Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

FAITH Magazine March - April 2008

John Henry Newman In his Time.
Edited by Philippe Lefebvre & Colin Mason. Foreword by Jean Cardinal Honoré. Family Publications, 271pp, £11.95

 The fascination of John Henry Newman’s life and works does not wane with the passage of time. It may have its more intense years, followed by a less productive period, but invariably it continues like the waves on the sea shore. The present volume is another study of this renowned Oxford scholar who seems destined for further acclaim and attention, at least in Church circles.

 This book is aimed at the general public but will also be of interest to scholars. It gives a portrait presentation of Newman, concentrating on five places associated with his life and on nine areas in which he excelled. An Introductionby Fr Keith Beaumont of the French Oratory offers a fine summary of all the chapters of the book.

 The first place we associate with Newman is Oxford. It had a profound influence on him. Its University with its ancient traditions is essential to the understanding of his subsequent spiritual and intellectual evolution. Peter Nockles rightly asserts that the determining factor was its ‘catholic’ ethos which pervaded the education imparted there. Not only was intellectual information given but it traditionally combined sound belief and right conduct. All of Newman’s controversial stands in Oxford were linked to the defence of the moral and religious aspects of the University education as exemplified in the course of its history.

 Littlemore then became his haven. Sr Mary-Brigid Dechant, FSO, who belongs to the Spiritual Family The Work (the present curators of the College at Littlemore) provides a brief but accurate account of Littlemore and its place in Newman’s journey.

 Another member of The Work, Sr Brigitte Maria Hoegemann, has a very interesting chapter on Newman’s associations with Rome. She focuses on his first encounter with the city (in 1833) and on his subsequent stay there when preparing for the priesthood (1846-1847). On his first visit, his impressions and feelings were contradictory ones: admiration at “a fresh world of intellectual beauty, taste and imagination” yet repulsion at what he then saw as superstition and corruption(cf. pp. 62-63). In stark contrast is the feeling of serenity and peace of the years following on his reception into the Catholic Church.

 Birmingham then became Newman’s home for a greater part of the second half of his life. Fr Paul Chavasse, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory and Postulator of the Cause of Beatification and Canonisation, gives a notable and well-informed account of Newman’s relations as an Oratorian with this city. Angelo Bottone, who lectures at the Dublin Business School, gives an account of Newman’s seven difficult years working for the establishment of the new Catholic University of Ireland.

 The second section of this publication contains nine studies on various aspects and attributes of Newman’s life: his renowned talent as a gifted preacher (Paul Chavasse) and educator (Paul Shrimpton); his vocation as an Oratorian (Daniel Seward) and confessor (John Kirwan); his spirituality in relation to his conversion experiences (Robert Christie); his talent as a letter writer (Joyce Sugg), novelist (Michael Durand) and poet (Joseph Salvatore Pizza). A final unusual but welldocumented study examines what claim Newman would have to the title Doctor of the Church. Fr Drew Morgan of the Pittsburgh Oratory investigates the criteria used in the conferring of this title on St Thérèse of Lisieux. How Newman measures up to these Norms and Criteria is illustrated by words spoken orwritten about him by Pope John Paul II and by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later, Pope Benedict XVI). In an original study, Fr Morgan regards Newman’s contribution to the teaching of the Church in the realm of conscience and development as indicative of a charism of a Doctor Ecclesiaegiven by the Holy Spirit. Many would concur, but only the Church’s highest authority will decide on the existence of a particular charism of wisdom and its beneficial influence on the people of God.

 The nature and limits of a short book review cannot do justice to the many fine studies and interesting insights throughout the pages of this volume. The publishers are to be congratulated on offering the public a compact and reasonably-priced volume which may well be very timely, if we consider the possible Beatification that could soon take place, provided the miraculous cure through his intercession, now being examined in Rome, proves to be genuine and acceptable.

 + Philip Boyce, OCD

 The Glory of these Forty Days: Reflections on the Lenten Season.
By James Tolhurst, Gracewing, 101pp, £5.99

 From one point of view, monks have an easy life. The classical Benedictine way of life is structured to keep the mystery of our salvation always in mind. As St Benedict says, we should prefer nothing whatever to Christ. In the daily Mass and Divine Office, in the reading at Chapter and in the Refectory, the monk will hear the words of Sacred Scripture and the Fathers many times each day. He will also have regular spaces in his daily timetable set apart for sacred reading, lectio divina.   Those who live their Christian life in the world, who may have a demanding job and a growing family to look after, do not have this advantage and often struggle to maintain their life of prayer and keep contact with the wellspring of Christian revelation. As St Francis de Sales tellsus, it is counter-productive for a lay person to try to live like a monk, but Catholic faith and spirituality is a unity centred on the mystery of Christ handed on to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. This is for all. It is thus a pity if the laity are fobbed off with peripheral devotions.   Fr Tolhurst’s book is an admirable presentation of the mystery of our faith, in a series of daily readings for Lent. It gives the reader real meat for meditation cut up into digestible chunks for busy Christians. Each day the reader is presented with that day’s Gospel, thus maintaining a link with the Church’s liturgy for those who can’t get to daily Mass, followed by brief notes on the Gospel and short relevant passages from the Fathers of the Church, the Saints or the Magisterium. Weare given brief notes on the ecclesial writers quoted, and the book is a good way of getting to know these masters of the faith. On Sundays, one of the Gospels from the three year cycle is chosen. The texts can be read through in less that five minutes, but are packed with material for meditation that can be brought back to mind in any free spaces in the day.   Lent is not just about fasting. One of the great things about the reformed Roman liturgy is that, through the richness of its prayers and readings, it presents Lent as a journey towards the celebration of the paschal mystery at Easter together with those who are preparing for Christian initiation. The introduction to this work mentions the ancient custom of the Lenten stational Masses in Rome, revived by Pope John Paul IIand celebrated in specific Roman Churches as stopping places on the way. Fasting and penance are an essential part of this annual pilgrimage, but so are works of charity, prayer and meditation. This book provides the busy Catholic with food for the journey. The texts given are not just nice thoughts and ideas, they give us daily help in living our Christian life; to copy an idea from Pope Benedict’s Encyclical Spe Salvi, they are performative, not just informative. One often finds that the Fathers of the early years of the Church are more direct and better at this than modern writers. Thus we can recommend this as a book to buy and use this Lent.   

Dom Augustine Holmes, OSB
Pluscarden Abbey,
Elgin, Scotland    

Is Religion Necessary and Other Questions? A study Guide for Home groups.  
By Barbara Reed Mason, Proclaim Publication, (available from Nooks Farm, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire. BB7 5QY), 60pp, £3.50   

Faith readers will know how beneficial study groups are. There is a real need for a good booklet that can be used by study groups and this booklet admirably fills that need. The basic idea of the booklet is that it should be used as a study guide for home groups in conjunction with the Compendium of the Catechism. Every section contains a brief summary or quotation from The Compendiumtogether with other authoritative sources, such as the teaching of the popes, and wide and frequent references to the Bible, Canon Law, and the full Catechism. The explanations are clear and the book is not afraid to give lucid definitions. It could not be better done. I know, in fact, that the book has been very successfully used by adult home groups.   

In fact I believe that the booklet could be widely used by all who want to know the faith better or to teach it. The booklet would be especially appropriate for sixth form general RE in schools that do want to teach the faith and not just have vague socialism with a Christian tinge. Younger pupils would find this booklet a useful supplement to their GCSE course, or a replacement for it for one year. Parents and grandparents trying to teach the faith at home would find it a Godsend. Parish priests could put it safely and profitably into the hands of converts and all who want to deepen their faith.   

Consider just some of the topic headings: ‘What does it mean to believe in God? How do we know what is true? The Church’s teaching on the Trinity; The Church’s teaching on Tradition; How can there be One Way in a world of different cultures? Why does God allow suffering? Does God send people to hell? Do I have to go to church? Is sexual fulfilment a basic human need? Cultural Christianity; obedience and authority; Submission in an age of rebellion’. The book itself is a minor miracle in that these questions are considered succinctly without any superficiality or smart-Alec answers. The tone is one of reasonable discussion by those of good will, another reason why it would be such a success in schools. But it is quite clear that the Catholic Church teaches “as one with authority”. Most ofthose titles are in the form of questions in order to provoke the discussion that this book fosters.   

The booklet carries an imprimatur, as all books used for teaching RE are required to do by Canon Law. It acknowledges help from Dr Philip Caldwell, a priest of the Salford diocese who teaches at Ushaw. It contains a useful practical note about study groups, with useful points e.g. – “Keep the group small – no more than ten people (if more people begin to come, start another group!) There is a separate Leader’s Manual(at £2.50) which ought to be purchased since it contains valuable advice which fits in with the overall scheme. This study guide is inexpensive and deserves a very wide circulation.   

Eric Hester

The Gift of Self in Marriage
By Anita Dowsing, Gracewing, 194pp, £9.99

 In this, her second book on marriage during a career in Adult Religious Education in the Diocese of East Anglia, Anita Dowsing seeks to bite a very big bullet indeed: the gap between the Church’s teaching on key aspects of marriage and the actual beliefs and practice of many lay Catholics today. To this end she has produced a very attractive and honest volume, mining the writings of John Paul II including Familiaris Consortio, The Theology of the Body and Love and Responsibilityfor a personalist perspective on the act of love in marriage which would sell well to third millennium Catholics. She also refers frequently to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the current Pope’s Deus Caritas Est: all most encouraging.

 Thirteen chapters take her from a basic definition of marriage, with some analysis of differing attitudes in the Church and the world today, all the way through to how marriage prepares the spouses for the after-life and the “New Heaven and New Earth”. On the way she touches on the application of science and technology to sex and reproduction, dips into literature to illustrate changing attitudes in the halfcentury between Nevil Shute and Bridget Jones, considers sexual compatibility in the light of the Song of Songsand writes well on the psychology of marriage and self-giving. Biblical references and quotes from recent writers including von Hildebrand, Nouwen and Rahner, abound. Unfortunately, Dominian gets the odd word in too.

 The nub of the book for me, as perhaps for many, is the chapter on conception, children and family planning – ‘The Gift Bears Fruit’. Here Dowsing pulls few punches, presenting well the ‘children as gift’, not burden or right, argument and is very clear on the immorality of separating the unitive and the procreative. She recommends Janet Smith’s book Why Humanae Vitae was Right and states boldly that the NFP debate is not about effectiveness but about truth. She also deals honestly with difficulties associated with the practice of NFP and has evolved an interesting theology of ‘waiting’. Faint unease set in with her unquestioning acceptance of the possibility of rape within marriage and with her willingness to see the Pill prescribed on the grounds of mental illness. She also seemsto assume that the temperature method is the type of NFP mainly on offer, which is perhaps a generational thing but a bit worrying.

 A rather good treatment of the ‘Christ- Church marriage’, its prophetic foreshadowing in the Genesis ‘one-flesh’ text and a reflection on sacrifice in marriage then gives way naturally to two further chapters covering the problems facing Catholics with regard to divorce and remarriage. These contain much compassion, clarity and wisdom combined with a positive presentation of the Church’s teaching on admission to the Eucharist. I liked her optimism here: “it is surprising how salvageable marriages can be”.

 The Gift of Self in Marriageis a broadly sound book, but not without some weaknesses. We all realise that it is not the aspect of traditional Catholic teaching on marriage which is going to inspire and attract in our secular age, but there is no mention of the ‘remedy for concupiscence’ angle or much on Original Sin, which I would have thought merited more than a passing nod. Dowsing’s very personal and indeed anecdotal perspective also lacks an acknowledgement of the influence of secularism and unsound teaching on many Catholics. Does not the wide rejection of Humanae Vitaeamongst Catholics reflect a loss of real faith in the Church and the absolute truth of her teachings? Is it really the case that many otherwise completely orthodox, well-informed and practising Catholics rejectonly the Church’s teachings on sexual morality? And why has all this disobedience and misunderstanding happened suddenly? It cannot just be, as she says in the first chapter, that since the liturgical changes following Vatican II people just assumed everything else would change. What about the knowingly misleading teaching issuing from the pens and mouths of disaffected clergy, experts and establishment journalists, not to mention nearly two generations of ambiguous teaching in our schools and the paucity of episcopal backing for NFP programmes? But I suppose it is churlish to emphasise what she does not do when she does so much, and the rather more trenchant analysis which others might make of the same set of problems is not likely to have been honed working for steering groups anddeanery teams.

 On the whole I enjoyed reading this wideranging book. I am not quite sure of the intended readership: I think it is for priests and marriage preparation catechists or guidance counsellors, rather than something to put straight into the hands of an engaged couple. It certainly has possibilities for providing material for a marriage preparation course using its questions for discussion and further reading suggestions.

Dora Nash

 Fit for Mission? Schools
By Rt Rev Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue, bishop of Lancaster, 62pp, available free from the website of the Diocese of Lancaster

. ‘Fit for Mission – Schools’ is a document arising out of the Diocese of Lancaster’s review of its sacramental and missionary life. The content is theologically sound and extremely well structured. It furnishes us with a clear and authentic statement of Catholic teaching on education and provides excellent guidance and suggestions for its implementation in Catholic schools.

 There is much else to be praised in the document. For instance:

 • It well emphasises that parents are the first educators of their children.
 • It acknowledges that we live in an age in which Catholic teaching is increasingly disputed, that attacks upon it often go unchallenged, and that this undermines Catholic life.
 • It makes the clear assertion that the ‘primary purpose’ of the Catholic school is ‘formation in the faith’.
 • It addresses the vexed questions surrounding the very nature, existence and rationale of Catholic schools in England today.
 • It implicitly recognises that Catholic education has failed to achieve its primary purpose and that those responsible have been unable or unwilling to identify the cause and correct it.

 We must therefore strongly welcome this document as the first serious attempt by any diocese in England for more than thirty years to offer a comprehensive response to the ills facing Catholic education. Unfortunately, there are a number of background issues relating to this document that will inevitably weaken its good intentions and future implementation.

 Firstly, the document is not presented as diocesan policy, but rather as a consultative statement that seeks responses from governors and teachers after they have reviewed, discussed, reflected and considered the content. After a year of consultation it is stated that ‘significant elements’ of it will be incorporated into the Diocesan Inspection Schedule Section 48. This process might well encounter significant hurdles.

 A special assembly of bishops which met in Rome in November 1998 drew attention to the fact that ‘teachers in Catholic schools often have lives and ideas that are publicly in conflict with Church teaching’ and they recognised this as a ‘countersign’. Confusion about Vatican II and poor understanding of the Church’s central teachings were also identified as issues among both teachers and students. Therefore the diocese might well experience resistance to Fit for Mission? Schoolsfrom staff in Catholic schools. This of course is notwithstanding the fact that the document is both reasonable and outlines the most basic standards of Catholic life for schools.

Professor James Arthur
Christchurch University
 Professor Arthur is author of ‘The Ebbing Tide. Policy & Principles in Catholic Education’. Published by Gracewing.  

Faith Magazine