Part Three of "The Best Books I Read in 2010..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Friends | Part One | Part Two | Ignatius Insight
Michael O'Brien, born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1948 is a self-taught painter and writer. Both his written work and visual art have been reviewed and reproduced widely. He is an author of several books, notably his seven volume Children of the Last Days series of novels, including Father Elijah, A Cry of Stone, Sophia House, and Island of the World: A Novel. His most recent work is Theophilos: A Novel, which is set in the Balkans. He is also the author of A Landscape With Dragons, an examination of the phenomenon of contemporary pagan influence in children's culture. Visit his Ignatius Insight author page for a full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press.
The Octave of All Souls, by Robert Eady, a wise and ironic novel set in small town Canada, narrated by an 80-year-old women who during each octave of the feast of All Souls prays for those who have died during the previous year--the good, the bad, and the ugly, and everyone in between. Her candid reminiscences are at times hilarious, and reveal the hidden greatness of an "ordinary" soul who is insignificant in the world's eyes. Imagine Flannery O'Connor goes north. Though not quite as dark, not quite as stark, Eady always gives us radical honesty about our fallen human condition in its many manifestations.
The Well of English by Blanche Mary Kelly, and The Sudden Rose: an Essay on the Unity of Art by the same author. These two insightful books, first published in the 1930's, are priceless. Out of print now, they can still be found from time to time through used-book searches. I would place them on par with Etienne Gilson's Painting and Reality and Jacques Maritain's Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry. No, wait, Kelly has a quality distinct from the philosophers; she expresses ideas in a style that incarnates her themes.
Faith of the Fatherless, by Paul C. Vitz. The reknowned psychologist examines the role of the absent father in the lives of major influential atheists in our times, and also the role of indifferent or abusive fathers in the lives of other atheists and agnostics who have played roles in reshaping contemporary culture. As Vitz warns that we have become "a nation of practical atheists", he also probes the causes and remedies—most especially the rediscovery of spiritual fatherhood.
Avatar at Night, by Tal Brooke, a completely engrossing spiritual odyssey, the account of Brooke's personal quest for "enlightenment," embodying a generation's spiritual lostness, the search into the mysterious East with its beguiling symbology and sometimes paranormal manifestations. Highly readable, compassionate, radically honest, witty, it offers a stark portrayal of the ways human consciousness can be deceived by mystical phenomena. This is a very important book for several reasons, not least of which is the exposure of the deceptions and corruption at the heart of the Indian avatar Sai Baba, who calls himself God. The enormous world-wide personality cult surrounding him surely needed unmasking. However, the book is a crucial study on other levels. In the end it witnesses to Jesus Christ's victory over the "powers and principalities" of darkness—a darkness that masquerades as light. It is a warning about how vulnerable we are to manipulation, a warning also about the times we live in, with its proliferating false messiahs.
The End of Time, by Josef Pieper. The ever-lucid Pieper offers meditations on the philosophy of history, including such subjects as Kant and the idea of progress, optimism and pessimism, nihilism, the survival of man, and the correct understanding of the Anti-Christ. An excellent companion piece to Josef Pieper: An Anthology (both from Ignatius Press).
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. The title says it all. I hasten to add that this is a highly intelligent, beautifully written analysis of the e-cultural revolution that is affecting nearly everyone, not just in the content of our minds, but in the very structure and function of our mind/brain processes. The author's arguments are fully backed up by copious references to scientific and sociological studies. One of the most crucial books I've read since...well, since I first learned to read.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com. He is author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Todays Prophecy Preachers (Ignatius Press, 2003), recognized by the Associated Press as one of the best religious titles of 2003, and co-author, with medievalist Sandra Miesel, of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code (Ignatius, 2004). Carl writes for several Catholic periodicals, pens a weekly Scripture column for Our Sunday Visitor newspaper, and is a contributing editor for This Rock magazine. A former Evangelical Protestant who entered the Catholic Church in 1997, he has a Masters in Theological Studies from the University of Dallas. Carl lives in Oregon with his wife, three children, two cats, and some books and CDs.
I'll quickly note, at the start, a few Ignatius Press books that I read (or re-read) this year, and benefited from very much, in differing ways. Looking For the King: An Inklings Novel (2010) by David C. Downing was a delightful escape into the world of C. S. Lewis and company. Light of the World (2010), the now rather famous book-long interview by Peter Seewald of Pope Benedict XVI, is filled with wisdom, intelligence, holiness, and a few surprises. Leisure: The Basis of Culture (orig. 1952; 2009), by Josef Pieper, is a book that I'll return to often, a challenging reminder of the nature of authentic culture. Credo: Meditations on the Apostles' Creed (2000), by Hans Urs von Balthasar is an excellent introduction to both von Balthasar and the basics of the Catholic Faith. In Soft Garments: Classic Catholic Apologetics (orig. 1942; 2010), by Monsignor Ronald Knox is a master class in both apologetics and essay writing.
I help lead a monthly men's theological reading group, and once again we made our way through several outstanding books. One of them was Holy People, Holy Land: A Theological Introduction to the Bible, by Dr. Matthew Levering and Dr. Michael Dauphinais; (Brazos Press, 2005), which I highly recommend for anyone seeking an accessible, theologically rich overview of Scripture and salvation history. Another was Fr. James V. Schall's recent collection of essays, The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (CUA, 2008), which is marked by Schall's usual insight, wisdom, and great breadth of learning. In recognition of the beatification of John Henry Newman, we also read Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864), which is surprisingly personal and (not so surprisingly) absolutely brilliant. Shame on me for not having read it sooner!
Three politically-oriented books that caught and held my attention were Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for Centuries (ISI, 2010), by Paul Kengor; The Character of Nations: How Politics Makes and Breaks Prosperity, Family, and Civility (Basic Books, 2009), by Angelo M. Codevilla; and Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect (Yale University Press, 2009), by Paul A. Rahe. All three are impressively researched and argued; all are bursting with examples of the power of ideas—good, bad, and ugly—put into action, and how the idea of power (and the desire for it) drive politicians, ideologues, and intellectuals, all too often toward the wrong ends and with bad consequences along the way. Along those same lines, I greatly enjoyed the collection, Steps Toward Restoration: The Consequences of Richard Weaver's Ideas (ISI, 1998), edited by Ted J. Smith III, which brought an even deeper appreciation for the thought of Weaver, whose writings I've long admired.
The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis (ISI, 2010), by Robert R. Reilly, is an essential guide to making a sober assessment of the serious difficulties still be faced when it comes to Islam.
On a lighter note, The Wine Trials 2011 (Fearless Critic, 2010), edited by Robin Goldstein, Alexis Herschkowitsch, and Tyce Walters, was an entertaining and educational polemic (yes, a wine polemic!), fresh from the vine, that alerted me to a number of fine wines under $15 a bottle. Some of that wine, in turn, was my companion in enjoying one of the best books on jazz I've yet read, The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to the 21st Century (Lawrence Hill Book, 2009; Seventh ed.), by Joachim-Ernt Berendt and Günther Huesmann (translated by Jeb Bishop), an impressively thorough, balanced, and thoughtful book that is a must have for anyone who loves jazz.
One more work of fiction: Heartstone: Shardlake Goes to War (Mantle, 2010), by C. J. Sansom, is the fifth book in the Shardlake mysteries, set in England during the 1530s and 40s. A very good mystery, this is also a superior historical novel as well as a good study of English religion and culture during a bloody and trying era.
Catholic Controversies: Understanding Church Teachings and Events in History (Moorings Press, 2010), edited by Stephen Gabriel, is a rich collection of apologetic essays, including pieces by Stephen M. Barr, Mark Lowery, Thomas Madden, James Hitchcock, Fr. John Hardon, Mark Shea, J. Budziszewski, Avery Cardinal Dulles, and many others—including one essay by yours truly (but don't let that keep you from reading the book!).
Finally, while the excellent Light of the World generated the most press and controversy, I have to say that my favorite papal work this year is Verbum Domini, the Holy Father's apostolic exhortation on the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church. For more of my thoughts on this exceptional document, see my essay, "A Symphony of the Word" on Ignatius Insight.
Joseph Pearce has firmly established himself as the premier literary biographer of our time, especially in interpreting the spiritual depths of the Catholic literary tradition. He is the author of acclaimed biographies of G.K. Chesterton, Oscar Wilde, Hilaire Belloc, and J.R.R. Tolkien, and books on English literature and literary converts. His most recent book is Through Shakespeare's Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays. Pearce is Writer-in-Residence and Associate Professor of Literature at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, and is the Co-Editor of the St. Austin Review and the Editor-in-Chief of Sapientia Press. He is also the editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions. Visit his IgnatiusInsight.com author page for more about his work and a full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press.
Looking for the King by David Downing (Ignatius Press, 2010) and Death of a Liturgist by Lorraine V. Murray (Saint Benedict Press, 2010) were the two most enjoyable new works of fiction that I've read in the past year. The former is a masterfully told mystery story, which weaves in and out of the world of Tolkien, Lewis and the Inklings; it's a must-read for all lovers of Tolkien and Lewis, and for all lovers of well-written and well-woven thrillers. The latter is a simply delightful satire, masquerading as a murder mystery, on the nonsensical world of liturgical modernism.
Apologetics for the Twenty-First Century by Louis Markos (Crossway, 2010) and More Christianity: Finding the Fullness of the Faith by Fr. Dwight Longenecker (Ignatius Press, 2010) are the two most dynamically engaging works of apologetics that I've read recently. The former engages with the wit and wisdom of Chesterton and Lewis to shed light on the challenges faced by Christianity in our secular fundamentalist age. The latter takes Lewis's Mere Christianity as its starting point but leads the reader to the "more Christianity" to be found in the Catholic Church. Father Longenecker writes with a sublime simplicity that is simply sublime.
The highlight of the year, for me, was the Beatification of John Henry Newman by the Holy Father in September. In commemoration of this momentous event, Ignatius Press published Blessed John Henry Newman: Theologian and Spiritual Guide for Our Times by Keith Beaumont (Ignatius Press, 2010) and The Heart of Newman, a selection of Newman's writings edited by (Ignatius Press, 2010). Taken together, these two volumes should be in every Catholic's library. The first serves as the perfect introduction to Newman's life and work, the second is an excellent synthesis of some of his finest writing.
In last year's selection of my favourite books I mentioned Roads to Rome by John Beaumont (St. Augustine's Press, 2010), a book for which I had written the preface but which had not yet been published. It is now available from St. Augustine's Press. I cannot recommend this particular book highly enough. It's a meticulously researched compendium of hundreds of prominent English Catholic converts stretching right back to the Reformation. As a reference work, Roads to Rome is indispensable for anyone wishing a deeper knowledge of the history of the Catholic resistance and revival in England.
An entirely different sort of Roman road is the subject of Roads and Ruins: The Symbolic Landscape of Fascist Rome by Paul Baxa (University of Toronto Press, 2010). This intriguing and fascinating work demonstrates how the fascist ideology radically changed the historic landscape of the Eternal City.
My final choice is Christianity and Literature: Philosophical Foundations and Critical Practice by David Lyle Jeffrey & Gregory P. Maillet (IVP Academic, 2011), a work which I've read in manuscript but which will not be published until the spring. It's a penetrating and panoramic engagement with the great works of western literature from the salient and sapient perspective of two fine Christian literary critics.
Edward Peters has doctoral degrees in canon and civil law. He currently holds the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.
He has authored or edited several books, including Annulments and the Catholic Church: Straight Answers to Tough Questions and Excommunication and the Catholic Church: Straight Answers to Tough Questions (both from Ascension Press), and is the translator of the English edition of The 1917 Pio Benedictine Code of Canon Law.
His canon law website can be found at www.canonlaw.info.
Benedict XVI,Light of the World (2010)
Brian Ferme, History of Sources of Canon Law (2007)
John Ray, The Rosetta Stone (2007)
Raymond Arroyo, Mother Angelica (2005)
Joseph Koterski, "Natural Law" (Teaching Co, 2002)
Joseph Ratzinger, Called to Communion (1996)
Peter Jugis, Analysis of humano modo in Can. 1061 (1992)
Jacob Neusner, Invitation to the Talmud (1973)
John Merryman, The Civil Law Tradition (1969)
Pietro Gasparri, Catechismus pro adultis (1931)
Tracey Rowland, Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne, Australia, author of Culture and the Thomist Tradition: after Vatican II (Routledge: London, 2003), Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (Oxford University Press, 2008), Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed (T & T Clark: London, 2010), Patron of the Australian Catholic Students Association, part-time cat butler, and wife of Stuart Rowland.
How the West was Lost by Alexander Boot (I.B. Tauris: London, 2006). Boot is a Russian émigré who divides his time between London and Burgundy. How the West was Lost offers a social and intellectual history of the successive defeats of Catholics in the culture wars since the 16th century. Boot uses the labels Modman Nihilist, Modman Philistine and Westman to describe the protagonists. His main point is that Modman Nihilist and Modman Philistine work together to defeat Westman. They couldn't do it own their own. The nihilist needs the philistine, the philistine needs the nihilist.
I Drink, Therefore I am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (Continuum: London, 2009) by Roger Scruton. Scruton is definitely a Westman by Boot's standards. If you have ever been to a restaurant where different foods are paired with particular wines, then you will understand the format of this book. Instead of pairing food with wine, it pairs philosophers with wines. Two philosophers however, for whom Scruton could find no wine, were Karl Rahner (more commonly classed as a theologian) and his teacher, Martin Heidegger. Scruton remarked that the only writers that are more reliably obscure than Rahner are those who set out to explain what Rahner says. Scruton's advice is, 'don't go there: life is too short'.
Street Saints: Renewing America's Cities by Barbara J. Elliott (Templeton Foundation Press, 2004). This book is a great antidote to the kind of despair that can overwhelm Westman when he feels completely out-numbered by Modman Nihilist and Modman Philistine. The title of the book comes from chapter 58 of the Book of Isaiah: Your people will rebuild the ancients ruins/And will raise up the age-old foundations/You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. The sections on Henri Nouwen and Mother Teresa towards the end of the book were particularly inspirational.
The Theology of Benedict XVI: The Christocentric Shift (Macmillan, 2010) by Emery de Gaál. Father Emery de Gaál's work is indispensable for anyone who wishes to understand the Christocentric shift in the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI and in contemporary theological anthropology generally. It is the deepest analysis of the topic currently available and one of the many good things that has come out of Cardinal George's Mundelein stable.
The Pope and Jesus of Nazareth edited by Adrian Pabst and Angus Paddison (Veritas, 2009). This is a collection of fifteen scholarly essays on Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth. They represent a wide variety of theological positions. Even the ones that are not by members of the BXVI fan club are fun to read.
The Theology of Hugh of St. Victor: An Interpretation by Boyd Taylor Coolman (Cambridge University Press, 2010). Until I read this book the Victorines were a fascinating species of medieval monk whose works I knew to be important but I hadn't really found my way into them. This was a great introduction and a really beautifully written book. My favourite section was on memory practices and the significance of the liberal arts for memory and biblical exegesis.
Diotima's Children: German Aesthetic Rationalism from Leibniz to Lessing by Frederick C. Beiser (Oxford University Press, 2009). Beiser is just brilliant in the field of early modern German intellectual history. In this work he explicitly rejects the idea that anything, even soup cans and urinals, can be classified as art. He wants to re-establish the 'intimate connection between beauty, truth and goodness, the necessity of rules, the importance of taste, and the cognitive dimension of aesthetic experience'. The central thesis of his book is that we need to recover the aesthetic tradition before Kant.
The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism: and Why Philosophers Can't Solve It, by Thaddeus Kozinski. (Lexington: 2010). Kozinski's book offers the best juxtaposition of the ideas of Rawls, MacIntyre and Maritain I have read. It carries a foreword by the irrepressible James V Schall SJ.
Faith and Reason: From Hermes to Benedict XVI (Leominster: Gracewing, 2009) by Aidan Nichols OP. This book offers a bird's eye view of the different ways in which the faith-reason relationship has been construed in Catholic scholarship over the past couple of centuries. Nichols concludes that Benedict XVI seems to desire to unite 'philosophy and theology in a single, internally differentiated but also internally cohesive, intellectual act'. What one finds in Benedict's many publications is a 'convergence of the mainly philosophical disclosure of logos with the chiefly theological revelation of love'. 'Love and Reason', he writes, are the 'twin pillars' of reality. This in turn gives rise to a theological anthropology which pays equal attention to the head and the heart, to objectivity and affectivity. Conversely, Nichols summarises the Christianity of the Hermesians (Catholic Kantians) as 'morally serious and dialectically engaged', 'distanced from popular piety, sceptical of liturgical richness' and 'filled with a Kantian sense of duty'. He suggests that it could be considered as 'the ecclesial version of the ethos of the Prussian state official'. This book should be read alongside John Milbank's essay: 'The New Divide: Classical versus Romantic Orthodoxy' (Modern Theology January 2010).
Newman and his Contemporaries by Edward Short (London: Continuum, 2010). Newman and His Contemporaries is hot off the press from Continuum. It reads like a Victorian Dance to the Music of Time, except the characters are all real historical figures. Anyone interested in Newman or, more generally, Victorian Catholic England, will love it.
Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning, The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006), The Sum Total of Human Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (CUA, 2008). His most recent book from Ignatius Press is The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Modern Age, is available from St. Augustine's Press. Read more of his essays on his website.
Several books that I read last year particularly moved me. One was Christopher Morley's 1918 The Haunted Book Shop, which is really a detective story but has such insight into books and especially, a favorite topic, used bookstores. Its companion volume, Parnassus on Wheels, is especially charming. I owe these books to Monica See who thought that I needed something to distract me during recovery. She also sent me William Saroyan's novel The Human Comedy which I quite liked also.
Robert Reilly's Closing of the Muslim Mind, is a most necessary read for anyone.
The book that was most moving to me was George Weigel's second volume on John Paul II, The End and the Beginning. I did a long comment on it, "The Greatest of Men" at Ignatius Insight. This book was given to me by Anne and Bill Burleigh just in time for a stay in the hospital which gave me time to read it. I also liked very much Robert Spitzer's New Proofs for the Existence of God. It is a demanding read, but well worth it. A young teacher at one of the local high schools who is interested in fairy tales sent me George Macdonald's The Light Princess, which I quite enjoyed. Professor David Walsh at Catholic University gave me his Irish mother's book of charming short stories, Chance Encounters: Short Stories & Poems by Patricia Walsh.
Another student gave me Charles Schulz's My Life with Charlie Brown, which is a collection of talks and writings of Schulz on his most famous characters. Mary Keys' book, Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good, was quite enlightening. Still another student found somewhere a 1915 John Lane edition of Poems by Chesterton, a book I have only begun to look at. And finally I should like to mention Aidan Nichols' wonderful book, G. K. Chesterton, Theologian, and Tracey Rowland's Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed, both of these books are worth considerable attention.
Russell Shaw is the author and co-author of numerous books, including Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication and Communion in the Catholic Church, and is the former information director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference and Knights of Columbus. He is also a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the father of five and the grandfather of nine.
Picking out the best of the best is easy for me this year. It was Tolstoy's magnificent novel Anna Karenina, which I found to be simply the most honest, compelling, and in its own way uplifting examination of the man-woman relationship in all its mysterious complexity that I've ever read.
Other books--very different--that I enjoyed included Cardinal Francis George's The Difference God Makes, America's Bishop (about Fulton Sheen) by Thomas C. Reeves, and Henry Morton Robinson's 1950 bestseller The Cardinal, which provides a fascinating look into aspirations, anxieties, and self-image of American Catholics in the middle years of the last century. How times have changed!
Fr. D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D. holds both a Ph.D. in Theology and is Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, Ireland. A formal doctoral student under Joseph Ratzinger, Twomey is the author of several books, including Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age (A Theological Portrait), and his acclaimed study, The End of Irish Catholicism?
The Pope's interview with Peter Seewald, Light of the World (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010) tops my list of best books read in 2010. Like his previous two interview-books with the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Seewald shows his skill as a superb journalist by the way he gets the Pope to discuss in some depth many of the controversial issues affecting Church and society. In addition, Seewald coaxes from his interviewee various insights into the Pope's personal life, which reveal the real man I've had the privilege to knowing for some forty years. Reading the book reminded me of the relaxed and stimulating colloquia and seminars our former professor held with us, his doctoral and postdoctoral students, when he would enter into a discussion with great openness to the opinions of others and then lead the discussion to a yet higher level, always seeking the truth, always attempting to be fair to the opinions of others. Every intervention of his was noted for its clarity, its depth and its eloquence. The same applies to every page of this book that is so easy to read and has a superb forward by George Weigel.
Lucy Beckett's second novel, A Postcard from the Volcano. A Novel of Pre-War Germany (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), is quite an extraordinary achievement. Starting with the outbreak of World War I and ending on the eve of World War II, this beautifully crafted and finely written novel has as its central character a young German aristocrat, who comes alive in the pages. No only does the author give us a real insight into the coming of age and young manhood of Max von Hoffmanswaldau and into the various characters sucked into the maelstrom of war-ravaged Eastern Europe, she also explores the complex philosophical, theological and political questions that paved the way for the holocaust. At times, her dialogues on philosophical and theological questions are almost Platonic in their form. Her insights into the souls of the characters and their spiritual struggles are invariably very moving. My only reservation concerns the ending, which at times seems to be marked by an undeservedly negative impression (common in the Anglo-Saxon world) of the attitude of the Catholic Church in Germany to the rise of Nazism.
While in Berlin doing supply work in a parish there, some friends gave me a present of a book of memoirs, Beim Namen gerufen. Erinnerungen (Munich: Ultstein, 2000, 6th impression), by Baroness Elisabeth zu Guttenberg, a relative of the leaders of the German resistance to Hitler, most of whom (including her brother-in-law) were executed by the Nazis after the failed coup in July 20th, 1944. It was originally written (in English) at the request of the American officers who camped in their castle in Bavaria during the occupation. This is an expanded German version, which, regretfully, is no longer in print. It deserves reprinting. This is a unique perspective on Nazi Germany and on the rebuilding of Germany after the War, by someone who played a not insignifcant role in both. The German resistance to Nazism gets little attention. It deserves more. The author tells her own story with frankness and devoid of all sentimentality. A convert, her faith was her mainstay as it was for her relatives, the Guttenbergs and Stauffenbergs. Theirs is a story of lived faith and heroic courage.
Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P., writes so many outstanding books that it is difficult to keep up with him. Two recent works I should like to mention: The Realm. An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England (Oxford: Family Publications, 2008) and G.K. Chesterton. Theologian (Manchester, NH, 2009). The first is a wide-ranging discussion on such diverse topics as "culture and civilization, history and literature, ethics and philosophy, and even politics and economics" (to quote from the Preface). In his discussion he proposes Catholic Christianity, as it puts it, as "a form for the public life of society in its overall integrity". Its relevance is not limited to England. I used the "unfashionable essay" as a discussion text for a circle of young Irish clerics and laity, who found much in the book to inspire us in our concern about the conversion of Ireland. His book on Chesterton, apart for providing a most wonderful selection of quotable quotes, highlights the significance of Chesterton as a theologian in his own right.
Within the field of moral philosophy, the most simulating book I read was Animal Rights and Wrongs, Third Edition (London: Metro Book in association with Demos, 2000) by the English, secular philosopher Roger Scruton. The author's own affection for, and understanding of, the animal world shines through this thoughtful essay on the close relationship between man and the animals that does justice to the precise nature of the radical difference between them. But the book's title does not do justice to its content, which, among other things, is illuminating about the role of sentiment/intelligent emotion/the passions in the moral life. Exploring this, the "animal" side of our humanity, the author make a major contribution to our understanding of virtue ethics.
I should like to mention very briefly two books by the eminent American moral theologian, William E. May, Marriage. The Rock on Which the Family is Built, Second Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009) and Theology of the Body in Context. Genesis and Growth (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2010). At a time when the traditional family based on marriage is under attack throughout the Western World, May uses reason and revelation to show how marriage is foundational for the family, for the authentic formation children and for the well being of society. This edition contains two new chapters (on the theology of the body and Pope Benedict's teaching on marriage), which enrich the original book. In his second volume, May develops in greater detail John Paul II's inspirational theology of the body with great clarity and understanding. What is so impressive is the way May has incorporated a more spiritual dimension to his already rich, developed moral theology.
I almost forgot to mention one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read: Danube by Claudio Magris, translated from the Italian by Patrick Creagh (London: The Harvill Press, 2001). Magris is Professor of Modern German Literature at the University of Trieste since 1978. In this book, Magris traces the River Danube from its (disputed) source (or sources) in the Black Forest to its estuary in the Black Sea in order to explore the historical events, personalities, and culture that make up central Europe, most of which is unknown to Western readers. The erudition of the author is immense, his powers of observation astute, while his judgement on the peoples, cities and nations that crowd around the basin of this majestic river can at times be disturbing. It all makes for a fascinating read. It is a major contribution to what nineteen-century educated Germans called "Bildung"--that broad and accurate insight into history and culture in all its manifestations which they expected the educated person should have. What a rare phenomenon today!
Dr. Jose Yulo teaches courses on philosophy, western civilization, United States history, and public speaking at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He has a Doctorate in Education from the University of San Francisco, with an emphasis on the philosophy of education. He also holds a Master's degree in political communication from Emerson College in Boston, as well as a Bachelor's degree in the classical liberal arts from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. Originally from Manila in the Philippines, his research interests lie in Greek philosophy, the histories of Greek and Roman politics and warfare, and the literature of J.R.R. Tolkien. He is a regular contributor to IgnatiusInsight.com.
Scholasticism and Politics, by Jacques Maritain. An erudite discussion on the nature of democracies that exist without legitimate authority. Maritain thankfully pointed out that American democracy, in contrast to those on the continent, was more influenced by Locke than by Rousseau.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, by G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton's examination of what Aquinas had to argue against, contained in the teachings of Siger of Brabant, is as illuminating now as it was then. The temptation to believe in the possibility of multiple truths inevitably leads to via untruth to no truth at all, as Aquinas keenly perceived.
The Innocence and Wisdom of Father Brown, by G. K. Chesterton. In "The Eye of Apollo," Chesterton's sleuth-priest timelessly assessed of pagan stoics that they "always fail with their strength." Few truer conclusions based on human nature were ever established.
The Declaration of Independence, by Thomas Jefferson. This is read in class every semester. Much confusion in American political theory arises when one does not carefully read Jefferson's first few paragraphs in which he establishes where rights come from, how these unalienable rights build on each other, and what government's proper role regarding these rights should be.
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