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

Latin and Greek Monasticism in the Crusader States
by bernard hamilton & andrew jotischky
cambridge, 552 pages, $100

In the late sixth century, the monk John Moschos called the Judean Desert a “spiritual meadow,” one blossoming with men and women seeking God alone. Fourteen centuries later, William Dalrymple retraced Moschos’s footsteps in From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East and found the meadow all but withered away. War, famine, migration, and Islamization had reduced the life-giving stream of Christianity to a mere trickle.

Bernard Hamilton and Andrew ­Jotischky’s Latin and Greek Monasticism in the Crusader States chronicles how the monks and nuns who ventured east with the Crusades from the eleventh to the thirteenth ­century—as well as the Orthodox monks who never left—brought about a brief renewal amid the decline of Christianity in the Levant. Though directed toward an academic audience, lay readers with a general understanding of the Crusades or the history of monasticism will not be disappointed.

Covering Western monastic activity through the orders that followed the Crusaders east (Benedictines, Cistercians, Austin Canons, and others) and the institutional and spiritual life of Orthodox monks during that time, Hamilton and Jotischky provide a comprehensive, original, and insightful account of monastic life during the Crusades, allowing readers to see through the eyes of holy men and women who populated the caves and cathedrals of the Holy Land. Their presence in the birthplace of Christianity during the tumult of the Crusader period was a witness to the spiritual significance of monastic communities.

Timothy D. Lusch

Muhammad Reconsidered:
A Christian Perspective on Islamic Prophecy

by anna bonta moreland
notre dame, 192 pages, $45

In Muhammad Reconsidered, Anna Moreland, noting the absence of any mention of ­Muhammad in the Vatican II documents Lumen Gentium and Nostra Aetate, argues that the Catholic Church should be open to the possibility in principle that he was a prophet. She does not mean that the Church should affirm ­Muhammad’s prophethood in an Islamic manner, that is, as the final messenger of God sent to complete and correct all earlier revelations. She also does not mean that Muhammad was a Christian prophet who did not fully understand the content of his revelations (as the Franciscan Giulio Bassetti-Sani once argued). Instead, she means that Catholics might recognize Muhammad as one who “participated in the prophetic experience.” Moreland develops this thought in conversation with the teaching of Thomas Aquinas on prophecy and prophets.

It is true, Moreland acknowledges, that Thomas Aquinas would not have considered Muhammad a prophet. (She describes Thomas’s criticisms of Muhammad’s teachings in his Summa Contra Gentiles.) Still, Aquinas was open to the possibility that prophecy did not cease with the passing of the apostolic generation and that prophets may be called “at all times.” Thomas also distinguishes between the prophetic inspiration (which is always truthful) and the discernment of prophecy through the defective instrument of the prophet’s mind. Investigating a number of earlier Christian scholars of Islam, Moreland asks if Muhammad could have manifested the gift of prophecy (perhaps through private revelation) in condemning idolatry, “liberating” socially oppressed peoples in Mecca, or leading prayer.

In articulating her arguments, ­Moreland is clearly concerned with recent political events. She suggests that “salutary political consequences” may follow when Catholics take ­seriously the possibility that ­Muhammad was a prophet (as indeed some earlier Catholics, such as Hans Küng, have already affirmed). Nevertheless, in order for one to move forward with this sort of project, a few more difficult steps might be necessary, including study of Muhammad’s teaching on Christianity (not only in the Qur’an but also in the hadith) and reflection on the ­consequences of ­Muhammad’s movement for ­Christianity in Arabia and beyond.

Gabriel Said Reynolds

Justice and Charity:
An Introduction to Aquinas’s Moral, Economic, and Political Thought

by michael p. krom
baker academic, 256 pages, $29.99

Professor Krom has written a straightforward and accessible introduction to both the work of Thomas Aquinas and the principles of Catholic social teaching. He shares Edward Feser’s penchant for simple, down-to-earth examples, and the genuine joy he takes in his subject comes through despite the sometimes dry material.

The bulk of the book is dedicated to outlining Aquinas’s moral, economic, and political thought in terms of the virtues proper to each subject. In each section, Krom points out the ways Aquinas’s thought differs from the Enlightenment philosophies that form our ethical, economic, and political attitudes today, enlarging the context in which the reader considers moral, economic, and political questions. If my final end (and the end to which all my actions ought to be ordered, however remotely) is union with God—rather than whatever pleasant thing I choose—then the world is a bigger place. My soul has space to expand in its pursuits of truth, justice, and love, rather than being trapped by its own desires.

The true excellence of what Krom has written, however, lies in the way he lays the groundwork for a deep understanding of the principles of Catholic social teaching through his discussion of Aquinas’s thought. He holds off on an explicit discussion of the Church’s social teaching until the last chapter, at which point he applies Thomistic principles to modern questions of human sexuality, the global economy, and social justice. By taking this approach, Catholic social teaching ceases to sound like a string of slogans and is revealed as a substantive set of principles with real relevance to contemporary life.

Precocious high schoolers, dogged undergrads, recent converts, and Thomistic enthusiasts will all be pleased with Krom’s work and find the resources they need to deepen their study.

—Jacquelyn Lee

The Rhetoric of Faith:
Irenaeus and the Structure of the Adversus Haereses

by scott d. moringiello
catholic university of america, 240 pages, $75

Irenaeus of Lyons gave us the first major account of Christian ­theology after the New Testament. Reading him today, one is struck by how much of Irenaeus we take for granted: the canon of Scripture, the nature of Christ, the role of the sacraments, the basics of the faith that Christians still profess every Sunday in their liturgies.

In The Rhetoric of Faith, Scott D. Moringiello argues that ­Irenaeus structured his magnum opus, Against Heresies, in accordance with Greco-Roman rhetoric. For ­Irenaeus, the Christian faith has three main points: the nature of the ­Triune God, the economy of salvation, and God’s judgment of the world. He conveys these doctrines using a classical rhetorical structure, such that each book contains a proof arguing for the right understanding of God, a refutation of Irenaeus’s opponents’ understanding of the economy of salvation, and a recapitulation ­urging his readers to choose the way of salvation.

As the title suggests, Irenaeus’s work argues against Valentinus and the gnostics. It seeks to set apart good exegesis founded on apostolic authority from bad, publicly accessible knowledge from false secret wisdom, and the true church from false sects.

Moringiello clarifies that ­Irenaeus’s main point is not to determine Christian identity by defeating heretics, but to help his reader perform the faith into which he was baptized so that he can live out the economy of salvation revealed by Scripture and thereby be saved. Because the gnostics founded their religion on pagan philosophy and not the God of Scripture and apostolic preaching, they can only offer “an ersatz god and an ersatz economy.”

The most famous sentence in Against Heresies is this: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” That man is someone to whom God has revealed his Son, the Word. We can only receive that Word by rightly understanding the account of his life and work in the Scriptures. This is the bread and butter of orthodox Christianity, but the fact that it remains controversial reminds us that Irenaeus’s concerns are not fragments of the past. All the more reason to return to him again.

—Nathaniel Peters

This is the first of your three free articles for the month.
Read without Limits.
Stacked Mgazines