The Latest Book Reviews

Winter Reading For January 2013

Reviews for the following books:

(Reviewed by Fr. Brian Van Hove, S.J.)


(Reviewed by Fr. John C. Gallagher, C.S.B.)


FRANCIS OF ASSISI:  A NEW BIOGRAPHY.  By Augustine Thompson, O.P.;
BIOMEDICINE AND BEATITUDE. By Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P.
(All three reviewed by Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P.)


MODERN MORAL PROBLEMS. By Msgr. William B. Smith;
MY VOCATION IS LOVE.  By Jean Lafrance.
(All three reviewed by Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.)

CHRISTIANITY: THE FIRST THREE THOUSAND YEARS. By Diarmaid MacCulloch. Viking Adult; first American edition (18 March 2010) pp. 1147 including Notes, Further Reading and Index ISBN-10: 0670021261;  ISBN-13: 978-0670021260
According to Catholic tradition, faith is a gift. The author’s cultural background is Low-Church or Evangelical Anglicanism. But this is a heritage and not a theological virtue.

Diarmaid MacCulloch is professor of the History of the Church in the theology faculty at St Cross College, Oxford. Professor MacCulloch proclaims himself a skeptic, although he writes with the zeal of an apostate. His is a paradoxical mixture of both skepticism and appreciation of religion, especially Christianity. At times, he reveals classical Greek tastes which are benevolently pre-Christian, though he has been shaped by the Enlightenment. His erudition permits him to indulge freely in refined, urbane scoffing. And his erudition is considerable.

Why is this important? Because all writing emerges out of a tradition; 1 no author can be fully original. Perhaps, he could have written a shorter work had he not considered the subject a formidable one. In over a thousand pages, he writes about Christianity—not as a Christopher Dawson (d. 1970), or a Paul Johnson, or a Hubert Jedin (d. 1980), or a James Hitchcock, 2 who, each of them from within the subject, wrote histories of Christianity and the Church. Nor are these religious historians ever quoted. Anglican—especially Owen and Henry Chadwick—and various, and often liberal, Christian historians—including Richard P. McBrien and Hans Küng—do appear among the “Further Reading” selections, beginning on page 1098. 3 John W. O’Malley, Eamon Duffy, and John McManners are a few of his more favored historians.

He says that Edward Gibbon, who wrote a celebrated Enlightenment-era history in seven volumes, 4 “had a fine eye for the absurdities and tragedies that result from the profession of religion.” 5 The author does not conceal his preference for secularism. One can say that MacCulloch is a thoughtful, post-Enlightenment writer who knows more about Christianity than most Christians, including the clergy. Yet another reason for us to posit that faith is a gift, although we must observe that, some without this gift, at times strenuously defend the Church and the Christian tradition. 6

An ironic result of the author’s evenly-applied skepticism is his occasional fairness to Catholic positions. For example, he dropped some Reformation biases for which his ancestors would have fought. What is more, in his 2004 work, The Reformation, he argues that there were multiple reformations which came from both Protestants and Catholics. MacCulloch is primarily a Reformation scholar, and surely he enjoys being perceived as a revisionist in his field.

At the same time he writes about Christianity with an irreverence toward religion—any religion—because religion is a problem, not a truth. In fact, religion is not only untrue; it can’t be true. And just as he gives a concession to the Catholics with one hand—as when Catholic Bible translators got it right with the term “supersubstantial” (89), and dismissed the prejudicial concept of the Catholic “Dark Ages” (77)—he usually takes something away with the other hand. For example, he says of Michael Burleigh’s book, Earthly Powers: “An absorbing survey of European religion, perhaps a little kind to Roman Catholicism, at least by omission” (1110).

He is uneasy about the inconsistencies and incoherencies of the church’s development, as well as the formation of its doctrinal orthodoxy. In this matter, he is close to a similar uneasiness by his Christian ancestors. Compare Rabbi Daniel E. Polish, who says of Judaism: “This is a subject which has been discussed exhaustively in Buber’s Two Types of Faith. Jewish religious understanding seems, as a result, to be much more comfortable with ambiguities, and even internal inconsistencies, than the more creedally rigorous Christian tradition.” 7

The formation of Catholicism is reduced to mere chance. Catholic Christianity might have been different except for accidents. Here, Dr. MacCulloch differs from John Henry Newman’s An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. 8 For MacCulloch, no religious “truth” is true. All one has is the debris of an unpredictable and unstable historical process.

The author goes so far as to assert: “I live with the puzzle of wondering how something so apparently crazy can be so captivating to millions of other members of my species” (11). Indeed.

With that, Rowan Williams, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, then says in his personal review: “This book is a landmark in its field, astonishing in its range, compulsively readable, full of insight even for the most jaded professional, and of illumination for the interested general reader. It will have few, if any, rivals in the English language. The story is told with unobtrusive stylishness as well as clarity.” 9

Rowan Williams does include a short list of defects in the work. He mentions that:

Inevitably, there are a few slips in detail. Bishops’ mitres are not borrowed from Roman official costume, but are medieval adaptations of a form of papal headwear; the “black death” was not referred to by that name until a few centuries later. And there are, equally inevitably, some gaps. I missed, in a very good overview of Ivan the Terrible’s reign, any mention of Metropolitan Philip of Moscow, murdered for his attacks on the tsar’s atrocities, and a good example of the fact that eastern Christians were not always as supine as is sometimes claimed in relation to secular authority. If Rembrandt is, as has been said, the greatest Protestant commentator on the Bible, we might have expected more of a nod in his direction. And, most puzzling, Dante does not merit a discussion. In one of the rare passages where there is a hint of textbook cliché, MacCulloch contrasts the “self-sufficient divine being” of Augustine and Aquinas with the personal God of St Francis. Apart from the fact that Aquinas would have seen every page he wrote as seeking to hold the philosophicaland the relational, or personal, together, Dante’s Paradiso sets out what it was like, imaginatively and spiritually, to sense these dimensions of faith as essentially one.

… and then Williams concludes: “But these are small flaws in a triumphantly executed achievement.” 10

One flaw not noted by Williams is the thin treatment of Jansenism, the most important “heresy” in Catholic ecclesiastical history, between the Council of Trent and the French Revolution (707, 797-799, 801). MacCulloch does not cite Bruno Neveu, Lucien Ceyssens, Jacques Gres-Gayer, Brian E. Strayer, Jean Mesnard, Jean Orcibal, Jean-Robert Armogathe, or René Tavenaux—to name just some prominent scholars of Jansenism and the French seventeenth century. It remains unclear if MacCulloch understands this contentious movement in light of the Ceyssens and post-Ceyssens industry.

In a book as lengthy as this one under review, the author-historian may, until he is caught, get away with sentences and claims which lack enough context, or which go unverified. On page 386 we read: “… a Greek visiting Spain was offended when he heard St. James of Compostela referred to as a ‘knight of Christ’… ” MacCulloch cites for this reference Christopher Tyerman’s God’s War: A New History of the Crusades. 11 Still, would this Greek have objected to Psalm 24, “Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle”?

Christian prayer, rooted in Jewish prayer, is fraught with military combat terminology. Would our Greek be so offended by the long tradition of Judaism and Christianity? Is it more the iconography, or the abstract concepts of combat and warfare used by the religious tradition? No matter Tyerman’s source, does avoiding terminology such as this really represent the Christian East, and is it wise for a semi-popular work to rely upon, and quote from, something also semi-popular? It is widely held that before the First Crusade the cult of St. George was more prevalent in the Byzantine East than in the West. The Greeks apparently did not object to this soldier-saint. The Hellespont or Dardanelles was called “The Arm of St. George”.

Since the Enlightenment, certain themes have been developed and deliberately emphasized to discredit Christianity, and one of them is the Galileo affair. MacCulloch devotes only two brief pages to Galileo and his Copernican science (684, 776). He writes: “Although many Protestants might rage against Copernicans, they did not take action against them as the Roman inquisition had done in the Galileo case; moreover, his treatment did seem all of a piece with the efforts of Europe’s various inquisitions to ban so much of the creative literature of the previous centuries through their indexes.” 12 Elsewhere, MacCulloch has written about Galileo. 13

MacCulloch becomes less fair, and more one-sided, when he presents these complex questions with an unwarranted oversimplification which approaches the Black Legend theory of inquisitions. His handling of the inquisitions would profit from balance and contextualization. The works of Henry Kamen, Geoffrey Parker, and Jocelyn N. Hillgarth are not cited, although happily Edward M. Peters is. Though Galileo and the inquisitions have been the object of new research in recent years, MacCulloch does not give the reader enough of this history as we lately understand it. His editorial choices are perplexing.

Let us proceed to a topic even more prized by the post-Enlightenment contemporary mind. Nowhere in the index does MacCulloch give us the word “holocaust” or “Shoah,” nor does the word appear under another heading, such as “Jews” or “anti-Semitism.” Curiously, the word “holocaust” is used concerning the 1915-1916 slaughter of the Armenians by the Turks (921) and the great loss of Irish troops at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 (928).

The view of the Holocaust during World War II is superficial and misleading. For example, on page 946, we read about the Pope and the Jews; “the Pope only once nerved himself to make a public statement about their {the Jews’}plight, in his Christmas radio broadcast in 1942.” The statement fails to mention that in the preceding August, 1,500 Catholic priests and religious men and women of Jewish heritage, including Edith Stein, were sent to Auschwitz in reprisal for the Dutch Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter condemning the Nazi racial laws. 14 The Pope would have endangered many more lives than the Dutch bishops had he been more explicit that Christmas. The point should be clarified for the non-specialist reader. Research into this question, and matters related to the administration and policies of Pius XII by Robert Graham, Pierre Blet, Victor Conzemius, Ludwig Volk, Konrad Repgen, Joseph Bottum, and Eric Silver should be employed. Though on page 1110, he calls the book “a wide sweep of a central topic,” MacCulloch relies narrowly upon Priests, Prelates and People: A History of European Catholicism, 1750 to the Present by Nicholas Atkin and Frank Tallett. 15

What Anglican Archbishop Williams hyperbolically calls a “triumphantly executed achievement” may fall short. If Diarmaid MacCulloch’s guiding tradition, with its consequent editorial choices, was less pronounced, the reader would need no caution. Unless Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years is supplemented or revised, it is needlessly biased or incomplete, at least, on specific issues so dear to the Enlightenment, and its heirs, the Marxists and Nihilists. This book is so exciting in university circles because the readership in such settings agrees with the negative assessment of the Enlightenment in matters of religion, especially Christianity.
-Fr. Brian Van Hove, S.J.
Chaplain to the Religious Sisters of Mercy
Alma, Michigan.


HOMOSEXUALITY AND FOLLOWING CHRIST. By Dr. Paul Flaman, (New York and Toronto, BPS Books, 2011), 184 pp., $18.95.
Dr. Paul Flaman is an associate professor of theology at St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta.  His numerous publications, which include books on the ethics of genetic engineering and on pre-marital sex, regularly exhibit clarity, careful judgment, and a judicious use of sources.  This work on homosexuality follows official Roman Catholic teaching, is heavily scriptural, quotes extensively from official Roman Catholic documents, and cites a considerable variety of contemporary writers.  While Dr. Flaman devotes some pages to a justification of the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality, mainly using arguments from Church documents, the principal emphasis of his book is on how persons with homosexual orientation can live holy and satisfying lives, while faithfully following Catholic teaching.

Dr. Flaman begins by emphasizing the radical nature of Christ’s invitation to follow him.  If one is interested only in fitting a half-hearted Christianity into an already settled secular existence, eschewing any need for conversion, much of this book will seem to be mere pious talk.  If one accepts that following Jesus involves a radical, self-sacrificing, but ultimately extremely rewarding way of life, based on confident faith in Jesus Christ, the book becomes a balanced and wise guide.

Flaman stresses that the guiding principle of Christian life is the wholehearted personal love of God, and love of neighbor.   This love dictates how all Christians should treat persons with a homosexual orientation.  This love will not only motivate homosexual persons themselves to undertake the sometimes arduous process of following Church teachings; it will also be central to the healing process that homosexual persons, like all persons, must go through on the way to wholeness.  This love produces the kind of community where homosexual persons can find the kind of friendship and support that is necessary for all persons, but which is often sought in erroneous ways.  Christian love will overcome the divisions that the issue of homosexuality has created in communities, including in Christian communities, and it makes possible the sort of honest discussion that will help to overcome those divisions.

God’s grace, awareness of one’s need for grace, and persistent prayer for that grace, is necessary for homosexual persons, or for anyone else, to live faithful lives.  Dr. Flaman cites a number of reliable witnesses to the kind of healing that is possible.  Citing a number of authors, he argues that homosexual orientation can be changed, not quickly nor easily, and not without the danger of backsliding, but still with significant results.  Many who originally thought of themselves as homosexual have, in fact, entered heterosexual marriages with none of the drawbacks that apologists for the gay lifestyle claim are unavoidable.

A brief review can mention only a few of the valuable reflections and insights that this book provides to the conscientious reader.  It is a very valuable resource for anyone of homosexual orientation who is serious about the possibility of living a faithful and fulfilled Christian life, and also for those who are called to befriend and to minister to them.
-Fr. John C. Gallagher, C.S.B.
Holy Rosary Church
Toronto, Canada


FRANCIS OF ASSISI:  A NEW BIOGRAPHY.  By Augustine Thompson, O.P.; (Cornell University Press), 299+viii. PB $17.97, Kindle Edition $16.17.

This is a new biography of St. Francis, and by a Dominican.  This may seem like an unlikely scenario.  Yet, this book is an excellent addition to any study of the Poverello.  Fr. Augustine brings his considerable literary and scholarly gifts to writing a new understanding of the saint, based on the historical sources closest to the actual life of St. Francis.  Some of the more hagiographical material is painstakingly analyzed and, where appropriate, held to be the stuff of legend, more useful to those who recounted, them than to a serious understanding of St. Francis himself.

The book is divided into two parts.  The first part is the biography, which is written in a style which is accessible to the ordinary layperson, and not excessively encumbered with scholarly issues.  The second section of the book displays a remarkable evaluation of all the various issues which historians have broached when trying to gain a realistic idea of the “real” Francis.

The biography treats of all the various influences in the exciting life of Francis. Even in his own time, Francis was not easy to evaluate as a person. Fr. Augustine has captured both the endearing and tortured aspects of his very colorful personality. There are two myths which Fr. Augustine thoroughly examines and refutes. The first is the attempt to read into the life of Francis some support for some modern movement like ecology. Though it is true that Francis loved nature and animals, this was part of a general appreciation of his for all of God’s creatures. The second is the heavy emphasis which some people have placed on Franciscan poverty. Fr. Augustine points out that many of the writings of Francis are extant, and that the issue of poverty was quite far down the list in his concerns.

The sources demonstrate that Francis was much more concerned for a proper respect being shown for the Blessed Sacrament, and the sacral character of the priesthood, and the Mass.  He commissioned his early followers to visit churches, offer to clean them, and obtain proper vessels for the celebration of Mass.  He was also much more interested in manual labor for his friars than in their begging, in the beginning.  One interesting fact is that in an age characterized by abstinence from meat, he ordered his followers to eat meat.   Also, contrary, perhaps, to the popular modern image, Francis was absolutely emphatic on the necessity of obedience.  He was in no sense an innovator of some popular movement, contrary to Church authority, but was rather a strong advocate of obedience to the Pope, and also having a great respect and admiration for priests.

In the liturgy, it is due to him that the custom of genuflection became common in the Latin Church; he was always solicitous for more reverence and appreciation for the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament.

The second part of the book is an excellent analysis of all the problems associated with being Franciscan.  Fr. Augustine offers a veritable feast which will satisfy any critical historian in the academic debates surrounding issues in the facts and interpretation of the life.  Thompson’s analysis does justice to the sources, as well as providing his critical assessment of both their weight, and their veracity. All the sources are here. This section occupies half of the book. Finally, there is an exhaustive bibliography.

Because of the measured division of critical source analysis from the actual text of the biography, this book will be of great use to both those who are looking for a simple exposition of the life of the saint, and a more academic presentation of the same.  Fr. Augustine discovered, as he was researching and writing this history, that his own appreciation for the complexity, spirituality, and holiness of such an interesting and conflicted person, increased greatly.  His own appreciation for Francis is in the introduction:  “First, he taught me that the love of God is something that remakes the soul, and doing good for others follows from this; it is not merely to good to others.  Francis was more about being than doing.  And, the others whom the Christian serves, are to be loved for themselves, no matter how unlovable, not because we can fix them by our good works.  Second, rather than a call to accomplish any mission, program or vision, a religious vocation is about a change in one’s perception of God and creation. … Third, true freedom of spirit, indeed, true Christian freedom, comes from obedience, not autonomy.”
Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P.
Holy Apostles College and Seminary
Cromwell, Connecticut

BELIEVING IN THE RESURRECTION. By Gerald O’Collins, S.J. (Paulist Press, NewYork/Mahwah, NJ, 2012), 225 pp. $24.95.
In the introduction to this book, the author summarizes: “Some Representative Works on the Resurrection” from contemporary ecumenical sources.  There are nine of them, forming the basis for the theme of the book.  The intent of the author is, therefore, to address problems in the discussion of the resurrection of Christ, which have surfaced in the last ten years, in works which range from, in his words: “Positive Contributions” to “On the Fringe.”  This is not a systematic or exhaustive doctrinal work.  The author realizes his intention well.

The book is divided into two parts, treating biblical testimony, and contemporary issues in the resurrection, respectively.  This basic division is further divided into eight chapters, addressing the various issues raised by the contemporary literature the author reviews.  It ends with a more prolix type of appendix, addressing the subject of a specific work which maintains that the accounts of the resurrection in Scripture could be instances of loved ones’ appearances during a time of bereavement, such as widows experience even today.  There is a select bibliography, and a helpful index.

In Chapter One, the author places the accounts, and the problem of the resurrection, in the larger context of worldviews, asking if the resurrection is a metaphor.  Is the statement that Jesus rose a truly historical one, and what would “history” mean in this examination?

The attempt to plumb what is meant by “resurrection language” leads naturally into the issue of what the physical resurrection accounts were trying to convey?  Was it something about the apostles’ themselves, or something which included Christ in an objective manner?  He examines this in Chapter Two.  Many today hold that the fact of the resurrection does not involve the physical body of Jesus, delivered from a state of death, and transformed.  Resurrection in this case would merely express the fact that Jesus rose in the minds and hearts of the disciples.  He states: “This position is quite far-fetched and unconvincing” (p, 53).

In Chapter Three, he recounts all the people to whom Christ appeared, and very well analyzes some of the explanations of these accounts.  He includes ancient attempts to discredit these appearances as, for example, that of Celsus, the pagan, who cited in Origen’s work, Contra Celsum, that the experience of the risen body of Jesus was an hallucination.  He includes in his analysis the bereavement and swoon possibilities, which maintain that those who claimed to experience Jesus were either just exhibiting some sort of union with a prior deceased loved one, or Jesus did not actually die on the cross.  He finds each of these claims do not represent what is recounted in Scripture. He ends by declaring that the resurrection must be the result of “graced power of perception on the part of those who saw him” (p. 76).

Chapter Four is a pivotal part of the work, discussing the question of the “empty tomb,” and its meaning for the resurrection.  He admits its ambiguity, but insightfully analyzes various theories which could not support the idea that the actual body of Christ rose.  These range from maintaining that it decomposed in three days completely, to seeing resurrection as an over-spiritualized denial of the physical presence of the risen body, now alive.  He concludes: “the New Testament maintains the fact of the empty tomb but freely admits its ambiguity.  What theological value does the empty tomb enjoy? … Thus, the empty tomb acts as a safeguard against over-spiritual, docetic, or Platonizing, interpretations that would expound the resurrection as an escape from the ‘here’ and ‘now’” (p. 94-95).

In Chapter Five, the author examines seven aspects of redeeming love, demonstrated in the resurrection narratives.  This is one of the most interesting parts of the book, and certainly helpful for preaching.  He completes his theological arguments in this first section by discussing the transformation which the doctrine of the resurrection brings to creation.

In the remaining chapters of the book, the author discusses the apologetic arguments for the resurrection, and then completes the theological discussion with a reflection on the nature of risen life, and the possible application of the resurrection to the sacraments and morals.  Part of his argument is that risen life should open the world beyond the strict order of cause and effect; he uses such an author as Chardin to encourage this interpretation.  This seems less successful, but makes an interesting read.  Also, somewhat problematic is the lack of emphasis on the physical identification of the risen body with the crucified body of Our Lord, and the attempt to discuss the relationship of the body to the soul which results.

The most interesting and successful part of this book is the application of the resurrection to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.   Here, the author identifies the celebrant of every sacrament with Christ the Priest, risen into heaven. He has some wonderful things to say about this mystery.  Again, this is very useful for preaching.

On the whole, this book is highly readable. Although, if one is seeking a systematic treatment of the resurrection, this is not the author’s intention.  The author ends his treatment by saying:  “Hearing the proclamation of the risen Jesus, we can do no less than ask, ‘Are there good reasons for believing this to be true?’  And if the resurrection truly happened, how should that affect and change our lives?”  (p. 174) This book is an important contribution in the dialogue of a Catholic theologian with recent sources.
-Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P.
Holy Apostles College and Seminary
Cromwell, Connecticut

BIOMEDICINE AND BEATITUDE. By Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P. (Catholic University Press, Washington, D.C., 2011), xiv+327.  PB $24.95.

The occasion for the writing of this excellent book is, as the author states in the introduction, the fact that: “By its nature, bioethics is a moral theology in crises.”  (p. 5)  The moral nature of bioethics is applied when a person confronts some health care crisis in their lives.  There has been much written on this subject since the Second Vatican Council.  This author wishes to first root his study in the question of the virtue and the desire of man for happiness, and then systematically apply this to various problems in contemporary moral theology.

The book is divided into eight chapters.  There is also a helpful appendix, a complete bibliography, a scriptural index and a helpful subject index.

In Chapter One, the author examines how the general moral principles involved in human actions relate to the pursuit of beatitude.  After identifying the traditional object, intention, circumstances determinants, Nicanor Austriaco goes on to an analysis of the question of the ultimate end.  This is the least successful part of the book.  Perhaps, rightly wanting to avoid certain in-house disputes among Thomistic scholars, the author is rather unclear about what the identity of beatitude actually is.  This is then applied to various goods in man, with a good analysis of the principle of double effect.  This lack of clarity should not put the reader off, however.  The rest of the book is masterful where the author is obviously on more interesting territory in his application of moral principles to particular medical issues.

In Chapters Two and Three, Austriaco provides a masterful summary of the Catholic moral tradition concerning issues regarding the beginning and transmission of life.  He is completely orthodox in both his analyses of abortion, and  procedures connected with it, and the differences and limitations of the moral nature of birth control, and Natural Family Planning.  This is so detailed as to include issues like the use of contraceptives after rape, condom use for HIV prevention, issues regarding infertility and cloning.  In each treatment, he is in full accord with the Magisterium of both the Pope, and the bishops of the United States.

In Chapter Four, he examines the problem of the relationship between patient and physician.  He provides a fine examination of the contributions of both to the health care relationship in a moral context.  This includes informed consent, and confidentiality, and a good examination of the different sorts of protocols and limitations in treatment.  He favors durable power of attorney documents, but finds living wills morally problematic.

In Chapter Five, he discusses end-of-life moral issues.  He has a brief, but probing examination of death, and then implements this in the question of ordinary and extraordinary means.  “What is important is that the patient or his proxy must make a moral judgment regarding the quality of the treatment and not the quality of the patient’s life” (p. 141).  He also adds much practical consideration to the question of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

In Chapter Six and Seven, the problem of organ donation and transplants is specifically treated and defined, as well as issues regarding plant, animal and human experimentation are taken up.  This is a very complete discussion, and basically affirms that adult stem cell experimentation is good, but no other type of stem cell experimentation involving a human being, and certainly no experimentation which would compromise the identity of a human being as being“human.”  Here again, he is very good in his application of the moral teaching of the Magisterium.

Chapter Eight examines the complex and pressing issue of the Catholic attempt to influence health care protocols in a secularist culture.  Here, the author comes again on theoretical grounds; a good read, but perhaps less successful in supplying real principles.  The reader is unclear whether, in fact, a Catholic can influence a culture which accepts an epistemology which denies objective truth.  The author appeals here to Thomas Aquinas, and his ability to find the truth even in those authors who espoused world views totally different from his own.  This is very true, but a world view can be so disparate as not to recognize objective truth as attainable.

The book, in general, is an easy read, having the great virtue of making rather technical medical problems, and their moral solutions, accessible to the ordinary layperson.  It can also be read with great profit by moral theologians.  This coupled with the affirmation and explanation of many principles from the Magisterium, make it a “must have” contribution to the discussion of Catholic moral theology.
Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P.
Holy Apostles College and Seminary
Cromwell, Connecticut

ENCHIRIDION SYMBOLORUM.  A COMPENDIUM OF CREEDS, DEFINITIONS, AND DECLARATIONS ON MATTERS OF FAITH AND MORALS. By Heinrich Denzinger; edited by Peter  Huenermann for the German edition; edited by Robert Fastiggi and Anne Englund Nash for the English edition, Forty-Third Edition.  (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2012), xxxviii + 1399 pp.  HB $69.95.

There are zingers, and then there are Denzingers, to borrow a phrase from Ralph McInerny.  Denzinger has been a basic tool for all students of Catholic theology since it first appeared in 1854.  This is now the forty-third edition of the handbook of creeds and definitions that cover the basic teachings of the Catholic Church.  It replaces the English translation of Roy J. Deferrari, and also the version of J. Neuner, S.J. and J. Dupuis, S.J., which does not present the whole text of the original version.

This is a work of  monumental scholarship.  For serious scholarly work, it is essential to compare the English translation with the Greek and Latin originals.  This is easy to do with this new edition because the text is presented in double columns, with the original Greek and Latin on the left, and the English translation on the right.  It should also be pointed out that this is a new, more exact translation, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Fastiggi, who worked on this project for about ten years.

The numbering of the documents follows the numbers of Denzinger-Schoemetzer in the thirty-fourth, and following, editions.  In addition, the numbers now go into the five thousands:  since the documents of Vatican II are included, and also quotes from the major encyclicals of the popes, from John XXIII to Benedict XVI.  There is an extensive index of subjects and persons, and also an appendix that gives a concordance of marginal numbers with the editions before 1963.

The book is easy to use, with the marginal numbers in bold print, and a running summary of the numbers, one on each page, printed at the top of each page. This important edition now replaces all previous editions of Denzinger.

The price of $69.95 is not unreasonable, given the large size of the book, the excellent binding, and the ten years of effort that went into the production of this essential tool for all Catholic theologians.

I urge all Catholic libraries to order a copy of this basic book.  It certainly should be in the library of every Catholic seminary, and preferably on the desk of every seminarian who is studying for the priesthood.
-Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., HPR Editor Emeritus
Tacoma, Washington

MODERN MORAL PROBLEMS.  TRUSTWORTHY ANSWERS TO YOUR TOUGHT QUESTIONS. By Msgr. William B. Smith; edited by Fr. Donald Haggerty (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2012), 322 pp.  PB $18.95.

Msgr. William B. Smith, professor or moral theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of New York, wrote a column called “Questions Answered” in the monthly magazine for the Catholic clergy, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, from October 1992 until July 2005.  His clear answers to difficult moral questions have now been gathered together in a systematic way in this volume by a fellow professor, Fr. Donald Haggerty.

HPR has been around for a long time, actually since 1900.  I was editor of the magazine from 1971 until 2010.  When Fr. Joseph Farraher, S.J., asked to be relieved of the column which he had written for about fifteen years, I immediately got on the phone and asked Msgr. Smith if he would be willing to supply the monthly column.  He agreed, and for the next thirteen years he provided HPR with a column that was very popular.  In fact, many readers told me that the first thing they read when a new issue arrived was the column by Msgr. Smith.

Msgr. Smith had a very sharp mind and a keen wit.  His answers to difficult moral questions are always clear and decisive.  There is no waffling.

Fr. Haggerty has gathered the answers together in five sections: 1) Life and death; 2) Sex and marriage; 3) Fidelity and dissent; 4) Justice and social order; 5) Sacraments and priesthood.  Since his answers are based on solid, traditional Catholic teaching, they have as much relevance today as they did when they were written.

In this book, you will find a good summary of answers to tough moral questions that are still being asked.  We can thank Fr. Haggerty for making these gems available from the monthly editions of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review.
-Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., Editor Emeritus
Tacoma, Washington

MY VOCATION IS LOVE.  By Jean Lafrance (Pauline Books & Media, Boston,
2012), 191 pp.  PB $10.95.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux remains one of the most popular saints in the western Church.  Hundreds of articles and books have been written about her and her spirituality.  She referred to it as here “little way.”

The “little way” is very simple, and perhaps that is the reason why it is so popular. It comes down to showing perfect love for God in the little things of life. She discovered in her own life, and in her prayer, that God is merciful love.  That, of course, is also one of the main themes of the Old Testament, with constant reference to God’s “hesed,” or merciful love.

This young Carmelite nun in France, living in the 19th century, suffered a great deal, dying at the young age of 24.  She was not only outstanding in her relations with God, but also was very affable and loving to those around her.  In fact, she was such a normal nun, exteriorly, that most of the nuns she lived with did not suspect that she was a great saint.

In this little book, several chapters deal with her idea of “abandonment” to the will of God in all things.  I was surprised to read on one of the pages that she told her sister that she never went more than three minutes during the day without thinking about God.  That is certainly the exercise of the well-known prayer of the presence of God in thought, word, and deed.

The book, which was written originally in French over twenty years ago, is well done and easy to read in this translation.

I think what makes this saint so attractive to Catholics is that she presents a way of becoming a saint that is open to all.  St. John says in his First Letter (4:16), that God is love.  Thérèse came to see that, by striving to imitate God by loving him with her whole being.

This is an excellent book for spiritual reading for the laity, for religious, and for priests.  Jesus succinctly summed up the essence of the Gospel as love of God, and love of neighbor.  This little book about the inner life of St. Thérése of Lisieux, and her love for God, can be a stimulus for many to follow her in her “little way.”
-Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., Editor Emeritus
Tacoma, Washington


  1. Thus Handel’s Messiah never mentions Mary because George Frederick Handel was a Lutheran. See MacCulloch, Christianity, 789 and 1077, note 40. Music historians say the Colonna family commissioned Handel’s “Salve Regina” first performed in July 1707 in the Church of Santa Maria in Montesanto.
  2. See Hitchcock’s History of the Catholic Church which appeared in 2012.
  3. Thomas S. Bokenkotter’s A Concise History of the Catholic Church, often used by liberal professors in American seminaries, is not listed for Further Reading, nor is John Laux’s Church History: A Complete History of the Catholic Church to the Present Day for High School College and Adult Reading (TAN Books and Publishers, 2009).
  4. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788).
  5. MacCulloch, Christianity, 1101.
  6. See the statements of Bernard-Henri Lévy: “French atheist denounces ‘attack’ on Church, Pope” (September 30, 2012);;
  7. Amen: Faith and the Possibility of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Trialogue, Respondent to the Annual Fall Laurence J. McGinley Lecture; Inaugural Lecture by Patrick J. Ryan SJ, Fordham University, November 18, 2009, 29.
  8. (1845; 1878). See MacCulloch, Christianity, Notes 58 and 59, pages 1081-1082. Notice the words “sardonic,” “intellectual gymnastics,” and “sneers.” Is this urbane scoffing….?
  9. Rowan Williams, The Guardian (19 September 2009);
  10. Ibid.
  11. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (February 28, 2009).
  12. MacCulloch, Christianity, 776. The Index of Forbidden Books, affiliated with the inquisitions, remains a treasured subject of Enlightenment anti-religious writing.
  13. Ibid., 1069, note 44.
  14. Ralph McInerny, who wrote the foreword to the book, Edith Stein and Companions, On the Way to Auschwitz, by Paul Hamans, adds: “ In this remarkable book… Hamans has undertaken the onerous task of compiling biographies, often accompanied by photographs, of many of the religious and laity who were rounded up from their various convents and monasteries and homes on the same day as Saint Edith Stein, August 2, 1942; most of them were taken to the Amersfoort concentration camp and from there put on trains to Auschwitz, where the majority, soon after their arrival at the camp, were gassed and buried in a common grave between August 9 and September 30, 1942. They were all Catholic Jews, and their arrest was in retaliation for the letter of the Catholic bishops of the Netherlands that was read from the pulpits of all churches on July 26, 1942. Over the past few years, in striking contrast to contemporary acknowledgments and the magnificent book of Jewish theologian and historian Pinchas Lapide, many authors have accused the Church of silence during the Nazi persecution of the Jews. None of the counterevidence to this shameful thesis has had any effect on the critics. The experience of Jews in the Netherlands, particularly Catholic Jews, is eloquent witness of what could result from public condemnation of the Nazis. The victims whose stories are included in this book were told that they were rounded up in direct retaliation of the condemnation by the Dutch bishops of the Nazi ‘final solution’.”  See
  15. I.B.Tauris (26 September 2003).
Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ About Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ

Fr. David Meconi, SJ 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.


  1. […] sister publication, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, has a number of new book reviews posted, including a lengthy review of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s best-selling 2010 book,  Christianity: […]