Book Reviews – February 2023

The Church and the Age of Reformations (1350-1650): Martin Luther, the Renaissance, and the Council of Trent. Joseph T. and Barbara A. Stuart. Reviewed by Argene Águila Clasara. (skip to review)

Forming Fathers: Seminary Wisdom for Every Priest. By Fr. Carter Griffin. Reviewed by Fr. Andrew Walsh. (skip to review)

St. John of the Cross: Master of Contemplation. By Fr. Donald Haggerty. Reviewed by Juliana Weber. (skip to review)

Unfolding a Post-Roe World. By Francis Etheredge. Reviewed by Christine Sunderland. (skip to review)

How To Revive Evangelism: Seven Vital Shifts in How We Share Our Faith. By Craig Springer. Reviewed by Lawrence Montz. (skip to review)

The Chronicles of Transformation: A Spiritual Journey with C.S. Lewis. Ed. by Leonard J. DeLorenzo. Reviewed by Lawrence Montz. (skip to review)

The Church and the Age of Reformations – Joseph and Barbara Stuart

Stuart, Joseph T., and Barbara A. Stuart. The Church and the Age of Reformations (1350-1650): Martin Luther, the Renaissance, and the Council of Trent. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2022. 192 pages.

Reviewed by Argene Águila Clasara.

The Church and the Age of the Reformations (1350-1650) is a welcome addition to the ever-growing historical and historiographical literature on the Church during this historical period. The work’s novelty and contribution, however, lie in its approach — the prose is highly accessible to readers, yet scholarship is not sacrificed; factual and at the same time persuasive, and never vulgar — a gift that is quite rare for history books that are “public” or “popular.”

Its publication is timely in two senses — it is timely since we remember the incipient years of the Protestant Reformation more than five hundred years ago, whose effects on our lives as believers and as members of various societies are still much felt, and secondly, as we enter the age of dis/mal/misinformation or the post-truth which directly challenge and oppose the (T)ruth as some contemporary thinkers and philosophers have posited and observed.

Joseph and Barbara Stuart argue in this book that the Church in this period of the Reformations provides a case study of the principles of true reform and in the challenging conditions of the time that obscured them (xxiii). This argument is unfolded in its four chapters which focused not merely on abstract or imagined institutions but on real people of this period — the reformers who remained faithful to the Catholic faith and the Catholic hierarchy that was put into a difficult position and had to act sagely and prudently to reform the Church and maintain ecclesial unity without compromising the Faith.

The authors, in narrating the history of Catholics during this period, use traditional and non-traditional historical sources with the principles of true reform as posited by Cardinal Yves Congar, O.P., one of the most eminent and greatest theologians of the previous century, as the book’s framework. These principles that point to authentic reform are charity, unity, patience, and fidelity to tradition. These principles, interestingly, were clear and have been upheld by Catholic reformers. Unfortunately, many d/reformers have also deviated — or due to historical circumstances and antecedents, have been obscured — from these principles, which led to adherence to heretical positions and schismatic and apostate acts that wounded the Mystical Body of Christ.

This book is helpful not only to the general reading public but to pastors as well. For instance, the “Up Close and Personal” subsections are helpful in introducing Catholic reformers — and saints worthy not only of veneration but also of imitation — that would be proper in preparing and writing homilies whenever their life and memory are celebrated in the Church’s liturgical calendar, or whenever there is a conference that may discuss a particular virtue of which that reformer had become an exemplar in its practice. The “You be the judge” subsections, on the other hand, engage readers on apologetic and historical issues perpetrated as Gospel truths by non-Catholics or unbelievers against the Church, such as the Inquisition (pp. 11–13), the canon of Scriptures (pp. 46–47), veneration of the saints (pp. 64–65), the Catholic (non)reading of the Bible (pp. 68–70), and the indulgences (pp. 106–107), among others. This subsection would be of much help to pastors who encounter these questions from their parishioners.

Reading this book, for it to be effective, should make the readers realize how the Holy Spirit guides the Church in the most tumultuous periods of history, of how damaging the consequences that the Church — and the society at large — will have to endure if pastors have regressed to acedia, and the roadblocks in achieving ecclesial reform. Lastly, if there would be a second or a revised edition of this book, I hope the authors would make a distinction between reform and renewal.

Argene Águila Clasara is a graduate student at the University of Saint Joseph in Macau.

Forming Fathers – Fr. Carter Griffin

Griffin, Fr. Carter. Forming Fathers: Seminary Wisdom for Every Priest. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2022. 326 pages.

Reviewed by Fr. Andrew Walsh.

In Forming Fathers: Seminary Wisdom for Every Priest, Fr. Carter Griffin and Emmaus Road Publishing have given us a new contribution to a unique genre of books, namely, rector conferences. For the unfamiliar, a rector is the head of a seminary. It is his job to form young men into future priests. Fr. Griffin is the rector of the St. John Paul II Seminary in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. The chapters of this excellent book were originally delivered as conferences or talks to the seminarians. The introduction tells us that the conferences are largely unedited from their original context. This comes through in the text which includes statements clearly intended for a specific group of people (seminarians) and references to particular practices at the seminary Fr. Griffin directs.

None of this, however, takes away from the value of the content delivered in these conferences. In fact, they make for more enjoyable reading since the reader knows that these words were given in a real situation to real people with a specific intention. An additional charm that this book has is Fr. Griffin’s sharing of accumulated priestly wisdom. Again and again he shares sayings or stories from his own experience or from the experience of other priests.

The content of Forming Fathers is divided into three parts: manhood, discipleship, and spiritual fatherhood. These three sections, according to Fr. Griffin, express the logic of priestly formation: “the goal of a seminary is to form spiritual fathers. But before a man can be a father, he must first be a son — in this case, a son of God. And before he can be a son, he must be a man, healthy and mature. Seminaries must form men, disciples, and fathers.”

The chapters proceed from basics such as being a Christian gentleman and a good friend to loving and serving the Church. The themes of these chapters represent the perennial content of priestly formation given to generations of young men aspiring to the service of Christ and His Church. Fr. Griffin does this in a winsome and challenging way. Take, for example, this question, “What do priests do? What is our business?” and his response, “We are not social workers, life coaches, or personal counselors . . . we are not community activists or political advocates. When everything is cut away, when you get to the very core of being a priest, we are in the business of saving souls.”

What makes this book particularly relevant is Fr. Griffin’s application of timeless truths to our present situation. Past generations of seminarians and priests never had to deal with questions such as, “How do I utilize modern technology for a good purpose while avoiding the dangers within them?” In these conferences Fr. Griffin wrestles with the challenge of seminary formation and priestly service in the modern world. He has sage advice for those who have ears to hear. He also has words of encouragement that can stir the heart. For example, “The days when priests could afford to be mediocre — if such a time ever existed — are long past. What we need today, more than ever, are priests with an extravagant, daring, sacrificial love for God and for souls. We need priests who burn with love and are willing to pour themselves out without counting the cost. Much depends on our fidelity. The fate of so many hangs on our ‘yes’ to the call.”

Who should read this book? Certainly it would be of much use for those who work in priestly formation at seminaries. Seminarians too would benefit from the wise counsel and encouragement of Fr. Griffin. Priests would also do well to use this book in their ongoing formation. Speaking about the importance of spiritual reading Fr. Griffin writes, “Consistent spiritual reading through your life will continue to immerse you in the spiritual tradition to which we are all heirs, and which we have a duty to impart to others. It is a source of endless and valuable ongoing formation.”

In addition to spiritual reading for priests, this book would also be valuable to the lay faithful who want an inside look at priestly formation or who are looking for a resource for their own Christian formation. Fathers of families, in particular, would gain from the insights offered by Fr. Griffin. Indeed, this is one of the reasons he published the conferences in this fine book. Whether spiritual fathers or natural fathers, “their vocation has an impact in the world that words are incapable of expressing.”

Father Andrew Walsh is a parish priest in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas.

St. John of the Cross – Fr. Donald Haggerty

Haggerty, Fr. Donald. St. John of the Cross: Master of Contemplation. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2022. 387 pages.

Reviewed by Juliana Weber.

In St. John of the Cross, Father Haggerty has organized the mystic’s teachings on contemplation and clarified them for modern readers. The saint presupposes a daily routine of meditation, which Haggerty defines as voluntary reflection on Scripture for a set period of time (177). Contemplation is a grace that advances souls beyond active meditation, and “we can expect” this grace in due time, because “God wants to bestow [it] on souls who approach prayer and virtue seriously” (234). Gathering the list from two of the saint’s books, Haggerty compiles five incipient signs of the grace of contemplative prayer: A lost ability to meditate (186), a distaste for particular considerations in prayer (189), dry feelings within and apart from prayer (190), self-doubt as a result of these changes (191), and an inclination to be profoundly quiet, passive, and receptive to a loving awareness of God (194).

The central notion of the signs above is that we are to be empty of thoughts, feelings, appetites, and passions, also known as “detachment of soul,” so that God can fill us with His presence (142). For example, holy images and the working out of theological problems in prayer are gratifying to our senses, but we must let go of all “clear knowledge” of God in contemplation, so that the Incomprehensible One can unite with us in the dark night (59). Darkness and passivity are an experiential reversal from the antecedent habit of meditation.

For this reason, Haggerty highlights John of the Cross’s teaching that contemplation can be a confusing and fragile gift that requires delicate discernment in a spiritual director, especially for souls that are more “analytical and intellectual” (142). Much damage has been done by “heavy-handed” directors who try to force souls to continue to pray in meditative ways and who are “quick to conclude” that souls troubled by incipient signs of contemplation are guilty of some sin that has caused their inability to pray as before (175). Haggerty notes the saint’s concern that this could result in a “permanent loss of opportunity” (ibid.).

Since the presupposition for contemplative grace is emptiness before God, it follows that there is a direct link between proper asceticism and being internally disposed to receive contemplative grace. The ordinarily indulgent soul that voluntarily deprives self of comforts becomes pure of heart and learns to desire God alone, Haggerty summarizes (110–112). This purgation is experienced as painful emptiness, internal darkness, and even death itself (112–113), and it is exemplified by Jesus Christ crucified (112), the namesake image chosen by John of the Cross.

Nonetheless, Haggerty warns that purification should be moderate, so that it does not become another end in itself. Choosing foods that are not preferred, avoiding snacks between meals and the like suffice to overcome the thoughtless ways we regularly indulge ourselves (114). John of the Cross teaches that we should prefer difficulties to ease, but Haggerty explains that the saint’s teaching is intended only to help us overcome the natural inclination to seek ease (121). The truth is that we can only choose something if we find it desirable, and we master our desires through moderate discipline (ibid.).

Just as the soul cannot allow preoccupation with gratifying the senses, the soul must also be detached from self-satisfying prayer experiences. For example, John of the Cross warned that messages received in prayer are often misinterpreted, because the literal meaning is rarely accurate when God speaks (95). Furthermore, it is often the case that persons attached to locutions are answering themselves rather than hearing God (103). Haggerty explains that saints desire simply what God desires, and John of the Cross likens this to a bird that flies free after breaking the threads of lesser desires that tied it down (125). Detachment means making Jesus Christ the one Beloved of our lives and then delighting in whatever delights Him (142).

Perhaps most importantly of all, Haggerty elucidates what John of the Cross does not mean. For example, self-denial and self-emptying are not synonymous with losing one’s identity, disappearing, or negating the self as some religions teach (216). Asceticism is aimed at purifying the will so that the “eye” of the soul is clear and receptive (ibid.). Contemplation is the loving awareness of God, received as light enters the eye, wherein only cooperation by keeping the eye open is required (215).

Haggerty further explains that we are not to seek feelings of peace or “centering” through contemplation, because these ends are in competition with the goal of seeking God for Himself alone (217). Contemplative grace draws the soul to “remain quietly in a longing for God” (218). Without a particular object for meditation, the soul remains aware of this longing (224), and the soul is aware of being drawn into love (225). The labor of meditation is replaced by received grace in contemplation (236).

Souls often experience confusion, seek out spiritual direction, and even resist the onset of contemplative grace. Cooperation with contemplative grace means remaining receptive to love, while allowing oneself to be led “in the midst of interior darkness” to sensible, concrete thoughts (257). The fruits by which a spiritual director can judge this prayer will include such hidden, interior things as holy fear of offending God and heightened awareness of the smallest sins, as our wills are conformed to God’s own will (229).

Juliana Weber holds an M.A. in Theology from Ave Maria University and has worked in parish and campus ministries across several dioceses. She also writes Catholic fiction, including a detective priest novel entitled Collared.

Unfolding a Post-Roe World – Francis Etheredge

Etheredge, Francis. Unfolding a Post-Roe World. St. Louis, MO: En Route Books and Media, 2022. 181 pages.

Reviewed by Christine Sunderland.

In Unfolding a Post-Roe World, bioethicist and theologian Francis Etheredge updates his earlier work, The ABCQ of Conceiving Conception, by considering the Supreme Court of the United States ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson which stated, “abortion . . . destroys an unborn human being,” overturning the Roe v. Wade (1973) decision supporting abortion rights. Today, science (biology, embryology, genetics) defines human conception as occurring from the moment of fertilization; this first instant of fertilization begins a continuous development culminating in showing forth this person from conception. Thus, defined as a human being, the embryo shares the same human rights as you and I, the right to life being paramount.

The Supreme Court found no right to abortion in the U.S. Constitution and thus referred these decisions to the States. And so we ask, “Is there a right to life of the unborn in the U.S. Constitution?” We wait to see, as cases in progress argue yes, based on the 14th Amendment and its historical interpretations. For if the embryo is defined as a “person” from the moment of fertilization, with all rights and protections, then the following phrase in the 14th Amendment would be binding: “Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Not only has the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, but the European Court of Human Rights has said, “human embryos [should] . . . not be reduced to the level of an object.” Thus, humans are not to be objects of experimentation. They are not to be frozen for future use:

“The Hippocratic Oath states: ‘I will not give a woman a pessary to procure abortion’. The Nuremburg Code says: ‘No experiment should be conducted where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur’. The Belmont Report says: ‘persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection’.

Francis Etheredge re-introduces his earlier arguments in support of the embryo as a person. With the Supreme Court ruling in America, this science (and logic) is supported by law. Embryos as human beings should now be eligible for human rights protections claimed by humanity globally. The author updates the debate and considers medical ethics, philosophy, theology, and historical precedent. He reminds us that to be human is to be a member of the human race, in-relationship with one another, beginning with the mother who bears and gives birth to us, then the father, the family, the community, the nation, and the human family worldwide.

The author adds depth with his poignant and powerful poetry, reflecting his own suffering in the loss of a child through abortion, humbly witnessing to his own tragedies. Thus, he prays that those who see the pre-born as blobs of tissue reconsider and embrace a future of life and love and inclusion. He offers them sight when they are blind.

For if we mistreat these tiny and innocent human beings, we open the door to our being mistreated as well. Eventually, tyranny will prevail, and our own rights will be threatened. We too will become disposable, our right to life and liberty denied. Francis Etheredge urges us to recognize this fact and see that “rights are integral to human existence.”

The author answers objections to his arguments, and here again, his thorough and patient reasoning and scholarship is convincing. He addresses the dignity of women, with several female contributors and testimonies. He offers supportive resources for women pressured to seek abortion.

One testimony comes from the late St. Mother Teresa who cared for the poor in the slums of Calcutta:

“Please don’t kill the child. I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child.”

And there are many today who would offer the same love and acceptance.

In addition to testimony and resources, we learn how abnormal cells of the embryo, which once were considered deforming, are sent to be used in the placenta, the nourishing sac within the womb. Abnormal cells can regenerate.

Why have these discoveries been silenced? We see that powerful financial interests are invested in the business of contraception and abortion. And yet studies have found that women are often damaged by these products and procedures preventing pregnancy. Over fifty percent of ectopic pregnancies have occurred with women who have used intrauterine devices.

Scriptural and theological evidence weaves through the discussion: Psalm 139, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb . . .” The action of God, ensouling the child at the moment of conception completes the creation of a fully human being; this ensoulment constitutes a nature sacrament, for the “human person comes to exist, so God has acted to complete it.”

Etheredge calls for the world community to grant human rights to the next generation:

“We stand, then, at a point in human history where it is not so much a question of personal choice determining anything and everything as choosing the truth, as it becomes more fully known concerning human conception, that will take us into a humane future of the human race or the future of the human race will be determined by the most powerful and prevailing vested interests that will determine, on utilitarian grounds, whose future it will be to be a resource for the rest of the human race.”

It is true, as Christ said, that the truth will set us free (John 8:32). We must face the truth of what we have done, this slaughter of our children. We must face the light, repent, and enact laws to end the killing of the next generation.

Francis Etheredge’s Unfolding a Post-Roe World is an important work for our times. Children are the future, humanity’s future, at least in this world. In the world to come, we shall have to answer for what we have done, or left undone, what we have said, or left unsaid, for human rights belong to all of us.

Christine Sunderland is author of seven award-winning literary novels about faith, family, and freedom. Her most recent novel is Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020).

How to Revive Evangelism – Craig Springer

Springer, Craig. How To Revive Evangelism: Seven Vital Shifts in How We Share Our Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Reflective Press, 2021. 191 pages.

Reviewed by Lawrence Montz.

Craig Springer is a former evangelical pastor who started Alpha, an evangelization outreach that works with thousands of Protestant and Catholic parishes and ministries. Alpha describes itself as an introductory course to the Christian faith which has reached over a million participants globally. Mr. Springer is also an author on faith and evangelization related topics. His latest book, How To Revive Evangelism: Seven Vital Shifts in How We Share Our Faith, is written from an evangelical perspective but addresses concerns common to all denominations, including Catholics.

Evangelization has gotten a bad rap among millennials. 47% reportedly believe just sharing their faith is “wrong.” Note that they are not indicating evangelization is simply undesirable or discomforting but an offensive attempt to impose their beliefs on another individual. This altitude tends to make traditional proclamations of the Good News something many millennials believe should be avoided. Such mindsets have unfortunately led to increased belief that God and religion are no longer meaningful to the lives of ordinary younger Christians.

The current worldview is quickly beginning to reflect the idea that disagreement equates to judgement, not only in the political realm but within Christ’s Church. Our culture has changed and old ways of sharing our faith are no longer meaningful to many people. That does not mean that Christian proclamation is wrong but our efforts can be more fruitful if we listen and respond to our current culture in ways that will appeal to its wants and not our desires. This will require a paradigm shift if evangelization is to be truly meaningful.

Committed Christians should not lose hope or despair, because the Church is still in a good position to fulfill its evangelistic obligations by relating to the new culture with meaningful dialogue, presented in a non-threatening environment, where interactions are not impersonal. Christians should not simply hope for conversions but really desire them. They should be more engaging of the culture and less doctrinal, making our communities not simply welcoming but belonging.

We need first to convert ourselves and become true disciples of Christ so that the “nones” and the young will see us as true mirrors reflecting Christ in their individual situations. Our efforts should not be about our desire to make disciples but focused first on the needs of the person being evangelized. They simply may not be ready to accept Christ as their savior but could be open to a community that cares for them. Evangelization should not be about “me” but the other, however, it starts in our hearts. As Mr. Springer states, the desire to see many come to Christ can be a beautiful thing, “but the origin is always a renewal of our own hearts.”

Sometimes it is as “simple” as following Christ’s example. The Bible lists over 300 questions asked by Jesus and over 180 directed toward him, yet per Springer’s sources, Jesus only answered directly eight times. Our tendencies to proclaim truths as we see them in evangelistic efforts were certainly not followed by our Savior. There is no question regarding truth being important but if people will not listen, how can proclamations alone be effective if they do not meet current cultural cravings? Rather than just telling listeners about God and salvation, the Great Commission or as the Second Vatican Council termed it, “ad gentes” (to the nations), may be better served by answering concerns of our modern culture. Helping people find a purpose to their lives and how to deal with loneliness now rather than offering platitudes (to the world’s way of thinking) about future happiness in heaven and being joyful in the midst of suffering may be more effective in reaching out. The keys are non-judgmental listening and open dialogue.

More succinctly, the vital shifts Mr. Springer urges for those committed to sharing their faith more effectively in these unsettling times is to truly hunger for more than merely hope for conversion. To create a safe space for conversation. To create a sense of belonging for those not already in the pew and to provide listeners with an experience of God not simply an explanation. To demonstrate the fruits of belonging, not just the facts, and to be “we” oriented by displaying a sense of unity, not just uniformity.

More is involved in responding to the culture today than the “simple” ideas listed above. Mr. Springer’s book offers detailed advice and suggestions for more effective evangelization. While these are presented from a Protestant perspective, they relate closely to Catholic outreach efforts. In general, Catholic services are centered more on worship and adoration rather than teaching, but the evangelistic endeavors of Catholics often “suffer” from a penchant for what we should do rather than why we should do it.

Today’s evangelism must go beyond preaching and welcoming to efforts of making the unchurched feel a sense of belonging, not simply as a proselytizing tool but out of a sense of love for the individual. Kerygma is essential to forming true disciples but preaching alone does not meet the needs many of those who are searching for meaning in today’s egocentric world.

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.

The Chronicles of Transformation – Leonard J. DeLorenzo, ed.

DeLorenzo, Leonard J., ed. The Chronicles of Transformation: A Spiritual Journey with C.S. Lewis. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2022. 248 pages.

Reviewed by Lawrence Montz.

“Perhaps you do not see quite as well as you think.” The opening verse from Madeline Infantine’s poem On Knowing Him Here for a Little, Part IV truly sums up the thrust of this book on C.S. Lewis’s corpus of writings, particularly the Narnia series. Can grown-ups return to Narnia? Yes, but only with childlike openness to the tale, not with a critical eye deliberately trying to search for hidden meanings. We need to allow the tale to take us on the journey and not simply search for undercurrents. Narnia is not an overt theological treatise but a supposition of an alternate salvation tale with similar types of characters.

When we become adults, we should go back and reread these fairy tales seeking new insights in the images presented but with the awe of a child. Fairy tales are not false or invented stories but reflections of real observations of earlier writers as they saw truth, just like the story of Christ is based upon facts as seen and interpreted by different writers and presented to different audiences with varying styles.

The editor of this work, Leonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D., serves in the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame. He is also academic director for Notre Dame Vision, directs the Sullivan Family Saints Initiative, and hosts the radio show and podcast Church Life Today. He has authored eight religiously-themed books and edited or co-edited several others. The Chronicles of Transformation: A Spiritual Journey with C.S. Lewis consists of an exposition in seven parts which analyzes the intent and writing style of C.S. Lewis and contains essays on the Narnia books by Dr. DeLorenzo and several others contributors, including theology professors and poets.

A good fairy tale does not make reality mundane but bolsters our pleasure in life. They are not frightening or confusing to the young reader because children do not yearn to know the outcome as much as their hoped-for ending. Children may not recognize symbolism but they readily identify with the characters in a myth like Narnia.

Lewis attempts to awaken a desire in us for something better and that draws us to this “supposed” Narnia. He considered his fairy tales to be “enchanting.” They disconnected bewildered children from their real world during the horrors of WWII and the Blitz because children inhabited the pages by imagination. By being too grown up, the adult can lose interest in the Chronicles. Jesus put this well in Luke 10:21, “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to the children.”

Narnia began with Lewis’s vision of a faun carrying an umbrella and developed this fantasy into a masterful series that he called more “supposal” than allegory. Lewis did not set out to write a Christian-themed fable. He considered his writings to be mythic in the classical sense as portrayed in Plato’s works and not the jaded modern conception of a myth as a false imaginary tale to be demystified.

Lewis wrote of a world in need of salvation and speculated on how Christ’s Passion might be supposed to take place in it. Readers today may consider these differences like “splitting hairs”; however, Lewis and his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien believed that fairytales and mythology showed us something and were not just made-up stories. In narrating mythopoeia a story-teller acts like a sub-creator essentially showing God’s purpose with a reflection of the truth.

Children pay closer attention to the rightness of a story, so when they hear and imagine they experience it more deeply and are not as interested in evaluating as feeling. Important details in the supposed world cannot be viewed indifferently to a five year old as they are not concerned with the author’s meanings, they just go with the story. Adults often try to over-analyze or worse, simply dismiss the fairy tale as being “childish.” Older readers tend go straight to the logos — we want to know what is the point Lewis is trying to make — and can be too hasty or dismissive. Lewis maintained that every work can be interpreted under two heads, one of poetic skill (logos) and a work with a message, sort of the how and the why of the tale. A child will not see the allegory or supposition but will simply enjoy the story.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I confess that I have been one of those adults who did not see Narnia as much more than a child’s tale with a good but simple message and, before reading this evaluation of Lewis’s tales by several astute theologians, likely would not have been moved to being open to deep meanings contained in the story. Now I have more than a passing admiration for C.S. Lewis, not because of the learned opinions of respected professors but because of a new desire to “discover” the works without prejudging their style and content. The talented contributors to The Chronicles of Transformation have presented an in-depth analysis that should attract not only the student of literature but any seeker of the truth.

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.

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