Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com

Religion Christianity


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



American Catholic Culture

 The Catholic Tradition by Thomas Langan (University of Missouri Press) "This is a remarkable work. There are few who possess Langan's historical knowledge and philosophical depth. His reading of the past is informative, insightful, and provocative, all at once. . . . Anyone who wishes to know what Catholicism is, friend, foe, or uninformed Catholic, will find this volume a veritable treasure."--Jude P. Dougherty

In his Tradition and Authenticity in the Search for Ecumenic Wisdom, Thomas Langan argued that the close interaction of traditions in today's society calls for methodical critical appropriation of the beliefs fostered by the principal traditions. He also promised to demonstrate by example how such appropriation could be accomplished. In The Catholic Tradition, Langan successfully fulfills that vow by showing how a tradition--the Catholic--has shaped his own outlook.

In this comprehensive study, Langan examines the history of the Catholic Church and the origins of its teachings since the Church's conception. Although committed to the Catholic religion, Langan does not obscure the Church's failings as he lays out the fundamentals of the Catholic faith.

He provides insight into the great Christological councils, discusses the differences in the spiritualities of East and West, and portrays the crucial roles that the pope and bishops played during the Middle Ages. He incorporates the thought of Augustine, Aquinas, and medieval Catholicism as he traces the rise and decline of Christian Europe, the great issues raised by the reform: priesthood, the Eucharist, spirituality, and Church structure.

Satan has no greater triumph, Langan asserts, than when Catholics, who are recipients of the Good News of God's universal love, allow selections from their tradition to be turned into sectarianism and ideology. This balanced history of the Church as human reality faces such perversions squarely. But despite betrayals by its own across the centuries, the Catholic tradition, with its origin at Sinai, remains the oldest and largest extant religious institution.

In a last section Langan offers a unique overview of the church's present situation, its strengths and weaknesses, the new movement and the challenge of the "new evangelization."  

The Catholic Imagination in American Literature by Ross Labrie (University of Missouri Press) In this well-written and comprehensive volume on Catholic writing in the United States, Ross Labrie focuses on works that meet three criteria: high intellectual and artistic achievement, authorship by a practicing Roman Catholic, and a focus on Catholic themes. Labrie begins with a discussion of the Catholic imagination and sensibility and considers the relationship between art and Catholic theology and philosophy.

Central to Catholic belief is the doctrine of the Incarnation, wherein human experience and the natural world are perceived as both flawed and redeemed. This doctrine can be seen as the axis on which Catholic American literature in general rests and from which variances by particular authors can be measured. The optimism implied in this doctrine, together with an inherited American political consciousness, allowed a number of Catholic authors, from a culture otherwise perceived as outside the American mainstream, to identify with a political idealism that granted dignity to the individual.

Counterpointing this emphasis on the individual, though, is the doctrine of the church as an intermediary between God and humanity and the belief in the community of saints. In concert with the doctrine of the Incarnation, these teachings gave Catholic writing a communal and prophetic dimension aimed at the whole of American society.

Separate chapters are included for each of the writers considered so that the distinctiveness of their works is elucidated, as well as the unity and the rich diversity of Catholic American writing in general. Some of the authors considered are Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Thomas Merton, and Mary Gordon.

A concluding chapter examines the significance of the corpus of Catholic American writing in the years 1940 to 1980, considering it parallel in substance to the body of Jewish American literature of the same period. The Catholic Imagination in American Literature fills a distinctive place in the study of American literature.

see Canon Law

The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965  Throwing the spotlight relentlessly on Pius XII (most recently declaring him "Hitler's Pope") has skewed the question surrounding Catholicism and the Holocaust, depriving us of a record of what the entire church did or did not do. Such a record is provided for the first time in the Michael Phayer's compelling new book. Phayer shows that without effective church leadership under Pius XII, Catholics acted ambiguously during the Holocaust--some saving Jews, others helping Hitler murder them, the majority simply standing by. After the Holocaust, under the leadership of Pope John XXIII, the church moved swiftly to rid itself of centuries-long anti-Semitic tradition.

This recent work on the Holocaust is an important addition to the ongoing debate about the role of the Catholic Church and the papacy under Pope Pius XII during World War II. Some works about the pope and Church during the Holocaust such as the blatantly apologetic, Hitler, the War and the Pope provides a sympathetic portrait of Pope Pius XII.  It serves as a direct rebuttal to John Cornwall's Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, a rather prurient indictment of the controversial pontiff's wartime record. After placing the beleaguered pope's actions firmly into historical context, Rychlak concludes that Pius did everything within his limited scope of power to condemn Hitler and to save Jews without endangering even more innocent lives. Although this respectful, painstakingly researched account of an undoubtedly compassionate and well-intentioned holy man mired in incomprehensibly difficult circumstances provides a wealth of thoughtfully outlined rationalizations, it fails in its mission to completely convince doubters that Pius XII could not have taken a more heroic public stand against Nazism.

However there is an objectivity and balance to Phayer's attempt to understand and explain the role of the Church during the Holocaust. Rooted in archival and secondary research, Phayer serves as an historical corrective at times to Cornwell's Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII.. The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965 is comprehensive in scope as it deals with the nature of genocide in Europe and the failure of the papacy at times to confront this evil. Not only does the author concern himself here with the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but also with incidents of genocide in Croatia by a pro-Catholic government against the Serbs. More importantly, the scope of the work extends beyond the Vatican to examine the positions of European Catholic clergy confronting the Holocaust. The reader is faced with the stories of heroic rescuers of Jews as well as the anti-Semitism and/or indifference of others. Phayer's examination of the roles of several Catholic women is also significant, as the results of their courageous work would positively influence a later generation of German Catholic clergy after the war. This work is to be commended also for concluding its study with the development of the Catholic document NOSTRA AETATE toward the Jewish community in the era of Vatican Council II. (No Religion Is an Island: The Nostra Aetate Dialogues provides the best discussion of this document.)  In sum, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965 is a work that is noteworthy for its research and disturbing for its frank criticism of Catholic Church leadership during the Holocaust. It should be required reading for classes on the Holocaust.

CHURCH AND REVOLUTION: Catholics in the Struggle for Democracy and Social Justice by Thomas Bokenkotter. ($15.95, Paperback, 424 pages, Doubleday; ISBN: 0385487541)

The Catholic Church has always been in the business of simple charity through material gifts. Only recently in its 2,000 year history, however, has the Church concerned itself with remedying the underlying structural causes of social need: racism, unfair labor practices, colonialism, and government oppression. According to CHURCH AND REVOLUTION, this was not a change born in the Vatican, but a ground swell of feeling beginning with the dispossessed and communicated upward through ordinary parishioners and the humble parish priest.

This book attempts to convey the history of the Church's involvement in the worldwide fight for social justice by creating a timeline using the stories of eighteen key figures who lived in the two hundred years between the French Revolution from Solidarity in Poland. In this goal it succeeds admirably. Bokenkotter easily links clergy, laypeople, converts and amazingly even Karl Marx in one flowing narrative. The resulting story illustrates the evolving influence of the Church, which in two hundred years has gone from from delivering panaceas and platitudes to the poor and oppressed, to actively fomenting revolution in places as disparate as Poland and El Salvador.

Unfortunately biographical footnotes and dates are kept to a minimum, and the effect can be a bit disconcerting for those of us who wish we had a better grasp of the details of world history. Overall, however, CHURCH AND REVOLUTION is an absorbing book which succeeds in leaving the reader with a solid understanding of two centuries of Catholic social consciousness.

WAR AND RELIGION: Catholics in the Churches of Occupied Paris by Vesna Drapac ($74.95, hardcover, 320 pages, Catholic University of America Press; ISBN: 081320903X)

An original study of the French Catholic experience during the Nazi Occupation. In this book, Vesna Drapac offers an engaging survey of Parisian Catholic life from the European Crisis of the late 1930s to the end of the Nazi Occupation in 1944. Drawing on a wide range of previously unexplored archival sources-parish bulletins, diocesan archives, records of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and devotional materials-Drapac provides the first comprehensive examination of parochial life. She discusses the nature of Catholic loyalty to the Vichy regime and the range of religious responses to the ordeal.

WAR AND RELIGION differs from standard surveys of French Catholicism under the Nazi Occupation in that it rejects the stereotype of the vast majority of Catholics as silent, accommodating, and ineffectual. It transcends the narrowly political question of the extent of individual or institutional Catholic collaboration and resistance. Its chief concern is the role of religion in the lives of practicing Catholics and how it gave them a model for exercising Christian belief and social responsibility. In bringing together diffuse material, Drapac recreates the Catholic mind in these turbulent years and places Catholic traditions and devotions at the center of the discussion. She discovers many parishioners of different complexions who were united in a spiritual and social union around their parish.

WAR AND RELIGION makes an important contribution to the debate about the nature of resistance and the preconditions necessary for the successful defense of core values and national identity in the face of a powerful ideological enemy. Drapac concludes that there was not just one legitimate Catholic response to the Occupation and that it is the versatility and range of Catholic responses that is most distinctive.

Vesna Drapac is a lecturer in history at the University of Adelaide in South Australia.

SAINTS AND SINNERS by Eamon Duffy ($35.00, hardcover, 256 pages, color illustrated, Yale University Press, 0-300-07332-1)

The office and function of pope is one of the oldest continuing institutional roles in the world. Nearly 2,000 years and 261 men who have assumed the title have shouldered awesome responsibilities. The political necessities of the times and the eternal spiritual needs of the faithful and pushed and pulled the men who were chosen to fill this seat. With varying degrees of success, and with differing levels of competence in serving, or ruling their Church, each pope has shaped the institution in many ways.

The long and extraordinary history of the Papacy is told in both words and colorful illustrations in this new book by noted scholar, Eamon Duffy. SAINTS AND SINNERS: A History of the Popes, is filled with fascinating facts and often stirring illustrations, this "sumptuous feast of politics and kings, SAINTS AND SINNERS is the official publication of a six-part television series by the same title. Created by Channel 4 in Britain, TV Cinque in France, and RTE in Ireland, the series will be televised ill tile United States oil the I History Channel in 1998 and in Canada TV Ontario and the Knowledge Network. Beginning with the origins and development of papal authority in Rome, both the book and the television series highlight milestones ill six major eras in the history of the Papacy and explore its emergence as a religious and political institution In vivid detail Duffy discusses the role of the Papacy in the centuries after the collapse of the Roman Empire; the contradictory period of the Middle Ages when popes launched tile Crusades and the Inquisition. along with lobby spiritual reforms the notorious and corrupt popes of Renaissance Rome who commissioned artistic masterpieces but also brought about the Reformation; the difficult political era from the French Revolution through the nineteenth century; and our own century, during which nine popes have served tile growing flock that now includes more than one-fifth of the world’s population.

A medieval historian at Cambridge University, Eamon Duffy, has also written the authoritative account of popular resistance to the Reformation in England, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, C.1400-C.1580

Headline 3

insert content here

WT Main | About WT | Review Links | Contact | Review Sources | Search

Copyright © 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Headline 3

insert content here