Book Reviews – August 2023

Murmuring Against Moses: The Contentious History and Contested Future of Pentateuchal Studies. By John S. Bergsma and Jeffrey L. Morrow. Reviewed by Fr. Peter Heasley. (skip to review)

The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God’s. By Colleen Carroll Campbell. Reviewed by Ted Hirt. (skip to review)

Parents of the Saints: The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints. By Patrick O’Hearn. Reviewed by S.E. Greydanus. (skip to review)

Diogenes Unveiled: A Paul Mankowski, S.J., Collection. Ed. by Philip F. Lawler. Reviewed by Clara Sarrocco. (skip to review)

Murmuring Against Moses – John S. Bergsma and Jeffrey L. Morrow

Bergsma, John S. and Jeffrey L. Morrow. Murmuring Against Moses: The Contentious History and Contested Future of Pentateuchal Studies. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Academic, 2023. 308 pages.

Reviewed by Fr. Peter Heasley.

In their thorough history of critical scholarship on the Pentateuch, Bergsma and Morrow provide a much-needed counterweight for the long-prevailing trend in biblical studies, to treat the Pentateuch and associated material as a late composition by the priestly class of Second Temple Judaism. In the articulate manner with which they treat ancient, modern, and contemporary scholarship, they also eschew the fundamentalist position of Moses as the one distinct author of the five books (Genesis through Deuteronomy) that have traditionally borne his name. “What we hope to do in this present volume is contribute to the conversation within Pentateuchal studies that seeks to break new ground and shift the reigning scholarly paradigm,” they write, adding, “We are not going to argue that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch” (p. x).

After an introduction, the volume is arranged in three parts of three chapters each. Part 1, entitled “Moses and the Sources: A Survey of Challenges to the Documentary Hypothesis,” consists of chapters that summarize early responses to the formulations of the Documentary Hypothesis by de Wette and Wellhausen. These responses, by Jewish and Christian scholars, appeal to the style and content of the Pentateuch itself, which makes no reference to Jerusalem, the Temple, or the Davidic dynasty — which are heavy preoccupations of the prophets and post-exilic priestly literature — as well as to comparable literature of the Ancient Near East, all to demonstrate the strong possibility of the Pentateuch’s early dating and consistency in authorship. Some scholars, like Kitchen and Albright, bring forth evidence from the Egypt and Mesopotamia to demonstrate that cultural data found within the Pentateuch, like creation stories, tabernacle structures, and covenantal patterns, are available to an author of the early first or even second millennium BC. Other scholars, like Kikawada–Quinn and Rendsburg, demonstrate the internal unity of the patriarchal narratives by appeal to more recent developments in rhetorical and narrative criticism.

In Part 2, “New Evidence for the Antiquity of the Pentateuch,” Bergsma and Morrow continue to build on more recent advances in biblical criticism, including intertextual studies, to counter the claim that the prophetic books are written before the Pentateuch. The authors show that passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel quote or make allusion to specific passages from the Pentateuch. Bergsma and Morrow go on to demonstrate a complete absence in the Pentateuch of pre- and post-exilic Priestly interests, which they collect under the moniker “Zion Theology,” and, in its place, a consistent preference for a Northern theology centered on the ancient shrines of Shechem and Bethel. This makes unnecessary the view put forth by de Wette and upheld by Knoppers and Nihan, that the very similar Judahite and Samaritan versions of the Pentateuch are composed in tandem, under a spirit of mutual cooperation for which there is no evidence after the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles — rather than there being one, early source for both versions.

In Part 3, “The History of Pentateuchal Source Criticism,” Bergsma and Morrow provide a history of the Documentary Hypothesis, from the Ebionite controversy, through medieval Jewish, Muslim, and Christian scholarship, and into its mature, nineteenth-century formulations. It is here that the authors take up perhaps the most serious charge against Wellhausen and his antecedents, that of antisemitism and anti-Catholicism. It is also here that some of the editorial imbalances found throughout the volume become more prominent. Wellhausen’s disdain for Jewish and Catholic priestly culture are well known in his day and correspond to a secular vision of Germany’s future. But Jewish scholars Cassuto, Kaufman, and Weinfeld respond to it in the early to mid-twentieth century, without abandoning the Documentary Hypothesis. In fact, one of the first modern doubters of Mosaic authorship, Spinoza, bases his opinion largely on the work of the Jewish medieval scholar Ibn Ezra. The authors spend a great deal of space (and almost three full pages of footnotes) on Ibn Hazm, a medieval Muslim scholar whom they admit is relatively unknown. They make much of Spinoza’s excommunication from the Jewish community and tendentious connection to Ibn Hazm, which seems unnecessary in light of Spinoza’s more obvious secular influences, like Machiavelli and Hobbes. Moreover, there are Catholic proponents of non-Mosaic authorship, like Cornelius à Lapide and Simon, who precede Wellhausen. Even if the Documentary Hypothesis takes its full form in tandem with modern statism and German antisemitism, it continues to find support among Jewish and Catholic scholars today, on its own terms.

This volume should be of great interest especially to graduate students in Scripture, who will need help situating and filling out their education in Pentateuchal studies in light of the sociopolitical and religious interests that have given rise to much of modern Scripture studies. With that in mind, Part 3, which lays out the history of the Documentary Hypothesis, should have come first as an orientation to the arguments made in Parts 1 and 2. Giving less space than the authors do to minor scholars would leave the reader less in doubt about the overall argument, which is compelling — namely, that scholars should take an early composition of the Pentateuch very seriously.

The Reverend Peter A. Heasley, S.Th.D., serves as pastor of the Parish of Corpus Christi and Notre Dame in New York. He also teaches as an adjunct professor of Sacred Scripture at Saint Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie) in Yonkers, New York.

The Heart of Perfection – Colleen Carroll Campbell

Campbell, Colleen Carroll. The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God’s. New York: Howard Books, 2019. 256 pages.

Reviewed by Ted Hirt.

In The Heart of Perfection, writer-journalist Colleen Carroll Campbell describes her ongoing journey from being a perfectionist to a more self-forgiving Catholic. The mother of four young children, Campbell offers us an empathetic perspective on how to balance work or professional life with the more fundamental challenge of raising a family. She is the author of The New Faithful (2002) and My Sisters, the Saints (2012). She was a speech writer for President George W. Bush and an editorial writer and op-ed columnist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Campbell acknowledges that she always has been a perfectionist or, more charitably, she observes, an overachiever. During elementary school, she considered a B+ an “abject failure;” she admits that she was updating her résumé before most children could spell the word. She returned her high school boyfriend’s love letters to him spell-checked in red ink! Campbell acknowledges that perfectionism is “simply an addiction to control and a refusal to accept imperfection in some human endeavor,” a demand that “falls heavy and hard on women.” She wryly observes that “perfectionists are people who take great pains, and pass them on to others.”

Campbell provides very poignant, firsthand accounts of her family, her early life, and how specific experiences awakened her to the dilemma of perfectionism. These include an incident in which she brought one of her young toddlers to the emergency room, while nine months pregnant with her next baby. She began to recognize that perfectionism was preventing her from being a “joyful, affirming, unconditionally loving mother.” Perfectionism also was “blocking growth in my work, sowing discord in my marriage, and destroying my relationship with God.”

The heart of Campbell’s book is her juxtaposing the lives of several saints to our ordinary lives as Catholic Christians. Each of the saints endured similar struggles, but recognized his or her own human weakness and trusted that God would work through that weakness to transform his or her life. For example, Saint Jeanne de Chantal joined the religious life after being widowed at age 29 with four children under age 6. Saint Francis DeSales was her spiritual director; he inspired her to embrace gentleness over the naturally human desire for control over one’s life and the lives of others. Saint Francis counseled that we should “be patient with everyone but especially with yourself.”

Campbell also discusses the spiritual journey of Saint Alphonsus Ligouri. He was an anxious overachiever who abandoned a career as a successful lawyer in order to serve God. Over time, he began to rethink his image of God as demanding perfection. Campbell explains that under a spiritual director’s guidance, “love gradually replaced fear as the driving force in his faith.” Similarly, Saint Francis of Assisi abandoned a military career after a serious illness and, more importantly, a message from the Lord that he must live his life differently. He endured poverty and scorn during his mission to revitalize the worship at local churches. Campbell observes that, like Saint Francis, we can expect opposition to our chosen path. but we must “tune out” the judgments or distractions of others. Like Saint Francis, Saint Junípero Serra instructed his friars to “pass through the world like pilgrims and strangers,” and his motto was quite simple — “always forward, never back.”

Other saints give Campbell support for a life that dispenses with perfectionism. Saint Ignatius of Loyola endured discouragement, and sometimes severe deprivations, but conquered those tendencies through discernment. His teachings, and prominently his Spiritual Exercises, include asking God for strength, seeking the assistance of a spiritual friend, and reminding yourself that the Lord‘s consolation will aid you. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux urged her fellow nuns to bear patiently with themselves and to cast their faults into the “devouring fire” of God’s love.

Campbell also describes the vocation of Saint Benedict, whose zeal resulted in the flourishing of monastic life. Campbell finds that his Rule “speaks vividly and practically to issues I’m facing today.” She can find satisfaction in the daily duties of life. Work can serve “as a powerful antidote against daydreaming, melancholy, self-absorption, and sluggishness.” As she explains, “accepting my limits requires me to trust God more, which in turn fosters more trust in God. It is a virtuous cycle.” Citing Saint Benedict’s teaching that a humble person “does not bother to please himself,” but follows the injunction of the Lord to do His will instead. Campbell is persuaded that “since God cares about my whole self — body, mind and spirit — I need to do the same.” Campbell watches for “signs of fatigue, hunger, and burnout in myself, just as I do in my kids.” She refuses “to feel angst over what’s undone when my work time is up and trusting that God will help me pick up where I left off another day.”

Campbell asks us to apply the lessons from these saints’ experiences to our daily lives. Each day she asks for humility and “guarding against my own tendencies to blame, shame, or judge others when I’m feeling cornered or panicked.” This also means “admitting and confessing when I fail, but not punishing myself for past mistakes.” Campbell notes that perfectionism is about “looking in the wrong direction.” We all “need to stop looking backward at mistakes and regrets, or sideways at other paths” that we might have taken.

A fundamental lesson from this book is that many people do not recognize that spiritual perfectionism can interfere with our relationship with God. As Campbell explains, spiritual perfectionism “distorts our vision, leading us to view others through the same hypercritical lens we think God is using to view us.” This defect “turns our spiritual journey into a slog or convinces us to abandon that journey all together.” As a result, we distance ourselves from a hope for healing under God’s grace. Perfectionists should remind themselves of the Lord’s promise that He is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in mercy” (Psalm 145:8).

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.

Parents of the Saints – Patrick O’Hearn

O’Hearn, Patrick. Parents of the Saints: The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints. Gastonia, NC: TAN Books, 2020. 380 pages.

Reviewed by S.E. Greydanus.

“At times, some mothers might feel like their vocation is insignificant, unappreciated, and even frustrating because they can never get anything done due to little children. Perhaps they might even wonder if their time would have been better served in a career, praying for hours in a convent before the Most Blessed Sacrament, or serving the poor; but in God’s eyes their vocation is foundational, for they are the heart of the family. Most mothers will never be fully repaid in this life by their family for their unseen labors of love, but then again no one can fully repay Christ for His love on the Cross.” (129–30)

This excerpt from Parents of the Saints summarizes well what Patrick O’Hearn’s collection of anecdotes and reflections on the saints’ families has to offer. For mothers and fathers who wonder if their lives of unknown sacrifice make a difference in the world — a frustration easily compounded in a culture that idolizes excitement and productivity — the witness of Julius and Maria Kolbe, José and Dolores Escrivá, Karol and Emilia Wojtyla, and many others whose names remain all but forgotten attests that God’s plan for the world begins in the “domestic Church.”

Crucially, O’Hearn makes clear that children are not merely products of their upbringing, noting saints who became holy in spite of their families, such as St. Margaret of Castello, as well as the “many past and future holy parents whose children will never become saints due to their children’s free will” (xiii); for instance, one of Padre Pio’s own sisters strayed as an adult from the faith of her youth (22). Nor does being a holy parent mean being free from the mistakes that weigh on the hearts of every parent reading the book. These are stories of real mothers and fathers, who lived with doubts, second-guessing, imprudence, and concupiscence. Their holiness, like that of their children, was a lifelong response to a lifetime of divine grace.

It would be misguided, and perhaps even harmful, to approach the book in search of a “template” for raising one’s own children; alas, no such thing exists. No two children or families are alike, including those of the saints, as evidenced in the scores of accounts presented. Rather, like any stories of sanctity, Parents of the Saints offers examples of lives lived well; specifically, in this case, of fathers and mothers creating an atmosphere that encouraged their children to love God more deeply.

The chapters are devoted, not to individual families, but to hallmarks or characteristics they have in common, with the families recurring from one chapter to another. The amount of attention paid to each couple varies, with some appearing in every chapter and others in only one. Predictably, Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin are covered most thoroughly, but many of those included will be unfamiliar to most readers.

The seven hallmarks are listed as “sacramental life, surrender, sacrificial love, suffering, simplicity, solitude, and the sacredness of life” (is the pattern of S’s an intentional mnemonic device?). While some of these are fairly self-explanatory, others  “Solitude” refers to contemplative prayer, to an active interior life that animates the whole Christian life, as great a challenge as this may pose for busy parents: “most homes, especially those with large families, oftentimes resemble a circus more than a monastery” (287–88). “Simplicity” denotes the ability to be happy without an excess of earthly goods, undoubtedly manifest in the contented lives of impoverished families like Stanislaus and Marianna Kowalska’s, but also in the refusal of St. Bridget, mother of St. Katherine of Sweden, to cling to the luxuries of the nobility, instead using her resources to do good. “Surrender,” or letting go of one’s own expectations to embrace God’s will, is no less painful for the parents of the saints than for any others; among other relatable stories, O’Hearn recounts Maria Kolbe’s struggle to put aside her own hopes for her sons’ lives as they grew up and chose their own paths, and then as the devastation of war took her family from her one by one.

The quality of the writing itself is often flat and unpolished, from typos to misused words (notably “ironically” and “simplistic”). Furthermore, though the author evidently wants to take a nuanced perspective, the wording of some passages might lead to confusion if not read carefully. E.g. consider the following passage on St. Paul of the Cross’s mother when seriously ill: “Anna Maria . . . did not turn to alcohol, medication, or secular psychologists to numb her pain, but rather gazed upon the Cross” (171). Presumably, in the context of this work, the point is not that one ought not to take medication or seek counseling when necessary, but greater clarity or specificity would make all the difference in a passage like this.

Despite these missteps, Parents of the Saints does a commendable service in compiling these hitherto mostly-unknown stories and presenting them for our inspiration. The work is at its best in telling the stories, a fresh, rich, manifold witness in themselves. This is fruitful territory that calls for further exploration.

S.E. Greydanus is a graduate of Christendom College and managing editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review.

Diogenes Unveiled – Philip F. Lawler, ed.

Lawler, Philip F., ed. Diogenes Unveiled: A Paul Mankowski, S.J., Collection. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2022. 284 pages.

Reviewed by Clara Sarrocco.

We are told that the devil hates satire. If this is true, does that mean that those of us who revel in it are on the side of the angels? Probably not, but enjoyable just the same.

In Diogenes Unveiled, Editor Philip Lawler has collected many of Father Paul Mankowski’s essays written under the pseudonym Diogenes. Diogenes was a Greek philosopher who was known for being critical of the social values of a society that he saw as being corrupt. He is often pictured holding a lantern, allegedly in search of an honest man. Father Mankowski spent his life and many talents doing just that.

Father, an ever faithful and holy Jesuit priest, humbly submitted to the ruling of his Jesuit superiors. He was told to cease writing under his given name, which he did. Then he was told to cease writing even under his pseudonym, which again he did. He was permitted to write only about his biblical scholarship and not to comment on other topics. Now thanks to the work of Philip Lawler, we can enjoy Father Mankowski’s observations and biting wit in one volume. There is one caveat. Reading Diogenes Unveiled in public can start with a smile and then go on to raucous laughter. Be prepared for the strange glances of passers-by.

The first two essays are diary entries under the name of Father X. Father would sometimes spend his Christmas holidays with the Missionaries of Charity in Romania and Armenia. The essays are heartrending in reading about the suffering of the people the Sisters cared for and the hardships they willingly endured for their calling. The essays show the other side of Father Mankowski’s life — that of a true priest of God who loved the least of our brethren. About one of the “happier” incidents Father wrote:

Christmas Day: After lunch there was a Christmas pageant, which had been in rehearsal for several days. With the help of some creative gender-bending, everybody had a part. The infant Jesus was convincingly played by a 3-week-old girl whom the Sisters had laid in a bassinette. Those confined to wheelchairs, for the most part the most severely retarded, served as the angels, wearing white robes with tinsel haloes and cardboard wings fastened behind. As they slumped in their chairs, cross-eyed and drooling, it came home to me that few persons who played the part would be likely to pass more of their lives in the state of grace. A two-man pantomime donkey genuflected in the general directions of the angel, next to four of the Three Kings. (40)

The remainder of the essays are dated from approximately 2003 up to the time of his silencing by his Jesuit superiors. He wrote about the clerical sexual abuses, and the scandalous way it was handled by those in charge. He also tackled liturgical abuses and the willingness of some in the church to accept and promulgate many absurdities in rubrics and in liturgical music.

Father Paul was gifted with a prescience about situations which many observed but were unable to articulate with humor and clarity. He wrote on topics such as: “Assaults on the Dignity of Life,” “What We Believe,” “The Lavender Mafia,” and finally “Why Be a Priest.” This he did so well, and therefore antagonized those who could not. In a 2008 column he explained:

“We want our clergy to do today what the Church has called them to do from her beginnings. If our dismay sometimes takes a sardonic form of expression, it should be remembered that we’re measuring our pastors not against an idiosyncratic standard of our own devising, but against the promises they themselves made on taking office The goal is to alert high clergy and low that some Catholics still count on these promises, and to remind them — in terms they’re likely to remember — that their spiritual duty is not optional.” (58)

It should not go unnoticed that his vocation as a priest was the closest to his heart. He used his talent because he wanted to save the Church he loved from being destroyed by foolishness and sometimes by outright evil. When he was asked about his calling to the priesthood, he said he could not have been happier in following the vocation he was called to.

Father Paul Mankowski, S.J., was born November 15, 1953 — thirteen days before a fellow Jesuit, Father Joseph Koterski, S.J., who was born on November 28, 1953. Both men worked tirelessly for the truth and for the Jesuit order. They collaborated in giving retreats for the Missionaries of Charity in Haiti, and were staunch defenders of orthodoxy in the Catholic Church. Like the true sons of St. Ignatius that they were, they lived their founder’s motto: “For the greater glory of God.” They died within eleven months of each other — both tragically and unexpectedly. It was a great loss for us and for the Church but a great gain for the choirs of angels. We are tempted to ask: Why? But God’s ways are not our ways.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”    Isaiah 55:8–9

Clara Sarrocco is the longtime secretary of The New York C.S. Lewis Society. ( Her articles and reviews have appeared in Touchstone, New Oxford Review, Crisis on Line, Gilbert, The Chesterton Review, CSL: The Bulletin of The New York C.S. Lewis Society, St. Austin’s Review, The Review of Metaphysics, The International Philosophical Quarterly, The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, Homiletic and Pastoral Review and the Catholic Historical Encyclopedia. She has taught classes on C.S. Lewis at the Institute for Religious Studies at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY and is the president of the Long Island Chapter of The University Faculty for life. In 2018 she was honored by the Catholic Teacher Association. Her doctoral dissertation was on: “Phenomenological Influences in the Writings of C.S. Lewis.” She was the editor of Book Digest and director of the Council on National Literatures and The Bagehot Council/Griffon House Publishers. She is also a Trustee of Christ the King Regional High School in Middle Village, New York.

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