Book Reviews – September 2021

The Hundredfold Songs for the Lord. By Anthony Esolen. Reviewed by Lawrence Montz. (skip to review)

An Introduction to the Creeds. By Steve Ray and Dennis Walters. Reviewed by Joseph Tuttle. (skip to review)

Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity. By Russell Shaw. Reviewed by Fr. David Vincent Meconi, S.J. (skip to review)

The Church of England and Divorce in the Twentieth Century. By Ann Sumner Holmes. Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak. (skip to review)

My Other Self. By Clarence J. Enzler. Reviewed by Richard Grebenc. (skip to review)

The Hundredfold Songs for the Lord – Anthony Esolen

Esolen, Anthony. The Hundredfold Songs for the Lord. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2019. 214 pages.

Reviewed by Lawrence Montz.

Dr. Anthony Esolen earned his Ph.D. in Renaissance literature in 1987. Professor Esolen is an author, social commentator, translator of classical poetry, and Writer-in-Residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts. His many publications include translations of famous Italian classical literature such as Dante’s Divine Comedy. The author’s publications not only cover English literature and the classics, but social commentaries on Catholicism and our culture, and he is a regularly featured in First Things, Crisis Magazine, and Catholic World Report.

The Hundredfold reflects a set of related poems, songs, prayers, that focus on Christ in the style of traditional meter which encompasses both his reflections on our Lord as well as the importance of poetic style. That method of expression has unfortunately been diminished in American education and popular culture and has often been relegated to the realm of peer criticism and interest rather than something germane to the average reader and Christian. I freely admit that I was in the last class and first approached this book with some dread because its format was not in a style I thought I would find pertinent, that is, until I realized that I already had a love affair with a more famous book of poems, the Psalms.

The Hundredfold is arguably two related books in one when readers consider the forty-page introduction on the state and meaning of poetry in our lives. Dr. Esolen begins his book almost with a warning to us what not to expect, that is, that he does not write in free verse. Free verse can be defined as poetry in which rhythm does not repeat regularly. It is a modern form of poetry that does not use alliterative patterns and is more akin to regular speech. Dr. Esolen poses that the technique has caused a loss of interest in true poetry. The impact of free verse is not only upon the potential readers but the self-exalted authors since they have lost interest in the religious form of song/music, because they see their audience as a small group of fellow practitioners that already have similar views and expectations. Their poetry no longer sings like the psalms, much less prays. This has caused the worshiper in the pew to come to the belief that poetry offers nothing to them and tends to be elitist.

His spiritual treatise, because all 100 poems/songs have the central theme of our relationship with the Lord, is infused with the idea of helping the reader to appreciate the value in our lives of the poetic form or the physical structure of verse. He poses to ordinary readers this central question, “Why bother to set in poetry anything at all?” To which he answers by example when he alludes to the power of a musical score we listen to rather than simply reading its idea as a text message across our iPhone screen. Both have similar messages, but which is the more inspirational and memorable? Common prose simply does not touch us in the same fashion. Whatever the writer of a grabbing story has to do, “the poet must do in far less space.”

The introduction could serve as a primer for English classes beginning to study poetry. The Hundredfold offers a variety of poetic forms to reflect on with sixty-seven meditations based on scripture, twenty-one odes or hymns, and twelve longer dramatic poems he classifies as “monologues” written in blank verse, unrhymed iambic pentameter, that are conceived to bring the reader through the “life, the ministry, the passion, and the Resurrection of Christ.” These are designed to lead his audience to feel what the author feels in his relationship to the “person of Christ.”

Essentially the message of the poetic treatise can be summed up in the last verse of the book, our hope in eternal salvation:

To the all-conquering Savior I confess,

And pray that when the trumpet sounds, He move

My flesh to move with all the stars that bless

Father and Son and their eternal Love.

Dr. Esolen boldly declares that his book is envisioned as “a first salvo in the Christian reclamation of the land of imagination and song.” This is a very lofty goal he has set out for himself and a clear challenge to his readers. Drifting back to my own high school poetry class, I know Bro. Jay Mac undoubtedly hoped he could inspire a bunch of flighty students with not only the knowledge of the forms of poetry but also the importance and purpose of poetry in our lives as Dr. Esolen has in The Hundredfold.

Lawrence Montz is a Benedictine Oblate of St. Gregory Abbey, past Serran District Governor of Dallas, and serves as his Knights of Columbus council’s Vocations Program Director. He resides in the Dallas Diocese.

An Introduction to the Creeds – Steve Ray and Dennis Walters

Ray, Steve and Dennis Walters. The Catholic Faith: An Introduction to the Creeds. Gastonia, North Carolina: Tan Books, 2020. 150 pages.

Reviewed by Joseph Tuttle.

The main focus of The Catholic Faith: An Introduction to the Creeds is on the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, through which the authors seek to explain the meaning and history of the articles of these creeds. They begin by explaining to us the creeds’ four functions. The first is confessional. By confessing your faith, you help to pass it on to others. The second is liturgical. By reciting the Creed, we take part in an act of worship. The third is symbolic. A symbol of faith summarizes the basic principles of the faith. The fourth is normative. This means that the Creed serves two purposes. “One, it defines the faith by including what Christians believe and excluding what they do not. Two, it establishes boundaries for conduct.” (9)

In the early Church, the Creeds began with a mainly Trinitarian formula. The Creeds are based on Sacred Scripture, and thus the authors give numerous references to the Scriptural passages in which the basis of certain articles can be found. The articles of the Creeds were written not only to help catechumens in the early Church learn her important teachings but also for the purpose of refuting many heresies which were prevailing against the Church at the time. Throughout this book, the authors have many questions that are often asked by Catholics and non-Catholics alike regarding certain teachings of the Creeds. They answer these questions in a simple and easy-to-understand way.

The Creeds begin with the first Person of the Trinity, that is, the Father. In these articles, the authors explain the different Church teachings on the Father, like seeing Him as One, Creator, and Almighty. In treating the oneness of God, the authors make an important distinction that there is One God, but three Divine Persons, a Trinity, and not three separate “gods.” Then the discussion turns to the doctrines of the second Person of the Trinity, the Son. Here the authors treat the issues of Christ’s true humanity and divinity and explain that these articles were added to help prevent the Arian heresy from spreading. Continuing, they discuss the articles on the Holy Spirit. The articles on the Holy Spirit emphasize His work in creation, His divinity, and His speaking through the prophets.

The authors then turn to the meanings of “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” The Church is one, because Jesus, her founder, only instituted one Church, which has one deposit of faith, and “. . . one sacramental worship initiated by baptism and centered on the Eucharist.” (94) The Church is holy not because her members are holy, but because she belongs to God. As the authors aptly point out: “Their [the members of the Church] behavior is meant to reflect that fact (Lev. 19:2).”

Of particular interest are the three meanings of the word “Catholic.” Whereas most sources simply say that “Catholic” means universal, this book explains that “Catholic” also means “whole/entire,” and “authentic” or “true.” The Church is apostolic because Jesus commanded His apostles to continue the work He had begun. Thus, the Church must flow from apostolic origins in order to be the true Church of Christ.

The last articles of the Creed deal with judgment, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection at the end of time. The authors make it clear that Jesus’ first coming was to show Himself as the Messiah and Savior of mankind. Jesus’ second coming, however, will be a time of judgment. The forgiveness of sins requires us not only to beg for such forgiveness but also to forgive others. The belief in the resurrection of the dead at the end of time was held by many Jews at the time of Jesus. The Creed confesses that not only will the dead rise, but they will be admitted to gaze upon the Beatific Vision for eternal life.

In conclusion, the authors respond to many objections to what the Creeds teach and uphold. In doing so, they bring much clarity to the Creeds and their true meaning. This book is extremely beneficial for those wishing to gain a better understanding of the origin, history, development, and theology of the Creeds.

Mr. Joseph Tuttle is a Catholic freelance writer currently pursuing a B.A. in Theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, KS.

Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity – Russell Shaw

Shaw, Russell. Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2020. 150 pages.

Reviewed by Fr. David Vincent Meconi, S.J.

Russell Shaw is no distant observer of the papacy. His insightful commentaries, as well as critiques, of the inner workings of the Church have fed Catholic readers for decades. Shaw served for years as the Secretary for Public Affairs for the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, and was a communications consultor for the Vatican as well as Director of Information for the Knights of Columbus. His most recent takes up what is meant by “modernity” and how 8 recent popes set out to combat this threat to the Faith, each in his own way.

Academics and scholars are in the habit of naming epochs of history by the prevailing current of thought or activity of the years in question. We thus have “The Age of the Apologists” as Christianity was out to defend itself against pagan persecutions; we have “The Patristic Period” for those centuries when theologians like Augustine and Jerome, Cyril and the Cappadocians, flourished in helping the Church produce her foundational tenets of belief. We have “The Middle Ages,” “The Reformation,” and the “Modern Period,” marked by Cartesian doubt (can I really know anything outside of my own mind with any degree of certainty?) and the transferral of revelation to the emotional and merely practical.

Often “The Age of Postmodernity” comes next, when Jean-François Lyotard (d. 1998) coined that term to describe “the end of the common story,” meaning that we can no longer assume we know what other people are about and what is important to them. That is why we now live in a time when we say, for example, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”; and God forbid we presume to use a personal pronoun or a title of courtesy for someone until they have given us overt license.

Shaw’s aim is to address this progression through the counterattacks of eight popes of the Modern and Postmodern age, namely, the twentieth century. We accordingly begin with Pope Pius X (1903–14) and his threefold response to the ills of Modernism: Lamentabili, cataloging 65 toxic tenets of the age, Pascendi (both in 1907) tracing the roots of the contemporary mind to a naïve atheism, and the 1910 Sacrum Antistitum which outline the oath against Modernity meant for all clerics.

Pope Benedict XV (1914–22) comes next, and Shaw focuses on his insightful analysis of World War I and how he located its causes in the loss of the transcendent and the subsequent rise of nationalism. In order, then, Shaw highlights the dynamics of Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii (1930), which reaffirmed the beauty of human sexuality and the goodness of the family, responding to the Anglican Lambeth Conference earlier that year legitimizing the use of artificial birth control. He also instituted the Feast of Christ the King as a reminder to all nations of the origin and definition of true authority.

Pope Pius XII (1939-58) is perhaps the most misunderstood of all the popes studied here. His dedication to the Jewish people and ability to save almost 900,000 people during the war is usually cast behind his supposed indifference and (strategic) silence. In both his Summi Pontificatus (1939) as well as his better known Mystici Corporis (1943), Pius XII is out to teach the entire world that the organic unity of the human race is divinely willed and our only way to individual flourishing.

After the Venerable Pius XII comes Good Pope John (1958-63) who opened the Second Vatican Council precisely to address the “signs of the times” and to bring the Church into greater dialogue with those areas of culture that were consciously removing Christ from human society. Shaw reproduces John XXIII’s Opening Address to the Council here along with an entire chapter providing summaries of all the major documents of Vatican II, showing the Holy Father’s optimism that the council’s message could consecrate any thought and nation.

Paul VI continued John’s vision for the council but his most notable anti-modern work is of course the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (the last encyclical Paul ever wrote, so dismayed by its reception). Shaw focuses even more attention on Paul’s Evangeli Nuntiandi in 1974 which called for a greater evangelization, using the modern ennui and sense of utter loneliness to show the world the power of Christ and his Church to mend the heart and to reform a community of true charity. The only modern papacy not to promulgate an encyclical, the 33 days of John Paul I are here mentioned through his anticipated vision for his pontificate, an excerpt from a homily, and some whimsical anecdotes from Shaw.

John Paul II is has perhaps proven the greatest force against the toxicity of modernity. From his helping defeat Cold War communism to his revival of hope in the Church with his clear teaching and bold proclamation of truth and the inherent dignity of the human person, John Paul II — “the pope from a far-away country” — centered his countering of modernity in two ways. The first was a return to classical ethical theory and the second was in his attempt to restore objective truth. The first is found in Veritatis Splendor (1993) and Evangelium Vitae (1995) and John Paul’s invigorating a “culture of life” based on moral truths and the recognition against modern tendencies that there are in fact inherently evil actions, some things which can never, ever be justified. The second shines through in Fides et Ratio (1998) wherein St. John Paul reestablishes revelation as a wise complement, not some emotional competition, to human reason, “two wings” on which the human person can finally soar to the truth which makes each of us free.

Shaw unfortunately stops here. There is no mention of Pope Benedict’s alacritous mind, nor is there any mention of Francis’ attempt to challenge modern notions of community and efficiency. Yet one monograph can only do so much, and here we have 8 excellent chapters covering some major theme of a pontificate, complete with biographies and well-sized excerpts of the central text in question. This work would thus well serve introductory courses on Church history, or be a great gift for any Christian intrigued to understand Christ’s promise that the gates of the underworld could never prevail against his Church.

Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ, professor of Theology and Catholic Studies at Saint Louis University, is also the editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review.

The Church of England and Divorce in the Twentieth Century – Ann Sumner Holmes

Sumner Holmes, Ann. The Church of England and Divorce in the Twentieth Century: Legalism and Grace. New York: Routledge, 2017. 195 pages.

Reviewed by Christopher Siuzdak.

This well-researched historical monograph examines the evolution of the Church of England’s understanding of the marital bond over the course of the long twentieth century. Relatedly, the author traces the reception of Communion by divorced and remarried persons in the Church of England. The interplay of ecclesiastical and civil forces in this established church renders the history of the nuptial knot all the more intricate.

The Church of England maintains the position that marriage is “in its nature a union permanent and lifelong,” although “the expression ‘in its nature’ does not necessarily mean ‘its determinative and invariable essence’” (179). The author distills a century’s worth of debates, reports, sociocultural shifts, and legal changes that have led to the present position, interpretation, and application.

Although the dissolution of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was central to the founding of the Church of England in the sixteenth century, the Church of England (somewhat counterintuitively) was not sympathetic to divorce (5). In short, the State advanced liberalizing reforms beginning with the Divorce Act of 1857, which “made divorce legal in English secular courts” on the ground of adultery, and the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1937, which starkly expanded the grounds for divorce (1).

Although the Church of England “chose a more restrictive course of action” (54) for a period based on emerging biblical scholarship that “reinforced the Marcan prohibition against divorce” (8), regaining lost ground proved difficult, and futile in the long run. At the close of the long twentieth century, the General Synod in 2002 “voted to rescind the provision in the 1957 Marriage Resolutions of the Convocation of Canterbury that had prohibited the marriage in church of a divorced person whose spouse was still living” (180). From 2002, “the Church’s rules no longer prohibited what the secular laws had clearly allowed since 1857” (181).

Given the reality of married clergy in the Anglican Communion, further research could address the Church of England’s position on the compatibility of divorce and remarriage with ordination and the exercise of ministry (cf. 1 Timothy 3). Moreover, it would be interesting to trace, contextualize, and freshly assess the Lichfield Commission’s reasoning for steering away from the Roman Catholic approach involving declarations of marriage nullity. Canonists interested in comparing Roman Catholic and Anglican approaches to marriage-related matters may also be interested in Marriage in Anglican and Roman Catholic Canon Law: The Acts of the Ninth Colloquium of Anglican and Roman Catholic Canon Lawyers edited by Norman Doe and published by the Center for Law and Religion at Cardiff University in 2009. Given that Catholics are discussing the pastoral implications of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia and society in general is wrestling with the meaning of marriage, this detailed study of the tensions over the unitive power of nuptial promises within a part of the Anglican Communion is a timely contribution and will serve as a cautionary tale for some. This readable work will be particularly useful to individuals who are interested in ecumenical dialogue.

Christopher Siuzdak is a canonist in the Tribunal of the Diocese of Portland.

My Other Self – Clarence J. Enzler

Enzler, Clarence J. My Other Self: Conversations With Christ On Living Your Faith. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2020. 232 pages.

Reviewed by Richard Grebenc.

Ave Maria Press has done a great service in bringing back this 1957 book by Deacon Clarence Enzler. Having come across the original Bruce edition some years ago, working through it multiple times since, and recommending it to others, I was gratified to see this volume again made widely available.

The text of this edition is identical to the original except for a short foreword by Deacon Greg Kandra and a touching, but even shorter, biographical introduction by the wife and children of the late author.

It is always instructive to know the author’s goal in writing the book. He says, “My aim is to unfold, as fully as I can, the meaning of union with our Lord and all that it involves for the individual and for society. I have sought to show that the present moment is Christ’s moment, the time for each individual to identify himself with the Lord and to act as Christ” (xvi). That is, each of us is called by Christ to be “My Other Self.” He achieves this aim with flying colors.

Except for several sections on the Passion of Christ, narrated by the apostle John and the Virgin Mary, the text has Jesus speaking to the reader. This serves to make this a more intimate journey with a relatable friend who cares deeply for us, provides encouragement, but is not reticent to challenge us to radical holiness as well. Simple to understand, but often not easy to carry out.

The work is composed of ten chapters spread over three parts (The Call, The Means, and The End). Each chapter has several sections, each beginning with a scripture quote apropos to the theme of the section. But this is not the only time the Bible is invoked, as you might suspect. Biblical quotes and allusions proliferate throughout. The reflections also sometimes become a vehicle for solid theology on grace, creation, sin, the sacraments, the Mystical Body of Christ, and much more. Additionally, the book is replete with questions that Christ puts to the reader so that the latter can assess his own behavior, making this an excellent examination of conscience. Finally, expect a few surprises too, like the author’s call to attachment rather than detachment (81–84).

I particularly like that the book’s penultimate chapter is on the Mass and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The importance of the liturgy, and the gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood as an irreplaceable aid to our sanctification, cannot be emphasized enough.

The final chapter, entitled “The Final Goal,” is a primer on evangelization. The author begins, “If you would be truly my other self, you must carry on my work. My task is to bring all men into my Mystical Body. You are to help” (203). A good summary of how to evangelize follows: “Let your words, voice, manner, and deeds tell the members of my Mystical Body, and potential members as well, that you love them as I love them, enough to die for them, enough to climb the cross on their behalf” (209).

The two prevailing themes throughout the book are: Trust in God and do His will. This is presented by Enzler early on: “Holiness consists of but one thing: the union of your will with mine” (10). That is, accepting God’s will day to day, moment to moment. This is a great challenge, and we will fall, but we must constantly turn back to the Lord, trusting in His grace and being confident that He desires to help us.

Deacon Kandra, in the foreword, suggests that the reader “[t]ake small bites. Savor it” (xii). I concur. The short sections (three to four pages each) are ideal for a daily spiritual reflection, especially for the person who is challenged in finding the time to pray or who simply wishes to add inspirational spiritual reading to an existing prayer practice. In fact, quite often, the reader will find one pithy sentence on which he can ruminate the rest of the day. For example: “Holiness consists of one thing: The union of your will with mine” (10). Another: “Accept your present situation and carry out its responsibilities” (39). One more: “What you do to yourself, you do to me” (81).

This book receives my highest recommendation. The author intentionally styled this as a contemporary Imitation of Christ and his effort stacks up admirably with that venerable work. Like Imitation, it can be read again and again with profit, each go around presenting new insights and food for reflection.

Richard Grebenc is an Adjunct Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas (Houston) and an Adjunct Lecturer in the Program for Deacon Formation at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology.

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