July-August 2002

The ABCs of Choosing a Good Husband.  By Stephen Wood. Family Life Center Publications (800-705-6131). 140 pages. $12.95.

We live in an age of premarital sex and cohabitation — to the point where some no longer even seek marriage, only the emotional and sexual perks of involvement. “Bob and I are in a relationship,” an acquaintance announced with the flush of joy of a newly engaged woman. Sex is so much a part of the dating scene that even Catholics dating Catholics are chastity-challenged.

Women who wish to date according to the mind of Christ with the object of finding a spouse will find no better guide than The ABCs of Choosing a Good Husband. Stephen Wood creates the proper framework for dating by proposing that all dating be approached as a courtship (Connie Marshner, a Catholic, and Joshua Harris, an evangelical, are among those who also perceive the dangers of dating when the goal of marriage is not part of the picture). “Is dating’s pattern of bonding and breaking up better preparation for lifelong marriage, or for today’s familiar cycle of marriage, divorce, and remarriage?” asks Wood. The alternative is for a woman to wait until she’s ready to get married, and then to date only a man who is also looking for a marriage partner. This eliminates dating in high school and at least the first couple years of college, but obviously does not preclude socializing in a mixed setting, such as the ice-skating parties and taffy pulls of yesteryear. As a logical extension of Wood’s thought, high school proms would be abolished and folk dancing substituted.

Those who follow Wood’s concise, well thought out guidelines will experience chastity during courtship, including the engagement period. Then they will be clear-headed enough to examine with a potential spouse a host of topics addressed by Wood, such as ways to get to know the heart of a person, the need for a shared spiritual relationship that includes praying together, agreement on money management, and openness to children — even many children. He might have added the importance of finding a solution to the pervasive noxious influence of television, either by forgoing TV viewing altogether or by setting strict limits, thereby preserving time for family communication and joint activities.

Evangelicals who convert to Catholicism usually make outstanding Catholics, and Wood is no exception. A former pastor, he often underscores his points with verses from the Bible — and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He recognizes the importance of the Christian’s walk with God and the fact that marriage is a joint walk — and a sacrament rich in graces.

Single women will obviously benefit greatly from this book, as well as single men interested in solid marriage preparation material. My husband and I have shared it with our daughters in high school and college so they can acquire attitudes and expectations likely to lead to a happy, holy union. Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodby has sold 800,000 copies, undoubtedly largely among evangelicals. Wood’s guide should do at least as well among Catholics.

- Inez Fitzgerald Storck



The Madonnas of Europe: Pilgrimages to the Great Marian Shrines.  By Janusz Rosikon. Ignatius. 300 pages. $49.95.

“Behold the Mother,” declares Jesus in the Gospel of St. John (19:27). Subsequently, for 20 centuries, Christians around the world have done just that, displaying their love and devotion for the Mother of God by building sanctuaries to honor the Virgin Mary — sanctuaries in which believers might seek their own spiritual renewal.

The Madonnas of Europe is a wonderful book with hundreds of color photographs of Marian shrines in 28 countries throughout western and eastern Europe.

Internationally recognized photographer Janusz Rosikon has the unique ability to make the reader feel that he, too, is part of the pilgrimage. Rosikon draws the reader in by focusing on local customs and traditions, the richness of regional art and architecture, and the devotion of pilgrims.

- Chris Hoffman



God Underneath: Spiritual Memoirs of a Catholic Priest.  By Edward L. Beck. Doubleday. 231 pages. $21.95.

Among my motivations for reading this memoir by a popular Passionist retreat master was its possible suitability for a new friend. She had been through an abusive relationship, and I intended to use the book as a means to nudge her back to the Church. The book didn’t quite meet my hopes.

For one thing, I’m tired of priests who don’t sign off their names with “Father” or “Reverend.” Yes, Father Beck emphasizes that at the end of the day he’s still content with his vocation, prepared to stick with it for the balance of his earthly life. And I was extremely pleased with the chapter on how he resisted the advances of an energetic and amorous businesswoman. But Fr. Beck didn’t play well in Peoria — literally. He describes how a weeklong mission in the Diocese of Peoria lasted only one night because the host pastor and his assistants were not supportive of his opening homily, and asked for written copies of subsequent sermons. This chapter leads him into his most sustained criticisms of the Church: that she is too rigid, too remote from the laity, and possibly — that worst of condemnations — insensitive. I can only guess that the incident happened while the very orthodox Bishop John Myers was Peoria’s chief shepherd — the same Bishop Myers who was recently appointed Archbishop of Newark.

Meanwhile, Fr. Beck’s autobiography is clearly designed to spread the message that “priests are people too” — even priests who go on 30-day retreats in Big Sur or hang out with Carly Simon. If his intention is to inspire non-Catholics to enter the Church, or bring back fallen-away Catholics like my friend, his methods run contrary to the evidence of the past two decades of American Catholicism. He doesn’t understand that traditional spiritual practices, supported by loyalty to the Magisterium, are bringing people to the Faith, not the failed experiments of the post-Vatican II era. His tribute to a seminary friend who chases after every “peace and justice” cause was unpersuasive. In any case, I’ll have to find other ways to bring my friend back home.

- Gerard Einhaus



Calvin: A Biography.  By Bernard Cottret. Eerdmans. 376 pages. $28.

As Luther dismantled Christian unity in the West, John Calvin was using the scattered pieces around him to fashion his own version of Christianity and church-state relations. The design built by Calvin would prove to be a complex construction of altered theological principles, post-scholastic philosophical assumptions, and almost uncompromising political expectations. To explain Calvin’s life and influence, Bernard Cottret, Professor of Social Sciences and Humanities at Versailles-Saint-Quentin University in France, has written a highly detailed yet very accessible biography. Originally published in 1995, it is now finally available in English.

The actual name of John Calvin (1509-64) was Jean Cauvin. He was born into a modest family in the shadow of the beautiful Notre-Dame Cathedral in Noyon, France. Raised in a lively, loving home, young John left for Paris around 1521 to begin rhetoric and grammar studies. After eight years of academic immersion in classical languages and the best humanism of his day, the now-Latinized Calvinus traveled to Orléans to study law. After a work on Seneca marked his publishing debut, the lawyer and humanist returned to Paris in 1533, only to distance himself more and more from the faith of his childhood. With the 1534 Affair of the Placards, in which pamphleteers papered Paris with signs denouncing Rome and the Mass, Calvin’s allegiances were now firmly with the Protestant cause. Fleeing Paris after the disruptive Affair, Calvin found refuge in Basel and there published the first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Traveling to Geneva in 1536, Calvin the itinerant scholar became Calvin the institutional reformer. Cottret puts to rest the popular idea that Calvin brought reform to Geneva, for the Geneva which Calvin entered had already undergone sweeping anti-Catholic changes. By 1535 “the last vestiges of the Catholic cult were sold or suppressed.” In Geneva civil power and church were one, and with Calvin’s help groups of dizainiers (district wardens) were established to go from door to door to ensure that every inhabitant subscribed to the 1536 Confession of Faith. Beggars were quickly run out of town, Sunday was legislated as the only official public holiday, restrictions on clothing and hairstyle were legislated, and laws were enacted enabling preachers to ban recalcitrants from the city. After a brief stay in Strasbourg (1538-41), Calvin returned to Geneva and remained there to guide one of the most imposing social and ecclesial programs ever. After 1555 no one dared openly contradict him. “The crushing of his internal enemies (Ami Perrin) and the victory over the heretics (Michael Servetus) left Calvin with a free hand, at least in Geneva. Calvin had won. He enjoyed international standing; the Reformation he impersonated…appeared as an alternative form of Protestantism, distinct from German Lutheranism.” So exactly what was this form of Protestantism?

Cottret is unfortunately nowhere clear, but does suggest that at the heart of Calvin’s reforms was his disdain for the sacramental worship of the Catholic Church. As Calvin saw it, “there is no conformity or similitude between the Lord’s Supper and the papal Mass, any more than between fire and water…. I deny to you that Jesus Christ instituted the Mass, but rather, despite him, it was forged by Satan in order to destroy the Lord’s Supper…. There are also manifest idolatries, not only because the bread is adored in it, but because they pray for the dead, they take refuge in the merits and intercessions of the saints, and do many similar things that God rejects.”

Calvin desired to use Scripture to unite the faithful with God in a personal and immediate relationship in which there was no need for the interceding role of priest or Church. When one thus came to know the true God stripped of centuries of popish accouterments, Calvin announced, one meets the God who stands entirely above human understanding and expectation. Herein lies the heart of Calvin’s theology of double predestination, that some persons are predestined to Heaven and others Hell. Calvin painted a picture of a God who seemed to enjoy dashing human reason, freedom, and hope.

Of George Bernard Shaw, Chesterton once wrote that he “has this great quality about him, that men are for him or against him. You cannot write an impartial life of Shaw any more than of Mahomet.” Likewise, Cottret’s work does not escape Calvin’s defective theology.

For example, if Cottret’s claim that Calvin “understood very well the situation of early Christianity” is accurate, how could he have dismissed Christ’s Eucharistic presence, Apostolic Succession, Tradition, and the authority of Rome as the distinguishing marks of orthodoxy? Furthermore, nowhere does Cottret point out the obvious inconsistencies involved in the sola Scriptura position, nor does he attempt to explain the hermeneutic behind Calvin’s treating the Bible as the only trustworthy font of revelation. Also, Calvin’s degradation of the created order runs throughout almost every one of his theological positions, but is nowhere examined. His reducing Christ’s physical presence to a spiritual one (as if the incarnate Christ were only spirit!), his rants against Church art and pious practices, and the loss of analogy when speaking of God and His ways all bespeak the Calvinist adage finitum capax non infiniti, the finite cannot mediate the Infinite. The reader is left wanting to hear more from Calvin: Why can’t the created order mediate the Divine? Why does my personal belief determine Christ’s presence and not vice versa? Why is the living Church not recognized as selecting the Scriptures? And so on. These are not minor omissions. For one interested in the life of Calvin and 16th-century Europe, Cottret paints an alluring albeit incomplete picture.

- David Vincent Meconi





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