The Latest Book Reviews

REVIEWING:  Gold Tested in Fire; In Memory of Me, Indivisible; Shadows and Images; Understanding Language: A Guide for Beginning Students of Greek & Latin; and, Scruples and Sainthood;

Reflections on the priesthood

GOLD TESTED IN FIRE.  A New Pentecost for the Catholic Priesthood.  By Ronald D. Witherup (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. ), xiv + 202 pp.  PB $16.95.

This book presents a wholesome and upbeat reflection on the Catholic priesthood that is most suitable for the 21st century.  Most of the chapters were given previously by the author as talks to, or about, priests.  The book can be characterized as a commentary on the 1992 Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis (PDV), which is based on the results of the 1990 Roman Synod of Bishops on the topic of the priesthood.

In addition to many quotes from PDV, the author makes extensive use of modern biblical scholarship, relating what he has to say about the priesthood to the Bible, as much as possible.  Thus, he offers a fine chapter on the treatment of the high priesthood of Christ in the Letter to the Hebrews, making use of that to shed light on the priesthood of today.

The author covers most of the main points that are of concern to Catholic priests—the priest as shepherd, celibacy, familiarity with the Bible, preaching, sacramental ministry, and the ongoing formation of priests, not only just after seminary training but throughout one’s life as a priest.

Fr. Witherup has some helpful things to say about the priest as poet, about the priest as a source of wisdom, and about the priest as a teacher of the faith.

In each chapter, the author draws on biblical scholarship, in order to support what he is saying, by backing it up with quotes from divine revelation, especially from the New Testament.

In Chapter 10, Fr. Witherup gives some helpful advice on the role of scripture studies in priestly ministry.  The priest who is going to be an effective preacher and counselor of others must study the Bible, becoming very familiar with it, since preaching the word is one of the most important tasks for the priest.  He cannot do that if he does not read and study Scripture regularly.

In the last chapter, the author considers the graying of the clergy.  This is a serious problem because of the decline in priestly vocations, during the past forty years or so, with the result that the median age of priests in most dioceses is quite high, perhaps in the 60s.

The book is recommended for priests and bishops.  It would make a good gift to a priest on the occasion of his birthday, or some other special occasion.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.,  Editor Emeritus
Tacoma, Washington


The Roman Canon

IN MEMORY OF ME.  A Meditation on the Roman Canon.  By Milton Walsh (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2011), 197 pp.  PB  

The Roman Canon of the Mass was the only Eucharistic Prayer in the west for about 1,500 years.  It was prayed in Latin around the world.  After Vatican II, when the liturgy was modified, it became the first Eucharistic Prayer in the Novus Ordo Missae.

The Roman Canon was shaped from the fourthto the sixth century.  The Latin text is full of allusions to the Bible, because the Vulgate translation by St. Jerome became available around 400 A.D.

The new translation of the Roman Canon, that was introduced on the first Sunday of Advent in 2011, is now being used wherever English is spoken.   The author has carefully studied that text and commented on it, phrase by phrase, so that the reader can get a better grasp on the meaning of each prayer.   In doing that, he makes many references to the early Fathers of the Church, who had some influence on the Canon, such as St. Gregory the Great.

Fr. Walsh emphasizes the importance of the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist, pointing out that it is the heart and soul of Catholic worship.

What I found especially informative is his explanation of each of the saints mentioned in the Canon, “two lists of 12 + 12 and 7 + 7 martyrs, arranged in hierarchical order (the men), or geographical provenance (the women)” (p. 195).   Here, you will learn more about Cosmas and Damian, Felicity and Perpetua, Agatha and Lucy.  In explaining who the saints are, the author mentions the various churches in Rome that are named for them.

If you would like to gain a better understanding of the meaning of the prayers in the first Eucharistic Prayer, the traditional Canon for the ancient Latin Mass, then I suggest you get a copy of this book, and read it at your leisure. The language is clear and the book is not overloaded with an abundance of footnotes.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.,  Editor Emeritus
Tacoma, Washington


A tsunami is coming

INDIVISIBLE.  Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It Is Too Late.  By James Robison and Jay W. Richards (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, Ca. 2012), xx + 382 pp.  HB $21.99.

This book presents an analysis, from a Christian point of view, of the current state of affairs in American moral living, family, politics, and in general, the culture we now live in.  The authors are both learned Christians—James Robison is a Protestant and Jay Richards is a Catholic.

The authors are alarmed at the cultural decline in America during the past fifty years.  During that time, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in the power of the federal government.  The Supreme Court, and federal judges, are legislating from the bench and, having life-time jobs, are not accountable to anyone.  There has been a sharp, cultural change in such basics as marriage, the family, homosexuality, abortion, government entitlement programs and runaway government spending, that is in danger of bankrupting the country.  Every day, we are getting closer to the situation that Greece has been in; but there will be no one to bail us out.  If America goes down financially, it will drag the whole world with it.

The thinking in this book is thoroughly Christian and Catholic.  As far as I can see, it is in accord with Catholic doctrine, morality and the social teaching of the Church contained in the papal encyclicals.

The authors present convincing arguments in defense of the dignity of the human person and, in general, the natural law.  In short, they are against big government, and in favor of the freedom of the individual to live as he should live, that is, in accordance with God’s law as it is known, through both reason and faith.

According to the authors, a social, political and financial tsunami is heading for us, and will wipe away our way of life, if we do not make some basic changes in the way we live, and in the way our government functions.

The massive growth of big government, which started with the “Great Society” program of President Johnson in the 1960s, has eroded many of our freedoms.  Now, the government plans to take over health care, and so make decisions regarding the health of each person.

Towards the end of the book, the authors deal with economics.  They argue that current government programs of wealth distribution cause more problems than they cure.  In order to deal efficiently with poverty, what needs to be done is to increase wealth by teaching people how to be productive.  Their arguments in this section remind me of the proposal of “distributionism” advocated by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.

The book is not all negative.  The authors make many positive suggestions on what we should do as a country and a culture.  What it comes down to is that we must limit and downsize the federal government, defend the dignity of all persons, from conception to natural death, and promote the creation of wealth, rather than taking it from the successful, and distributing it to others, making them dependent on “Big Brother.”

The book is an excellent, Christian analysis of our current culture, politics and economics.  It is easy to read, entertaining, informative and recommended to all who are concerned about where we are going as a nation and a people.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.,  Editor Emeritus
Tacoma, Washington


Newman in a novel

SHADOWS AND IMAGES.  A Novel.  By Meriol Trevor (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, Calif.  1960/2012 reprint), 278 pp.  PB $16.95.

The story is about a young Anglican girl in England during the 19th century.  Raised in a Protestant family and environment, as a young girl she meets a Roman Catholic man, Augustine Firle, who has traveled extensively in Europe, especially in Italy.  Although she is attracted to a married Anglican clergyman, she soon falls in love with Augustine, eloping with him to France and Italy.  As a result of her marriage, she encounters many difficulties with her family and friends, who are hostile to anything connected with “popery.”

The woman’s name is Clem, for Clemency. The author skillfully describes her gradual change from a Protestant to a devout Catholic.  Leaving her sheltered life in the countryside, she moves to Oxford, she becomes acquainted there with new friends and ideas.  One of the young persons she meets is John Henry Newman, who is already a well known preacher and intellectual.  Clem and Augustine become friends of Newman, sharing with him the anguish he goes through as he converts from Anglicanism to the Catholic Church.  The novel presents a description of the spiritual growth and maturity of Newman who, in his old age, is named a cardinal.

Meriol Trevor lived through most of the 20th century, and died in 2000.  She wrote more than thirty novels for both adults and children.  She also wrote a comprehensive biography of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who was recently beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.  Trevor, therefore, had an intimate knowledge of the life and work of John Henry Newman.  In this novel she works in many of his ideas, as well as the conflicts he had, both with Anglicans and with Catholics, who did not understand him, especially the famous and powerful Cardinal Manning.   Since she had access to many of his papers and letters, she includes some of that in the dialogue that is presented in the novel.

Strictly speaking, this is not a historical novel, but it does offer much historical information about the Oxford Movement, and the people connected with it.  Another aspect of the book is that it touches on many of the major events of the 19th century, such as the Industrial Revolution, and the shaping of Victorian England.

In short, this is a Catholic novel situated in 19th century England that deals with conversion and growth in holiness.  As such, it is wholesome reading for anyone who enjoys spending a few hours relaxing with a good book.  The book first appeared in 1960, but it is still interesting reading in the 21st century.  One of the main characters in the book is now beatified—Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman.  This novel helps one understand why Newman was beatified, and why we hope he will soon become a canonized saint.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.,  Editor Emeritus
Tacoma, Washington


Understanding the languages of Latin and Greek

Understanding Language: a Guide for Beginning Students of Greek & Latin, by Donald Fairbairn (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 190 pp.

Donald Fairbairn, professor of early Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary,  presents a solid orientation to Greek and Latin, not in terms of how these languages differ from English, but rather how they function as languages. He does this in order to encourage students to approach Latin and Greek on their own terms, seeing, generally, how languages are used to communicate.

Fairbairn avoids the temptation of treating Greek and Latin as if they were the ways Greeks and Romans spoke English; rather, he explains them in light of the communicative purpose of language. This approach is particularly helpful because it avoids the need for students to learn grammatical technicalities of their own language (not all of which are applicable to Greek and Latin), reducing the tendency of viewing all languages in terms of English.

The first three chapters serve as an introduction and encouragement to learning a foreign language. Although specifically interested in promoting the study of Greek and Latin, what Fairbairn says here has a larger application: namely, that learning languages helps Anglophones avoid regarding English as the arbiter of linguistic expression. Not only is this historically inaccurate (English, like every other modern language, has evolved), it can also hinder them from recognizing the strengths and subtle shades of meaning that other languages offer. He takes care to remind us that language does not determine our thought patterns, but it does influence our thinking. He does not disparage the importance—and beauty—of English but rather shows the value of viewing English with eyes widened by exposure to alternate linguistic methods.

Nouns and other parts of speech that accompany them (adjectives, articles, and pronouns) are presented with clarity in the next chapters. Fairbairn’s explanation of the case systems of Greek and Latin is especially valuable for students to whom such word functions within a sentence harken back to a distant memory of diagramming sentences in grade school. Always careful to avoid treating English as a paradigm for explaining languages, he nonetheless demonstrates that cases are not completely foreign notions to us. For example, English has a way of expressing a direct object of a sentence which mirrors the accusative case (though admittedly lacking the breadth and complexity of the accusative case).

Chapters six to eight examine verbs, being of special help for English speakers who can struggle with the complexities of Greek and Latin conjugations. Fairbairn shows his abilities as a teacher when he begins with the fundamental issue of what verbs are, and what they do, before showing how finite verbs operate in Greek and Latin.

Following a review of the previous chapters, Fairbairn moves to the final issue of translation. The special constructions of Greek and Latin (used, for example, to express purpose, result, time, cause, and condition) are explained so that one can come to see the nuances and precision offered by them. With a teacher’s awareness of learning difficulties, Fairbairn warns against the tendency of English-speakers to translate words in the order that they appear, outlining several steps one can follow to clarify the function of individual words within sentences.

This is an amateur work, as Fairbairn is not a trained linguist, nor classicist, but is motivated by love of the languages, and concern for those who wish to learn them (xxi). His reminder, that it could take years before one can smoothly translate texts into proper English, is encouraging for his readers who are already attempting translations. He does not let us forget that Greek and Latin, in the midst of their beauty and clarity, are difficult and complex languages to master. He takes care, however, to remind his reader that the work of learning these languages can “open the door to the wonders of communication in general, wonders to which Latin and Greek are so well suited to introduce us.”

Catherine Peters, graduate student, The Center for Thomistic Studies
University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas


Suggestions for Overcoming Scrupulosity

SCRUPLES AND SAINTHOOD: Accepting and Overcoming Scrupulosity with the Help of the Saints. By Trent Beattie (Loreto Publications, Fitzwilliam, N.H., 2011) 168 pp., PB. Trent Beattie’s book takes a very unapologetic look at the phenomenon of scruples, an approach which is exactly what is needed for its healing.  The author forthrightly addresses the underlying problem of pride and spiritual greed that are the central errors in the thinking of a scrupulous person.

Beattie begins by defining scrupulosity, suggesting we must surrender pride and will to conquer it, offering, later, that there are two ways to handle this issue: the way of God, and the way of Satan.  Beattie contrasts the experiences of two men that suffered from scrupulosity: Martin Luther and Alphonsus Liguori.  Luther, in his need for certainty, found it in creating a church that based its doctrines on his own subjective views.  Liguori found peace in submitting to the authority of a spiritual director rather than in trusting his own troubled conscience.

In the fourth chapter, Beattie explains the temptation of the scrupulous to disregard church authority.  He then addresses worrying over potential sins, a large temptation for the scrupulous.  The writer offers the adage: “When in doubt; it doesn’t count,” as a helpful reminder that, as St. Alphonsus Liguori put it: “An uncertain law cannot impose a certain obligation.” 1

Chapter six offers the encouragement of relying on the intercession of Mary.  Beattie addresses “Humility and Simplicity,” two virtues which the scrupulous, in their desire for moral perfection, at times overlook.  Both this chapter and chapter eight (“Big Goals, Small Steps”) offer practical advice—supported by scripture and quotations from saints—that we need to be kind to ourselves, not expect perfection from ourselves, and ultimately, as Christian people, entrust ourselves to the grace and mercy of God.

Chapter nine reflects on “Suffering Well.” Beattie writes that when we do not accept the crosses sent to us, we increase our suffering; but accepting our adverse circumstances with humility, brings us peace. 2

Confusion of concupiscence with sin, typical of the scrupulous, is addressed in chapter ten, where the author clarifies that the temptation to sin is not sin itself. He later encourages the scrupulous to develop an image of God as a loving father, rather than as a punishing judge. “Peaceful Reconciliation,” (chapter twelve) explains how often the scrupulous will not consider a sin effectively confessed, and feel the need to repeat confessions. This is not necessary, according to Beattie, citing church doctrine and saints’ wisdom for support.

Chapter thirteen, “The Theological Virtue of Charity,” reminds us of the importance of doing small things in love, rather than attempting moral feats.  He then offers practical advice about “Developing a Sense of Humor,” where he suggests that one learns to laugh at oneself, and even one’s tendency to scrupulosity.  The author recommends submitting one’s will to a spiritual director, especially in regard to the scrupulous person’s tendency to assign oneself strong penances.  He writes: “it is easy to fall prey to self-deception when it comes to renouncing self.  We can flatter ourselves that we are very mortified, humble, and selfless, when in fact what we have is a very refined selfishness.” 3

Finally, Beattie discusses the merits of receiving Holy Communion and the aid of sacramentals in combating scrupulosity, as well as the usefulness of natural remedies, i.e., eating healthy foods, avoiding sugar and caffeine.

Some concerns arose for this reviewer in the fourth chapter, “Staying in the Church.”  While it is certainly erroneous to invent a new church, and new canons of scripture, based on one’s own subjective views, this reviewer felt the critique of Luther would have been more fair if it had included, at least, a reference to the Decree on Ecumenism, which states that divisions in our church were often the fault of both parties (paragraph 3).  In the same chapter, Beattie writes: “True peace of soul is only to be found in the Roman Catholic Church,” 4 which this reviewer found hard to square with the Decree on Ecumenism, which states: “some…of the most significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church” (paragraph 3).  Beattie seems to favor an earlier, and less tolerant, understanding of Catholic faith, as the book contains seven references to the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and zero references to more recent catechisms.

Perhaps the phenomenon of scruples was more prevalent in pre-Vatican II Catholicism, and is covered more explicitly in these documents.  While clearly Beattie’s approach is to tackle scrupulosity from Church tradition alone, other books on this subject recognize the relationship of scrupulosity to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD ), including  psychological research and techniques. 5  However, because the scrupulous often distrust “secular” authorities, and several chapters in this book mirror much of the advice given in cognitive therapy, this book could serve as support from Church tradition that in fact, these techniques are, for the most part, trustworthy.

Julie Riley
St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri

  1. Beattie, p. 37.
  2. Beattie, p. 76.
  3. Beattie, p. 129.
  4. Beattie, p. 36.
  5. See Joseph W. Ciarrocchi, The Doubting Disease: Help for Scrupulosity and Religious Compulsions (New York: Paulist, 1995).  Also Thomas M. Santa, Understanding Scrupulosity: Helpful Answers for Those Who Experience Nagging Questions and Doubts, (Liguori: Liguori/Triumph, 1999), and William Van Ornum, A Thousand Frightening Fantasies: Understanding and Healing Scrupulosity and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ( New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997).
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