Copyright (c) 2001 First Things 111 (March 2001): 59-64.
The Spirit of the Liturgy. By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Translated by John Saward. Ignatius. 232 pp. $17.95.
The Church is called together to worship and adore the Triune God. Such is the theme of Cardinal Ratzinger’s thoughtful meditations on the Liturgy. Just as ancient Israel was called as a people to worship God, so the life of the Church is ordered toward worship. Ratzinger is less than enthusiastic about some of the liturgical changes that have taken root in Catholic worship in the last generation, and in this little volume he attempts to recover something of the theological richness of the Church’s tradition. Lost amidst so much experimentation and emphasis on creativity has been the “givenness” of liturgy, the sense that “one cannot do with it what one will.” The book includes sections on liturgy and time, on the significance of the church building, on direction in liturgical prayer, reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, music, and more. The most controversial chapter is Ratzinger’s critique of the practice of celebrating the Eucharist versus populum, that is, the priest facing the congregation. Not only is the historical basis for current practice meager, says Ratzinger, it has the effect of closing the Liturgy in on itself. “Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord.” There is also a spirited defense of kneeling (not all Catholic churches built today have kneelers), which is not, says Ratzinger, a form of accommodation to outmoded cultural patterns. Kneeling, he writes, “is an expression of Christian culture, which transforms the existing culture through a new and deeper knowledge and experience of God.” If this book is not the original work that Romano Guardini’s Spirit of the Liturgy was, it is nevertheless a timely and illuminating series of reflections that breathe the spirit of the Liturgy.
—Robert Louis Wilken
Israelis and the Jewish Tradition: An Ancient People Debating Its Future. By David Hartman. Yale University Press. 174 pp. $18.50.
This book comprises Hartman’s 1998 Terry Lectures at Yale University. It is a sustained meditation on Jewish messianism and its political implications for the State of Israel’s perpetual identity crisis. Hartman, who directs what is probably the most influential center for intra–Jewish and interreligious dialogue in Israel, is in a unique position to offer some fresh insights on how a Jewish state can successfully integrate the vision of a Jewish society governed by the Jewish tradition and its law (Halakhah) with the humanistic–democratic political vision of the West. In doing this, Hartman opts for the more “nomic” messianism of Moses Maimonides (eleventh century), with its emphasis on the creation of a just society, rather than for the messianism of Judah Halevi (tenth century), with its greater apocalyptic emphasis. Hartman sees Maimoni dean messianism as being able to inspire a more universalistic Jewish ethics and politics than the more ethnocentric view of Halevi. All in all, Hartman raises very important questions and suggests some avenues for answering them. His book adds to the growing list of works in current political theory from a decidedly Jewish perspective.
Destined for Liberty: The Human Person in the Philosophy of Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II. By Jaroslaw Kupczak, O.P. Catholic University of America Press. 161 pp. $44.95 cloth, $22.95 paper.
Kupczak offers a finely wrought examination of the anthropology and ethical theory of John Paul II. Often concentrating on the early writings such as the Habilitationsschrift and the Lublin lectures (neither has been translated into English), the author indicates where the young thinker incorporated Scheler’s phenomenological value ethics, Kant’s formalistic ethics of duty, and Aquinas’ understanding of the rational desire of the will into his own synthesis of human action and value. This synthesis is evident in Wojtyla’s early writings on sexuality and marriage in which he notes that sexual emotions are properly concerned with the value of the entire person as he or she incarnates masculinity or femininity. Sexual drives, then, need to be purified by chastity and elevated to the truly personal level if they are to fulfill their proper social role. Throughout his writings, Wojtyla continued to combine phenomenological and metaphysical analyses. His early appropriation of Scheler kept him close to the careful scrutiny of human experience, of what is unique and irreducible in the acting person. At the same time, he was convinced that experience must ultimately give way to the essential and universal judgments characteristic of metaphysics. In his examination of personal acts, Wojtyla seeks to describe the complex of elements issuing forth in human actions, and also to ask the further question about the good towards which such actions must tend. A guiding idea throughout is that the person develops and realizes himself through his actions, even as these actions remain revelatory of the person. Among the many merits of this book is Kupczak’s indication of the substantial continuity of Wojtyla’s thought over the course of his life with themes adumbrated in his early years appearing in fuller mode in various papal encyclicals.
Kant and the Problem of God. By Gordon E. Michalson, Jr. Blackwell. 216 pp. $70.95 cloth, $30.95 paper.
Kant’s distinction between practical and pure reason and the priority he ascribed to the former has deeply influenced modern theology. It has offered a way to parse science and religion, to the presumed advantage of the latter. The distinctive human vocation in the realm of values can be championed within a cosmos defined by the cool eye of scientific inquiry. Even more important, the dynamism and authority that Kant assigned to practical reason gives moral meaning to the increasingly rapid and violent pace of modern cultural change. The imperatives of autonomy can take on a messianic hue. Gordon Michalson, Jr. has engaged the moral and religious significance of Kant throughout his scholarly career, and in this study he argues that the advantages that Kant provides to the modern theologian are a fool’s gold. Kant’s approach may hold at bay the antihumanism of modern science (we are just clever animals in an insignificant corner of a vast cosmos), and it may serve as a bulwark against the ruthless rationality of economic efficiency and the putative demands of progress, but Michalson concludes that Kant’s approach to the question of God makes theology less and not more plausible. Governed by a “principle of immanence,” Kant’s project makes God a servant of human purposes. This thesis is not novel; Karl Barth also emphasized Kant’s reduction of theology to anthropology. However, Michalson provides helpful orientation with respect to the basic dynamic. His explanation of Kant’s interest in moral community and the relation of historical and social affairs nicely complements an account of Kant’s view of the role of God in the moral life. Nonetheless, the categories of Michalson’s analysis are metaphysical not soteriological, and this obscures the full nature of Kant’s great appeal to modern theologians, as well as his baleful influence. For example, in many ways Heidegger saw and sought to avoid Kant’s “principle of immanence” and the consequent subordination of “transcendence” to the mean sphere of human needs and purposes. Yet, Heidegger is even less congenial to Christian theology than Kant, for in an important sense Christianity is anthropocentric: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Kant’s influence on theology, and its pernicious effect, stems from the fact that he shares so much with classical Christianity. His thought often runs on the same rails. To show more accurately just how Kant subverts the theological project, Michalson must more forthrightly juxtapose the Christian principles of immanence and transcendence—the Word made flesh and the risen Lord—with Kant’s principles. After all, the issue is not whether Kant supports or undermines “theism,” a notion that is itself an invention of the Enlightenment. The key question for theology is whether Kant can make any sense out of who the scriptures say Jesus is rather than abjuring the task and simply correcting the apostolic witness in light of some higher “religious” principle.
—R. R. Reno
A Better Hope: Resources for a Church Confronting Capitalism, Democracy, and Postmodernity. By Stanley Hauerwas. Brazos. 288 pp. $19.99 paper.
The irrepressibly high–spirited ethicist of Duke goes inveighing again, gleefully tossing polemical darts at the three villains of his subtitle. He acknowledges that there is little in these essays that he has not said before and often, but he believes he must be as persistent as are the ills that he attacks. Capitalism and democracy as defined—his critics would say caricatured—by Hauerwas are certainly deserving of attack, and his crafty postmodernist critique of postmodernism does not fail to charm. This is also an occasion to welcome Brazos Press, a new imprint of Baker Book House.
Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. By Huston Smith. HarperSanFrancisco. 290 pp. $25.
One may argue whether ours is an age of disbelief, as Huston Smith would have it, or an age of credulity, as Peter Berger claims. But that is neither here nor there with respect to Smith’s main point, which is to propose, against the innumerable “spiritualities” with which we are culturally inundated, that ultimate wisdom and human flourishing are to be discovered in the historically grounded and communally normative religious traditions of the world. Smith, a longtime student of comparative religion and author of The World’s Religions, pays major attention to the several major traditions but is in sensibility, if not always in doctrine, a Christian. This book is a useful corrective to the common tendency to pit spirituality against religion.
Cardinal Richelieu and the Making of France. By Anthony Levi. Carroll & Graf. 256 pp. $26.
Richelieu (1585–1642) usually gets a very bad press as a ruthless manipulator of power, but Levi, author of Guide to French Literature, contends that he tried faithfully to serve his Church and his king, and succeeded in his fashion, with the result that the nation of France was born. An instance of Richelieu’s nice distinction between the secular and ecclesiastical is that, at the same time he was gathering armies to wage war against the pope, he wrote the pope humbly asking for a dispensation from reading his daily office because of the pressing duties of military command. The text is too often clogged with seemingly endless lists of names, family connections, and geographical details, but Richelieu comes through as a man of remarkable talent, cunning, and devotion.
Incorrect Thoughts: Notes on Our Wayward Culture. By John Leo. Transaction. 267 pp. $29.95.
Political Correctness is frequently no more than an epithet that the right flings at opinions and postures of the left. For some years now, John Leo of U.S. News & World Report has been effectively making the case that PC is, in fact, a connected movement of many parts, with none of the parts being good for liberal values such as civility, freedom of expression, and toleration of real diversity. Leo is the more effective because he exemplifies those values, writing in a conversational tone that invites his readers to entertain the possibility that truth does not come in packaged party lines. The state of the academy, conflicts of feminisms, pro–choice denial of choice, and why journalists behave as they do are among the myriad subjects address ed in these pithy essays on a culture that is, Mr. Leo regretfully notes, gravely wayward.
The Winning Side: Questions on Living the Culture of Life. By Charles E. Rice. St. Brendan’s Institute. 372 pp. $26.95 paper.
The author is a longtime professor of law at the University of Notre Dame and a relentless champion of the culture of life. This book, presented in the form of succinct questions and answers, summarizes arguments he has been making, with apparently inexhaustible energy, over the years. Of particular interest is his claim that—as a consequence of the judicial usurpation of politics and the corruption of civil society—the constitutional order of the U.S. is dead and cannot be revived. It can, however, be used to protect religious freedom as serious Christians go about the business of building communities of virtue, beginning with the family. Rice’s grim portrayal of our cultural and political circumstance notwithstanding, this is a book marked by a bracing confidence that the friends of life are, in fact, on the winning side.
Women and the Future of the Family. By Elizabeth Fox–Genovese et al. Baker. 108 pp. $11.99 paper.
Fox–Genovese’s Kuyper Lecture, sponsored by the Center for Public Justice, with responses by Stanley J. Grenz, Mardi Keyes, and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. A bracing critique of sundry feminisms that have been very bad for women, joined to a believable call for a renewal of male–female relations on the basis of self–giving and sexual difference.
Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile. By Joseph Pearce. Baker. 334 pp. $19.95.
Pearce, a young British writer, is churning out books at a fierce rate, including, most recently, biographies of Tolkien, Wilde, and Chesterton, and a fine book of biographical sketches of celebrated literary converts to Catholicism. There can be no doubt that Alexander Solzhenitsyn is one of the great moral figures on the world stage, and the present book neither adds to nor detracts from that judgment. Pearce, who makes too much of one long interview granted him by Solzhenitsyn, offers a repeat of familiar materials and a running rebuttal of his hero’s many critics. The book is further weakened by the author’s effort to enlist Solzhenitsyn in his enthusiasm for E. F. Schumacher’s “small is beautiful” critique of the modern world, and for Chesterton’s notion of economic “distributism.” With some original research, critical intelligence, and authorial restraint in grinding his own axes, Solzhenitsyn might have been a very good book.
Faith, Science & Understanding. By John Polkinghorne. Yale University Press. 208 pp. $19.95.
The author, a past president and now fellow of Queen’s College, Cambridge, is a noted scientist–theo logian who has made distinguished contributions in the field of particle physics. In this somewhat leisurely reflection he examines the history of the science–and–religion question over the last century and more, and offers sympathetic critiques of the contributions of contemporaries such as Wolfhart Pannenberg, Thomas Torrance, and Paul Davies.
The Last Letters of Thomas More. Edited by Alvaro de Silva. Eerdmans. 208 pp. $20.
In the twenty–four surviving letters written from his imprisonment in the tower in 1534 to his death a year and a half later, we are presented with More the Christian humanist and martyr in the richness of his spiritual and moral integrity. Each letter is also a literary treasure, and the editor’s introduction explaining what More meant by “comfort,” “company,” and “conscience” is simply splendid. Warmly recommended.
Celtic Flame: The Burden of Patrick. By T. M. Moore. Xlibris (Xlibris.com). 119 pp. $25 cloth, $16 paper, $8 e–book.
Poet–theologian Moore has done something truly admirable. He has cast into
verse paraphrase St. Patrick’s Confessions and Letter Against the
Soldiers of Coroticus, along with the well–known Patrick’s Breastplate,
which was probably not written by the saint. Patrick was immersed in the language
and thought of Scripture, and Moore provides alongside the text the biblical
references, as well as unobtrusive footnotes explaining historical obscurities.
Through the accretions of legend and piety surrounding Patrick, some charming
and some distracting, Moore provides an encounter with the fifth–century bishop
of pastoral devotion, stout orthodoxy, and unwavering courage in the face of
opponents. A nice ecumenical touch is that Moore is a Presbyterian minister.
Celtic Flame charms, instructs, and inspires, which is a lot for one
little book to do.