Book Reviews FAITH MAGAZINE May - June 2016
Science & Religion - Some Historical Perspectives by John Hedley Brooke
The 'Making of Men' - The Idea and Reality of Newman's University in Oxford and Dublin by Paul Shrimpton
Louder than Words: The Art of Living as a Catholic by Matthew Leonard
Praying the Rosary - a Journey through Scripture and Art by Denis McBride CSsR
It’s Complicated – Not Simplistic
Reviewed by Philip Miller
One of the Facebook relationship-status options offered to users is the now-famous phrase “it’s complicated”, and in many ways that could sum up the relationship between faith and science. Many would like to characterise the interplay between religion and science in all sorts of simplistic ways, but the thesis of Science and Religion is that to do so would be utterly false. The blurb on the back cover of the volume puts it succinctly: “science and religion have been mutually relevant in so rich a variety of ways that no simple generalisations are possible.” It is to be noted that this is not a new publication, but a newly published edition of a 1991 book.
Brooke takes us on a thorough historical journey through various phases of the science–religion interactions, but at each stage is at pains to explain the complexities and express the interweaving dynamic of mutual challenge and enrichment. For example, on the one hand, when St Thomas Aquinas in his great mediaeval theological works treats theology as the “queen of the sciences”, yet “the subordination of metaphysics to theology did not necessarily entail an obstruction to the study of nature” (p. 81) — it “had not resulted in a sterile fusion” (p. 84). On the other hand, in the legendary cases of “scientific martyrs”, such as Giordano Bruno († 1600), the reality was often that they were not tried for their scientific claims, but for other heterodox assertions. Bruno, a Dominican friar, held to all sorts of novel, and non- Christian, opinions on faith, giving credence more to exotic ancient-Egyptian beliefs than to orthodox Christology; and while he also followed a number of astronomy hypotheses, such as the existence of a plurality of worlds, yet it was not this that sealed his unfortunate fate.
While Brooke does not buy wholesale into the ‘conflict’ hypothesis between science and religion, neither does he imagine that any marriage between the two was an easy relationship. He brings out the tricky path that believing scientists did have to tread so carefully as the mediaeval Church gave way to the counter-Reformation Church, simultaneous with the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution. Clerics like Nicolaus Copernicus († 1543) managed to do just that, to proceed cautiously but in accord with their observations and calculations. Johannes Kepler († 1630), too, while bringing his enormous skills in astronomy to bear on the workings of the heavens, was able — just! — to integrate the new Copernican thinking with a preserved understanding of the uniqueness of humanity’s place in the universe. Robert Boyle († 1691) also navigated the differentiation between science and religion with a style that did not also necessitate complete separation: “Boyle distinguished [the book of Scripture and the book of Nature] but without setting them in opposition. The study of Scripture, he suggested, did nothing to hinder an inquisitive man’s delight in the study of nature” (p. 103).
Another aspect of Brooke’s book on the interplay between science and religion is that of the question of whether a Catholic milieu, or a Protestant one, favoured the advance of science. Was there, in fact, a “parallel between scientific and religious reform”? Brooke brings out the historical complexities of such a claim, reminding us of the political drama that accompanied the religious upheavals, and which thereby had its implications in a varied receptivity to the “new science”. Yes, the Copernican system came to be taught quite widely in Protestant circles — though neither Luther nor Calvin themselves were in any way advocates of its acceptance. But of the two greatest advocates of the Copernican revolution, Kepler was a Protestant and Galileo a Catholic. The “Galileo affair” itself is notoriously complicated — as Brooke brings out — and Galileo’s condemnation by Pope Urban VIII was in the main a reaction against his statements on the use of Scripture, more than his advocacy of Copernican astronomy. Catholic sensitivity to Protestant critique had meant that the Council of Trent had forbidden any interpretation of Scripture that went “contrary to the unanimous consensus of the Fathers”. It was by this dogmatic principle that Galileo unfortunately found himself cornered, and while “there was indeed a range of enlightened opinion within the Roman hierarchy at the time of Galileo’s trial … the trial itself was not averted” (p. 62). Certainly there can be no facile statement that it was Catholicism itself that obstructed the advance of science in Galileo’s day.
A crucial chapter of the book analyses the reception of Darwin’s 19th century ideas on biological evolution. Brooke reminds us that “two quite different meanings could … be attached to Darwin’s Origin [of Species] — that it was consistent with a biblical religion (as long as one did not take Genesis literally) and, conversely, that it undermined it. Because the prospect of evolutionary progress could become the basis of alternative religious creeds, the religious response to the Darwinian challenge is remarkable for its diversity” (p. 376). Once again, then, Brooke’s thesis is that men of religion, while challenged — as all men were — by what was a remarkable new discovery, reacted in a variety of ways including finding plenty of room for convergence. “Their point was that Darwin’s critique did not touch the central thrust of their [Christian] doctrine, which was that everything ultimately owed its existence and preservation to a power transcending the natural order” (p. 379).
These reflections on Brooke’s scholarly work are but a ‘taster’ of the whole sweep of his volume, which is in the area of his academic expertise. The work certainly helps the reader re-evaluate common, and often misguided, simplistic opinions on the relationship between faith and science, and therefore can do much good in showing how both are expressions, by no means incompatible, of the human mind, spirit and life.
Fr Philip Miller is the Parish Priest of St Augustine’s, Hoddesdon, and has a doctorate in radio astronomy.
How Newman put his ‘Idea’ into Practice
The ‘Making of Men’ – The Idea and reality of Newman’s university in Oxford and Dublin, by Paul Shrimpton, Gracewing, 587pp, £25.
Reviewed by Andrew Nash
Newman’s Idea of a University continues to be one of his most influential books. It is still referred to in discussions about the purpose and nature of higher education today on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, its two key principles – that knowledge should be pursued for its own sake rather than just when it is useful, and that knowledge is incomplete and distor ted if it doesn’t include knowledge about God – are more relevant than ever in our consumerist and secularised age.
But even if Newman’s educational thought is still discussed, his practice, as carried out in the Catholic University he founded in Dublin, is very little known. In fact, people often think of Newman as an ivory tower intellectual who did little practical work. Paul Shrimpton’s The ‘Making of Men’ – The Idea and reality of Newman’s university in Oxford and Dublin redresses this skewed view and in doing so makes a major new contribution to Newman studies.
It was as a tutor in Oriel College that Newman first had the chance to put into action his view of what university education should be like – and it proved to be controversial. He saw a tutor’s role as more than that of academic tuition. For Newman, it was fundamentally a pastoral role, with the tutor responsible for his students’ moral and spiritual welfare as well as their scholastic progress. He thus had what we would today term a ‘holistic’ approach to education – it was about forming the character as well as the mind of young people. He treated his students in a friendly manner, developing a personal relationship with them, though one which was always within the context of tutor and student. Newman’s approach was always ‘heart speaks to heart’ – the motto he was to choose years later when he became a Cardinal. It was indeed the ‘making of men’, not just teaching them to pass exams. But the Provost of Oriel resented Newman’s influence, and before long stopped assigning any more students to him. This experience was to prove influential when Newman came to design the Dublin university years later.
Newman wanted his new Catholic university to incorporate the strengths of Oxford, with its academic rigour and emphasis on the cultivation of the intellect and its historic religious (albeit by now Protestant) life. But it was to address Oxford’s weaknesses, particularly in its pastoral care of the students. Newman set up houses of residence – mini-colleges – each headed by an academic who would act as his students’ tutor and pastoral mentor. These were liberal in atmosphere, by the standards of Catholic Ireland of the time. There were billiard tables, smoking and a lively in-house social life – Newman wanted to keep the students away from the less desirable social temptations of a big city like Dublin. And the heads of these houses were laymen who were encouraged to be fatherly in their attitudes to their charges.
What may well surprise readers even more is that Newman himself took on the role of one of these heads of houses. This meant that while he was Rector of the university, constantly engaged in its day to day administration and grappling with its financial affairs, he was at the same time running a household of young men, dining with them every day, getting to know them personally, dealing with their problems and giving them spiritual as well as academic guidance. During all this he had a heavy schedule of writing: papers for the university’s publications, sermons and, of course, his constant correspondence with his fellow Oratorians in Birmingham. And he was frequently making the sea voyage back and forth between Ireland and England to keep both institutions running smoothly. All this for a man in middle age – how on earth did he have the energy?
Shrimpton has done an immense amount of research to reveal this day to day work of Newman’s; there is much new material here from which Newman’s putting into practice of his university idea emerges in rich detail. We see him dealing with all the upsets and crises which are inevitable in academic institutions. He had to manage the other heads of houses, some of whom proved unsuitable to their demanding role and had to be replaced. Inevitably some of the young men proved less amenable than others to even the kindest discipline. In his dealings with the young men Newman was no martinet, yet nor was he a pushover. He often gave miscreants a second chance, but he was firm when someone had to go – he knew how dangerous bad influence could be among a peer group.
Eventually, the Dublin university lost momentum; it struggled to survive after Newman resigned as Rector. (It just about managed to do so, only reviving when the Jesuits took it over later in the century, and today’s University College Dublin is proud to count Newman as its founder.) But it is clear from Shrimpton’s account that the failure of the original vision cannot be blamed on Newman. The Irish bishops had always been equivocal in their support – some were openly hostile – and perhaps the dream of an English-speaking Catholic university was simply unrealisable within the United Kingdom at that time. On his return to England, Newman was approached by some Catholic parents and asked to found a school, along the lines of the traditional Public Schools but Catholic in character, and the result was the Oratory School, which still continues today and is the subject of Shrimpton’s earlier work A Catholic Eton? which showed Newman’s same vision at work in pre-university education.
The contrast between what Newman was providing for his students in Dublin and the hands-off free-for-all of today’s universities is all too evident. Do any modern academics think they have a pastoral role in their students’ lives? Indeed, a mixture of legal constraints and political correctness makes it impossible. Newman’s model of a university has had no imitators in the UK, though there are honourable examples in the US, albeit mostly on a small scale. Towards the end of The ‘Making of Men’, Shrimpton optimistically says that the time for such a Catholic university has now come, but that seems an unrealistic prospect to the present reviewer. The Catholic Church in both the UK and Ireland is now weaker than ever, wracked by the abuse scandals, and with massive lapsation among the young. There is no chance we could afford to found a university, and we would struggle to fill it with students or staff. But perhaps in countries where the church is young and growing, in Asia or Africa, Newman’s vision will one day be revived. In the meantime, this book, full of fascinating details, will be an inspiration to all Catholic educators. Newman’s tireless work with young people was heroic, and Shrimpton’s meticulous and very readable account has added a valuable new aspect to our understanding of the great man.
Andrew Nash’s edition of Newman’s Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England is published by Gracewing, and his edition of Newman’s Essays Critical and Historical, Vol.I, will appear later this year.
Not Adequacy but Sainthood
Louder than Words: The Art of Living as a Catholic by Matthew Leonard, Our Sunday Visitor, 159 pp, £9.99 paperback, £9.49 Kindle edition
Reviewed by Lucy Courlet de Vregille
Is sainthood out of our reach? Could I ever live or do enough to be an actual real-life saint? Matthew Leonard, Director of the St Paul Centre for Biblical Theology, (a non-profit Bible Study institute in Steubenville, Ohio) seems to think we can. The journey toward personal holiness is one central to our journey of faith, yet so few actually imagine themselves one day being canonised in St Peter ’s Square. Even Leonard admits “chuckling at the thought of his mug on a laminated holy card”.
“God did not call us to adequacy, but to sainthood,” says Mike Aquilina in the foreword. “Matt Leonard wants to wake us up to the fact of God’s power.” A convert to Catholicism after being a protestant missionary in Latin America, it was during his RCIA class that Leonard was struck by the profound importance of aiming for sainthood. The night before his reception into the Church, another candidate remarked, “Look, if I’m going to do this, I want to be a saint.”
Louder than Words encourages and motivates those stuck in a rut of tepid or untapped faith to take the plunge, make the effort and leaving false humility behind, to aim high. His propositions for radical change do not include selling up and leaving for the missions but making a change to the attitude and behaviour of every day; breaking bad habits and replacing them with good ones. He says that holiness exists in our comments on Facebook, our understanding of suffering, our self-denial, our openness to the people around us and our striving for God on a daily basis. We are Christ’s face to the world and, as he says, “people should meet Christ when they meet a Christian.”
Providing basic catechesis Leonard creates a simple introduction to the main points of Catholic teaching on the Sacraments, prayer, personal holiness and the call to evangelise those around us, with a bit of salvation history thrown in too. What I enjoyed is how Leonard weaves into nearly every chapter, the life and works of a plethora of great saints, coining their best known catch phrases concerning evangelisation and the holy life: St Augustine, St Maximilian Kolbe, St Paul, St John Paul II. Quoting papal encyclicals and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he forms a rich base of material for his message which remains simple and encouragingly achievable. Leonard presents personal sanctity as very much within reach – undeniably important for those who feel holiness is a strange and beautiful concept somehow reserved only for the great heroes in faith.
Using the lives of well-known saints as examples, he admires their holiness of heroic proportions, and then offers a reality check on their less-than-saintly daily struggles; for example, St Jerome’s renowned lack of personal communication, St Vincent de Paul’s quick temper, and others. The aim is to show us that great holiness doesn’t mean to be free from combat, but in fact holiness exists in the very combat of our less-than-beautiful personal habits. He suggests, in a theory straight from St Therese of Lisieux’s “The Little Way”, that to battle with these vices daily is the road to sanctification.
According to Leonard, the pursuit of holiness is something we must all strive for – “Our lives must radiate the power of Christ’s grace and the warmth of his love. This is the foundation of our faith” (Pope Paul VI) – and it comes with a responsibility for “my brothers’ holiness”, in other words, evangelisation. But he says that this is not to be feared, as both may be achieved through the positive acts of daily living. As Pope Benedict XVI so beautifully puts it, “In a nutshell, to evangelise means to teach people ‘the art of living’ so as to lead them to life and happiness in Christ.” This very ‘art of living as a Catholic’, is chosen by Leonard to title his book.
I imagine Matthew Leonard to be a dynamic speaker. Writing how he speaks, this book can seem most of the time like the transcript from a motivational talk, saturated with turns of phrase, just like he’s having a chat with you about something that really inspires him. Perhaps rather unfortunately, for those of us who are not so familiar with American culture, one runs the risk of getting a little lost in the references to past US TV programmes, or confused by metaphors comparing American football to the holy life. Distracted or amused by Americanisms, his description of St Thomas More – “think good Darth Vader with a cool accent” – leaves me amusingly puzzled. Although heavily influenced by US culture and with a humour perhaps more tailored to the other side of the Atlantic, Louder Than Words taps directly into the worldwide resource base of the Universal Church. Furthermore, Leonard’s background of adult conversion from the protestant faith may encourage others in a similar RCIA situation; the book includes parts of his testimony that, together with his casual approach and earthy presentation of the faith could be found both reassuring and motivating.
Lucy Courlet de Vregille is a member of the Emmanuel Communit y and lives near Bordeaux with her French husband and baby.
Mary helps us to know her Son
Praying the Rosary - a Journey through Scripture and Art by Denis McBride CSsR, Redemptorist Publications, 136pp, £12.81
Reviewed by Sue Butcher
The reflections are interesting and thought provoking. At a time when the Rosary and devotion to Our Lady are too often neglected or dismissed as sentimental, Denis McBride emphasises the strength and dignity of Mary and demonstrates how closely her life was bound to her Son’s in the plan of Salvation. He reminds us that as Mother of God she was a real person – not just a pious idea – and that we need our relationship with her to grow as she helps us to know her Son. When we pray the Rosary we are not listening to stories of long ago and far away. We are meditating on the fact that God has visited his people in a real time and at a real place. In praying the Rosary we engage with the people and events of the Gospels and discover their significance for our lives now.
The images used in the book span centuries and continents. The first two joyful mysteries illustrate this. The picture for the Annunciation is by John Collier, the chief sculptor for the Catholic Memorial on the site of the World Trade Centre in New York. The image for the Visitation is an ivory plaque commissioned in Milan in 968 by Otto the Great, the first Holy Roman Emperor. John Collier’s picture shows a traditional Gabriel with wings and flowing robes and includes a pot of lilies signifying purity and a dove symbolising the Holy Spirit but is set on the doorstep of a modern house with a fourteen-year-old school girl Mary in blue and white pinafore and unlaced shoes. The quiet serenity of this very young Mary and the contrast between the ordinary setting and the extraordinary visitor creates a moving and tender scene. Equally poignant is the ivory carving of Mary and Elizabeth embracing, faces pressed together and each gazing at the other with Mary gently touching Elizabeth’s bump. The stylised figures are almost identical as they support each other, rejoicing in their miraculous pregnancies.
Most of the pictures used are paintings on canvas, but there are altarpieces to illustrate the Baptism of the Lord, the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion, the Assumption and the Coronation of Our Lady. Denis McBride takes us beyond the obvious in these images and points out significant details to improve our understanding: for example, the young man in the background of the Baptism preparing for his own baptism and the three elders who are there as enemies and cast a shadow over the scene. Stained glass is used to illustrate the Nativity, and the Ascension is shown in an alabaster panel made in Nottingham in the fifteenth century. This shows Jesus’ feet and the hem of his robe as he leaves this world and focusses on Our Lady and the apostles who have been left behind.
All the pictures are moving, but I was particularly taken with the two illustrating the second and fourth sorrowful mysteries. The first is Caravaggio’s ‘The Flagellation of the Christ’ and shows a chilling and private event; we are the only witnesses to the three men, half hidden by darkness, who force the Lord against a pillar, grabbing His hair and kicking Him as they prepare to beat Him, the cruelty in their faces contrasting with His own quiet dignity. The light in the picture shines on the still unmarked body of the Christ, and we are drawn in to the brutal realism of the scene, knowing that the torture is about to begin. The second picture is also dominated by the dark, but this one is full of people. ‘Christ Carrying the Cross’ was painted by Hieronymus Bosch in 1515 and depicts Jesus carrying His cross surrounded by faces mostly with cruel and distorted features. Veronica has just wiped His face and moves away, a beautiful unmarked face imprinted on her veil. The good thief looks away from the men abusing him while the impenitent thief gives as good as he gets. Simon of Cyrene tries to take some of the weight of the cross from the Lord’s shoulders, and in the middle of the noise and chaos Jesus closes his eyes and continues His journey, carrying our sins on his back.
Praying the Rosary is a well thought out and beautifully presented book which would make a lovely gift for a Confirmation. It is easy to read and encourages us to keep returning to the Rosary. In his brief introduction Denis McBride states that his hope is “that these reflections will be a real support to you in praying the Rosary and help you in some small way, to grow personally closer to the loving lives of Jesus and Mary.” Having read the book I would say that he has been entirely successful.
Sue Butcher is a Catholic mother of six and a playgroup assistant.