Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

FAITH Magazine January-February 2005

Richard Whinder on the words of Oscar Romero that will challenge a few prejudices; Paul Brooks finds plenty to interest in a spirituality of self-esteem; James Tolhurst enjoys fascinating insights into parish life in England in the turbulent years of the 16th century and David Standen on a magisterial overview of Pope John Paul’s theology that captures his unity of thought.

The Violence of Love
by Oscar Romero, Orbis Books, distributed by Alban Books, 219pp, £9.99

Twenty-five years after his death, Archbishop Oscar Romero a remains a deeply controversial and troubling figure. To some, his outspoken advocacy of the poor of Latin America was a voice of true prophecy, and his death at the hands of Right-wing assassins in 1980 was an authentic act of martyrdom, demanding immediate canonization. Indeed, a part of his vestments now lies in a reliquary in the Catholic Church at Canterbury , next to the relics of that equally outspoken medieval Churchman, St Thomas Becket. On the other hand, some find in his writings shades of those ‘deviations, or risks of deviations, damaging to faith and to Christian living’, condemned by Cardinal Ratzinger in the Instruction Libertatis Nuntius of 1984. They would also claim that his assassination lacks the traditionalcriterion for true martyrdom – odium fidei – hatred of the Faith.

The present book aims to present Romero in his own words, drawing principally on the homilies and addresses he gave during his turbulent episcopacy. The aim is a noble one, but fraught with dangers. In any work of this sort, a heavy burden lies on the editors, not to sift the evidence in favour of their own foregone conclusions. Moreover, Romero left behind him a vast body of writing - diaries, speeches, homilies, reports to the Vatican . Despite these challenges, however, this little book presents a portrait of Romero which contains something to challenge everyone, whatever their prejudices. The archbishop would probably have been pleased. It is clear from these pages, for instance, that Romero never ceased to preach that the only true liberation is liberation from sin. In a homilyfrom 1977 he declared: ‘We decry not only the injustices of the social order. We decry every sin that is night, that is darkness: drunkenness, gluttony, lust, adultery, abortion, everything that is the reign of iniquity and sin’. There are also beautiful and moving passages which speak of the archbishop’s love of the Mass, and of Our Lady. In one extended passage, taken from a newspaper column he wrote for the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1977, he defends popular piety in terms that could well be applied in the Western world today: ‘It would be unforgivable to destroy or belittle these lovely and pious expressions of our people merely because they do not fit more sophisticated theological criteria’. Reading these extracts, one is reminded of Romero’s genuine religious devotion,which gave a solid foundation to his more controversial actions, and of the traditional formation he had received as a young priest, growing up in the pre-Conciliar era. At other times, however, the reader is reminded that Romero was also very much a man of the 1960s and ‘70s: a Churchman of the era of Vatican II and the Medellin Conference, with all the joyful optimism of that period, and the over-zealous enthusiasm for change. Reading some of Romero’s words reminds one uncomfortably of the ‘radical’ theology of the same period, when in every field of dogma it was simply assumed that traditions carried no weight, the old text-books could be torn up and novelty reigned. The Church and the world were both to be re-made from scratch, and there was little patience with those of aconservative tendency who resisted the revolution. Indeed, it often seemed as if the only real enemies of the Church were those who had previously been its most loyal defenders. Certainly, in these extracts at least, Romero was more stinging in his criticisms of ‘traditionalists’ and ‘capitalists’ than he was of Marxists or Communists, more willing to question the good-will of conservative Christians of the past than probe the real motivations of the Church’s atheistic enemies. In short, this book is to be recommended as an introduction to Oscar Romero, if for no other reason than that it accurately conveys the ambiguities which surround him. It is full of short, sharp quotes which often echo the spirit of the Old Testament prophets, and might make good Lenten reading, for someonelooking to be challenged. It will leave most readers full of admiration for the boldness and bravery of the man – but is unlikely to answer the question of whether the man was a saint.

Fr Richard Whinder

The Inside Job. A Spirituality of True Self-Esteem
by Jim McManus CSSR, Redemptorist Publications, 149pp, £6.95

Me, Me, Me. Chapters one and two speak of self-esteem and the wounded self. Chapter three asks ‘Who am I?’. Chapter four returns to self-esteem. Chapter five reflects on self-knowledge and self-acceptance. Even the narcissist might ask ‘is this book too much about me?’. However, just as you should never judge a book by its cover, the chapter titles of this book do not give the full picture.

The foreword states that ‘what this book presents is a new synthesis’, an achievement that would quicken the pulse of any follower of Faith. Fr McManus believes that there is a need for a new synthesis because psychology often ignores ‘the possibility of a spiritual dimension to the self’ and that, at times, spirituality rejects psychology as a distraction. The author sees the need to integrate the psychological and the spiritual if we are to truly understand ourselves in relation to God. Time will tell whether this book is recognised as having achieved a new synthesis or if it is more akin to a self-help manual. What is fair to say is that Fr McManus has put forward some ideas which are very interesting. Chapter two treats the notion of the constructive word and the destructiveword. Words can have a tremendous power. How we react to the spoken word can affect how we see ourselves and how we will then relate to others. Words that affirm and encourage, that guide and correct are constructive words. Words that reject and condemn, that unjustly criticise and falsely praise are destructive words. If we live in ‘the house of the destructive word’ then we have a false view of reality and of ourselves. A true self image will come by living in ‘the house of the constructive word’. The most constructive word is the creative Word of God, a Word that is spoken in love, a Word that has created us and that gives us a positive self-image. Psalm 52 warns us of the danger of the destructive word while Dei Verbum n. 21 states the merits of the constructive word saying‘such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigour, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life’. Each of us can recognise how we have allowed the positive and the negative words of others to affect us. More importantly, we have seen the tremendous power of the Word of God and the life that He gives. There is much in Chapter six entitled ‘The Grace of Forgiveness’ to command interest. Some of the advice given here is particularly pertinent in light of the trend in society not to forgive - a trend that makes no attempt to try and move on after facing tragedy. Chapter six also highlights an approach which lessened my appreciation of this text. In a chapter onforgiveness there is only fleeting reference made to the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. This deepened my conception that the author, in trying to provide an approachable book for the reader at large, has, in effect, diluted the strength of the Christian message. The interchanging of the denominations ‘God’ and ‘Higher Power’ jarred, the self-help exercises at the end of each chapter focus on self rather than on God and it is made clear that it is not the aim of the book to convert anyone to Christianity. This would have been a worthy aim when we know from the power of God’s Word that we must go out to the whole world and proclaim the good news.

Fr Paul Brooks
Holy Family and Saint Ninian’s

The Voices of Morebath
By Eamon Duffy, Yale University Press, 232pp

Twenty five miles north of Exeter on the A396, lies the small village of Morebath . In the sixteenth century it had thirty-three families and one priest, Sir (as they were addressed at the time) Christopher Trychay. As Devon villages go, Morebath was fairly representative but in Sir Christopher it possessed a compulsive and long-lived chronicler. Trychay was vicar from 1520 until his death in 1574, which meant that he served under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. He was a Devonian, ordained in 1515, and it was his duty to keep ‘the church bok’. In his meticulous way, the vicar recorded all transactions, from ‘the gift of Agnes Down’s mother, 12d’ and purchase of ‘a new purse for to put the sacrament yn’ to William Leddon, ‘a ewe hogg’. What makes his registerfascinating is that Sir Christopher could not resist adding his comments, “another wether hogg… in his keeping that came from Richard Hukeley, that should have been brought with John at Burston but he would have none.” It is this characteristic which comes into its own when the Reformation begins to have an impact on his parish. Sir Christopher had introduced the cult of St Sidwell from his home city of Exeter into his parish church. He lavished attention on her statue and altar, with ‘a canstyck a fore’ and ‘new gylting’ 33/4 (a candlestick a new gilding). This was in addition to the cult of Our Lady, of the patron, St George, St Loy (patron of horsemen) and St Anthony (patron of swineherds). By 1538 the candles had been removed and the ornaments which adorned the statues stripped away,but the vicar still asks William Hurley, the next time he goes to London, to buy ‘a banner of sylke of sent iorge’ (Saint George). He also is able to buy his black vestments after twenty years of saving, in 1547 when Henry VIII had been in his grave six months. In February 1548 all images were to be removed from churches and their confraternities disbanded. The newly gilded crucifix of Morebath was burned, but William Morse rescued the figure of St John and John Williams took the figure of the weeping Virgin Mary. In 1549 when there was a rising in the West Country and East Anglia against the new Prayer Book, Morebath played its part, sending money and eventually losing three of its parishioners. Sir Christopher handed over two copes and two tunicles in 1552 to the commissioners.The othervestments were concealed in parishioners’ homes, but by the following year they had recovered the rest including ‘a poure lytyll towle’ and ‘a nackyn (napkin) for the priestis handis’. In 1553 Sir Christopher remarked, “The church ever decayed: and then died the King, and Queen Mary’s Grace did succeed, and how the church was restored again.” The table was removed and the high altar returned; 7/11 was found to replace the chalice and Richard Timewell presented a box to keep the Blessed Sacrament in. But five years later, Mary was dead and with Elizabeth , Prayer Book worship was re-imposed. The parish dutifully took its chalice to the commissioners who gave them 20/- for it. But as they had another small chalice that used that instead of the regulation communion cup. When he died, after54 years service, they buried him between the communion table and the high table which he continued to call the high altar. The following year they bought a communion cup for 29/2.

Fr James Tolhurst

The Splendour of Truth: The Theological Vision of Pope John Paul II.
By Cardinal Avery Dulles S.J., Crossroad Publishing, (distributed by Alban Books), 262pp, £17.99

Cardinal Dulles, provides a magisterial overview of the thought of Pope John Paul II. He opens his account with a biographical overview of the Holy Father’s life, looking at his theological formation, at the influence of Carmelite spirituality as well as his developing philosophical work. He then examines the involvement of then Bishop Wojtyla in the work of the Second Vatican Council.
Dulles then goes on to attempt a synthesis of John Paul’s thought working through the Trinity, the nature of Christ and the role of Our Lady, the Church and Evangelisation, the Office and Teaching in the Church, the Priesthood and the Consecrated Life, Suffering, Sin and Penance, the Laity, Family and the Status of Women, then on to the Theology of Culture, the Economic and Social Order, the Free Person in a Free Society, Ecumenism and the Religions, and finally on to Eschatology and History.
As Dulles admits “the material vastly exceeds what most students, including the present author, has been able to digest.” (p.2). But he manages to achieve a masterful summation of John Paul’s thoughts in the areas outlined above. He brings together not just the Encyclicals and Apostolic Letters, but also the vast number of Catechetical addresses, the Angelus addresses, the greetings to various groups of Bishops and is able to show the continuity of John Paul’s thought as a student, priest, bishop, theologian and as well as Pope.
Dulles identifies the Holy Father’s personalism as being crucial to understanding his theology. Dulles sees John Paul as achieving a synthesis between Thomistic and phenomenological approaches to theological enquiry. Like John Saward before him he identifies “the Christ-Centred Teaching of Pope John Paul II” see Saward’s 1995 book “Christ is the Answer.” Dulles also links aspects of John Paul’s life to his approaches both to theology and spirituality, talking of suffering he quotes from Tad Szulc’s biography when John Paul is reflecting on his time in the Gemelli hospital after breaking his hip “I understand that I have to lead Christ’s Church into this third millennium by prayer, by various programmes, but I saw this is not enough, she must be led by suffering…. The Pope has to suffer...the Gospel of suffering by which the future is prepared.” Dulles sees John Paul’s experience feeding in to his work not just on suffering but on sin, penance and indeed the nature of Christ.
This is not perhaps the easiest of reads but it is one that will allow the reader a real opportunity to come to grips not just with an individual papal statement but to see the unity of thought which guides and inspires all of John Paul’s teaching.
Readers of FAITH will be pleased to see that Dulles looks at John Paul’s theology of history, quoting from Tertio Millenio Adveniente, quoting Gaudium et Spes “Christ is the centre, the focal point and the goal of human history.” (p.233). And readers will be interested in his comments on evolution and science. “John Paul II holds up Albert the Great as an example of a theologian who embraced and mastered the scientific knowledge of his day. In the Counter-Reformation, he believes, the proper distinction between the orders of knowledge was blurred, with the result that Galileo was erroneously condemned. Anxious to prevent any recurrence of such errors, he has expressed openness to the theory of evolution and to various cosmological hypotheses, provided that these are not linked tomaterialist or reductionist philosophy” (p.259).

Fr David Standen
St Mary ’s

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