Take a stand against the electronification of everything—give (real) books this Christmas. Some recommendations:
Paul: A Biography, by N. T. Wright (HarperOne): Dr. Wright’s remarkable ability to explicate the New Testament gives familiar passages new depths of meaning. His reconstruction of what Saul of Tarsus experienced on the Damascus road is deeply moving, even thrilling. And in this season of Catholic anger and grief, Wright’s analysis of Paul’s pastoral struggles is a helpful reminder that the Church has always been something of a mess.
Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church, by John W. O’Malley, SJ (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press): Father O’Malley completes his conciliar trilogy (which includes works on Trent and Vatican II) with a nicely rendered account of Vatican I that’s fair to all those involved in some serious ecclesiastical elbow-throwing. Now that ultramontanism—an excessively Petrocentric concept of the Church—has migrated from the starboard to the port side of the Barque of Peter, Vatican I is also useful in explaining why that 19th-century council’s work had to be completed by Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
The Disputed Teachings of Vatican II: Continuity and Reversal in Catholic Doctrine, by Thomas G. Guarino (Eerdmans): As the Church continues to debate the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, Father Guarino’s carefully crafted argument that Vatican II was a council of development, not rupture, is a much-needed antidote to some current oversimplifications. It’s the perfect gift for both the traditionalist millennial who has no idea why Vatican II was necessary and for those who believe the Catholic Church does “paradigm shifts.”
The Last Homily: Conversations with Fr. Arne Panula, edited by Mary Eberstadt (Emmaus Road): Want a window into why the New Evangelization has engaged hundreds of young professionals in the nation’s capital over the past decade or so? Mrs. Eberstadt’s conversations with the leader of that effort, recorded in the months before his death, introduce those who never met Father Arne to a model priest and spiritual director—and remind those who knew and loved him how privileged we were to enjoy his company and to glimpse sanctity and intelligence working in tandem.
How Catholic Art Saved the Faith: The Triumph of Beauty and Truth in Counter-Reformation Art, by Elizabeth Lev (Sophia Institute Press): You’ve never really seen a painting or a sculpture until you’ve “seen” it through the discerning eye of Elizabeth Lev, a master teacher and guide. In our confused culture, beauty just might create new pathways to truth and goodness; Professor Lev’s story of how something like that happened 500 years ago is thus evangelically challenging and pastorally suggestive for missionary disciples today.
In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown, by Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking): At a moment in which American public officials too often act like petulant toddlers, it’s good to remember that character counts in politics and that insight, courage, and selflessness can rally the confused, the cowardly, and the self-centered to act for the common good. That was Washington’s great accomplishment in the months leading up to the decisive American victory at Yorktown in October 1781: By force of character, he held together a tottering revolution even as he displayed a shrewd understanding of how seapower shapes history.
Vatican Flags: Keys & Crowns Since 1800 – The Flags of the Papal States and Today’s Vatican, by William M. Becker (North American Vexillogical Association): I’ve been a flag buff since childhood. But until a few months ago, I didn’t know there was a discipline called “Vexillology” (the study of flags), or that it had an association. I’m glad I found out, as Father Becker’s beautifully illustrated book is full of wonderful flags (like the naval ensign flying on a papal warship), even as it offers a brief course in modern Vatican history. Get it from the association by going to the “Shop” tab at the Web site: (nava.org).
Corduroy Mansions, The Dog Who Came in from the Cold, and A Conspiracy of Friends, by Alexander McCall Smith: This series of charming novels features a winsome Pimlico terrier named Freddie de la Haye and a cast of human characters whose foibles McCall Smith treats with humor and deep sympathy. It’s the literary equivalent of comfort food. And as this year has taught us, we all need that from time to time.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.