Book Reviews for Winter 2018

Minor Setback or Major Disaster? The Rise and Demise of Minor Seminaries in the United States, 1958-1983
By Robert L. Anello, MSA. Reviewed by Fr. Scott Jones. (skip to review)

One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both
By Jennifer Fulwiler. Reviewed by Elizabeth Anderson. (skip to review)

Galileo Revisited: The Galileo Affair in Context
By Paschal Scotti. Reviewed by Matthew K. Minerd, PhD. (skip to review)

Run That By Me Again: Selected Essays from “Absolutes” to the “Things that Can Be Otherwise”
By Fr. James V. Schall, SJ. Reviewed by Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ. (skip to review)


Minor Setback or Major Disaster? – Robert L. Anello, MSA

Anello, MSA, Robert L. Minor Setback or Major Disaster? The Rise and Demise of Minor Seminaries in the United States, 1958–1983. St. Louis, MO: En Route Books & Media, 2018. 616 pages.
Reviewed by Fr. Scott Jones.

In his work Minor Setback or Major Disaster? The Rise and Demise of Minor Seminaries in the United States, 1958–1983, Church historian Rev. Robert Anello, MSA, provides a masterful overview and trends-analysis of high school seminaries in the United States, focusing specifically on the period from their peak years in the late 1950s through the massive waves of closures that concluded in the 1980s, with only a few left. What is most impressive in Anello’s work is that rather than repeating the standard practice of drawing conclusions about minor seminaries from anecdotal reminiscences, Anello heavily documents his work throughout. (The footnotes are as extensive as the main text.) In addition to surveying a vast amount of literature from the 1950s to the 1980s, Anello draws heavily from three sources: the bulletins from the minor/major seminary sessions of the 1903–68 NCEA meetings; the proceedings of the annual Minor Seminary Conference, sponsored by Catholic University; and the CARA Seminary Forums. Anello also provides eight major case studies used to draw his conclusions about the reasons for the growth and demise of minor seminaries in the United States.

While this is an in-depth and well-documented study, it is also very accessible for those who are interested in learning more about the old system of seminary formation. While Anello is writing primarily for historians, there is still a large body of priests and laity who attended minor seminaries during the period covered who will find Anello’s work fascinating. It may also help them to understand better their own experience of seminary formation and why those programs were structured a certain way, depending on the time when they attended. (A minor seminary student from the 1950s would have a very different experience from one who attended in the 1970s and 1980s, when these institutions were in steep decline.) Anello’s work will help to contextualize their experience in societal and Church trends.

As far as the history told and conclusions drawn, Anello presents his narrative in a style that is enjoyable and informative. During the 1950s, dioceses and religious communities were optimistic about the future of priestly formation and engaged in a period of extensive minor seminary construction. But even as these seminaries were being built, Anello points to a number of developing factors that sowed the seeds of their destruction. The G.I. Bill created a generation of parents who saw ample opportunities available to their sons, and the priesthood was viewed as one option among many. What’s more, parents were asking questions about the quality of minor-seminary education as it compared to other secondary institutions (seminary formators were asking the same questions and seeking to improve their institutions through accreditation). While many commentators credit Vatican II with heralding the demise of minor seminaries, Anello makes a compelling argument that decline was already in sight before the Council concluded, due to societal changes. In the years following Vatican II, the end of the Catholic “ghetto” and a general crisis in priestly identity only accelerated the demise of the minor-seminary system, as priests and religious were reluctant to encourage young people and their parents to consider a vocation. Anello points out that minor seminaries might have continued in some fashion had their sponsors been willing to amalgamate their institutions, but each seminary chose instead to compete for survival, leading to the eventual closure of nearly all of them. Finally, the development of pre-theology programs sponsored by major seminaries contributed to the demise of not only minor seminaries, but a large reduction in the number of free-standing college seminary programs.

Anello concludes his work with some questions and considerations for the future. The U.S. bishops have chosen to focus primarily on the strengthening of college, and especially of pre-theology and theology programs. For elementary and secondary students, the emphasis has shifted to better vocational catechesis. In his final remarks, Anello provides for the possibility for a revival of some kind of modified minor-seminary system, but he highlights the kinds of objections that will surely be made by parents, priests, and religious. These objections would be difficult to overcome, especially in the current post-abuse climate. Time will tell if the demise of minor seminaries was a minor setback or a major disaster, but Anello’s work is a significant contribution to the conversation.

Fr. Scott Jones is a priest of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Arkansas and his DMin from Mundelein University. Besides serving God’s people at Immaculate Conception Parish in Arnold, MO, he also teaches as an Instructor of Theology and spiritual director at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis.

 

One Beautiful Dream – Jennifer Fulwiler

Fulwiler, Jennifer. One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both. With a foreword by Jenna Guizar. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2018. 240 pages.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Anderson.

Modern culture provides little encouragement to families trying to live a God-centered life, nor wisdom for those who should advise. One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler gives both encouragement and wisdom. Jennifer opens up regarding her personal difficulties, as one who left deep atheistic roots to embrace Catholicism but finds living a fully saturated Christian life utterly confusing. Along with these struggles comes her dream to write, a desire to help the family — and, of course, the family itself. Six children in eight years bring chaos and hilarity. Without depth, tales of chaos and hilarity grow tiresome, but Mrs. Fulwiler enriches the story with razor-sharp insights into love and truth. While not dictating that this is the one mold that works for everyone, One Beautiful Dream provides an excellent example of what a Catholic Christian family life can look like in these times, within the context of cultivating God-given talents.

In particular, One Beautiful Dream presents a theme, “wholeness of vision,” borrowed from Sheldon van Auken’s A Severe Mercy, which can be applied to every life, not only a family’s. To Jennifer and her husband Joe, this wholeness of vision means to consider life with big-picture perspective, thereby finding appreciation for the fine details (or the crummy ones). This in two ways; the first being vertical, that is, looking upward to God for meaning and purpose. Jennifer’s journey from atheism to the Faith gives her a sharpened appreciation for how truly God changes everything intellectually, but also practically. Jennifer says, “God burst into our lives with all the subtlety of a neutron bomb, shattered everything we thought we knew, snatched our carefully crafted life plans and set them on fire, then gave us a big hug and tossed us onto a path we could never have imagined for ourselves.” And so it should be. Allowing God to enter into every aspect of life ought to be a common endeavor among Catholic Christians. And the Fulwilers share exactly what that might look like — although, realistically, it will be somewhat unique to each person and family. Jennifer and her husband Joe come to realize that nothing falls into place unless one makes the choice to put God first. And then, not only do less important persons and things fall into place, but everyone and everything has a completely renewed value, because of God’s enlivening.

Jennifer honestly shares details regarding how utterly God changes everything — from how one views the universe down to matters between husband and wife. Contraception, once considered the norm, must go, along with the atheism. Although the intellectual issue of contraception is developed much more in her first book, Something Other Than God, in One Beautiful Dream Mrs. Fulwiler shows what happens practically when married life remains intrinsically open to children. Furthermore, she provides a great example of the need for an understanding of the Faith to bolster the will when the will wavers in difficulty. Most mothers refraining from contraception know the awkward conversations with OB doctors and nurses completely stymied by refused birth control. Jennifer faced those same questions, and although she doesn’t always have to share her reasons, she knows them: “If the nurse had time for me to explain it all, she would see how animated I became when I described how my newfound theology influenced this decision. I could tell her all about how I came to agree with the old-school Catholic view that abstinence-based methods of child spacing are preferable to contraception. (I’d probably stand up and pace wildly when I related it all to Aquinas’ description of Natural Law, since that part was just so exciting.)” Every Catholic should know their faith, should understand why Catholics live differently. As Frank Sheed puts it in Theology and Sanity, “in the appallingly difficult struggle to be good, the will is helped immeasurably the by intellect’s clear vision of the real Universe.” That is, seeing things the way the Catholic Church sees things, which is to say, as they really are, provides support when it comes to living life the way the Catholic Church calls us to live. The Catholic Church has the answers to the difficult questions, as Jennifer Fulwiler came not only to realize, but rejoice in.

The second way in which Jennifer comes to have a wholeness in vision is in terms of living as a member of a community, rather than having an individualistic approach to life. Perhaps coming from atheism, Jennifer’s change in perspective is more drastic than most: “I’d always been steeped in a worldview in which personal autonomy is seen as the primary path to happiness.” Yet most Americans understand the desire to exude self-sufficiency. We tend to idealize the loner cowboy, the ubermensch, or the supermom who does it all, without help. However, all Christians need to recognize that we are members of a living Body, not meant to carry our burdens alone, nor keep our gifts to ourselves as lamps under the bushel. Jennifer offers her own change of heart for consideration: “Combined with Fr. George’s insights about letting go of individualistic thinking, I was starting to see that being completely self-sufficient wasn’t necessarily a virtue. In fact, my constant insistence on being able to handle everything on my own, with no assistance from anyone, was usually rooted in pride more than anything else.” Accepting help requires humility, but opens one up to give and receive love, and appreciate the gifts of others.

Moreover, moving beyond individualism toward an appreciation of the inherent value in other persons opens the soul to immeasurable joy. As Fulwiler puts it: “unexpected graces always come into your life when you’re open to the people whom God sends your way, whether it’s babies or friends in need or anyone else.” She saw the principle at work among Mexican friends, and others raised with Christian culture: “the way they saw it, you make time for your work as it fits your family; you don’t make time for family as it fits into your work.” This openness to others radically changed Jennifer’s life, her relationship with her husband, and the entire life of her family. “I came into faith and into parenthood with a mindset that my existence was ultimately about me, and that the hallmark of a good life was being able to control everything to my own taste. I thought that intimate service to others was only something you do for a few years when the kids are young. Now I saw it as the foundation of a rich, fulfilling life.” In this fast-paced world, bombarded with pressures to succeed materially, Jennifer Fulwiler’s change of heart serves as a reminder not to lose oneself among things that matter not. To put others before self, beginning with God, brings great peace. Life always has suffering, but a rightly ordered life will have peace: “when you put connections with other people first, things tend to work out. You might face difficulties. . . But you will never, ever regret putting love first.”

One Beautiful Dream tells a very personal story, but one that can reach a wide audience: men, women, single or married, artists wondering how to pursue their craft, and anyone interested in what the common struggles of a modern Catholic family are. It discusses the issue of living in the world, but not of it, and shares the beauty of lives transformed by love. And, while Jennifer Fulwiler’s writing is very intelligent, it is also extremely accessible.

Elizabeth Anderson is a stay-at-home mother and independent writer. A graduate of Christendom College, she worked for several years at Population Research Institute. She resides in Michigan with her husband, Matthew, and their four small children.

 

Galileo Revisited – Paschal Scotti

Scotti, Paschal. Galileo Revisited: The Galileo Affair in Context. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017. 312 pages.
Reviewed by Matthew K. Minerd, PhD.

Few stories are as deeply embedded in the founding myth of modernity as is the story of the “Gallileo affair,” wherein the famed scientist was sentenced to house arrest during the pontificate of Pope Urban VIII after over a decade of controversy with the Holy See’s representatives. Even today, this event is used as a supposed proof of the Church’s purported bias against modern science (and, in more vehement circles, against knowledge in general). History easily attests against such claims, given the profound debts owed to the Church who was the first steward of the universities of the Western world, as well as the great host of Catholics of high scientific merit including Blaise Paschal, Gregor Mendel, Pierre Duhem, and Georges Lemaître, to name a few. Likewise, with regard to the particular events surrounding Galileo’s case, the Catholic Church acknowledged very publicly during the papacy of St. John Paul II the errors committed in this matter by the Church’s personnel.

Still, the “Galileo Affair” remains of interest to this very day, despite being well-worn territory. This period of modern history remains key to our self-understanding in the contemporary West, whose seeds were sown in during the tumultuous sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Thus, I think we are always ready for a new account of pivotal events that occurred during such an influential age.

In his Galileo Revisited: The Galileo Affair in Context, Dom Paschal Scotti, OSB, presents the reader with a panoramic view of the historical, social, and intellectual milieu of Galileo’s day. The text is an incredibly detailed portrait of the cities and figures of these two centuries, providing a detailed account of the persons and institutions with whom Galileo would have interacted (or by whom he would have been potentially influenced, on some level) during his days in Venice, Pisa, and Padua, as well as on his trips to Rome in self-defense during the decades following the initial controversy concerning his advocacy for positions held by Copernicus in the latter’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.

I think that those of us who are non-historians tend to paint a one-dimensional picture of Italy of this era — “Renaissance Italy.” However, from the start of Scotti’s text, one has the sense of the cosmopolitan, wealthy, and variegated nature of life in a city such as Venice, at once Catholic and yet also desirous of avoiding the displeasure of the many factions doing business there. The general tenor of the day had an élan in the direction of openness to the various new ideas in physics (and other branches of knowledge) that Galileo represented along with others to whom he owed no small debt, such as Tycho Brahe and Nicolas Copernicus.

For those interested in the intellectual milieu of Galileo’s day, Scotti presents a full portrait of the various philosophical outlooks held in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italy. Indeed, this is of no small importance, for as the author remarks at one point, Galileo himself seems to have been desirous to be understood as a philosopher. I think it is fair to say that a man who would write of two “world systems” did not fail to see his project as, in no small part, one of scientific epistemology and philosophical cosmology (though, admittedly, of a new sort).

Yet, it’s not so simple as to say that this was a conflict between the Aristotelian outlook and the new Galilean outlook (even if his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems would tempt one to see matters this way). Instead, as is amply shown by Dom Scotti, the intellectual ferment of Galileo’s day was quite frothy. Galileo’s own thought owed no small debt to the Aristotelian theories of demonstration. Moreover, this was the era of men like Jacopo Zabarella and Cesare Cremonini (among others), members of a still-vibrant strain of Aristotelianism that really would better be referred to as “Aristotelianisms,” for there were many different manners of approaching the Stagirite, most often attempting to retrieve his own thought without imposing on it the later discussions undertaken by the Medieval Peripatetics. However, it was not merely a time of Aristotelianisms vs. non-Aristotelian Copernicanism. Rather, many other philosophical veins were in the air as well. During these years, a Catholic priest such as Pierre Gassendi could espouse Epicurean materialistic atomism as a cosmological system — something that seems to strikingly conflict with a Christian outlook. A renewed appreciation for the skepticism of Sextus Empiricus would influence not only the literary and scientific worlds but, at least according to Scotti, would be of no small influence on aspects of Reformation Christianity as well.

Moreover, Galileo lived in temporal proximity to the great Congregatio de auxiliis, which pitted Dominican and Jesuit theologians against each other on the question of grace and human freedom. Likewise, certain veins of thought surrounding God’s absolute power (a topic of increasing currency under pressures from Nominalist thinkers in the late Middle Ages) were much in the air during this period. Indeed, according to Scotti’s estimation, one of the reasons for Pope Urban VIII’s ultimate breaking with Galileo — for, he had at one time held the scientist in esteem — turned on the pontiff’s embrace of a kind of scientific skepticism flowing from his concern with maintaining God’s absolute power in a number of spheres.

On the whole, the portrait painted of Galileo himself is positive, though critically honest. Scotti is not afraid to show the scientist making his rounds among Roman figures to bolster his image and also does not shy away from the fact that Galileo’s intemperance played no small role in his ultimate condemnation. Likewise, he repeatedly returns to the fact of Galileo’s involvement in astrology — something quite normal for a mathematician and astronomer of his era, though something of an embarrassment for many modern historians who are desirous to present Galileo anachronistically as being above such things.

Nonetheless, such a man was destined to run into conflict with the centralizing and defensive reforms of the Tridentine period of Catholicism. Scotti ultimately presents Galileo as less a Socrates and more an Oedipus — a tragic figure of great talent but also of great intemperance. Nonetheless, Scotti’s tone is arguably on the scientist’s side and not that of the ecclesiastical authorities, who ultimately came to hold him under house arrest (not in very harsh conditions, though). Indeed, the text ends on a very positive note, arguably as a bit of an overstated paean to the imprudent scientist, though an understandable one given the close relationship Scotti must have felt himself to have formed with Galileo in the course of writing this very detailed text.

It is here, however, on the question of details, that the only critique must be registered. Again: the text is admirable for its significant research and digestion of the historical figures and facts of Galileo’s life and milieu. However, it is far too freighted with such facts without providing a significant narrative arch for the reader. On many occasions, the reader can become overwhelmed by the details presented by Scotti. Based on methodological comments made early in the text, I think that the Dom Scotti does not like the idea of ideologically forcing the details of history into a narrative. He would rather let the facts stand — and stand forth they do! However, Ignatius Press is a semi-popular press, not an expert’s press. I suspect that some readers may be overwhelmed if this is their first dipping into the history and thought of this era. Indeed, I have here focused more on of the intellectual currents discussed in the text than on the historical figures and facts, but the latter play out in great detail as well, both in the ecclesiastical world as in throughout the world of Italian politics. The details are abundant, and the reader should at least be aware of this going into the text. Even the basic historical outline can get lost in the details, so I would recommend reading this text alongside a more basic introduction to Galileo’s life and times. (Something like the small introductory text by Oxford University Press would be a good companion. Thus, Scotti’s text could fill out the details marvelously for the reader.) Moreover, there is one stylistic quirk that sometimes will catch the reader, I think. The transitions from topic to topic can at times be awkward, for such transitions are made by the introduction of a primary-source quotation without an antecedent marker that the quote is introducing a new sub-topic. At first, I found myself a bit confused upon hitting these blocks of text, until I realized that Scotti was using these as introductions to whatever new figure or topic he was discussing. The occurrence of this “jarring” feeling was more frequent early in the text than later.

Let me end, however, on a positive note, for clearly Dom Scotti has put together a learned and very informative text for the reader. So long as the reader is prepared for the torrent of information provided in the text, I certainly recommend it, as it fills out many important historical details concerning an era of pivotal importance for understanding even our own day as well as an important moment in Western history.

Dr. Minerd is Professor of Philosophy and Moral Theology, Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, Pittsburgh, PA.

 

Run That By Me Again – Fr. James V. Schall, SJ

Schall, SJ, Fr. James V. Run That By Me Again: Selected Essays from “Absolutes” to the “Things that Can Be Otherwise”. Charlotte: TAN Books, 2018. 236 pages.
Reveiwed by Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ.

What makes Schall Schall is also what makes Schall so readable and, now we know, reprintable. It is his keen and uncanny ability to lift eternity out of the everyday. Whether it be a Peanuts cartoon or the densest of medieval thought, Fr. Schall has spent decades discerning for us what-is, his preferred (Straussian) phrase for the mind’s conformity to reality. Whatever the topic and whomever the author, Schall can take the mundane and see in all the movements of the human condition a deeper truth. These truths are then recast into an invitation, an invitation for each of us readers to move from living to living well, from merely existing to flourishing. How so? Because the great minds who have gone before us offer us such pages that allow us to understand what-is rightly and passionately.

A hallmark of Schall’s writing is that such truth is discovered, not determined. Was this not the primal temptation in the Garden of Eden: to replace the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil with one’s own limited and fallen perception of what-is? As one reads Schall, then, one also comes to understand that this is the aberration of any fallen mind. But whereas the classical and medieval understandings of reality see what-is as that which determines how we mortals should think and act, the post-Cartesian world reverses that order, positing the human mind as the arbiter of what one can consider real (and thus worthy of value and attention). What arises is not only a stilted human knower, locked in on his own limited opinions, but also a God who is capricious and no longer synonymous with truth. For once being and truth become isolated and competing species against one another, and no longer modes of the same reality as in Aquinas, voluntarism and legal positivism are the only consequence.

To combat this straying, we read books. Some books are reprinted because they are classics. Similarly, essays are rerun because they still have much to teach us. This new collection of Fr. Schall’s essays accordingly gather 55 of his best pieces. They have all been published before, but their lessons into what’s wrong with the world and where we are truly blessed have not yet been fully appreciated and therefore appropriated. This is why the fine people at TAN Books in Charlotte have chosen to run these by us again. They have sifted through decades of essays and idylls and rambles to bring us works from Catholic World Report, The Hill, Gilbert Magazine, Crisis Magazine, as well as from the websites mercatornet.com and aleteia.org. These essays range from Schall on creation to cremation, and in between we have the pleasure of thinking alongside Fr. Schall on outer space, the workings of a modern-day English department, on what he thinks about the fate of Jesuit donkeys (really!), cooking, and, of course, the Nativity: God Made Visible. Fr. Schall, thank you for the countless hours of solitude in your room, the library, and the chapel, those precious hours which have enabled you to share with us the fruits of what Christ has run by you all these years.

Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ is Associate Professor of Patristic Theology at Saint Louis University, where he also directs the Catholic Studies Centre.

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