Winter Reading for January 2016

Introducing the Old Testament: An Overview of Its Content and Its Message. John F. Fink. (Staten Island, NY: St. Paul’s Publishing, 2015) 136 pages; $12.95. (Reviewed by Kenneth Colston)

The Marian Mystery: Outline of a Mariology. Denis Farkasfalvy, O. Cist. (Staten Island, NY: St. Paul’s Publishing, 2014) 326 pages; $24.95. (Reviewed by Fr. Edward Looney)

Saving Big Ben: The USS Franklin and Father Joseph T. O’Callahan. John R. Satterfield. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2011) 175 pages; $34.95. (Reviewed by Thomas F.X. Varacalli)

A Catholic Reading Guide to Universalism. Fr. Robert Wild. (San Jose, CA: Resource Publications, 2015) 194 pages; $23.00. (Reviewed by Rt. Rev. Esteban Deák)


Introducing the Old Testament: An Overview of Its Content and Its Message. John F. Fink. (Staten Island, NY: St Paul’s Publishing, 2015) 136 pages; $12.95.

How many of us hold the Novus Ordo Lectionary’s ample Old Testament in our mind as a long, somewhat tormented prelude to what Pope Benedict XVI called “the nuclear fission in the heart of being”? As readers, N.T. Wright has observed, we are often still Marcionites, blinded, not as the Old Testament authors were to the Trinity and Incarnation, but as postmoderns are to their canonical foreshadowings. As a quick fix to that spiritual limitation, veteran editor John F. Fink offers a thumbnail sketch of those variously sourced writings from varying times, cultures, and languages, keying in on the Lectionary purple passages without hiding the problem pieces. It’s an effort in typology that still benefits from historical criticism, and it’s nearly as handy as a study buddy on a laminated card.

It’s so slim that it contains hardly more words than, say, the prefaces in the Catholic Study Bible, on which it sometimes draws, but, somehow, it manages to narrate, not only the story of salvation, but the story of the story of salvation—and does so at times with personality. The prefaces are mostly straightforward and succinct, such as that to the First Book of Kings, a book of daunting historical detail: “The First and Second Books of Kings contain the history of the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel for a period of 400 years, from about 961 B.C. to 561 B.C., from the death of David to the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the monarchy.”

The journalist’s hand emerges throughout, however, as in this preface to the often ignored Books of Chronicles:

The two Books of Chronicles repeat the Jewish history from Adam to the destruction of Jerusalem—in other words, through the twelve books of the Bible I’ve already discussed in this book. Do we really have to repeat all that?

It appears that both Jews and Christians have never known quite what to do with the Chronicles. Since the books end with the same events recounted in the Second Book of Kings, and since they serve as a sort of supplement to the books of Samuel and Kings, Christians put Chronicles after Kings and before the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. …

The Hebrew Bible, though, has Chronicles at the very end, even after Ezra and Nehemiah. In that way, the Jewish scriptures end with the decree from King Cyrus of Persia that enabled the people of Judah to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple.

That’s the approach, a lively summary of the main lines of both the Bible story and the story of Bibles, more or less book by book, but with occasional groupings to make chronological sense. After Chronicles, for example, Fink offers the Major Prophets, Tobit, Judith, and Esther, before the traditional sequellae of Ezra and Nehemiah, so that the reader can keep Israel’s history of Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian conquests and subsequent restoration in mind, followed by the Minor Prophets (some) and the Books of Maccabees. (Hosea, Amos, Nahum, Micah, Zephania, and Micah are, a little, unfortunately, in my mind, barely mentioned, for a few more paragraphs would not have been overwhelming.) The book then ends with a preface for each of the Wisdom Books. The focus throughout is on the Old Testament, but Fink sprinkles his summaries with New Testament relevance: the parallels between Jeremiah and Jesus, for example, who “were both confirmed in grace from their mothers’ wombs, unmarried, hounded by hometown citizens, wept over Jerusalem, called the Temple ‘a den of thieves,’ met secretly with those who believed, and foresaw a new covenant.”

The result is an encouraging, spirited, brief tour guide through the writing of salvation history that pastors might consider adding here and there in the pews to help with the Lectionary or that catechists might use in their Bible surveys. For that, a map or two and a short bibliography would have helped, and it’s a bit expensive. A pocket guide should fit in a pocket, and not empty it.

-Kenneth Colston
His reviews and essays have been published in New Oxford Review, LOGOS, Commonweal, St. Austin’s Review, The New Criterion, and First Things


The Marian Mystery: Outline of a Mariology. Denis Farkasfalvy, O. Cist. (Staten Island, NY: St. Paul’s Publishing, 2014) 326 pages; $24.95.

Recently I was standing in statio in the tunnel of a local entertainment venue. At 10:30 AM, there was to be no concert, but rather, a sublime event with nearly 10,000 Catholic school students attending Mass with the bishop and assisted by 20+ priests and deacons. That moment of statio, however, was not reminiscent of the prayerful disposition of monks awaiting Mass, but was a time of discussion among priests who do not typically see one another. As I stood there among brother priests, one of them engaged me in a dialogue about the topic of Mariology. He related to me that, in his seminary education (15 years prior), he never had a Mariology course; while the subject was offered, it was a mere elective, and he elected other courses. Since I have the reputation as the “Marian” priest, he asked his question which pertained to the perpetual virginity of Mary, specifically her virginitas in partu, a concept he could not grasp and wanted some insights into.

The experience of my brother priest, unfortunately, is one that still is common today, even among the recently ordained. In 1988, the Congregation for Catholic Education released a letter entitled “The Virgin Mary in Intellectual and Spiritual Formation.” This document insisted on the teaching of Mariology within seminary curriculums. Given the connection of Mariology with Ecclesiology in light of Lumen Gentium Chapter 8, a course on ecclesiology may include a few lectures on Mariology, but such lectures never could cover the scope of Mariological principles. Sadly, Mariological lectures are relegated to the end of the semester, and, often, nixed from the syllabus in view of catching up on a shortfall of time. Even sadder, more time will be given to apparitions, rather than focusing on the biblical, dogmatic, and Christological nature of Mariology.

For those who believe their Mariological knowledge to be deficient and unable to articulate the Marian teachings and communicate them to the faithful, the question arises, “To which text should I turn? What book would instruct me well?” In the 21st century, several theologians are claiming to have written the standard Mariological textbook. Paul Hafner’s The Mystery of Mary (Chicago: Hildebrand Books, 2004) provides a comprehensive overview, and, recently, Aidan Nichols’s book There is No Rose: The Mariology of the Catholic Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015) also offers a sound contribution to the discipline. But these texts provide a dense look into the discipline of Mariology and may be less than inviting for the novice seeking an introduction.

For those wanting to traverse the Mariological waters for the first time in order to find the Stella Maris, Cistercian Abbot Emeritus Denis Farkasfalvy offers an accessible and historical overview of Mariology in his text The Marian Mystery: Outline of a Mariology (Staten Island, NY: St. Paul’s Publishing, 2014). The Farkasfalvy text presents a wonderful overview, and, as his subtitle suggests, an outline which presents an overview ofMariology’s biblical foundation, the writings of the Patristics, and the development of the Church’s dogmatic definitions over time.

In 50 pages, Farkasfalvy addresses the biblical sources pertaining to Mary, with much attention given to the New Testament, but also with recourse to the Old Testament prophecies. No less than four times (pp. 11, 38, 48, 256), Farkasfalvy calls into question the Marian minimalism of biblical exegete Raymond Brown and others. Specifically, the author focuses on the joint theological venture Mary in the New Testament, citing the disconnection the text has from theological and historical Mariology. Additionally, Farkasfalvy also tackles the minimalism of Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah. To disciples of Raymond Brown, such critiques may be deterring, but to those disenchanted with Brown’s Mariological musings, Farkasfalvy offers a refreshing perspective.

Transitioning from the biblical sources, Farkasfalvy turns to a historical outline of Mariology spanning several chapters, beginning with the Patristics and leading the reader to the Middle Ages and beyond, to post-Vatican II. The author adequately presents an overview of the Church’s development of Marian teaching and the evolution of dogmatic proclamations (perpetual virginity, Divine Motherhood, Immaculate Conception, and Assumption). Farkasfalvy gives much attention to the New Eve teaching, and rightfully so, since the teaching is contained within the corpus of three Fathers: Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, representing the thought of three different continents. Also treated is the topic of the perpetual virginity of Mary, before (ante), during (in partu), and after (post), the debate which ensued among several figures of antiquity, and the resolution contained in the writings of Ambrose and Jerome. In the contemporary era, this debate was renewed among Rahner and Mitterer, and others, which Farkasfalvy explores in his treatment of contemporary Mariology.

Given the topical nature of Farkasfalvy’s outline of Mariology and attention given to key figures throughout historical time periods, his text serves as an excellent compendium to Luigi Gambero’s two works: Mary and the Fathers of the Church and Mary in the Middle Ages, both published in English translation by Ignatius Press. Gambero provides a theological analysis of significant figures, in addition to providing extracts of their Marian texts. The Marian Mystery complements the theological presentation of Gambero, and, I would suggest, should be read in tandem.

One of the reasons for the dearth of Mariological studies in seminaries and places of higher education might be seen in light of the crossover between Mariology and other fields of theological study. The Marian Mystery clearly shows the interdisciplinary nature of Mariology within the fields of Christology, soteriology, anthropology, and grace. But Mariology must not become “a mere appendix of Christology” (163). In theological study, when appropriate, studies on Mary should be included in courses to supplement the presentation of Mariology within an ecclesiological context.

Farkasfalvy’s The Marian Mystery has many strengths, and I am indebted to his wonderful contribution to the discipline. While its value is immense, the book has a handful of shortcomings.In a few places, on topics I have personally researched and written, I noticed a lack of footnotes.One simple example is the claim regarding Irenaeus: “The interpretation of the term “advocate” in this text has long been debated” (p. 76). I would have appreciated footnotes directing me to said debates. With that being said, in many other places, the author’s footnotes are plentiful and a wonderful asset. The section pertaining to the Reformation, totaling five pages, making it the book’s shortest chapter, left one wanting more. The author acknowledges, “The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the Reformation would require a long narrative with the analysis of many cause-and-effect relationships, work that would go far beyond the framework of this book and the competence of its author” (p. 205). For an accessible overview of Reformation Mariology, I refer the reader to Hilda Graef’s formerly two-volume work, now published in one volume, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion (Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 2009). Lastly, a hotly debated topic in Mariology today is the call for the so-called fifth Marian dogma: Mary as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate. Little attention is given to this topic. One can turn to the writings of its proponents, but a balanced view would have been appreciated.

Mary is truly a mystery. She is a woman who has captivated theologians for centuries, has been the subject of much writing and reflection, and whose beauty and magnificence have inspired artists. Mary is a mystery that continues to draw people to this very day. For those who are searching to unravel the mystery of Mary, look no further than Farkasfalvy’s The Marian Mystery.

-Fr. Edward Looney
Parochial Vicar
St. Raphael the Archangel’s Parish
Oshkosh, Wisconsin


Saving Big Ben: The USS Franklin and Father Joseph T. O’Callahan. John R. Satterfield. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2011) 175 pages; $34.95.

Fortitude is a virtue common among many priests, but few priests can lay claim to be an American military hero. Saving Big Ben recounts the extraordinary life of Father Joseph O’Callahan, the first Jesuit to serve as a United States armed forces chaplain. Thrust into one of the last naval battles of the Second World War, O’Callahan was responsible for saving the lives of many American soldiers. For his valor, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman. He was the first Catholic priest to be awarded this great honor.

O’Callahan was an unlikely candidate for military service; he had a lifetime struggle with claustrophobia and hypertension. Born into a faithful Irish working-class family in Boston, he entered the Jesuit Order, taking final vows in 1934. He was an academically oriented priest with interests in Scholastic theology, science, and mathematics. Before the war, he taught at the College of the Holy Cross. Despite immense popularity with his students, O’Callahan gave up his comfortable academic life freely in order to serve a new and immediate spiritual need in the Church: the ministering to young men in America’s navy.

O’Callahan was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1940 and remained active in the navy until 1946. His ministries included daily Mass, confession, and religious education on various naval bases and ships. For most of the war, he was fortunate to serve on carriers that saw little military action. Then, while O’Callahan was aboard the USS Franklin, it was attacked by the Japanese near the Caroline Islands on the feast day of St. Joseph, March 19, 1945. Amidst the chaos and fire of the attack, the priest rose to the occasion by demonstrating conspicuous gallantry.

O’Callahan seamlessly integrated his spiritual ministry with the forceful tenacity of a soldier. Instead of seeking cover and safety, O’Callahan threw himself into the middle of the action, providing absolution and last rites as bullets whizzed around him from all directions. With a piece of shrapnel lodged in his own calf, O’Callahan assisted the carrier’s doctor in addressing the medical needs of the soldiers. As fire threatened to detonate the live ammunition on board the ship, O’Callahan led soldiers in the disposing of several 50-pound shells by throwing them overboard. One commanding officer, astounded at the vigor of O’Callahan’s actions, declared that the priest was “doing ten men’s work” (92). The day after the attack, O’Callahan volunteered to do something that some trained soldiers would not: he dutifully collected the dead, carrying the burnt flesh of young men he had known in order to prepare them for burial. After the war, he received leave to tour the country, visiting the families of the deceased.

Author John Satterfield does a tremendous job in weaving historical and military context with O’Callahan’s life. The book is well written and well documented. At less than 200 pages, the book can be read in a few hours. It is both historical and academic in nature, but Satterfield is keenly aware of the spiritual aspect of O’Callahan’s ministry. He forcefully argues that O’Callahan’s virtues were a result of his unwavering Catholicism.

For the faithful Catholic, Saving Big Ben is a timely book. It provides American Catholics with a forceful example of how faith and patriotism are compatible. The book reminds the Catholic reader that, though vocations are full of sacrifice, they also provide the faithful with supernatural resiliency. This book is especially recommended for all history lovers, priests, and religious, students of the military, and those in need of a story portraying the virtuous possibilities within the human condition.

-Thomas F.X. Varacalli
Department of American Politics
Louisiana State University
He can be “followed” on Academia at:


A Catholic Reading Guide to Universalism. Fr. Robert Wild. (San Jose, CA: Resource Publications, 2015) 194 pages; $23.00.

It is a veritable delight to have in one’s hands a professionally researched and expertly presented answer to a question which has tortured and divided mankind, including the pre-Christian era. Almost all religions are concerned with the eschata (i.e., the last things). Most Christian eschatologies have assumed a strictly dual outcome: there is a heaven (as a reward for being “good”), and there is also some sort of hell (as punishment for not behaving well). And while countless books have been written about both, works on hell seem to have captured more scholarly attention than the infinite beauties of heaven. Why? Perhaps, because we are much more caught up with questions of right and wrong, and of morality in general. Could such an approach largely ignore the true essence of a Supreme Being: the Creator and Maintainer of all?

In the course of Christian thinking, many have reduced God’s essence to a simple moral righteousness. This is a God who rewards the just and punishes the joker. As Wild maintains, however, during the early Christian era, the freshness of Jesus’ message predominated and, so, no one seriously questioned God’s love. Over time, however, things changed, especially as a reaction to the cruel persecution of Christians by state authorities. A doctrine has gradually formed in which “righteousness” and “punishment” became key concepts. This also seemed to be a necessity to maintain law and order in the Church as an institution. We can observe this development especially in the Catholic mentality throughout two millennia.

Consequently, Wild invites us to observe a clear belief in God’s love, as the predominant principle governing the universe. And not just any kind of love, but an unconditional one! The greatness in Jesus’ message about the Father is precisely that he loves each and every one of us unconditionally. Those who have such an image of God have at least wondered if, at the end of time, everyone will be saved. Salvation is the goal and fulfillment of the human soul, indeed of the entire universe.

In studying the question of universalism, Fr. Wild has sadly encountered in the thinking of most of his Catholic clerical colleagues a trend to consider doxa (ortho-doxy) as the highest principle of the Christian belief system. A desire to stay within the established limits has made many of them less sensitive to the reality of God’s essence, pure Love. However, encountering the prominent 20th-century Catholic theologian, Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar, has transformed Fr. Wild’s sadness into wild expectation. Balthasar’s provocative work. Dare We Hope?, from the mid-1980s advanced the thesis that, for the Catholic faithful, belief in an eternal punishment in hell might be outweighed by the hope that God instead brings all his creatures into various levels of union with himself. Here was one of the greatest theologians of modern times expressing his “hope” that God’s unconditional love would win the day for all souls. To help in sorting out scriptural, exegetical, and dogmatic evidence for students of this question, Fr. Wild has researched the available material and has presented it in a very readable manner. This Guide presents mostly the “pros” for universalism, and less the “cons,” as the latter is overwhelmingly in the majority. Paradoxically, the belief that all will be saved is more common among the general faithful, and less explicit in theological thought. And this is true especially for Catholic theology. The fear of going beyond orthodox limits is prevalent among Catholic theologians. Thus, the number of universalists is far greater among Protestant theologians, as they may encounter fewer restrictions imposed on them by ecclesial authorities.

Fr. Wild’s Guide should be considered as sufficient source material for any serious student of the eschata to find plenty of evidence for further research on universalism. It has not only a well selected bibliography, but concisely discusses various topics, quoting representative samples in each area. After a historical overview, we see 20th-century Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant authors treated in separate chapters. Wild presents some notable modern universalists in Chapter 7, and continues with some corollary topics—such as Christ’s descent into hell, and its relevance for universalism. The question of man’s freedom over and against God’s will to save all, as well as the possibility of a final annihilation for alternate solutions are all included together with consideration of private revelations of mystics and near death experiences.

I wish I had such a helpful tool 40 years ago when I was writing my Ph.D. thesis on Apokatastasis, the belief that all are eventually saved. It seems to me, more than ever, that the key to understanding universalism lies in the correctness of our image of God as pure Love. And the most important attribute we discover in this love is its unconditional nature. The one thing I am missing in the present Guide is precisely that clear spelling out of this term. The essence of true love must be unconditional. However, when this aspect of God’s love is not stated explicitly on the universalist side, the result is that even serious theologians may slide into a dualistic position, in which the idea of a loving God (who sets conditions for man’s salvation) and the existence of an eternal hell, or damnation for some souls (who do not keep these conditions) are not contradictory.

Fr. Robert Wild is very much a faithful priest of Christ’s Church, a member of Madonna House in Ontario, and postulator for the saintly cause of the Servant of God, Catherine de Hueck Doherty ( I sincerely recommend this short guide on the “last things” to every serious student of theology. It is written in such a way that it will be of use to those who are non-academically interested in these questions as well. Every one of us must face them sooner or later, so why not now? The book is a most useful tool for the ordinary faithful, and for scholars alike, to form a sound opinion and belief.

[For a short overview of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s book, and for the work itself, visit this link. –Ed.]

-Rt. Rev. Esteban Deák
Christ the Good Shepherd Ukrainian Catholic Church
Etobicoke, Ontario

Book Reviews About Book Reviews

Expert and interested readers can review our Books Received page to see what is available and for instructions on how to review for HPR.


  1. I am disappointed that HPR would publish a review that espouses the idea that all will eventually go to heaven. I don’t mean to be disparaging of Fr. Deák’s review, but Jesus was quite clear that there is a hell and that real people can indeed go there!

  2. I agree with the above response. The fact that there is a concept of unconditional love implies the fact that love is made of component parts including conditions. We as human beings continually spurn God’s love through the power of our free will. We can’t forget that God is also a God of justice and justice is not satisfied if both parties do not contribute. Maybe that’s why theologians are so caught up with the fact that God’s love can be denied even to the point of self-condemnation, because it would not be just to suggest otherwise.

    • Yes – God is love and we can choose Him or not. Isn’t love a “two- way street”? I think so- I think our reciprocation matters.

  3. From what I am told by scholarly priests, I must agree with Harvey and Vicky. Universalism is a heresy, and is contrary to what Jesus teaches us, but which is given much press and praise by our corrupt society. Maybe its an attempt to sooth guilty consciences.

  4. I’m about convinced that most laity and perhaps most clergy believe in universal salvation. It would explain a great many things. I’m no professional theologian, far from it; however, someone please explain to me if universal salvation is true why we even need a church, sacraments or those awful Sunday homilies which treat us mainly to soft-pedaled suggestions for change in behavior. If universal salvation is believed by most clergy, it’s well past time that integrity demands that clergy admit as much so we laity can make other plans for Sunday.