Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

FAITH Magazine September-October 2010

Conformed to Christ Crucified
by Fr Joseph Carola SJ, Gregorian & Biblical Press, 163pp €15

It was common knowledge at the Gregorian University in Rome that one did not subscribe to Fr Carola's Patristics Seminar if one wanted a quiet life in the final year of first cycle Theology. Those of us who ignored that advice knew ourselves to be amongst the most fortunate of seminarians. As a Jesuit, Fr Carola does not exercise pastoral ministry in a parish. Yet his love of Scripture and Tradition, his insistence on intellectual rigour, prayer and charity, his spiritual paternity and friendship, amply equipped scores of priests for this role. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

In this volume the fruits of his learning and wisdom are available for all. These homilies were delivered mainly to seminarians, deacons and newly ordained priests. They are beautifully crafted reflections, in the Ignatian tradition, on prayer, humility, obedience and celibacy. There are profound insights into the priestly mercy of the Sacred Heart viewed from the perspective of the dying Penitent Thief. Diaconal service of the Body of Christ is movingly illustrated by reference to the ministrations of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus on Calvary. Our Lady, St Joseph, Peter and Paul and many others are enlisted to bear witness to the high dignity of the priestly calling.

Yet these homilies not only please; they are also purposefully designed to disturb. Even for the diocesan priest, the concept of material poverty must have substance. In our lifestyle we are "to aim for a noble simplicity" not merely that which "is simply noble."

Also included are the Lenten homilies preached by Fr Carola at the stational church of San Clemente. How often are those faithful to the Church accused of "judgmentalism"? How pertinent, how encouraging, therefore, is his 2009 reflection: "Judging in order to forgive". Of course, eternal judgment belongs to God alone, but, citing Matthew 18:15, Fr Carola reminds us of the evangelical precept of fraternal correction. Forgiveness presumes judgment. "For before we can forgive those who have offended us, we judge their deed offensive. Without such judgment, forgiveness would be meaningless."

This book comprised part of my reading for my priestly retreat this year. I commend it most warmly to my brother priests and to all those in formation. Expect to be uplifted as Fr Carola exhorts us to be "conformed to Christ crucified" - always in the light of the Resurrection. Expect also, as Christ's priest, to be challenged: "Now you must live this."

Fr Mark Vickers
St Peter's Hatfield

Christian Perspectives on the Financial Crash
edited by Philip Booth, St. Paul's Publishing, 2010, 191 pages, £12.95

It is tricky to talk about any economic topic from a truly Christian perspective. The standard professional approach springs from intellectual traditions that are distinctly non-Christian: utilitarianism, enlightenment rationalism, Hegelian dialectic and Marxian materialism. The responses to nearly a century of papal appeals for an economics based on a more Christian vision of society - solidarity broken by sin - have been inadequate, or at least have not created a lively school of thinkers.

Christians have a particularly hard time talking about finance, for three reasons. First, this is one part of economics where there seems to be a longstanding Christian view - the condemnation of usury - but that tradition is probably more harmful than helpful. It is not at all clear how to apply the unequivocal Biblical words to a modern economy. The ubiquity of fiat money (money created by governments and through the credit system) and the expectation of fairly steady economic growth seem to invalidate many of the objections to lending at interest. The Church's doctrine on usury is, like the practice it condemns, largely unfruitful.

Second, it is hard to get or keep a full Christian perspective on questions which are unavoidably technical. Even a quick summary of the recent financial crisis, the starting-off point for the book under review, would require a reasonably sure grasp of such arcane matters as cross-border capital flows, fixed and floating exchange rates, securitisation, bank capital requirements and regulatory arbitrage. Professionals almost never explain or analyse these terms in terms of virtue and vice or solidarity and selfishness, leaving the would-be Christian commentator to face the daunting challenge of simultaneously understanding and re-interpreting the signs of the times.

Finally, a superficial analysis often hides a quite different underlying reality. It is easy to condemn the wild excesses that led up to the crash, but, even in the midst of them, overall the financial system effectively and virtuously helped keep societies together. In finance, greed may hide under the appearance of generosity and generosity under the appearance of greed. For example, it is easy, and in part correct, to mock bankers who defend their practices as "God's work", but a well-run banking system is much more a sign of social solidarity than of untrammelled individualistic greed. The moral commentator has to proceed with care.

Those difficulties help explain why this book is disappointing. None of the 12 chapters could be considered required reading for a Christian interested in understanding what went on and what it should mean.

The introduction by the editor, Philip Booth, is well argued, but is marred by Booth's unquestioning faith in the ideal of free markets. This may be good finance- although I am not persuaded. To me, this line of thought leads only to a peculiarly modest sort of utopianism. In any case, the assumption that social policy will be improved by giving freedom of choice to self-interested individuals is not obviously very good Christianity. Booth's government-out approach is not accepted by most of the contributors, as his quite elegant final summary chapter makes clear.

Booth at least has the virtue of seeing the big picture. Most of the other essays suffer from a narrow perspective, starting with the overly technical description of the causes of the crash by Catherine Cowley. In other essays, there is much talk of usury, but almost no awareness of the underlying economic and social issues, or even of the history of the debate. The many references to charity and solidarity are virtuous but stray pretty far from the theme of the financial crash.

I would make a partial exception to the negative judgment for the contribution of Andrew Lilico, the chief economist of the Policy Exchange think tank. His discussion of usury shows imagination and his moral condemnation of bank bailouts makes sense. Although the argument could have been more refined, it is certainly encouraging to see an economist who works in a mainstream organisation try to integrate belief and finance.

Edward Hadas
Bethnal Green

Incapacity and Care. Controversies in Healthcare and Research.
edited by Helen Watt, The Linacre Centre, 146pp, £11.95

This book is the report of the Linacre conference of 2007. For those of us who are embroiled in the day to day issues of euthanasia, care of the elderly and care of the unborn it is good to take a step back and to look at some of the key philosophical issues that arise in day to day medical ethics.

The book gets off to a good start with David Jones having spotted some of the problems of the concept of personhood. If personhood is mis-defined by ability and not seen as a fundamental trait that all humans have, then we can move radically to a position where it is at least less immoral to kill the unborn or elderly who have lost their ability to value their own existence. As a psychiatrist I have seen many people who are incapable of valuing their existence as a result of depressive illness, and such philosophies are both lethal and widely ascribed to. We tend to link autonomy with dignity in our society and that too sets out difficulties for those who lack autonomy. Parents who are responsible for children often feel they lack autonomy, but they know that the lack of freedoms that ourresponsibilities bring is among the most dignifying assets we have. St Thomas Aquinas saw dependency as a great source of dignity.

John Finnis sets out some of the difficulties of the Mental Capacity Act and the way in which the use of best interests may be subverted into requiring poor care. But as a non-clinician Finnis has written a very dry and theoretical treatise full of threat and dismay but without the practical solutions that clinicians are now putting in place. As an aside, the interesting thing is that having (unfortunately and stupidly) had UK legislation that merely stated that an advance decision to refuse treatment (ADRT) is binding, lawyers and others now point out the duty of clinicians to question ADRTs when the patient may come to harm. But the recent case of a lady who wrote an ADRT, took an overdose and went to A+E so that she could die with company, and who was left to die, does show what a diresituation we are in just now.

The discussion of assisted nutrition and hydration in dementia is good too, though it's a bit of a shame that the expert came from the US (where tube feeding is prevalent) and did not come from the UK, where it is almost prohibited, and where there is a real fear that tube feeding may be a burdensome and inappropriate intervention to the point where people may be treated less than they should.

Medical ethics is important for us practising clinicians, but it is also important for priests and the laity. The experience of all of us is that we bumble along in life hoping these dark clouds are not really there and then suddenly, with a clap of thunder, we find ourselves in the midst of a serious ethical storm. A knowledge of medical ethics must be available to support the faithful in these crises. To be ignorant of the issues is rather akin to standing in that thunder storm without even a tiny umbrella for protection.

So if you do not read this book, find a better one. But do not, please, be unprepared.

Adrian Treloar

Apologia - Catholic Answers to Today's Questions
by Fr Marcus Holden and Fr Andrew Pinsent, CTS, 112pp, £2.9Jp

This attractive small booklet is a follow-up to the authors' successful Evangelium which was - and is - part of a popular set of resources for parish evangelisation. People ask questions during evangelisation sessions - this new booklet focuses on some of the topics most frequently raised and offers answers.

It is useful because it tackles the questions that often irritate, or which seem absurd, but are genuine enough to those posing them. Thus we get "Does Christ's Ascension mean that the Bible implies heaven to be above our heads?" and "The Mass doesn't seem to be in the Bible, so where does the Mass come from?" The answers are clear, well presented, and backed with suitable references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which in turn, of course, point to Scriptural and other sources. There are some good illustrations, including reproductions of some glorious religious art -

Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son, for example - and some attractive photographs. Among the latter, I particularly liked one of CS Lewis, and also one of the Holy Father with a kneeling First Communicant.

The booklet is small and neat - pocket-sized - and well bound. It has a pleasant, light, modern feel, and is a fine example of what the Catholic Truth Society is producing these days. All those dog-eared booklets with old-fashioned print and rather over-formal language that I remember from my first encounters with the CTS in the early 1960s, and the oh-we-want-to-be-trendy-now attempts at updating in the 1970s seem light years away.

We hear a lot about the need for a New Evangelisation. This little book will be invaluable to all who take this call seriously. An excellent book to distribute to members of a Confirmation class, or a youth group preparing for the next World Youth Day: buying a set of these books in bulk would be an excellent parish investment.

Friendship with Jesus
edited by Amy Wellborn, CTS, 52pp, £9.9J

This is an absolutely delightful book, enchanting to use and handle.

Not long after Pope Benedict was elected, he invited First Communion children to meet him in St Peter's Square. The invitation was, I think, meant to be for the children of the diocese of Rome, but they poured in from many parts of Italy, and even from further afield, some in their white First Communion dresses and some in jeans and trainers. A representative group was chosen to put their questions to the Holy Father - questions about God, about why we need to confess our sins, about going to Mass on Sunday, about Christ's presence in the Eucharist, and more.

The Holy Father answered the children's questions with simplicity, understanding, and wisdom. The scene was a very attractive one – this grandfatherly figure seated with a crowd of children gathered around, against the magnificent backdrop of St Peter's.

Now a book has been made which includes the children's questions, and the pope's answers, and is charmingly illustrated with scenes of the event. Ann Kissane Engelhart, the artist, has produced beautiful drawings which bring out the flavour of the day - the children's eagerness and the happy atmosphere, coupled with the sometimes comic nature of the questions they posed.

My personal favourite among the questioners was the small girl who told the pope that her catechist had explained the importance of going to Mass every Sunday: "And I'd really like to go, but my mummy and daddy like to sleep late - and then we generally go to lunch at Grandma's." One could just picture the couple in the crowded square - initially thrilled that their child had been chosen to talk to the pope, and then squirming with embarrassment when their failure to get to Sunday Mass was revealed to the world. The pope's reply - gentle and with quiet wisdom and common sense - is among those reprinted here.

Amy Wellborn has done a real service in putting together this book. It would be the perfect souvenir for any child making his or her First Communion, and also something special to buy for any Catholic child in Britain to commemorate the 2010 papal visit. I just wish that something of this sort had been produced when I made my First Communion - I remember beautiful white-bound missals and rather over-sentimentalised pictures of girls in old-fashioned white frocks and boys in Norfolk jackets but that's about all. This book shows modern children in the magnificent setting of St Peter's, meeting a real pope and asking the questions that we all have about some of the big mysteries of our religion. It's a book that teaches, inspires, and enchants -and it is good to see a Catholic publisherproducing something of exceptional quality, making a real contribution to the world of children's book illustrations. This book is one that will last.

Joanna Bogle
New Malden, Surrey

Covenant and Communion
by Scott Hahn, Brazos Press, £21.99

Scott Hahn offers us an overview and understanding of the approach to Scripture developed by Joseph Ratzinger both before and after his election to the Papacy.

Those of you who have read other, more popular works by Hahn, may be surprised by the much more academic, foot-noted nature of this work. Gone are the punning chapter titles and painful jokes. Here we find a detailed and exhaustive introduction to the use of Scripture by our present pope.

The book attempts to draw together themes from the pope's writings, from his early doctoral work until his papal homilies, addresses and encyclicals. The chapter headings give us an overview of the work: Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ: the theological project of Joseph Ratzinger; The critique of criticism: beginning the search for a new theological synthesis; The hermeneutic of faith: critical and historical foundations for a biblical theology; The spiritual science of theology: its mission and method in the life of the church; Reading God's testament to humankind: biblical realism, typology, and the inner unity of revelation; The theology of the divine economy: covenant, kingdom, and the history of salvation; The embrace of salvation: mystagogy and the transformation ofsacrifice; The cosmic liturgy: the Eucharistic kingdom and the world as temple; The authority of mystery: the beauty and necessity of the theologian's task.

Hahn points out the Holy Father's view of the inadequacy of the historical-critical method as an approach to the study of Scripture. The critique of historical criticism's limit the standard one: it is reductionistic, it claims to subordinate the text to scientific methods when in fact it has philosophical presumptions, and it tends to read the biblical text as a set of fragments rather than as a unified whole. He reminds us that Benedict sees this form of criticism as removing the Bible from its natural 'habitat' in the Church (p.35). He points us to the story of the Emmaus Road as epitomising the way the Christian should read Scripture "Only by walking with Christ, by re-interpreting all things in his light, with him, crucified and risen, do we enter into the riches and beauty of sacredScripture"( p.82). Benedict, and Hahn with him, believes that however useful aspects of the historical-critical method may be, we have to approach the Scripture in faith if we are to find its true meaning: "Only by conforming ourselves to the mystery of God, to the Lord who is the Word, can we enter within the Word, can we truly find the Word of God in human words" (p.191).

Hahn points out the crucial role of the Church, the qahal, ecclesia, in Benedict's thought, and the crucial interrelationship of his Christology and his Ecclesiology. He quotes Benedict's re-casting of Loisy's jibe as "the kingdom was promised and what came was Jesus". For Benedict the Church and the Kingdom are one in the person of Jesus Christ (p.135). He looks at Benedict's thought on the dating of the Last Supper, especially in his Homily for Holy Thursday 2007, when he suggested that Jesus followed the Qu'mran community's dating for Passover, so that "Jesus celebrated the Passover without a lamb and without a temple; yet, not without a lamb and not without a temple. He himself was the awaited Lamb... and he himself was the true Temple" (p.148). He goes on from here to look at theHoly Father's understanding of the cross, often a problem for many exegetes, quoting him as saying: "People do not crucify the average professor" (p. 149).
Hahn sees the importance for Benedict of the liturgy, and the liturgy's relationship to Scripture: "In the unity of the Last Supper and the crucifixion, Benedict is able to articulate the true depth of Scripture as the saving Word of God, for the redemption of the cross is renewed in the Eucharistic Prayer, the oratio. At the heart of the prayer is the scriptural Word" ( p.172).

Hahn enables us to enter into many aspects of Benedict's thought and allows us to encounter many streams from his copious writings. Certainly for this reviewer it was helpful to be directed to this meditation on Psalm 118: "The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motive for everything, the motive for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist - the encounter between God and his creature. In this sense, salvation history, the covenant, precedes creation. During the Hellenistic period, Judaism developed the idea that the Torah would have preceded the creation of the material world. This material world seems to have been created solely tomake room for the Torah, for this Word of God that creates the answer and becomes the history of love. The mystery of Christ already is mysteriously revealed here.... One can say that, while material creation is the condition for the history of salvation, the history of the covenant is the true cause of the cosmos" (p.23).

At the 2008 Synod of Bishops, Benedict says: "Just reading it does not necessarily mean that we have truly understood the Word of God. The danger is that we see only the human words and do not find the true actor within, the Holy Spirit" (p.189).

Hahn does us a service by opening up this area of Benedict's thought. And even if once or twice we may wonder whether this is more Hahn than Benedict, it is a worthy addition to the understanding of the Holy Father and of the Sacred Scriptures.

Fr David Standen

Faith Magazine

September - October 2010