Archives For Catholicism


550316: Galileo

A Brief Review of

Galileo: (Christian Encounters Series)

By Mitch Stokes

Paperback: Thomas Nelson, 2011.

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Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Considering that it has only been within the last twenty years (1992) that the Catholic Church has issued an apology for its handling of the “Galileo Affair,” it is good to have a popular level religious biography of Galileo like Mitch Stokes’s Galileo, which has recently been published in the Christian Encounters Series from Thomas Nelson.  Overall Stokes’s biography is a good introduction to the scientific, theological and philosophical complexities that surround the Galileo story; it covers the whole of Galileo’s life, although focusing predominantly on Galileo’s work that we would today call scientific, and the conflict it ignited with traditional Catholic views of that era.  Stokes does play up the tension between Galileo and the “philosophers” a little too much, anachronistically obscuring the reality that there was no such thing as science at the time, only natural philosophy.  So what we have in Galileo is not science vs. philosophy, as Stokes seems to present it, but rather – to use Thomas Kuhn’s term – conflict between two paradigms of natural philosophy (that is escalated by all the theological and power dynamics within the Catholic Church of the time).  Stokes’s work is a good and meaty introductory work, but readers who want to deeper reflection on the issues that this bit of historical narrative raises, would do well to turn to Jerome Langford’s classic work Galileo, Science and the Church.


“The tension between our own
cultural narratives and those of the gospels

A review of
Culture, Inculturation, & Theologians:
A Postmodern Critique

By Gerald A. Arbuckle

Reviewed by Kevin Book-Satterlee.

Culture, Inculturation, & Theologians:
A Postmodern Critique

Gerald A. Arbuckle
Paperback: Liturgical Press, 2010.

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Culture,  Inculturation, and Theologians: A Postmodern Critique Culture,  Inculturation, and Theologians- Gerald A. Arbuckle I happened to be walking down the dusty, pot-holed streets of Lusaka, Zambia.  The entourage of children surrounding me – a white, male North American – complete with the baby wrapped to my back like the local women was a spectacle.  I entered another culture, passionate for the Kingdom and gave hope to the disregarded.  Some would call this inculturation – living out the conviction of the Gospel within culture – but there for a short time, I did not inculturate the Gospel into those Lusaka streets.  I knew nothing of cultural sensitivity and despite making orphans smile, teenagers laugh and adults stare in disbelief, I did not truly present the Gospel to this culture.  Inculturation does not happen in this way.

Instead, my example of inculturation was a Zambian man who joined us in the parade of orphans.  He did not wear an orphan strapped to his back like I did, but he did demonstrate God’s love for children and God’s preferential option for the poor.  This man, against cultural norms, paid attention to the orphans and cared for them.  His is an example of legitimate inculturation.

Gerald Arbuckle, in his book, Culture, Inculturation and Theologians:  A Postmodern Critique, writes, “In the drama of inculturation people are telling their stories of what it means for them to wrestle with the tension between their own cultural narratives and those of the gospels.” (183)  Inculturation is the truth of the Gospel interacting in culture.  Furthermore, culture is not static; therefore inculturation does not happen in a predetermined, lifeless environment.  The premise of Arbuckle’s book is to debunk the legend of the modernist fixed culture, and to create space for dynamic inculturation of the Gospel.

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A Brief Review of

The Virtues
Pope Benedict XVI
Hardback: Our Sunday Visitor, 2010
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Reviewed by Shaun C. Brown.

The Virtues is a collection of short pieces by Pope Benedict XVI, and edited by Jacquelyn Lindsey.  After an introduction written by the editor, the volume consists of excerpts from writings, speeches, homilies, and prayers of the current pope on the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) and the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance), as well as some definitions of virtue and the virtues from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Scripture.  Lindsey edits an introduction to both the theological and the cardinal virtues, and devotes a chapter to each of the seven virtues.

Lindsey edited the volume because, “The world would do well to focus more intently on the Theological and Cardinal Virtues” (9).  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.  It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself.  The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his senses and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions” (CCC 1803).  Lindsey edited a volume on virtue using the work of Pope Benedict XVI because “he has regularly woven the them of the virtues throughout his writings and speeches” (9).  This is illustrated by the fact that his first three encyclicals, Deus Caritas est (“God is Charity/Love”), Spe Salvi (“Saved in Hope”), and Caritas in Veritate (“Charity/Love in Truth”), have dealt with the virtues.

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“There are no Unsacred Places”

A Review of
Cultivating Soil and Soul:
Twentieth-Century Catholic Agrarians
Embrace the Liturgical Movement

by Michael J. Woods, SJ

Reviewed by Ragan Sutterfield.

Cultivating Soil and Soul:
Twentieth-Century Catholic Agrarians
Embrace the Liturgical Movement

by Michael J. Woods, SJ

Paperback: Liturgical Press, 2010.
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CULTIVATING SOIL AND SOUL“Good liturgy and sound agrarianism share a common bond” writes Michael J. Woods, SJ in Cultivating Soil and Soul.  Both are sacramental arts—both hold true to the idea that Wendell Berry expressed so well in his poem “How to Be a Poet”:

There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Good liturgy helps us name all that is sacred—to incorporate daily life into the holy.  The liturgical stance is one that repeats Berry’s poem with different objects: There is no unsacred work, there is only sacred work and desecrated work; there are no unsacred people, there are only sacred people and desecrated people.

It is the good work of the church to continually work to name and acknowledge the sacred—to liberate the desecrated and reveal the once “unsacred.”  Of course this is a continuous work that must be begun again and again.  There is always a tendency to specialize the sacred, to limit its scope and place by making it the domain of experts and institutions.  We must continually question those institutions and invite them again and again to do the work to which they were called—revealing the sacred everywhere it truly is.

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A Brief Review of

Oscar Romero and the Communion of Saints
Scott Wright.
Photos by Octavio Duran.
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2009.
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Reviewed by Chris Smith

Easter itself is now the cry of victory.
No one can quench the life that Christ has resurrected.
Neither death nor all the banners of death and hatred
raised against Him and against His church can prevail.
He is the victorious one!
Just as He will thrive in an unending Easter,
so we must accompany Him in a Lent and a Holy Week
of cross, sacrifice and martyrdom.
As He said, blessed are they who are not scandalized
by His cross.

— Oscar Romero

So begins this lovely new biography of Oscar Romero, which was released just in time for the 30th anniversary of his assassination.  Not only does this book trace the narrative of Romero’s life, it also is chock full of black and white photographs, many of which were taken by Octavio Duran, a Franciscan from El Salvador, who served as Romero’s personal photographer.  The photo-record of Romero’s life is the book’s greatest asset, as most of the stories told here can be found elsewhere.

This is a wonderful book, accessible in its format and yet challenging us at every turn with the story of Romero’s faithfulness.   Oscar Romero and the Communion of Saints is the finest introductory biography of Romero, and I highly recommend it for readers of all ages.  Indeed, it is perfect reading for the Easter season, as it embodies for us Romero’s deep faith in the resurrected Christ for whom “Neither death nor all the banners of death and hatred raised against Him and against His church can prevail.”

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Two new books on CS Lewis and Interdependence

“The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side.” Thus Martin Luther in his Table Talk. His words would serve well as a description of the history of Inklings scholarship. The earliest such scholarly studies argued that the Inklings (Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, et al.) were possessed of “a corporate mind” and that their works had a “similar orientation,” “essentially uniform,” “clearly defined.” So claimed John Wain, a junior member of the Inklings, and various others. But this consensus was toppled from the saddle by Humphrey Carpenter, who maintained, by way of contrast, that the Inklings showed “scant resemblance” to one another and “that on nearly every issue they stand far apart.” Carpenter’s view, which he bolstered with evidence from senior Inklings who themselves claimed not to have influenced one another at all, has sat lumpenly in place since he published his study in 1979.

Diana Pavlac Glyer has now toppled the Carpenter view. But rather than allowing the cycle of drunken saddlings and re-saddlings to repeat itself, she has thoughtfully poured buckets of clear cold water over the entire subject. Fully sobered up at last, Inklings scholarship is for the first time able to sit straight, inclining neither to the view that the group was reliably homogeneous, nor to the view that its members were utterly immiscible. Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis. It’s a typical scholarly progression. But how long it has taken!

Read the full review:

The Company They Keep:
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community
Diana Pavlac Glyer

Paperback: Kent State UP, 2008
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Narnia and the Fields of Arbol:
The Environmental Vision of C.S. Lewis
Matthew Dickerson and David O’Hara

Hardback: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2009
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by Mary Henold.

I have never met a nun—there was a time when this would have been a truly bizarre statement from an American Catholic. Nuns were everywhere: running the schools, staffing the hospitals, flocking like slightly ominous birds in their easily recognizable habits. Nonetheless, many Catholics these days know no nuns—a fact that came to mind while reading Mary J. Henold’s new book Catholic and Feminist. Although she doesn’t quite acknowledge it, Henold’s work is in part the story of how a way of life vanished and took the ubiquitous nuns with it.

Many aspects of American Catholic life in the early 1960s—Catholic and Feminist covers only the period from the Second Vatican Council to the early 1980s—were troubling. There were structural inequalities in the Church for which (at least by Henold’s accounting) no theological justification was even attempted: a Catholic contact directory, for example, that listed (male) hospital chaplains but not (mostly female) hospital supervisors. One doesn’t need to be a feminist to wonder what possible purpose this could have served. Catholic and Feminist also features several stories of churchmen being palpably, personally hostile to the emerging Catholic feminists in ways that were not only counterproductive but ungracious. A snarling monsignor is not exactly a witness to the gospel of humility.

Read the full review:

Catholic and Feminist:
The Surprising History of the American Catholic Feminist Movement

Mary J. Henold

Hardback: UNC Press, 2008.
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BookForum reviews Nic Brown’s

Nic Brown’s Floodmarkers is set in 1989, but in its fractured portrait of small-town American life, it feels considerably older—a Winesburg, Ohio run through with Gen-X slang. Like Sherwood Anderson, Brown is essentially a still-life artist; he eschews plot for portraiture, the linear for the lateral. “His instinct was to present everything together, as in a dream,” Malcolm Cowley once wrote of Anderson. So, too, with Brown, whose first novel scatters brilliantly in a dozen directions at once, without advancing a single day.

Floodmarkers is set in Lystra, a fictional North Carolina burg caught in the path of a very real natural disaster. As the narrative begins, at four in the morning on September 21, Hurricane Hugo, a swirling Category 5 monster, has barreled up the coast from the tropics and seems poised to peter out somewhere over the town. “Inland North Carolina always got weather like this, unraveling hurricanes dropping huge amounts of rain as they blew in across the Piedmont,” Brown writes of the storm’s first tendrils.

Read the full review:

Nic Brown.

Paperback: Counterpoint, 2009.
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A Brief Review of
by Mickey McGrath.

by Chris Smith.

I was unfamiliar with the powerful story of the African-American nun, Sister Thea Bowman, until I read Modern Spiritual Masters earlier this year. Not long after I read and reviewed that book, I heard that Orbis Books was going to be releasing a book about Sister Thea, and I was eager to get my hands on this book and to learn more of her story. When I received the book, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not your typical biography! Written and colorfully illustrated by the painter Brother Mickey McGrath, an oblate of St. Francis DeSales, this book is a vibrant tribute to a sister whose life was an equally vibrant witness to the way of Christ. This Little Light traces Sister Thea’s life from her childhood in the racially-troubled Canton, Mississippi in the 1940’s and 1950’s, through her work with the “Jubilee Singers” choir and her illustrious academic career to her untimely death of cancer at the age of 52. Infused with the imagery of Thea Bowman’s story, that of traditional African-American Gospel songs as well as that of his own personal journey, it is McGrath’s colorful paintings and calligraphy that carry this book. How appropriate it is to render so beautifully the life of a sister whose calling was to remind us of the beauty and love of the Creator-God that saturates every nook and cranny of creation! This Little Light cries out for us to immerse ourselves prayerfully in its pages, remembering the great light of Christ that shines in the radiant gifts of both Sister Thea and Brother Mickey.

Mickey McGrath.

Hardback. Orbis Books. 2008.
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