance are outside the scope of the book, Morrow lays an excellent groundwork for understanding what was lost.

—Catherine Joliat writes from Virginia.

The Holy See and the Emergence of the Modern Middle East:
Benedict XV’s Diplomacy in Greater Syria (1914–1922)

by agnes de dreuzy
catholic university of america, 296 pages, $69.95

Contemporaries of Pope Benedict XV considered him a mediocre diplomat, especially on account of his decision to remain neutral during World War I. Agnes de Dreuzy’s study of the pope’s wartime diplomacy in Greater Syria draws on materials from the Vatican archives to vindicate Benedict’s legacy. In her recounting, Benedict comes across as a master of diplomacy. Successfully anticipating the era of decolonization, the pope employed a diplomacy that put Catholic and humanitarian interests in the Middle East before the national interests of the great European powers. His diplomacy with France, Germany, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, England, and the United States navigated a range of difficulties, from anticlericalism and anti-Catholicism to political instability and nationalism.

Most important, he prepared Catholic institutions in the Middle East for existence apart from the French protectorate and set the Church up for new, global diplomatic prestige following the war. De Dreuzy’s book is not light reading, but it rewards readers with a deeper understanding of Catholic concerns during World War I and the role the Vatican’s wartime policies in the Middle East played in shaping contemporary church diplomacy. 

Eduardo Andino is director of development at First Things.