Current Reading--Bad Pope, Great Saint?

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Time to regale you once again with my extensive reading list. I thought I'd feature just two selections that I am presently reading and enjoying. One of them by a St. Blogger (I think).

Meet Dorothy Day by Woodene Koenig-Bricker (I'm certain I've seen this name in one of my less-frequented places (H.M.S?) is one of those biographies that seems "just enough." By that I mean that it is a relatively short, nicely written introduction to Ms. Day's life and work. It is not fawning and even seems to hold Ms. Day a a respectable distance as it discusses aspects of her thought and life work that may be less-than-appealing to some. The text is liberally sprinkled with quotation from Ms. Day's writings. The overall effect is to shine a new light on Ms. Day--a light that is not overly flattering, but which is a greater help in understanding this remarkably complex and faith-driven woman than many of the premature hagiographies I've happened upon. I've never known quite what to make of Ms. Day. Ms Koenig-Bricker's book has helped me to begin to get a grip on this.

I have only just started the second book, Ross King's Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling. Initial impressions suggest that Julius II is one of those popes who, along with Alexander VI, forced the hand of the reformationists (or if you preferred, lit a fire underneath them.) Protestantism may have been a greivous blow to the body of Christ, but simony, and the sale of indulgences to furnish luxury for the Pope are greivous blows themselves. Now, I haven't done the research to find out if these accusations are accurate, so I shouldn't be talking out of Church. It is evident that Mr. King is, if partisan to anything, partisan to Michelangelo.

Whatever the case may be, the book is well written, entertaining, and highly interesting. The research seems impressive if not necessarily impeccable . (On this I have no grounding to comment, I would have to do my own work, and even then, I would be somewhat dubious as to my own conclusions based on so little investigation.) If you have an interest in renaissance art and politics, this may be the book for you.

(A snippet from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia entry might shine a somewhat better light on many of the issues:

In addition he was commendatory Abbot of Nonantola, Grottaferrata, and Gorze, and drew the revenues of various other ecclesiastical benefices. These large incomes, however, he did not spend in vain pomp and dissipation, as was the custom of many ecclesiastics of those times. Giuliano was a patron of the fine arts, and spent most of his superfluous money in the erection of magnificent palaces and fortresses. Still his early private life was far from stainless, as is sufficiently testified by the fact that before he became pope he was the father of three daughters, the best known of whom, Felice, he gave in marriage to Giovanni Giordano Orsini in 1506.

A third book, I have not yet started, but it looked interesting. Called The Aquinas Prescription by Gerald Vann O.P., it looks like a nice short biography and appreciation of thought. I have two different comments, unrelated to the text. One is a question to those who may know. Why do I hear so little of Gerald Vann amongst the O.P. circles? Is it that his works appealed primarily to a lay audience (and I mean that both in intellectual and religious terms)? Or is there perhaps some greater flaw?

Second, why does Sophia Press insist on tampering with the great books of the past? Almost everything I get from them has been in some way altered--the index has been dropped, the text has been abridged, the copy had been manhandled. If these texts were not worthy in the first place, why present them. Why take a monumental work and present it without an index. I beleive this disservice was done to Dave Armstrong's work on Biblical Evidence for Catholicism. It is presented without an index which cripples it for apologetics purposes. What are these editors thinking? What could possibly be the reason for such treatment?

My only comment to Sophia--leave the texts alone. If something embarasses you or seems archaic to modern ears trust the readers of your texts to discern. TAN books certainly does and as an editorial policy, it is commendable. When you edit, you might consider explanatory notes and, if anything, expanding the index. Yes, I know it is tedious and terrible work, but a little SGML or even XML and you'll be able to handle without any trouble at all.

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Dear Steven,

I know very little about "O.P. circles," having only been trapped inside one of them a few times (and, improbably, living to tell the tale). But I think that a recent article by the invaluable Fergus Kerr, OP (Providence 8 [2003]) might help answer your query about Gerald Vann, OP. Here are a couple paragraphs:

"Gerald Vann's book Saint Thomas Aquinas (recently republished in the United States) first appeared in 1940 (he was 33). His purpose, as he says in the preface, was to interest the non-Catholic who finds himself 'repelled by what he conceives as too exclusively rational an approach to reality,' a conception of Thomism which is 'understandable indeed, but tragically false.' In brief, for Vann, Thomas's 'speculative thought and his mysticism were of a piece': his mysticism, like his theology, is a synthesis of the Pseudo-Dionysian via negativa and the Fourth Gospel's insistence that the Light has come into the world. Borrowing freely from Gilson and Sertillanges, allying himself with Josef Pieper, Victor White, and Yves Congar, Vann presents Aquinas as a theologian who belongs to Eastern as well as Western Christianity but whose legacy has largely been lost in post-Tridentine Catholic descent into anti-Protestantism, clericalism, legalism, etc. Never explicitly saying so, and writing handsomely of many Thomists in the history, Vann clearly lays the blame for the 'degraded' Thomism so repellent to non-Catholics on the 'radical infidelity' of self- styled Thomists: 'In the main ... the history of Thomism is ... a history of failure.'

"Spelling out all the influences upon Aquinas' thought (Islamic, Jewish, Greek patristics, etc.), Vann appeals to the work of Gabriel Thery, OP (1891-1959), one of the greatest of a remarkable generation of French Dominican scholars, in support of his view of the 'permeation' of Thomas's mind by the ideal of 'Dionysian intellectual ascesis.'"


I'm curious to know who you do hear a lot of amongst the O.P. circles. Presumably the TAN-tastic Garrigou-Lagrange. Anyone else?

I think Vann would be considered one of the major Dominican writers in English of the 20th Century, along with Bede Jarrett and Vincent McNabb. I doubt you've heard much of Jarrett either.

The reason *I* haven't mentioned them is because I haven't read any of their books yet.

Dear Tom,

Garrigou-Lagrange (who is O.P.), Jordan Aumann (who is O.P.), Walter Farrell, Vincent McNabb, Josef Peiper (whose affinity I do not know), Jacques Maritain (ditto for Peiper)and every now and again Schillebeeckx (closest guess as to spelling, sorry). These are the people I often hear about on O.P. blogs or at O.P. sites. I was cautioned about Jordan Aumann's stuff, but I don't know the full nature of the caution--whether like Rahner it stems from misunderstanding and subsequent rumor or whether it is valid. What I've read of him has seemed quite good.

Anyway--that's who I hear about in Domincan Circles. But never Gerald Vann. Curious.



Pieper and Maritain were laymen; neither was Dominican (as far as I know; I've heard Maritain might have been a tertiary in another order) but both were very Thomistic.

On that list, Farrell and McNabb are the only writers of essentially "popular" books -- and of course, Farrell is best remembered for his 1900-page "popular" Companion the the Summa, which likely has a bought/read ratio greater than A Brief History of Time.

So I'd guess that there's a bias in favor of "non-popular" writers amongst the O.P. circles.

I've not heard anything bad about either Vann or Aumann, not that I necessarily would have. (Aumann did the English translation of fr. Juan Arintero's Mystical Evolution (Arintero is another Dominican you should hear more of than you do) and edited the Bede Jarrett anthology I've got on a shelf somewhere, which are both plusses in my book.)



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 22, 2003 8:29 AM.

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