Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

 

FAITH Magazine March-April 2009


Essays Catholic and Contemporary
by John Haldane,
Gracewing, 230pp, £9.99


In this collection of 25 very readable short essays and articles the philosopher John Haldane explores the relationship between a range of public issues in the Catholic Church and the world today. Whilst Professor Haldane is a much respected and learned academic philosopher he is also a frequent contributor to British newspapers and many of the chapters in this collection first appeared as short articles in the popular press. Haldane has rewritten and expanded many of them for this welcome publication. The book is loosely divided into five sections and each chapter is presented as a reflection on a particular challenge or issue facing the Catholic Church. The book is wide ranging in the issues selected and Haldane offers his opinion on, among other topics, the papacy of John Paul II andof Benedict XVI, the role of philosophy in faith and reason, evolutionary theory, the role of the Church in the modern world, medical and sexual ethics, art and religious architecture and Catholic schooling. He examines these issues as a Catholic intellectual and explores how they all challenge trends within modern society.

The book is very accessible and each chapter is written as a short commentary for a general audience. Therefore, the reader can be confident in beginning with any chapter that particularly interests them as it is one of those books that you can simply dip into and read and reflect on any of the many issues addressed. There is one major theme that appears to unite the

various chapters and that is 'formation' - the formation of Catholics who understand and live the Catholic faith in the public domain, but above all who apply Catholic principles to their encounters with secular modernity. Haldane has little time for a woolly Catholicism in which "the religious and moral requirements of the Church are increasingly disregarded - if they are even known about", and in which the Church is "something inessential, more to be sampled on special occasions than to be embraced as the very stuff of life itself". Haldane believes that our culture is "visibly adrift on the seas of relativism", but he is confident that the Catholic Church is "the principal form of Christ's presence in the world" and that all Catholics have a responsibility to contribute in some way tothe well being of the Church. Haldane is clearly optimistic about the challenges that face the Catholic Church and he believes that "there is a sense of awaiting a renewal of Catholic apologetics and creativity".

However, how is this renewal to come about when we see the disappearance of the genuine Catholic intellectual from British public life and the Church's diminishing impact upon society? The renewal of Catholic intellectual life has to be placed against an academic background that regards the very possibility of discovering the truth with scepticism. Catholics are often exhorted to accept different opinions as representing many truths and these exhortations are often made by so-called Catholic intellectuals. There are numerous definitions of the Catholic intellectual and many of them include a powerful cultural relativism that can be self-indulgent and disruptive. After all, it is Catholic intellectuals who have often been blamed for many of the ills that have affected the Church. TheChurch certainly needs a higher quality of intellectual debate that critically engages with what it genuinely means to be a Catholic in secular society. It is why Haldane recognises that the Catholic intellectual needs an intelligent

public within the Church - therefore the central importance he attaches to the 'formation' of Catholics in schools and out of schools.

Haldane's last chapter 'Learning and the Mind of God' concludes: "the philosophical and religious ideals associated with traditional conceptions of knowledge and education have to be rearticulated, and the institutions of learning reanimated by them if the vineyards are not to prove barren and the tenants become corrupt". There is certainly a great opportunity for a Catholic intellectual renewal with increased disenchantment and disappointment with the Enlightenment project, which more often than not undermined the sacred and the connections that linked people to God and the Church. Haldane offers us a very commendable and readable text for intelligent Catholics who aspire to a more challenging intellectual and cultural life.

Dr James Arthur
University of Kent


Salvation for all God's Other Peoples
by Gerald O'Collins SJ,
Oxford University Press, 279pp, £JJ


Those who had the fortune to be taught by Father O'Collins during his years at the Gregorian University - or have encountered him in his current position as Research Professor at St Mary's Twickenham - will know him as a benign and kindly figure with a passion for communicating knowledge and a considerable ability to make highly complex subjects comprehensible. These qualities are again evident in this, his latest work, which tackles the highly relevant but controversial subject of the relationship between Christianity and other religions. In particular, O'Collins seeks to ascertain what the sources of Revelation have to say about the possibility of salvation for those outside the Judaeo-Christian Covenant - 'God's Other Peoples' as he terms them.

To this end O'Collins begins by assembling a considerable mass of biblical testimony which affirms the universal scope of God's salvific love. Yet from the outset the author admits that this is an explicitly one-sided operation, since he deliberately excludes from his compilation the many biblical texts - from both the Old and New Testaments - which speak far from positively about those outside the covenant relationship. He gives as his reason that "...to survey and appraise both the 'negative' and the 'positive' witness...would call for a book twice the length of this one". By the same token, this makes the present work half as useful as it might have been.

This is not to belittle O'Collins achievement. As he states, no one before has taken the trouble to collate and appraise the total biblical testimony to God's universal benevolence. Such a work as this is clearly a valuable contribution to the field of inter-religious dialogue, albeit incomplete in itself. Indeed, it is the concise but thorough review of the biblical evidence which readers will probably find the most rewarding aspect of the book. A lengthy survey of ancient texts may not appear a terribly enticing prospect, but O'Collins writes with clarity and grace, and brings alive passages from the Bible with which many will be unfamiliar. Seemingly marginal figures such as Naaman, Balaam and Malachi are explained in their full significance, and inserted within the unfolding drama ofGod's redeeming love.

Not content, however, with assembling an impressive body of biblical detail, O'Collins moves in the latter part of his book to outline some systematic conclusions from his research. Here he writes explicitly 'as a Roman Catholic' and shows a concern to integrate Magisterial texts and the testimony of Tradition into his theological vision. This part of the book too, however, demonstrates a deliberately one-sided approach which ultimately undermines the book's effectiveness. For, just as he elected not to examine those biblical

texts which might appear to limit God's salvific action to the people of the covenant, so too he chooses to overlook several recent interventions of the Magisterium which present a rather more nuanced - and less positive -attitude towards 'God's Other Peoples' than the extremely optimistic position he wishes to propose. It is significant that while he cites several documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Encyclicals Dominum et vivificantem and Redemptoris missio of Pope John Paul II, and speaks approvingly of the Assisi World Day of Prayer for Peace in 1986, O'Collins finds no space to mention the Declaration Dominus lesus, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2000, which remains the most recent authoritative intervention of theChurch in the matters under discussion. Such an omission begs questions. We should note that while Dominus lesus accepts that followers of non-Christian religions may be on the way to salvation and truth, it emphasises that this is but a spur to the missionary activity of the Church, which is needed to bring God's salvific work to fulfilment. This appears to be a different conclusion to that which O'Collins reaches, but since he chooses not to engage with the document at all, nor with other voices opposed to his thesis, it is hard to make a satisfactory judgment.

Ultimately one is led to conclude that, as O'Collins himself suggested, a single volume is insufficient to deal with the vast topic under discussion. This book is an interesting and useful contribution to the on-going debate -but we must hope that one day the author will find time to give us a more rounded and comprehensive treatment of the subject.

Fr Richard Whinder
New Maiden Surrey


Eco-Theology
by Celia Deane-Drummond,
Darton, Longman andTodd, 224pp, £14.9J


Few matters are more topical today than the environment. But it might also be said that few discussions are filled with quite so many thoughts contrary to what many, including Celia Deane-Drummond, call the 'anthropocentric' view of the cosmos as fostered by this magazine. But we should also note that an 'anthropocentrism' which excludes reference to God made Man as the centre of the universe is something very different.

Deane-Drummond is a scholar in the field of eco-theology and draws on her extensive background "to introduce the reader to critical debates in eco-theology" (p. ix) and to do so with reference to Christian theology. The book is comprehensive and well written. It does well in highlighting some of the Christian critiques of certain viewpoints (e.g. valuing the environment more than humans, p.34), however, it lacks the precision of orthodoxy. While Deane-Drummond describes herself as standing "in the Roman Catholic tradition"(p.xiv) this book does not aim to have a "denominational stance" and makes only the briefest of references to Church documents, indicating John Paul II's call to care for the environment (p.180).

The key eco-theology issue for Faith concerns the purpose of creation. This matter can be considered from two perspectives: Christ and man.

Concerning Christ, the Faith vision proposes that the entire cosmos was created for Christ. As Pope Benedict said in 2005, commenting on Colossians 2,

"Christ is, then, proclaimed 'firstborn of all creation' (verse 15). Christ precedes the whole of creation (see verse 17), having been begotten from all eternity: because of this 'all things were created through him and for him' (verse 16). Also in the ancient Jewish tradition it was affirmed that 'the whole world was created in view of the Messiah' {Sanhedhn 98b)".

Given that eco-theology concerns the cosmos it might be expected to have something to say on this and Deane-Drummond devotes a chapter to 'Ecology and Christology'. However, she simply notes that there has been a "surprising... lack of sustained focus on the relationship between ecology (or evolution more generally, for that matter) and Christology" (p .99). It is a significant strength of the book that it addresses an issue likely to concern orthodox Catholic readers even though the issue has not been widely covered in eco-theological literature. Deane-Drummond sums up the literature by noting that ecological interpretations see all of creation as having "intrinsic worth"(p. 89), reject "anthropocentricism", and see the incarnation as "affirming material being as such"(p. 112) ratherthan just affirming humanity.

Concerning anthropocentricism, the Faith vision argues for the very notion that most eco-theologians reject: We say that the entire cosmos was created for man, that Christ might become a man; Evolution had a goal, and its goal was man, and every other thing in every niche in the cosmos is there in order that man might be achieved. Others things in the created order thus only have a purpose, value, or meaning in relation to humanity. As Vatican II and the Catechism say, man is "the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake" (CCC 357). Faith Magazine has long argued that it is the notion of mind and soul that is the key to discovering the purpose of the cosmos, to indicating what is distinctive about man and what is lacking in theanimals: it is the spiritual soul which makes man capable of knowing and loving God. An analysis of the soul, however, seems to be absent in contemporary eco-theology and gets no mention in this book.

There is, of course, a general sense in which all of creation has the purpose of glorifying God, "The heavens proclaim the glory of God"(Ps 18). But the cosmos glorifies God through humanity. Deane-Drummond considers this notion of "humanity as priests of

creation"(p.59), however, she claims that non-human creation can offer a "direct" and not just a "mediated" relationship to God "for creation as a whole can express its praise regardless of the presence of humans"(p.60). In contrast, the general thrust of the Faith vision is that the cosmos is so interconnected that it is meaningless to argue that anything's purpose can be seen apart from its purpose in relation to the whole plan of creation, which is ordered to Christ through man. Deane-Drummond re-phrases Irenaeus: from "The glory of God is man fully alive" to "The glory of God is the cosmos fully alive"(p.185). I think those committed to Faith movement may be left thinking that this avoids rather than addresses the question of the precise relationship between man, cosmos, andGod.

Fr Dylan James
St Edward's Shaftesbury


To Heal the Broken Hearted. The Life of St Charles of Mount Argus.
by Paul Francis Spencer CP.
Ovada Books, UJpp, £9.JO, (available from Ovada Books tel. 0141 JJ2 JJ23).


Before reading this fascinating account of the life of Saint Charles I must confess that I had never heard of him. By the title I expected him to have lived in some exotic and distant part of the world, undertaking great missionary endeavours on behalf of the Church. Instead I was reminded that sanctity is very often the stuff of the ordinary, and the humble. Not only this, I quickly discovered that I was reading an account of the life of a Dutchman, who had spent almost the whole of his adult life as a Passionist priest at prayer and work in the British Isles. For almost thirty years Saint Charles, who died in 1893 lived at Mount Argus Monastery near Dublin. He quickly developed a reputation for sanctity, and word of his healing ministry spread far and wide. He was daily bombarded withhundreds of visitors requesting healing, and wishing to see the modern day saint,

who was performing such wonders. Eventually Fr Charles' reputation became too much for the community of Mount Argus, and his presence too much of a disruption to the tranquillity of community life. It was decided to send him to England to Staffordshire to recover his health. However news of his arrival quickly spread and so many of the faithful started to visit him in his new surroundings, and the miracles began again. St Charles remained humble and modest, attributing the healing work to the Lord Jesus Christ, as one would expect from a saint. He never properly gained an adequate command of the English language, despite having spent most of his life in the British Isles. He never returned to his native Holland, and never saw his family again after his departure to England as a youth. Hesuffered ill health, and the trials of community life, the ridicule of some of his brother Passionists, and humiliations at their hands. He bore these trials with perfect meekness and patience.

Paul Francis Spencer's account of the life of Saint Charles is well researched. It is a straight forward narrative of the saint's life from his adolescence through his ministry, ending with his death in 1893. It generally reads well, although just occasionally the writing can be a bit of a bumpy ride. I would also have appreciated a little more examination of St Charles' inner life. Part of the charm of the book is the insight it gives into the conditions of nineteenth century Catholicism in the British Isles, the occasional persecutions of the Catholic minority, and the picture it gives of religious life. This is an inspiring read, and helpful. St Charles is a wonderful example of a holy and dedicated priest, very much attached to the cross which came with his ministry.

Fr Matthew Jakes
Burton upon Trent Staffs



The Case against Condoms

by Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo and Brian Clowes,
Human Life Intenational, 72pp, $7.9J


For some of us, it may have been the last straw in the decision to get rid of our televisions. For most of us, at least, the screening of the Panorama programme "Sex and the Holy City" (2003) strongly confirmed the anti-Catholic bias in the BBC. Even a statement by the Bishops' Conference at the time described it, along with another programme, as "biased against and hostile to the Catholic Church" and that it "gave offence to many Catholics".

During filming, the late Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo answered questions on camera for more than an hour. Yet, in the documentary itself, only out of context snippets of three questions each amounting to less than half a minute each were shown. According to the Cardinal (and to most Catholics watching), the episode was manipulated systematically to criticise the Catholic Church for supposedly contributing to the death of millions by not supporting the distribution of condoms to fight HIV/AIDS.

Cardinal Trujillo's most controversial point was that there was no 100 per cent protection from the AIDS virus through the use of condoms because numerous studies have shown "certain permeability" through the latex as the virus is 450 times smaller than the sperm cell, notwithstanding some contrary studies. In a later 2003 paper on the issue, Trujillo backed up this claim by quoting Dave Lytle, a senior researcher at the US Food and Drug Administration in the 1980s and 90s. But Mr Lytle said to journalists that Trujillo had plucked a figure out from his study. He concluded in an interview that only one condom out of the 470 he tested might conceivably leak any infectious HIV - and even if it did, the amount leaked would be minimal. The World Health Organisation's position is that theremay be breakage or slippage

of condoms but not holes through which the virus can pass, and that "consistent and correct" use of condoms gives 90\% protection from HIV infection. But, in The Case Against Condoms, the former president of the Pontifical Council for the Family provides a significantly wider range of academic references to back up his case and points out that International Planned Parenthood talk about an actual 70\% safety rate. A failure rate of 30 per cent (10 when properly used) is pretty high when dealing with the potentially mortal disease of AIDS. The Cardinal carefully and convincingly exposes the condom 'Russian roulette' which many people in positions of power don't want us to know.

The book is co-authored by Brian Clowes, who deals with facts, figures, studies and definitions of condoms from across the world in more detail. Countless studies are quoted and well referenced in the endnotes to the Cardinal's chapter. And it's not as if the investigations can be deemed as being fixed to support the Church's position. Virtually all the admissions that condoms aren't impenetrable come from the manufacturers and promoters of contraception.

Viruses aside, the Pearl Pregnancy Index Rate found 15 failures per 100 women in condom use in preventing pregnancy. Four US government agencies found in 2000 that a 15 per cent risk remains of the AIDS virus being passed on when using a condom. The US Food and Drug Administration recommends that where there is a defect rate in batches of condoms of more than four per 1000 they should be discarded by manufacturers. This means there could still be hundreds of thousands of faulty condoms in circulation. The list of studies goes on and the evidence is overwhelming.

Trujillo shows how holistic policies in tackling the AIDS pandemic are much more successful than contraception dominated programmes. In 1987, Thailand had 112 recorded cases of AIDS while the Philippines had 135. Thailand went for a 100 per cent condom policy - in the Philippines there was opposition to this method by the Church and several government ministers. By 2003, Thailand had 750,000 cases, the Philippines just 1,935. And the latter country's population is 30 per cent greater than the former's.

After outlining his case, it's time for Trujillo to fight back. He says the hard fact of condom failure goes totally against the indictment that the Church contributes to the death of millions by not promoting the use of condoms. The reality is the complete opposite and he firmly deflects the blame onto "those promoting the condom" who are not warning users of the failure rates. It is they that are leading to the deaths of many. Furthermore, it is the Church that provides 25 per cent of all the care to AIDS sufferers worldwide. This book sets the record straight.

Richard Marsden

Kettering
Northants


Faith Magazine

March - April 2009