Briefly Reviewed: May 2019
God Is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times
By Greg Sheridan
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Review Author: Frederick W. Marks
There are many ways in which Greg Sheridan’s God Is Good for You lives up to the promise of its title. If nothing else, it documents the contribution of religion to Western culture. The importance of the role Christian leaders played in elevating woman’s place in society and the battle they waged for the abolition of slavery are but two of a great many subjects Sheridan touches on with ecumenical wisdom and felicity of style in this persuasive book. Sheridan ranks as one of Australia’s most prominent journalists, and it shows.
That said, his book is sadly lacking when it touches on matters pertaining to the Church of Rome. Although Sheridan trumpets his Catholic faith, along with his Catholic background (i.e., parochial schooling), you would never know from what he says about cafeteria Catholics — those who pick and choose among Church teachings or skip weekly Mass for frivolous reasons — that God “vomits” the “lukewarm” out of His mouth (cf. Rev. 3:16; Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2180-2181). Nor would you know from what Sheridan has to say about gays that the Bible considers sodomy one of the most heinous sins (Rom. 1:24-32 is worth committing to memory).
Sheridan has high praise for a variety of Catholic institutions, and he is spot-on when it comes to the venom spewed by the mainstream media. He’s not the first to write that the so-called Dark Ages were not dark, but he does it well, letting his readers in on the secret that “it was Petrarch, a 14th century Italian poet, who first coined the term Dark Ages. What appalled him about the millennium that he forever stigmatized was that the quality of Latin declined after the Roman empire’s literary Golden Age in the time of Emperor Caesar Augustus.”
The statistics Sheridan cites documenting the moral decline of the West are devastating, and he is forthright in suggesting remedies. Homilists, he believes, should be more willing to tackle hot-button issues, and clerical leaders should mount more of an effort to let the unchurched know what we have as Christians, whether it be over the airwaves or in church-run schools.
When he broaches the subject of scriptural inerrancy, Sheridan is again on target, questioning what has been spouted by a preponderance of theologians for most of the past 50 years. The only problem is his acceptance of the possibility of some error (aside from copyist or translation error, which is easily detected and corrected). This cannot stand if one goes by the official teaching of the Church since time immemorial, Vatican II included, that Sacred Scripture is inerrant in its entirety.
In dealing with the trial of Galileo and the Spanish Inquisition, Sheridan seems unaware that the Inquisition in Spain had little to do with getting rid of heretics and everything to do with flushing out people in high places who professed to be Catholic but were anti-Catholic fifth columnists, so to speak, during a time of civil war. As for Galileo, Sheridan never speaks of his intellectual dishonesty. It was intellectually dishonest of Galileo to present heliocentrism as a fact since it was merely a theory at the time, and the Church was right to hold him to account. Copernicus, who preceded Galileo as a proponent of heliocentrism, had no trouble with Rome because, although he speculated in the same manner, he was humble enough to present theory as theory. State-of-the-art research shows that Galileo didn’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist or, for that matter, in any miracles, opting instead for what he called the absolute “immutability” of natural laws. On top of this, he rarely went to Mass. In short, Galileo was a heretic, which, in those days, laid him open to capital punishment by the state. Few who speak of Galileo nowadays are aware of this, much less of the fact that in the 17th century, states everywhere regarded heresy as treason. In sum, the Church was wrong in her assessment of heliocentrism (wrong in retrospect, though in sync with most scholars at the time). But she was remarkably lenient in the way she treated Galileo.
One last word: Sheridan entertains the idea that few, if any, go to Hell, which flies in the face of the Gospel. Jesus stated plainly in the Sermon on the Mount that “few” pass through the gate to Heaven, a gate He describes as “narrow” (Mt. 7:14).
Would any of us drink a cup of tea if we knew there were drops of botulism in it? God Is Good for You has many merits and a beguiling title, but it is an admixture of truth and falsehood, and, as such, should be labeled “dangerous — read with caution.”
A Catholic Quest for the Holy Grail
By Charles A. Coulombe
Publisher: TAN Books
Review Author: Brian Welter
Charles A. Coulombe presents a unique view of the Holy Grail, the object of medieval Arthurian legend that our secular age has increasingly divorced from its medieval Christian bearings. Usually accompanied by the Holy Lance that pierced Jesus’ side, the Grail has been depicted primarily as the dish or cup Christ used at the Last Supper, the same cup Joseph of Arimathea later used to catch some of Jesus’ holy blood. Coulombe argues consistently for the Grail’s Catholic nature, and he appeals to all Catholics — regardless of whether they worship according to the Novus Ordo, extraordinary form, Anglican Use, or Eastern-rite liturgy — to seek the Grail’s sacramental message. While he expresses great admiration for much about the Middle Ages, he points to many good things in the post-medieval Catholic world, including increasingly formalized devotion to the Sacred Heart.
A Catholic Quest for the Holy Grail begins by outlining the basic medieval Arthurian tale. Medieval Grail stories were imbued with medieval Christian concerns. As with all things Catholic or medieval, this cannot be reduced easily to one or two major elements. Coulombe capably expresses the holistic unity, nuance, and beauty of the faith. We can therefore absorb essential lessons for today, such as, “The feasts and fasts of the Church year bring its truths to life before us, if we follow them. But even if we do so at Mass, for them to truly come alive, we must bring them into our homes.” Coulombe highlights the number of Grail miracles tied to feast days, such as Good Friday. These took place within the domestic life of Arthur’s court, not at a church.
A rich avenue for living the mysteries of the faith is devotion to the Sacred Heart and Precious Blood of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Coulombe notes that the Grail both symbolizes and is symbolized by the Sacred Heart, which he connects to the “chivalric and crusading spirit called forth by the Holy Grail.” Clearly, the Sacred Heart “represents God’s love overflowing for mankind.” Christ’s tender love is matched by “His sacrificial love for us on the Cross,” evidencing proper manliness. The Sacred Heart is not effeminate.
Coulombe connects the Grail with commonly practiced Catholic devotions, including Eucharistic Adoration, and with a type of Grail Mariology. “In many ways, the Holy Grail represents the actions of Our Lady; she is always present for her subjects, in silent adoration, interceding for her people. As with her depictions on King Arthur’s and Sir Gawain’s shields, she too is along for the quest.” The author devotes an entire chapter to the “Queen of the Holy Grail.” Arthur’s court was deeply devoted to the Virgin. They carried her image into battle, saw her in visions, and prayed to her for protection. The listeners of Grail tales were themselves devoted to “Lady Mary,” as were the knightly orders. Coulombe takes this further: “In a sense, Mary can also be symbolized by the Holy Grail, for she was the first repository of the Body and Blood of Christ…. All the graces that Christ has given us have come through and continue to come through her.”
The Grail’s power didn’t wane with the decline of Catholic civilization. Coulombe finds heroic history even in bad times, when the faithful evoked the Grail’s spirit. Opponents of the French Revolution personified this in 1793, when “rebellion against the Revolution broke out” in the Vendée, and “the Sacred Heart was soon on the badges and flags of the insurgents.”
The Grail’s martial aspect might alarm certain readers. While many writers assure us that such violence concerns the “bad old Church” from which we have all moved on, Coulombe takes this fighting spirit for granted. This may make the book an easy target for the Church’s enemies. No matter, because Coulombe doesn’t write for them but for believers confident in their faith who seek a more masculine, assertive viewpoint. Coulombe emphasizes the Grail legends’ knightly audience and their “sort of martial Marian devotion,” which lay at the foundation of the Templars, Hospitallers, and other orders. Coulombe is unapologetic because of the wasteland he sees all around him: abortion, contraception, easy divorce, etc. Beauty has likewise been affected. “Our arts, our architecture, our music, our literature all reflect this malaise, being empty, ugly, and cruel,” he writes. The Grail’s Christian vocation is to reawaken the faith in the midst of modernity’s wasteland.
While Coulombe succeeds at demonstrating and elaborating on the Catholic dimensions of the Grail, he never touches on Richard Wagner’s Grail-based opera Parsifal or other marginally Catholic renditions of the story. A chapter addressing those versions could have bolstered the book by showing their shortcomings or implicit Christian foundations. As it is, readers will just have to remain curious about such things.
Tying the Grail to the Church’s sacramental life, along with the many legends of holy spears and cups, brings Catholic spirituality to life in a memorable way. This book will inspire readers to take responsibility for living a holier life.
©2019 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.
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