April 2001

Who’s Who in the Bible.  By Peter Calvocoressi. Penguin. 200 pages. $19.95.

A Month-by-Month Guide to Entertaining Angels.  By Mark G. Boyer. ACTA Publications (4848 N. Clark St., Chicago IL 60640). 159 pages. $11.95.

Penguin Books has reissued its Who’s Who in the Bible in a new illustrated edition. From Aaron to Zophar, the entries are readable and informative, paraphrasing the biblical sources in accessible (though sometimes pedestrian) language. Each entry contains a reference to book and chapter that enables one to go directly to the source passages in the Bible. Seminal figures such as Moses and Joshua; Saul, David, and Solomon; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Jacob’s son Joseph, who so faithfully served Egypt’s pharaoh; the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah; the Apostles, the Evangelists, Paul of Tarsus, and, of course, Jesus of Nazareth all receive the extensive and detailed coverage that is their due.

In many cases, the biographical entries do not end at the deaths of the individuals being identified. Because “the Bible’s main characters have lived on in the imagination of later generations and in their works of art,” the author concludes each biography, where possible, with a brief record of the significant works of art, music, or literature that its subject has inspired. As an added feature, approximately 130 fine paintings, mostly from the Medieval or Renaissance periods, are beautifully reproduced. Maps, genealogies, a short glossary, and a helpful index add to its usefulness.

Though Who’s Who in the Bible covers the Apocrypha as well as the Old and New Testaments, its entries do not extend beyond the realm of the human: No listing will be found for the angels Gabriel, Michael, or Raphael, for example. To anyone who wishes to fill this gap, I recommend Mark Boyer’s Entertaining Angels, which collects and reprints many key Bible passages in which angels (named and unnamed) appear, along with penetrating reflections that illuminate the themes imbedded in each quotation. The chosen passages are presented in calendrical order, each associated with the date of the holy day most closely related to that angel’s appointed appearance. Boyer begins with the three angels who visited Abraham by the oaks of Mamre and closes with those angels sent out by the Son of Man “to gather his elect from the four winds” at the end of the ages. And he does not forget the angel with the fiery sword, which was perceived first by Balaam’s ass and only later by Balaam himself.

Either book makes a perfect gift.

- Elaine Hallett



Reconciling Faith and Reason: Apologists, Evangelists, and Theologians in a Divided Church.  By Thomas P. Rausch, S.J. The Liturgical Press. 134 pages. $14.95.

Fr. Thomas Rausch is a knowledgeable and sympathetic guide to contemporary Catholicism, but this useful book is hobbled by its penchant for viewing tensions between faith and reason as disputes between (medieval) Rome and (modern) Washington. Readers who view those tensions differently may be exasperated by Rausch’s reflexive mistrust of papal authority.

A professor of theology at Loyola Marymount University and former rector of its Jesuit community, Rausch ascribes much of the blame for tensions in the Church to conservative stubbornness: “Not every theological critique of a belief, practice, or tradition is an attack on the Catholic tradition itself, the tradition with a capital ‘T.’” But when theologians do attack Catholic Tradition, he says so.

The argument can be made that sniping between Catholic factions is an echo of the ancient quarrel between Martha and Mary over how best to welcome Jesus, with progressives assuming Martha’s hostess chores and traditionalists following Mary’s more contemplative example. But like many academics, Rausch ignores that explanation and faults Pope John Paul II and his “expansion of magisterial authority beyond the way it was understood by Vatican Two.” (Never mind that Karol Wojtyla helped write several documents of Vatican II and is at least as qualified as anyone to interpret them.)

The chapter on Eucharist and liturgy is especially interesting. While Rausch believes that having the Consecration become the formative center of Catholic worship was an unfortunate development, he readily admits that “disproportionate emphasis on the role of the liturgical assembly risks reducing the role of liturgy to a purely horizontal dimension.” Because what he aptly describes as our “subjective” and “relativistic” culture is more comfortable with egalitarianism than with hierarchical reality, I found myself wishing that Rausch had stronger misgivings in this area. As Jonah Goldberg has pointed out, Academy Award-winning films in almost every major category for 1999 “involved some variation on the theme that external moral authority is illegitimate, or that personally designed morality is superior.” Goldberg asserts that this is because “the idea that we are all our own priests is celebrated throughout the popular culture.” Rausch would agree, but is too busy lobbing gentlemanly darts at the Roman curia to develop similar insights of his own.

Rausch cites the U.S. bishops’ long-frustrated efforts to introduce an “inclusive”-language Lectionary as an example of how national episcopal conferences have been “stymied by higher authority.” Now, one would expect the Vatican to be sensitive to the implications of liturgical language, but it’s a long way from noting that to finding Popemobile tread marks on draft copies of episcopal documents. By blaming authority for problems with the implementation of inclusive language, Rausch inadvertently ignores grassroots refusal to toe the progressive line. He doesn’t seem to realize that the average parishioner knows full well that “man” as a species includes male and female. In short, the debate over inclusive language is a poor example of authoritarian meddling, because amateur linguists in the pew object to tortured syntax at least as strenuously as conservative cardinals do.

Turning from higher authority to its lower-echelon allies, Rausch finds something “admirable and appealing” about Karl Keating, Peter Kreeft, and the editors of the NOR, most of whom write “not as systematicians, exegetes, or biblical theologians but as deeply engaged believers.” His criticism of these “New Apologists” rests upon the assumption that they are Catholic fundamentalists whose “antimodern, precritical” approach is ultimately misguided. “An apologetics built on precritical theology remains a house built on sand,” Rausch declares, coming as close to a loud harrumph as a scholar with a reputation for irenic thought can.

Rausch takes special exception to Keating. In another installment of an argument the two men have had since 1997, when they addressed Los Angeles seminarians in back-to-back speeches, Rausch dismisses Keating’s contention in a tract that the New Testament was written before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Only by reading the same tract did this reviewer learn that several reputable scholars share Keating’s opinion.

Rausch suggests that Catholicism could benefit from more emphasis on the “reception” of doctrine. Studies on reception have “helped us to appreciate better that the magisterium speaks for the Church, rather than to it,” he writes. That the same principle has been applied to the relationship between politicians and their constituents in representative governments hints at an issue agitating the Church: whether the Petrine ministry is representative or inherently authoritative (and necessarily at odds with cultures like ours).

Although Rausch doesn’t make an explicit link between reception and his sense of frustration, and doesn’t give reception the extended treatment it deserves, the concept of reception explains his frustration with the Roman curia, which at root is the same frustration he has with the New Apologists. In Rausch’s calculus, neither group pays enough attention to doctrinal development, both groups are guilty of overreach, and only contemporary theology “makes every effort to dialog with culture.” That contemporary theology is not monolithic and that Rausch does not give religious conservatives enough credit for cultural engagement is painfully obvious.

But Rausch is more honest than most about his biases, and does try to be fair. In the end, this thought-provoking book is a worthwhile read for well-educated Catholics, even though it should be read with caution.

- Patrick O’Hannigan



The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature.  By Mitchell Kalpakgian. Neumann Press. 145 pages. $18.

Feminists and other purveyors of popular culture often would have us believe that children derive no good, and possibly some harm, from much of classic children’s literature. After all, there really is no Prince Charming who will rescue us from drudgery, wicked stepparents, or our own folly. We live in a cruel world, in which everything must be achieved on one’s own, regardless of the cost to others.

Kalpakgian offers a different view. Children, he says, can be brought to an appreciation of truth, beauty, and goodness by the example of characters in stories such as Tom Brown’s School Days or Little Women. To deprive children of these sources is to deprive them of an important building block of adult understanding and virtue. Many tales, of course, have biblical origins.

Although primarily a compendium of multiple sources, the book discusses selected stories at length, explaining in each case the mystery of life it reveals: the nature of wishes, family life, kindness, luck, Divine Providence. Charming illustrations from several early editions of Grimm and other classics dot the pages, making this collection a joy to look at as well as read. The author, a frequent contributor to NOR on these and other themes, has assembled a lovely group of essays reaffirming the timeless virtues found in fairy tales, children’s poetry, and fables.

- Elizabeth C. Hanink



The Way of the Lamb: The Spirit of Childhood and the End of the Age.  By John Saward. Ignatius. 177 pages. $13.95.

Saward asserts that “the sin of the century is the sin against the child.” With child abuse, contraception, and abortion, the modern world has declared war on children.

Christianity stands alone in its strong reverence for children. Indeed, Christ was the first to say: “To such as these belongs the kingdom of heaven,” and “Unless you become as little children you will not enter the kingdom of God.” In modern times, St. Thérèse of Lisieux taught, through her Little Way, a path of childlike confidence, humility, and love which could lead any soul to Heaven.

Saward examines the lives and works of several Catholic writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who rose up in defense and celebration of the spirit of childhood. These modern-day prophets are principally St. Thérèse of Lisieux and G.K. Chesterton, as well as Charles Péguy, Georges Bernanos, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Saward offers their lives and teachings as an antidote to the modern child-devouring dragon, for they proclaim the way of spiritual childhood, which is the way of the Lamb.

- Lisa Klein





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