Late Summer Reading

Liturgy and Personality: The Healing Power of Formal Prayer, by Dietrich von Hildebrand; with a new foreword by Bishop Robert Barron (Sophia Institute Press [1943] 2018) $29.00. Reviewed by Fr. Ryan Rojo, S.T.L.

The Porn Myth: Exposing the Reality Behind the Fantasy of Pornography. By Matthew Fradd. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017). Reviewed by Gerald Murphy.

Kidnapped by the Vatican? The Unpublished Memoirs of Edgardo Mortara. By Vittorio Messori. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017) (ISBN 978-1-62164-198-8) Reviewed by Rev. John P. Cush, STD

Decoding Vatican II: Interpretation and Ongoing Reception by Catherine E. Clifford Paulist Press: New York/Mahwah, NJ, 2014. ISBN 978-0-8091-4857-8. Reviewed by Rev. John P. Cush, STD


Liturgy and Personality: The Healing Power of Formal Prayer, by Dietrich von Hildebrand; with a new foreword by Bishop Robert Barron (Sophia Institute Press [1943] 2018) $29.00. Reviewed by Fr. Ryan Rojo, S.T.L.

Dietrich von Hildebrand (d. 1977) offers, in the recently republished Liturgy and Personality, a remedy to the banality that marks our contemporary, secular age. Discernable in Hildebrand’s work is the obvious realization that the liturgy is essential in forming the human person, an objective aim of the 20th Century Liturgical Movements. This end, which culminates in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, underlies the Church’s calls for active participation, the vernacular, and the realization that the rites “are to be simplified” (p. 50). Hildebrand prophesies, however, against the revolutions that marked the Church’s liturgy in the late 20th Century. The book is not just a work in Sacramental Theology, but it is an exercise in Christian Anthropology, Christian Spirituality, and the question of the New Evangelization. Its multifaceted substance certainly contributes to its relevance in our contemporary day-and-age.

Hildebrand’s use of the world personality might be foreign to our own everyday sensibilities. The culture oftentimes associates personality with boisterous hilarity, but Hildebrand’s approach is grounded in the classical definition of a man who embodies values and virtue: “A person is a being who ‘possesses himself,’ who does not simply exist but who actively achieves his being, and has the power to choose freely” (Pg. 30). One can discern the metaphysical dimension of his hypothesis, but the attainment of value—which corresponds to the good’s proximity to divinity—is grounded in everyday affairs.

Hildebrand’s method of argumentation is genius. He first isolates particular qualities—moral or spiritual—that one can work towards in the journey of life. He situates these values over-and-against the tendencies towards vice that are all too recognizable in the world. He demonstrates, however, how the liturgy—and particular parts of the liturgy—contribute to the formation of the human person most perfectly. Hildebrand cautions, however, against the merely pedagogical pragmatism of the liturgy. Consistent with the classical worldview, the liturgy is primarily and fundamentally about the glorification of God, but it is by entering into this mystery that one is transformed from within. Let us consider a few examples presented by Hildebrand himself.

Hildebrand tackles the question of reverence in the liturgy. In his estimation, reverence is “the essential basis for such a perception of values, and for a true relationship with the whole realm of values, with what is above, and what speaks from “above,” with the Absolute, the supernatural, and the divine. Reverence is the mother of all virtues, of all religion” (Pg. 35). He then considers the alternatives to true reverence: arrogance and senselessness. Arrogance is marked by presumption, which is the false idea that one knows and sees everything. For the arrogant man, the world is not marked by mystery, but by indifference. The senseless man, however, also lacks true reverence since he only sees being as an object of his desires, “Stubbornly imprisoned in his own self, he violates being, and sees it only from the outside, he thus misses its true meaning” (Pg. 37). Authentic reverence pines towards its objective, and this objective manifests its interior magnificence which transforms the inner-man. The liturgy, however, is the privileged place for reverence, “It is deeply permeated by the fear of God, by the cum timore et tremore (with fear and trembling), and at the same time by the consciousness that we are sons of God, in which we cry out ‘Abba, Father!’” (Pg. 39). This reverence is on display through the traditional preparatory prayers at the foot of the altar, the vessels used at Mass, and at the Exultet of the Easter Vigil. The post-Conciliar experience of the liturgy still sometimes fails in the sphere of reverence. Hildebrand’s contribution to this question, therefore, might prove advantageous to our own contemporary needs.

The question of reverence in the liturgy might be an obvious consideration, but Hildebrand’s strength rests in the not-so-obvious values he identifies. Take, for example, the chapter on discretio in the liturgy. Modern man basks in knowing the depths of a particular mystery, and one is oftentimes troubled with growing impatience at the unraveling of a mystery. Discretio, however, corresponds to the gradual unveiling of a being’s depths. It is “the sense of the law of the inner developments of all things, which varies according to the sphere of being, is an element of that discretio, of that discrimination, which is a mark of personality (pg. 80). Hildebrand offers the example of a woman who desires a child without first entering into the Sacrament of Matrimony. It is an offense against discretio to seek the end (children) without appreciating the unraveling means (marriage). Discretio, therefore, reverses the time and place for all things. This value, however, is most especially manifest in the Sacred Liturgy. The high point of the Mass—the consecration of the sacred species—is first prefaced by a number of litanies and prayers. It is impossible to enjoy the spiritual benefits of the Mass without the preceding and concluding rites. The Liturgical year also embodies this unraveling. The Easter mystery is prefaced by the spiritual rigor of Lent. The contemporary tendency towards immediate satisfaction can be remedied by discretio.

Intimately related to discretio is the organic quality of the liturgy. This value is contrary to any hint of artificiality that creeps into the human conscious. A machine might hint at organic processes, but its movements is the fruit of an exterior force. Hildebrand summarizes this distinction with precise clarity, “The more organic a structure, the simpler it is in spite of its differentiation and content in meaning. The more inorganic it is, the more its simplicity means its poverty” (Pg. 104). The heights of the organic individual culminates in the attainment of value, but this process is aided by the organic liturgy of the Church. Hildebrand beautifully recounts the Pauline dynamics of dying and rising that mark the Christian life, and how these processes are in-and-of-themselves organic processes that underlie the liturgy’s substance (pg. 108).

Hildebrand highlights other values in his work, and his treatment of them all is pregnant with intellectual depth and rigor. Readers should be warned that the text is oftentimes dense. The novice reader, without a foundation in Christian anthropology, will find this text difficult. This is tempered, however, by the inclusion of a forward and an afterward by Bishop Robert Barron and Alice von Hildebrand, the author’s wife. Those readers unfamiliar with the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite might also be lost in the text’s significance. Hildebrand makes countless references, not only to the Extraordinary Form Mass, but also to the traditional Roman Breviary. This text is a must have for serious scholars of the Church’s liturgical patrimony.

Fr. Ryan Rojo, S.T.L, is a Catholic priest for the Diocese of San Angelo, Texas, working at Sacred Heart Cathedral. He is presently Parochial Vicar (Associate Pastor) at Sacred Heart Cathedral. He studied Sacramental Theology at the Liturgical Institute.


The Porn Myth: Exposing the Reality Behind the Fantasy of Pornography. By Matthew Fradd. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017). Reviewed by Gerald Murphy.

Matt Fradd is on a one-man crusade against pornography, for which the Church should be very grateful. Not many are confronting this tidal wave of culturally acceptable sin that is spiritually harming many people. Fradd’s latest book on the subject, The Porn Myth (2017), follows Restored: True Stories of Love and Trust After Porn (2015) and Delivered – True Stories of Men and Women Who Turned from Porn to Purity (2014).

In this text, Fradd shifts his focus from deeply personal testimonies to tackling pro-pornographic arguments. Crucially, he does this from a non-religious perspective as he seeks to engage the average pornography apologist on his or her own terms. With well over 300 footnotes, and 33 pages of works cited, The Porn Myth is steeped in science and research. At the same time, however, Fradd always makes the research accessible.

Published by Ignatius Press, The Porn Myth is perhaps best used as a reference resource. It is easily navigated with five sections addressing different groups of pro-pornographic arguments. Each section has multiple chapters of around five pages, these argue against a different myth about pornography. Overall there are 24 chapters, such as Only religious people oppose porn, and Women don’t struggle with porn. In the style of Aquinas, Fradd begins each chapter with the best argument for the respective myths, before dismantling them.

The first section of The Porn Myth is on “Porn Culture”. In it, Fradd makes the foundational distinction between pornography and art, as well as giving arguments showing how pornography has infested our culture, and how it essentially degrades women.

The second section, The Porn Industry, exposes the reality of the industry as a whole. In it, Fradd takes aim at the societal myths and wishful thinking that surround the industry. He uses the testimony of pornographic actresses with shocking effect that should make any pornography apologist question their position. Fradd does well to humanize those involved in pornography, and show the suffering and abuse involved.

In section three, Porn and Our Sexuality, Fradd notably challenges the widespread belief that it is healthy to masturbate. He does so by showing that this belief is based on the idea that since sex has health benefits, then any ejaculation should have the same benefits. However, arguing from an analysis of peer-reviewed literature shows that this is not the case. Fradd then uses the same study to demonstrate the opposite—that frequent masturbation is actually associated with problems such as depression, erectile dysfunction, and prostate abnormalities.

Importantly, Fradd also argues that the use of pornography is addictive. In order to make this counter-cultural claim, Fradd makes recourse to neuroscience in order to demonstrate the nature of addiction. The argument that pornography is addictive is also found in some of the other areas of the book because proving this is foundational in disproving the “healthy” and mythical view of pornography found in the culture

In section four, Porn and Our Relationship, Fradd takes aim at the myth that pornography at worst, does not affect relationships, and at best, enhances them. Again, Fradd argues the opposite, and does so principally by showing that pornography use is different from sex and sexual intimacy. As such, the use of pornography cannot help sexual intimacy, but in fact denigrates and destroys it.

In section five, The Struggle with Porn, Fradd’s tone changes as he gives encouraging and practical suggestions for dealing with pornography. The three key areas he addresses are how to be free from pornography addiction, heal your relationship with your spouse, and protect your children from pornography.

The Porn Myth concludes with three appendices that provide data and resources on pornography. The first appendix gives statistics on the various effects of pornography on the individual, relationships and the culture. The second features a list of resources for parents, spouses, and individuals to fight pornography. While Fradd lists religious and non-religious resources, there is no mention of RECLAiM Sexual Health. The third lists all studies relating to brain structure of internet pornography users.

The Porn Myth is probably best used as a resource for educators. It is a resource to be read, and then kept on the shelf, and consulted when someone talks about one of the myths. However, because it provides no arguments from revelation, one needs to show how these natural arguments are brought to perfection through our Catholic Faith.

Nota bene: The text often uses the names of women involved in pornography that could lead someone to searching them out online. Furthermore, some of the details of the injuries sustained by women in pornography are graphic and disturbing. Caution should be taken in recommending this book.

Gerald Murphy, M.A., Assistant Program Director of Catechesis and Student Formation at the St. Philip Neri Newman Center at The University of Tulsa


Kidnapped by the Vatican? The Unpublished Memoirs of Edgardo Mortara. By Vittorio Messori. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017) (ISBN 978-1-62164-198-8) Reviewed by Rev. John P. Cush, STD

To say that there has been a great deal of ink spilled over Vittorio Messori’s Kidnapped by the Vatican? The Unpublished Memoirs of Edgardo Mortara, published by Ignatius Press in English, translated by Michael J. Miller, would be an understatement. This autobiography, written originally in the Basque language (3), then made available as a booklet in Spanish in limited release by the members of Father Mortara’s community of Canons Regulars (8-9), was “rediscovered in the Roman archive of the Canons Regular, at the famous Church of Saint Peter in Chains, nowadays besieged by tourists who are enthralled by Michangelo’s Moses.” (9). Apparently, Father Mortara himself translated his text into Italian for the benefit of his brothers, and this text was what Messori used, according to his Italian publishers, Mondadori Press (Joan Desmond Frawley, “Was a Memoir of a Jewish Boy ‘Kidnapped’ by the Pope Doctored?,” National Catholic Register, May 8, 2018.) There are some questions of exactly what translation was used, Spanish or Italian, by Mr. Messori.

In terms of the text itself, David Kertzer, the author of The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (1997), after reading Messori’s book, stated: “In reading the Italian text, I found many elements that were historically inaccurate, but I was not sure to what extent those inaccuracies were the work of Mortara himself … or had been the result of changes in the Mortara text introduced by Messori,” (quoted by Joan Desmond Frawley, “Was a Memoir of a Jewish Boy ‘Kidnapped’ by the Pope Doctored?,” National Catholic Register, May 8, 2018). Again, according to Ms. Desmond Frawley’s article, Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press, has also investigated the veracity of the translation. Stephen Spielberg is scheduled to direct a film about Father Mortara.

From Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., to Father Romanus Cessario, OP, to R.R. Reno, to Robert George, to Michael Sean Winter, to Rod Dreher—so many voices have been heard concerning the merits and values of the actions described in the book. Anna Momigliano, in The Atlantic (January 24, 2018), concerning the Mortara case, stated: “It’s not about the Church’s relationship with Jews. It’s about the culture war inside the Church.”

This is a rather controversial book, and the reader can go and read all of the various articles and opinions about the book, as to its veracity of translation, and to the questions raised by the actions of the Catholic nurse of the Jewish Mortara family in Bologna during the time of the Papal States, and the subsequent actions of Blessed Pope Pius IX. The purpose of this simple book review is to state whether or not Messori’s book itself is worth reading for the busy priest, deacon, religious, or layperson. The answer that I can give is an unqualified “yes.” Roy Schoeman, the author of Salvation Is from the Jews (2003), in his forward to Messori’s book, lays out the thesis statement of the entire work: “Why was the Mortara case such a cause célèbre in the second half of the nineteenth century, and why did it remain so controversial that it was the primary objection to the recent beatification of Pope Pius IX, almost a century and a half later? The case sits at the crossroads of the greatest social transformation of modern times: from a fundamentally religious view of the world to a fundamentally materialistic one. Those two views can lead to diametrically opposed conclusions about the Mortara case.” (vii) (Emphasis mine)

If a person wants to form an opinion on this difficult case of Father Mortara, or an opinion of the value of this text by Messori, then he or she should read this book. The veracity of the translation will work itself out eventually. The more important questions (for example, should a baptized Catholic child whose parents refuse to raise him or her in the Catholic faith, be forced to do so? What does this historical event mean for us today? What does it say about Catholic-Jewish relations? What does it say about the Church and civil power? How should we read past events in history in light of contemporary developments?) are ones that intelligent, prayerful, faithful people need to ponder. Messori’s book, in spite of, and perhaps because of, the controversy (and with the theological questions of grace and the sacraments that arise from it) is worth the read for the intelligent Catholic interested in history and sacraments.

Rev. John P. Cush, STD, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as academic dean and as a formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State. Father Cush hold the Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy, where he is an adjunct professor of theology and U.S. Catholic Church History.


Decoding Vatican II: Interpretation and Ongoing Receptio
n by Catherine E. Clifford Paulist Press: New York/Mahwah, NJ, 2014. ISBN 978-0-8091-4857-8. Reviewed by Rev. John P. Cush, STD

Decoding Vatican II: Interpretation and Ongoing Reception by Catherine E. Clifford is a text that can be best understood by those who have studied Catholic theology formally. It is not a book that I would recommend to a casual reader, be he or she lay, religious, or ordained, as it is a rather technical read, to say the least. For those looking for an introduction to the sixteen documents of Vatican II, this is certainly not your book. However, for those who are at all familiar with Vatican II, and contemporary theology since the mid-part of the 20th Century, Clifford’s book might prove to be an interesting read, even if one may not agree with every one of her conclusions.

Dr. Clifford is Director of Graduate Theological Studies at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, and serves as Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology. As she proves in this work, she is well steeped in the history of Vatican II, and the pastoral implications of the Council’s documents. This book is adapted from Dr. Clifford’s talk given at Saint Mary College’s Madeleva Lecture Series in 2013. She clearly approaches the Council’s documents from the viewpoint of contextual theology, with a particular interest in feminist interpretations of the Council. Although only a few years old since its publication, the text feels dated already, especially when it discusses His Holiness, Pope Francis, and the expectations of his papacy. A great deal has happened in five years, to say the least!

The author divides her text into five sections. Part I “The Hermeneutics of the Council: Navigating Contemporary Debates,” sets the tone for Dr. Clifford’s entire premise. She writes, concerning the documents of Vatican II: “A correct interpretation must attend to more than their verbal content and form. A simple repetition of the content of the council texts cannot adequately convey their full meaning. Such an approach neglects the inevitable tensions evoked by the differing situations of authors and receivers, a reality that calls for a creative effort of transposition. To transpose the meaning of the council’s teachings to a new context, it is helpful to consider what questions the council fathers sought to address.” (10-11). The author works from the point of view of a complete acceptance of the theological concept of historical consciousness. However, at times, as clear as she is in her presentation of the historical facts, her presentation can seem rather facile. She can seem to create in this section a simple world of old thinking (classicism) vs. new thinking (historical consciousness). In Dr. Clifford’s attempt to explain modernism (14-15), she firmly critiques Pope Saint Pius X as the one who condemns “ideas emanating from the Enlightenment,” (15), while failing to mention Pope Pius IX and Leo XIII, popes who served when the concept of modernism first arose. Yes, the Church had a genuine suspicion of modernism. This is true and, perhaps, in many cases, that suspicion was very warranted historically. A simple question—were all the ideas “emanating from the Enlightenment” good and healthy for the Church and the world? Dr. Clifford rightly critiques Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s interpretation of the Council as a complete rupture with the Church’s tradition (16-18), but also calls into question Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI as one who “…in his effort to make constructive use of the notion of continuity, he would open the way, however unwittingly, to an interpretation of conciliar teaching that tends to minimize the newness of the council, and its consequences for significant doctrinal development, or structural and practical change.” (21). For the author, Vatican II is not simply a matter of continuity or discontinuity. Appealing to Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, she states that it is a “moment of significant reform in the life of the Church.” (29), containing both continuity with the tradition, and a discontinuity with previous practices. Dr. Clifford writes, concerning a hermeneutic of continuity versus a hermeneutic of discontinuity: “Where the former bears in it a propensity to divide the preconciliar church to the postconciliar, or to oppose the spirit of the council and the letter of the council text, he (Benedict XVI) argues that the latter—a hermeneutic of reform—is more apt to account for the complex nature of the council and its teaching.” (26)

Dr. Clifford is highly influenced by the work of Church Historian Fr. John O’Malley, S.J., and his influence, from his book, What Happened at Vatican II? (2008), and other articles, and it is clearly felt throughout. Part II of her work, “Principles of Interpretation,” takes the reader through the context of Vatican II—namely the authors of the sixteen Documents (the Council Fathers), and the receivers of the teachings of the Council. Regrettably, the author rather quickly dismisses Pope Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris (1879) as “rather uncritically” (51) reviving a dry and dusty neo-Thomism which could not hold its own against the advances made by renewed scriptural and historical studies. This is a rather unfair estimation of a key document in the Church’s history, and the value of Thomism, in the life of theology and in the Church.

Positively, Dr. Clifford, again drawing from Fr. O’Malley, offers an understanding of the language of Vatican II’s documents as one of “dialogue” and “persuasion” (55), but then declares that prior Ecumenical Councils were “assertive, opting for the form of short, blunt declarations,” (54-55), again a bit of a reductionist attitude towards the documents of the Church prior to Vatican II. Were there absolutely no calls for dialogue in any documents of prior Ecumenical Councils? Part III, “A Feminist Hermeneutic of Vatican II,” offers a summary of women’s involvement in Vatican II, especially on pages 70-72. The author references many feminist theologians and calls for an examination of the role of women in the Church’s leadership.

Part IV, “A New Ecclesial Consciousness—Identity and Contingency,” is a celebration by the author of the new awareness in the years of, and years since, the Council in historical consciousness in the Church. (79) Dr. Clifford clearly prefers Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, to any of the other documents of the Council, and painstakingly wishes to emphasize that “pastoral” is not in complete opposition to “dogmatic.” This is a point that is very well made by the author.

Part V, “Identity, Dialogue, and Reform,” demonstrates again the author being influenced by Fr. John O’Malley’s work, and Dr. Clifford proposes again that “dialogue” is the main word of the documents of the Council. She notes that it seems the Church has had better dialogue externally with non-Catholics and non-Christians than in “creating genuine dialogue within its own household.” (104). This is a rather sad estimation of the state of affairs in the Church by the author. Dr. Clifford then proposes Pope Francis as the “son of the council,” “the embodiment of its message and ethos” (108) and, with the book being published in 2014, looks forward to seeing how his papacy will be “a significant opportunity for Catholics to embrace more fully the habits of dialogue that the Second Vatican Council sought to instill.” (107)

Decoding Vatican II is a complex book that many might mistake for a simple introduction to the history and the documents of the Council. It is not. But it is a work of theology that many will disagree with (and, in some cases, for some good reasons), but for the student of Vatican II, it is good to know what scholars are thinking and proposing.

Rev. John P. Cush is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and serves as Academic Dean and formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Fr. Cush holds a Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor of Theology and US Catholic Church History. Father Cush is a theological consultant for the NET TV and a contributing writer at National Catholic Register, as well as the Brooklyn Tablet and the Albany Evangelist.

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