Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

FAITH Magazine September – October 2011

Creation and Scientific Creativity: A Study in the Thought of S. L. Jaki.
Fr Paul Haffner, Gracewing, 332pp, £14.99

Stanley Jaki passed away two years ago, and it is fitting for such a great thinker that we have a book that systematically treats of his ideas. Paul Haffner's previous works are marked by conciseness and an ability to outline complex ideas in an uncomplicated way. He does not disappoint here.

Historians may look more favourably on the case of Galileo than our secular press, but one lesson learnt is the importance of Church representatives knowing science. Haffner well understands the need to put across Jaki's credentials which are impeccable. Jaki became a Doctor of science in 1957, and it is clear that while professional scientists may have disagreed with him, they always saw him as a peer. We are also reminded that Jaki's research was exhaustive. It is these traits that contributed to him receiving the prestigious Templeton prize for Progress in Religion in 1987.

Throughout the book we are reminded of the two major contributions Jaki made to scientific and Catholic thought. The first concerns contingency. The scientific discovery of the cosmology of general relativity is seen by Jaki as key in defending the Christian belief in God the Creator. Kant, for example, had insisted on the invalidity of the specific notion of the universe as the reason for the invalidity of the cosmological argument. The demolition of such a view was important for natural theology and recognised as such by the Templeton award committee.

In a second step, Jaki shows how the finding of the 2.7k cosmic background radiation, the experimental consequence of the theory of general relativity, indicates a specificity of the universe, one choice among many other possibilities. "Ultimate cosmological theories may be true, but never necessarily true". The universe is in its particular form, dependent on an extra-cosmic choice.

The second contribution, clearly due to great scholarship, can be summarised as such: "The stillbirths of science in all ancient cultures and its one viable birth in the Middle Ages constitute the fundamental paradigm of the history of science." Taking note of the monumental studies of Pierre Duhem, the medieval period, and not the renaissance, is the cradle of science. And it is only in the Christian cultures that one sees the fullness of scientific development.

Two people begin the tradition of science which includes Galileo and Newton, They are, Jean Burden, whom Jaki calls the first modern scientist, and his disciple Nicole Oresme, Bishop of Lisieux. Both reject errors in the Aristotelian physics due to the Christian view of creation. Even before Burden the way was paved for them in the patristic period, in the consolidation of the Christian belief in God the Creator. Early Fathers stressed creation out of nothing and creation in time, denouncing the idea of eternal recurrence.

Apart from these conclusions which are important in themselves, we are continuously presented with great philosophical and theological thought. For example, we have outlined the development of the belief of creation out of nothing resulting in the definition at Lateran IV. We see how the slide into Pantheism prevalent in the philosophies of so many religions could not occur in a religion that believed in the Incarnation. Jaki also brilliantly indicates how the view of God given to us in Genesis Chapter 1 was incredibly insightful compared to the Babylonian creation myth, Enuman Elish, which had gods fighting each other, etc.

My favourite of these insights is into the error of Arius. His basic error resided in an almost pantheistic view of creation, based on a neo-platonist emanationism. Making the world almost divine reduced the need of any real Incarnation. A clear affirmation of the equality of the Son with the Father was needed. With such an affirmation, and the belief that the world was created through the Son, one has to conclude that the cosmos is rational.

We have a few issues with the book, however. Haffner indicates pessimistically that Jaki never believed that modern society could be shaken in its beliefs, however slightly, by arguments, however scholarly. Indeed, he seems to feel that the scholarly nature of his work will actually prevent it from becoming popular fare and a handy pastoral tool. While understanding the restricting role of original sin in our society, many in Faith movement would beg to differ, and be able to point to their own experience in youth work and intellectual debate. We are also informed that while Vatican I may teach that one can come to know of the existence of God through natural reason, one needs moral help via salvation through revelation for this hope to become a reality. But evidence against thiswould be the scientists whose own studies are leading them to conclude that God exists or who at least ask the question.

In this book's survey of other recognised scholars one might not expect the name of Edward Holloway However this writer did raise his eyebrows when aspects of Jaki's thought is called 'original' where a cursory knowledge of Holloway's work would prevent the use of such a word.

We are informed that Jaki has an epistemological balance between empiricism and rationalism or materialism and idealism, which he calls moderate realism or realist epistemology. However, Haffner informs us that he did not go into minute details. Haffner calls Jaki's realism Thomistic, but such a term is questionable when there is no discussion of the crucial question concerning how the human mind attains to the real. Again humility does not prevent us from referring the reader to Holloway's realism - as for instance discussed in our January 2009 editorial.

These points aside, the book is a monumental contribution to natural theology in an age of modern science. Haffner has provided a valuable service in publicising the great insights of Stanley Jaki, so much due to his breadth of knowledge across the disciplines, and his loyalty to the Church. Due to books like this, Jaki's great scholarship will undoubtedly bear much fruit.

Fr Stephen Boyle
New Addington

Words and the Word: The Use of Literature as a Practical Aid to Preaching
Canon Bill Anderson, Gracewing, 240pp, £12.99

Effective preaching is vital in our rapidly changing world. We have numerous ways of communicating but it is still a challenge to present the Gospel in a compelling way. The days when people would passively sit through rambling and ill-considered sermons have long gone. In his book Words and the Word Canon Bill Anderson has turned to a nourishing source - our Western literary heritage - to assist in this task. He presents the universal themes of poetry and prose as a means of connecting with the human heart.

The central theme of the book is the link between what Anderson calls the "sacred" and "secular" scriptures. Christianity developed in a milieu infused by Greek and Latin literature. Thinkers like St. Augustine and St. Jerome were deeply influenced by pagan writers. Until relatively recently, a classical training was the bedrock of the British educational system. This is now virtually lost, with most seminarians - if they are encouraged at all - having to start Latin from scratch. But Anderson does not despair. He insists that literature can become an important element in people's lives. Furthermore it can point us towards spiritual truth. He follows Aristotle's view that art involves an imitation of aspects of the world around us. If the Church proclaims the truth about human existence,then literature, according to Aristotle's definition, must also reflect something of this reality.

A familiarity with literature contributes greatly to good preaching. But it should also be used sparingly and sensitively. There is nothing edifying about a preacher self-consciously parading his learning. Anderson concedes that too many literary allusions can ruin a homily. The purpose of all preaching is to bring the hearers into a closer relationship with God. Any homily should therefore focus on the Word of God with secular literature providing a means of enhancing this. Anderson proposes secular literature as the prolegomena, or the way in to the sacred scriptures. It can help to make the original text accessible and thus contribute to the ultimate purpose of all preaching.

Much of the book is devoted to passages of prose and verse which have had a particular influence on the author. Anderson explores several poems and reveals how they offer practical material for homilies. The Eve of St. Agnes is an evocative portrait of a soul at prayer. There is a delicate reference to the Blessed Virgin and a powerful depiction of prayers ascending heavenwards. The point is not to send people off to read Keats -although this would be no bad thing - but to assist the preacher in cultivating a sense of the sacred.

Alluding to bad preaching in the Church, Anderson quotes an American Jesuit who speaks of "a constipation of thought amid a diarrhoea of words." Without prayer and a strong interior life a preacher will never produce a convincing homily. But there are techniques which can enhance the experience. There is much to be said for building up a treasure chest of books, quotations and favourite authors which can contribute to a good sermon. This involves wide reading and a consistent search for literature which illuminates the scriptures. Towards the end of his book, Anderson gives examples of his own sermons where he puts into practice the themes he has developed.

Anderson's book is a welcome addition to the important subject of preaching. It is refreshing to find a method rooted in something so solid - this literary approach to preaching is not a gimmick. The author's love for literature shines through his writing and the extensive quotations provide inspiration to explore these works further. At times the book is surprisingly biographical. A whole chapter is devoted to experiences from Anderson's life -as a producer at the BBC, as spiritual director at the Scots College in Rome. Rather than obscuring his argument, these episodes reassure us that the author speaks from experience.

Words and the Word deserves a wide readership. It will be useful to anyone involved in presenting the Gospel to the modern world. It is also a timely reminder of the power of literature to raise our minds and hearts to God.

William Johnstone

Magnificat: A monthly liturgical booklet containing readings, texts and calendar using the Jerusalem Bible lectionary
Obtainable from the Universe ( or the Catholic Herald ( £36/year

There has been a lot of talk about the "New Evangelisation" and what that might mean in Church circles recently. A new Pontifical Council has been devoted to the topic, and one of its tasks is to listen to those who have been working for years in the mission fields of the post-Christian West.

One example. Leading internet evangelist, Fr Robert Barron (the "Word on Fire" ministry), summarises his conclusions after 15 years of evangelising the culture, and reaching out to millions of readers and viewers. He has identified four "patterns of resistance" to the Catholic faith. Each, he says, is based on a "deep confusion":

1. About the meaning of the word "God".

2. About how to interpret the Bible.

3. About the relationship between religion and science.

4. About the relationship between religion and violence.

Now, clearing up confusion is important - a vital element of apologetics - but there are at least four further points that need to be added. These are the more positive reasons a person might be drawn to Christianity, and to the Catholic faith in particular. We might call them "patterns of attraction", and they are what the Magnificat booklet is trying to enable people to focus upon.

The patterns of attraction are these. Faith (1) offers life a meaning; (2) reveals a way of holiness; (3) leads us closer to God; and (4) shows us how to live in community.

1. All Catholic teaching revolves around, and leads towards and away from, the fundamental truth that "God is love", and that love is the meaning and purpose of the universe, and the calling of every human being.

2. This truth is revealed not initially as a proposition or statement, but as a person, namely Christ, who incarnates and inspires love, and shows us what happens to love in the world, and what it is capable of.

3.  In order to achieve holiness, it is essential to draw closer to God in prayer, liturgy, and spirituality.

4.  Since God is indeed love, we must love God completely and our neighbour as ourself, from which flows the whole social teaching of the Church.

In order to communicate faith to others, we must not only remove the intellectual obstacles, but dissolve the spiritual obstacles to faith, and that means trying to live as though love really were the most important thing

in the world, and the source of everything that exists. To the extent we live in the spirit of love, to that exact degree we will become capable of communicating faith, because "heart speaks unto heart" (Newman) and the head cannot do it alone. But how do we live from faith?

The final three principles are about exactly that. We focus on Christ. We do so through private prayer, by participating in the liturgy, and by spiritual reading and meditation. And we turn away from ourselves to serve the God of love in others. By serving, we bring God to them. It is this humble approach that is so often missing in failed attempts to "evangelise".

At the heart of the New Evangelisation, then, is not in fact apologetics, theology, or philosophy - important though all those things are. Evangelisation begins in love and ends in love. In fact philosophy and theology are only of real value if they serve to elucidate love, because the truth is incarnated in a person before it becomes a set of propositions.

That is why I am so grateful to be involved in the Magnificat project. This monthly booklet is designed to be a tangible support for the Christian life, and the way of holiness. It fits easily in the pocket; it is physically beautiful; it contains the Mass readings for each day of the month; and it also has articles and meditations that supply spiritual reading for each day from a wide range of orthodox sources (fathers, saints and doctors of the Church, mystical writers ancient and modern). My family and I were asked to edit the UK/Irish edition last year, around the time of the Papal visit. Since then we have continued to adapt the American edition for our territories each month, slotting in the correct lectionary readings and feast days for England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland,and Australia, and commissioning short articles on prayer, liturgy, and Scripture from the best spiritual writers we can find (Hugh Gilbert, James Tolhurst, Margaret Atkins, Mark Elvins, lain Matthew, and many others).

So our work of evangelisation now consists very largely in encouraging people to take a look at Magnificat and consider subscribing, or buying a subscription for a friend. It would be an ideal confirmation present, or a gift for someone unable to get to Mass each day. It is not a commercial project, primarily; its founders see it as an apostolate. Begun more than 10 years ago by its French publisher and flourishing in America under Dominican editorship (where it has around a quarter of a million subscribers), it is a way of focusing on the "patterns of attraction", the positive reasons to have faith. The short biographies of the saints are continual reminders of God's mercy working in historical time, in the lives of real people. The articles and daily meditations address thechallenge of prayer and how to persist in the love of God. The lectio divina for each month shows us how to meditate on Scripture. The liturgical material leads us deeper into the prayer of the Church - and is designed to accompany and support confused Catholics as they adjust to the new translations of the Missal.

The liturgy, and especially the Mass, is the place we meet Christ. It is the mould into which we pour ourselves each day, melting our hard hearts to be forged into a new shape. This is the heart of the New Evangelisation, just as it was the heart of the first.

Stratford Caldecott

Faith Magazine

September - October 2011