Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

FAITH Magazine May-June 208s

 

 

Divine Action: Examining God’s Role in an Open and Emerging Universe
By Keith Ward, Templeton Foundation Press, 286pp, $19.95

The increasing success of modern science in providing a detailed account of all physical phenomena poses a serious problem for Christians. If all is determined and follows precise mathematical laws, if effects invariably follow causes, then how can we continue to believe that God guides our lives and responds to our prayers?

The Anglican philosopher-theologian Keith Ward, well-known for his extensive theological writings, tackles this and associated problems. In his own words, ‘This book is a defence of a strongly supernaturalist idea of God as a purely spiritual creator and personal agent in the cosmos, who was incarnate in the person of Jesus, who answers prayers and performs miracles. I aim to show that this idea of God is not only philosophically coherent and wholly compatible with the findings of modern science but that it provides a more plausible account of the nature of the universe than does materialism’.

He begins by defending ‘the view that God exists by necessity and is the most adequate explanation of the universe’. This raises a whole host of questions: if God is self-sufficient, then why did He create the universe? How did He decide what sort of universe to create? Did He do it just for fun? Is it the best possible universe, and if so by what criteria? One of the difficulties in answering such questions is that God is timeless and unchangeable, whereas we are immersed in time and so picture His actions as a temporal sequence: ‘His creation is not one timeless act or one act at the beginning of time; it is a series of acts which continually bring into being new states of the universe by His positive or permissive willing’.

A particularly agonising problem is the presence of evil in the world. If God is infinitely good and infinitely powerful, if all He created is good, then why is there so much pain and suffering? This is a necessary consequence of our free-will: we are free to choose evil and cause suffering.

It is of great interest to see how classical theism is affected by modern physics. Ward believes that ‘many of the conclusions of modern physics delineate a picture of the universe which ever more clearly helps one to understand how suffering and destruction are necessary features of a universe’. The universe is now understood to be a tightly integrated system based on a few elegant mathematical equations. What we see as “nature, red in tooth and claw” is the inevitable consequence of those equations. Successive hierarchies of order emerge. ‘The laws of physics remain operative’ yet (quoting Peacocke) ‘the laws of the higher-level processes are not fully determined by the laws of processes (of a different kind) at the lower level’. Certainly we cannot predict the behaviour of higher-levelprocesses, but this is due to mathematical difficulties and we cannot know that they are not fully determined.
Ward invokes the Heisenberg uncertainty principle as showing that ‘unpredictability enters into the structure of things’ so that gives a world ‘which quantum physics would support, in which the future is truly open’. Thus ‘God constantly and continually sustains and guides the universe by purposive choices among alternative pathways’. This is an attractive idea, but it depends on the belief that quantum mechanics describes all that can ever be known about each individual system so that all we have is the probabilities of various outcomes. If, however, one believes, following Einstein, that quantum mechanics describes the behaviour of an ensemble of similar systems, then not only do the well-known quantum paradoxes vanish, but it leaves intact the possibility of a fully deterministicsubstratum. It is indeed obvious that quantum mechanics is incomplete, since it cannot in principle account for many measurable events. The so-called indeterminacy of the quantum world is thus the consequence of an unproved philosophical view and so provides no firm basis for theological speculations. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle, on which Ward relies, is indeed inherent in the formalism of quantum mechanics, but the physical phenomena it describes is susceptible to a fully deterministic interpretation. Indeed Ward later admits that it is possible ‘that hidden variables exist that will impose a tight causal grip upon sub-atomic particles’. It is impossible to prove by science either that the world is fundamentally deterministic or indeterministic, and so science provides no way tosolve the problem of God’s action in the world.

This leaves us with the problem of how we can have free-will in a determined universe. Many attempts to explain this are described by Ward.

Miracles provide instances of God’s action in the world, and Ward discusses the ways to recognise them, but without mentioning the authority of the Church as the final arbiter. It would have been instructive to have considered specific possible examples, such as the cure of Peter de Rudder and the events at Fatima.

Ward discusses the beliefs of other world religions, recognising that logically at most one of these religions can be true, but does not apply the same logic to the various bodies calling themselves Christian. As he remarks, ‘this is not intolerance but a necessary consequence of taking truth seriously’.
God’s action on the world, and indeed our own action on the world, remain profoundly mysterious. It is important to wrestle with these problems, and Ward does so most clearly and cogently, removing many misunderstandings and false views. Inevitably, we see as in a glass darkly, for who has known the mind of the Lord or has been his counsellor?

P.E. Hodgson
Corpus Christi College
Oxford

Mary for Time and Eternity : Essays on Mary and Ecumenism
Edited by William McLoughlin & Jill Pinnock, Gracewing, 366 pp, £20

In her foreword, Professor Frances Young commends Mary for Time and Eternityt o “all who seek deeper communion among those who claim to follow Jesus Christ”. Her wish would surely be shared by each contributor to this volume, which contains twenty-one papers given at conferences of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The ESBVM maintains that Mary can stimulate and be a focus for work for Christian unity, and in the present volume that conviction sustains various reflections on Mariology, ecumenism and interfaith dialogue.

Perhaps the most striking feature of these papers is the evidence many of them offer for growing appreciation among non-Catholics of the two dogmas declared infallible by papal authority, namely the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. The received view has long been that such definitions are huge obstacles to ecumenical progress. Here, however, we see signs that these articles of faith may be gaining wider understanding, even if their dogmatisation remains problematic for many.

Eamon Carroll quotes Canon Howard Root, who in 1987 stated that Anglicans might develop greater sympathy for “the definitions of 1854 and 1950, if they are ... allowed to do s o in their own way” (p.58). The way chosen by Nicholas Sagovsky is that of reflection on Romans 8:28-30, in which Paul defines God’s action in man as a sequence of predestination, calling, justification and glorification. Sagovsky sees that this pattern “is beautifully exemplified in the life of Mary” (p.12). He further acknowledges that this insight and others have convinced him that the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption have a natural (rather than contrived) place in the body of Christian doctrine.

Orthodox approaches to Marian doctrine are inspired as much by the axiom “Lex orandi, lex credendi” as by Scripture itself. Bishop Kallistos Ware finds support for belief in the bodily Assumption in some (though not all) Orthodox liturgical texts, but rejects explicit dogmatic formulas in favour of celebrating Mary’s glorification in prayer and thanksgiving. Nevertheless, his conclusions about the eschatological and anthropological significance of the Assumption (see p.243) are ones with which those committed to the dogmatic definition might readily concur.

Such positive developments help distinguish between good and inadequate interpretations of the ‘hierarchy of truths’ principle, which Vatican II urged on Catholics involved in ecumenical dialogue. There is some consensus among contributors that a crude application of the hierarchy of truths, according to which some truths are seen as central and others as merely peripheral, is best avoided. A different approach is suggested by Thomas Thompson, for whom “the Catholic understanding of the hierarchy of truths is that there are ‘mutual connections’ between the mysteries” (p.327). Where the interconnectedness of all truths of faith is thus asserted, there is little danger of Mary’s place in ecumenical dialogue being viewed as unimportant and dispensable. Instead, time and space are created foragreement on Mary’s significance to mature, and for the relationship between Marian doctrine and the fundamental truths of salvation to be clarified.

What results from this approach is irenic dialogue which nonetheless avoids false irenicism. Frankness informed by charity, or mutual challenge governed by mutual respect, are evident as Mary’s place in God’s salvific plan is explored across the broad range of articles in this volume. In a sense, the editors’ choice of contributions is perhaps too broad. One would expect all entries in a book entitled Mary for Time and Eternityt o centre on Marian themes, yet several contributors make no mention of Mary. An example is Thomas Bruch, in his otherwise illuminating article on ecumenical dialogues with Lutherans (pp.141-58). Including such articles gives a fuller impression of the nature of papers presented at ESBVM conferences. But a more streamlined selection, taking the prominenceof Mary as chief criterion, may have enhanced still further the overall impact of the collection.

On the whole, though, Mary for Time and Eternitydoes much to dispel the notion that Mary must remain a barrier to agreement in crucial areas of ecumenical exchange. Despite real and persisting confessional differences, one can sense in these pages Mary pointing patiently towards a closer union among her Son’s disciples: a union which may prosper because of her, not in spite of her.

Fr David Potter
Aintree
Liverpool


Catholic Social Teaching and the Market Economy
Edited by Philip Booth, The Institute of Economic Affairs, 273pp, £20

Does Catholic Social Teaching support free market economics? Most of the contributors to this book of essays argue that it does. It is an odd claim, both in theory and in practice.

The theoretical arguments which support free markets are not explicitly anti-Catholic, but they come close. To start with, proponents praise a morally impoverished sort of freedom – the ability to choose, whether or not the choice is good. The rich Catholic sense of freedom – the ability to will the good – is hardly recognised. Indeed, the concept of the good is largely left aside in favour of a non-moral ‘self-interest’.

Catholics should also be wary of the free marketers’ idea of a ‘market’ – a collection of impersonal transactions set in a culture of pure competition. So-called ‘perfect’ markets have no room for the guidance and discipline that governments provide. Nor is there much room for love, sacrifice and community.

The contributions by Philip Booth (the book’s editor), Denis O’Brien and Andrew Yuengert argue that Pope John Paul II approved of free markets. They are correct, but only relative to Communism. The Pope said that such arrangements provide an “efficient instrument” for “effectively responding” to the limited set of needs which are “solvent”, that is which are appropriately bought and sold. (Centesimus annus35).

John Paul II, however, was much more wary than enthusiastic. In the same encyclical, he emphasised that private property, a near-divine concept for free marketers, must be constrained by the obligations inherent in the “universal destination of goods” (19). He held that the market’s “logic of a fair exchange of goods” should always be secondary to “something which is due to man because he is man, by reason of his lofty dignity”. Thus, the market must be “appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State” (35).

The Pope did praise entrepreneurial energy and businesses directed to the good, but he also praised labour unions and criticised “capitalism” for its preference for impersonal capital over labour. He was distressed by “consumerism”, which seemed to be prized in modern economies.

Catholic Social Teaching and the Market Economyi s published by a leading British “free market” think tank, so it is not surprising that the authors prefer to let their economics shape their Catholic thinking, rather than the reverse. The writers uncritically rely on the claim that, in Booth’s words, “rigorous economic analysis tends to lead in a pro-market direction”. That claim runs into the practical problem with “free market economies”, one which John Paul II himself seems only partially to have recognised: free-markets don’t really exist. True, market-style competition plays a role in the economies of all rich countries, but hardly a dominant one. Governments and other not-for profit organisations account for as many as half of all jobs. Even in profit-seeking companies,regulation and cooperation play at least as important a role in shaping the economy as any sort of market action. To praise the free market as a sole guide to economic organisation is in practice to endorse a utopian dream.

Such utopian economics undercuts the book’s much more realistic and solidly Catholic arguments against the excesses of the Welfare State. Here John Paul II is clearly on the anti-State side. “Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State.” (ibid, 48)

For a century, popes have consistently endorsed the principle of “subsidiarity”, that social problems should be dealt with as directly as possible – by families, small communities and the Church rather than by the impersonal State. Samuel Gregg, in what is probably the book’s best essay, explains that, “The very nature of the Catholic Church’s own self-understanding therefore means that it cannot accept a state that purports to have no theoretical or practical limits...”

In a more querulous contribution, Denis O’Brien laments that the bishops of England and Wales are so keen to endorse government programmes that they seem to have forgotten the principle of subsidiarity. The complaints have merit, although O’Brien might have admitted that the modern Welfare State does much good through the provision of universal education and health care, not to mention some relief from misfortune. He might also have praised the bishops’ opposition to restrictive government policies on immigration.

It is not clear how authors would wean modern societies away from government welfare programmes. The title and tone of the collection suggests a belief that a good dose of free markets would be enough to roll back the bossy State. If so, the writers are dodging the challenge. Competitive free markets are a mistaken utopian ideal, unheard of in economic history and are too socially abrasive to play more than a limited role in a trust-dependent complex industrial economy.
Catholic Social Teaching is a valuable gift of the Magisterium to the modern world. This book unwittingly shows the danger of trying to combine it with ideas that come from an alien intellectual tradition.

Edward Hadas
London


The Roman Catholic Church. An Illustrated History
By Edward Norman,Thames and Hudson, 192pp, £22.50

Those who are familiar with the work of Dr Norman will look forward to his history of the Catholic Church. They will not be disappointed. His usual scholarship, acute observation and breadth of vision are here joined with a deep sympathy for the subject. It is however a short book. The 186 pages contain such a quantity of illustration as to leave about 100pp of text. It reads more like an extended essay.
He sets himself two tasks, first to provide a compact, accessible and accurate history of the Church and this he does admirably. He also sets out to dispel some of the misapprehensions that for centuries have clouded the understanding of the Church in the English speaking world. This is necessary for these prejudices are so ingrained and so deep that the average Englishman will not hear, simply will not hear, of any questioning of them. I need only mention such words as “the Inquisition”, “the Jesuits” and even, “the Middle Ages”. Dr Norman will not be successful in eliminating these prejudices but even to face them with reasoned facts is much to be applauded. The necessity distorts the balance of the book.
The first chapter on Christian origins covers roughly the first five or six centuries. Traditional histories give much attention to the rise of doctrine, with accounts of heresies and the Councils that opposed them, as well as something on the geographical spread of Christianity. Norman touches on these but detail must be looked for elsewhere. Instead he concentrates on the rise of the Papacy and monasticism.

The next chapter brings the gradual separation and eventual division between eastern and western Christianity. Western feudalism brought about a very different style of thought from the subtle Hellenism which survived in the east. I have heard it implied that the Greek mind is more mystical and avoids blunt definitions. But as Dr Norman says “The early councils were characterised by formulations of doctrine which were redolent of the Greek inclination to categorise the truth in subtle and exact renditions of meaning”. He also points out some of the distinctive features of the Celtic Church: that it was based not on towns, nor secular structures, nor on the cult of martyrs, but on missionaries, monasteries, and monastic saints.

The Middle Ages is probably the most misunderstood period of our history. Ignorance supposes it to be a time of repression, uniformity and lack of progress. In fact, in the arts and architecture, in formal philosophy and popular devotion and in ideas of government, including Church government, there was a freedom and exuberance rarely matched, especially today. But the big Bogeymen of English education are the Crusades and the Inquisition. Norman is forced to spend a disproportionate amount of time on these as they are so widely misunderstood. He treats both in a fair and measured way. Let me chose some quotes:

“Moorish Spain comprised a series of autocracies which failed completely to develop anything like representative institutions, the judicial system, or concepts of individual liberty that evolved in medieval Europe.”

“Late in the twelfth century this led to the institution of Islamic courts to punish heresy, and also to the introduction of extremely severe methods of torture used to extract confessions... there is a sense in which the notorious Inquisition is a Moorish legacy.”

Other important developments are sidelined. Medieval monasticism merits only a few lines.
There are chapters (of course) on the reformation and the Church in the modern and contemporary world. But I would like to mention the chapter on the huge missionary push of the Counter Reformation. By any standards this was an heroic chapter for the human spirit. From before the reformation and for the next 300 years Catholic missionaries went out to the most remote and inhospitable places fired by the love of God and concern for man. From the frozen wastes of the Arctic to the torrid rainforests of South America and the desert of China, from the huts of aborigines and the igloos of the Eskimos to the palaces of the most advanced civilisations, priests, friars and nuns, came to bring the word of God. It is a disgrace that these adventures are still so little known, even amongstCatholics. Much of what he says here will be entirely new to the average reader.
I hope this gives a sense of the contents of Dr Norman’s book. In style it is reliable, sensible, free from jargon, but not simple. It is short enough to be read more than once. Obviously it could have been several times longer. The book is lavishly illustrated and the illustrations are generally remarkably well chosen. I do have three reservations. The whole area of art, architecture and music is omitted. There are very few dates, and these are not always helpful. There are no maps, which is inexcusable. Despite this I would recommend the book without hesitation.

Fr Francis Lynch
St David Lewis
Usk


A Cairn of Small Stones
By John Watts, Mungo (Ovada Books), 193pp, £10.95

There is a little-known part of the western Scottish Highlands known as the Rough-Bounds (na garbh chrìochan in the native Gaelic tongue). Its epithet is indeed a fair description of the area – rocky, mountainous and barren, bound on its west side by the cold Atlantic and the Minch. This area is of great historical importance to Scottish Catholics because along with the Enzie in north-eastern Scotland, its people remained loyal to the Catholic faith through the political and religious upheavals of the 16th-18th centuries. The so-called ‘road to the isles’ from Fort William to the port of Mallaig runs through part of this district, but those in a rush for the ferry to Skye are liable to miss the most beautiful and interesting places, some of which are described in the book edited by JohnWatts, A Cairn of Small Stones.

In this historical novel, John Watts has skillfully presented the memoirs of Ian More MacLellan, a native of North Morar, whose original reminiscences, we are told, were written down by Fr Reginald MacDonnell in 1793. With Ian More being nearly ninety years of age at the time, the book covers the entire 18th century – a period which saw among other things two failed Jacobite rebellions. For those with little knowledge of Scottish history or Highland culture, John Watts provides useful notes at the end of the book. It is worth consulting them as one reads, in order to complete the picture painted by the text itself. The text retains what would have been the original style and spelling of English orthography at that period and this adds significantly to the charm of the book.

Ian More MacLellan’s life was colourful. Given that the area in which he lived was even more remote and inaccessible than it is today, his life story is fascinating. His description of his experiences on Eilean Bàn in the second chapter of the book bring the place to life and provide a rare and fascinating insight into priestly formation during a period of persecution against the Church. There are detailed descriptions of the day to day life of the people of North Morar, but there are also accounts of Ian More’s chance meeting with Bonnie Prince Charlie and then with the famous Gaelic poet, Alasdair MacMhaighstir whilst working in the mines at Strontian (whence the element Strontium takes its name). Chapter by chapter, we follow the joys, woes and adventures of a very ordinary Catholicsoul from North Morar, but the life of this ordinary soul was not unconnected to the major historical events of his time. Moreover, in every chapter the centrality of Ian More’s Catholic faith shines through, a faith which informed and affected his day to day living.

My maternal grandparents both have family connections to the Rough Bounds. My great-great grandfather was involved in building the picturesque little Church of Our Lady and St Cumin which stands not far from the shore of Loch Mòrar and almost within sight of Eilean Bàn, the islet upon which the first pre-reformation seminary in Scotland was founded. The district in which A Cairn of Small Stonesi s set, is one with which I myself am familiar and indeed fond of. Although the period and lifestyle described are now long since gone, the book evoked for me memories of places and individuals whom I have known and in which the identity and spirit evident in the life of Ian More MacLellan are still alive today.

John Watts’ book is worth reading purely for the insight it provides into a way of life long gone. However, it also stands as a historical monument (hence the title ‘a cairn of small stones’) to the heroic loyalty of those who kept their faith in a time of social change brought about by the political and religious turmoil of the period. For those familiar with the western Highlands, A Cairn of Small Stones opens our eyes to the history attached to this remote part of the world. For those as yet unfamiliar with the Rough Bounds, John Watts’ book should provide no little inspiration to make a long and lingering visit to this area outstanding for its natural beauty and Catholic identity.

Fr Ross S. J. Crichton
Benbecula
Scotland


The Quotable Saint
By Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Checkmark Books, New York, 368pp, $16.95.

This very simple idea of a book of quotations from the saints belies substantial research by Dr Guiley.
It contains ‘words of wisdom from Thomas Aquinas to Zita’ according to the cover – although I could not find any words from Zita. What is does provide is a treasure-trove of gems for homilies and lectures. It also is invaluable for lectio divina.

Divided into topics from Abortion to Worthiness it draws on the riches of the Eastern fathers as well as the lesser known saints of the Roman calendar. Here for instance is Arsenius (355-450) “Enfeebling the body by nightwatches and fasting is only acceptable to God if it can claim some virtue; it is done with due discretion and curbs our passions without overburdening our nature.” The author helpfully provides a brief biography of Arsenius and all the other saints mentioned. St John Chrysostom is quoted on grief, “To grieve to excess over the failings for which we must render an account is neither safe nor necessary. It is more likely to be damaging or even destructive.”

There is a comprehensive index and I only wish I had come across this earlier. It would be available on Amazon : ISBN 0-8160-4376-0.

James Tolhurst
Chislehurst
Kent


Faith Magazine

May - June 2008