Authors: Gerald O’Collins SJ
& Mario Farrugia SJ
ISBN: 978-0-19-872818-4
Date 2015
Price: £16.99 RRP
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Publisher: Oxford University Press

In this new edition of Catholicism, Gerald O’Collins and his Italian co-author Mario Farrugia attempt the unenviable task of improving on their tour de force from 2002. For aficionados of their previous work, the authors do not disappoint in delivering a scholarly yet readable survey of Catholic Christianity as a global ecclesial phenomenon.

After briefly explaining the ways in which the current volume has been informed by constructive engagement with their reviewers, O’Collins and Farrugia launch the reader on a white-water ride through two thousand years of Church history.

At a mach-speed of one millennium per chapter skilful pilots are essential and O’Collins and Farrugia are more than up to the task. There is an affable authority about their scholarship which does not flag as they move on to consider in sequence chapters on Revelation, Trinity and Incarnation, the Human Condition, Grace, Sacraments, Mission, Catholic Practices, the Moral Life and Current Challenges.

Despite its pace and range, acute observations, judicious quotations and fascinating details keep the reader absorbed as a cheerful cast of characters cross the stage. Macauley, Simeon the New Theologian, Dr Johnson or the notably influential John Paul II – the book manages to be broad in scope but personal in tone.

I suspect the absence of an analysis of the abuse scandals is among the more controversial aspects and the brevity of the Current Challenges chapter might not quite appease the more anxious among us who view the world from a Western perspective. That said, it is written kath olÙn – according to the whole, and as such it has a spacious, attractive feel. Great writers, masters of their craft. Recommended both for seekers and finders.

Anthony Towey,
St Mary’s University, Twickenham

May/June 2015

Author: David Wells
ISBN: 978-0-85231-421-0
Date: 2015
Price: £9.95 RRP
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Publisher: Redemptorist Publications

Anyone who has heard David Wells in action will know him to be a humorous and memorable speaker. Plymouth diocesan catechetical co-ordinator and inspiration behind their biennial ‘Clear Voices’ Festival of Theology, he is a regular fixture at the Los Angeles RE conference and the ‘Flame’ Catholic Youth events nearer to home.

So we know he can talk, but can he write? Well, I suppose the main triumph of The Reluctant Disciple is to prove not only that he can do so, but that he can do so in such a fashion that has captured his distinctive style. With hints of Richard Rohr and Ronald Rohlheiser, of Tony Hancock and Jack Dee, The Reluctant Disciple is a collection of keenly observed stories which invite the reader into the various scenes.

Skipping in graveyards, a shared sandwich, a disappearing altar boy. Any of these and many more trigger reflections that are connected on the one hand to scriptural passages and on the other to the everyday challenge of living the Christian life. Wells successfully tiptoes a fine line between pathos and piety and, using his reluctance, manages to avoid clichéd answers to life’s many difficulties – the death of a child, the missing father, the stupidity of sin.

In sum, the book ‘works’ both for the individual reader but also as a potential resource for group reflection in parishes or prayer groups. At Flame2, perhaps the most memorable moment was David’s ‘7 minute Gospel’ illustrated by Tree Behrens, which has since gone viral on the internet. It would be no surprise if this collection of involving, cajoling modern day parables proved to be similarly successful.

Anthony Towey,
St Mary’s University, Twickenham

May/June 2015

Author: Stanislaw Grygiel
ISBN: 978-0-8028-7154-1
Price: £16.99RRP
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Date: 2014
Publisher: Eerdmans

At the time when St John Paul II died a decade ago it was generally acknowledged that we were only able to make a slow beginning of the task of assessing his importance as a theologian – and one of his most important and influential themes, throughout his life, was the centrality of the human person. As time goes on it is worth being able to deepen our understanding by hearing from the dwindling group of people who were actually taught by Karol Woytyla when he was a young theologian in the 50s and early 60s. Of these one of the most distinguished is Professor Stanislaw Grygiel, who used to teach philosophy at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Rome (he is also a visiting professor at CUA), and Woytyla was his doctoral supervisor at Lublin.

What makes the book readable is that it is actually built around conversations which Grygiel had with his subject over many years, as a priest-professor, as a bishop and as pope. Thus we are given a very accessible synthesis of John Paul’s personalism: not simply as an academic category (although it is of course this) but as something worked out in the white heat of facing the tyrannies of Nazism and Communism. One example: personalism demands that we treat the ‘other’ person with respect, even if he is one we might treat with reserve. Grygiel records that Archbishop Woytyla in the 1970s agreed to meet a Russian professor whose father had been a close associate of the infamous Lavrenty Beria, the chief of Stalin’s secret police; as he writes ‘The courage of Karol Woytyla had its source in his complete entrustment of himself to the truth and its consequences’. This ‘entrustment to the truth’ is at the heart of St John Paul’s devotion to St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) whom he canonised and declared to be a patron saint of Europe.

Grygiel looks closely at a number of the formative influences on Woytyla, such as Mieczyslaw Kotlarczyk (founder of the Rhapsodic Theatre), the tailor Jan Tyranowski, the martyr bishop St Stanislas, Cardinal Adam Sapieha, and Woytyla’s own auxiliary, Bishop Jan Pietraszko. He also stresses the importance of the idea of beauty in the Pope’s thinking – shown in his love of walks in the countryside (this became harder when he became Pope) and in particular in the strength of his poetry, which Grygiel quotes extensively; he also draws on the reflections of other writers such as Cyprian Norvid, Plato and Goethe. Grygiel also looks at specific themes such as St John Paul’s teachings on the New Evangelisation, marriage and the family, and the nation state.

To give an example of Grygiel’s sharp perception of Woytyla’s thought, this forceful and salutary passage comes after he has explored the ways in which atheism in the communist system damaged the human person: ‘What Soviet communism did not succeed in doing is now accomplished by Western bankers and politicians. Because Woytyla saw the human person prophetically and poetically, he believed that anthropological error would end with the defeat of those who staked their lives on it. He was not only thinking of communism. Every separation of freedom from love cancels out the justice without which societies cannot live.’ (p. 65)

This is an outstanding book which presents the core of St John Paul’s thought in a very accessible and engaging manner. Apart from wanting an index, my only criticism is perhaps something beyond a translator’s control. Quite often he writes of John Paul having an ‘adequate anthropology’: this is an important concept, but in English the word ‘adequate’ seems rather weak. While the Polish word adekwatna is very similar I understand that one could translate it as ‘correct’, ‘right’ or ‘appropriate’ which might give it more force in our language.

Ashley Beck
St Mary’s University, Twickenham

May/June 2015

Author: Maggie Ross
ISBN: 978-0-232-53148-0
Date: 2014
Price: £14.99 RRP
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Publisher: Darton, Longman & Todd

This is a stimulating but ultimately for me an unlikeable book. But while it has some great faults there are some wonderfully redeeming insights. It is erudite, sometimes overly so for what is billed as a user’s guide, often over written and not always accessible. Indeed its very reliance on concepts and interpretation has the effect of focussing the reader on their mind and thoughts and away from the possibilities of a more contemplative stance. But as a student’s or academic guide there is much on offer here, at least for a reader with a discriminating mind and an ability to sift the many invaluable thoughts and insights from the personal opinions that all too often verge on the opinionated.

At times, others with whom the author disagrees are branded as ‘one eyed’, rather ignoring her own occasional sweeping generalisations. A series of rather random definitions are provided early on (and no one should come to this book for balanced definitions) and a variety of targets are set up and demolished – providing occasional laugh out loud moments as well as providing some serious and useful food for thought.

The destructive uses of silence could possibly have usefully been explored; and, as with many others, the author is weak on contemporary approaches to psychology and ignores the point that for many self-remembering is a necessary stage on the journey of self-forgetting (rather than its self-indulgent opposite). But all in all this is an illuminating and frustrating adventure, perhaps both in equal measure, suited to a reader already with some experience of treading the path of silence. I shall certainly now be taking a look at Ross’ earlier published work.

Finally, I can’t forgive DLT for allowing this book to be published without an index, for it is a book with an unusually broad and deep range of enquiry with an extensive use of quotation and an invigorating use of a myriad of sources.

Andrew Walker, St Marylebone with Holy Trinity, St Marylebone

May/June 2015

Author: Eamonn Conway with Cathal Barry
ISBN: 978-0-9572743-1-0
Date: 2014
Price: Euros 12.99 RRP
Publisher: The Irish Catholic

The publication at the end of 2013 of Pope Francis’ letter Evangelii Gaudium was a major event in the life of the Church. The directness, the accessibility and the comprehensive vision of the Holy Father has possibly had more impact than any other event in his pontificate, setting a striking and radical agenda. It is more readable than many a papal document and many people are reading it who have never thought of reading a letter from the Pope before.

Nevertheless a study guide is helpful, particularly for people in that category, and Professor Eamonn Conway from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, with the help of Cathal Barry, a journalist from The Irish Catholic, has produced one of the best that I have seen.

Incidentally, that collaboration in itself makes this short book unusual – how often do priests or theologians actually work together with journalists? It is very well produced and illustrated, with pages clearly laid out and designed to help the reader to remain engaged. The preliminary chapters outline Pope Francis’ background and try to give a succinct picture of him in his own words; then, in chapter 3, Father Conway outlines how the Holy Father’s approach is distinctive: stressing the saving love of God, the encounter with God as the essential heart of formation in Christian doctrine, ‘humility and respect for the complex situations that face people’, the importance of enabling people to grow in their faith, the ‘tough love’ needed by pastors and ministers and finally the Pope’s approach to change in the Church. There follows a salutary chapter warning the reader against misunderstanding the Pope, and a final chapter summarising some of the key points in the letter.

There is no substitute for reading Evangelii Gaudium but this is an invaluable aid which should be made widely available both in Ireland and Britain

Ashley Beck
St Mary’s University, Twickenham

May/June 2015

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