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The Two Cities:
A History of Christian Politics

by andrew willard jones
emmaus road, 376 pages, $34.95

Andrew Willard Jones follows his masterful study of the “sacramental kingdom” of Louis IX with this sweeping historiography of the Church, from its foundations in Eden up to the present moment. The plot assumes that Christianity is in fact true and that the protagonist is the Church. He opens with a chapter that provides a biblical theology of the political. The approach very much resembles that of Augustine’s Civitas Dei. From there, the book traces the ever-­shifting relations between temporal and spiritual powers.

A virtue of his analysis is that Jones is generally evenhanded about both the glories and the errors of each era. There is no naive nostalgia undergirding the project. If Jones has a preferred period, it would likely be the High Middle Ages. During that period, civilization was defined by the conviction that a world of peace and charity was possible, and that the City of God was a real place in which one could really live. It was a profoundly “sacramental” society, in which the spiritual was everywhere intermingled with the temporal. The two powers worked in harmony, though the temporal was understood as fulfilled in the spiritual. All functions of society were Christian, and they were united by the drive to transform society into one perpetual act of worship. This was Christendom.

Christendom began to fragment rapidly in the fourteenth century, but Jones remains hopeful. Probably the most surprising aspect of this work is Jones’s largely bullish views on Vatican II. This might not be so surprising given that Jones is the founding editor of the magazine New Polity, which effectively carries the torch of the Communio school—the conservative camp of the nouvelle théologie. As such, he believes that the Catholic faith can reach the modern, post-Christian world. Here’s hoping he is right.

—James R. Wood

Lifting the Veil:
Imagination and the Kingdom of God

by malcolm guite
square halo, 160 pages, $19

Lifting the Veil is adapted from three lectures given in 2019 at Regent College. Rev. Dr. ­Malcolm Guite writes in the British tradition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and C. S. Lewis. For him, as for these thinkers, the imagination is an organ of truth, apprehending meaning behind sense impression. Guite’s model of this faculty is tripartite and broken down by chapter. The artistic imagination, ­appropriately chastened by theological reflection, draws us near to Jesus Christ by recalling to us the concrete particulars of his presence and ministry. The moral imagination opens to us Christ’s teaching, helping us to perceive a new way of being, in imitation of Jesus’s own parables. The prophetic imagination strikes at the heart of the world by cutting apocalyptically through its delusions and invoking hidden or ignored truth. The eternal truths of faith must be re-embodied for each generation, and a sanctified imagination in all its aspects provides this service. Guite’s real contribution here is to show, through highly readable analysis of great Christian poems, how artists can (and do) usher us to Christ, and thus why their labor is essential to the Kingdom of God. He places himself as a poet at the vanguard of an “­imaginative resistance” to the imprisoning cultural forces of ­materialism and reductivism. In his hands, imagination is a lantern whose rays cause the treasures of the Kingdom to ­coruscate through the encrustation of disenchantment. Or, to use Guite’s preferred metaphor, imagination “lifts the veil” on the all-present glory of God. Come and see, Guite ­proclaims.

—Rex Bradshaw

Liberty for All:
Defending Everyone’s Religious Freedom in a Pluralistic Age

by andrew walker
baker, 272 pages, $20

Andrew Walker’s Liberty for All argues from an allegedly biblical basis for nearly unlimited religious toleration. Because he aims to argue ­principally from Scripture, ­Walker’s conclusions—if true—apply to all Christians, and the book closes with a triumphant ergo that those who accept his arguments respecting religious liberty will be led “inside the walls of a Baptist church.”

Since many Americans instinctively accept this Baptist view of religious liberty, Walker’s honest explication is helpful for revealing a critical weakness with this perspective. Despite attempting to argue from Scripture to a political ­theory, Walker relies more on the latter than he cares to admit. He frames the issue as Christian principle rather than political prudence and tries to resolve all questions of religious liberty with a simple ­solution: ­Every authentically held belief must be tolerated in the name of the Golden Rule, by which Christians who want to be ­tolerated for the sake of the gospel must also tolerate all others

Two critical problems with ­Walker’s presentation are visible in vague qualifications and asides throughout the book. First, authenticity is subjective and therefore useless as an objective standard; accordingly, Walker’s view denies constitutional majorities any real means to distinguish liberty from license. Second, Walker cautiously endorses liberal democracy as most compatible with his view because government is then merely a neutral arbiter over a “marketplace of ideas,” but he later warns that this arbiter is often “rigged with nonneutral biases.” These contradictions reveal that intelligent responses to religious liberty dilemmas require political prudence informed by a Christian understanding of human ­flourishing.

Clifford Humphrey

Medieval Cantors and Their Craft:
Music, Liturgy, and the Shaping of History, 800–1500

edited by katie ann-marie bugyis, a. b. kraebel, and margot e. fassler

york medieval, 391 pages, $25.95

There was perhaps no epoch of the Church’s history as closely related to its music as the Medieval West was to Gregorian chant. Yet the men and women who created this music are largely unknown. These cantors are the subject of Medieval Cantors and Their Craft. The volume fills in some of the details of these important figures in the Church’s history. Medieval Cantors is a collection of nineteen case studies by as many scholars from several fields including musicology, history, liturgy, and languages. This mix of disciplines results in a welcome complementarity of ­perspectives.

A pervasive theme is the cantor’s role in the “shaping of history,” as is expressed in the title. We are introduced to numerous cantors forgotten by history, such as the English Benedictine women who held the title of cantor or sacristan. But this book is more than a mere presentation of forgotten men and women. The medieval cantor’s purview included not just chant and liturgy, but also manuscript production and the writing of history. Several well-known medieval figures are investigated, such as William of Malmesbury. Another standout chapter is Henry Parkes’s meticulous examination of manuscripts from around Lake Constance, which yields fruitful hypotheses for better understanding of ­medieval clerical hierarchies and the cantor’s place therein.

Although directed toward specialists, this book is worthy of attention from nonspecialists within the Church as well. One and the same high-ranking expert within the medieval church community—typically a cleric—played a seminal role in history, liturgy, music, and education. Today the Church veers toward segmentation of expertise within ecclesial leadership. The reader of Medieval Cantors wonders what might happen if we looked to these forgotten figures as minis­terial models.

—Kevin O’Brien

A Small Farm Future
by chris smaje
chelsea green, 320 pages, $22.50

Despite the daily declarations that the dead consensus must be buried, every few years we tend to rebrand and revive the same debate between conservatives and progressives. We critique the worship of Progress, and rightly so, but we tend to imagine that techno-industrial society will more or less remain the agora in which we argue.

Chris Smaje suggests that our energy-intensive machine society is akin to the Titanic, on which we rearrange the deck chairs. He lays out a convincing argument that the multivalent crisis of our time guarantees the collapse of the present world order. Rather than debate what new technology or political realignment will save it, we should consider how we are going to feed ourselves and build new polities when the Walmart trucks stop arriving and 9-1-1 stops taking calls. An anthropologist-turned-­smallholder, Smaje writes with the realism of a man who works with his hands. He moves deftly from crunching the numbers on how small-scale agriculture could feed the present population to forecasting the breakdown of nation-states. His arguments for widespread, agricultural private property—in a word, a return to yeomanry—­offer empirically compelling support to those sympathetic to the distributist tradition, who are oft-­dismissed as romantics.

A Small Farm Future is self-aware about its shortcomings, sometimes excessively so. It could have ­benefitted from a more confident approach to political theory and religious practice, which in turn could have been provided by a deeper engagement with ­Aristotelian philosophy. We live in a world where the best-schooled Thomists don’t bat an eye at the global supply chain that delivers their daily bread (despite the advice in De Regno), so how surprised can we be that the best distributist text of this century was written by a very modern-minded peasant? There’s no reason that tradition-minded cosmopolitans cannot fill in the gaps and learn a great deal.

Sean Domencic

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