The Fatal Flaw of Thomas Cahill

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I really want to like the books of Thomas Cahill. Really. A lot. But he insists on making it impossible.

In his most recent endeavor, Mysteries of the Middle Ages, he takes a delightful subject matter--the importance and supreme significance of the Catholic Church in Medieval Europe and tops it off with a "sauce agendaise."

In a chapter titled "Love in the Ruins: A Dantesque Reflection," Cahill launches into the the Spong-like "The Church must change or die." Married priests will supposedly solve the pedophilia problem (this has been shown unlikely by innumerable sources and statistics, including the fact that a large number of active pedophilic predators are married people with a good family life). That while the Church fostered all sorts of things he sees as positive, it was not the hierarchy of the Church, which was essentially useless, but the lay people. And so on.

Likely I'll read the remainder of the book anyway, but given his record in previous performances, I felt that I needed to seek out the agenda first and attempt to defuse it so that I might enjoy the remainder of the work. This Mr. Know-It-All tells us that the future of the Church lies in "The only hope is for an uprising of laypeople who refuse to be disfranchised serfs any longer, led by sincere movements like Voice of the Faithful and CAll to Action, which will remove the only power the laity can now claim, the power of the purse, from clerical hands." Then we get this delightful tidbit:

"(The Catholic Church in the United States may be doomed in any case, unless the episcopate as a whole resigns, divesting itself of is gorgeous robes and walking off the world's stage in sackcloth and ashes. For the bishops who now hold office are surely impostors.)"

Hardly encouraging for the rest of the book--nevertheless, there is always something worthwhile that comes from reading the books, and with diligent sifting, one can separate the fact from the agenda once the agenda is clearly identified. Hildegaard of Bingen and Catherine of Siena as protofeminists and who knows what else.

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Have you attempted to read his equally tendentious Desire of the Everlasting Hills, in which he informs us that "of course" the Virgin Birth was just a cover story for Mary's out-of-wedlock pregnancy? (The father was "almost certainly" a Roman soldier. How he knows this I don't know. I also don't know how a Virgin Birth was supposed to be a plausible "cover story", foolish dupe of the wicked Church that I am.)

Similarly, William Manchester's A World Lit Only By Fire, except that his agenda (in the pages I could stomach) was "our stupid backward medieval ancestors".

IIRC, the story about Panthera the Roman soldier comes from Celsus, an anti-Christian pagan writer.

Indeed, he's a Cornwell clone. (The guy who wrote that non-fiction novel about JPII...)

Hi All,

I know. My real problem with him is that he does write well and he makes some interesting points along the way. (Although I will say that with the present book he WAAAAAAAAAY oversteps the boundaries between ornate and outright baroque--giving me the impression that he might either (1) be rather full of himself, (2) be playful and not realize how really stuck-up it ends up sounding.

Anyway, being a major fan/reader of all things medieval, this book looks to be a huge disappointment in the making (but then all the rest were for the reasons noted above.) Why then write about it? Because it needn't be this way and i wish it were not because I'd like to enjoy his insights without the overt agenda. Everyone has an agenda in writing, some just manage to make it palatable by serving up some really good writing with a small seasoning of agenda. With Cahill the agenda is like a big plateful of overcooked angelhair pasta (think 20 minute pasta) with a dollop of a very savory red sauce. And darn it, I wish it weren't so.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 30, 2006 9:15 AM.

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