Copyright (c) 1997 First Things 78 (December 1997): 66-69.
Near Unto God. By Abraham Kuyper. Adapted by James C. Schaap. Eerdmans. 235 pp. $14 paper.
Recent years have seen a massive upsurge of interest in Christian spirituality—what Richard Mouw calls, in the preface to this book, the "spirituality bust." But it has centered primarily on the Anglican, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic traditions, and this new volume reminds us of the neglected riches of Reformed Calvinist spirituality. Born in 1837, Abraham Kuyper was a major intellectual figure in the Dutch Calvinist tradition for many years before his death in 1929: a theologian, pastor, newspaper editor, and statesman who founded the Free University of Amsterdam and served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1901-1905. What remains little known, however, is the depth of his devotional writings. In making this abridgement of a devotional work by Kuyper first published in the U.S. in 1918, James Schaap, professor of literature at Dordt College in Iowa, has adapted Kuyper’s daily meditations by trying "to deliver the essential Kuyper to the ordinary people he respected." These short and pithy meditations serve as a sure and deep guide for what Kuyper called the "hidden walk" and highlight an important dimension of Kuyper’s remarkable life and career: the devotional writer who saw all of life as coram deo, before the face of God.
— Michael Cromartie
On Being Catholic. By Thomas Howard. Ignatius. 263 pp. $12.95 paper.
With his customary vivid style, Thomas Howard expounds the faith, doctrine, and piety of the Roman Catholic Church. His understanding of what it means to be Catholic—and catholic—is orthodox and traditional. Readers will find here no ameliorating the effects of sin, no downplaying the cost of daily taking up the Cross. Whether commenting on the liturgy or arguing a point of morality, Howard stresses the biblical foundation, interpreted and expanded by tradition. And when that tradition seems to offer diverging views, Howard is able to present both sides with clarity and sympathy. His sensitive discussion of the varying Protestant and Catholic attitudes toward salvation offers a particularly good example. One question Howard does not take up, however, is the relation of the catholic to the Catholic. He might well have made many of his book’s points while an Episcopalian, as he was before converting over a decade ago. Choosing to contrast Roman Catholicism principally with the Protestant tradition in which he was raised, he would have strengthened his argument by also addressing why he found inadequate the Episcopal church in which he spent most of his adult life. Within its chosen range, however, On Being Catholic is a truly fine exposition of the faith.
— Michael J. Godderz
Hans Holbein: Portrait of an Unknown Man. By Derek Wilson. Phoenix Giant. 308 pp. $22.95 paper.
This engaging biography seeks to uncover the sympathies and motivations of one of the most enigmatic artists of the Reformation period. Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543), known today mainly for his portraiture, produced a wide range of works in his earlier years, designing woodcuts supporting Reformation views along with more traditional altarpieces. Despite his close contact with such notable figures as Erasmus and Henry VIII, Holbein is only rarely referred to in contemporary documents, and his ability to adapt to the requirements of his patrons makes his personal attitudes difficult to trace. Wilson claims to have surmounted these difficulties: he elaborates the known facts of Holbein’s life into a vivid narrative encompassing the events of the Reformation, and he attempts to reveal the "real man" through a close and imaginative (indeed, often fanciful) interpretation of his paintings. Holbein emerges here as a quintessential Renaissance figure, an observer of the world and seeker of truth whose work embodies Protestant humanism. Since so much of the book depends upon conjecture, it remains doubtful that Wilson has truly found the man behind the art, but he nevertheless presents an informative and highly readable account of both Holbein and the early sixteenth century.
— Jeanne Nuechterlein
Thinking Politically: A Liberal in the Age of Technology. By Raymond Aron. Transaction. 347 pp. $24.95.
Born in 1905 and to a large degree ignored, at least in America, by his own progressive generation, Raymond Aron may yet prove to have been the classic French political philosopher of the twentieth century, producing before his death in 1983 such works as Democracy and Totalitarianism, In Defense of Decadent Europe, and The Opium of the Intellectuals. Comparatively little of Aron’s writing, however, is available in English, and this new collection of interviews, Thinking Politically, serves as a welcome supplement to his more philosophical works. Though the volume is concerned primarily with the major political events in France during Aron’s lifetime, it does describe the intellectual encounters (most notably with Machiavelli, Tocqueville, and Max Weber) and the personal experiences that led Aron to classical liberalism and a belief in democracy as the answer to the totalitarian temptations of communism and fascism. In their introduction, Daniel Mahoney from Assumption College and Brian Anderson from the American Enterprise Institute explain that though Aron did not believe in God, he embodied the Aristotelian philosopher: living a virtuous life, moderating politics, and promoting the common good. The book itself illustrates how Aron succeeded in chronicling with sympathy and wisdom the "mixture of heroism and absurdity, of saints and monsters, of incomparable intellectual progress and persistent blind passions" that constitutes human history.
— Gregory M. Eirich
The Heart of Virtue. By Donald DeMarco. Ignatius. 231 pp. $12.95 paper.
Despite their occasional presence on best-seller lists, books about virtue remain something of an anomaly in contemporary culture, the impulse for serious personal reflection choked out by the saturation of the entertainment media. Nevertheless, while The Heart of Virtue may not be destined for the best-seller list, it is an encouraging sign that we have not altogether abandoned what has been at the core of moral reflection for two millennia. At a time when "Just say no" summarizes the depth of our national moral discourse, DeMarco has the reflective intelligence to argue that—because we do not have the luxury of being steeped in virtuous habits from birth—the virtuous life must be actively pursued. And because vice and virtue are locked in mortal combat, virtue’s cultivation must be vigorous. Far from being mere good manners or social affectation, the virtuous life is likened by the author to a garden, in which both weeds and roses grow. Seeking to become virtuous merely by excluding vice is as unrealistic and futile as wishing to cultivate the flower merely by weeding. It is precisely in this way that Thomas Aquinas envisioned the moral life: the life of sin is a fall from coherence to chaos, the life of virtue a climb from the many to the One. The format of The Heart of Virtue makes it a delight to read. Selecting twenty-eight attributes to describe the virtuous life, DeMarco presents each in the context of stories. Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, teaches us about generosity. Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment teaches us about moral transgression and justice. And the novelist Walker Percy’s own difficult life teaches us about patience and hope. In addition to the highly illustrative narratives, each chapter of this volume contains philosophical reflections by the author that sharpen and refine the virtues being presented. All told, The Heart of Virtue presents like few books on the subject both the extraordinarily rich texture and the heroic quality of the virtuous life.
— J. Daryl Charles
Liturgical Spirituality. By Philip H. Pfatteicher. Trinity. 292 pp. $22 paper.
The author is understandably nervous about the term "spirituality" in the title and does his best, which is very good indeed, to redeem it from its widespread abuse. Pfatteicher, a Lutheran of very ecumenical sensibility, argues beautifully and persuasively that living liturgically is the fullness of living Christianly. The author intends his work to be in the tradition of Louis Bouyer—a Lutheran turned Roman Catholic—and he has succeeded admirably. Pfatteicher examines, inter alia, eucharistic devotion, daily prayer, church architecture, and the music of worship. The treatment of the Christian year, centered on the Easter vigil, is especially incisive, although one misses a critical examination of changes in the Christian calendar brought about by the multi-year lectionary and, in Roman Catholic usage, "Sundays in ordinary time." Also, while he is no doubt right to set himself against "entertainment worship" and other atrocities of the church-growth phenomenon, his suspicion of anything popular poses problems for evangelization and does not jibe with the enduring popularity through the centuries of the very liturgy that he champions. That aside, Liturgical Spirituality is an evocative and informative introduction to a doxological way of being Christian.
A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society. By Rodney Clapp. InterVarsity. 251 pp. $14.99 paper.
A prolific evangelical Protestant writer, Clapp proposes an understanding of "church as way of life" along lines made familiar by the work of Stanley Hauerwas. The argument is thoughtful and accessible to lay people who are looking for a more countercultural way of being Christian. The approach does leave the reader wondering, however, where to find this "church" that is being celebrated, apart from small groups of the like-minded and like-spirited.
Partisan or Neutral? The Futility of Public Political Theory. By Michael J. White. Rowman & Littlefield. 193 pp. $21.95 paper.
The author is a professor of philosophy at Arizona State University and offers a persuasive—although, some will say, not convincing—case that political theory must take a back seat to what is necessary for muddling through. He therefore has little use for the Rawls types, is critically appreciative of Neuhaus, and identifies strongly with the "Augustinianism" espoused by Ernest Fortin. A very sensible, if not scintillating, treatment of a subject that is too susceptible to scintillation.
Weapons of the Spirit: Selected Writings of Father John Hugo. Edited by David Scott and Mike Aquilina. Our Sunday Visitor. 238 pp. $24.95.
Father John Hugo (1911-1985) was an inspiration for Dorothy Day and served as her spiritual director. An opponent of the ambitions of the modern state, he wrote some of the early, and then very controversial, arguments in support of pacifism, and was a vigorous defender of Humanae Vitae and what he believed to be its prophetic understanding of the consequences of separating sexuality from procreation. A wise spiritual voice not to be forgotten.