Volume > Issue > Briefly: March 1994

March 1994

Man and Woman: Love and the Meaning of Intimacy

By Dietrich von Hildebrand

Publisher: Sophia Institute Press

Pages: 105

Price: $14.95

Review Author: Mark Frisby

This revised reissue of Man and Woman joins other books such as Paul Quay’s The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality (Ignatius, 1985) as an appealing and easy-to-read personalist development of traditional Christian moral wisdom regarding human sexuality. Von Hildebrand’s book is suffused with a reverent realism. Man and Woman touches on the ethical controversies about sex, but they are not its focus. The focus throughout is on awakening an appreciation for the positive meaning of sexuality in relation to spousal love. Von Hildebrand clearly identifies the values to which our age and culture are so blind.

Von Hildebrand touches on the challenge posed by artificial contraception. Why couldn’t “responsible” contraception leave intact the marital meaning of sex? He explains that, though marital love is intrinsically meaningful, still it has procreation as its “superabundant end.” God has wonderfully linked procreation and spousal love, such that contracepting constitutes an irreverent act. This is wisely and beautifully put, and merits meditation by the reader. Nonetheless, the philosopher in me would like discussion of why God linked them. When I used the earlier edition of this book in an introductory college class (the students found it very readable and enriching), the text needed supplementing at this point to clarify why sexual acts not closed to the fruit of children (whether or not actually bearing that fruit) are the consummating body-language of marital love. At this point von Hildebrand’s work may be complemented by material from John Kippley’s Sex and the Marriage Covenant or Janet Smith’s Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later.

Likewise, those concerned with the social and economic conditions that facilitate respect for love and sexuality may find in Pope John Paul II’s Familaris Consortio and Stephen Clark’s Man and Woman in Christ approaches which complement von Hildebrand’s focus.

Islam and the West

By Bernard Lewis

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 217

Price: $25

Review Author: Issa J. Khalil

The author, a distinguished historian of the Middle East, discusses the relations between two civilizations, “the one defined as Islamic, the other at different times as Christian or European or Western.” The whole work rests on the assumption that civilizations can be considered intelligible units of historical inquiry. But, curiously, the author gives no definition of what constitutes a civilization. What constitutes an Islamic civilization, for instance? Most of the population of the Levant, during the classical period of Islam, was Christian. A “definition” of Islamic civilization cannot be made without a prior study of the contributions of Arab Christians. Further, Lewis equates western Europe with the whole of Europe. But Byzantium and the Balkans were occupied by the Ottomans for 400 years, until after the last siege of Vienna in 1683. Moreover, some European countries — the Scandinavian, Poland, and Russia — were not Christian until the ninth, 10th, or 11th century, by which time Islamic civilization had begun to decline. Accordingly, what “European civilization” are we talking about?

Perhaps because its chapters are previously published articles, the book seems vague and lacking in unity. However, a major idea runs through it, namely, that the meeting of Islam and Christianity represents a clash of civilizations and that this “battle of the giants” has no end in sight. But there were times when Islamic states entered into friendships and alliances with Christian states, so the relations between Islam and the West cannot be understood simply in terms of conflict and unending opposition.

On the question of “Orientalism” — the study of Oriental (Near Eastern) languages, literature, and culture — Lewis correctly points out that some “anti-Orientalist” scholars seem to be attacking a mode of scholarship that has long ceased to exist, and that we should be thankful for the unselfish and painstaking effort of Orientalist pioneers. I am sure that many so-called anti-Orientalists also appreciate their efforts, for they are critical of Orientalists’ attitudes and influence rather than their achievements in research. Lewis states that a political motive lies behind anti-Orientalism. But couldn’t this charge be equally applicable to some in the opposing camp?

Lewis raises the question: “Why…did we in the West engage in these studies [the languages and history of other peoples], and why did those who grew up in non-Western societies not…?” He gives five answers, some of which I agree with. He points out, for instance, that Arabic was the language of science and philosophy, so Westerners learned it so as to have access to this knowledge. But one answer he gives for Western interest in the Muslim East I take exception to: that it was out of fear. Yes, the early Islamic conquests did leave a deep sense of loss and fear in the European Christian mind. But there were also periods (e.g., the Crusades) in which the Muslims were afraid of the West. This did not, however, produce an appreciable interest in Western languages and culture.

The underlying reason for Western studies of the Muslim East is the Christian theological perspective. The Christian mind had been nourished by the doctrine of the Incarnation, which means that God reached out to humanity in its own terms without losing His own. The early Christian adopted this principle of reaching out to the other. For Christians, Pentecost represents the shift from one holy language and “tribe” to all languages and peoples. Thus in Christianity there is in a sense no “holy land” and no holy language. It is this which energized the Christian mind. After all, didn’t the Evangelists (or those who preceded them) translate the Aramaic words of Jesus into Greek without any inhibition? Was not their example followed by Jerome, and by the two Greek brothers, Methodius and Cyril — who invented the Cyrillic alphabet and then translated the sacred texts into the Slavonic language?

Sephardim: The Jews from Spain

By Paloma Diaz-Mas

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Pages: 235

Price: $27.50

Review Author: Aaron W. Godfrey

The horror of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia has fused uncomfortably with our memory of the Holocaust, which itself recalls the hostility of Christians to Jews in Spain, which climaxed in 1492 with the expulsion of the Jews, conversion being their only alternative.

There was a continuous presence of Jews on the Iberian Peninsula for more than 1,500 years after the earliest diaspora; only in Iraq (Babylon) was there a longer uninterrupted residence. “Sepharad” (from Obadiah 1:20) was the Hebrew term for Spain, and Spanish Jews or Jews who left Spain are known as Sephardim. Even prior to exile, Spanish Jews were rarely free from persecution or pressure to convert, yet a nostalgia for Spain remained. Indeed, the language, ladino or Judaeo-Spanish, is still spoken and written.

The books reviewed here discuss the background and aftermath of the expulsion. The actual edict of expulsion seems to have been initiated by excessive religious fervor combined with Realpolitik on behalf of uniting a linguistically diverse nation.

Diaz-Mas’s Sephardim, translated from Spanish, is an excellent primer on Sephardic history, language, and literature, directed toward the people of Spain, who for half a millennium now have had little experience with Jews. It tells of Sephardic suffering, exile, and displacement.

Jane Gerber’s The Jews of Spain covers the sweep of Sephardic history from the earliest settlement in Spain, and chronicles Jewish survival under Christian and Muslim rule there. Gerber covers the unfortunate century 1391-1492 extremely well. The century began ominously when Ferrant Martinez, a fanatic cleric, stirred up mobs to burn synagogues and murder Jews throughout Spain — 100,000 were said to have perished. An equal number was converted, partially through fear and partially through the preaching of St. Vincent Ferrer.

Spain and the Jews, edited by Elie Kedourie, is both troubling and interesting because some of the essays raise more questions than they resolve, and the authors sometimes disagree with each other. Kedourie’s introductory essay sets up readers to make their own call about what actually happened.

Both the Gerber and Kedourie works tell of some remarkable Sephardim — Maimonides in the 12th century, Machmanides in the 13th, post-exilic Baruch Spinoza, Isaac D’Israeli (father of the Prime Minister), and Moses Montefiore, and others.

1492 is a historical novel accurate in most of its details about Spain in the decades preceding the expulsion. It is an extravagant, lyrical, and picaresque work graphically describing the growth in power of the Inquisition, and the fear it engendered. It includes descriptions of both the expulsion and Columbus’s projected voyage. It’s a good read which may give one a better understanding of Spain in the most crucial and misunderstood year of its history.

The Inquisition is still an embarrassment to Spaniards (and Catholics). Yet American smugness is inappropriate when we consider our treatment of Native Americans, African-Americans, and Japanese-Americans. These books should serve as a warning, and a plea to encourage love of neighbor.

The Jews of Spain

By Jane S. Gerber

Publisher: Free Press

Pages: 333

Price: $25

Review Author: George W. Appleby

James Tollefson has documented the experiences of conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War. A CO himself during the war, Tollefson sought out dozens of others — to discover who they were and are, their motivations, and the consequences of their refusal to fight. He has produced a melancholy reminder of an era of moral havoc in America, seminal in disenchanting a generation with authority. It was a dismal time for the nation and for those often called draft dodgers.

There were approximately 170,000 men who received CO deferments during the war (nearly twice that many had their applications denied). This was a small yet significant fraction of the 2.6 million who served in Vietnam, but it is estimated that another 600,000 men illegally evaded the draft. Tollefson primarily talked with COs who were granted the deferment and did their alternative service of 24 months. But he also recorded the stories of some men who became COs while in the army in Vietnam and some who fled to Canada.

His method is that pioneered by Studs Terkel: Get them to tell their stories, then delete the questions, and present their narratives. These narratives are edited into chapters about the decisions not to fight, trials and imprisonment, alternative service duty, living in Canada, and finally attempting to make peace with what they’ve done. We see individuals struggling to find a moral compass, often in the face of institutional hostility and bitter family recriminations.

The stories — which are anonymous — generally have a flavor of understatement, as if the tellers wanted to make clear, without exaggeration or self-justification or emotion, what has gone unacknowledged. But the ordinariness of the individuals and the blandness of the language occasionally suggest a poignancy, as in telling of fathers who wouldn’t speak to their sons, judges who conducted summary proceedings, or guards who showed acts of kindness. There is some heroism here, mostly quiet and unrecognized.

Several of the men might well have quoted Robert Lowell: “I was a fire-breathing, Catholic C.O., and made my manic statement….” However, the Catholic seminarians’ experiences were uniformly discouraging. One seminarian was threatened with expulsion by Cardinal McIntyre if he led a strike. “I concluded the Church was hopeless on the matter of the war. So, in what was for me an absolutely gut-wrenching move, I left the seminary. I had been in it nine years.” Another seminarian, part of a group of 60, protested the war at Navy Pier in Chicago, while Cardinal Cody was blessing tanks being loaded onto ships headed for Vietnam. Within three weeks, all were called in, some given psychological tests, many counseled to leave. Only four of the group ultimately became priests. But of course not all the Church establishment was arrayed against war protesters.

Some of the remembrances in this book have a sober, eloquent quality of loss: “The important thing was to have some sort of reconciliation. Not closure, because Vietnam is never really over.” Or: “I’ll never forgive or forget what America did in Indochina.” For many, their experiences are as yet unhealed.

Spain and the Jews

By Elie Kedourie

Publisher: Thames and Hudson

Pages: 248

Price: $40

Review Author: Mary L. Hanley

At the Allegan County Fair, children are awarded A, B, or C ribbons for their projects. A is for excellent, B for a job well done, and C for inferior work. Our son showed a rabbit, which we thought was a California doe. The judge took one look, called it a “crossbreed,” and sent the rabbit back to its cage with a C ribbon. I must also harshly judge Caring for Creation in Your Own Backyard, which is billed as a Christian answer to the many secular books available on the environment.

The Wilkinsons’ practical ideas are good. They range from using recycled building supplies and freezing vegetable water for soup stock to planting a garden in the backyard and making one’s own household cleaners.

The concept of every person doing something for the earth, no matter how small, is beautiful; but the authors fail to cite the importance of relationships while doing this job. Caring for creation for the honor of God is indeed required of Christians. But respecting human beings is a key way we differ from secular environmentalists.

When my family initially began our Catholic family farm, we prayed, read books, and operated on willpower. We did the job alone, but it was hollow and humorless. Then our neighbor, Louis, began to stop by our house for tea. He likes to say, “There’s some things you can’t learn if you haven’t seen them done yourself.” He has taught us how to save seeds; to raise, butcher, and cook rabbit; to recycle used building supplies — all from his own experience or from watching his parents and grandparents. Our work, though still work, became rich because of the love, humor, and common sense Louis and others like him have brought to our home.

Relationships make our many manual tasks worthwhile. Caring for Creation in Your Own Backyard is filled with manual tasks with little mention of human relationships. The pace of the book is fast and pressured, contrary to the stated themes of making it from scratch, fixing it yourself, and making do with less.

Placing land and animals over relationships with human beings is the stance of many secular environmentalists. It is distinctly non-Christian. So why are family relationships skimpily addressed in this book?

I’ve come to trust Servant as a publisher of books that teach practical ways to know and do God’s will. This book falls short because it fails to show how family and community can and must be strengthened as we care for creation. This basic Christian principle is nowhere clearly articulated in the book.

I would give the Wilkinsons and Servant a C ribbon for their efforts.

1492: The Life and Times of Juan Cabezon of Castille

By Homero Aridjis

Publisher: VAL-Dutton

Pages: 248

Price: $40

Review Author: Paul Weithman

Stephen Holmes gives us an attack on what he dubs the “non-Marxist antiliberalism” in certain American academic and cultural circles. It is, according to Holmes, communitarian, nostalgic, and religiously based. Its contemporary representatives are said to be Alasdair MacIntyre, Christopher Lasch, and Roberto Unger. Its antecedents are said to be Leo Strauss, Carl Schmitt, and Joseph de Maistre.

The book falls into two parts. The first consists largely of chapters devoted to each of Holmes’s six antiliberals. There he argues that the six share certain theses and indict liberalism on similar grounds. In virtue of these resemblances, Holmes claims that the six form the core of a distinctive tradition of antiliberalism. This tradition is the object of Holmes’s dissection. In the book’s second half, he attempts to refute this tradition’s criticisms of liberalism.

Holmes’s claim that non-Marxist antiliberalism is a tradition sits badly with the biological metaphor of his title. Traditions, after all, lack bodies and therefore cannot have anatomies. The stylistic infelicity of the title reveals a deeper problem in Holmes’s book. Traditions exhibit self-reflective development. At crucial points in a tradition’s history, key figures articulate positions in conscious attempts to uphold the tradition, carry it forward, and affirm their own membership in it. For Holmes’s claim that antiliberalism is a tradition to be truly plausible, the six thinkers would have to have defined their intellectual projects primarily as criticisms of liberalism. But the movement of thought that Holmes deems a tradition lacks self-conscious development and membership. While the six Holmes discusses are indeed opposed to liberal theory and politics, developing airtight arguments against liberalism is surely not the primary goal of their projects. Moreover, Holmes imputes to his six thinkers a greater concern with liberalism than some of them actually exhibit.

The arguments of the antiliberals are treated with disturbing facility. Holmes suggests of MacIntyre, for example, that he thinks rights “are designed only to foster untrammeled egoism” (emphasis added) and that he thinks Kant’s treatment of practical reason is “inept.” MacIntyre has indeed said that rights are fictions, and he differs from Kant on a wide range of philosophical issues. But to suggest that MacIntyre imputes bad faith to rights theorists and ineptitude to Kant is to fail to take MacIntyre seriously. Moreover, MacIntyre is not as explicitly antiliberal as Homes makes him out to be.

Anyone who, like Holmes, wants to come to grips with the persistence and the arguments of antiliberals must truly fathom the reasons for their dissatisfaction with the moral life of modernity, and must understand the depth, power, and attraction of their positions. The combative Holmes, while learned and sometimes engaging, has failed to do this.

The Strength Not to Fight: An Oral History of Conscientious Objectors of the Vietnam War

By James W. Tollefson

Publisher: Little, Brown

Pages: 242

Price: $22.95

Review Author: Dale Vree

John Henry Newman has, for more than a century, been the object of much attack and abuse, which John Griffin seeks to correct in this valuable work.

Of Newman’s major Catholic works, his Difficulties Felt by Anglicans is perhaps the most pertinent to present controversies. Anglo-Catholics are currently up in arms about the Church of England’s decision to ordain women. Many are threatening to bolt for Rome. Some already have. But how many actually will in the end?

The Difficulties was a response to the civil trial of G.C. Gorham, a Church of England (C. of E.) clergyman who in effect denied the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration. Gorham won his case, and the doctrine was declared to be an “open question” in the C. of E.

Anglo-Catholics were incensed, and a group of them signed a petition saying in so many words that the C. of E. would cease to be a Church if the verdict were not reversed. But it wasn’t reversed. John Keble’s response to the whole affair was, says Griffin, typical: “If the Church of England were to fail, you will find it at Hursley [Keble’s parish].” It was a kind of appeal to good old British solipsism, and it seemed to pacify many an Anglo-Catholic.

Anglo-Catholics, also known as High Churchmen, have a high view of the Church, and particularly of the authority of the bishops. (So much for definition in a nutshell.) In actuality, Anglo-Catholics have revealed a penchant for defying the positions of their Church, resisting the authority of their bishops, and standing in splendid isolation as beacons of orthodoxy. For Newman, as for Griffin, it’s a self-contradictory and untenable stance.

It was Newman’s belief that, given the hostility of the bishops and the Establishment to the Anglo-Catholics, Anglo-Catholicism could never win any significant victories inside the C. of E. And it would appear, especially now, that Newman was right. Rather than fight impossible battles, shouldn’t Anglo-Catholics, if they really want to be securely Catholic, join the Church that calls itself Catholic (or one of the Eastern Orthodox Churches)? That seems logical, now more than ever, but more than logic is involved. Yes, there are some minor theological and operational problems, but more than that is involved. There’s still the powerful force of nostalgia — for the Anglican ethos and sensibility, for “the Church of my birth,” for the “English way,” etc. There’s also that curious, but still lively, notion that if Anglo-Catholicism survives in “my parish,” then one has no reason to bolt. (Can what is in effect a doctrine of Catholicism in One Parish be any more viable than Stalin’s ill-fated doctrine of Socialism in One Country?)

Today, Anglo-Catholic principle again runs head-on into Anglican nostalgia and parochialism. Yes, there are those who are following Newman’s lead. But one is perhaps justified in doubting that logic will fare all that well in the fogs of Britain.

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