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

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary:
Unveiling the Mother of the Messiah

by brant pitre
image books, 240 pages, $24

In Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary, Brant Pitre challenges the oft-heard charge that the Catholic Church’s Marian beliefs are “unbiblical.” He offers a rich defense of these beliefs, revealing how Catholic teachings on Mary are woven throughout the Scriptures—and were taught by the earliest Christians.

As Pitre explains, we cannot understand Mary by focusing exclusively on the New Testament. We must look more deeply into the Old, examining its typologies to discover Mary in her fullness. Drawing on his vast knowledge of the Bible, ancient writings, and modern exegesis, Pitre explores the roots of the traditions that hold Mary was conceived without sin and is the new Eve and new Ark, a perpetual virgin, Queen Mother, and the “new Rachel” who now intercedes for her spiritual children before her Divine Son. Pitre never isolates Mary from the central truths of Christ, demonstrating why, as the Catechism teaches, “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.” 

The book has an ecumenical flavor and strives to find common ground with non-Catholic scholars whenever possible. Anyone who wants to know more about Catholic Marian beliefs, and why Christians have historically venerated the Mother of God, should read this volume.

—William Doino Jr.

Death Be Not Proud:
The Art of Holy Attention

by david marno
university of chicago,
384 pages, $40

What makes for a good work of literary criticism? Alexander Pope’s answer is straightforward: “A Perfect Judge will read each work of wit / With the same spirit that its author writ.” David Marno’s Death Be Not Proud offers just this kind of charitable scholarship; it is a prayerful yet playful study about attention, distraction, poetry, and piety that approaches John Donne on his own terms. Mixing a salubrious cocktail of close reading, historical theology, and religious phenomenology, Marno hasn’t just given us a great book about Donne. He’s given us (to borrow Pope’s idiom again) the “spirit” of Donne—his questions, his trials, his insights.

Death Be Not Proud achieves a blend of careful reading and ressourcement. It argues that Donne’s devotional poetry functions as a prelude to prayer, a literary mechanism by which the reader can conquer distraction and discover grace through a moment of “holy attention.” Drawing upon an impressive body of ­literature—everything from Paul’s epistles to Shakespeare’s Hamlet—Marno explains the perennial spiritual problem of distraction and demonstrates ­Donne’s extraordinary ability “to overcome distraction by poetic means, by turning distraction against itself.”

One need not be a Donne enthu­siast to enjoy this volume. Scholars and lay readers alike will benefit from this literary guide for grace in a world of distraction.

—Joshua Mayo

Five Proofs of the Existence of God
by edward feser
ignatius, 336 pages, $19.95

Edward Feser’s latest book is an accessible introduction to natural theology—“questions about what might be known via unaided human reason, apart from divine revelation, concerning the existence and nature of God and of his relationship to the world.” Best known for his defenses of Thomist and scholastic philosophy, here Feser presents historical arguments in support of the divine that have been neglected by contemporary authors.

Feser presents each of his five arguments in non-technical language and restates his proofs without exegetical maneuvering. His discussion of each proof—the Aristotelian, ­Neoplatonic, Augustinian, Thomist, and ­Rationalist—begins with a basic introduction to the sort of thinking the argument engages. Particularly compelling are the proofs drawn from Plotinus and St. Augustine, which are less commonly discussed than ­Aristotle’s “unmoved mover” and St. Thomas’s “paradigmatic” argument from the distinction of being and essence.

Addressing contemporary and historical objections, Feser explains the logic of each proof with impressive clarity, though his parrying with a seemingly endless cloud of witnesses for the opposition can be distracting. Intended for both academic philosophers and “laymen who are willing and able to get into philosophical abstractions,” Five Proofs is a useful resource for anyone seeking an introduction to historical arguments about God’s existence and their relationship to contemporary philosophical scholarship.

—Christopher McCaffery

This is the first of your three free articles for the month.