Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

FAITH Magazine May-June 2009

A Patristic Greek Reader

by Rodney A. Whitaker,
Hendrikson Publishers, 279pp, £16.99 (available from Alban Books)

This unusual and extremely useful work is described as providing "primary Greek texts for translation by students and for pastors and scholars looking to refresh their Greek. Texts include the Didache, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Eusebius and John Chrysostom."

The editor of this unusual collection, Rodney A. Whitaker, is Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity Biblical School. What is so refreshing about this collection is the obvious fact that it does not make one of two false assumptions, either that only Biblical Greek is worthy of the attention of serious students or that classical Greek is the only type of Greek worthy of the name. It is perhaps worth pointing out that the Christian Latin West was far more innovative in its linguistic attitude than was the Greek East.

After a useful introduction the book divides into two parts: part one Greek Texts and Notes, part two translations of all texts. The selection of texts is extremely wide and imaginative. We begin with the Didache of the late first or early second century, perhaps written in Syria and we end with Hymns by Simeon the New Theologian, Byzantine mystic and spiritual writer, who lived from 949-1022. In other words, Greek in its various forms, from simple Greek of the first two centuries to the fourth century second Sophistic style appears here.

To the latter group above all belong Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom both of whom were trained at Athens and Antioch respectively by the best pagan rhetoricians of the day, Himerius and Libanius respectively. Once the church in the East achieved freedom it allowed itself to be influenced linguistically and philosophically by the culture that surrounded it.

Each author's work is preceded by a useful introduction telling the reader something of the life and writings of the author under review and of the context of the writing in question. There is also offered an estimate of the level of difficulty of the author being illustrated. Most of the selections chosen are said to be either easy or intermediate, though some, above all Clement of Alexandria, are said to be advanced, as are the extracts from Eusebius, but interestingly and suggestively John Chrysostom is said to be "easy to intermediate". His elaborate rhetorical education made him easy to understand. Perhaps the two Cyrils of Jerusalem and Alexandria were omitted as being too hard, as probably was Gregory of Nyssa.

The notes to the Greek text are very full and helpful and should be of great help to the translator, though the provision of a full scale translation at the end of the book may prove something of a temptation to the novice.

One of the important truths which this very useful book underlines is the simple fact that as neither the Church nor the doctrine of the Church came to an abrupt end with the death of the last apostle and the conclusion of the New Testament, Greek itself well outlived the apostolic period and continued to enrich the Church through history, philosophy, theology, hymns and sermons for a long time after 100AD.

Fr Anthony Meredith SJ

The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century

by Robert Royal,
Crossroad, 340pp, £11.99 (available from Family Publications, Oxford)

I Is sont morts pour leur foi

by Andrea Riccardi,
Plon, 4J4pp, €26

Robert Royal remarks that "for many modern Christians, the idea of martyrs is somewhat quaint". His subsequent coverage of the last century aims among other things to correct that impression.

Mexico, like Civil War Spain has been badly served by the media. Few seem to be aware of the savagery of the Communists in either country. In Mexico, the Governor of Tabasco named his children, Lenin, Lucifer and Satan. Any priest who refused to marry was expelled. The life of Fr Miguel Pro reads like that of Fr John Gerard. He refused to become an altar boy, was fond of practical jokes and toyed with agnosticism before becoming a Jesuit. Eventually returning to Spain he carried on an apostolate in disguise. Finally arrested, the government made the mistake of filming his execution, hoping that he would recant. Instead he died proclaiming "Viva Cristo Rey!" (Long live Christ the King!)

It is not usually noticed that in Republican Spain, Mass was prohibited (except in the Basque country) and 6,832 priests and 13 bishops were executed. The international press believed that the persecution was justified because the clergy supported the landowners and were generally corrupt. However it appears that nobody apostatised, or opted to marry when given the chance to do so. The Oratorian bishop Salvio Huix was typical of many. He proclaimed, "I will always say that I am the bishop of Lerida". He was shot. Antonio de Moral, a layman, was condemned to be gored to death in the bullring. The historian, Hugh Thomas sums up, "At no time in the history of Europe, or even perhaps of the world, has so passionate a hatred of religion and all its works been shown."

It has always been thought that martyrdom really began in the Soviet Union under Stalin. However evidence has now surfaced to show that Lenin requested daily reports of the number of priests executed and that he used the famine of 1921 -2 as a means of crushing religious resistance. The 3,300 churches and chapels were reduced by 1934 to 2, largely for show.

In the Ukraine, Roman Catholicism was virtually wiped out. Bishop Teodor Romzha was seriously injured in a "car crash" with security forces from which he died. He had told his people, "Let us rejoice that we have to suffer for our faith, because in doing so, we are preparing for martyrdom." The Metropolitan of Lviv, Andrew Sheptytskyi was first arrested by the Czarists in 1914. He then complained to Hitler about his treatment of the Jews, whose Rabbi later said of him, "We do not believe in saints, but if there is such a thing, the first is Metropolitan Andrew." He was succeeded in 1944 by Joseph Slipyi who was in prison and internal exile for thirty-nine years, accused of supporting "the fascist form of Christianity and a bastion of reaction." It has a certain modern ring... It remindsus that Cardinal Kung of Shanghai was imprisoned for 30 years and Archbishop Jarre of Tsinan was arrested at the age of 74 and in answer to interrogation said, "My answer will come to you from the tomb." The mourners dressed him in red vestments to the fury of the police who disinterred the body.

Robert Royal describes the life and death of Fr Jerzy Popielusko (400,000 attended his funeral) and points out that in 1953 eight bishops and 900 priests were arrested by those same authorities. In Czechoslovakia in 1950 three quarters of all religious clergy and half of all priests were sent to labour camps and Sr Zdenka Schelingova was tortured to death for allowing a sick priest to escape from the hospital where she worked.

There is also the sober statistic that in the Rwanda conflict between Hutus and Tutsis, 3 bishops, 96 priests, 64 sisters and 45 brothers were massacred. These are the facts which never appeared on Newsnight.

Andrea Riccardi adds details about the Islamic persecution of the Church in Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon and Pakistan and adds details about India, Vietnam and Korea. There is unfortunately no index and there exists as yet no English translation.

Cardinal Newman said that the martyrs and confessors of the faith "still live unto God, and in their past deeds and their present voices, cry from the altar." May their witness be heard and remembered by us who follow in their faith.

Fr James Tolhurst

Jesus, teach us to pray

by Fr Jerome Bertram,
Family Publications, 143pp, £8.9J

I am a little cynical about books on prayer. There are several of them on my shelves but few successfully convey the reality of their subject. Perhaps the cliche is true: we have too many books on prayer and not enough praying. If we want to learn to pray (and pray better) then there is, I think, no substitute for simply trying to pray. Nonetheless, there is certainly a place for books which can help us to pray and Fr Jerome Bertram's Jesus, teach us to pray is a fine example. Refreshingly, it does not attempt to tell us how to pray - as the title says, this is for Jesus to do - but it does help the reader to understand what prayer is all about. This is vitally important because misunderstandings about prayer can easily become obstacles to true prayer.

The book, which is based on retreat conferences which the author gave to religious, is a pleasure to read because it retains in its written form the fresh and direct approach of a friendly conversation. His description of political speeches masquerading as spontaneous bidding prayers, for example, had me laughing out loud.

It begins with a very direct question: "Why Pray?" Our reason for praying, the author argues, should not be to make God give us things or to obtain some inner experience. These reasons

reflect little more than "sublimated selfishness". Christian prayer is about opening "our hearts to the love of God, so that love can flow through us to other people" (p. 9). Our prayers of intercession flow out of that openness to God's love. There are two chapters devoted to simple but encouraging descriptions of different approaches to vocal prayer and mental prayer - or, as Fr Bertram puts it, "talking to God" and "thinking about God".

The second half of the book is taken up with an extended commentary on the Lord's Prayer. As he reflects upon each of the petitions, Fr Bertram takes the opportunity to share further insights on prayer. He illustrates the richness of this most familiar of prayers with references to the Fathers of the Church and to Pope Benedict's recent book Jesus of Nazareth.

The book concludes with some practical suggestions on dealing with distraction in prayer and a reflection on the relationship between prayer and work. I hesitate to criticise a book which I have so thoroughly enjoyed and valued but I do have difficulty with a few sentences in this chapter. Fr Bertram rightly cautions against using work as an excuse to avoid prayer. But he goes further, suggesting the maxim "Orare humanum est, laborare diabolicum" because "the necessity for work is ultimately the result of the Fall, and therefore of the devil". If this is to be taken seriously then I think that this is a serious error. Even before the Fall, man is charged with tilling and keeping the garden (Gen 2:15) so, as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church puts it, "Work is part of theoriginal state of man and precedes his fall; it is therefore not a punishment or curse."

With this caveat, Jesus, teach us to pray is an excellent introduction to prayer for those beginning to take it seriously including older teenagers and young adults. It can also serve as a much needed refresher for those who have been praying for some time.

Kurt Barragan
Wonersh Seminary

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