Book Reviews – April 2023

The Order and Division of Divine Truth: St. Thomas Aquinas as Scholastic Master of the Sacred Page. By John F. Boyle. Reviewed by Sr. Mary Micaela Hoffmann, RSM. (skip to review)

Twelve Great Books: Going Deeper into Classic Literature. By Joseph Pearce. Reviewed by Ted Hirt. (skip to review)

Theology of Migration: The Bodies of Refugees and the Body of Christ. By Fr. Daniel Groody. Reviewed by Most Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio. (skip to review)

Road Map to Heaven: A Catholic Plan of Life. By Fr. Ed Broom, OMV. Reviewed by Matthew H. O’Donnell. (skip to review)

Spiritual Warfare Bible. By St. Benedict Press. Reviewed by Aaron Martin. (skip to review)

The Order and Division of Divine Truth – John F. Boyle

Boyle, John F. The Order and Division of Divine Truth: St. Thomas Aquinas as Scholastic Master of the Sacred Page. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Academic, 2021. 199 pages.

Reviewed by Sr. Mary Micaela Hoffmann, RSM.

This book is a collection of essays by John F. Boyle, most previously published. The essays center on an area that was largely neglected by scholarship for some time: Aquinas as an interpreter of Sacred Scripture. Aquinas would have spent most of his time as a teacher commenting on the Scriptures, and he continually returned to the Scriptures as the foundation for his systematic theology. Recent years have seen a renewed awareness of the Angelic Doctor as a master of the Sacra Pagina, but it remains a fruitful field for further study.

The opening chapter, “St. Thomas and Sacred Scripture,” situates the essays that follow by tracing some of the suppositions according to which Aquinas interprets Sacred Scripture. Divine authorship is a key principle that permits Aquinas to look at all of Scripture as a unified corpus. Chapter One also addresses St. Thomas’ understanding of what the literal sense of Scripture is, and how to avoid misinterpreting it, whether by asserting too much or overly limiting interpretive options when there are multiple — and sometimes even competing — meanings suggested.

The second chapter addresses the scholastic method of “divisio textus,” or the division of the text. Boyle explains that this is a particularly effective exegetical technique that Aquinas used in most of his Scripture commentaries. The text to be interpreted is first considered as a whole, and its main topic identified. The interpreter then divides the text into increasingly smaller sections, and indicates the topic of each section. This method of interpretation situates units of text within the context of the whole, and in relationship to one another. Boyle warns that students who are not aware of Aquinas’ method may find themselves disappointed by his terse comments on individual verses. On the other hand, attention to the larger framework of thought within which the scholastic master situates specific verses can illuminate his deeper insights. There are some limits to the “division of the text” method, but it can contribute to a deeply theological interpretation of the Scriptures rooted in their literal sense. Due to the nature of Boyle’s book as a collection of essays, the reader finds some repetition in his explanation of the “division of the text” in subsequent chapters. Nevertheless, the benefit of these overlaps may be a gradually increasing appreciation for how and why Aquinas used this method.

The third chapter, “Authorial Intention and the divisio textus” continues to focus on fundamental principles of interpretation. Unlike contemporary exegesis, Aquinas was not generally interested in the question of what the human author may have had in mind when writing a particular passage. Aquinas’ guiding question was what the text meant. One of the implications of Aquinas’ view on divine authorship also emerges in this essay. Because the primary author of Scripture is God, there is ample room for divine authorial intention to play a role in what the texts mean. Moreover, intention has to do with the end in view for an action, which, in the case of Scripture, is the eternal salvation of its audience. The plurality of meanings possible in Scripture is grounded in the various ways in which God accommodates his goal to the human intellect. Once again, a look at the overarching themes of various books of Scripture through the divisio textus method helps readers of Scripture to gain insight into the specific end or purpose intended by both the divine and human authors in that text.

Chapters Four to Seven turn to specific Scripture commentaries or themes found in them. Chapter Four offers an illuminating summary of Aquinas’ treatment of Job through the genre of scholastic debate, and its implications about several moral character traits that either assist or hinder the discovery of truth through a disputatio. Chapter Five considers the Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, focusing on the understanding of grace that Aquinas elucidates by means of his prologue, the relationship between this letter and the rest of the Pauline corpus, and the internal structure of the letter. Chapter Six considers the interrelationship between the Commentary on the Romans and the Summa. The Summa can provide a background structure against which some of the concepts employed in the Scripture commentary make more sense. The Commentary, for its part, shows these concepts being worked out in “real life,” so to speak. The one original essay in the book, Chapter Seven, addresses the same interrelationship, as seen in three passages in the Letter to the Romans that describe hope.

Chapters Eight to Nine take up a larger structural question with implications for Aquinas’ use of Scripture in the Summa Theologiae. Chapter Eight addresses the particular order chosen for presenting Christological doctrine, which was a challenge to authors of medieval Summae. Aquinas’ own ordering of the material uses scientific philosophical categories to show the connections between articles of faith found in Scripture, and to ensure that the meaning of the historical events in the life of Christ can be fully understood. Chapter Nine argues that a similar principle of showing the fittingness of and interconnectedness between aspects of divine truth helps to explain the overall structure of the Summa Theologiae.

Although addressing topics in some ways disparate, Chapters Ten to Fourteen all focus on Aquinas as a careful interpreter of human language and analogy. Aquinas’ employment of analogy and his sometimes painstaking process of clarification and refinement of analogies used to speak of God can serve as a thought-provoking model for those who aspire to interpret the Word of God as it comes to us through the human words and images found in Scripture. Boyle provides examples in which Aquinas rejects details of a proposed theological stance because they contradict an analogy established with a created natural reality. At other times, however, Aquinas revisits an analogy to explain why the case is different with reference to God. St. Thomas’ precision in employing analogy, as articulated by Boyle in these chapters, could be a contribution in dialogue with contemporary exegesis concerning questions such as how to understand passages in the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, which seem to affirm that God changes, learns, or experiences various emotions.

As the preface of this collection of essays points out, greater contact with Thomas Aquinas’ thought on Scripture can benefit those who wish to ponder the Scriptures, those who engage in theology, and also biblical scholars (Preface, 3–4). Dr. John Boyle has facilitated such contact through these essays, which introduce readers to Aquinas’ writings on the Scriptures and direct them to some highlights of Aquinas’ methods.

Sr. Mary Micaela Hoffmann, RSM is a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, MI. She holds an M.A. in theology from Ave Maria University and a License in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute.

Twelve Great Books – Joseph Pearce

Pearce, Joseph. Twelve Great Books: Going Deeper into Classic Literature (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2022). 226 pages.

Reviewed by Ted Hirt.

Joseph Pearce may be a familiar name to many readers of HPR. He has written on literary themes and biographies of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and G.K. Chesterton. In Twelve Great Books: Going Deeper into Classic Literature, Pearce combines incisive literary analysis with a profoundly religious perspective.

Can any scholar authoritatively define the twelve — or even the hundred — greatest books produced by Western civilization? (The University of Chicago’s “Great Books” program comes to mind.) But Pearce’s objective is a modest one; he uses twelve classics to illustrate the unending search for truth in our world. In a short review, I cannot do justice to Pearce’s many insights.

Pearce emphasizes that literature plays a role in the sustenance of our civilization, one “rooted in morality, and anything rooted in morality is ipso facto rooted in philosophy and theology.” More specifically, a Christian’s understanding of man’s being and purpose is that of a homo viator — “a pilgrim or a wayfarer who journeys through mortal life with eternal life always in mind.” But the tragedy of modern man is that he is homo superbus, who makes himself “the sole arbiter of all ‘truth’ and ‘morality,’” and who has “disowned and dethroned God and has made himself the de facto god of his own creation.” That new man believes that his (or her) “essential purpose is to love and serve himself.” Each of Pearce’s chapters develops this theme.

Pearce chooses Saint Augustine’s Confessions as his first book. This “quintessential Christian classic” is the “proverbial desert island book” for our reflective reading and contemplation. It is also among the great books of the “Western canon,” and it “sits comfortably beside the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas.” Augustine is “accessible and applicable because he is one of us” — he “struggles with the same temptations with which we struggle, and he succumbs to them as we do.” He is “restless until he resides in the truth, which can be found only in Christ and the Church He founded.”

Pearce extensively discusses the moral and spiritual struggles inherent in four of William Shakespeare’s tragedies — Julius Caesar, Othello, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet. Pearce concludes that Julius Caesar falls short. He acknowledges the inner struggles of both Caesar and Brutus, but he ultimately finds that this play “does not plumb the depths of the human condition” in the depth of the other works. Pearce offers Iago (the villain in Othello) as the archetype of the homo superbus (the “prideful man”). Iago believes that “he has the power to be what he wants to be without the need for God,” which impels him to manipulate Othello’s own sinful nature (akin to Adam’s) resulting in the tragic killing of the innocent Desdemona. Here, as in other chapters, Pearce provides important historical context. Shakespeare lived in an era in which Roman Catholics in England alternatively were persecuted or tolerated. Shakespeare injects what I will call an anti-Christian philosophy “into the minds of such despicable characters,” as a “strong indication that he found the philosophies as despicable as the characters.”

Macbeth illustrates how a political leader (here, the “Thane of Cawdor”) can be perverted by the adage that “the end justifies the means,” when his plotting leads inexorably to the “Machiavellian realpolitik.” Macbeth’s friend Banquo warns him against his willful blindness, first, to evil temptation, and, second, to eternal damnation. St. Matthew’s Gospel passage on a man losing his soul by seeking to “gain the whole world” (Matthew 16:26), Pearce observes, “must have resonated with Shakespeare’s Christian audience,” who witness Macbeth’s steady decline into loss of reason, and ultimately “nihilism.”

Pearce explains that Romeo and Juliet is best interpreted as a “cautionary or moral reading” in which the “freely chosen actions” of the principal characters have “far-ranging and far-reaching consequences.” He rejects the common interpretation of the play as a tragedy of “star-crossed lovers.” The “vicious vindictiveness” of the Montague and Capulet families’ feud is a backdrop to the “love” of Romeo and Juliet. Pearce contends that their love was a “false and fallacious parody of love.” Romeo is “self-absorbed” and “erotically charged,” who tempts the youthful Juliet away from chastity.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights bring us to the nineteenth century. First, Ebenezer Scrooge is a man whose “mean-spirited worldliness” ultimately is softened. He becomes as “a beacon of hope and redemption as powerful parabolically as the prodigal son of which he is a type.” In sharp contrast, Doctor Victor Frankenstein has created a monster — his creation was a “monstrous act of disobedience and deception, a usurpation of power beyond the bounds of legitimacy.” Pearce explains that Mary Shelley (and her husband Percy), like others in the Romantic movement, had read Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Percy Shelley sympathized with Milton’s characterization of Satan as superior to God. But Mary Shelley may have dissented from Percy’s “secular fundamentalism,” an ideology that is currently “rife” in influence. Finally, Wuthering Heights provides Heathcliff as a “dark presence,” like Milton’s Satan; the heroine Catherine remains entranced by him on her deathbed.

Discussing Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Pearce emphasizes that although Wilde himself lived a libertine life, he retained a sharp sense of good and evil. The well-known dissolution of the portrait of the protagonist matches his own degeneracy. Graham Greene is markedly different. In The Power and the Glory, Greene “obsessively transposes a darker side into all of his characters, so that even their goodness is warped.” The unnamed “whisky priest,” a fugitive from an anti-clerical persecution in Mexico, is forgiven his “manifold sins through his martyrdom,” a reference to his execution by a police officer. In contrast, a second priest, Padre José, has renounced the priesthood altogether, and he even refuses to visit the “whisky priest” to hear his last confession. Pearce cautions the reader that, although Greene also tries to depict Padre José as a martyr, “we must upbraid him for his error,” for that priest’s suffering is for his own sinful conduct. 

Finally, G.K. Chesterton’s 1908 detective novel The Man Who Was Thursday, and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, a 1920s–1930s family saga (popularized in a 1981 British television serial), merit Pearce’s praise. Chesterton’s story of purported anarchist plotting “is essentially about childish detectives attaining childlike wisdom,” and it “grapples so grippingly with the philosophical follies of the zeitgeist,” meriting a place in Pearce’s “canon of great works.” Waugh’s account of a young, “ostensibly agnostic narrator and a family of aristocratic Catholics” develops the theme, in the author’s words, of “the operation of divine grace” on those individuals. With characters drawn with “Dickensian dexterity,” and sometimes “Dickensian grotesqueness,” Waugh depicts tragedy, but also, “like every good Christian story, there is life after death or perhaps we should say, there is a resurrection.”

Pearce has given us a valuable reference work on familiar and important classics, and their underlying importance to understanding the human condition. It is worth your time to explore its rich themes.

Ted Hirt is an adjunct professor at the George Washington University Law School, an assistant editor for the James Wilson Institute’s Anchoring Truths, a former career attorney at the U.S. Justice Department, and a Gettysburg, PA Licensed Town Guide. The views he expresses are his own.

Theology of Migration – Fr. Daniel Groody

Groody, Fr. Daniel. Theology of Migration: The Bodies of Refugees and the Body of Christ. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2022. 328 pages.

Reviewed by Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio.

Father Daniel Groody, a Holy Cross priest working as an associate provost at the University of Notre Dame, has published an outstanding theology of migration entitled Theology of Migration: The Bodies of Refugees and the Body of Christ. It is a work of both sociology, theology, and spirituality. He divides the book into four sections beginning with migration and the human story, giving an overview of the reality of migration today in the world. Father Groody follows that with a unique framework of the migration experience in the context of the structure of the Eucharistic celebration.

The second section begins with the Liturgy of the Word, with the Old Testament reading, responsorial psalm, second reading, and Gospel, which all explain in detail the theological elements of migration as a religious event.

The third section concentrates on migration and the Body of Christ, as is his subtitle. A letter of endorsement received from Pope Francis underlines the fact that the Holy Father himself has said over and over again that migrants today are the Body of Christ for us.

And, finally, in the fourth section, Father Groody gives some practical examples of how the mission of mercy to migrants is carried out in the world today by his firsthand witness accounts, which are the icing on the cake of this wonderful book.

Anyone involved in migration today who has interest in its theological foundations should read this scholarly work, which is an assistance for policymakers and pastoral workers.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Ph.D., D.D., is Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Newark in 1970, from 1985 to 1991 he served as executive director of the Office of Migration and Refugee Services at the USCCB. In 1996, he was ordained auxiliary bishop of Newark. In July of 1999, he become the Bishop of Camden, New Jersey and, subsequently, in October 2003, the seventh Bishop of Brooklyn. Bishop DiMarzio has spent his ministry of over 40 years in the areas of immigration assistance and refugee resettlement services. He holds a Master’s in Social Work from Fordham University and a Ph.D. in Social Work Research and Policy from Rutgers University.

Road Map to Heaven – Fr. Ed Broom

Fr. Ed Broom, OMV. Road Map to Heaven: A Catholic Plan of Life. Gastonia, NC: TAN Publishers, 2019. 272 pages.

Reviewed by Matthew H. O’Donnell.

Roughly fifteen years ago, I set forth on my first major road trip by myself. I was going to visit my cousin and his family in New Canaan, Connecticut. Embarking from the west side of Cleveland, Ohio, it seemed simple enough: just hop on Interstate 80 eastbound and keep driving. I never realized how large a state Pennsylvania is until I traversed it end to end. At the time, I neither had a GPS nor a smart phone with mapping features. I just figured I’d figure it out. The closer I came to the end of Pennsylvania, I thought that certainly there would be a Welcome Center in Connecticut and I could pick up a map there. Along the way, I just kept following signs for Connecticut. The next thing I knew, the Manhattan skyline erupted out of the horizon to my right, followed by the George Washington Bridge. Fortunately, I had a twenty-dollar bill ready. At long last, the large blue sign for the Connecticut Welcome Center came into view. Unfortunately, the sign had a big orange diagonal CLOSED sign emblazoned on it. Not to be dismayed, I exited the highway, found a drug store with a book section, picked up a map and found the way to my cousin’s house.

Life is too important to just “wing it” as I did on my road trip. I’d still be wandering had I not found the map. In his book, Road Map to Heaven: A Catholic Plan of Life, Oblate Father Ed Broom explains the necessity of creating, writing down, and living a life plan with the guidance of a qualified spiritual director. He takes blocks of time in our lives and fills them with practices to grow in holiness: annual, monthly, daily, hourly, even down to the minutes and the seconds. He almost goes beyond the teaching, “pray without ceasing,” by showing us how to pray without ceasing. Following St. Ignatius of Loyola’s lead, if we don’t “order the disordered” we’ll never find our way to sanctity. We need a plan, and Fr. Broom humbly yet joyfully lays out a Road Map to Heaven for every breath we take. Our lives may well be a breath, so if that’s all we have, shouldn’t we use that breath to praise our Loving God?

The main principle of this book is a written action plan for the journey, approved by a qualified spiritual director. It’s not enough to think, “I’ll try to improve my prayer life.” Writing it down is fundamental to success. It becomes your “spiritual GPS.” Without using the tools our Catholic faith has in all its splendor, we are lost, wandering. Step by step Fr. Broom breaks down a lifelong plan into progressively smaller increments.

First is the annual plan. It reminds me of the popular story told by motivational speakers about the professor with the mason jar, filling it with large rocks, smaller rocks, sand, then water. The lesson is, if you don’t get your “big rocks” in first, you’ll never be able to fit them in later. All the moments of one’s life plan require order. Without order there is chaos or, in effect, no plan at all. Fr. Broom repeats the principle of writing it down throughout the book, for repetition is the mother of learning. As the saying goes, “So let it be written; so let it be done.”

While the particular target audience is not specified, other than all baptized and confirmed Catholics, I would recommend this book to be required reading for freshman Catholic high school students. What better time to plant seeds? For starters, teenagers these days may not put much priority to their religious practices. How many people in the life of a teenager give them witness to the faith? Hopefully if their Catholic high school is worth its salt, there will be some degree of formation. Fr. Broom gives a very enthusiastic presentation of life in Christ; in fact, he peppers quite a few of his comments with exclamation points. After all, our faith in Jesus should be something dynamic.

Throughout the text, Fr. Broom quotes Venerable Fulton Sheen who said, “Come first, then go!” This is a shorter form of, “You can’t share what you don’t have.” Following a written life plan imbued in the faith will truly be following a Road Map to Heaven. Make time to offer spiritual direction to your parishioners. It’s indispensable to the life of the Church!

Matthew O’Donnell is a graduate of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland and John Carroll University. He and his wife, Leah, are parishioners of St. Mary parish in Chardon, Ohio.

Spiritual Warfare Bible – St. Benedict Press

Spiritual Warfare Bible. Charlotte, North Carolina: St. Benedict Press, 2017. 1545 pages.

Reviewed by Aaron Martin.

The Second Vatican Council noted that “a monumental struggle against the powers of darkness pervades the whole history of man. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day, as the Lord has attested. Caught in this conflict, man is obliged to wrestle constantly if he is to cling to what is good, nor can he achieve his own integrity without great efforts and the help of God’s grace.” (Gaudium et spes, 37) Nowhere is this history better outlined in the Bible. And although many people have read the arc of history described in Scripture, they often fail to realize that this history is not complete. That is, the history of spiritual warfare described in Gaudium et spes did not end with the Book of Revelation.

As Christians, we take some comfort in the fact that we have already won. Christ has conquered sin and death and we get to share in that victory. But knowing the end of the story does not make the character’s journey less interesting or less arduous. As the Catechism states, even being made a child of God does not free us from this struggle: “Baptism, by importing the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.” (CCC 405) In that spiritual battle will be challenges to overcome, people to meet, and many other experiences along the way. That was the experience of the Israelites in Scripture — a cycle of failure, calling upon God, redemption, covenant, and failure again. It was a daily battle for them, just as it is for us.

The Spiritual Warfare Bible is a great help in the battle. The scriptural text is the Revised Standard Version – Second Catholic Edition. The text is laid out well in a readable font. What distinguishes the Spiritual Warfare Bible is the addition of several texts and excerpts of other works interspersed throughout the text. These texts come from the Catechism, Pope St. Paul VI, Pope St. John Paul II, and Paul Thigpen’s Manual for Spiritual Warfare. Additionally, the topical scriptural passages, quotes from saints, and other material interspersed are gems festooning the scriptural text.

Passages on spiritual warfare do not necessarily tie into the text they precede or follow — they appear approximately every 250 pages throughout — and can be read independently of the scriptural text or in conjunction with the reading of a particular book. I have spent significant time with this Bible and have found that reading the spiritual warfare material in conjunction with the surrounding text of each section is very fruitful.

Although one could find all of these texts on spiritual warfare elsewhere, and although one might want to read them in full, the excerpts are well chosen and an appropriate length for the purpose. The integration of the texts with the biblical texts gives both a depth that they do not have on their own. That’s not to say that the Bible is insufficient on its own. It’s simply to say that thinking about spiritual warfare while reading the Bible gives you a new perspective on the text and a deeper appreciation for some passages.

Overall, the Spiritual Warfare Bible is a nice addition to a personal library and, given the quality of the book, would be a welcome gift for a Baptism, Confirmation, or similar occasion.

Aaron Martin, JD, PhL, and his wife, Jenny, live in Phoenix, AZ with their four children. Aaron owns his own law practice and serves in various ways in the Diocese of Phoenix.

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