The Latest Book Reviews

 Early Spring Reading for April 2014

 

Aprender a Amar: 30 preguntas para no equivocarse en la aventura más importante en la vida. By Pontificio Instituto Juan Pablo II (Ignatius: San Francisco, 2011) 62 pp. (Reviewed by Francisco Gavrilides, S.T.B.)

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Living Well: Homilies/Meditations on the Virtues. By James F. Quigley, OP (Rome: Gregorian and Biblical Press, 2012), 102 pp., €13, 00. (Reviewed by Tracy Wietecha.)

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Words of Wisdom: A Philosophical Dictionary for the Perennial Tradition. By John W. Carlson. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012.) (Reviewed by Rev. John J. Conley, S.J.)

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Splendors of the Creed. By Joseph T. Lenihard, S.J. and Frederic Curnier-Laroche (Paris: Magnificat, 2013), 133 pp. HC $15.48. (Reviewed by Matthew Chicoine.)

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Aprender a Amar: 30 preguntas para no equivocarse en la aventura más importante en la vida. By Pontificio Instituto Juan Pablo II (Ignatius: San Francisco, 2011) 62 pp.
This short, Spanish-language booklet, produced by the John Paul II Pontifical Institute, answers 30 basic questions confronting modern youth in regard to love and sexual expression. I find it a very helpful presentation of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. The tone of the booklet is positive and hope-filled, describing God who is love and who is the designer of a loving plan for the human race. The answers given to young people are couched in an appeal to beauty.

These 30 questions are a distillation of the many that were posed during intense catechetical encounters with young people attending the 2011 World Youth Day in Spain. These simple, practical answers allow for an easy, but, at the same time, engaging read that lends itself to further reflection. An abbreviated example will help us appreciate the format:

Q. If sex is something good, why then are there people in the Church who don’t get married and instead consecrate their virginity to God?

A. Christ, upon becoming man, inaugurated a new manner of living the path of love towards the Father, a new manner of expressing oneself with the language of the body, and of living human sexuality with fullness. He did it like that because, in order to make love eternal, he had to transform it, making it like God himself. With this new language Jesus was able to love all men totally, offering himself for all, with first name and last, with a unique spousal-like love. And he is the one who said, “Take, this is my body.” (Mark 14: 22)

Those persons who consecrate themselves, and live virginally in the Church, follow this same manner of life as Jesus. They are able to live this way because they participate and receive his special calling. They remind all mature couples that their love comes from God, and has to always move towards God. They teach us to see the goal of love, beyond death, in the embrace of the merciful Father” …  (my translation).

Msgr. Livio Melina, President of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for the Study of Marriage and Family, introduces the spirit and philosophy of the “Theology of the Body” of Blessed John Paul II. Starting from the most elemental inquiry, as to whether love truly exists, the reader is given uncomplicated, but cogent, answers expressed in a manner that reflects the very dignity of the human person. The unmistakable thread running through the array of questions is, of course, the meaning of love, both human and divine. The perspectives are drawn from John Paul’s Theology of the Body addresses, as well as his book Love and Responsibility,his encyclical Familiaris consortio, and Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes. Refreshing as these answers are, however, they express nothing more or less than the constant teaching of the Catholic Church, delivered with sensitivity to the needs, and the cultural situation, of youth in the 21st century.

Obviously, some of the questions touching, say, abortion, “same sex marriage,” contraception, etc., demand fuller treatment than can be given in this short book. The risk of the simple response to a complex question is that of setting up an “all or nothing” scenario in face of an issue that, due to its complexity, might merit additional considerations before one is able to offer the most acceptable and satisfying response.  Nevertheless, readers are not left with the impression that those giving answers are cold and rigid, but rather, that they are understanding of the deeper complexities involved. There is no trace of condescension in these answers to youth.

The booklet’s rhetorical style has a Spanish flare of eloquence and warmth that fosters an openness to what is being discussed, yet, is technically accurate. I recommend it for use with youth seeking solid answers to some very important questions.

-Francisco Gavrilides, S.T.B.,
Instructor in Homiletics, Sacred Heart Major Seminary
Detroit,  Michigan

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Living Well: Homilies/Meditations on the Virtues. By James F. Quigley, OP (Rome: Gregorian and Biblical Press, 2012), 102 pp., €13, 00.
How can I live a better and more fully human life?  The answer to this question is the focus of Living Well: Homilies/Meditations on the Virtues.  As the introduction of the book points out, the virtues “are ways of living well, living a better life.”  Father James Quigley, O.P., who holds the Fr. Carl J. Peter Chair of Homiletics at the Pontifical North American College, presents a combination of theology and experience in order to instruct, inspire, and advise on living the virtues in one’s everyday life.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes that one cannot teach virtue in a classroom setting; virtue is learned through practice.  Living Well offers examples on how to live out the virtues in one’s everyday life.  In 23 short chapters, Father Quigley provides concise and, yet, thoughtful meditations on an assortment of virtues, such as gratitude, courtesy, listening, courage, hospitality, and fairness.  Each chapter focuses upon one particular virtue, and the stories woven throughout offer concrete and real examples of each particular virtue.  For instance, Fr. Quigley shares about his student, Marty, who throughout his sufferings of cancer, displayed an invaluable example of patience.  The chapters are not arranged by an alphabetical listing of the virtues, which keeps each subsequent chapter fresh and new.

Father Quigley’s experience as a chaplain, theology professor, and preacher on the virtues comes to life in each meditation.  Drawing upon insights from personal experiences, history, art, literature, philosophy, psychology, and Scripture, Father Quigley’s meditative account of the virtues is concrete and engaging.  His stories are memorable and also humorous at times.  Scripture passages grant an opportunity for deeper reflection on each virtue, and the examples drawn from history and literature afford invaluable insight into the impact of virtue within society.  Each meditation in this book thus serves as a source of reflection for personal transformation.

Behind the practical application of each presentation on a particular virtue lies the Thomistic tradition as a theological foundation.  As Fr. Quigley writes in the forward, “His (Thomas Aquinas’) moral vision is based on character development and a theology of grace.”  For Aquinas, the virtues are good habits which perfect certain powers a thing has.  Many of the virtues are necessary to obtain perfect happiness with God.  The virtues are obtained through habitual acts but they can also be given to a person through the grace of God.

This book is accessible to a wide range of readers, from students to preachers.  It may have particular value for preachers who desire to enrich their own homilies with stories which convey virtuous human acts.  In a society which is often lacking in the practice of human virtue, this book shows the important role of virtue, not only in Christian discipleship and moral character, but more fundamentally, the role of virtue in leading a good human life.  Father Quigley’s style is optimistic and refreshing and is sure to inspire the reader to lead a more fully human life.

-Tracy Wietecha
Marquette University
Ph.D. Student

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Words of Wisdom: A Philosophical Dictionary for the Perennial Tradition. By John W. Carlson. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012.)
On the making of philosophical dictionaries, there is no end.  The philosophical reader may consult a wide variety of new dictionaries of general philosophy, historical philosophy, analytic philosophy, and Continental philosophy.  But until recently there has been no philosophical dictionary composed from the Thomistic perspective.  Carlson’s new work fills that lacuna.  It is a helpful compilation of philosophical terms central to the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, enriched by terms imported from other traditions that have influenced contemporary Catholic philosophical reflection.

The most useful feature of this dictionary is its clear and concise definition of terms key to the Catholic version of the philosophia perennis.  Few other dictionaries contain entries on aeviternity, apophatic, bonum honestum, concupiscible, consubstantial, entelechy, hylomorphism, katabatic, monogenism, per accidens, philosophical anthropology, praeternatural, principle of subsidiarity, sempiternity, or simple apprehension.  The exposition of the principle of double effect is a model analysis of the components of a much-misunderstood concept, often used in the resolution of grave moral dilemmas.  Careful distinctions are made between direct realism and critical realism, a certain conscience and a doubtful one.

Recognizing that contemporary Thomism has been influenced by other philosophical traditions, the dictionary provides solid entries on relevant concepts drawn from phenomenology, pragmatism, and analytic thought.  The entries on abduction, empathy, epiphenomenalism, narrative ethics, and the naturalistic fallacy illustrate the breadth of the book’s notion of the perennial philosophy.  Acknowledging the predominantly Catholic nature of the book’s audience, several entries in their conclusion refer to relevant declarations of the church’s magisterium on a particular issue.

Unlike most philosophical dictionaries, which aim for a certain neutrality in tone and substance, Carson is often ready to dive into the philosophical fray, and give his opinion on some of the controversial ideas roiling the contemporary Catholic philosophical community.  In his treatment of “liberation from being,” Carson criticizes postmodern Jean-Luc Marion’s attempt to liberate the concept of God from the grip of ontology (Marion considers “being” a vague and passive category) and to treat God primarily from the viewpoint of the more biblical concept of love.  Carson is unimpressed with the switch: “For the tradition of integral Christian wisdom, there is no incompatibility between these two forms of language; and Marion’s objections to the term ‘being’ seem ill-conceived―at least, if one conceives the primacy of actuality over potentiality, and the centrality of being among the transcendental perfections” (159).  Such interventions give the book a feistiness rare in a dictionary or encyclopedia.

Like other works in the encyclopedic genre, Words of Wisdom is uneven in quality.  The hazy presentation of the criteria of just-war theory is not as helpful as the precise presentation of the criteria of the principle of double effect.  There are some surprising omissions.  In the field of moral philosophy, there is an entry on proportionalism, but there are none on probabilism, probabiliorism, equiprobabilism, laxism, or tutiorism.

Carlson’s dictionary should be in the library of every Thomist philosopher, and fellow travelers in the paths of perennial philosophy.  It is a sound guide for understanding an obscure Latin term, or brushing up on the exact steps of a complex moral principle.  In its combative moments, it even manages to provide that rarest of dictionary pleasures: intellectual entertainment.

-Rev. John J. Conley, SJ
Loyola University Maryland
Baltimore, Maryland

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Splendors of the Creed. By Joseph T. Lenihard, S.J. and Frederic Curnier-Laroche (Paris: Magnificat, 2013), 133 pp. HC $15.48.
Splendors of the Creed is a wonderful portrayal of the Christian profession of faith, in both a visual and meditative way. Separated into sections based on each article of the Nicene Creed, Joseph T. Leinhard, S.J., offers humble and insightful thoughts about the kernels of Christian faith. Sprinkled in and around the text are 38 pictures of ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, and modern Catholic artwork with commentary provided by Frederic Curnier-Laroche. In the forward, Pierre-Marie Dumont states, “This beautiful book will offer countless occasions for readers—and art lovers too!—to share in this spiritual experience of the splendor of truth” (p. 6). Due to the strife Catholicism faces today, as with every age, this book which reflects on the core tenets of the faith is relevant and “will have the effect of a soothing balm on the Christian soul” (p. 7).

Leinhard dedicates a few pages to explaining what a creed is, in general terms. Simply put, a creed is a profession of faith, and liturgically, he says that the Christian creed finds its home in the sacrament of baptism (p. 10). He then reflects on the oldest Christian creed, “Jesus is Lord,” and provides scriptural evidence. Ultimately, the purpose of the Nicene Creed—a baptismal creed with key phrases inserted into it—was to clarify orthodoxy and stamp out Arianism (p. 11)

The Jesuit priest begins every reflection in the same format: a piece of poetry, each article of the Nicene Creed stated in Latin, and a few pages meditating and discussing that particular article of faith. Regarding the first statement of faith, Credo in Unum Deum, Leinhard asserts that the Christian belief in one personal God is a unique claim. Moreover, he states that evil is a result of a free choice (pride) so salvation also results from a free choice (humility), (pp. 16-20). He then focuses on Christology in the article titled: “Et in Unum Dominum Iesum Christum.” Under this section, a profound oil-on-canvas painting, by William Holman Hunt, called “The Light of the World,” encapsulates this portion of the creed visually. Jesus is portrayed with a lantern, following the metaphor in Psalms 119:105, knocking at a door without a knob. Curnier-Laroche explains this by saying that only the stubborn spirit prevents Jesus from saving him (p. 26).

Another captivating artwork is a 10’ x 6’ polychrome stone, portrayal of Jesus’ burial at The Church of Saint John the Baptist in Chaource, France. Extremely life-like, the artist brings the reader into the Paschal Mystery alongside Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, the Blessed Virgin, the Beloved Disciple, and Mary Magadelene (p. 490). Leinhard also adds to the concreteness of Jesus’ death by rightly pointing out that the insertion of Pontius Pilate’s appellation into the Nicene Creed shows the historicity of the crucifixion. “Our redemption is not part of some cosmic myth; it is a historical fact,” he purports (p. 45).

A further insightful item, which Lienhard mentions about the Christian faith, is to distinguish between optimism and hope. He meditates on the fact that “Christians can be the most confident people in the world. Compare them with optimists. Optimists affirm that things are going to get better, that it will all turn out well. But they simply affirm; they do not know. Christians have no need for optimism; they have hope” (p. 72). The words of the Christian Creed provide humanity hope, and sacred art strengthens the truth value of such a profession of faith. A great example of this is found a few pages earlier on “Triptych of the Trinity” from the 16th century. Curnier-Laroche notices that the golden cloak shared by the Father and the Son is lined with blue and red coloring, which respectively signify eternity, and the historical Passion (pp. 67-69). Thus in a single piece of art, the majesty of the Godhead can be shown along with teaching people about the Christian faith.

Within the reflections on the creedal formulation on the Holy Spirit, Curnier-Laroche comments on Borromini’s Dome in the Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome. Here, he discusses how the invisible Third Person of the Trinity is made palpable in the adjacent juxtaposition between crosses—a symbol of salvation, and octagons—symbols of the Resurrected Son. At the center of the Dome is the docile image of the dove with its wings spread out in a triangular fashion to signify the Trinity (pp. 84-85). Another creedal case where geometry holds theological meaning is found in the architecture of ancient baptisteries. According to Leinhard, “In the early Church, some baptismal fonts were rectangular, in the shape of a grave” (p. 101). The initiatory sacrament, then, is a kind of death; a death to an old way of sin, and a start to living anew in Christ. Leinhard finishes out his reflections on the creed by discussing the significance of holy water and incense as honoring the body at a funeral Mass, and reasserts what hope and faith have in a future resurrection (pp. 110-113). He concludes with a brief page summary over the meaning of the word “Amen” as a bookend to all prayers, and as a reaffirmation of belief (p. 126).

Written in a prose that is easily discernible, and supplemented with a beautiful panoply of Christian artwork over the centuries, Leinhard and Curnier-Laroche truly accent and pinpoint the wealth of beauty and truth located in the Nicene Creed. In fact, this is such a wonderful book that the only noticeable critique is that the awkward and oblong shape of the work may not fit neatly alongside other items on the bookshelf. However, in the opinion of this reviewer, that is a moot point because Splendor of the Creed’s residency on the case will be short-lived due to its application for spiritual nourishment. That being said, this publication is a “must have” for lovers of Catholic doctrine, sacred art aficionados, and liturgists everywhere.

-Matthew Chicoine, graduate student, Theology
Franciscan University of Steubenville
Steubenville, OH

 

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Fr. David Meconi, S.J. is professor of patristic theology at St. Louis University and editor of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (HPR). Fr. Meconi would like you to know that he offers Mass each month for readers of HPR; please be assured of his prayers for you.

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