Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 93 (May 1999): 73-76.
Living in the Image of God: Jewish Teachings to Perfect the World. By Irving Greenberg with Shalom Freedman. Jason Aronson. 366 pp. $35.
Rabbi Irving Greenberg has become one of the most influential Jewish thinkers in America. Although an Orthodox rabbi for his entire career, "Yitz" (as he is known to just about everybody) has been forthright in his attempts to reach out to other Jews, especially Jews who do not share his Orthodoxy. That outreach has also led him to make a serious attempt to engage non–Jews, especially Christians, in serious discussion not only of ethical issues but of theological ones as well. All of this is most atypical of Jewish Orthodoxy today, which has largely become more insular in its relations with other Jews, and ever more steadfast in its refusal to engage Christians in anything even resembling theological dialogue. Through the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), which he founded and developed, Rabbi Greenberg has made a serious impact on American Jewish life and beyond. This book is the edited record of a series of interviews conducted with Rabbi Greenberg by a devoted disciple, Shalom Freedman. Here they discuss a wide variety of theologically charged topics: the Holocaust, feminism, the land and state of Israel, the Messiah. Rabbi Greenberg is a man of deep convictions and he expresses them well in these interviews. The format does have its limitations, however, and this reader, at least, has been left with the desire to see Greenberg develop his insights more systematically. For example, Rabbi Greenberg needs to explain what makes him still "Orthodox." Aside from his continued Orthodox practice, and avoidance of modern biblical criticism, it seems that his constant emphasis on the human ability and duty to "perfect the world" is something that would be much more at home in the several liberal, non–Orthodox (even anti–Orthodox) Judaisms available today. (In fact, many in the Orthodox community long ago ceased to regard Rabbi Greenberg as one of their own.) There is a beauty to a book emerging from a teacher–student relationship. But what–comes–next calls for either a more critical interviewer, or for Rabbi Greenberg to speak solely in his own, more consistent voice. Nevertheless, the thought–provoking character of these interviews makes the book well worth buying and reading.
— David Novak
Leisure, the Basis of Culture. By Josef Pieper. Translated by Gerald Malsbary. St. Augustine’s Press. 160 pp. $11.95.
Leisure, the Basis of Culture. By Josef Pieper. Translated by Alexander Dru. Liberty Fund. 137 pp. $17.
In 1952, Josef Pieper was introduced to the English speaking world with the publication of Leisure, the Basis of Culture, a translation of two essays which had appeared originally in German in 1948. In a "Preface," Pieper himself explained the decision to join the two essays: "Their common origin or foundation might be stated in the following words: Culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with the cultus, with divine worship." Pieper now has many more books in English, but Leisure has remained his most famous; it came to be regarded as a classic precisely because it so freshly articulated a classic notion of philosophy. In attempting to recover a sense of leisure that is not a state of idleness but an occasion for activity beyond the field of servile work, Pieper’s modest volume reaffirmed the timelessness of the traditional Platonic and Aristotelian understanding of the value of philosophical reflection, and the reasonableness of the Augustinian and Thomistic understanding of the relationship between philosophy and theology. The book should be required reading, especially in a liberal arts curriculum, and now once again it can be, thanks to two new and affordable editions. Liberty Fund has reset the contents of the 1952 edition: the translation by Alexander Dru, together with the introductory essay by T. S. Eliot. St. Augustine’s Press replaces Eliot’s words with a new, brief introduction by Roger Scruton, and offers a new translation by Gerald Malsbary. Dru’s original translation did not need replacing, but Malsbary’s English, perhaps more literal, is a worthy rival. (Both new editions perpetuate a misquotation in the 1952 edition, where a passage from John Henry Newman replaces "terminate" with its near opposite, "seminate.") Liberty Fund’s edition displays a polish characteristic of the press, and is available in handsome hardcover. St. Augustine’s Press offers its paperback edition among the first of many more volumes of Pieper’s writings it plans to publish, many of them for the first time in English. With its edition of Leisure St. Augustine’s Press also offers some additional material that Liberty Fund does not: an index, some supplementary citations, and an appended "Retrospective of Reviews" consisting of editorial reactions to the 1952 publication, reprinted from such periodicals as the (London) Spectator, the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times Book Review, Commonweal, and the Nation. It is thanks to this appendix that we can read Allen Tate praise Pieper’s wisdom as helpful for understanding the "blight" of American democracy—and it is thanks to both of these publishers that Pieper’s wisdom will be available to another generation.
— Joshua P. Hochschild
Christian Mythmakers. By Rolland Hein. Cornerstone. 260 pp. $13.95.
Rolland Hein’s Christian Mythmakers is a serviceable and readable survey of a tradition of Christian mythopoeic fiction that at its best "intimates something that cannot be told, but when fully known will be eternally satisfying." Hein traces the history of this genre from its modern origins in John Bunyan and George MacDonald through G. K. Chesterton and the Inklings Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien to its more recent developments in Madeleine L’Engle and others, sketching along the way a good number of their works. Most of his readings are charitable, but the chapters remain perhaps too focused on just one theme per author. Because it is not an in–depth study, Christian Mythmakers is limited to reading Chesterton in terms of his enchantment of the everyday, Lewis in terms of Sehnsucht, and Williams in terms of spiritual power. Some readers may prefer a more exhaustive account of each. Literary critics could probably quibble with Hein’s definition of myth, its function, and the extent to which the term can be applied to the authors under discussion. Readers unfamiliar with the writing introduced in Christian Mythmakers or those acquainted only with Lewis’ more popular works, however, will doubtless have their interest deepened by this helpful introduction to literature surely deserving of attention, if not all of Hein’s more enthusiastic praise.
— J. A. Hanson
The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy. By Heinrich A. Rommen. Intercollegiate Studies Institute. 278 pp. $27 cloth, $8.50 paper.
A new edition of a classic work, first published in 1947, now with a thorough and incisive introduction by Russell Hittinger. Rommen was a professional lawyer whose legal work, along with his support for Catholic social action, got him arrested by the Nazis. Hittinger notes that although The Natural Law is a highly sophisticated piece of scholarship on a notoriously complex topic, it is first and foremost a response to the political crisis brought about by the Third Reich: under a totalitarian "order," understanding the natural law takes on new urgency and importance. Rommen begins with a detailed history of the idea of natural law, tracing its permutations from Plato through positivism. In the book’s second half he analyzes the idea itself, providing an explication that has few rivals for clarity and depth. Rommen’s book continues to stand as a remarkable achievement and remains perhaps the best available introduction to the history and substance of the natural law.
On Cultivating Liberty: Reflections on Moral Ecology. By Michael Novak. Edited by Brian C. Anderson. Rowman & Littlefield. 359 pp. $27.95.
This collection of Michael Novak’s "best essays"—according to City Journal’s Brian Anderson, his former assistant—is a necessary resource for those interested in the mature thought of this important thinker. Novak defends the bourgeoisie, Reinhold Niebuhr, Whigs, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Founders, and himself—the final essay, "Errands into the Wilderness," covers some of the same ground as the essay "Controversial Engagements" (FT, April) from an interestingly different angle.
Hollywood Party: How American Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s. By Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley. Prima. 365 pp. $25.
In October 1947, the House Committee on Un–American Activities (HUAC) subpoenaed ten writers and directors—the "Hollywood Ten"—and asked them to name those who were collaborators or fellow travelers of the Communist Party of the United States of America. HUAC’s action earned the eternal enmity of the entertainment establishment, ensuring that in Hollywood anti–communism would forever have a bad name. Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley has done yeoman work in documenting the extent of Soviet penetration into the movie business, first infiltrating the labor unions, then setting up "ventriloquist" front groups where non–Communists mouthed the Party line. This sometimes became tricky—the Hollywood Anti–Nazi League, a 1930s front group whose board included Spencer Tracy, Lucille Ball, James Cagney, Groucho Marx, Henry Fonda, Burgess Meredith, and a host of others, had to recast itself overnight after the 1939 Nazi–Soviet pact changed the Party line on Hitler (no easy feat in heavily Jewish Hollywood). Although Ronald Reagan—then still a liberal Democrat—staved off a Communist takeover of the Screen Actors’ Guild, the Soviets had no shortage of other photogenic sympathizers over the years. Fifty years after the HUAC hearings, what we now call "the media" still pretends the charges were false; as this book proves, though, for many years, Stalinism was the stuff dreams were made of.
Christianity and American Free masonry. By William Whalen. Ignatius. 213 pp. $14.95 paper.
Although the Masonic order has been in decline since 1959, more than two million American men belong to it, making it the largest and oldest secret fraternal society. The present book makes a temperate and utterly convincing argument that Christianity and Freemasonry are incompatible. "The Great Architect of the Universe," says the author, is not the God whom Jesus taught us to call Our Father. Catholics are forbidden to be Masons, and many Protestants are embarrassed by the failure of their denominations to address the question candidly because, at least in part, there are Masons in positions of leadership. This irenic but uncompromisingly honest book could help remedy that problem.
Ethica Thomistica: The Moral Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Revised Edition. By Ralph McInerny. Catholic University of America Press. 127 pp. $14.95.
Ralph McInerny has completely revised this classic statement of Aquinas’ moral philosophy, which is still the best short treatment available. Short here does not mean simplistic; many graduate students and full professors would do well to start where McInerny starts if they want to get Aquinas right about what it means for a person to act as a person should act. Over years of writing novels, McInerny has acquired the skill of writing accessibly, which means that this deep little book is also just right for the freshman or the diligent amateur—the "peeping Thomist"—who wants to get a handle on the Angelic Doctor’s ethical thought.
The American Leadership Tradition: Moral Vision from Washington to Clinton. By Marvin Olasky. Free Press. 298 pp. $25.
Olasky is professor of journalism at the University of Texas, editor of the recently launched evangelical magazine, World, and has made very important contributions in rethinking welfare policy and what it means to be "compassionate" toward those in need. The present book is in part a jeremiad—an entirely warranted one—on what has happened to moral vision in America from Washington to Clinton, but also an insightful commentary on the inescapable connections between personal and public morality. John Adams and other Founders who spoke forcefully about this polity’s dependence upon virtue would likely be much more alarmed by the story told by Olasky than are most Americans today. That, too, makes this book timely reading. Foreword by Charles Colson.
The Theology of the Church: A Bibliography. By Avery Dulles and Patrick Granfield. Paulist. 198 pp. $24.95 paper.
Exactly what the title suggests, but what a splendid bibliography it is. Thoroughly international and ecumenical in their reach, the listings include virtually everything of note from the patristic era to the present, including prior bibliographies of works dealing with ecclesiology. An invaluable help for scholars and all who write on themes related to the doctrine of the Church.
That All May Be One: Perceptions and Models of Ecumenicity. By Harding Meyer. Eerdmans. 176 pp. $18.
A Lutheran theologian and veteran ecumenist analyzes the current doldrums of the ecumenical movement launched chiefly by Protestants in Edinburgh in 1910. The book is a useful survey of sundry proposals for somehow moving ahead toward the organic unity that Christ wills for his disciples. Chiefly of interest to students of ecumenism—where it has been and, just maybe, might go.
Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes. By Eamon Duffy. Yale University Press. 336 pp. $37.50 cloth, $18.95 paper.
Duffy’s book "I can recommend with enthusiasm," wrote Thomas F. X. Noble in his review essay of six histories of the popes in our October 1998 issue. "Duffy resisted any temptation to trivialize his subject and produced the most level–headed single–volume history of the papacy" in English. Now out in paperback from Yale.
Holocaust Scholars Write to the Vatican. Edited by Harry James Cargas. Greenwood. 176 pp. $49.95.
Sixteen scholars, Christian and Jewish, who have written extensively on the Holocaust write "letters" to the Vatican suggesting what the Church should say about the Third Reich and the attempted extermination of Jewry. While the essays were written before the 1998 statement of the Holy See, "We Remember," they continue to be pertinent in their expression of Jewish dissatisfactions and hopes (shared by many Catholics) with respect to the Church coming to terms with a horror that enlisted too many collaborators and produced too few heroes.