Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 96 (October 1999): 74-77.
The Catholic University as Promise and Project: Reflections in a Jesuit Idiom. By Michael J. Buckley, S.J. Georgetown University Press. 224 pp. $55 cloth, $22.95 paper.
Michael Buckley, chronicler and critic of Western religious culture, ranks with fellow Jesuit Walter Ong, the esteemed interpreter of literary sensibilities. His decisive work, At the Origins of Modern Atheism, does not delimit his interests. Published here are three decades of elegant essays on the classical and Catholic educational traditions wherein he studies the Jesuit educational venture from its Medieval and Renaissance antecedents through its Baroque foundations, down to the recent turmoil over political consciousness (which produced the energetic command that social, political, and economic justice be a conscious motif in all Jesuit education) and the claim to autocephaly (the still unresolved determination of Jesuit and other universities not to be answerable to the Church for their Catholic authenticity). Were it not for his gifts as raconteur, Buckley’s versatile anecdotal sorties from Pico della Mirandola to Rudolf Carnap, from Juan Luis Vives to Alfred North Whitehead, from Aulus Gellius to Paul Kristeller, might seem precious. But he holds fast to his theme: that a sound education must be the work of a moral community. His inspired indictment, in the spirit of Rabelais and Erasmus, of modern universities that forgo this moral calling is as powerful as this reviewer has seen. What makes the book both awkward and fascinating, however, is Buckley’s conviction that those who make Catholic universities need not be party to the Catholic tradition, or to the communion of faith which created and grooms that tradition. While there should be "a serious presence" of Catholic intellectuals on the faculty, a decent diversity also mandates plenty of colleagues who do not share that faith. When he comes to describe how the fellow travelers fit in, the prose develops a vapor lock. "They should find in the Catholic university a support for the religious and human values they represent . . . whatever is human enters with peculiar efficacy into the concerns of the Church, which adds its own sense of religious urgency to those values that engage all human desire and longing." Buckley is humming Terence to us: Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto ("Since I am human, I reckon nothing human foreign"). He may not notice that comity of this sort comes only by reducing ourselves to our most generic identity. Put into practice, the vague Jesuit educational policy of "Hiring for Mission" has devolved into a willingness to appoint otherwise qualified people who want the job but would not find these essays, however elegant, interesting. For them to be at home on a Jesuit campus requires a host population whose faith and convictions have been drained of every characteristically Catholic inclination to criticize the public civilization in which their guests were formed. One might expect this would produce universities of increasingly dilute culture, but Buckley does not for a moment think so. He praises "universities which are Catholic in their faith and catholic in their pluralism. . . . Does the Catholic rule out the catholic?" I fear that Father Buckley—along with many others—does not yet perceive that no wholesome moral community will season the general welfare except by fidelity to its own specific convictions. For generic catholics, like rice Christians, secular Jews, prophets on the royal payroll, and established churches, become like salt without savor and butter left uncovered in the refrigerator.
—James Tunstead Burtchaell, C.S.C.
Marriage as a Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed from Malachi. By Gordon P. Hugenberger. Baker. 434 pp. paper.
Gordon P. Hugenberger makes a compelling case for the position suggested in his title, Marriage as a Covenant. He takes up a hotly debated text near the end of the Old Testament which clearly identifies marriage as a covenantal form—Malachi 2:10–16. Hugenberger has mastered the historical–critical materials and is appreciative of the doctrinal traditions of biblical scholarship. He is also alert to the fact that the Hebrew for covenant, berith, has been variously translated as marital "bond" (German) and "contract" (French), as well as mysterion in some Greek texts, which became sacramentum (and, sometimes, foedus, pactum, or compactum) in Latin—a matter that makes clarity of definition necessary. Hugenberger takes the basic definitions of covenant and its possible applications to marriage with great seriousness, and sorts out the linguistic, liturgical, and social–historical implications of the term with care. He then turns to the investigation of how the term works in Scripture not only in reference to marriage but also with regard to divorce, polygyny, and the various uses of the creational images of Adam and Eve. From this deep analysis of a single text, with all its representation of other moral assumptions, echoes of previous biblical tradition, and anticipations of later New Testament uses, he argues convincingly for a normative position that can be found throughout Scripture. He sees a stability in the biblical–ethical view of marriage as covenant that is more enduring than a purely historical analysis can recognize, and more adaptive to the nuances of human dynamics than a purely dogmatic approach allows. A covenant of marriage involves a monogamous, heterosexual, life–long loving and just relationship open to procreation, one that will seek to obey the laws and purposes of God, nurture the next generation, and care with compassionate and restorative forgiveness for those who contritely seek to find their way when and if some dimension of covenantal responsibility is broken. His scholarship as a faculty member of Gordon–Conwell Theological Seminary would seem to aid the demands he faces as senior pastor at the historic Park Street Congregational Church in central Boston. (Marriage as a Covenant was originally published in 1994 by E. J. Brill; the current North American edition is part of Baker’s Biblical Studies Library.)
—Max L. Stackhouse
Sexual Orientation and Human Rights in American Religious Discourse. Edited by Saul M. Olyan and Martha C. Nussbaum. Oxford University Press. 260 pp. $29.95.
The editors of this volume write that "sexual orientation has become a contested issue of great prominence, the issue of the nineties according to some." To "some" it surely is; most of us place it in the top trio of domestic issues, along with abortion and school choice. Like the latter two issues, sexual orientation (read: homosexuality) is an issue of great concern to religious believers. For that reason the editors fear that "reasoned debate"—particularly when it comes to legal recognition of same–sex relationships as marriages—is a scarce commodity. Their stated aim is not to resolve this or any other public policy question, but to demonstrate the possibility of "reasoned debate" by religiously committed scholars. Thus are brought together essays by representatives of four religious communities: from Judaism, Roman Catholicism, mainline Protestantism, and the African–American churches. ("Fundamentalists" and Muslims are excluded because there has been "little or no open debate" within those communities.) The essays, never hysterical or overly polemical, are uneven, as one might expect from a collection ranging from David Novak to Charles Curran. But finally the book is meant to demonstrate not so much "reasoned debate" as the fact of disagreement among reasonable people within America’s religious communities. If the godly cannot agree among themselves, the editors seem to be saying, how possibly could our pluralistic polity? Once again, that which is reasonable has been subtly equated with that which is liberal.
—Gerard V. Bradley
The Splendor of Faith: The Theological Vision of Pope John Paul II. By Avery Dulles, S.J. Herder & Herder. 204 pp. $19.95 paper.
The book started out with a course Father Dulles taught at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York. The fourteen chapters in their present and fuller form would be a severe penance for seminarian auditors, for they are very tightly packed indeed. But, as a succinct summary of the "theological vision" of John Paul II, this book, reflecting an astonishing command of the texts of an astonishingly prolific Pope, is indispensable. Everything is here: Christology, the evangelization of culture, world missions, Christian unity, eschatology, a Christian understanding of world religions, the theological basis of human rights, and much more. Although John Paul’s responsibilities as bishop and Pope curtailed his strictly academic endeavors, Dulles makes a strong case that academic theologians must take him very seriously as a theologian. Giving due attention to the personalist and phenomenological distinctives of John Paul’s thought, Dulles emphasizes the continuity with the Second Vatican Council and his predecessors John XXIII and, especially, Paul VI. A notable contribution of the book is its demonstration of how thoroughly the present Pope is "a man of the Council." John Paul’s pastoral and intellectual articulation of the Christian faith, Dulles writes, is "serene and balanced," and the same can be said of The Splendor of Faith. Dulles’ synthesis is a splendid achievement and is warmly recommended to all who would understand the mind of the premier witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in our time.
Truth and the Reality of God: An Essay in Natural Theology. By Ian Markham. T&T Clark. 145 pp. $37.95.
In this concise and eminently readable essay, Ian Markham gives natural theology a new lease on life and a new claim on the attention of contemporary theologians and philosophers. Speaking to the usual protests against the discipline, he explains: "The tradition of natural theology should not be viewed as an exercise in seeking arguments to persuade the nonexistent ‘traditionless’ person. Instead its role is to tease out the explanatory power of the Christian tradition. This is not done outside the tradition, but within the tradition. Yet it can be compelling for people outside the tradition, because the proofs illustrate the incomplete nature of their own tradition." Thus armed with natural theology, Markham seeks to stake out and defend the proposition that belief in truth necessarily implies belief in God, invoking both Aquinas and Nietzsche to make his point. It would take extraordinary effort not to be impressed by Markham’s cogent argument.
Martin Luther: The Christian Between God and Death. By Richard Marius. Harvard University Press. 542 pp. $35.
This is an odd book to be published by a prestige university press, since it is less a scholarly study than a largely imaginative account of Luther in the service of Marius’ belief that the modern world has made obsolete the fundamentalisms of the past. As with Marius’ first Luther book in 1974 and his 1984 book on Thomas More, Erasmus, portrayed as a modern secularist, is the hero. In the present book, Luther is a fundamentalist who has lost his faith and, as a consequence, lashes out in fury against his opponents. Marius has written elsewhere about his liberation from his own fundamentalist background. His subsequent writings would seem to reflect what our Editor–in–Chief has called "the narrow escape syndrome," meaning the desperation of those who fear that they might somehow be sucked back into an oppressive belief system from which they thought they had escaped. Martin Luther tells us a great deal about Richard Marius and very little that is reliable about Martin Luther.