Book Review: Herbert Mortimer Luckock’s Studies in the History of the Book of Common Prayer

For some reason, I’ve suddenly become the defender of things and people Anglo-Catholic.  I’ve always been ambivalent about Anglo-Catholicism, from the “unEnglish and unmanly” aspect to their implicit lack of confidence in their own sacraments.   I think what’s changed is the fact that I find myself locking horns with Reformed types both inside and outside of the Anglican/Episcopal world.  They’re like George W. Bush: you’re either with them or against them, and there’s no middle ground.  (They are having their problems these days…)

So it was with anticipation that I took up the reading of another Anglo-Catholic classic: Herbert Mortimer Luckock’s Studies in the History of the Book of Common Prayer.   I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing a book of his before and this one was a delight as well, well written as the other.  It’s main focus is the history of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England from the Act of Supremacy until the 1662 Book of Common Prayer was issued in the wake of the demise of the Commonwealth.  The facts (and certainly the prayer books issued during the period) are generally not in dispute; their meaning certainly is, and Luckock definitely has a point of view that needs to be heard.

Luckock actually starts with the beginning of Christianity in Britain, and then its reintroduction with Augustine of Canterbury’s mission.  Same Augustine found the use of Gallican liturgies on the island, and he wrote to his superior, Pope Gregory I, asking permission to suppress these liturgies in favour of the Roman Rite.  He got a smack-down from the Pope, who wasn’t as zealous for the Roman way as Augustine was.  Eventually the Roman liturgy was adopted in Britain, but variations persisted right up to the time of the English Reformation.

The main result of Henry VIII’s takeover of the English church was the dissolution of the monasteries and the transfer of the headship of the church to himself; it was decidedly conservative, and even extended to the prohibition of the Bible in English, as Tyndale found out the hard way.  The need for reform was strongly felt, and with Henry VIII’s death in 1547, the way was cleared for that to take place.  A committee of revision was appointed (whose members had a spectrum of views,) the existing multiple service books inherited from Roman times condensed and simplified into one book, and, with both the need for reform and the desire for continuity in mind, in 1549 the first Book of Common Prayer was set forth to the Anglican world, with an Act of Uniformity to insure that it was followed.

That promulgation was not without controversy.  The most serious blow back came from (surprise!) a Celtic part of Britain, namely Cornwall.  In a reaction that would make Grady McWhiney proud, the Cornish decided that they wanted to start a Jihad like the Muslims did!  Part of the problem was that, in the committee’s zeal to produce a liturgy in a language the people understood, they overlooked the fact that the Cornish understood neither the old Latin nor the new English!  There were also controversies about the redistribution of the seized monastic properties, most of which went to noblemen and other already powerful people.  The English put the rebellion down in typically brutal fashion, which (here and elsewhere) helped accelerate the massive emigration the British Isles experienced over the next several centuries, filling up two continents with people who wanted or had to leave.

The 1549 Book should have put an end to the matter, but at this point the critical moment came in Anglican history.  That critical moment was encouraged by the three troublemakers from the Continent: John à Lásco, Peter Martyr and Martin Bucer.  Along with their domestic allies of a Puritan idea, they centred their objections to the 1549 Book with several points of doctrine and practice.

The first is their advocacy of Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology, which they embraced with varying degrees.  (The important thing about the Reformers is not only did they disagree with the Pope but with each other.)

The second is their horror of the prayers for the dead, which they believed perpetuated the doctrine of Purgatory.

The third was their dislike of the use of vestments in worship, which they thought were worldly.  That dislike extended to academic regalia, and the connection between the two is an interesting side note in the history of both academia and Anglicanism.

There were other points but the main result was that there was a push to revise the prayer book with the ink on the first one barely dry, and the result was the 1552 Book of Common Prayer.  Luckock is not entirely negative on the changes but is obviously not pleased either.  He notes the immense impact that the Continental troublemakers had on Cranmer’s mind (as do his Reformed counterparts.)  With the brutal interlude of “Bloody Mary” this book, with a few further revisions, became the cornerstone of the Elizabethan Settlement, which brought a relative peace to the Church of England for the rest of the sixteenth century.

The unravelling of that peace, which lead to the English Civil War and the Commonwealth, is something that Luckock surprisingly skips over.  That’s unfortunately; it’s a good example of how Anglicanism and the move of the politics and culture of the time were locked with each other, as they have been of late.  But there’s a lesson to be learned.  Reformed Anglicans insist that the 1552 Book and its immediate successors are part of the proof that true Anglicanism is Reformed.  The core problem with that thesis from a historical point of view is that many of the Reformed Anglicans of the time (especially the Puritans) didn’t think that it was enough!  They were happy to dispense with liturgical worship altogether, something they basically managed to achieve under Oliver Cromwell.

That’s a good way to bring us to the last part of the book: the promulgation of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  As was the case with the earlier Books, a conference was called.  Luckock admits that the Puritans/Presbyterians (the “discontents,” as Luckock delightfully refers to them) had the stronger position going into the conference, but they overplayed their hand,  ultimately setting forth a “Reformed Liturgy” which would have represented a sea change in Anglican worship.  Ultimately Parliament took the older Prayer Books and, with a few more revisions, made the 1662 Book the official Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, which it is (in theory at least) until this day.

One interesting feature of Luckock’s narrative are the extensive appendices, which include one on the Hampton Court Conference.  This one was the Puritans’ strongest attempt (unsuccessful at the moment) to move the Church’s worship in a more Reformed direction, but its most important result was the authorisation of what became the King James Bible.  He also discusses the “Scotch Liturgy” which, as noted elsewhere, became the ancestor of the “Whiskeypalians” own liturgy.

As always, Luckock puts forth a delightfully written narrative which is contrapuntal to a great deal of conventional wisdom in the Anglican/Episcopal world.  Herbert Mortimer Luckock’s Studies in the History of the Book of Common Prayer is an interesting narrative about a crucial part of Anglican history, and as such is commended.

Book Review: Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage by Grady McWhiney and Perry Jamieson

Most of you who stop by here regularly know that I am a big fan of Grady McWhiney’s “Celtic South” idea.  That adherence didn’t come from theoretical considerations, but from hard experience.  Some people characterize McWhiney’s thesis as a form of “white supremacy,” but that only shows the decline of reading comprehension among Americans.  I think that it’s the key to showing that white supremacy is demonstrably false, but more about that later.

Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage by Grady McWhiney and Perry Jamieson concerns the central event in the conflict between the Scots-Irish and the rest of us: the Civil War/War Between the States.  The problem under discussion in this book is best summed up by this passage from the preface:

Charles P. Roland has pointed out that more than a fourth of the million men who served in the Confederate army died of wounds of disease, and that in relation to the southern white population “those service casualties were as great as those endured by major European participants in the wars of the twentieth century.  If the North during the Civil War had suffered commensurately she would have lost more than 1,000,000 men instead of 360,000.  The American colonies in revolt against England would have lost 94,000 men instead of 12,000.  The United States in World War II would have lost well over 6,000,000 men instead of somewhat more than 300,000.  The Confederacy rendered the heaviest sacrifice in lives…ever made by Americans.”

How and why the Confederacy lost so many men is the burden of this book.  We contend that the Confederates bled themselves nearly to death in the first three years of the war by making costly attacks more often than did the Federals…The Confederates could have offset their numerical disadvantage by remaining on the defensive and forcing the Federals to attack; one man in a trench armed with a rifle was equal to several outside of it.  But Southerners, imprisoned in a culture that rejected careful calculation and patience, often refused to learn from their mistakes.  They continued to fight, despite mounting casualties, with the same courageous dash and reckless abandon that had characterized their Celtic ancestors for two thousand years.  The Confederates favored offensive warfare because the Celtic charge was an integral part of their heritage.

Much of the middle part of the book details the changes in warfare that had taken place in the 1850’s that changed the whole tactical situation.  Most of the generals on both sides (and some of the politicians, such as Jefferson Davis) served in the Mexican War, and there the offensive definitely paid off.  As the Civil War began much of the officer corps on both sides basically prepared to fight the last war.

But that was a mistake.  The major technological change that took place was the change from smoothbore guns to rifles, which extended the kill range from around 300 yards to 1000 yards.  That shifted the advantage from the attacker to the entrenched defender.   The Federals were quicker to pick on this simple fact as opposed to their Confederate opponents, which led to an observation that didn’t get developed as well as it should: the Federals learned from their mistakes, the Confederates didn’t.  That’s as aspect of Southern culture that exasperates more than most, and it’s independent of educational level and socio-economic status.  The battle cry of “We’ve always done it this way” still resounds in these parts.

That affected the other aspects of the army, namely the artillery and cavalry.  The artillery was slower to convert to rifled bores, and in spite of its offensive value in Mexico found itself most valuable on the defense during the Civil War.  Cavalry charges were almost inevitably disasters, with the defenders “emptying the saddles” in short order.  The cavalry found itself more effective in dismounted conflict, reconnaissance, and flanking maneuvers.  As always Southerners loved the cavalry but their ability to keep it in the field deteriorated to the point that, in the last part of the war, most of the cavalry action came from the Federals.

All of this is presented in fascinating detail that will certainly alter the way one looks at the Civil War from a military standpoint.  The question is, how well do the authors link all of this information with the idea of the Celtic South?  Not as well as one would like; that comes at the very end of the book, and is to some extent sequestered from the rest.  There are several things that the authors could have pointed out which would have strengthened their case.

The first is that the most “Celtic” thing the South didn’t do leading up to the Civil War was to develop an industrial and transportation base to fight the modern war that it became.  Such requires patience and industry, both of which were in short supply south of the Mason-Dixon line.  That affected the South grievously in its ability to keep an army in the field.  The authors speak of the Southern soldier’s ability to endure hardship and deprivation, but both were accentuated by a faulty economic system that progressively found it difficult to furnish its army with weapons, uniforms and (in a rich agricultural region like the South) food.

The second is they point out Grant’s aggressive, offensive strategy in Virginia in the last two years of the war.  That needs to be seen as a part of the war of attrition that Grant was fighting.  Knowing that he had more men and the industrial base to keep them in the field, Grant simply beat Lee’s army into submission at Appomattox.  A different strategy was employed by Sherman, whose name is still cursed down here: he avoided the attack most of the time, inflicting damage on the Confederate civilian infrastructure as opposed to their military one.  (He made an exception at Kennesaw Mountain, which he lived to regret.)

The third (and they do mention this from time to time) is that a defensive strategy by the South was not only justified by the changes in weaponry but also by the difficult terrain that covered large parts of the Confederacy.  That terrain, coupled with the poor railroad and road system (which was in common with Russia during the World Wars) made the attack difficult.  The Confederates would also have done better with guerilla warfare, but their romantic culture didn’t allow for that.

One person that comes in for special opprobrium is Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s President.  His experience in the Mexican War made him an apostle of the attack, and much of the impetus for that came from the very top.  That had traction with Southerners, and led to many of the serious losses the Confederacy experienced, especially in the early years of the war.

The Confederates had company in not learning lessons from their own mistakes.  Europeans in general and the French in particular learned little or nothing from the American Civil War.  The French (the same native soil as Vercingetorix and his disaster at Alesia) went into World War I with an offensive strategy that lasted until Robert Nivelle’s offensive in 1917 that nearly broke the French army.   The Germans for their part attempted to replicate Grant’s war of attrition at Verdun, but it took a few years and another war for that investment to see a return.

Also, many Northerners had the same level of contempt for Southern whites has the latter had for black people, up to and including the desire for genocide.  This illustrates that the differences between the two cultures was understood at the time.  McWhiney’s thesis has brought back that difference into view.  Today the Scots-Irish are Donald Trump’s biggest supporters.  You’d think that the left would be eager to embrace McWhiney’s thesis to trash their opponents once and for all.  But they have not, and there are three reasons for this.

The first is that, if you can trash one ethnic group, you can trash another.  The left is afraid that, if they make this stick, someone else will come along and do the same thing with one of their own constituencies.  But anyone familiar with various people groups in this country should realize that the Scots-Irish are sui generis.

The second is that, underneath their contempt, the “hippie ideal” that the sixties types and their fans is really the Scots-Irish typical way of life: unbridled sex and drinking (and now opioids,) along with a lazy attitude towards work.  When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez first unveiled her “Green New Deal,” one of the planks in the platform that got removed early was the promise of income for those who didn’t want to work.  This is a Scots-Irish dream come true; the reason Southern states are so tight with their welfare systems is they know what would happen if they implemented such a plan.

The third is that the whole attack on “white supremacy” assumes that white people are a homogeneous group.  That’s simply not the case.  Once we realize that there are differences, a major cornerstone of intersectionality is knocked out.  The Scots-Irish are the boxcar hobos on the train of white supremacy, and the sooner both they and everyone else come to grips with that fact, the better.

Today this country is as divided as it has been since the days of attack and die.  Those of the Scots-Irish mentality are looking for that great victory that will wipe out their opponents, whether that victory be an election, a great preacher-led revival, or another shooting war.  It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this is going to end badly, and in a world where we are not so isolated from the rest, while we fight each other our rivals will advance at our expense.  Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage by Grady McWhiney and Perry Jamieson is a good study in what happens when the big things in life are done on impulse and emotion, and that’s a lesson that needs to be learned today.

Book Review: Eric Patterson’s Just American Wars: Ethical Dilemmas in U.S. Military History

One of the surprises I’ve gotten is that, even in conservative American churches, there are those in positions of influence who are pacifists. How can this be, especially since their core ethnic group is the bellicose Scots-Irish? But life is an education. Although it’s tempting to regard Eric Patterson’s Just American Wars: Ethical Dilemmas in U.S. Military History (War, Conflict and Ethics) as simply a refutation of this idea, it’s more than that. Patterson, former Dean of the School of Government at Regent University, sets forth a treatise in support of not only the just war theory itself, but also its application in the various conflicts the United States has fought, starting with its own independence and moving forward.

Just war theory dates back to Augustine, and has been the moral and ethical basis of pursuing war in the West ever since (until recently, at least.) One thing that Patterson should have been more explicit about is that no state–especially a world power like the U.S.–can survive without military capability and the will to use it when appropriate. Many of the same pacifists who decry the use of the military also use the democratic aspects of the state to pursue their goals, but bluntly you can’t have one without the other.

We normally think of just war theory only in terms of going to war in the first place, but Patterson’s book has as its basic outline the entire idea of the just war theory, which can be broken down (like Gaul) into three parts:

  1. Jus ad bellum, the aforementioned going to war. Components of this include legitimate authority, just cause, right intent, likelihood of success, proportionality of ends, and last resort. One thing I’d like Patterson to have discussed is something I’ve complained about on this blog re the Confederacy. In addition to the lack of just cause (we’ll get back to the authority issue,) one reason the whole adventure was chimeric for the South from the the start is that the unequal resources of the two combatants guaranteed that the South would lose once the North got its military act together.
  2. Jus in bello, right conduct during the pursuit of the conflict. This includes proportionality and discrimination (the care taken to minimise casualities of non-combatants.)
  3. Jus post bellum, doing the follow-up to war right. This includes order, justice and concilitation. In some way this is the hardest part of the whole process, and Patterson does a good job in his discussion of what happens when the war is done.

Patterson’s basic case is that the United States, on the whole, has conducted its wars in accordance with just war theory at all phases of the conflicts. To support his case he goes back into some conflicts that have been forgotten, such as the pacification of the Philippines after the Spanish-American war or the bombing of Veracruz during the Mexican-American War. From a contemporary standpoint the most important discussion he has is Vietnam, the conflict that has poisoned American political and military life ever since. His thesis is that getting into Vietnam was right but the conflict got subsequently bogged down in personal ego (shame-honour) and domestic political considerations that proved harder to resolve than the conflict itself.

Hand in hand with that proposition is another: that the leitmotif of American wars is not the overwhelming industrial and mlitary power that the United States can bring to bear on any conflict it gets itself into, but the moral purpose and direction of the war effort, from the debate before conflict through the conflict itself and the desires of the country in settlement. That morality was certainly operative in the wake of the two World Wars, with Wilson’s Fourteen Points (in reality, he overdid it) and the whole order the United States put together in the wake of World War II.

Unfortunately, from Vietnam onwards, scholars have cast aspersions on the whole moral nature of American policy. This has had an impact on American military conduct, especially in the overly restrictive rules of engagement that our military forces have been saddled with in Afghanistan and Iraq. Much of the motivation behind Patterson’s book is to refute these aspersions on American policy. If the book has a weakness, however, it is that Patterson’s refutation is too narrow and really doesn’t address what “sticks in the craw” of his liberal opponents.

I think it’s fair to say that the real problem that the left has with American law, polity and policy on the whole is that our current Constitutional and legal system, designed to force consensus and prevent rapid change, has not been sufficiently responsive to the implementation of their idea. They have “despaired of the republic,” to use Livy’s expressive phrase. That comes out most clearly in the whole discussion of the American Revolution, whose legitimacy Patterson upholds using just war theory and the desire of the colonists to assert their “rights as Englishmen.” The left has responded by challenging the whole idea of rebellion against the constituted authority of the English Crown. This challenge, which one would more reasonably expect from conservative Christian and Gothardian sources, strikes one as odd coming from the left.

The morality issue brings up something else: what happens when the basis of American morality changes? Such a change would certainly come into play if the country’s idea were to completely “flip.” We already see a streak in leftist thought that places more importance on who makes the decisions than what decisions they make. As an example, the same James Mattis who resigned to gasps of horror under Donald Trump was fired with little fanfare by Barack Obama, in both cases for a similar reason: he took a more hawkish position than his dovish Commander-in-Chief. Would a more uniformly leftist United States, for example, send troops to enforce same-sex civil marriage, something that was floated in anticipation of a Hilliary Clinton victory? Or to ensure the commercial success of an American tech hegemon? Patterson doesn’t really address these kinds of issues but does discuss the impact of postmodernism, which breaks down adherence to a just war paradigm–and not necessarily in a more pacifist direction.

Patterson, however, is better at sticking to his subject than I am. The just war theory, for all of its shortcomings, needs a defence in our current situation, and Patterson does a good job in giving it that. Just American Wars: Ethical Dilemmas in U.S. Military History (War, Conflict and Ethics) is just such a needed defence, and deserves its place in this ongoing debate.

Book Review: Thomas Reeves’ Was Jesus an Evangelical?

One of the things that makes writing this blog tricky is the simple fact that being a product of the Anglican and Catholic world on the one hand and being in the Pentecostal world on the other forces one to live in many “tensions” to borrow a term from the seminary academics.  Some of those (albeit going in the opposite direction) can be seen in Thomas Reeves’ Was Jesus an Evangelical?: Some Thoughts About the American Church and the Kingdom of God.  Reeves is an Anglican rector in Roanoke, VA, who has come from Evangelicalism to write a book that is both challenging and dissatisfying at the same time.

Most of the book is taken up in an examination of the Beatitudes, with an introductory section to start with and some conclusions at the end.  That brings us to the first strong point of the book: his knowledge of the Scriptures and his ability and willingness to apply them in ways that are both informed and challenging.  Any barbecue of Evangelicalism will sooner or later involve looking at the Sermon on the Mount; it is doubtless the most purposely neglected portion of the Scriptures in Evangelicalism.  He starts there, and his critique is effective; one hopes that he pursues the rest of the Sermon in subsequent writings.  His interpretation of the genealogy of Matthew 1 is probably the best I’ve seen.

The second is his realisation that the faults of American Christianity are across the board.  Progressives typically seize things he points out to justify themselves and their idea, as if they have a monopoly on the Sermon’s teachings.  Reeves wisely avoids this; any ACNA man (or woman) of the cloth who has interacted with their Episcopal counterparts should know better, and he does.  In a sense Reeves comes with the assumption that both American progressive and Evangelical Christianity come with many of the same shared assumptions and are in many ways mirror images of each other.

The third is his critique of the “performance-based theology” (to use a phrase from a friend of mine in the Church of God) at both the clerical and lay levels in the church.  The predominance of that has always bothered me about the church I’m in now, although it is an effective counterweight against the inertia I’ve seen elsewhere in the church.

With the strong points are the weak ones.  The first one is his tendency towards sweeping generalisations, usually of those he is criticising but also sometimes of those he supports.  Some of that is due to his reticence in being specific about naming names of those he is either supporting or not.  That’s not bad in itself but in some cases he not only paints with a broad brush but, like a man who used to work for my father, spray paints anything that doesn’t move.

Second, he has a want of a real historical sense, either of the history he’s trying to play down or that which he’s lifting up.  To a large extent where you’re at in Christianity is determined by what history you think is important, but history (especially Anglican history) can be a messy, complicated business.  He should be aware, for example, that the whole Pentecostal movement, with the Wesleyan-Holiness one behind it, in part started as a reaction to the respectable “go down, shake the preacher’s hand and join the church” Christianity that he finds justifiably inadequate.

That brings us to the most significant weakness of the book: the solution he proposes to fix the problem.  Like many Anglicans (and others) he proposes a return to historical Protestantism, with its creeds, liturgies and emphasis on Patristic teaching.  While I think that American Christianity would be better off with all three coming to the surface more often, I don’t think that these alone will get us to the “Sermon on the Mount” Christianity that Reeves so comprehensively describes in his book.

For openers, the “historical Protestantism” he advocates for is not univocal.  There were significant differences between Luther, Calvin and the Anglican reformers, both in doctrine and in practice, and these cannot be ignored.  Reeves also ignores another important reformer–Zwingli–whose influence on Evangelicalism is enormous, including but not limited to Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology.  To present a united front based on the Reformation is easier said than done, and in any case the fact that American Christianity is traditionally Protestant hasn’t stopped the “success gospel” from being front and centre, even before the tasteless prosperity teachers of our day got going.

Beyond that, the restoration of “historical” Christianity would be enriched if it included individual renewal and encouragement of a personal relationship with God.  The alternative is to see what Main Line churches have done from the Reformation onwards: degenerate into box-checking institutions where vague assent to creeds was for most a substitute for real Christianity.  Unfortunately most of these churches–and we might as well throw in the Roman Catholic Church while we’re at it–have shown an unwillingness to put the pastoral effort into making a higher level of commitment among the laity actually work.   It’s easier for someone who was raised in that environment to see than one coming from a “performance-based” environment, but it’s true none the less.

I honestly think that this book would have been better if it had been organised as a “devotional” type of book to challenge Christians to seek change in themselves and their churches rather than an assault on certain types of Christianity.  Certainly Reeves’ treatment of the Beatitudes lend themselves to that kind of application.  And one wonders if his title Was Jesus an Evangelical?: Some Thoughts About the American Church and the Kingdom of God is really the best.   Perhaps it would be better if the title asked the question Was Jesus an American?

The answer: thank God no!

Why the Spanish Civil War is Still Important

The history of the Twentieth Century is one written in blood.  Between two world wars, the procession of genocides from Armenia to Stalin to the Holocaust, China and the Killing Fields, millions seemed to vanish for causes that are better hated than understood.  Is there one conflict that we can look at than encapsulates the century better than others?  Although it’s forgotten outside its home country today, I think it’s fair to say that the Spanish Civil War should top the list.  Just about every ideology that dominated the century was represented there, either by Spanish adherents, foreign ones, or both.  And the combination of the conflict’s intensity and the tendency of the participants to romanticise their own cause and demonise their opponents’ certainly has lessons for our own polarised society today.

Probably the best single volume work on the subject in English is Hugh Thomas’ The Spanish Civil War.  He later acted as an adviser to Margaret Thatcher.  Most of what follows is derived from this work.

The existence of Spanish Latin America, from the Rio Bravo del Norte to the Tierra del Fuego–and beyond–is a testament to Spain as a world power for three centuries.  Napoleon’s invasion, with the loss of most of the American colonies, put it into more than a century of instability, ranging from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy to succession disputes (the Carlists) to the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera and finally to the Spanish Republic, which was established in 1931.

Through all of this, like France and Italy, Spain was a country with a wide variety of political parties, a system which tended towards fragmentation.  On the left were the Socialists, Anarchists, Communists (whose role increased as the war progressed) and other parties supporting the Republic.  On the right were Catholic parties (CEDA,) Monarchists and Carlists, Falangists and Agrarians.  There were some parties in the centre.  Complicating the scene (then and now) were the regional parties, primarily the Catalan and Basque parties, which themselves had an ideological range.  The one thing that Spanish parties had in common was a intensity of commitment to their cause that was extremely bore-sighted, first figuratively and soon literally in the war.

Most Americans will be surprised that Anarchism was a serious political movement, associating it as a fringe terrorist group involved with the assassination of President William McKinley.  In Spain it certainly was serious; the idea that we didn’t have to have a government had traction.  As Thomas explains:

To these a great new truth seem to have been proclaimed.  The State, being based upon ideas of obedience and authority, was morally evil.  In its place, there should be self-governing bodies–municipalities, professions, or other societies–which would make voluntary pacts with each other.  Criminals would be punished by the censure of public opinion.

The last point indicates that they were waiting for the advent of social media…the Anarchists on the one hand and the Socialists and Communists on the other had a great deal of bad blood between them going back to Marx and Bakunin, and this conflict bedeviled the Republic’s war effort when crunch time came.

With a Republic came a constitution, and at this point the Republican-Socialist majority made a strategic error: they decided to make the document a political one, embodying their own idea rather than creating a document acceptable to a broad range of Spaniards.  No where was that more evident than in its anticlerical clauses regarding the Catholic Church: religious education was ended, the Jesuits were banished, no more payment of salaries to priests (which were compensation for the seizure of the Church’s lands in the last century,) etc.   Overplaying one’s hand is a hallmark of religious conflicts; that was certainly the case in France, but in Spain the shoe was on the other foot.  One tireless advocate of these measures–even in face of opposition in his own coalition–was Prime Minister Manuel Azaña, who would play such a large role in the coming civil war.

Some of Azaña’s confidence that he would succeed in his quest–a quest whose genesis came from his own bad experiences in the Catholic educational system–came from the desultory way in which Spaniards related to the Church.  In 1931 only about a third of Spaniards were practicing Catholics, this in the home country of the Inquisition.  But under that low level, Spaniards wrapped their identity as such with the Church, and same Church was an instrument of social justice in many instances.  In their hard-line anti-clerical policies Azaña and his allies made unnecessary enemies which would come back to haunt them on the battlefield.

The next four years were times of conflict and instability that rivalled France’s Fourth Republic (to say nothing of postwar Italy.)  The elections of February 1936 brought a strong majority to the Republican Popular Front.  The right felt it had been cornered.  In July, part of the military rose at two ends of the Republic: in Spanish Morocco and the Canary Islands, under Francisco Franco, and in the North, under Emilio Mola.  The Spanish Civil War had begun.

From a military standpoint, as was the case with its American counterpart, the war was the steady advance of one side (in this case the Nationalists, eventually under Franco) and the steady retreat of the other (the Republicans, with Azaña as its president at the start.  As also with that war, the details in between were complicated, and only a cursory summary can be done here.

The basic reason why the Nationalists won the Spanish Civil War was that their military organisation was superior and coherent.  The Nationalists had a real army; in the early stages, the Republicans had a collection of political militias.  Only as the war progressed did Soviet and Communist influence help to weld the Republican military together, and by then it was too late.  This was also reflected politically; the Anarchists, Socialists, Communists, Catalan and Basque nationalists and other made for a fragmented scene that consistently undermined the Republic’s attempts at a united front.  They spent a great deal of energy fighting each other, and this contributed to the Republic’s defeat.  That result is always the great “Antifa” fear, one that dominates their thinking to this day.

The Spanish Civil War became a proxy war for the various powers in Europe, themselves preparing for the much greater war that was coming.  It wasn’t a straightforward or uniform process.  Starting with the Nationalists, the one power that was “all in” for Franco was Italy, who contributed more support than just about anyone else.  Much of this support left something to be desired of; Franco, for example, wished that he could sent the Italian ground troops back, finding them as useless as Hitler shortly did.  Hitler and the Germans used the Condor Legion as a military experiment for their equipment and strategy, which they put to use in Poland and France.  Their support of the Nationalists was not entirely enthusiastic; at one point Hitler wished that the Republicans would win to crush the Catholic Church, for him a desired result.

The Republic’s foreign aid was, if anything, more desultory than the Nationalists.  The power that corresponded to Italy for the Republic was the Soviet Union, although their aid was sidetracked from time to time by events at home, namely Stalin’s purges and then the pact with Germany.  They also used that aid to forward the Communist’s status in the Republic, usually at the expense of the Anarchists.  As far as Britain and France were concerned, the 1930’s were the “decade of indecision.”  As one right-wing French paper observed, how was France (then under Leon Blum) supposed to help the Spanish Republic if they couldn’t keep the Germans from reoccupying the Rhineland?  Ultimately these two lead the Non-Intervention movement, which included Germany and Italy, and this amounted to having two foxes guard two chicken coops.  In any case their lack of support for the Republic was one cause of its defeat.

But the Spanish Civil War was the golden age of “volunteers,” from all over Europe and the US.  Not even World War II excited intellectuals and writers from these places like this conflict did, and many of them fought–and died–for the Republic.  The International Brigades were the stuff of legend, a phenomenon recently replicated in Syria (which is a good recent analogy for the brutality of the Spanish conflict, at the opposite end of the Mediterranean.)

Mentioning brutality brings up the subject of the atrocities, and there were plenty.  Most people think of Guernica, whose bombing was a complete waste in every sense of the word.  (Guernica is the sacred city of the Basques, with its tree, the way the Basques look at it echoes something out of J.R.R. Tolkien.)  The majority of the brutality, however, was more direct and personal.  The rule on both sides was to shoot first, no questions later.  The difference between the two sides was the context of the brutality.  The Republicans kicked off things with a massacre of Catholic religious and the destruction of churches.  Later the Communists would import techniques of torture and execution from the Soviet Union.   In executing most of the pre-war right-wing leadership, the Republicans did Franco a favour by clearing the field of most of his potential political rivals when the war was done.  The Nationalists did their dirty work, as with the fighting, in a more methodical manner.  The brutality of each side sickened their respective intellectuals, which is more than one could say for their foreign counterparts.

Although the Nationalists became the champions of Catholic religion in Spain, that process was not instantaneous.  Franco was indifferent to the faith (his wife, however, was not.)  The Falange was largely secular; the existence of a secular right was certainly a reality in those days and is becoming one again with the alt-right movement.  The use of Catholicism to bind the Nationalists together was a process encouraged by the conflict, another by-product of the Republic’s overreach in that regard.

Franco’s ultimate victory–just before the outbreak of World War II–was followed by his neutrality.  For all of his faults, Franco had no territorial ambitions beyond Spain and its existing colonies (Morocco had furnished him some of his toughest fighters) and was a profoundly cautious man.  Hitler tried to get him to join the Axis, but his was one of the few people who stiffed Hitler and got away with it.

After Franco’s death, Spain finally got a constitutional monarchy with a Republican political bent.  Franco got what the Romans called damnatio memoriae, he cannot be mentioned.   For the most part the social issues that helped push Spain leftward have been resolved in the modern welfare state, with the good and bad that goes with that.  But issues such as Basque and Catalan separatism–and of course the perennial issue of the Catholic Church–still remind us that the issues for which 600,000 people died are still very much with it.

And not just for Spain either.  It is hard to convey the relevance of the Spanish Civil War in a piece this short.  The polarisation, the heated rhetoric, the refusal for anyone to see the broader picture–all of these things are very much with us, and if we do not take some lessons from Spain’s experience–the most riveting single story of the Twentieth Century–than we risk having our own nation go down the same road.

Revisiting the Catholicism of "Christ Among Us"

Educating new Christians in the basics of the faith has always been an important task of the Church.   A few years back I featured a series on Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures, which date from the fourth century.  Evangelical churches can be very casual about the whole business, their reputation for dogmatism notwithstanding.

With Roman Catholicism, things are a little more involved.  Roman Catholic doctrine and thought is enormously complicated; it can be a lot for the novice to absorb.  The approach here too has varied.

For many years American Catholics were inculcated using the famous Baltimore Catechism.  Vatican II pretty much left this behind.  When I first revealed to my parish priest that I was interested in becoming Roman Catholic, he gave me Martin Farrell’s Parish Catechism.    You can see an earlier edition of this here; the one he gave me had the obligatory hat tips to Vatican II, but the content was essentially the same.  Farrell was succinct and clear: you knew what the Church that followed it expected out of you, and that was fine with me.  I reviewed it, told him I was good with it and made the Profession of Faith.

Today, of course, it’s different: we have the RCIA, a multi-year voyage which includes the sprawling Catechism of the Catholic Church.  This document is the stuff of legend among conservative Catholics.  We have, for example, the spectacle of Al Kresta, who strolls to his talk show microphone with the Catechism of the Catholic Church in one hand and the New York Times in the other.  (Let’s hope his helpful staff has put the coffee on his desk in advance.)

Between the two was the stuff of another legend: Anthony Wilhelm’s Christ Among Us.  First published in 1967, when I got involved in the Texas A&M Newman Association, I found it was “all the rage.”  One friend had it read at his wedding.  Echoes from it can be found in the Catholic folk music of the era.  It was used frequently in study and, when I got to Dallas, I found myself using it in my high school CCD class.  Since then it’s fallen out of favour.  But what was the appeal?  And did (and does) it deserve the adulation?

The subtitle of the book is “A Modern Presentation of the Catholic Faith.” Both its strengths and weaknesses stem from that premise.

Its Strong Points

  • It makes being Catholic out to an adventure.  And, truth be told, in the 1970’s being Roman Catholic (for me at least) was both fun and an adventure, more so than before or since.
  • It really is a readable and easy to follow presentation of Catholic theology, doctrine and life.
  • It attempts to present the essentials of the faith without making the accretions to Catholic life essential in themselves.  To put it another way, it did not make the sacramentals that characterised pre-Vatican II Catholicism a necessity to arrive at the sacraments.  This, probably more than anything else, set the traditionalists’ teeth on edge.
  • Probably the best part of the book is “Our Christian Presence in the World,” where Confirmation is discussed.  Although not a Charismatic book, it actually adopts a “power to witness for Christ” view of the infusion of the Holy Spirit, something I would find again when I worked for the Church of God.

Its Weak Points

  • It brings in a rogues gallery of modern Catholic thinkers such as Kung, Schillebeecx, and Teilhard de Chardin.  (To its credit it also brings in John McKenzie; it also brought up a name I hadn’t heard in years, namely Michel Quoist.)
  • It works under an implied assumption that the supernatural work of God in the past has been superseded by our own work.  That’s the defective assumption behind the “Contract on the Episcopalians,” and it doesn’t work any better in Roman Catholicism than it does in the Anglican-Episcopal world.  That, of course, leads to its emphasis on social justice work.  I’ve discussed the problems of Roman Catholic social teaching in the past; this book doesn’t do anything to solve those.  The Charismatic Renewal could have helped to bring the supernatural and the temporal together better, but it got bogged down in authority issues and other problems.
  • It frequently implies that the practical magisterium of the church will shift from the bishops to the academics and lay people.  That, of course, hasn’t happened, and many of the changes they hoped for haven’t happened either.  In Mainline Protestantism, the seminaries have been the main source of trouble, eventually rolling both bishop and lay person alike.
  • Its presentation on which sins break the relationship with God and which sins don’t is mushy.  It studiously avoids for most of the book the terms “venial” and “mortal” sin, even though these are central to the whole Catholic penitential idea.

Probably the most objectionable point in the book takes place in (where else?) its discussion of sex and marriage:

Some couples feel that they have a deep, mature and permanent commitment t one another before the marriage ceremony–and often it has its consummation in the sexual union–and in the judgement of the couples this is not wrong.  Their permanent, unconditional commitment (not the instability of trial or companionate marriage) draws them to a fuller expression of their love.  Priests who are counselling couples, while they must present the Church’s ideal regarding this, also realize that what is a beautiful and attainable ideal for one couple may be deeply frustrating and disruptive for another.  Each couple, in dialogue with God, will have to do what they are capable of. (p. 323)

So how do we look at Christ Among Us on balance?  I think the concept is a good one, but the execution leaves something to be desired.  If it were “tightened up” in places, we’d have a real winner.  Unfortunately the drift with many “modern” presentations is outside of Christianity, and that occupational hazard pokes its head out more than once in this book.

The traditionalists, buoyed by the pontificate of St. John Paul, had their knives out for Christ Among Us.  In 1984, after a two-year letter writing campaign, the future Pope Benedict XVI ordered Newark Archbishop Peter L. Gerety to remove his imprimatur from the book.  This move, nearly unprecedented, pushed its publication to a secular house and made its use problematic for parishes.  Combined with the release of the Catechism of the Catholic Church later in the decade, the book largely went out of currency in catechetical work.

And as for me?  Personally I’m glad my years as a Roman Catholic saw my intellectual formation with the Fathers, Aquinas and writers such as Bossuet and Pascal and not Christ Among Us.  I am also glad that my spiritual formation came through not only the influence of this book but of the Charismatic Renewal.  Unfortunately the combination created a “new wine in old wineskins” problem with Catholic parishes I was a part of after undergraduate school that lead to the inevitable burst.

Where I teach, one of the Dean’s secretaries was a Third Order Franciscan.  She noted that the Catholic parishes in this area had a low view of spiritual formation, with few opportunities for growth.  That’s not restricted to this area, sad to say.  Christ Among Us was an attempt to do something about that and, although it leaves something to be desired of, so does the current state of spiritual life at the parish level.

 

Perusing My Parents' Bookshelf

Boomers have always had a love-hate relationship with the generation before them, transitioning from “don’t trust anyone over thirty” to calling them “the Greatest Generation.”  Most of those who brought us into the world are gone now, and the ones who are left are “full of years” to use the Bible’s expression.

Part of the problem was that our parents’ weren’t very forthright about what they were really all about.  Products of more than a decade of adversity in the Depression and World War II, they wanted to put it all behind them and create an ideal place for their children to grow up in.  That was a mistake; it resulted in a generation that lacked a sense of reality that has plagued our country ever since.  Understandable, but still consequential.

One place I have turned to to see what “made them tick” was my parent’s bookshelf.  My parents were intelligent, sharp-tongued people, but neither of them earned an undergraduate degree.  (My mother, I found out later, quit high school to run off and get married, but that didn’t dull her smarts either).  Like generations of Americans, they were literate but not literary.  The library at home reflected their interests and not a cultural aspiration.

Obviously it is impossible to recreate that library, long broken up with moves and a nasty divorce.  But university library sales and other sources have allowed me to savour some of the books that sat on the shelves, many of which I never read before.  (At the time most of my interest in the bookshelf was centred on the World Book encyclopaedia).  So let me do some “miniature reviews” of some of these titles.

Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Seven Seas
is his delightful and encyclopaedic account of human history at sea.  Freuchen, a Danish explorer who was part of the last generation to make really new discoveries on the earth, is the “Herodotus of Marine History”, not always precise with his facts but so entertaining and engaging in his narrative and sweeping in the scope of knowledge that his work is still the best place to start a study of the subject.  It conveys better than anything else why the sea is so compelling with a sense of awe that we’ve really lost.

An entirely different experience at sea–well, sort of–is William Brinkley’s Don’t Go Near the Water.  A satire on Naval public relations in the Pacific during World War II, his book has been criticised for its desultory organisation and lack of connecting plot (like the 1960’s art movies that shortly followed).  To some extent that criticism is justified; it is more a loose progression of short stories with a running undercurrent of one Naval officer’s attempt to romance an island girl with more culture that he had.  With World War II satires Boomers preferred Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, but this novel was a major best seller when it came out in 1956, the choice of the participants rather than their offspring.  The language is very salty (as one would expect in the Navy, my father’s similar speech came from the Coast Guard) but it shows a willingness–indeed a need–to make fun of the military that has been lost.

More for the coffee table than the bookshelf is the National Geographic classic Men, Ships, and the Sea (The Story of Man Library).  The text was written by the Australian mariner Allan Villiers, but it was loaded with the gorgeous photographs that were the trademark of National Geographic publications.  I grew up on what is now known as “NatGeo”, the monthly magazine was a staple at our house.  (I strongly suspect that my grandfather, in his years in Washington, got to know the Grosvenor family and the Society).  In some ways it parallels Freuchen’s book but the photographs don’t make up for Freuchen’s narrative.  In the back is a good summary of small craft operation and navigation that we, er, could have used…(this post’s date is the fiftieth anniversary of my father sending the check back to NatGeo for the book).

The strangest–but in the long run the most important–book I got from their bookshelf was the Bible.  Most Evangelicals have the Bible handed to them, literally and in the life of the church.  As an Episcopalian, that didn’t happen to me.  It took an encounter with God to impress upon me the need to find out what was there.  So I went to the bookshelf and found a little white one, only to be informed that only girls had white Bibles.  I quickly substituted that for the black cover, red-letter King James that became my first Bible.

That Bible was older than I thought; it was only as an adult that I found out why the maps in the back looked strange.  But it was a start.  For five years it was the only Bible I had, until I acquired a New English Bible and started looking at more modern translations (and older ones too, like the Vulgate and Tyndale’s).  But my voyage with God was one where I at least started out somewhere ahead of an impressed deck hand, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Book Review: Daniel-Rops' A Fight for God

One of the things Americans politicians endlessly yammer about is the way they’re “fighting” something or someone.  It never ends–they fight special interests, they fight the President, and when they want to be more positive they’re “fighting for you”.

The result of this mentality is obvious these days.  But what if there’s really something–or someone–worth fighting for, against a real enemy?  The answer to that, from a Roman Catholic perspective at least, is Daniel-Rops’ A Fight for God, which details the history of the Church between 1871–the beginnings of the French Third Republic and the unification of the German Second Reich–and 1939, when the Third Reich invaded Poland and began World War II.  It’s an eventful and trying era for the world in general and the Roman Catholic Church in particular, although the “separated bretheren” didn’t escape unscathed.

Daniel-Rops opens with a sweeping view of the secularist age which he writes about.  In this “goose who gets up in a new world every morning” age we live in, his description of the various enemies of Christianity has a very contemporary feel to it, and it’s hard to see that much has changed in the half century since he wrote it.  An example of this comes when he gets to the effect secularism had on sexual morals:

No less evident was the disruption of Christian society, the second factor which marked the process of dechristianization.  The collapse of Christian social structures was both case and consequence of that process.  It was not by chance that in all countries one of the first aims of anticlerical governments had been to secure the passing of laws to legalize divorce.  Indeed one of the most flagrant signs whereby the ebb of religion might be recognized was the progress of divorce.  It gained ground wherever it was made legal.  At the same time there was a marked increase in the number of purely civil marriages.

While ecclestiastical law was thus flouted, Christian morality itself was undermined.  This becomes clear when one looks at the sexual life of countries which still called themselves Christian.  The strict principles of the Church were openly defied.  The number of children born outside of marriage steadily increased; at Paris it rose from 22 per cent in 1877 to 39 per cent in 1937.  But even that was not the most serious feature; abortion was common, and adultery, fostered by a certain type of literature, was frequent among the middle classes.  The whole western world was gliding towards that obsession with sex which is so characteristic of our age; and the cinema from its very beginning contributed largely to encourage such an outlook.

He then outlines the lives of the four Popes whose reigns span the era: Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV and Pius XI.  In the American church it has been fashionable to forget the era before Vatican II as a pious monolith that was blown apart by Vatican II and the 1960’s.  But each pontiff had a different personality and handled their situation differently.  Because of both the nature of the Catholic Church and the era, each pontiff also had to deal with both spiritual and temporal matters.  Daniel-Rops is careful to note that, if Vatican I had proclaimed the pope’s infallibility in spiritual matters, same did not extend to temporal ones, although he shows that in many cases the Vatican used wisdom and discretion.

He then launches into the main body of the book, the history of the Church, largely in Europe.  Secularism–and Daniel-Rops does not fail to include Freemasonry as central protagonists of that idea–was on the offensive in the last part of the nineteenth century, but how this played out relative to the Church depended upon the country.  In Germany and Switzerland, both governments launched  kulturkampfs which, if successful, would have severely curtailed the activity of the Church.  The Church managed to fight the state to a draw in both cases.

France was a more serious situation, but some of that was the result of French Catholics (lay and clergy) belligerently overplaying their hand (sound familiar?) in the early years of the Third Republic.  That led to a backlash that came to a head with l’affaire Dreyfus.  The result of that was that most of the Catholic educational system in France was forced to close, the Concordat revoked and state and church officially separated.  “Separation of church and state” meant something entirely different in France and many other parts of Europe; it generally meant the state was free of ecclesiastical control to the extent that the state controlled the activity of the church (sound familiar too?)

The situation in Italy was complicated by the fact that, in the process of unifying the country, the Kingdom of Italy had the bad taste to take over most of the Papal States.  The Pope became a “prisoner” in the Vatican.  It took more than half a century to finally straighten out this mess with the Lateran Treaty, and that signed with Benito Mussolini’s government.

In the early years of the era the Church took a dim view of the development of democratic institutions in Europe, but reality slowly sunk in.  Another reality that sunk in was that the Church had largely lost the working class.  A large part of that response was the papal formulation of Catholic social teaching and the beginning of Catholic Action movements, which included Catholic trade unions and political parties, the mix and nature of which varied from country to country.  American Catholic conservatives have expressed shock that the current pontiff has reminded the world of Catholic social teaching; part of the problem is that American Catholicism never had to develop a truly independent social action movement from the main political parties and trade unions.

Relationship with hostile states wasn’t the only difficulty the Church experienced in this period.   Pius X especially dealt with the problems posed by Modernism.  It may seem strange that Daniel-Rops is himself concerned with this after some of the things he says in books such as Sacred History, but there’s no doubt that people such as Alfred Loisy and George Tyrell went further than the church–and even Daniel-Rops–were ready to go.  Some Catholics may still be sore at the outcome of this, but it beats the outcome of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in Protestant churches–on both sides.

World War I (where the Pope was accused of taking sides) saw a softening of attitudes towards the Church, especially in France, where many priests died during the war (and that in an army without official chaplains).  This is a similar result to the one we saw in Stalin’s Soviet Union during and after World War II.  But that leads us to the last part of the history: the rise of the totalitarian states such as the Soviet Union, Italy and Germany.  Concerning these Daniel-Rops has this to say:

Whatever their respective ideologies, all those new regimes were totalitarian.  According to them the State, the collectivity, was the sole legitimate reality.  Under State direction all living forces must be united in order ensure growth of the collectivity.  The State therefore had a righ to dominate man from his birth to his death, to impose upon him the principles, activities, ways of life and even opinions which it considered useful.  In such a system man is nothing: the State alone counts.  That doctrine was charcteristcs of the Soviets no less than of National Socialism, and indeed of Fascism, whose theorists coined the very word ‘totalitarian’.

The Church adopted a two prong strategy to deal with this.  One the one hand, it signed concordats with regimes such as Mussolini’s Italy (1929) and Hitler’s Germany (1933).  Daniel-Rops defends such a practice by basically stating that a concordat gave it status within such states without necessarily approving of that state; one would hope that the Vatican is taking that approach with its recent recognition of the Palestinian State.  On the other hand the Church opposed many moves of both states, especially Germany, to integrate the Church into its general program; Daniel-Rops rightfully characterises Nazism as “fundamentally antichristian.”  The book’s time scope ends with Pius XI dying as Germany prepared to invade Poland and once again drown Europe in blood.

But all was not in Italy, Germany and France; Daniel-Rops spends time on the smaller countries such as Belgium, Austria and Spain.  But he also casts his view abroad.  This is where the book really looks to the future, now our present, more than anywhere else.  He details both the Church’s situation in traditionally Catholic areas (such as Latin America), countries that transition from mission field to home front (such as the United States and Canada) and true mission fields such as Africa and Asia.  He notes the pastoral issues in Latin America and warns that they could give an opening to Protestants, which they have done in a big way.  He also notes that Islam’s “revival” and renewed opposition to Christianity started in the years leading up to World War II, something that the West was slow to realise (and, especially in the case of Britain, actually fomented that revival with its policies).

Roman Catholic missions have always been hampered by the rigid structure of the church and its priesthood.  One thing that offset that was an important decision by the Vatican shortly after World War I: the decision to actively open up the priesthood and episcopacy to non-European people.  In that regard they were ahead of just about every Protestant church out there except for the Pentecostals, whose own mission was just getting started.  The success of the Catholic mission is in no small way attributable to that decision.

The United States occupies an interesting place in his history.  It is introduced in a negative way as Daniel-Rops considers “Americanism” as a precursor to Modernism.  It’s sometimes hard to figure out what he means by Americanism, but what it boils down to is that the practical way in which the American church operated came out as something entirely different when put in front of a European (especially French) audience.

In spite of a good deal of anti-Catholicism in American society, Daniel-Rops recognises that the Roman Catholic Church had almost ideal conditions to operate in the United States.  Without an agressively secular government interfering in its affairs, it could carve out its own destiny.  Part of that destiny was the Vatican’s rejection of the concept of different systems of parishes and dioceses for the various ethnic groups.  The practical result of this was that the Irish came to dominate the life of the American church.  As was the case with Evangelicalism, Celtic Christianity set the agenda, something that doubtless needs some revision for the present situation.

The book ends with a brief biography of St. Thérèse de Liseux, who became the Church’s patron saint for missions within a few years after her death in 1897.  That may seem strange for an author as scholarly as Daniel-Rops, but he uses the simplicity and austerity of her life and the single-mindedness of her faith as a response to Friedrich Nietzsche’s proclamation of ‘God is dead’ which he starts the book with.

Protestants are generally loathe to make a positive spin on Catholic history such as this.  However, with corporatist states breathing down Christianity’s neck in so many places and in so many ways and with other types of persecution rearing their ugly heads, the relevance of his narrative of this era leaps out at you.  People decry  the decline of Christianity in Europe, but reading Daniel-Rops we should be thankful it survived at all, and we who are elsewhere should be neither so smug nor short-sighted about our own situations.  Instead we should be concentrating on the conflict we really need to be waging: A Fight for God.

Book Review: Daniel-Rops' Sacred History

In the Nazi-Occupied France of 1943, the Gestapo visited the French publishing house Fayard to break the plates of a new book they were publishing. So what was the Gestapo stopping the presses on? How to Help the Allies When They Finally Get Around to Invading France? Hardly. The book they were so concerned about was entitled Sacred History, by the Catholic author Daniel-Rops, the nom de plume of Henri Jules Charles Petiot (1901-1965). There were many Catholic books being printed in those days, so why this one?

The answer to that question is what makes this book one of the most intriguing that any Catholic author has ever written. In a church which began and perfected “replacement theology,” the idea that Christianity in general and the Church in particular replaced the Jews and their temple sacrificial system with a new people and system, Daniel-Rops produced a sweeping treatment of the central role of the Jewish people from their father Abraham all the way until the time of Jesus Christ. This kind of emphasis on the Jews may have been distasteful to some of Daniel-Rops’ fellow Catholics, but it was anathema to the Nazis, who were busy with their “Final Solution” of the Holocaust. In a way the book was resistance literature, and the Nazis didn’t miss its import. It was not published in France until after the war and, translated into English, published in the U.S. in 1949.

Daniel-Rops begins his history of the Jews in this way:

At Ur in Shinar, a local capital of the Lower Euphrates, about four thousand years ago, a man called Abram was visited by God and, without hesitation, believed the promise: “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great” (Genesis XII:2).

This is the point of departure assigned in the Bible to the whole historical development of which the people of Israel were both the agent and the witness. It is an event of an essentially mystical order, no less mysterious in its essence and no less tangible in its results than was, for example, the mission of Joan of Arc for France. That a small Bedouin clan, nomads wandering, like many others, across plains and steppes, should be the source of a destiny so fraught with significance, the distant heirs of the Patriarchs were to understand as a fact that cannot be explained by the logic of history; it is explainable only as the will of God.

He uses the fruits of archeology—much of which involved his fellow Frenchman, Roland de Vaux—to explain and illuminate the “Sacred History” from Abraham through the coming and going from Egypt, Moses and Joshua, the time of the Judges, the turning point when Samuel anointed first Saul and then David as King, the zenith of the nation under Solomon, its division and long road to disaster, captivity in Babylon, return under the Persians, revolt under the Greeks and at last the various aspects of Judaism that were in place at the time of the coming of the Saviour.

The historical aspect of the Old Testament is one that many people, both its supporters and detractors, struggle with. The detractors decry the cruelty they see in God and the way his people advanced themselves (although they are by and large content to allow the cruelty of the present Middle East pass them by without substantive action.) The supporters, whose principal interest is to apply the Scriptures directly to their own lives, either gloss over much of the sacred history, pick and choose episodes that are easy to understand, or spiritualise it using a sensus plenior based hermeneutic. Daniel-Rops addresses both. To the former, he calls on the concept of progressive revelation, the idea that the way God deals with his people varies according to their state of development. During the conquest he describes the Israelites as “people in their infancy,” carried away by “all the energy and the illogicalness of impetuous youth.” He describes the development of the way the Israelites matured in the way they looked at themselves and their relationship with God through the calamities and triumphs they went through.

To deal with the latter, Daniel-Rops is emphatic: the monotheism of the Jews is the cornerstone of Western civilisation. He makes that point in discussing the name of God given at the Burning Bush and in other places. That may not be spiritually edifying for immediate application, but it’s central to God’s message to the world. The Nazis, who were busy remaking Europe in general and Germany in particular with a pagan construct, didn’t miss the import of Daniel-Rops’ point, another reason they broke the plates.

Sacred History was written by one of Roman Catholicism’s premier authors of the twentieth century, and yet it is not a particularly “Catholic” book as most non-Catholics would understand the term. He uses the deuterocanonical books from time to time, but mostly to catch the pulse of Judaism in the years between the return from exile to Herod. English speaking readers will probably have more trouble with his references to French history and literature than to a Catholic frame of reference. But the one place where his Catholicism comes out is the way he handles the truth content of the Scriptures.

He makes frequent and generally disparaging reference to Protestant Biblical scholarship; neither higher critic nor fundamentalist comes off particularly well in his pages. He is completely convinced of his title: as the quotation above shows, he believes and is convinced (to use Origen’s phrase) that the sweep of Old Testament history is a God-directed process. He is not afraid to consider human events in the process. For example, in Abraham’s call to leave Ur, were there migrations across vulnerable Mesopotamia that made God’s call more credible and motivated him to move himself and his family elsewhere? (Mesopotamia/Iraq’s vulnerability to foreign invasion is certainly something we have seen in abundance lately.)

On the other hand, he takes a breezy, informal approach to the truth content of the details of the Scriptures. He is no inerrantist, but he does not let that stand in the way of his faith. In a long passage towards the end of the book that considers these matters, he states the following:

It is clearly beyond our subject to ask in what measure divine inspiration corresponds with historical exactitude. If the critic, who sees the Bible as a historical document, reduces the facts in the crucible of his analysis, their dogmatic verity is not thereby destroyed. The test that we read is expressly declared to be the work of God, but by the intermediary of man: this accounts for certain fabulous details, or the many different styles, which are inevitable enough. On the other hand, the pseudo-scientific theories of concordism that during the last half-century have attempted to classify the facts of the Bible like facts of modern geology, astronomy, or biology, have produced only superficial criticisms.

The key to understanding this seeming contradiction is in fact Daniel-Rops’ Catholicism. He drifted from his faith and then came back to it. His belief in God is not based on a book but in God himself mediated through an institution. For all the problems that institutionalist religion has, Daniel-Rops—and many other Catholics—see the truth of the Scriptures primarily buttressed by the truth of God and not the other way around, as is customary with Protestants. That reordering, which many non-Catholics find disconcerting, was part of the key as to why the Roman Catholic Church, for all the chaos that came with Vatican II, has survived with its belief structure far more intact than those of its Main Line Protestant counterparts. It’s something that Evangelicals, wrestling with their own current problems in this area, would do well to consider.

Today we have our own new Gestapo and our new Nazis who are trying to impose their own pagan replacement for our civilisation. And we have the lengthening shadow of a very secular state. When Daniel-Rops wrote the book, the Third Republic (only recently gone from the German invasion) had imposed full-bore laïcité on France for at least forty years. It is fitting that we reconsider to our profit this magnificent little book, which finds its message for the present by considering nothing short of its subject: sacred history.