Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

FAITH MAGAZINE March-April 2013

A Concise Companion and Commentary for the Catechism of the Catholic Church
By James Tolhurst. Gracewing, 1994, 218pp, £9.99

In this Year of Faith it seems that we are all being called, at a level suited to our own situation, to engage with, be challenged by, and essentially grow in understanding of our own personal faith and also the faith that has been passed down to us by the Apostles.

One of the key works that grants us access to information about the latter is the Catechism of the Catholic Church which, while being a document of fundamental importance and accomplishment, can for some seem complicated, dense and intellectual. For these and other reasons, Fr Tolhurst observes that the Catechism is too often left unused and unconsulted in many homes. A Concise Companion and Commentary for the Catechism of the Catholic Church is written as a remedy to these reactions and experiences of many Catholics and as a work that will hopefully provoke the faithful into a living relationship with their faith, which is underpinned by knowledge and understanding.

Fr Tolhurst begins his book by explaining the journey and purpose of the Catechism. For those of us who have never known our faith as separate from the existence of the Catechism it provokes a response of gratitude and thankfulness for the clarity of message granted to us in its pages. He then systematically follows the four sections of the Catechism from the Profession of Faith to Christian Prayer.

In its layout the Companion is designed to be a working document with space left for notes and reflections. It includes enhanced references to Veritatis Splendor and comes with the original Catechism paragraph numbers, which are very useful for cross-referencing. Comparing several paragraphs allows the reader to see that Fr Tolhurst's intention is to make the language of the Catechism more fluid and less academic. It also has an excellent appendix that looks at Catholic Prayers in an attempt to further bolster the link between faith learning and faith practice.

While the language used by Fr Tolhurst is certainly easier to understand, the Companion is by no means simplistic. It requires us to be active participants in our own learning, not passive and unthinking. Not only is Fr Tolhurst encouraging the faithful to use the Catechism as a living document, something that is integral to maturation of faith, but he is also attempting to equip us to answer questions about our faith that others may ask of us:

"I fervently hope that this volume will help to highlight what is basic and essential in Catholicism and encourage us all to live it in our lives and explain it to those who ask it of us."

The beauty of this Companion is that it is not another person's view of the Catholic faith. It is the same faith we live and profess, explained in a way that will be much more accessible for many Catholics.

I Believe In One God: The Creed Explained
By Pope Benedict XVI, St Paul's Publishing, 2012, 160pp, £9.99

Both the foreword and the introduction of / Believe In One God: The Creed Explained draw our attention to the monumental opportunity that lies before us in this Year of Faith. It is an opportunity to further develop our own faith but, as the many events and publications planned for this Year testify, it is also an unmissable chance for us to experience and encourage within one another a shared thirst for the truth about God and about our existence.

Praying the Creed together at Mass defines what we believe as a Catholic Community. How we receive, understand and essentially put into practice this experience marks us out as Christians. It is fitting then that Pope Benedict has chosen to explain the Creed further in this book, working his way systematically through each section, hoping throughout to reawaken and re-educate.

What underpins the entire body of this text is the desire of the Holy Father to communicate the essential nature of the love of God. Love as freedom, love as relationship, love as sacrifice and love as hope: "Whoever is moved by love begins to perceive what 'life' really is." He constantly directs us towards understanding our relationship with God as a living and lived reality, always nudging us to take this understanding out into the world in service of our neighbour, which in turn leads us into a deeper and more fulfilling relationship with Christ.

Throughout this book, the Holy Father weaves clarity of understanding of the historical context of the constituent parts of the Creed with succinct and thought-provoking contemporary insights for Christians today to ponder. Essentially, he brings the Creed to life for us and invites us to respond.

This book is a satisfying and enlightening read, sharpening the focus on something so integral and familiar to us as Catholics. During this Year of Faith, this book could be read in sections as part of a more meditative approach to understanding the Creed or as a resource for use as part of a study group. However it is approached, an enhanced and deeper understanding of the core beliefs of our Church will surely follow.

Natalie Finnigan

Beauty In the Word - Rethinking the Foundations of Education
By Stratford Caldecott, Angelico Press, 2012, 168pp £9.9J

Stratford Caldecott is a serious author who has a high view of education, which this book expresses. It is a noble book which will be a stimulus to all concerned with education.

The book considers a Catholic philosophy of education, with especial regard to the Triduum of ancient civilisation: grammar, dialectic (logic) and rhetoric. The author outlines what these were in the ancient world, gives something of their development through the centuries and then explains how they fit in today and why they are so important. Those who recommend the book - and there are several celebrated names - are highly distinguished in the world of philosophy.

There is, of course, very much a need for books of theory, especially curriculum theory, which is predominant here. The English National Curriculum has many weaknesses and they almost all spring from its lack of any coherent philosophical basis. This book is at its strongest in relating its theory of the curriculum to theology. The book is subtitled "Rethinking the Foundations of Education".

The book is concerned with fundamentals of religious educational philosophy. Anthony Esolen, writing in the Foreword, states the nature of the problem: "We do not know what or how to teach children because we do not know what a child is, and we do not know what a child is because we do not know what man is - and Him from whom and for whom man is." The author himself says that we cannot talk about the curriculum because we do not know what life is for: "It is as though we were attempting to construct the top floor of a building without bothering with the lower floors or foundations." Well put. The book emphasises what the Catholic philosophy of education has always said:

"The 'Catholicism' in a Catholic school cannot be added on to an existing curriculum or atmosphere."

The author writes:

"This book is part of a wider ongoing project, and I am excited at the prospect of helping to develop over the next few years ... other books and supporting materials for homes, schools and parishes."

Is this a weakness, the current lack of the practical applications of the theory? Not at all, but it could be seen as such in pragmatic England, where theory is not highly regarded.

One would also want to argue that in England, in the independent sector, there are Catholic schools with a very Catholic curriculum. One of my grandsons, aged 14, studies at his Catholic independent school the following subjects: English (with visits to Shakespeare productions and poetry learned by heart), Latin, Greek, French, history, geography, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, art, music and, of course, religious education, as well as learning three musical instruments, debating, acting in Shakespeare and playing number 8 for the rugby XV of his age group.

His cousin, one of my granddaughters, at another Catholic independent school has a similar curriculum. I think that the best Catholic independent schools in England represent a practical model that should be considered alongside the theory of this most interesting book.

I do hope that teachers will read this book as well as governors, those important people whose powers are being stolen in many Catholic maintained schools by local authority and - dare one say - diocesan bureaucrats. One knows of schools where the important duties of governors are being concealed and they are being sidelined by being given most unsuitable, and essentially trivial, tasks such as superficial school visits.

It would be good to get the bureaucrats to read this book - prayers to St Jude, please. One important practical point: the governors of Catholic schools can now opt for Academy status. This enables them to determine their own curriculum instead of being forced to follow the politically correct, and anti-Christian, National Curriculum. So a Catholic maintained school could implement the ideas of this book.

Since Academy schools are not under the control of local authorities, it is a source of great wonder to me that all Catholic maintained schools have not opted for this status; it is an even greater wonder that the Catholic diocesan authorities are, it seems, actually discouraging the governors of Catholic schools from exercising their legal right to opt for Academy status. One of the most distinguished Catholic maintained schools in England describes itself thus in its official literature: "State-funded Independent Catholic School". O si sic omnes!
Something of the flavour of the book can be obtained by visiting Stratford Caldecott's website

Eric Hester

The Unintended Reformation
By Brad S Gregory. Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2012, J74pp, £2J

Nowadays, historians are presenting the Reformation without all the anti-Catholic propaganda: no longer it seen simply as a victory over Roman obscurantism. Cardinal Wolsey was no advertisement for the Church, but the machinations of someone like Thomas Cromwell leave a bad taste. ...

Professor Gregory takes an original approach to the upheaval of the 16th century. He divides his book into six sections: God, doctrine, the Church, morality, capitalism and knowledge. In each section he examines what the reformers taught - with their concentration on the ipsissima verba of Scripture, and the influence of the new
learning - and the unintended results of their teaching.

In the case of doctrine, the rejection of Rome in favour of Scripture as the sole authority led to conflicting views among the reformers themselves concerning who was to interpret the Word of God. Those who argued from the fundamentalist approach were always going to be in the minority. The more latitudinarian majority gradually saw reason as a way to interpret God's revelation. The view of God as Creator of all tended to give way to the natural science view, which seemed to offer a satisfactory explanation.

The author is particularly interesting in his section on capitalism, which he calls "the goods life". The Golden Age of Holland plays a major part in the process because it was seen how complete religious toleration went with conspicuous growth in GDP. With less emphasis on a single religious denomination, avarice came to be seen as "at worst a public virtue, despite being a private vice".

That this mentality spread can be gathered from the portrait of Captain Bernardo de Vargas Machuga, painted in 1599 with the motto "By compasses and the sword, more and more and more." Whereas surplus income had formerly been diverted to charitable causes, now it was diverted to oneself: "merchandise of gold and silver. and oil. ...chariots and slaves, and the souls of men" (Rev 18:12ff).

He also highlights the marginalisation of theology - as a result of the nature of internecine religious squabbles, and the increasing role of the new learning. This gradually lessened the influence of religion on those who formed national policy and tended to substitute ethical considerations for religious morality-making governments the arbiters, and social expediency the rationale. So now you know...

Catholicism reacted slowly (the Council of Trent's 18 years make EU summits look like a walk in the park), and in many ways, badly. The Counter-Reformation retained the virtues and devotions and produced saints and new religious orders, but regarded with suspicion any new insights (especially in the sciences). The Jesuits, who made cautious attempts to bridge the gap, ended up being suppressed for their pains by Clement XIV. It is only recently that there has been any sort of a synthesis - and this is still being fiercely resisted in some quarters.

Professor Gregory calls attention to the effect of concentrating on the value of Scripture at the expense of the ordinary pursuit of virtue, bolstered by the sacraments (especially the Mass), the consecrated life of priesthood and religious and the whole devotional life - all banished as popish superstitions. The new house, "empty, swept and put in order", brought with it new problems. The reformers paid a dearer price, but the Catholic Church - having corrected many of the abuses of which it was guilty - was then content to insulate itself from new insights, and it too is now suffering the unintended consequences of its isolation.

Readers will have to forgive the technical expressions - some of which may be familiar to Ivy League graduates, though I am still not sure about 'supersessionisal' They will also note that there are nearly 150 pages of notes - in case you think that the author is short-changing you! There are many other little gems in this well-written and frequently amusing book. The author presents cogent arguments which need to be considered. This book should keep you going till Lent.

Fr James Tolhurst
Chislehurst, Kent

The Trinity: An Introduction to the Catholic Doctrine on the Triune God
By Giles Emery OP, trans Matthew Levering, The Catholic University of America Press, 2011, 219pp, $24.9J

Anyone educated in theology in the last 30 years might be forgiven for thinking that Trinitarian speculation began with Karl Rahner. Intending no disrespect to the great Jesuit theologian himself, the way Trinitarian theology has been taught, with admittedly a few honourable exceptions, has left many of us unaware of the preceding 2,000 years of reflection on the matter. The course I followed on the Trinity in seminary threw me straight into Rahner's "grundaxiom" with no background whatsoever. I don't think I am alone in this experience.

You will have noticed that the price of this book is marked in dollars rather than pounds. At present it is difficult to get hold of in the UK. Nevertheless for anyone trying to plug a hole in their theological knowledge I heartily recommend taking the trouble to find a copy and read it. I am thinking here especially of busy priests in a parish.

At 200 or so pages it is relatively short. Not being a French speaker I can't vouch for the accuracy of the translation, but I can vouch for its readability. One might need some theological background but it is basically accessible. The chapters follow a traditional format moving from Scripture to Tradition and the councils of the Church. After that comes a sort of doctrinal synthesis which is basically Thomistic. This is then followed by an illuminating chapter on how the Trinity relates to us and how our salvation is wrought by the Trinity. This chapter in particular is helpful because it brings home the relevance of the Trinity to our lives.

The book does not, perhaps, offer the most daring of speculative analyses nor is it the last word in Trinitarian theology, but it is full of good, solid Catholic doctrine. This volume is the first to be published in a new series entitled "RessourcementThomism" by the Catholic University of America Press. If the subsequent volumes are as useful as this, the series is something to get excited about.

Fr Kevin Douglas

Faith Magazine

March - April 2013