Volume > Issue > Briefly: June 1987

June 1987

In Peter's Footsteps: Learning to be a Disciple

By M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O.

Publisher: Doubleday

Pages: 143

Price: $12.95

Review Author: E. Christian Kopff

After 2,000 years Peter and Paul still haunt Western civilization. In recently published books, Donald Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1974-1980, and M. Basil Pennington, a monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Massachusetts, try to explain why. Paul and In Peter’s Footsteps are strangely similar. Both authors give us curiously bland versions of these two dominant figures in the history of the Church.

Coggan believes so sincerely in the key Christian doctrines that one is deeply moved by his devotion. But he spoils it by remembering his obligations to modernity; he fears that Modern Man will have a problem with St. Paul. Why did Paul not speak out more forcibly on “issues that cried out for protest,” such as the position of women in first-century Rome? In I Corinthians 14:34 Paul says, “Women should not address the assembly….” Coggan has two responses.

First: Maybe Paul did not write this passage. It is found after verse 40 “in some manuscripts” and it interrupts the argument. As a professional Greek and Latin text critic, I am amused to see how easy textual criticism is made out to be here. One manuscript is as good as another, it seems, and there is no need to evaluate their distinctive differences. (The Archbishop reminds me, a Lutheran, of the pastor I once heard explaining to his congregation on Easter Sunday the significance of the multiple endings of Mark’s Gospel. He concluded that there is no biblical evidence for the Resurrection of our Lord.) Presumably because it would hurt his argument, Coggan does not mention that Paul says almost the same thing in I Timothy 2. Or is he willing to deny the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals? Coggan writes: “There is a remarkable passage in the first Epistle to Timothy in which the writer….” Note: not Paul, but “the writer.” (Happily, Coggan notes the many women Paul greeted in his letters, as well as those he worked with. We have plenty of evidence for Paul’s friendship with women and his use of their distinctive ministries.)

Coggan has another way to handle Paul’s “sexism.” The Apostle, it seems, was protecting the women of Corinth from the disrespect they would encounter from the men of that rough port city if they started running church services themselves. (Remember the problems American girls have when they wear short skirts in the Near East.) Drawing upon Karl Rahner, Coggan contends that “we can say confidently and with adequately certain historical knowledge that in the cultural and sociological situation at the time Jesus and the early church could not in practice have considered and still less set up any female congregational leaders or presidents of the eucharistic celebration.”

But there were female leaders of cults in the wealthy and rootless world of the high Roman Empire, just as in our own wealthy and rootless society. Paul does not say that female leadership is unthinkable – for then he would not have thought of it – but addresses a number of arguments against it. He rejects the practice because of current liturgical usage (that is, an adiaphoron), the Order of Creation, and Nature (physis).

But why kick up a fuss? Coggan’s book is pious and well meaning. The author simply wants to avoid an unnecessary skandalon for the contemporary reader. But then, the Gospel is a skandalon.

Basil Pennington sees the West’s young people seeking religious solace in the East and wants to tell them that their own tradition is vital and lively, too. He tries to do this by meditating on some of the famous passages about Peter. He fails, I think, not only because of a trivializing modernism, but also because he does not trust the story.

Peter is one of those figures in the New Testament whom we can see developing clearly from one stage to another. He personifies the early Church’s traumas and dilemmas and our own. We do not need his story reduced to the level of a Ted Koppel interview, nor do we want important parts left out. Pennington does both.

Paul: Portrait of a Revolutionary

By Donald Coggan

Publisher: Crossroad

Pages: 256

Price: $9.95

Review Author: Stuart Gudowitz

The years immediately preceding 1984 were troublesome for some self-styled social critics who seemingly anticipated with relish the fulfillment of Orwell’s “prophecies.” As long as the year 1984 loomed in the distance as a target date for whatever ism or movement critics wished to defame, “Orwellian” retained its currency as a chilling epithet. When 1984 finally arrived in the West without the overt mind control and state dominance Orwell satirized, there was a discernible letdown.

If 1984 has come and gone and Big Brother is not here, the question must be asked: How then is one to read Orwell? Robert Mulvihill’s somewhat mistitled collection attempts to address that question. The contributors to this volume were brought together to consider the extent to which American culture resembles the “Oceania” Orwell depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four. In fact, with one or two exceptions, each writer eventually chooses to turn his attention to Orwell, the man.

Readers of Orwell often find what they want to find. For example, Orwell fuels the I-told-you-so social pundit who discerns the sweeping shadow of Big Brother in every attempt – from the Left or the Right – to articulate a public morality. The temptation is thus great to use Orwell rather than understand him. What we should ask of a book about Orwell is that it combat this tendency, refusing to tell us what we think we already know about him. With one or two exceptions, this collection succeeds admirably; its essayists provide the reader with historical perspective and textual analysis that genuinely rivet our attention to the Orwell who really was, and not merely our familiar friend who tells us what we would like to hear. Of chief assistance in this effort are Bernard Crick’s two contributions to the volume.

Crick makes a misreading of Nineteen Eighty-Four well nigh impossible with his thorough and exhaustive exposition of its key themes. His verdict? Nineteen Eighty-Four is neither deterministic prophecy nor nihilistic misanthrophy; rather it is a “satire of continuing events,” which focuses on the division of the world by superstates, the abuse and degradation of language, the untrustworthiness of intellectuals, and the control of history for political purposes. Crick’s second essay (a running commentary amidst a photographic essay of Orwelbpand Robert Coles’s lucid discussion of Orwell’s “sensibility” give the reader a cogent biographical overview of his life.

While Crick and Coles give the volume its learned center, other contributors sharpen the reader’s sense of the larger Orwellian canon. Hugh Kenner’s rhetorical analysis of Orwell’s prose is masterful. Murray Rothbard delineates Orwell’s prescience in recognizing the technologies that undergird the cold war, while Sheldon Wolin thoughtfully examines the place of privacy and individuality in Orwell’s understanding of freedom.

James Billington’s concluding essay, examining as it does the 20th century’s preoccupation with absolute power, places in critical perspective the common themes at work in Orwell’s writings. A modern-day Ecclesiastes, Orwell documented the futility of much human experience; he was an eyewitness to the emptiness of community, individuality, and freedom in the absence of a perspective sub specie aeternitatis. Billington fittingly closes the collection with a meditation on the impassioned secularized calls for “liberty, fraternity, and equality” the West has witnessed since the French Revolution. At the end of the 20th century, Billington reminds us, “lies the memory and example of a corporate calling that came from the God of ancient scripture, not the leader of a modern movement: the call to be special people by building justice in time rather than just extending power in space.”

Reflections on America, 1984: An Orwell Symposium

By Robert Mulvihill

Publisher: University of Georgia Press

Pages: 221

Price: $12.95

Review Author:

For Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzell the primary cause of the West’s incredible wealth has been the freedom to innovate, a situation created by the absence of political or religious control over economic activities. They make an intelligent case, one far removed from the cartoonish apologias of the ideologues of entrepreneurship.

Are Rosenberg and Birdzell correct? This side of the grave at least, such a complex historical issue is unlikely to be resolved.

But suppose the authors are right. Are we then forced to bow to free market economics in order to maintain innovation and hence increase wealth? Of course not, for other goods important to human dignity and social sanity (say, security of employment or stability of residence) should not be automatically sacrificed on the altar of increased wealth. More broadly put, it is irresponsible to free even legitimate economic activities from the broader social and human context (which necessarily includes the politicab~ Catholics need to recall their Church’s condemnation of competition as the governing factor in the economy. They should remember as well that riches pose a danger to salvation and that one can be a servant of God or money, but not both.

How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World

By Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzell Jr.

Publisher: Basic

Pages: 353

Price: $19.95

Review Author:

The mesmerizing dream of utopia (literally, “no place” on earth) has wrought untold suffering in our century. Visionaries have scoured the earth in search of the illusive promised land of felicity and love. While Stalin savaged the Ukraine in the 1930s, they trumpeted the emergence of a workers’ paradise in the Soviet Union, and they blithely shouted hosannas to Mao’s murderous regime. Throughout the 20th century men have cried “peace and justice,” while lending their approval to the creation of deserts where the bones of those who resisted procrustean schemes bleach in the sun.

Peter Hawkins endeavors to reclaim the Utopian dream by prying it loose from “the totalitarian urge that hides within the impulse toward perfection.” From Plato to B.F. Skinner, Western man’s reveries have resonated with the call for earthly bliss. At its best this vision has served to rebuke the complacent and prod man to action against the age-old ills – war, hunger, oppression. At its worst it has unleashed a totalitarian fury that has choked the world with blood. From the utopian tradition Hawkins seeks to salvage “a dynamic rather than a design,” a dynamic that engenders the “resolve to change social structures on behalf of the common good.” To this he couples the Christian’s knowledge that the perfect society – the eternal New Jerusalem – is a gift from God, not the work of human hands. By holding the utopian dream and the Christian hope in tension, one can strive to establish justice without succumbing to the notion that perfection can exist on this earth. Hawkins’s course is fraught with danger and conducive to frustration, but to his credit, he cuts a path between Promethean arrogance on the one side and do-nothing fatalism on the other.

Getting Nowhere: Christian Hope and Utopian Dream

By Peter S. Hawkins

Publisher: Cowley Publications

Pages: 133

Price: $8.95

Review Author:

The year 1983 marked the 150th Anniversary of the Oxford Movement, which did so much to rehabilitate the word “Catholic” in both the Anglican and Protestant worlds. This book, a slightly revised version of the author’s Martin C. D’Arcy Lectures at Oxford University in that year, is an extensive, subtle, and highly valuable study of the terms “catholicity,” “catholic,” and “Catholic.”

It is not surprising that the latter-day ecumenical movement among Protestants has witnessed a reawakened interest in the concept Catholic.” Avery Dulles, both ecumenically sensitive and robustly (Roman) Catholic, points to the linguistic affinities between the words “ecumenical” and “Catholic,” stating that “the ecumenical movement might also have been called the Catholic movement, so closely is it connected with the restoration of Catholic unity,” and citing U.S. Episcopalian theologian John Knox to the effect that the Catholic consolidation of the second century was the ecumenical movement of early Christianity.

It would seem that the allergy of anti-Catholic fundamentalists to ecumenism is well founded. As Dulles shows, “the coming Great Church cannot be one and holy unless it is prepared likewise to be Catholic and apostolic,” and the terms “Roman” and “Catholic” imply each other/for “Rome is the centre…Catholic is the periphery…. There can be no centre without a circumference, no circumference without a centre.”

The Catholicity of the Church

By Avery Dulles

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 199

Price: $18.95

Review Author:

Controversy pursues Edward Luttwak like a passel of hounds crashing through the underbrush after a coon. Or does the coon, in this case, chase the hounds? To the Left he is Darth Vader with a degree from Johns Hopkins; the Right – with the exception of the bureaucrats, careerists, and Uriah Heeps in the Pentagon – hails him as the prophet of muscular military assertiveness.

On the Meaning of Victory reveals Luttwak to be a man of erudition and insight. Although he growls at the Soviets, he is no lunatic militarist, madly cackling “Bombs away!” His reflections on military ineptitude, conventional and nuclear warfare, strategy, and diplomacy bear the marks of arduous study and painstaking thought. He is not to be dismissed blithely by those who think that platitudinous moral posturing will suffice to make the world a safer place.

On the Meaning of Victory: Essays on Strategy

By Edward N. Luttwak

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Pages: 315

Price: $18.95

Review Author:

What a banal title! Who doesn’t know that “talking about God is dangerous” in the Soviet Union? Hold on, smug and gentle reader: this title embodies not banality, but a wonderfully piquant irony. Tatiana Goricheva discovered this truth not in the Soviet Union, official headquarters of a persecuting atheism, but in the West, after expulsion from her native land in 1980. While watching a slick, glib TV preacher, she suddenly realized that God-talk is risky business. “Each word must be a sacrifice – filled to the brim with authenticity. Otherwise it is better to keep silent.” Think of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker, and Robert Schuller – or any number of unctuous liberal clergymen who regularly pop up on talk shows and the evening news, prating about everything from sex therapy to Sandinistas. Each word a sacrifice? Then read Goricheva’s description of the Russian Orthodox startsy, the wise and holy men who console, counsel, and heal under the very noses of KGB plug-uglies. Get the drift?

Goricheva recounts her empty, sordid youth, her conversion to Orthodoxy, her suffering for the faith; she details as well the Russian religious awakening that poses a far graver threat to Soviet totalitarianism than do Star Wars or Pershing missiles. Of Russia in 1980, she writes that it “is going through the ninth circle of hell and at the same time the luckiest people in the world live in it.” To comprehend this paradox is to grasp what it means to be a Christian.

Talking About God Is Dangerous: The Diary of a Russian Dissident

By Tatiana Goricheva

Publisher: Crossroad

Pages: 103

Price: $11.95

Review Author:

In January 1914 Helene Iswolsky, daughter of the Russian ambassador to France, debuted in St. Petersburg society and danced gaily into the morning hours as Tsar Nicholas presided over the ball. Some would say that the rest of her life entailed a long and heartbreaking descent from this pinnacle: loss of wealth and position, banishment from her homeland, threadbare existence among the emigres in France, flight to America to escape Hitler’s tide of terror, the deaths of those she loved, and finally, her own death in 1975, her body laid to rest in a borrowed grave.

Helene Iswolsky lost more than most people ever hope to find, but in losing all, she gained all. The Bolshevik Revolution flung her from privilege and security into exile, penury, and anguish, but out of this came her struggle to find God, a search that led her to the Catholic Church in 1923. Her conversion transformed a decline in worldly fortunes into an ascent toward the culminating spiritual good: union with God.

In France between the world wars she participated in the Catholic renewal with Jacques Maritain and his illustrious circle; became close friends with the Russian Orthodox philosopher Nicholas Berdiaev; and, in the company of such fellow exiles as Alexander Kerensky and the poet Tsvetaeva, kept a flame of hope and love burning for Mother Russia. In America she fostered the study of Russian literature and spirituality, promoted amity between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and founded the ecumenical journal The Third Hour. Her friendship with Dorothy Day helped assuage the pain from the loss of friends to Stalin and Hitler. She died at peace with God, and as an oblate of St. Benedict, she was buried in the habit of a Benedictine nun.

No Time to Grieve: An Autobiographical Journey

By Helene Iswolsky

Publisher: Hippocrene Books

Pages: 277

Price: $19.95

Review Author:

Like Chicken Little shrieking about the falling sky, American conservatives fly into a tizzy when they contemplate the global threat of socialism: not just Soviet communism, mind you, but any and all socialism. To hear some Americans talk, Sweden ranks near Bulgaria on the index of socialist oppression, and Mitterrand’s election augured the establishment of a gulag stretching along the Cóte d’Azur. Eternal vigilance is the price one pays to keep the world safe for Gulf Oil, IBM, and ITT. Mario Soares and Paper Stones should soothe conservatives’ frazzled nerves. Przeworski and Sprague analyze the fate of the late 19th-century socialist belief that “barricades were no longer needed when workers could cast ballots: votes were ‘paper stones.'” The paper stones turned out to be…well, just paper – ballots that ushered in, not socialist transformation, but social democracy. Wanting to win elections, socialist politicians solicited votes outside the confines of the working class. This diluted the class appeal and weakened the workers’ class consciousness. As the authors remark: “As socialists become parties like other parties, workers turn into voters like other voters.

Mario Soares, currently the Socialist President of Portugal, confirms this thesis. Never a rigid ideologue, Soares steered post-Salazar Portugal through the shoals of extremism with his dedication to the principle that, as Janitschek phrases it, “democracy came first, socialism second.” At last report, Portugal’s cerulean skies are still standing.

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