Early Summer Reading

I Burned for Your Peace. Augustine’s Confessions Unpacked by Peter Kreeft. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016). Reviewed by Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.L.

Desiring a Better Country: Forays in Political Theology by Douglas Farrow. (Montreal & Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press, 2015). Reviewed by Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.L.

After the Natural Law: How the Classical Worldview Supports Our Modern Moral and Political Values by John Lawrence Hill. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016. Reviewed by Thomas F.X. Varacalli.

The Heart of Holiness: Friendship with God and Others by Fr. Gary Lauenstein, C.Ss.R. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016), 168 pp. $15.95. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-62164-009-7. Reviewed by K.E. Colombini.

Life Lessons: Fifty Things I Learned in My First Fifty Years by Patrick Madrid. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016), 223 pp. $16.95. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-62164-114-8. Reviewed by K.E. Colombini

Mystery and Sacrament of Love: A Theology of Marriage and the Family for the New Evangelization, by Cardinal Marc Ouellet. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015 (ISBN 978-0-802-87334-7), xiv + 346 pp., $35.00. Review by Thomas V. Gourlay.

The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages by Scott Hahn. (Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2016). Reviewed by Marcus Benedict Peter.

Witness: Learning to Tell the Stories of Grace That Illumine Our Lives by Leonard J. DeLorenzo. (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2016), 160 pp., $16.95. Reviewed by Daniel R. Ulmer.

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I Burned for Your Peace. Augustine’s Confessions Unpacked by Peter Kreeft. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016). Reviewed by Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.L.

Among the Fathers of the Church, few have influenced history as has the Doctor of Grace, and few of the books of this great Augustine are as well-known as is his Confessions. Like all classics, the Confessions is a perennial tale—here, the perennial tale of God’s providential conversion of a deep and profound soul. And like all classics, this text should first be approached with a knowledgeable guide. Certainly, we should digest books on their own merit; but the first time we try to peer into the depths of soul like that of Augustine, we should approach such an undertaking with a guide who can help us recognize the profound statements that one may easily pass by, or perhaps feel bewildered by. Peter Kreeft has provided such a guide, and we should be quite thankful to him for this work.

A man with a deep soul himself, Kreeft offers the reader a running reflection on selections from each of the first ten books of the Confessions. There is a phrase of Dr. Kreeft’s that is dear to my heart. In paraphrased form, he states that one should not cover the resounding bell with one’s own shower of snow. This book is too varied and too savory to be captured well in a review. At such an affordable price, I recommend it to all who are looking for some spiritual reading in whatever season of life in which you find yourself. Although the professional philosopher or theologian may bristle at this or that rhetorical extravagance on Kreeft’s part, the text should be edifying for all.

Kreeft avoids letting himself get in the way of Augustine’s text. I, too, feel that I should be careful not to get in the way of Kreeft’s text by showering words on top of his. Truly, the time I had for reviewing the text was not adequate for how one should read his reflections. He slowly walks the reader through passages in the Confessions, providing quotations (at times lengthy ones) and then follows these quotations with his own reflections on the theme of the particular passage. These themes on which he reflects are varied: the connection between the longing for reality and longing for God; the nature of time (a theme that is full of meaning even in the first ten books of the Confessions); our deep thirst for God (an oft-repeated and unsurprising theme), a recurrent reflection on the nature of conversion, etc. Kreeft often unpacks the multilayered remarks of Augustine with deftness and insight, something that is beneficial not only to the new reader, but also to the seasoned lecturer of Augustine, who may well miss such important points.

As always, Kreeft is unafraid of critiquing modern biases and foolishness. This will likely win him few friends among the worldly. Then again, if the worldly-minded reader happens upon his reflections, he or she may be challenged by the conversion of Augustine from the material world to God. This is the great benefit of a work like Kreeft’s; as a contemporary reflection, it can help make the text relevant, despite the fact that it may at first appear to be a bit of rhetorically heavy, late-ancient, Latinate writing. Moreover, let us all admit that each of us is a little too enmeshed in the world of today, and we can always be humbled at the feet of the great Bishop of Hippo. Kreeft helps the reader to be brought to his or her knees and to have his or her heart enkindled.

I tend to be a rather hard-headed Thomist, one concerned about all the technical details that kept alive the scholae of old. But then I left being a Thomist as well—but a better Thomist at that—for Kreeft’s text had a positive, lasting impact on me, I hope. The work is not a technical work of theology or philosophy. Like so many of Dr. Kreeft’s works, he makes difficult topics accessible, and while this may lead to a certain terminological looseness at times, there is nothing truly objectionable in his writing. One should not go seeking, where they are not promised, the scholastic disputations of a St. John, or of a St. Thomas Aquinas!

As already noted, it is difficult to review the details of a work such as this. Augustine’s Confessions are well-known, and also varied in content, and Kreeft’s reflections are no less varied. To list them at length would be do cheapen a work that clearly was the fruit of the good philosopher’s own personal reflection on this profound text that is so important for the formation of the Western Christian mind (and, by that, so much of our culture, whether or not one knows it). We live in a culture that acts as though it is disinterested in truth and cold with regard to any desires for the transcendent—but we know that the heart can deceive itself. And who better than Augustine to show how God can expose such self-deception and sin, calling us to a Truth that only God can utter and a Love that only God can pour into our hearts, which are indeed burning for the peace that can only come from right order.

In particular, I recommend the text for pastors and teachers who are looking to introduce believers to this ever-so-important Church Father. Personally, I remember finding Augustine’s style a little off-putting as a young man. Kreeft’s text excellently opens up Augustine’s words, allows them to resound, and then returns the reader again to a God-impassioned flow that comes from the Doctor of Grace’s pen, and into the depths of our souls. We should always be thankful for a good guide and teacher and, as always, Dr. Kreeft has managed to earn such thankfulness, ably communicating the deep riches of the Catholic philosophical and theological tradition.

Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.L., Ph.D. Candidate, The Catholic University of America, adjunct instructor of philosophy, Mount St. Mary’s University.

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Desiring a Better Country: Forays in Political Theology by Douglas Farrow. (Montreal & Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press, 2015). Reviewed by Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.L.

In this text, Douglas Farrow (Kennedy Smith Chair in Catholic Studies at McGill University, Montreal, Québec) presents the reader with five, thought-provoking, excellently written, essays on topics of contemporary political relevance, including the relations of church and state, freedom of education, and the nature of marriage. It is clear that the text is written by a committed Catholic, but the reader would do well to note that much of his reasoning is quite philosophical in the traditional sense—able to be formulated in terms of “natural reason alone.” There are revealed premises presupposed for a number of Farrow’s positions. Nonetheless, much of the text will help the reader to recover a sane philosophical view of the matters at hand.

As regards the day-to-day life of parish discussions, and private debates with family and friends, Farrow’s second chapter is likely to be the most important essay in this collection. Fearlessly written, this chapter probes well the problem of so-called same-sex “marriage” and its repercussions on the structure of civil society. In particular, Farrow expresses with courage the foundation of the problem: with regard to sexuality, “sins against nature” (including that of contraceptive sex) which denature the very morality of the sexual act. The vocabulary of “sins against nature” is perhaps more Thomistic than is Farrow’s explicit language, but it follows very neatly his discussion of the root-and-branch destruction caused by the contraceptive mentality of contemporary sexuality. The reader will do well to pay close attention to the writer’s deep awareness of the fact that the Catholic battle is with an issue that goes deep into the structure of our anthropological and social vision. As a reviewer, I cannot stress enough the excellent and thoughtful character of this chapter, which avoids superficial battles in order to cut deeply into both the principles and the conclusions of our social and moral denial of the natural, procreative end of marriage.

Readers will likely also find the fourth and fifth chapters of the text to be of immediate usefulness. The fourth chapter introduces the issue of religious freedom, ultimately concluding that the Church’s own claim for freedom (as a higher authority) imposes positive obligations on the state. Although somewhat inchoate, his argument articulates well how the libertas ecclesiae is central to any possibility of political religious freedom. Although the book is comprised of individual essays, this chapter pairs well with the chapter that follows it.

In the fifth chapter, Farrow critiques certain aspects of Fr. John Courtney Murray’s articulations of the relation between Church and state. Recent discussions of religious freedom in the United States have perhaps erred a bit too much in the direction of supposing utter state neutrality with regard to matters of religion, and of the Church’s particular claims vis-à-vis the civil-political order. Farrow articulates well the limits of the state, as well as the positive claims that the Church should make with regard to it; and he does so by articulating a proposal for an adequately eschatological understanding of Christ’s social kingship in this age. Although the reader may not agree in every particular with Farrow in this chapter, he boldly articulates a view that has much in common with critiques of post-Vatican-II discussions of religious freedom, all while avoiding some of the excesses of those who ultimately rejected Dignitatis humanae. Also, he is very judicious and measured in his critiques of Fr. Murray, something that is quite refreshing in these partisan days.

The other chapters are quite good as well, even though some readers may find less immediate interest in them. The book’s opening chapter reflects on the language of “human rights.” Surveying some of the literature on this topic, he defends the possibility of a delimited (but true) discussion of rights within the context of a Christian anthropology. As a Thomist and a philosopher, this reviewer was a little surprised at some of the closing remarks, which seem to be more theological than necessary for the matter at hand. However, Farrow’s text is not a philosophical treatise, nor even a philosophical article; indeed, it has a kind of “practical” bent, and thus understandably enters into the existential state of man—i.e., as existing in the order of grace, thus indeed finding our truest anthropology and “grounding of rights” in Christ. The point is minor, and may speak more to the scholastic niggling of the reviewer than to any issues in Farrow’s text.

Farrow’s discussion of pluralism (ch. 3) presents a thoughtful critique of the empty public square that we have created in our pluralist, Rawlsian world. This chapter is well-read in conjunction with the appendix, which is Farrow’s expert witness report on behalf of Loyola High School in Montreal in a religious liberty case. The discussion contained therein is quite illuminating in relation to similar problems in the United States regarding education curricula.

Clearly, Farrow is writing to a Catholic audience, at least primarily. He is quick to draw upon Catholic tradition, and upon the Magisterium. Likewise, he does not shy away from strong rhetoric, which will likely be a bit off-putting to those who are not ready to agree with him. Likewise, although he writes as a theologian, Farrow straddles the natural and supernatural orders (or, to put it another way, purely philosophical, and purely theological matters). In most of his discussions, he presents reasoning that is substantially philosophical in character. Nonetheless, the illumination of faith clearly is at work, and the reader should always be sensitive to the transitions that happen when Farrow passes from discussions that were arguably “on reason” to discussions that are manifestly de fide (of faith). For the sake of discussions with non-Catholics, it is quite important to be attentive to this character in his writing.

Still, one should not end on a negative note regarding this text! With excellent style, deep erudition, and thoughtful discussion, Farrow has written an excellent text. His articulations of these matters show well what the theologians of old called the rational credibility of the faith. In articulating these vexing topics, Catholics—whether priestly or lay—would do well to meet the standard set by Farrow in this admirable collection.

Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.L., Ph.D. Candidate, The Catholic University of America, adjunct instructor of philosophy, Mount St. Mary’s University.

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After the Natural Law: How the Classical Worldview Supports Our Modern Moral and Political Values by John Lawrence Hill. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016. Reviewed by Thomas F.X. Varacalli.

The natural law ought to be viewed neither as merely a theory, nor as a personal preference, among other equally valid competing worldviews. Natural law exists and it leads to truth. It is known through both the perception of the intellect, and its corresponding effects. It teaches that there is order to the universe, and that human beings have a standard which they must uphold in their lives if they want to be just. Its greatest articulator, Saint Thomas Aquinas, states in Summa Theologiae I-II Q. 94 a. 2 that the first precept of the natural law is to seek good and avoid evil. Natural law, in other words, rejects the notion that good and evil are constructs created arbitrarily out of self-interest or the will to power. Human beings, rather, are able to comprehend the basic principles of good and evil through their intellect, which is a reflection of the imago Dei. In the twenty-first century—an age marked by relativism, skepticism, nihilism, materialism, dysfunctional ideologies, and, in certain cases, sheer willfulness in committing evil knowingly—it is common for the natural law to be dismissed, ridiculed, denied, or neglected. This rejection of natural law, however, comes at a high price: the loss of reason itself. Once human beings reject the presence of the divine, and the existence of natural rights, the world becomes unintelligible. They are driven by crass materialism to believe various ideas that are beneath human dignity.

John Lawrence Hill’s After the Natural Law is a timely book, because the author understands that natural law is pivotal to a healthy and coherent society. Hill’s book is divided into two parts. The first section provides a history of philosophy. He begins with the Greeks, and shows how the origins of natural law are found in Platonic and Aristotelian teleology, which challenged the materialism of the Pre-Socratics. Hill then proceeds to discuss the development of a more explicit tradition of the national law in the Stoics, the Church Fathers, and Thomas Aquinas. Like other scholars before him, Hill argues that the nominalism of William of Ockham initiated the modern assault on natural law, paving the way for Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke. Hill’s history of the natural law, though fairly standard, is clear, concise, and well-versed in the secondary literature.

The second half of the book is the truly innovative and thought-provoking part. Hill articulates, with great precision and meticulousness, the devastating impact that the rejection of the natural law has had upon modernity. First, Hill tackles selfhood. Whereas the self, in its more classical understanding, is bound intimately to an immortal soul unique to the individual, the trajectory of modern thought has reduced the self’s inherent dignity. This dismal view of selfhood leads to Hill’s second topic: free will. Whereas Aristotle and Aquinas uphold free will, modernity’s materialism either truncates, or fervently rejects, the concept altogether. Free will, rather, becomes subject to the debates concerning determinism. With both selfhood and free will curtailed, law itself drastically transforms from its classical conception as a dictate of reason into baser definitions undergirded by utilitarianism, deontology, and, ultimately, moral subjectivism. Law no longer concerns itself with morality, and, as a consequence, nihilism becomes unleashed.

On reflecting upon these cataclysmic changes, Hill, like Alasdair MacIntyre, concludes that the cacophony of competing and incompatible philosophical concepts swarming around in academia, politics, the media, and the family constitutes a genuine crisis. While most Americans claim to uphold foundational concepts like justice, liberty, freedom, equality, fairness, virtue, and moderation, many of the philosophical ideas promulgated since the inception of modernity continually undercut these ideas. Hill concludes his book by arguing that only the natural law tradition is able to provide an adequate philosophical defense of these principles. In the natural law tradition, justice derives from natural right, freedom from voluntarily choosing the good, equality from the sameness of all human beings, and moral virtue from habituation.

In claiming that the natural law is necessary to uphold contemporary moral and political values, Hill avoids two pitfalls that some other scholars sometimes make. First, Hill does not make the claim that the existence of natural law is recognized only by Catholics. Hill, a convert to Catholicism, while emphasizing the pivotal role that natural law has had on Church teaching, takes great pains to unveil the pre-Catholic conception of natural law in the Greeks and Stoics. Moreover, since natural law is universal, congregants of other churches or traditions ought to be able to understand its basic principles. Second, Hill avoids the temptation to consider all of modern thought to be evil. He himself admits that modern thought furthered the growth of several ideas that Classical thought under-emphasized, such as selfhood, human dignity, freedom, and responsibility. In order for these more modern ideas to flourish fully, Hill concludes that they need to be grounded in Classical teleology, and the natural law tradition.

Hill’s monograph is a welcome contribution to the already substantial literature on the natural law. The book is recommended, however, only for those readers who already possess some basic knowledge of the history of ideas. Given that Hill summarizes the history of philosophy from Thales to Richard Rorty, the book will be too dense for some readers. Still, for those interested in the history and applicability of the natural law, this volume deserves a prized place on the bookshelf.

Thomas F.X. Varacalli, Ph.D., is Lecturer of Political Science at Texas State University-San Marcos.

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The Heart of Holiness: Friendship with God and Others by Fr. Gary Lauenstein, C.Ss.R. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016), 168 pp. $15.95. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-62164-009-7. Reviewed by K.E. Colombini.

There are times when we need to be reminded of old truths, and old perspectives. The idea of friendship with God is not a new one, but it is admirably re-presented to us in Redemptorist Fr. Gary Lauenstein’s new book, The Heart of Holiness. Friendship is a good model for our relationship with the divine because friendship is nothing other than love, reciprocated.

In the introduction to his book, Lauenstein states he wants people to understand religion “as not a mechanical process but a relationship. …What is true about human relationships is also true about our friendship with God. And what is holy about our friendship with God is instructive to us about our human friendships.”

Lauenstein starts with explaining what makes real, lasting, human friendship work, offering us a handful of marks that help us understand the nature of friendship. Friends are present to each other, they communicate with each other, they know each other, they share with each other, they are loyal to each other, and they see to each other’s best interests. As the book progresses, Lauenstein applies these marks to our relationship with God.

If anything would strengthen this book further, it would have been a discussion of the deep friendship one sees in a faithful Christian marriage. For it is in married life, lived with devotion, that we see human friendship at its greatest, a lifelong commitment on the part of each to always seek what’s best for the other.

Perhaps, it is because of his priestly vocation, or his desire to make the book speak to a wider audience, but Lauenstein would have been well-served to discuss this at some point, and at some length. After all, we have many statements on the value of marriage from Our Lord himself, who compared the relationship of himself to his Church as that of the bridegroom to the bride.

Be that as it may, this work is valuable, and one of the features that make it so is its source material, numerous quotes from the saints—in particular, St. Alphonsus Ligouri, founder of Lauenstein’s order, about what it means to love, and be loved by, God.

It becomes clear that this divine love and friendship transcends any sort of relationship we can have with other people, even spouses—as long as we do our part. After all, God is always present, always sharing his life and his loyalty, and knows us better than we know ourselves.

Our human friends may desert us, and we may be separated from them by death, but God will never stop loving us, and offering us his gifts. In fact, it is when we are most deserted by others that the love and friendship of the Creator can console us the most. Our Lord himself gave us that example in his passion—a death that led to a joyful resurrection.

Lauenstein notes that we always want to look for signs that our love for another is reciprocated, and friendship requires a level playing field, as it were, when it comes to affection. But in this earthly life, attempts at friendship often go awry, and are not always responded to warmly. Moments such as this, as with desolation, are when God’s friendship can shine through. We cannot control what others do and think—a hard lesson to learn. What matters is what we do: the love we give and show to others, not how much others love us.

In the final pages of his book, Lauenstein sums up the matter neatly: “Our obligation is not to be successful in being accepted as a friend by others. Our obligation is to do as the Lord himself does: to receive the love of the Father, and to offer our love to others.”

With the inspiration of the saints, and others he cites, with the graces we receive from our sacramental lives, this divine friendship is within reach, and more than makes up for any sorrow or suffering our earthly lives may offer.

K.E. Colombini writes from St. Louis, Mo. He has been published in First Things, Crisis Magazine, Inside the Vatican and other publications.

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Life Lessons: Fifty Things I Learned in My First Fifty Years by Patrick Madrid. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016), 223 pp. $16.95. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-62164-114-8. Reviewed by K.E. Colombini

When we reach a certain age, the ability to look back on what the stories of our lives have taught us is not only important to ourselves, but to others, especially our friends and family. To this end, Catholic apologist and speaker, Patrick Madrid, offers what’s clearly advertised in the title of Life Lessons: Fifty Things I Learned in My First Fifty Years, and while it’s a great gift to his many fans and readers in many respects, we can fully expect it to be a special treasure to his 11 children, and their future generations. It shows what helped shape Madrid into the man he is today.

In fact, this is the sort of book many people should write—even if it’s not for publication, but only for family. At the very least, we all need the ability to be as thoughtful about what happens to us, and what we learn—what these things mean, and how they can shape us into better Christians, with God’s grace.

Two anecdotes from the fifty lessons stand out as examples of this. In the first anecdote, Madrid helps out a friend who confided to him problems with a certain unnamed grave sin. Madrid accompanies him to church for confession, praying outside the confessional while the friend is inside pouring out his heart to a priest. After the confession, his friend went to another, more secluded, part of the church to pray. The priest comes out and sees Madrid, whom he knows, and assumes he was the one whose confession he just heard.

Madrid sees the priest is “abashed,” given perhaps his reputation as strong and vocal Catholic, and toys briefly with setting the record straight. But then comes the inner revelation: “I was painfully reminded of my own lifetime-constructed ziggurat of sin, and that my savior, Jesus Christ, was wrongly accused of crimes he did not commit but willingly suffered their penalty—for my sake.” He allows the moment to pass without correcting the priest’s opinion; over time, it appears to him the priest had forgotten all about the incident.

The other story is one that may be familiar to many, as it was to this writer. Getting onto an airplane at Dallas, Madrid notes then-Gov. George W. Bush in first class, and nods a greeting, knowing he will have fun story to share later. As he moves further down the aisle toward his own seat, he sees a man weighing, as he puts it, at least 400 pounds, and laughs to himself about the poor sap who has the seat between the window and that passenger.

The empty seat, or what’s left of it, then turns out to be his own, and it was not a comfortable flight. “The entire right side of my body, from knee to shoulder, was completely pressed into his warm corpulence.”

It is in this sort of discomfort that life’s lessons often speak to us most forcefully. “When I boarded the flight, the fat man was a joke to me, an object of derision,” Madrid writes. “Then it became real, and I started thinking about the misery and embarrassment, and probably loneliness, this man had to live with each day.” He concludes: “Yes, I saw a future president on that flight, but much more importantly, I saw, or rather, the Lord revealed to me, an unpleasant side of myself that I didn’t even realize was there. And I’m so glad he did.”

In these and forty-eight other vignettes, stories that can be both lighthearted and profound, we learn a lot about Patrick Madrid. And we learn about ourselves, too, as these anecdotes lead to introspection on the part of the reader. That’s the great victory of this book, offering a way to look at things we do, and things that happen to us, in such a way as to draw a helpful moral lesson.

Long before the Catholic Church presented the idea of a formalized examination of conscience, Socrates talked about how the unexamined life is not worth living. Madrid’s collection of stories helps us learn how to examine our own lives —our daily interactions, successes, and failures—and see what we learn from them, how God may have been prompting (or even rebuking) us. While this requires humility—and Madrid clearly shows some of his own personal weaknesses—in the end we will be stronger, wiser, and holier for the effort.

K.E. Colombini writes from St. Louis, Mo. He has been published in First Things, Crisis Magazine, Inside the Vatican and other publications.

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Mystery and Sacrament of Love: A Theology of Marriage and the Family for the New Evangelization, by Cardinal Marc Ouellet. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015 (ISBN 978-0-802-87334-7), xiv + 346 pp., $35.00. Review by Thomas V. Gourlay.

Reputedly a significant potential candidate in the most recent papal conclave, and leading light of the Communio circle of scholars world-wide, Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s publication, Mystery and Sacrament of Love—an English translation of a work previously available in both French and Italian—is a prayerful, pastoral, and theologically rigorous Sacramental theology that is much-needed in our time.

With the synods dealing with marriage and the family now behind us, and with the (in)famous Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetita, still the subject of intense discussion, Ouellet’s work, which predates the synods and the exhortation, offers a mode of pastoral engagement with the real issues that plague marriage and the family in our contemporary world. His efforts here are informed by a deeply spiritual, and academically rigorous, theological reflection.

Readers familiar with Ouellet’s previous work will not be surprised by both the breadth and the depth of the treatment that he provides throughout. Those with little familiarity with his work to date will find that, though his work does require a fair amount of effort, such efforts are immensely rewarding.

What is perhaps most enriching in reading this work of Ouellet is how seamlessly it fits into, and augments, the pastoral and missionary agenda of the pontificate of Pope Francis. In the current milieu, with significant episcopal disagreements concerning the more contentious issues surrounding the appropriate interpretation of Amoris Laetita, many commentators appear to place high-ranking clergymen either on one side of the purported ecclesial fault line, or the other. The cardinal’s work masterfully sidesteps these debates, and instead presents an engaging, theologically rich, and pastorally sensitive account of the sacraments in the life of the Church that does not succumb to ideological narratives.

Cardinal Ouellet’s theology is certainly not of the “ivory tower” variety, that which would seek only cognitive intimacy with its subject. Instead, his work is profoundly informed by a deep spirituality, an intense reading of Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, and more contemporary theologians, such as Hans Urs von Balthasar, and St. John Paul II. This deep learning is brought to bear on contemporary pastoral concerns through the lens of the universal call to holiness which was articulated in chapter five of the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium.

Ouellet begins with an acknowledgement of the deep problematic in sacramental theology posed by modernity, and lived in post-modernity, which has “severed the link between body and soul, the intellect and the senses, faith and the sacraments,”(2). The situation of the Church and the Sacraments in this era is fundamentally different from how they were understood, and lived out, in pre-modern times. Cardinal Ouellet is successful in addressing these challenges, not on the terms of post-modernity, but on the terms set out by the Incarnation.

It is worth recalling that our fundamental presupposition is Christocentric: it is Christ who defines man, not man who must define Christ. It is the situations experienced by Christ that confer sacramental value from above on human life, not the situations experienced by man from below that determine the significance of sacramental grace (296).

What makes this work particularly important and timely, is the cardinal’s focus on the relationship between the primordial sacrament of marriage, and the most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, a subject which has become hotly contested territory since the synods on marriage and family of 2014 and 2015. Ouellet’s work is rich and dense. While he maintains a pastoral vision throughout, he does not shy away from theological complexities, thereby avoiding a nasty dualism that seems to be gaining traction in some circles, pitting pastoral concerns at odds with theological considerations.

Along with his earlier work, Divine Likeness: Toward a Trinitarian Anthropology of the Family, this book provides a rich understanding of the theology of marriage in the Church today that is based on Eucharistic and nuptial trinitarian and christocentric anthropology. It will generously repay the careful reading of specialist theologians, educated lay people, and priests dealing with the real-life pastoral needs of their congregations.

Ouellet’s writing bears the marks of an imagination captivated by the wondrous quality of the call to holiness. In this, one is reminded of the papacy of St John Paul II, for whom the Christian life was always best understood as a drama, or an adventure. For Cardinal Ouellet, the demands of the Gospel are not merely highfalutin ideals that are unobtainable for regular people, but instead genuinely achievable by all, in and through an encounter with the Risen Christ in the Sacraments.

Thomas V. Gourlay is the president and co-founder of the Dawson Society for Philosophy and Culture Inc. (www.dawsonsociety.com.au), and the manager of Campus Ministry at the University of Notre Dame Australia.

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The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages
 by Scott Hahn. (Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2016). Reviewed by Marcus Benedict Peter.

A creed is an authoritative summary of Christianity’s basic beliefs. In the articles of the creed, we profess our faith in mysteries – doctrines that could never be known apart from divine Revelation… —Dr. Scott Hahn

With these words, Dr. Hahn treats the issue of the fundamentality of the Creed in the life of a Christian, an important aspect of the faith that is, arguably, taken for granted at times. In The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages, Dr. Hahn seeks to bring readers back to a profound sense of appreciation for the Creed that they profess as it constantly changes the life of a Christian because, as he writes, “it marks a key moment in the story of our ongoing conversion. It is making us.”

By treating the creed as central to the proclamation of the faith of the early Christians, Scott Hahn demonstrates reasons behind why the early Christians were willing to die to protect a single iota of the creed. When non-Christians have spoken of God as “Father,” their reference, according to Dr. Hahn, was typically metaphorical. Yet, for the Christian, this Fatherhood of God is not something temporal inasmuch as God is Father over creation, but that he is eternally Father for he is eternally begetting the Person of the Son. By virtue of our sharing in Christ’s sonship with the Father, the Christian is drawn into the covenantal union with God as kin, a reality enshrined in the profession of the creed. As Dr. Hahn describes it, “the creed was created for the sake of the covenant and the covenant dissolves, conceptually, apart from the creed.” Throughout the work, he references Pope Benedict XVI numerous times, one instance of which is in him writing how Benedict describes the creed as “the hermeneutic key to the Scriptures, without which any hermeneutic would have to remain silent.”

Dr. Hahn’s project essentially seeks to trace the development of the Creed as we know it from its first formulations in the early Church, through the ecumenical councils that came later. He illustrates the rationale behind the growth and evolution of the Creed whilst affirming that it has always and will always stay true to the deposit of faith left by Christ and his apostles. Ultimately, he posits that the Creed narrates, for the Christian, Salvation History itself, ensuing to pave the way to the Heavenly life for the baptized through their profession of, and witnessing to it, in life and word.

Understandably, this work may not be Dr. Hahn’s greatest work, yet this book might well stand alongside his work in Covenant by Kinship in seeking to find the key pivoting points of the faith, as is characteristic of Hahn’s theological inquiry. What is most astounding, in reading the book, is how Dr. Hahn addresses the almost blasé approach of Christians towards the Creed, and unpacks the latter with both profound and enlightening insights. Reading the book becomes a pleasure, not only as one finds oneself learning something new, but also as as one finds an enflaming love burning within one’s heart in appreciation of this wonderful heritage of the Church.

Typical of Dr. Hahn’s popular theological books, this one is not without its own wit and humor, its anecdotes and play, at the same time never straying from the centrality of its theme. Scott Hahn expresses how the Creed is, in effect, central to all aspects of the life of a Christian. In Chapter 7, The Setting of the Creed, Hahn asserts this notion by quoting St. Ambrose who said, “the creed must must not be written down. … Remember it. … Go over the creed in your mind; I insist, in your mind.” For, Dr. Hahn writes, “through the Rite of Baptism, people entered the covenant family… they recognized that they were becoming truly Christian and nothing else. They would accept no substitutes for the faith of the Catholic Church.” In summation, The Creed is a truth worth understanding, taking to heart and living, according to this book, and Dr. Hahn wishes to display the sheer pleasure and joy, as well as the responsibility its profession entails.

The chapter entitled, “A Father Forever,” indicates Hahn’s practical and eschatological framework of the application of covenant theology, notable in all his works. By drawing from Christ’s self-affirmations of his own divinity in the Gospel of John, Dr. Hahn plays the syllogism out to its logical conclusion, that salvation inherently means “to live in covenant with the God of Jesus Christ.” As such, it is shown how it should not come as a surprise to the believer that the sacrament of baptism is established “in the name of the divine persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” for it is precisely through this sacrament, professed in the Nicene Creed, that the Christian enters “into the life shared by the Father and Son.” For most readers, then, this chapter would perhaps prove the most enjoyable insofar as it reawakens the metaphysical, familial relation that the baptized share with the Trinity, a relation that is covenantally renewed every time they profess the Creed.

Within a popular theological application, this book makes a good read, possibly even to be taken as a personal spiritual retreat of sorts, where the Christian Catholic would be able to embark on the journey of coming to the sense of reclaiming their covenant identity with the Trinity in and through their profession of the Creed. The subtitle of the book, Professing the Faith Through the Ages, serves both as a factual presentation of the thesis of the book, as well as a forewarning for the Christian believer, i.e., this is our faith, this is the faith of the Church, and we ought to be proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord, or stand to lose all that which makes us principally Christian and Catholic. This is particularly so in an age when subjectivism seems to trump all else. Dr. Hahn’s book serves to emphasize the objectivity of Christian doctrine. The central thesis of this work reverberates with each page, i.e., that it is not man, nor even the Church, who makes the creed, but rather, that the creed makes us—Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi.

In my concluding thoughts, this book’s theme stands along with the purpose of many of Scott Hahn’s popular works, i.e., in leading souls to conversion, and on the road toward sainthood, by the proclamation of the fullness of truth through the eyes of the covenant. Constantly drawing from the Fathers, such as Ambrose and Augustine, Dr. Hahn reclaims the birth and identity of the creed, while remaining true to his overall principle of the covenant as the lens through which to look at Scripture, and all Christian life. As an amalgamation of history, philosophy, Christian and Catholic apologetics, biblical and dogmatic theology, this book possesses simple intellectual insights that have the potential of bringing the reader into deeper meditative and abstract contemplation. It is a coherent work that serves to open the door in a manner that is not overly intellectually challenging for those who desire further reflection on more profound truths of the faith.

Marcus Benedict Peter is a graduate student of theology at Ave Maria University, Florida.

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Witness: Learning to Tell the Stories of Grace That Illumine Our Lives by Leonard J. DeLorenzo. (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2016), 160 pp., $16.95. Reviewed by Daniel R. Ulmer.

Leonardo DeLorenzo relies on his experiences as the director of Notre Dame Vision, a Catholic formational program for youth and young adults, which explores “stories of grace,” more commonly referred to as “witness talks,” in this work. He utilizes sources from many disciplines, including theology, Sacred Scripture, psychology, sociology, and literature in this book.

The first section of DeLorenzo’s work is devoted to assessing emerging adulthood (ages twenty-three to twenty-eight) by utilizing the work of Christian Smith, a sociologist who researches religion, adolescence, and emerging adulthood. Smith ascertains that many emerging adults see God as a “Divine Butler” or “Cosmic Therapist” (7). Moreover, many teenagers are unable to clearly articulate their faith. DeLorenzo discusses the human ability to see grace and beauty; therefore, the reader is called to learn to look along this beam of light, on God’s terms, to see that they are loved by the Lord. DeLorenzo also reports that about 60 percent of emerging adults, and former Catholics, see science and religion as incompatible. He maintains that scientific reasoning must be accompanied by moral, emotional, and religious education to provide holistic intellectual growth. This enables students to move from concrete scientific proofs to abstract ideas about faith. Grace is best understood by communicating to others how one sees it working in the world.

The author describes his seven-principle methodology for storytelling as follows:

The approach I am recommending holds content, style, discipline, and creativity in tension. It matters that disciples learn to speak rightly according to the content of faith, and it matters that they speak as themselves, with personality (36).

The first principle is to tell a story. Stories of grace are not homilies, arguments, or descriptions of events. Second, start the process by looking at what happened, and examining how grace is present in that situation. Third, telling the story in-style means to creatively and personally express oneself, and God, in the story. Fourth, modify the story for the audience so they can fully appreciate the it. Fifth, make sure the storyteller has had sufficient time for healing and closure. DeLorenzo provides several good questions to determine if a story is appropriate. Sixth, do not neglect human emotions or over-dramatize the story to emphasize grace. Seventh, pray throughout the process of crafting a story of grace, and practice giving the story ahead of time.

His book includes nine stories from students of Notre Dame Vision to illustrate the aforementioned principles. The stories cover a wide array of topics, including anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, alcoholism, mental disability, bulimia, pornography, the Eucharist, patient teaching, and infertility. DeLorenzo provides commentary on each example. In the final chapter of his work, DeLorenzo includes suggestions for fostering a culture of grace by implementing stories of grace into retreats and parish life. His first application is for sacramental preparation for confirmation, RCIA, and marriage. The sponsors/candidates, godparents/neophytes, and couples meet to share stories of grace. This activity, as well as high school and college retreats, is followed-up by a mini-retreat, social gathering, prayer service, or something similar. Parishes may benefit by allowing parishioners to share their private faith life through Bible study, or faith sharing groups that gather over a period of time. Stories of grace also help students process encounters from service projects, and mission trips. Lastly, incorporating stories of grace into academic life allows for the formation of the whole person. DeLorenzo concludes by encouraging the readers to examine the stories that they tell themselves. Many self-notions are formed during adolescence and young adulthood; therefore, readers need to be careful of, and possibly change, the paradigm of self that has been developed.

DeLorenzo impressively synthesizes many different disciplines, and makes them work in harmony to propound his content. His experience at Notre Dame Vision, and his theological prowess, shine forth through this work. DeLorenzo’s book is both practical and theoretical. He masterfully provides an understanding of what stories of grace are, and then provides guidelines for writing and implementing these stories in different settings.

One shortcoming observed is that DeLorenzo offers many suggestions for incorporating stories of grace into parish life in the fourth chapter; however, some of these applications seem to be more idealistic than realistic. It is also surprising that DeLorenzo does not discuss incorporating stories of grace into preaching events. He narrowly focuses his discussion on retreats and other small group settings.

Anyone who undertakes ministry involving “witnessing” talks will benefit from this work. Retreat directors will benefit from DeLorenzo’s instructions for writing stories of grace, and suggestions for retreat organization. Pastoral ministers and religious education coordinators may find this book helpful by incorporating at least aspects of stories of grace into their programs and curricula.

Daniel R. Ulmer holds a B.A. from Canisius College, and is pursuing seminary studies for the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, New York. 

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