Archives For Roman Catholicism

 

346151: The Popes of Avignon

A Brief Review of

The Popes of Avignon

By Edwin Mullins
Hardback: BlueBridge, 2011.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Alex Joyner.

Plague!  Soaring cathedrals and palaces!  Corrupt clerics!  Glittering excess!  When I teach Reformation history to United Methodist pastors I try to avoid this tabloid summary of the Church in the medieval period.  Instead I focus on the deep and pervasive spirituality of the European populace, the real theological achievements of the Scholastics, and the radical commitments of the monastics.  It feels important to acknowledge that there were losses as well as gains in the transition to the modern world.

Edwin Mullins’ book The Popes of Avignon: A Century in Exile is not going to disabuse students of too many of the prejudices formed by looking at church history through the lens of the Protestant reformers, but it provides an interesting tour through a neglected period when the center of Western Christianity shifted to a small city in Provence.  From 1308 until 1378, as central Italy devolved into instability, the popes made their home in what is now southern France.  The period coincided with a time of French ascendency and the first of the Avignon popes, Clement V, was a virtual puppet of the French monarch.

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A Brief Review of

Chant of Death: A Father Malachi Mystery.
Diane Marquart Moore and Isabel Anders
Pinyon Publishing, 2010.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Douglas Connelly.

The setting for this intriguing little mystery is a fictional Benedictine Abbey in southern Louisiana.  The monks, under the direction of a talented (and egotistical) choirmaster, have produced a best-selling CD of religious chant.  Father Malachi, the spiritual-minded abbot, is doing his best to keep the priorities of the Abbey and its inhabitants focused on their true mission, while notoriety and media coverage and financial profits try to pull the monks in other directions.  It’s not long until events turn murderous and Father Malachi’s abilities are put to their supreme test.

The story is well-told and has its moments of captivating intensity, but I finished the book with three complaints.  First, the authors attempt to weave into the story a discussion of almost every issue facing the contemporary Roman Catholic Church.  Pedophilia, celibate clergy, homosexuality, using church money to pay claims against abusive priests, bishops who cover up such crimes, and the transformation of worship in a post-modern culture – all these issues get some level of exposure in a 150-page mystery novel!  Some of the issues are directly relevant to the story, but often the authors become a little heavy-handed in directing the story or the dialogue to get to the issues.  I felt a little “preached to” at times.

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“A Spring of Water in a Burning Wasteland

A Review of
St. Francis (Christian Encounters Series)
by Robert West.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.


St. Francis (Christian Encounters Series)
Robert West.
Paperback: Thomas Nelson, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

St Francis - Christian Encounters Series - Robert WestAt some point, the editors of the “Christian Encounters” biography series from Thomas Nelson must have faced the dilemma of whether or not to include a volume on St. Francis.  On one hand, as perhaps the most recognized figured within Christianity outside the first century, he would certainly merit inclusion among the other notable Christians in this series.  However, as such a renowned and recognized figure, the question of whether the world really needs yet another biography of Francis must have crossed the editors’ minds. Of course, we know now that they did indeed choose to include a biography of Francis and Robert West’s work does not disappoint, offering us an enjoyable and educational introduction not only to St. Francis, but also to the world in which he lived, at the height of the medieval era.  West’s biography is neither literary – like the tales of Francis’s life penned by Chesterton or Kazantzakis – nor hagiography (like, for instance, Brother Ugolino’s The Little Flowers of St. Francis), neither is it a lifeless history text full of facts about Francis.  West’s biography, instead, is a fine example of what I would call narrative history.   Written with careful attention to language, one can imagine this account being told aloud in the oral tradition, and yet it is also attentive to what is known historically about Francis and the times in which he lived, and is careful not to mythologize him.  West’s biography is one of the finest introductory biographies of St. Francis that I have encountered, and would be an enjoyable read even for students as young as middle school.

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A Brief Review of
Introducing Catholic Social Thought.
J.
Milburn Thompson.
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Bill van Loon.

Though many in the evangelical world are newly discovering the importance of social engagement, our Catholic brothers and sisters have a long history worth exploring. In the new book Introducing Catholic Social Thought, part of a series directed toward both college students and general readers, J. Millburn Thompson guides us through this rich history.

The content of the book is presented in a way that is intended to make the topic of Catholic social thought approachable and easy to digest. Thompson begins by distinguishing between teaching and thought. Teaching focuses on the explanation of the major documents of the Roman Catholic Church that were written by popes and bishops. Thought takes into consideration the teaching and applies it to the social context.

Thompson says the Catholic social tradition brings the Christian faith to bear on relevant social issues. He says the book focuses on the spirit of Catholic social teaching rather than the letter. Thompson gives a lot of attention to the “social question” and response of the faith with the history and  content of Catholic social teaching used as foundational elements to the discussion. The primary way he does this is by including the stories of people and organizations who he believes incarnated Catholic social teaching.

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630303: The Franciscan Tradition A Brief Review of

The Franciscan Tradition

By Regis J. Armstrong, Ingrid J. Peterson & Phyllis Zagano.
Paperback: Liturgical Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by William Mills.

I always loved St. Francis. His strong determination to live a life of strict poverty amazes me. Francis set out to live the life of the gospel in a radical way; he never meant to start an entire religious order. Yet that is what happened, over time followers were attracted to Francis’ way of life, walking around the villages and towns of his native Umbria, begging for food and clothing while at the same time praying and preaching. The well-worn phrase “always preach the gospel, use words if you have to” has been attributed to Francis and offers us a concise depiction of his way of life.

This new volume published by Liturgical Press is a collection of seventeen short biographical sketches from famous Franciscans, both men and women. We need to remember that St. Claire was the female spiritual companion of Francis, and she was the one who started the women’s order that came to be known as the Poor Claires.  Each chapter in this book includes a short biographical sketch of the person followed by a short excerpt from their writings; a short series of journal entries, a few sermons, or excerpts from their theological writings. The book also includes a short bibliography as well as the Rule of the Franciscan Order.

As the sub-title states this book is one volume in a larger series on Spirituality in History. Other volumes consider the various religious orders in the Catholic Tradition. However, while reading I wondered “who is the main audience for this book?” Each chapter is very short with only a small sampling of material that did not promote diving too deeply into the life and writings of any person featured here, which was distracting. for me and would likely be so for other readers.  On the one hand it was interesting to read about the life of St. Anthony of Padua, for example, but at the same time I felt like I learned very little about him since the excerpt from his writings was so short. In a series like this, where one includes such a large volume of personalities, it would have been better to focus on fewer persons or include more writing samples and have a larger book. I could see this book being used in a college level course on Christian Spirituality, but the instructor would have to supplement the material for the course.

Overall I would recommend this book to readers interested specifically in the rich history of the Franciscan Tradition, but to those who want a book to sink your teeth into, a book that has both depth and breadth, this book is not for you.

 

“The Church and the Influences of Media”

A Review of
The Medium and the Light:
Reflections on Religion.
By Marshall McLuhan
.

Reviewed by Adam Newton.


The Medium and the Light:
Reflections on Religion.
Marshall McLuhan
.
Paperback: Wipf and Stock, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

THE MEDIUM AND THE LIGHT - Marshall McLuhanI would assert that more people are generally familiar with the phrase, “The medium is the message,” than they are with the name of the man who originally coined the concept. Marshall McLuhan, the late University Of Toronto professor and thinker, renowned in his time for his ground-breaking insights into media and communications theory, has developed since his passing a rather feverish cult following, mostly due to the writings of his protégés, most notably those of Neil Postman –  especially his seminal Amusing Ourselves To Death. What most people, including myself until recently, never understood about McLuhan was how he was able to reconcile his theoretical musings on how humanity absorbs media with his Roman Catholicism.

Enter The Medium And The Light, a collection of articles, letters, essays, and speeches from McLuhan’s archives that have been brought together and edited by Eric McLuhan and Jacek Szklarek. This cross-section of correspondence and conversations readily and aptly illuminates how McLuhan was able to balance his theology with his educational training and scholarly work. In fact, we learn early on in that he converted to Roman Catholicism as a result of reading and dissecting key medieval tomes while studying for and writing his doctoral thesis on the history of the trivium (rhetoric, dialectic, and grammar).  Split into four distinct parts – “Conversion,” “The Church’s Understanding Of Media,” “Vatican II, Liturgy, And The Media,” and “Tomorrow’s Church” – the book makes the case for how McLuhan unapologetically allowed his spiritual beliefs to infiltrate his media studies and vice versa.

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JH Yoder: NONVIOLENCEA Review of

Nonviolence: A Brief History.
John Howard Yoder.
Hardback: Baylor UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith

[ Click here to win a copy of this book!!!]

Over the last year, several previously unpublished works of John Howard Yoder have hit the shelves of bookstores.  The most recent in this series is a new volume from Baylor University, Nonviolence: A Brief History, which is comprised of the Warsaw lectures that he presented in Poland in May 1983.  There is much here that resembles other works by Yoder, particularly the recent books Christian Attitudes Toward War, Peace and Revolution ( Read our review )and The War of the Lamb ( Read our review ), as well as his classic work The Politics of Jesus.  In the first chapter, Yoder fleshes out the role of nonviolence in the work of Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi and also examines the influence that Tolstoy’s work had upon Gandhi.  This chapter is Yoder’s most thorough treatment of these key figures in the history of nonviolent thought.  Continue Reading…

 

A Brief Review of

Hope In An Age of Despair.
Albert Nolan.

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by R. Dean Hudgens.

Fr. Albert Nolan has been an important figure in South African liberation theology for several decades.  A twenty-fifth anniversary edition of his book Jesus Before Christianity was published in 2001.  This smaller volume (edited and introduced by Stan Muyebe) brings together articles, essays, and homilies from a variety of sources.  It represents a helpful introduction to Nolan’s life and work and contains a “selected bibliography” of his writings dating back to 1976.  Nolan has been a notable leader in the Catholic church and the Dominican Order in South Africa during the difficult years of apartheid and beyond.  He chose to remain there even when offered a distinguished ecclesiastical position in Rome.  He was a primary contributor to the 1985 Kairos Document which protested South African apartheid policy and provoked much attention around the world.  Nolan’s liberation theology is strongly christocentric in theory and mystical-prophetic in practice.  This collection provides a very wholistic perspective on his work as Nolan addresses the biblical basis for justice, the need for a life of prayer and contemplation, and the concrete spiritual and physical needs that continue to be manifest in South Africa today.  Speaking from a situation that once seemed so thoroughly without hope; a situation in which for so long the world saw the church at its oppressive worst; Nolan continues to speak with a unique authority as a representative of a faith-filled and courageous church, that has demonstrated the gospel at it’s liberating and reconciling best.  This is not a great book, but it comes from a great man with a great faith and an enduring hope.

 

A Brief Review of

The Spirituality of Community.
Adele Gonzalez.

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

I was very intrigued when I saw the title of Adele Gonzalez’s new book The Spirituality of Community.  It was a little disappointing, however, when I found that is was very distinctively written for Roman Catholic audiences, and although I appreciate the rich tradition of Catholicism, I have never been a member of the Roman Catholic church.  The Spirituality of Community was also written specifically for lay audiences, so Gonzalez is very careful to present her ideas in very basic theological language.  The latter half of the book, which focuses more specifically on community was of more interest to me.  Gonzalez seems to have a solid grasp the basic theology of church communities, and she communicates this theology in clear, simple terms.  For instance, she says:

If true community life depends on the growth and transformation of relationships, then differences and even conflict have to be and integral part of the journey.  The temptation in some Christian circles is to deny or conflict as a contradiction to the Gospel lifestyle.  To dissipate the tension that conflict creates, we often foster a “pseudo-peace” that makes us feel less guilty about our frustrations or even anger (105-106).

The best part of the book, however, is perhaps the epilogue, “Dreaming a Christian Community.”  In these final pages of the book, Gonzalez dreams of Christian community that follows more deeply together in the Way of Jesus, and which is more than just a collection of individuals.

The Spirituality of Community is a fine and challenging book and I hope its message spreads like wildfire among its intended audience of Catholic laypeople and even perhaps from there to all corners of the Kingdom of God.

 

“Toward A Historical, Christian
Intellectual Infrastructure”

A Review of
God, Philosophy, Universities:
A Selective History of
the Catholic Philosophical Tradition.

by Alasdair MacIntyre.

 Reviewed by Mark Eckel.

 

God, Philosophy, Universities:
A Selective History of
the Catholic Philosophical Tradition.

Alasdair Macintyre.
Hardback: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.
Buy now:   [ Amazon ]

 

What good is philosophy anyway?  Those not interested in the life of the mind often sidestep discussions that probe human ways of thinking.  Yet the Church, celebrating philosophy as from the hand of the personal, eternal Creator (Prov. 8), should honor the “love of wisdom” more than anyone.  Indeed, for Christian higher education, proper thinking about how we learn and live is essential in training future generations.  Alasdair MacIntyre’s masterwork After Virtue has now been augmented in his newest work God, Philosophy, Universities as character education is given here a historical, Christian intellectual infrastructure.

 

Philosophy is “of crucial importance for human beings in every culture . . . philosophy aids in answering the seminal questions: “Who am I?,” “Why am I here?,” and “What happens after life?” (165). This basic formation of thought must be accessible for the common person.  MacIntyre’s chapter on Augustine, for instance, clearly shows the importance and benefits within the limits of philosophy.  While pursuit of wisdom in itself cannot give adequate knowledge of God nor lead us to Truth, “the project of understanding is not only one for those engaged in teaching, studying, and enquiring within universities.  Every one of us, in our everyday lives, needs in a variety of ways to learn and to understand” (69).  For the Christian “the ends of knowing and of loving God” are a pastoral guide for “plain persons” so that:

 

By developing habits of obedience to the natural law, habits that are also expressed in the exercise of the virtues, we direct ourselves toward the achievement not only of the common goods of social life, but also of our individual good, that good by the achievement of which our lives are perfected and completed (89).

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