Briefly Noted

Copyright (c) 1993 First Things 32 (April 1993): 55-57.

Newman and His Age. By Sheridan Gilley. Christian Classics. 485 pp. $39.95.

Wilfred Ward did it, Meriol Trevor did it, and, more recently, Ian Ker did it, and one might have thought that there was no need for another biography of John Henry Newman. But, as is often the case, we don't know what we need until it appears, and that is true with Newman and His Age. Gilley, a theologian at the University of Durham, gives us a straightforward telling of the life, with perhaps less attention to the age than the title suggests. He says his ambition is to keep Newman's humanity and thought in close conversation, and he succeeds admirably. The portrait is loving, reluctantly critical where criticism is necessary, and laced through with wry and sometimes sardonic asides. The prickly and frequently precious sides of Newman's personality are played down, while his chief arguments are summarized with rare lucidity. Between humanity and thought, Gilley ends up giving greater attention to the thought, which would likely please his subject, whom he calls "the greatest of English theologians" and whom Jaroslav Pelikan calls the most influential theologian of the past two centuries, bar none. "There can never be a definitive biography of Newman, only new Newman biographers," writes Gilley. He is probably right, and aspiring new biographers now have a new standard by which their efforts will be measured.

The First Dissident: The Book of Job In Today's Politics. By William Safire. Random House. 273 pp. $27.

The libertarian-leaning columnist says he began this book with "doubt in his faith" and ended it with "faith in his doubt." The tension between God's commitment to order and man's penchant for chaos "generates the energy of freedom." There is a good deal of the journalist's cleverness here, but then how many journalists are wise enough to know that they should at least try to reflect seriously on such as Job?

The Living Tradition of Catholic Moral Theology. By Charles E. Curran. University of Notre Dame Press. 264 pp. $27.95.

Father Curran, now at Southern Methodist University after a raucous and much-publicized break with Catholic University, gathers together his essays and occasional writings in support of what he terms "creative fidelity" to Catholic teaching. Regrettably, the synthesis of the adjective and noun is no more evident here than in his earlier writings.

The Crisis in Moral Teaching in the Episcopal Church. Edited by Timothy Sedgwick and Philip Turner. Morehouse. 158 pp. $11.99 paper.

"Who speaks for the church to whom on what? Why? And how?" Those are the questions addressed by eight thinkers in the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA). Sexuality, reproductive technology, abortion, economics, and war and peace are all addressed with intelligence and civility. These questions, plus the more general consideration of moral authority in contemporary Christianity, make this a book that should be of interest not only to Episcopalians.

New Hymns for the Life of the Church. By Carol Doran and Thomas H. Troeger. Oxford University Press. 73 pp. $12.95 paper.

Alright, so it is not immediately evident why this should be noted in a journal on religion and public life. So let us reach a bit. It is frequently observed that a sign of the cultural decline of Christianity is the absence of new hymnody that is not guitar-plucking, rock- imitating schlock. These twenty-five hymns by Doran (music) and Troeger (words) are a heartening piece of counterevidence. We hope that clergy and music directors among our readers will take a look.

The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia. Seventh Edition. Edited by Geoffrey Wigoder. Facts on File. 1,001 pp. $59.95.

An updated and revised version of a deservedly classic reference work. The new seventh edition incorporates the most recent developments in Middle East politics, Jewish population movements, and cultural events.

Holy Siege: The Year that Shook Catholic America. By Kenneth Briggs. HarperCollins. 594 pp. $27.

A veteran journalist's journal of one year of mainly public events in American Catholicism (September 1986 to September 1987). Viewed from a decidedly left-of-center ("progressivist") angle, and one might object that almost any year nowayears is a year that shakes Catholic America. Nonetheless, Mr. Briggs has produced an engaging read.

In Search of a National Morality. Edited by William Bentley Ball. Baker/Ignatius. 298 pp. $13.99 paper.

Subtitled "A Manifesto for Evangelicals and Catholics," this fine collection includes essays by some of the most influential thinkers in both communities. Abortion, family policy, education, human rights, religious freedom, and much else come in for trenchant examination. As is evident in Ball's preface, "Life in an Occupied Country," the need is not so much for a "national morality" as for an assertive Christian morality pertinent to shaping public debate about the American experiment in ordered liberty. This book is strong evidence of the increasing convergence of evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic understandings of our cultural crisis and how it might be addressed.

Nature, God, and Pulpit. By Elizabeth Achtemeier. Eerdmans. 206 pp. $16.95.

Preachers, but not only preachers, will be enriched by reading this spirited and solidly biblical argument for a greater emphasis on God as Creator. Achtemeier is unintimidated by current fashions in addressing the singularity of human beings in the order of creation, and in distinguishing between Christian respect and pagan worship in our attitude toward nature.

The Liberal Political Science of Raymond Aron: A Critical Introduction. By Daniel J. Mahoney. Rowman & Littlefield. 185 pp. $14.95 paper.

The late French political thinker Raymond Aron was a liberal in the continental, rather than the Anglo-American, sense of the word-more of Montesquieu and Tocqueville than Locke or Mill (to say nothing of Rawls or Dworkin). Aron's political science was derived from the broad tradition of humanistic learning, avoiding the narrow, desiccated "science" of politics that is often taught in university departments today. A secularized Jew with a practical approach to politics and society, he still had enough depth to influence serious religious thinkers. Daniel J. Mahoney's brief, lucid, and highly stimulating treatment will no doubt help generate enthusiasm for Aron's writings and build up his stature in the English-speaking world.

Redefining the First Freedom: The Supreme Court and the Consolidation of State Power. By Gregg Ivers. Transaction. 198 pp. $32.95.

As the subtitle suggests, the author, who teaches government at American University, offers a rather somber view of recent developments in church-state jurisprudence. His thesis is that the Court is relaxing both the no establishment and free exercise provisions of the religion clause, thus leaving individual conscience at the mercy of politics and opening the way to state support for more established religious institutions.

Primary Readings in Philosophy for Understanding Theology. Edited by Diogenes Allen and Eric O. Springsted. Westminster/John Knox Press. 308 pp. $19.95 paper.

An admirable idea for classroom use and for those with no access to primary sources. From Plato and Descartes through Marx and Wittengenstein, the editors pull together excerpts most pertinent to understanding the theological developments of the past two centuries.