Books and Book Reviews: May 2007 Archives

I was pleased to read this in the preface to Jesus of Nazareth by our Pope Benedict XVI.

from Jesus of Nazareth
Pope Benedict XVI

. . . The first point is that the historical-critical method--specifically because of the intrinsic nature of theology and faith--is and remains an indispensable dimension of exegetical work. For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on this earth. The factum historicum (historical fact) is not an interchangeable symbolic cipher for biblical faith, but the foundation on which it stands: Et incarnatus est--when we say these words, we acknowledge God's actual entry into real history. . . .

The method is a fundamental dimension of exegesis, but it does not exhaust the interpretive task for someone who sees the biblical writings as a single corpus of Holy Scripture inspired by God. . . .

We have to keep in mind the limit of all efforts to know the past: We can never go beyond the domain of hypothesis, because we esimply cannot bring the past into the present. To be sure, some hypotheses enjoy a high degree of certainty, but overall we need to remain conscious of the limit of our certainties. . .

Indeed, . . .some thirty years ago led American scholar to develop the project of "canonical exegesis." The aim of this exegesis is to read individual texts within the totality of one Scripture, which then sheds new light on all the individual texts.

Methods go only so far as the intrinsic limitations can carry you. It is impossible to examine the infinite with anything less than the infinite; however, when looked at from a great diversity of view points, the Infinite comes more clearly into focus than the view of any one school can possibly allow.

I don't do exegesis as such, but every time I pick up the Bible, I recall that it is the passionate narrative of God's love for all of His people. There are certainly themes and variations, but it is the constant, underlying strain of love that guides my reading of any biblical text. God is present and God is telling you that He loves you. Strain to hear this and you cannot go wrong in reading the Scriptures.

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Reading List


Not that it matters, but look for reviews here in the near future of Pope Benedict XVI's new book on Jesus and perhaps a couple of mysteries--one hard-boiled in the manner of James M. Cain, the other a historical from the time of the stripping of the Altars in England.

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist


Despite the cover sound-byte from Philip Pullman, Mohsin Hamid's newest book is well worth the attention of anyone interested in good writing.

It is unique: I can think of nothing to compare it to. However, some of its thematic elements are distantly related to V.S. Naipal's A Bend in the River and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness to which there is a direct reference in the text.

The story is told as a first person narration of the main character, Changez to an unnamed American who is visiting Pakistan for reasons unknown. As the narration unfolds we learn that Changez came to the United States to attend Princeton. Upon graduating he lands an really fine job with a very exclusive firm and an American girlfriend. And then--9/11, a date that substantially translates Changez's notion of who he is.

The story is deeply personal and highly involving. The language is simple, a long loop of narration that makes one wonder if the man ever shuts up--there is patter for everything--and yet, even so, one does not wish for him to be quiet. The story reveals the core of nationalistic feelings that we sometimes don't even know we have and it shows in quite a different light our own feelings and actions in the present day. Not necessarily so much an indictment, but a personal view, the book is likely to anger some. For me, it was a window into a world I have never even thought about.

And most interesting of all, is the "fundamentalism" of the book. I dare not say more because it would deprive you of one of the pleasure and one of the essential themes of the work--the dual "heart of darkness" at work in the narrative.

For those interested in good writing, a compelling story, and insight into one view of what happened 9/11 and subsequently, I couldn't recommend a better, faster read.

Highly recommended for all.

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Despite the awkwardness and Jabez-like overtones of the title, this new book by Anthony DeStefano (who also wrote a superb little book titled A Travel Guide to Heaven) is a useful reminder of who we are in Christ.

I know I'm late to the party reviewing this, and I probably have nothing to add that you haven't already heard except, perhaps, I found enough of this book provocative that I ended up quoting small sections of it at a recent day of reflection talk I gave about St. Therese of Lisieux.

Ostensibly written for those still seeking or perhaps a bit green in the faith, there is much inthis book for every Christian regardless of his or her vintage. There are reminders here of truths that we live but often do not sufficiently articulate--therefore truths that are often lost on us.

In a bid at crossing the ecumenical divide, Mr. DeStefano does not quote rafts of passages from the Church Fathers, nor does he cite anything outside of biblical sources, although without doubt he could have done so easily. Indeed, his short reading list is crammed full of Catholic writers from Aquinas to de Caussade, and every source he sites, from Randy Alcorn to E. M. Bounds to Dwight Moody is worthy of the attention that he gives it.

This is the book for the young in faith and for those who need to be reminded of the many things they have forgotten or do not consider often enough. It is a superb, small, readable book with great rewards for every reader.

Highly recommended for all readers and as a gift to persons ambivalent about the Catholic Faith. No question that upon reading this they might be more ready to recognize Catholics as true brothers and sisters in faith.

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Books, We Have Books

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In the past week, I've received four books, two of which I intend to discuss here without further amplification, two of which I hope to write more extensive reviews of.

The first of those that I will not belabor is a biography of Mother Angelica called, appropriately enough, Mother Angelica by Raymond Arroyo. Mr. Arroyo might be considered Mother Angelica's foremost proponent, supporter, and friend. He prepared a book I reviewed earlier of her sayings, and from my point of view, that way by far the more interesting book--a purely subjective judgment. There is nothing wrong with the style or writing of Mr. Arroyo's book, nor is there anything intrinsically wrong with the subject. When I have more time, I may return to it. However, Mother Angelica simply does not captivate me the way she does some of those who admire her. I have for her a certain amount of admiration and respect, but, unfortunately, no real interest, so a biography is lost on me.

Even so, I dipped in at a few places and found some fascinating details about goings-on in EWTN world as well as information about Mother Angelica's early life.

If you are an admirer of Mother Angelica, you'll probably find this book to your taste. And now that it is in a paperback edition, you'll probably also find it within your budget.

The second book that I'll touch on briefly is by a person whose writing I would like to like more--Scott Hahn. He has produced another opus Reasons to Believe, written in his characteristically irritating evangelical preacher/motivational speaker patois. As with all books by Scott Hahn, it is packed with useful information if you're interested in apologetics or even in simply understanding your own faith better. It is peppered with the personal, which makes it accessible and acceptable reading. Even so, it is thoroughly documented and clearly annotated. There is a wealth of information for those who have an easier time with his prose than I do. Having had my share of the evangelical set, I'm not particularly enchanted with its arrival in Catholic prose; however, once again that is a completely subjective view and does not reflect in any way on Mr. Hahn's ability to clearly express central truths of our Faith. My chief difficulty comes not from the main body of the argument, but from the titles that are pithy, catchy, motivational-speaker types of mnemonics that drive me to distraction: "The Mass of Evidence," "You Have the Rite to Remain Repentant." "Soar All Over." That said, there are far fewer of them in this book than in previous and I have high hopes of being able to place the blinders on sufficiently to get through the rest of it. When he's not making bad puns as part of his patter, the prose is clear, convincingly argued and well-supported.

Two books that I hope to have more to say about later in the week: Anthony DeStefano's Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To, which, despite its title, is NOT a Catholic version of "The Prayer of Jabez." Also Frank J. Tipler's The Physics of Christianity. I can't tell you how excited I was to receive this latter--I had read some time ago Tipler's The Physics of Immortality and came away somewhat perplexed and feeling like I should have paid more attention SOMEWHERE in school, but I wasn't precisely sure where. However, the main thrust of the book was utterly fascinating.

Below I include a short, intriguing excerpt from the new book because I think it expresses so well my own thoughts about this very subject:

from The Physics of Christianity
Frank J. Tipler

[After a discussion of an electron as a "quantized, relativistic, fermion field, Mr. Tipler continues:]

Similarly, everyone has an image of "God," but to really understand what God really is and how He could interact with the universe, one must use a theory beyond everyday commonsense physics. Contrary to what many physicists have claimed in the popular press, we have had a Theory of Everything for about thirty years. Most physicists dislike this Theory of Everything because it requires the universe to begin in a singularity. That is, they dislike it because the theory is consistent only if God exists, and most contemporary scientists are atheists. They don't want God to exist, and if keeping God out of science requires rejecting physical laws, well, so be it.

My approach to reality is different. I believe that we have to accept the implications of physical law, whatever these implications are. If they imply the existence of God, well then, God exists.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Books and Book Reviews category from May 2007.

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