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God's Word and It's Realization
John Courtney Murray, S.J.1
The central book of all the world's literature again received new illumination this year with the appearance of Msgr. Ronald Knox's New Testament in English (Sheed and Ward. $3). This new translation was a distinct literary event. Msgr. Knox was bold where others hesitated; he cut loose from all "dated" phrases and idioms, and strove to render the New Testament in "timeless English." His success was astonishing. The reserve has been made, of course, that the "translation" was not a translation but a paraphrase, and that the individuality of the New Testament writers has been lost in the uniformity of Msgr. Knox's own style. Moreover, older ears missed the familiar phrases, and personal tastes loosed debates on the felicity of particular renditions. All this was to be expected. What is important is that Msgr. Knox opened the way to a new intelligence of the Word of God. The very freshness of his rendition startles the reader into a new awareness of meaning. The sense of Saint Paul's Letters, which readers have often vainly striven to reach through the Douai, is now newly accessible. Put in words of the present day, the Word of God is felt as spoken in the present, to us, in our language.
The Church has always considered the reading of the New Testament as a Christian duty. Miss Margaret T. Monro wants to ensure that, like every Christian duty, this one is accomplished with joy. Her book, Enjoying the New Testament (Longmans, Green. $2.50), serves this purpose excellently. The material of the New Testament is distributed in planned fashion over twenty-one weeks, as a reading course. The idea is to put the reader at the text of the New Testament itself; there, in the pages of which is Himself the Author, the Holy pint of Christ is to be reached. But to
help intelligence, and therefore enjoyment, chatty directions are supplied, and interesting information about the authors, the leading ideas of the books, its place in the Church's thought, etc. Monro's book is useful in furthering one of the great spiritual movements of our day, towards a fuller understanding of the written Word of God.
A more scientific, yet still popular book that helps in the same direction is A Companion to the New Testament, by John E. Steinmueller, S.T.D., and Kathryn Sullivan, R.S.C.J. (Wagner, $3.75). It contains a brief general introduction to the New Testament writings and then handles each of the books from the standpoint of authorship, purpose and characteristics. The rest of the work deals, in general, with the content of the books. Given the present desire to make fuller use of the New Testament in religion courses and in study clubs, this Companion is a timely and valuable aid.
The English-speaking world is still poor in works on doctrinal subjects. The growing interest of the laity in a more theological knowledge of their religion makes this lack highly regrettable. All the more grateful, therefore, are we for the few good things we have. One of them is the small volume by Fr. John V. Matthews, S.J., With the Help of Thy Grace (Newman Book-shop. $1.50). The form of the book is catechetical; its subject is the workings of actual grace. It deals with fudamentals in a simple way and with an undertone of piety that relieves the severity of the form. Many have found in it light on the Spirit's operation in the souls wherein He dwells.
Another type of book useful in the teaching of religion is Jesus the Divine Teacher (Kenedy. $3), by William H. Russell, Ph.D. The book is more, and less, than a life of Christ. It covers a rather broad field of doctrine, and the author is constantly enforcing the practical implications of Christian faith in Christ. Particularly interesting is the last chapter on "How He Taught." Our Lord's pedagogical principles are interestingly put in modern terms, and His skill in their use is illustrated.
The Catholic intellect has always found its staple diet in the writings of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas. In Augustine's Quest of Wisdom: Life and Philosophy of the Bishop of Hippo (Bruce. $3), Prof. Vernon J. Bourke, Ph.D., has put at the disposal of the liberally educated public a readable and scholarly study of the thought of the great Doctor of the West. Life and thought are so entwined in Saint Augustine that they must be treated together; and Prof. Bourke has done this admirably. Those who are gripped by the spectacle of a great mind grappling with ultimate problems will want this book.
By his Thomastic (sic.) Bibliography (The Modern Schoolman, $3), Prof. Bourke has also made an invaluable contribution to Thomistic scholarship. He has brought together accurate references to the Thomistic literature of twenty years, 1920-1940. The work will stand as a necessary instrument for research students.
Prof. Anton C. Pegis has, in another way, served the cause of bringing the educated Catholic into sure possession of an essential part of his intellectual tradition. In Basic Writings of Saint Thomas, Edited and Annotated, with an Introduction (two volumes, Random House. $7.50), Prof. Pegis has gathered representative selections from the writings of the Angelic Doctor and made them available for study. There is, in fact, no substitute for a study of the text of Saint Thomas; but the student needs guidance, lest he lose himself. The initial guidance is provided in the Introductory Essay, which gives a sketch of Saint Thomas' life, work and achievements, against the background of his times and the problems they presented to Christian thought. The specialists may disagree with Prof. Pegis over his selection of characteristic texts; but it remains true that the reader will meet in the book, as its author promises, "Saint Thomas' most characteristic ideas as well as his most fundamental principles."
No great knowledge of the modern scene is needed to convince the intelligent observer that today's most disastrous confusions and obscurities are in the realm of philosophic thought. Reason must be "right," if life is to be ordered—this truism is demonstrably true from the sheer fact of the world as it is. Hence the need for good philosophic writing that will impress upon an ever widening circle the healing value of the philosophia perennis—that ordered synthesis of tested truth. Dr. K. F. Reinhardt's work, A Realistic Philosophy (Bruce. $2.75), helps fill this need. It moves from the realm of being to the realm of action. A long first chapter develops the traditional metaphysic of reality. Thereupon follows a treatment of the science of human conduct, ethics; and finally ethical principles are applied to the problems of politics, sociology and economics. At the end, the reader is reminded that philosophy is only a partial wisdom, needing completion from faith.
Biographical writing still runs ahead of good doctrinal works. But Fr. F. L. Filas, S.J., has well combined both types in The Man Nearest to Christ (Bruce. $2.50). The facts of Saint Joseph's life are briefly told; but a longer task is the separation of fact and fancy in the numerous legends that are told of him. Fr. Filas examines the legends carefully and reverently. But the highest value of`his book is in the way it traces the life of Saint Joseph as lived in the thought and piety of the Church. In the designs of Providence, Saint Joseph lived for centuries in obscurity; only in our own day has he emerged in the full splendor of his protectorate over the Universal Church. Fr. Filas well shows the reasons both for his obscurity and his recent glorification. The book answers all the questions one might ask about Saint Joseph; and its every page will nourish devotion toward the man who stood uniquely near to Christ and who must therefore be uniquely dear to every Christian.
Saint Francis of Assisi has tempted the pen of many biographers. So close to God and so close to men, his fascination is endless. In Mirror of Christ; Francis of Assisi (St. Anthony Guild.. $2.50) , Fr. Isidore O'Brien has brought his practiced gifts to bear on this inexhaustible subject. The result is a sympathetic portrait, done with insight. The theme—the Poor Man of Assisi as the reflection of the God-Man—is well sustained.
Theodore Maynard's readable biography of Mother Francesca Cabrini comes as a vivid present-day reminder that even urban civilization—the kind of which New York City is the type—can be the soil from which high sanctity may spring. Too Small a World (Bruce. $2.50) is a good title; there was a fire in the heart of this Saint that felt constricted in earthly confines, and needed the spaciousness of eternity. Mr. Maynard tells the story with his wonted verve. It will have to be told again—this book itself will stimulate the retelling, perhaps from the standpoint of Mother Cabrini's interior life. But in this book the author has really captured a character of great winsomeness, whose sanctity was towering and who was recognizably American, for all her evident Italian traits.
Originality, wit, freshness, and not a little wisdom are to be found in the book of twenty essays by an Irish Jesuit, Aloysius Roche, S.J., Between Ourselves (Longmans, Green. $2). A wide variety of topics is covered. There is something for all.
Anybody who has been at Lourdes will. have dear memories evoked by Don Sharkey's account of that vestibule to the supernatural order. After Bernadette (Bruce. $2) relates the train of human and Divine events which brought Bernadette and eventually the world to the grotto by the Gave. The place, the marvelous cures, and above all the inner peace that is always Lourdes' gift are written of in winning fashion.
The Church well knows that her own sheer possession of the truth of Christ and a social doctrine embodying its implications will not of itself save the world. She looks to her children to develop and perfect the techniques whereby Christian ideas may be effectively introduced into public life. In this latter work Fr. Felix Morlion, O.P., has been a leader. He organized the enterprise which led to the establishment of the International Center of Information Pro Deo. Its essential purpose is to form public opinion to the habit of Christian judgment on the events and movements of the day. Fr. Morlion's book, The Apostolate of Public Opinion (Montreal: Fides, paper $1.25, cloth $2.50) describes in vivid detail the Pro Deo techniques and their workings. The book should be studied by as many as possible. It will be highly useful for all those who have understood the determination of the Church to have her saving influence penetrate into every corner of the world's activity.
The centenary of Newman's conversion has reawakened interest in the life and thought of the great opponent of nineteenth-century liberalism, who was at the same time an outstanding champion of the mind’s true freedom. But Newman’s thought, especially his theological thought, is not always easy to grasp. Fr. Edmond D. Benard, therefore, has done a great service by his useful book, A Preface to Newman's Theology (Herder. $2.25). Its purpose is to formulate a set of principles that one must have in mind when reading Newman's theological writings and passing judgment on them. The book is heartily recommended to all students of Newman.
Pope Pius XII has spoken again and again of the longing of the peoples of the world for unity and fraternity and the end of all divisive strife. In his latest book, World Christianity (Bruce. $1), Fr. John J. Considine, M.M., tersely and effectively develops the thesis that the unity of the world is Christianity. At the heart of the Gospel is a veritable obsession with the fact that all men are one, in nature and in Christ. And in the Gospel is the power that can put them in possession of their birthright.
One excellent educative means whereby the Catholicism of the Church may be impressed upon her children is the study of the liturgy, especially its Eastern forms. Donald Attwater has published an excellent manual to further this purpose: Eastern Catholic Worship (Devin-Adair. $2.50). He has collected in one volume translations of all the Eastern Masses as they are celebrated at the present time in Catholic churches. His aim was to encourage further interest in and understanding of the life and worship of our Oriental brethren, to provide a handy source of reference for those already interested, and to enable readers to widen and deepen their own spiritual life and ideas by a study of liturgical worship different from their own.
Once in the Gospel a set of men was chided for standing and looking up in the air; they were reminded that the earth is the theatre of a Divine action and that it is upon the earth that Christ's Kingdom is coming. Faith has its eyes, said Saint Augustine; and they must be keen to see, not only the world of the supernatural but also the world of human history. This latter world calls for constant judgment, in the interests of its own guidance. Francis E. McMahon's book, A Catholic Looks at the World (Vanguard. $2.75), has a title that expresses a good Catholic attitude and endeavor. The book needs a longer review than can be given it here. It is challenging, and at times evokes counter-challenge. But it should be read, for the sake of its stimulation and the large measure of insight that it gives into what goes on in the world.
Perhaps one of the most attractive books of the year is Maisie Ward's The Splendor of the Rosary. (Sheed and Ward. $2.50). The Rosary has been called "the prayer of distraction"; for distraction is quite inherent in its recitation, by reason of the blessed monotony of its repeated Hail Marys. Distraction can hardly be eliminated, but it can be reduced, by storing mind and imagination with the thoughts and pictures which the Mysteries of the Rosary evoke. No one could linger through Maisie Ward's book without gaining this manner of spiritual enrichment.