Late Winter Book Reviews

The Cardinal Müller Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church. By Gerhard Ludwig Müller with Carlos Granados. Translated by Richard Goodyear. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017. pp. 221+xi. $17.95 pb. ISBN 978-1-6216-4148-3. Reviewed by Ryan Marr.

Not Yet the Twilight: An Autobiography, 1945-1964. By Josef Pieper. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2017. Reviewed by Matthew Minerd.

The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics. By Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina. New York, NY: Image, 2014. 189 pages; HB $23.00. Reviewed by Colleen Rooney, M.A.

Torn Asunder: Children, the Myth of the Good Divorce, and the Recovery of Origins. By Margaret Harper McCarthy, ed., Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017 (ISBN 978-0-8028-7205-0), viii + 316 pp., $34.00. Reviewed by Thomas V. Gourlay.

Room 24: Adventures of a New Evangelist. By Katie Prejean. (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 2016). Reviewed by Kevin Somok.

Angels, Barbarians and Nincompoops…and a lot of other words you thought you knew. By Anthony Esolen.(Charlotte: TAN Books, 2017) 196 pages. Reviewed by Vicky Gordon.

Something Other Than God. By Jennifer Fulwiler. (Ignatius Press, 2014) 256 pages.
Reviewed by David Nowaczewski.

______________

The Cardinal Müller Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church. By Gerhard Ludwig Müller with Carlos Granados. Translated by Richard Goodyear. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017. pp. 221+xi. $17.95 pb. ISBN 978-1-6216-4148-3. Reviewed by Ryan Marr.

The Cardinal Müller Report presents itself as a sequel to The Ratzinger Report, Vittorio Messori’s famous 1985 interview with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. This time around, the interviewer is Father Carlos Granados while the interviewee is Gerhard Cardinal Müller, who like Ratzinger has served as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In our day, these sorts of interviews seem to generate a fair level of interest among committed Catholics, as the faithful are granted a personal take on the state of the Church from a high ranking prelate. This format cuts through the normal buzz of ecclesial news, because a figure like Cardinal Müller is able to speak forthrightly and at length about some of the most pressing concerns facing Catholics today.

On the surface, this interview with Müller strikes a different tone than The Ratzinger Report. At the time of its publication, the interview with Ratzinger created quite a stir, mainly on account of the Cardinal-Prefect’s criticisms of certain directions in the Church since the end of the Second Vatican Council. In an era when other ecclesiastical leaders, including Pope John II, were declaring “a new springtime” in the Church, Cardinal Ratzinger caught some readers by surprise by speaking instead of the postconciliar period as a time of crisis, and by calling for the need to develop a hermeneutic that would enable the Church to receive Vatican II in continuity with the entirety of Catholic tradition.

In this respect, Ratzinger sounded the clarion call of a prophet. His was the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, challenging Catholics “to find again the courage of nonconformism” after “the phase of indiscriminate ‘openness’” that followed the Council (see Ratzinger Report, 36). Cardinal Müller’s tone is a bit more reserved. He seems to take for granted that his audience recognizes the increasingly peripheral status of the Catholic Church in Western societies, so he does not feel the need to urge them to accept the role of a creative minority. If Ratzinger took up the mantle of an Isaiah or John the Baptist, Müller adopts more so the role of a Nehemiah, urging the faithful to enthusiastically go about the task of rebuilding a civilization of love and fidelity after a period of decades-long cultural decline—a decline partially attributable to the apathy of Catholics who forsook their vocation of being salt and light to the world.

One obvious strength of Cardinal Müller’s analysis is his impressive command of both the Christian theological heritage and also the Western philosophical tradition. Throughout the book, he moves nimbly from discussions of Plato’s philosophy to the work of Odo of Cluny, Martin Luther, Ludwig Feuerbach, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Karl Marx—to name just a few of the many diverse thinkers that show up in these pages. This broad range of interest, though, does not weaken in any way the underlying unity of the book. Ultimately, the thread that binds together the different sections of the interview is a stirring message of hope. This motif is signaled from the start, where Müller boldly declares: “Faith guarantees us that God’s strength is always greater than human weakness and the attacks of evil. Hope does not disappoint us (Rom 5:3-5) and cannot be subdued by those who hold the reins of power … [God’s] plan of love and salvation for all of creation becomes a personal gift for each of us, offered in the life of Jesus, who accompanies us, sustains us, and gives us the ability to live in love” (13, 15).

With this idea at the heart of the book, Müller presses home the point that an abiding trust in God’s faithfulness should inform every facet of the Church’s mission. In recent years, though, a loss of this trust, or weakening sense of hope, has hampered the faithful’s ability to present a compelling counter-witness to the hedonism and apathy that presently plague Western liberal democracies. Of particular concern to Cardinal Müller is the growing trend among young people to forestall, or in many cases totally avoid, matrimonial commitment. This aversion to marriage, like other recent cultural developments, can be traced back to a lack of hope.

Marriage, properly understood, is a lifelong commitment to total fidelity, and thus demands a level of self-denial that is out of sync with contemporary efforts to redefine love as being primarily about personal satisfaction. With this in mind, one can begin to see why the virtue of hope is necessary for taking the risks that inevitably accompany this kind of commitment, particularly, since for Catholics, marriage is fundamentally oriented to bringing children into the world. In Müller’s view, then, it’s not surprising that the West has experienced “an alarming diminution in the number of marriages” coterminous with a sharp decline in the practice of the faith (137).

These thoughts on marriage are just a snapshot of the kind of trenchant analysis that Cardinal Müller provides in this interview, and on a variety of topics, including liturgical practice, Christology, ecclesial life, evangelization, and much more. Moreover, Müller is not afraid to tackle controversial issues, and addresses head-on such matters as whether those who have civilly remarried should receive holy communion, the discipline of priestly celibacy, and the question of women in the priesthood. Cardinal Müller’s commentary on these matters is refreshing: as someone fully committed to the Catholic tradition, he speaks boldly, but with the kind of precision and nuance that can only be fostered through rigorous theological formation.

One question that arose as I read the book is, how do theological educators, catechists, and other church leaders take the insights of a towering figure like Müller and convey them to a broader audience? For example, Cardinal Müller’s thoughts on family and married life are profound, but I worry that exposure to them will stop with professional theologians. That outcome would be a shame, because Cardinal Müller’s insights have real transformative potential. In this light, premarital counselors, youth ministers, and others engaged in active ministry could benefit greatly from an engagement with Müller’s work, so that they might begin to imitate the theological depth and cultural sensitivity that he models. Thus, I hope that this book gains the broad readership that it deserves.

Dr. Ryan Marr is a member of The National Institute for Newman Studies, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 (rmarr@ninsdu.org).

___________

Not Yet the Twilight: An Autobiography, 1945-1964. By Josef Pieper. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2017. Reviewed by Matthew Minerd

Covering the events of Josef Pieper’s life from 1945 to 1964, this autobiography chronicles the early post-war academic career of a Thomistic thinker who is quite dear to anyone who has had the pleasure of reading his brief, yet profound, philosophical texts. Throughout this period, the German philosopher travelled extensively, lecturing throughout the world at locales including Mexico, India, England, in the US (from coast to coast), Japan, and the Philippines. The autobiography ends with Pieper’s reception of news concerning the unexpected death of his son Thomas. Thus, between the covers of this text, one has all the highs and manifold details of a traveling academic, combined with a sense of profound silence as he ends this portion of his autobiographical tale with such somber news.

Like Fr. Schall in his longer review of this text, I cannot attempt here to summarize the details of this quite varied history. Given the immense amount of travel that occurred during this period of Pieper’s life, such a summary would read like an itinerary and a “who’s who” detailing the various persons whom he met in the course of these extensive travels. Instead, I will reflect for the reader on two philosophical themes that remain constant throughout the text, leaving the manifold (and often quite interesting) details of Pieper’s travel to the interested lector. Said themes are (1) Pieper’s particular vocation as a philosopher and “academic” and (2) the importance of the notion of philosophia negativa (or, “apophatic philosophy”) for Pieper.

Early in the text, he notes a question that would remain important to him for the early part of his career: “How can I legitimately be a university teacher without becoming a ‘professor’?” (8) Time and again, the reader finds him refusing positions that would have helped to establish himself in the world of “respectable academia.” Throughout these years (and in the midst of a dizzying amount of travel), he held a permanent post lecturing in a teacher training program of studies at the Pedagogical Academy of Essen. Even upon taking a position at the University in Münster (and feeling at home there), he nevertheless insisted on continuing his work at the Pedagogical Academy in spite of the complications involved with such a choice.

It is quite amazing to see his continuous devotion to this work in what at first glance appears to be strictly professional training. Blessedly, his teaching at the Pedagogical Academy was not marked by that kind of lowering of academic life, though such “professionalization” was not without its advocates. Indeed, when the Düsseldorf Ministry of Culture planned to make philosophy another kind of “professional training,” Pieper was ready to leave the post rather than to partake in teaching philosophy in a manner that was “pedagogically relevant,” something he felt to be against its very nature (127). In any event, this work at the Pedagogical Academy was not considered legitimate by the established academic world, which refused to recognize this aspect of Pieper’s work.

Nonetheless, he refused to take such a dim view of these matters. Indeed, on pages 176-177 of the autobiography, he expresses some sentiments concerning education that deserve much meditation today. There, he quite lucidly explains why he thought that institutions like the Pedagogical Academy are better suited for providing an academic education, “using the word ‘academic in its strict sense as meaning ‘philosophical’” (176). Understanding this at-first surprising claim would do much to correct many curricular problems today in small catholic colleges.

The second theme of importance throughout the text is that of philosophia negativa (a theme noted also by Fr. Schall). This aspect of Pieper’s thought is best expressed in his little work found in English as The Silence of St. Thomas. Pieper was struck by the occasions when St. Thomas states that the essences of things are not known to us. In this simple formula, he found a profound theme within the thought of the Angelic Doctor, acknowledging the limitations of human knowledge (without sacrificing so-called “realism”). Pieper, a Thomistic autodidact thinking outside the various Thomistic sub-schools that vied for prominence during the 20th century, was often frustrated to discover that his outlook concerning this “negative” or apophatic aspect to Aquinas’s thought was not appreciated by many. For example, on visiting Notre Dame in the early 1950s, he did not experience warm reception to this outlook, and he does not paint the philosophical culture at Notre Dame at this time with a brightly colored brush. He clearly did not feel at home in the department there among the various “orthodox” Thomists.

However, this remark does require a comment. Pieper was not against all “Thomists” whatsoever. Indeed, in two other works, he warmly refers to Garrigou-Lagrange’s own work about the “sense for mystery” found in Thomism, on one occasion referring to the Dominican’s book as “his beautiful book on the sense of mystery.” From Pieper’s own account of his time at Notre Dame, he seems to have been caught between schools of thought from Louvain, Freiburg, and Laval either vying among each other or, at least, acting as part of an intramural struggle going on at that time at Notre Dame. He does not provide a detailed report, so the reader must be careful not to over-extend his evaluation. Nonetheless, it is at least clear that the autodidact Thomist never felt comfortable in circles of self-professed “Thomistic orthodoxy.”

At one point in his travels, Pieper’s strong sense for the apophatic sense of mystery needed in philosophy had him engaged in a lively debate with the pragmatist philosopher Sidney Hook, who found it amazing that Pieper quite naturally admitted that “we are not in a position to name God adequately” (132). The point was a given for Pieper (and, in fact, is a fine account of the divine names from the Thomistic perspective). On the importance of the theme of philosophia negativa, one should also note his reflections on a chance encounter at the end of a teaching stint at Stanford (197-199). The theme comes up yet again as the book comes to a close as he recalls several important points regarding St. Thomas’s philosophy, presented (with lively debate) in Manila (280-281). I point out this repeated theme because of its clear importance to Pieper, who insists on this point quite strongly.

Of course, an autobiography is not necessarily an outline of ideas. Indeed, Pieper’s style actually is not focused on these topics in a thematic way. Instead, he retells in great detail his travels and the people he knew and met in the course of these extensive peregrinations. However, given that most readers will be interested in his philosophical reflections throughout these travels, I thought it best to draw attention to several primary themes that stand out throughout the busy narrative that he presents. I highly recommend this as a thoughtful and quite full narrative of one portion of the life and work of a profound 20th century Catholic thinker.

Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.L., Ph.D.(Catholic University of America) is an Instructor of Philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s University and at Ss. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Seminary.

_____________

The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics. By Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina. New York, NY: Image, 2014. 189 pages; HB $23.00. Reviewed by Colleen Rooney, M.A.

In the first chapter of The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics, is set out the foundation of the order and rhythm of human life as established by our Creator at the beginning of the world.

In the first chapter of The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics, is set out the foundation of the order and rhythm of human life as established by our Creator at the beginning of the world. Genesis recounts the creation of the heavens and earth, night and day, sun, moon, and stars, giving us the natural order of the world—with its days, months, seasons, and years—forming a calendar of time. But the order and establishment of the week is not found in the creation of the natural world. Rather it is revealed by the Creator, for the Lord chose to create in six days, and rest on the seventh. Man was given dominion over the earth to guard it, and till its soil, and on the seventh day, to rest and give worship to his Creator. The Sabbath is the original feast day in God’s design, and man and woman were created for that end: to glorify God in celebratory worship on the Sabbath. The keeping of the Sabbath eventually became a distinguishing trait of the Chosen People.

The fall of man and woman, and the working out of humanity’s salvation by God, was communicated in the Old Testament, and culminated in the incarnation and the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The practice of remembering the memorial of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection by his followers on Sunday, through the celebration of the Eucharist, established it as the new Sabbath, the primary day of worship, a little Easter. From this central feast all other feasts flow.

The first five chapters explore the origin of the Sabbath worship—the feasts Jesus kept, Jesus as the new Passover, the Sabbath’s transition into Sunday worship, the history of the liturgical calendar and the vocabulary of liturgical usage. The remaining chapters focus on the major solemn feasts, and several minor ones. There are footnotes throughout, and a section for further reading at the end of the book, for those who want to continue exploring the treasures of the liturgical feasts and popular piety.

This book is a little gem. It can be a tool for the new evangelization. It is a splendid aid for Catholics in rediscovering the order and rhythm of work and worship, transcribed into our very being, but so often lying dormant due to a lack of understanding about the feasts, and their importance to our everyday life. The chapter on “The Feasts That Jesus Kept” gives a picture of the feasts that a devout, first century Jewish family observed, and the transformation of those same feasts into our own feast days presently through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. It shows clearly that the Jews are our spiritual ancestors, as Pope Pius XI said, “Spiritually, we are Semites.” A Brief History on Time: On the Development of the Calendar and Its Books  highlights the transition between the Jewish calendar, and the developing Christian calendar, and the tensions that existed when the observances of martyrs and saints’ feasts overwhelmed the principal feasts of the Paschal Mystery and the Incarnation. These are valuable lessons for understanding the calendar, and the hierarchy of feasts.

There is a battle going on in the soul of mankind between calendars—the calendar of the liturgical year, and the secular calendar, of which there are many. Modern man lives more often by the secular calendar than the calendar given us by the Creator and the Church. This calendar of work and worship is a rule of life which speaks to men and women in the deepest recesses of their beings, calling them out of themselves, and into a profound relationship with the Holy Trinity of Persons. So often we Catholics look at the liturgical calendar, and the feast days listed there, in a very pedestrian manner. But Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina, have written a book about the feasts and worship that sends sparks throughout the soul, awakening it to an understanding and knowledge of the transcendent God. The God who is beckoning us at every Mass we attend, awakening in us His veiled presence in the Eucharist, and celebrating special feasts with joy, promising fulfillment, not during our lives in this veil of tears, but waiting for us in the eternal life to come.

This book is an important contribution to the libraries in our Catholic schools, parishes, and homes and would make a thoughtful gift for engagements, marriages, and ordinations.

Colleen Rooney (M.A. in Theology from St. John’s University) is active as a board member of the Arlington Diocesan Council of Catholic Women in promoting Catholic culture and food traditions in the diocese of Arlington, VA. She is the author of Celebrating Advent and Christmas with Children: Food Celebrations with the Saints for Home and School.

____________

Torn Asunder: Children, the Myth of the Good Divorce, and the Recovery of Origins. By Margaret Harper McCarthy, ed., Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017 (ISBN 978-0-8028-7205-0), viii + 316 pp., $34.00. Reviewed by Thomas V. Gourlay.

In listening to Catholic and Christian commentators engage in public debate about the nature and purposes of marriage in the contemporary context, one could easily be fooled into thinking that the only feature that distinguishes a Catholic/Christian view of marriage from popular revisionist views, is the insistence that marriage is only possible between one man and one woman. Such a collection of thoughts such as this, though, points to another fundamental and stark difference between the currently popular view of marriage, and the Catholic, and more broadly Christian, understanding of the institution, namely, its indissolubility.

This collection of papers, from a variety of complimentary perspectives, offers a wide-angle view of the significance of marriage’s indissolubility, and the impact of the common acceptance, and proliferation, of divorce on particular persons, families, and on society more broadly.

There are essays containing profound theological reflections on the meaning of marriage’s indissolubility, and its deep existential meaning concerning the ongoing loving marriage of one’s parents for children, which sit comfortably alongside first-rate sociological, psychological, and biological research, providing a breadth of cultural critique that is rarely seen in a single volume.

It is exceedingly difficult to single out particular essays in this volume to comment on as the sheer variety of the inclusions here means that there is little repetitive overlap. Instead, the reader is treated with a diverse set of articles that provide unique insights into the problem of divorce; the necessary elements to consider when contemplating the phenomenon; its effects on children, spouses, and society as a whole; and, a variety of possible ways to work pastorally in a culture so significantly tainted by two generations of divorce culture.

This is a carefully curated volume covering a wide scope of material, rich in value to anyone involved in pastoral work, education, and formation, or simply seeking to understand the ills of contemporary culture in a deeper way.

The timing of this publication is significant, as it comes at a point in history when a full generation of children of so-called “good” divorces have come of age as adults. The interdisciplinary nature of this collection adds strength to its overall goal of debunking the myth of “good divorce.” If some people cannot accept that there is no such thing as a “good” divorce, based on philosophical and theological argumentation alone, the statistical, sociological, and psychological data provide ample evidence to support the claim. What these essays are able to draw out is the multifaceted nature of the destructive character of divorce, not just on spouses and their children, but on the whole social fabric of a community and a nation.

“Marriage,” writes Wendell Berry, as quoted in the introduction, “has now taken the form of divorce: a prolonged and impassioned negotiation as to how things shall be divided.” Harper-McCarthy’s decision to quote this passage by Berry, in her introduction to this collection, is particularly useful in setting out the agenda for the volume as a whole, amounting to an extended commentary, not simply on the phenomenon of divorce, but on the popular form of marriage in our day, dominated by an almost ontological individualism.

While the essays in this volume enable one to stare clear-eyed into the catastrophic damage that has been wrought by divorce, what is presented within is not altogether without hope. Perhaps, the reference to the “Recovery of Origins” in the book’s subtitle, gives a clue as to the hopeful (though not falsely optimistic) tone struck by the various authors. Despite the really incredible variety of authors, from wide-ranging fields, what is certainly evident throughout is that each is operating from an ontological foundation that sees the phenomenon of divorce, and the suffering that inevitably ensues, as an unnecessary digression from an original plan. It is as if the entire volume is woven together with the words of Christ, boldly proclaiming: “in the beginning, it was not so” (cf. Mt 19:8).

Margaret Harper McCarthy has compiled a fine volume that is an exemplar of exactly what we have come to expect from faculty of the various John Paul II Institutes for Marriage and Family worldwide—tremendously sensitive to pastoral realities, academically rigorous, and deeply faithful to the Tradition, without being reactionary.

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, where he is enrolled as a PhD student in the School of Philosophy & Theology.

____________

Room 24: Adventures of a New Evangelist. By Katie Prejean. (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 2016). Reviewed by Kevin Somok.

Katie Prejean teaches high-school theology, and serves as a parish catechist in Louisiana. Youthful, funny, and passionate about evangelizing young people, Prejean has made a name for herself on the youth-ministry speaking circuit. Room 24: Adventures of a New Evangelist is her first book. Equal parts spiritual autobiography and pastoral guide for ministry, it deserves to be read by all novice high-school-theology teachers; indeed, it could profit anyone serving young people in a Catholic school or parish. As Prejean’s title implies, this is not a scholarly work, but rather a personal reflection on her own teaching ministry. Having spent most of the past decade teaching high school theology, I relished Room 24.

High school theology teachers are prone to a sort of identity crisis: what is our primary task? Is it to impart rich theological content? Should we aim to cultivate broad, multi-disciplinary, cognitive abilities, as is currently in fashion in some educational circles? Ought we to help students to develop “faith skills,” as I’ve heard some teachers maintain? Or, as Prejean argues, should we seek, above all, to lead students to conversion, and Christian discipleship? She writes: “I’ve begun to think of myself less as a teacher, and more as a ‘classroom evangelist’” (xiv). Evangelization, as Prejean conceives it, “creates opportunities to meet Christ who will then transform the lives of those who encounter him” (22). Teaching theological content, then, is necessary but not sufficient: “If my students memorize the Ten Commandments, and recite the Beatitudes, then they will pass my tests, and have a great party trick for college. If they are not following the commandments, then I have failed them as a classroom evangelist” (22). (Prejean may be too hard on herself: the Gospel, of course, speaks of many erstwhile disciples who “turned back and no longer followed” the Lord after hearing some of his difficult teachings [John 6:66].)

Prejean next turns her focus to the question of how she can evangelize most effectively in the classroom. Developing relationships with students is essential, for most students do not care about sophisticated arguments for, say, the existence of God, or the reasonableness of belief in the Resurrection—unless, that is, those arguments are made by a person whom they fundamentally trust, and perceive as caring for them. (This, I believe, is one of Room 24’s most profound insights.) But how does one build this sort of relationship with one’s students? Over time, Prejean learned to ask students about their own lives, and to share with them stories from hers. Presenting the truth with delight seemed to help, as well: Prejean began each class with a joke, and she made a concerted effort to radiate Christian joy through a smile and laughter. As I read, the examples of some of my colleagues came to mind. A young priest I have taught with doesn’t spend his lunch period in the teachers’ lounge; instead, he eats with students in the cafeteria, bringing his UNO cards as an icebreaker. A lay coworker greets all students with a smile, a “good morning,” and a firm handshake as they enter the school building before first period. Other colleagues nurture relationships through sports, or other extracurricular activities. It is imperative—though not always easy—to be present to students outside of class time, for, as Prejean notes, “evangelization happens less within the controlled environments of our own design, and more in the spontaneous moments of our daily lives” (78).

Admirably, Prejean reveals some of her greatest mistakes in the classroom, from which she has learned a great deal. Once, early in her career, she debated a freshman who was an atheist. At one point during the class discussion, Prejean jabbed: “If you don’t believe in God then you’re just ignoring reality, and that’s insane.” Unsurprisingly, this student disengaged from Prejean’s class in successive stages: first, he read Richard Dawkins’s God Delusion in the front row while Prejean lectured; later, he wrote in every blank space on a test, “The Bible is the greatest fairytale ever told”; and, before the quarter was over, he transferred to another school, citing his “consistent disagreements” with his theology teacher as a reason (10). I cringed when I read this story, because I have not been immune to this sort of exchange with students.

Prejean has provided her readers with considerable fodder as they reflect on their own ministry. Yet one chapter seemed to be missing from this book: a discussion of how Prejean’s teaching embodies the pedagogy of the saints. Citing the Gospels at length, she rightly highlights the way that her teaching is modeled after Jesus’ own example. Still, so much of her approach to teaching seems closely modeled on that of saints. St. John Bosco, for example, came to mind: he believed that young people must not only be loved, but rather, they must know that they are loved. Thus, he sought to be a true friend to every boy in his Oratory. Similarly, St. Francis de Sales sought to win souls for Christ through his gentle kindness, for “a spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.” Prejean might also have discussed the witness of St. John Baptist de La Salle, who encouraged his teachers to “always be happy, showing gentleness and respect”; St. Phillip Neri, who discovered the value of humor in evangelization; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who followed St. Paul in imploring others to pray without ceasing; and St. Therese of Lisieux, who performed ordinary actions with extraordinary love. Prejean’s pedagogy bears the mark of all of these saints, and more, and her readers might be well served by making this influence explicit.

Perhaps, Prejean will fill this lacuna in a future book. In the meantime, she has left her readers much to ponder as they seek to grow in their own ministries. Room 24 deserves to be found on the bookshelf of every Catholic high school and youth-ministry office.

Kevin Somok teaches theology at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland.

______________

Angels, Barbarians and Nincompoops…and a lot of other words you thought you knew. By Anthony Esolen.(Charlotte: TAN Books, 2017) 196 pages. Reviewed by Vicky Gordon.

The name Anthony Esolen seems to appear everywhere lately. A professor of English, Renaissance, and Classical Literature at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, Esolen has translated into English Dante’s Divine Comedy, Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things, and Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered. In addition, he has written many books and articles on subjects theological and philosophical. Most recently, he is a frequent contributor to Magnificat Magazine.

As would be expected of a man of letters, Esolen has a fascination for the study of words. He realizes that words are cultural, historical, even archaelogical entities which illustrate the civilization of mankind. The word, like the atom, contains a unique world within it waiting to be uncovered. As a translator, Esolen uses the angelic, specific power of words to attach wings of beauty to them, while being ever mindful not to denature them in the process.

Angels, Barbarians, and Nincompoops…and a lot of other words you thought you knew is not only informative, but fun, and even a little irreverent at times. Esolen excites the curiosity of the reader who may learn far more than he/she bargained for when he/she ventured into the pages of this book. Under his care, the words unfurl like oriental carpets to reveal color, texture, story, and a few caveats.

A good example of the unpacking of common words we think we know comes in the word, “wise.” “The wise man is literally the one who sees,” as Esolen points out. His progress through the etymology of the word follows the road of linguistic change: from Anglo-Saxon—witan, “to understand”; through Latin—videre, to see.

As Esolen says, “In the Hebrew tradition, the wise man isn’t the one who performs feats of sophisticated calculation, but rather he to whom God has granted vision. So the psalmist’s longing to behold the face of God is also at once a longing for wisdom; to see, in the deepest sense of the word.”

“Eternal” is another one of those words which contains a wider world within it. Esolen decries the unfortunate rendering for eternal life by the common term, “afterlife.” “I confess that I can’t stand the word. It reminds me of an afterthought or an afterword or an aftertaste…it seems to get things exactly backwards.” Rather the Bible speaks of a new life—“eternal life, life outside of time as we now experience it. Time does not measure God, since God is the maker of time.”

The author reminds us that the universe, no matter how long it has existed, cannot be called “eternal” because it is still a creation of God.

The Indo-European root “ae” suggests the force of life, robust and enduring, and appears in the Latin, such as “aeviternus” (aeternus), beyond the ages. Pere Garrigou-Lagrange uses “aeviternal” to describe angels who are both incorporeal and immortal. This concept emerges in English as “eon” and in the New Testament as “aion aionon,” meaning “forever and ever.”
And finally, Esolen handles the most basic of words, one we all use daily, the word “be.” He recounts the Biblical story of Moses as he stands before the burning bush, and asks God His name. Pagan gods had names drawn from the natural objects in the universe like the sun, the ocean or thunder. The ancients believed that to name someone was to gain power, to understand, literally to grasp them.

Yet, the God of Israel in revealing His name places Himself in a new context, outside of and above creation. “I AM,” says the Lord God. It is the name that does not name. “Tell them that I AM sent you” (Ex. 3:13-14). God thus shows himself in the proper context as the Alpha and the Omega, as the Creator who cannot be grasped, as being itself. “All things that are not God need not be…but God exists necessarily, essentially. He is the One in whom essence and existence are one.”

In all, over 100 words, and their offshoots, are explained in Esolen’s book. Each is more interesting than the last, and each is a fascination of ideas, an historical timeline, a portmanteau of civilization. Meander into the much older, and unadulterated speech of the common man. Learn about “angel” and “man” (an idea from which none are excluded); “conscience” and “intellect”; “buxom” (literally “bendable”) and “beer”; “dunce” (named for Duns Scotus, a Scottish theologian and scholar, whom the Humanists rejected and mocked, referring to his followers as “Dunses”—pronounced “Dunce”). Check out “gamut” (an 8-note, medieval musical scale running from gamma to ut); idiot (literally “singular,” “one of a kind”); and “idiolect” (a language used by one); and, yes, “nincompoop” from the perspective of a master of language. You won’t be sorry.

Vicky Gordon is a lifelong Catholic, bibliophile, linguist, and retired graphic designer living in Missoula, MT.

______________

Something Other Than God. By Jennifer Fulwiler. (Ignatius Press, 2014) 256 pages.
Reviewed by David Nowaczewski.

I have a lot of sympathy for Walker Percy’s view of traditional apologetic conversion stories. In an essay entitled, “Why I am a Catholic?”, Percy confesses his disdain for such stories by indicating that he usually responds to questions about why he is Catholic with the response, “What else is there?” Eventually Percy divulges the real source of his unease with conversion stories: the workings of grace on a soul are so radically individual as to render the story so peculiar to the individual that it becomes hopelessly boring for the reader. I was reminded of Percy’s essay as I read Jen Fulwiler’s “Something Other than God”, a beautiful attempt to document the workings of providence in the life of someone who thought that religion was not for her. I am glad that Mrs. Fulwiler did not listen to Percy, and decided to try and narrate her coming to belief in the teachings of the Catholic Church, because she leaves us a beautiful account of the working of grace in her life, and in the lives of those around her.

Fulwiler traces her tale from a precocious atheist to practicing Catholic in a series of engaging vignettes taken from different points in her life. Each chapter is based on a pivotal event in Fulwiler’s life that serves for a jumping off point for a discussion of how she came to accept a given aspect of the faith that she once found problematic.

The strength of this work lies in the ability of Fulwiler to remain focused by allowing and illuminating the working of God in the minutiae of her life, while refraining from turning the work into a full-blown work of apologetics. Of course, any conversion story will, of necessity, engage in providing reasons for why one embraces a position that was previously problematic, and in this respect, Fulwiler’s book mirrors every other conversion story. Fulwiler, however, manages to keep her narrative flowing beautifully by focusing on her own obstacles to belief, rather than addressing every possible objection one might have to a given teaching or two.

Of particular interest to some may be the fact that Fulwiler’s conversion is not from any prior faith at all. This was extremely interesting in light of the rise of the “nones” to which Bishop Robert Barron, and others, have drawn attention. Fulwiler writes compellingly of both the hurdles from moving to belief from an unbelief in general, but also in the case of some of the “less respectable” teachings of the Catholic Church vis-a-vis the modern age (e.g., contraception). Surely the myriad of differences of people will give rise to a vast array of stories of how one comes to belief, but Fulwiler has done us all a service by undertaking the difficult work of chronicling a personal journey in such a beautiful way. While we may agree wholeheartedly with Percy that there really isn’t anything else, we should be grateful to Mrs. Fulwiler for taking the time to share with us how almighty God brought her into the Church, for it reminds us powerfully of His unfailing care.

David Nowaczewski is an attorney from Detroit, Michigan. He holds a BA degree from the Franciscan University of Steubenville (’98), and a JD degree from the University of Chicago School of Law (’05). He resides in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, with his wife, Shannon, and their four children.

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.

All comments posted at Homiletic and Pastoral Review are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative and inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.

Speak Your Mind

*