Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

FAITH Magazine March – April 2012

Freedom and Responsibility - a Search for Harmony
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. Darton, Longman & Todd, March 2011, 136pp. £12.99

Metropolitan Kirill, whose family were victims of Soviet persecution, became Patriarch of Moscow in 2009. This book contains 14 of his articles and lectures between 1987 and 2007.

Kirill mentions that in conversations in 2007, Orthodoxy found that it shared the same vision as Rome on many issues (pp. 100-01). It is apparent that the Patriarch's views closely coincide with those of Benedict XVI (and Jonathan Sacks, for that matter).

His predominant theme is the rise of a liberal model of civilisation which he traces from Protestantism, with its "rejection of the normative significance of tradition in the field of Christian dogma" (p. 6), followed by the Enlightenment, which placed an absolute value on the individual.

He argues persuasively that such is the liberal dominance of society that religion is relegated to the sidelines and any criticism is ruled inadmissible. When this is applied to human rights, it means that all ideas have equal legitimacy. In fact human rights is the mantra of liberal society and "the absolutisation of the state is replaced by the absolutisation of the sovereignty of the individual and his rights" (p. 64). The only thing that is forbidden under this regime is "for people to realise themselves in a manner that could restrict another person's freedom" (p. 77).

The Patriarch would argue that, added to an insistence on human rights, is a devaluation of the traditional moral understanding of the person. This puts power into the hands of the State, "which can compel people to commit sin, tolerate it, or allow it to take place through banal conformism" (p. 59). He is also of the opinion that modern methods of identification could be easily used to enforce conformity; conversely, such a liberal dominance could prompt among traditionalists an extremist backlash.

It is important to insist on the value of each person's moral judgment. The individual is not a cog in society, or even a bundle of human rights, but a person who answers for his behaviour, constantly faced with a choice between good and evil. Cardinal Newman would say, "How will they speak to sinners'? They do not speak to sinners at all." (Parochial & Plain Sermons I, p.317). "Freedom of choice", says Kirill, "should be used for attaining freedom from sin... The Church openly calls sin by its name and devotes its efforts to saving man" (pp 84, 11). If we exclude all notion of sin, then all that is left is a desire to be rich and successful, a true follower of Dionysius: "Individual rights, when detached from a framework of duties which grants them their fullmeaning, can run wild, leading to an escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate" (Caritas in Veritate n. 43).

The Patriarch does not mince his words. He calls on society "to face up to vice" - he singles out immoral life styles and says that the Church should join in the battle. Imagine a bishop putting the case for human free will with quotations from St. Maximus the Confessor against the Monothelites, going on to mention Origen and Clement of Alexandra's Stromata all in one breath!

He is not standing behind the barricade in all this, but urging a dialogue so that some common ground can be found, and the rights of the Church defined and recognised. Orthodoxy in Russia is identified with the Russian soul and "supports the State in carrying out its functions, in return for the State ensuring the implementation of God's law in public life and the protection of the faith" (p. 45).

This has undoubted advantages - in Byzantium the Patriarch had the right of official "lamentations," of pleading the cause of the disenfranchised before the government. It enables Kirill to talk of "national repentance" like the Church of England's Commination. But the defence of faith and lifestyle which is Russian Orthodoxy tolerates other faiths except "where an alien faith and alien standards of life have been imposed on our people by force or by proselytism" (p. 4). There is a slight suspicion that Catholicism, which is not identified with any national culture, might be seen as slightly alien...

We must admire the Patriarch's grasp of the essential conflict which exists in society, especially in modern Europe which is embracing secularism with alacrity. Such voices need to be heard. May we find Catholic bishops who have the courage and intellectual gifts to take the debate into the heart of our society, as Pope Benedict strives to do.

Rev. James Tolhurst

Catechism with thoughts from the Cure of Ars
Hughes D'Orfeuille and Alan Bancroft, St. Paul's Publishing, 2011, 160pp, £9.99

The Catholic Mass for Dummies
Rev. John Trigilio Jr., Rev. Kenneth Brighenti and Rev. Monsignor James Cafone, John Wiley & Sons, 2011, 288pp, available from Amazon for £9.09

In the light of Pope Benedict's recent announcement of a "Year of Faith", calling all the faithful to a more "profound understanding of the content of the faith" (Porta Fide?), it is timely that two such volumes are available to us to help in the understanding of the content of our Catholic Faith.

The Holy Father has consistently affirmed throughout his pontificate a renewed need for the content of the faith to be handed on to future generations. This Catechism, freshly translated from the original by Alan Bancroft, affords the user, whether it be someone considering learning more about the Church, or someone called to teach others the basics of the Depositum Fidei, a simple, clear and accessible way of coming to know more and more what the teaching of the Church is, and, of course, Him whom the Church loves and venerates: Christ Himself. Bishop O'Donoghue, the Bishop Emeritus of Lancaster, in his preface reminds us of the duty of every Catholic to "assist in passing on to others the Faith handed down from the Apostles" (p. 11). The author wishes to present to theuser the solid food of doctrine to bring the recipient of the catechesis into closer union with the Lord.

The various "lesson plans" follow in three books, mirroring the first three principal sections of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church", namely the Creed, the life of the Sacraments and The Moral Law. They are presented in an unambiguous manner with some text to read and reflect upon, followed by a "question and answer" section to help encourage learning of some basic facts. At the end of each of the lesson plans is a presentation of a thought from St. John Marie Vianney which helps round off that section in a brief yet profound manner.

In recent years there has been a renewed desire for doctrinal formation from younger Catholics and perhaps this little volume would be helpful as a starter-kit for those considering the basic questions of the Faith. A very decent little book with lots to consult and consider time and again. The enthusiasm required for forming ourselves in the faith of the Church and thus, the teaching of the Lord Jesus that a study of this catechism brings can perhaps be summed up in the words of the Cure of Ars. "He died for us all. He is waiting for us in Heaven."
The Catholic Mass for Dummies is a smaller work. In keeping with its sister volume, Catholicism for Dummies, it provides the reader with a concise and informative presentation of everything from the rhythm of the seasons, in chapter three, to the finer details of sacred vestments in the Eastern and Western Church, in chapter 12. There is also, in light of the Holy Father's Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, a very helpful explanation of the ritual and history of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, something that should prove useful in the parishes where this form of the Mass has now been reintroduced.

As the English speaking world receives the revised translation of the Roman Missal, this new book, in some small way, answers the Holy Father's request for an "in-depth catechesis on the Eucharist and renewed devotion to the manner of its celebration" (Pope Benedict to the Bishops, Oscott; 19 September 2010).

A particularly attractive element of the priestly triumvirate's contribution to Eucharistic catechesis in this book is the inclusion of 10 "mini-commentaries on the Eucharist" at the end of the volume. This small section allows the reader to share in the Eucharistic faith of saintly people who, since the Lord's command to "Do this in memory of me," have handed to us that great treasure that we are now called to hand on, to celebrate and to revere.

To rate its effectiveness, as part of RCIA formation, I have used the book with a number of people preparing for reception into full Communion; the explanations have been found to be concise, thorough and entirely comprehensible. One of the members of the group is even considering purchasing it for his Catholic spouse to help her in her knowledge of the central focus of the Catholic Faith: the Sacrifice of the Lord for our Salvation. Surely a recommendation indeed!

Fr Sean Patrick Riley

A Gasp of Love. Duns Scotus: Franciscan Theologian and Mystic
Seamus Mulholland OFM, Franciscan International Study Centre Press (2011) 406pp, £19.99. By post add £3.50 and order from FISC Giles Lane, Canterbury CT2 7NA

Faith magazine fosters the belief in the Primacy of Christ at the heart of creation, and the medieval theologian who stressed and expounded this most clearly was John Duns Scotus. This scholarly and poetic tome provides an expert and lucid exposition of all Scotus's main ideas, written with obvious enthusiasm and, above all, love. It should be in the hands of every reader as it is by far the clearest exploration of the sometimes dense thought of Scotus.

All the main ideas are covered in 18 chapters: Univocity of Being, The Trinity, The Primacy of Christ, The Uniqueness of Creation, his beautiful proof for the existence of God and two chapters giving a detailed explanation of the Immaculate Conception. The final two chapters summarise much that has gone before, putting it in the wider context of the Church and what Duns Scotus can say to us today. His contribution to the body of knowledge in theology and philosophy cannot be overestimated. This book shows us not only the mind of a brilliant thinker but also the heart of a Christian Mystic.

The book communicates a great reverence for and awe of God, as we can see, for example, in these words of Scotus:

"...there are many images, signs, symbols and metaphors for God. God is the God of the storm, the God of the mountain. He was king and shepherd. His presence was real in the Burning Bush, but He is not fire; He moved across the face of the waters at creation, but He is not water. He is Being in and of itself. The origin and source of all that existed, exists at the moment and ever will exist in the future. And He is. Philosophers may ask us to prove this, to demonstrate it; men and women of faith may say it is enough for me to believe. The great mystics may say, I have touched and felt it, but they cannot say what it is ... yet we continue to search for its understanding and meaning, and in that, for our own understanding and meaning."

There are a few typographical errors, but these do not detract from the immense good this book will do if it can achieve the wide audience it deserves. One of the reasons it is over 400 pages long is that the print size is quite large - a distinct bonus for older readers! Throughout it shows how much theology is founded on Scripture and it shows once again that, for Catholics, Scripture is the anima Sacrae theologiae. The author is not in favour of the idea of Mary as Mediatrix of grace, calling the idea flawed. He thus distances himself from the campaign, involving at least one confrere of his, for this to be proclaimed as the Fifth great Marian Dogma.

Rarely can a book on theology have been so uplifting and easy to read. Fr (and we should append the title "brother" as he is a Fransciscan!) Seamus is to be congratulated.

Christopher Bull

Faith Magazine