Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Guarino, “The Disputed Teachings of Vatican II”

9780802874382As an outsider, I find the debate among my Catholic friends and colleagues on the true interpretation of the Second Vatican Council extremely interesting. On the one hand, there are those who insist on following “the spirit of Vatican II,” which I understand as a call to go beyond the words of the Council documents themselves and continue to press in a progressive direction, notwithstanding the traditions of the Church. On the other, there are those who wish to adopt “a hermeneutic of continuity”–I believe the phrase is Pope Benedict XVI’s–and read the documents consistently with the tradition of the Church. I realize my description is a bit of a caricature and that each side’s position contains more nuance. But I think my description is correct, as a kind of thumbnail sketch.

A new book from Eerdman’s, The Disputed Teachings of Vatican II: Continuity and Reversal in Catholic Doctrine, by Seton Hall theologian Thomas G. Guarino, addresses this debate. Looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

The Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) radically shook up many centuries of tradition in the Roman Catholic Church. This book by Thomas Guarino, a noted expert on the sources and methods of Catholic doctrine, investigates whether Vatican II’s highly contested teachings on religious freedom, ecumenism, and the Virgin Mary represented a harmonious development of—or a rupture with—Catholic tradition.

Guarino’s careful explanations of such significant terms as continuity, discontinuity, analogy, reversal, reform, and development greatly enhance and clarify his discussion. No other book on Vatican II so clearly elucidates the essential theological principles for determining whether—and to what extent—a conciliar teaching is in continuity or discontinuity with antecedent tradition.

Readers from all faith traditions who care about the logic of continuity and change in Christian teaching will benefit from this masterful case study.

O’Donnell, “Elizabeth Seton”

80140103062730LI don’t know too much about the life of Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American citizen to be named a saint by the Catholic Church and the founder of the first free Catholic school in this country. I do know that the order of religious sisters she founded is linked to the Vincentian order that founded St. John’s. She seems to have been a spiritually formidable person. She would have to have been, to convert to Catholicism in a society as thoroughgoingly Protestant as early nineteenth-century America, in which conversion entailed a distinct loss of social status. A new biography from Cornell University Press, Elizabeth Seton: American Saint, by historian Catherine O’Donnell (Arizona State) tells her story. Here’s the description from the Cornell website:

In 1975, two centuries after her birth, Pope Paul VI canonized Elizabeth Ann Seton, making her the first saint to be a native-born citizen of the United States in the Roman Catholic Church. Seton came of age in Manhattan as the city and her family struggled to rebuild themselves after the Revolution, explored both contemporary philosophy and Christianity, converted to Catholicism from her native Episcopalian faith, and built the St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Hers was an exemplary early American life of struggle, ambition, questioning, and faith, and in this flowing biography, Catherine O’Donnell has given Seton her due.

O’Donnell places Seton squarely in the context of the dynamic and risky years of the American and French Revolutions and their aftermath. Just as Seton’s dramatic life was studded with hardship, achievement, and grief so were the social, economic, political, and religious scenes of the Early American Republic in which she lived. O’Donnell provides the reader with a strong sense of this remarkable woman’s intelligence and compassion as she withstood her husband’s financial failures and untimely death, undertook a slow conversion to Catholicism, and struggled to reconcile her single-minded faith with her respect for others’ different choices. The fruit of her labors were the creation of a spirituality that embraced human connections as well as divine love and the American Sisters of Charity, part of an enduring global community with a specific apostolate for teaching.

The trove of correspondence, journals, reflections, and community records that O’Donnell weaves together throughout Elizabeth Seton provides deep insight into her life and her world. Each source enriches our understanding of women’s friendships and choices, illuminates the relationships within the often-opaque world of early religious communities, and upends conventional wisdom about the ways Americans of different faiths competed and collaborated during the nation’s earliest years. Through her close and sympathetic reading of Seton’s letters and journals, O’Donnell reveals Seton the person and shows us how, with both pride and humility, she came to understand her own importance as Mother Seton in the years before her death in 1821.

“Shakespeare and Early Modern Religion” (Lowenstein & Whitmore, eds.)

9781108733663I have always been puzzled by the way some of my Catholic colleagues in the academy strive to prove that William Shakespeare was a secret Catholic. All sorts of coded messages in his sonnets and plays are adduced; all manner of shadowy associates and networks offered by way of proof. I’m no Shakespeare scholar, but to me the evidence seems pretty shallow. Not that I think Shakespeare was a committed Protestant–and let me add, I have no particular church in this fight. It’s just that all these secret messages and clandestine networks can’t overcome, for me, the indifference about religion that I see in his plays. Shakespeare seems detached about pretty much everything, including religion. (I know, I know, that’s just how a secret Catholic would present himself in Elizabethan and Jacobean England). Shakespeare seems to understand Christianity in broad, cultural terms and to take from it only one thing: the virtue of forgiveness. More than that, it seems to me, it isn’t really possible to say.

These matters are perhaps discussed in a new collection from Cambridge, Shakespeare and Early Modern Religion. The editors are David Lowenstein (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and Michael Whitmore (Folger Shakespeare Library). The publisher’s description follows:

Written by an international team of literary scholars and historians, this collaborative volume illuminates the diversity of early modern religious beliefs and practices in Shakespeare’s England, and considers how religious culture is imaginatively reanimated in Shakespeare’s plays. Fourteen new essays explore the creative ways Shakespeare engaged with the multifaceted dimensions of Protestantism, Catholicism, non-Christian religions including Judaism and Islam, and secular perspectives, considering plays such as Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King John, King Lear, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Winter’s Tale. The collection is of great interest to readers of Shakespeare studies, early modern literature, religious studies, and early modern history.

  • Offers interdisciplinary perspectives on Shakespeare and early modern religion from both literary scholars and historians, appealing to a broad range of readers.
  • Illuminates the ways in which Shakespeare’s plays represent a wide variety of religious beliefs and practices, also revealing a dynamic interaction between religious and secular issues in the plays
  • Connects religious issues in Shakespeare’s plays with political and national ones, illuminating religious belief, politics and national identity in early modern England.

 

Bolton, “Heavenly Bodies”

849137060385d59a2407e4a27d172730There is a great scene in Fellini’s film, “La Dolce Vita,” in which Anita Ekberg’s character, dressed in a ridiculously inappropriate version of a priest’s cassock, climbs to the top of St. Peter’s dome to have a look. It’s all played for laughs. Ekberg’s character doesn’t mean to offend; she probably is trying to show respect, in fact. But she has no clue. And, Fellini’s point seems to be, that goes for everyone in post-war Europe. Everything and everyone is banal. People no longer have a sense of meaning, and therefore no longer understand when they are being insulting.

I thought of that scene when I stumbled earlier this month upon the Met’s exhibit on Catholic fashion, “Heavenly Bodies.” The less said about the show, the better, except that the word meretricious comes to mind. On the Saturday evening I saw it, the exhibit was jammed with visitors; I’m sure it has been a great success for the Met, financially. Apparently the Catholic Church cooperated on the exhibit, a fact which, as a non-Catholic, I have to say I find truly perplexing. In “La Dolce Vita,” the problem was that people didn’t know when they were being insulting. Today, apparently, people no longer know when they’re being insulted.

Anyway, for those who are interested, here is the Met’s catalogue for the exhibit, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, by the Met’s Andrew Bolton. The publisher is Yale University Press. Here’s the description from the Yale website:

A brilliant exploration of fashion’s complex engagement with the great art and artifacts of Catholic faith and practice.

Since antiquity, religious beliefs and practices have inspired many of the masterworks of art. These works of art have, in turn, fueled the imagination of fashion designers in the 20th and 21st centuries, yielding some of the most innovative creations in costume history. Connecting significant religious art and artifacts to their sartorial expressions, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination provides a critical analysis of fashion’s engagement with notions of the divine. Exploring fashion’s complex and often controversial relationship with Catholicism, Heavenly Bodies probes what dress reveals about the state of religion and spirituality within contemporary culture, and how it may manifest—or subvert—Catholic values and ideology. Art objects, such as devotional paintings and altarpieces from The Met’s collection, are presented alongside fashions from designers including Cristóbal Balenciaga, Callot Soeurs, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, John Galliano, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Madame Grès, Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld, Jeanne Lanvin, Claire McCardell, Alexander McQueen, Thierry Mugler, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Gianni Versace. The volume also presents a selection of ecclesiastical vestments and accessories from the Vatican collection, many of which have not been published before.

 

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Agamben, “The Mystery of Evil”

pid_28174 (1)Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation in 2013 is looking to be a pivotal event in the history of the Roman Catholic Church–not only because it was the first papal resignation in centuries, but because of the very different path his successor, Pope Francis, is laying out. This spring, Stanford University Press published a translation of a work by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days, that addresses the resignation. The title sounds apocalyptic; but the publisher’s description, below, indicates the book is a meditation on the difference between legitimacy and legality:

In 2013, Benedict XVI became only the second pope in the history of the Catholic Church to resign from office. In this brief but illuminating study, Giorgio Agamben argues that Benedict’s gesture, far from being solely a matter of internal ecclesiastical politics, is exemplary in an age when the question of legitimacy has been virtually left aside in favor of a narrow focus on legality. This reflection on the recent history of the Church opens out into an analysis of one of the earliest documents of Christianity: the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, which stages a dramatic confrontation between the “man of lawlessness” and the enigmatic katechon, the power that holds back the end of days. In Agamben’s hands, this infamously obscure passage reveals the theological dynamics of history that continue to inform Western culture to this day.

Ciszek and Flaherty, “With God in Russia”

In June, Harper Collins Publishers will release With God in Russia: The Inspiring Classic Account of a Catholic Priest’s Twenty-three Years in Soviet Prisons and Labor Camps by Walter J. Ciszek S.J. and Daniel L. Flaherty S.J. The publisher’s description follows:

With God in Russia.pngRepublished for a new century and featuring an afterword by Father James Martin, SJ, the classic memoir of an American-born Jesuit priest imprisoned for fifteen years in a Soviet gulag during the height of the Cold War—a poignant and spiritually uplifting story of extraordinary faith and fortitude as indelible as Unbroken. Foreword by Daniel L. Flaherty.

While ministering in Eastern Europe during World War II, Polish-American priest Walter Ciszek, S.J., was arrested by the NKVD, the Russian secret police, shortly after the war ended. Accused of being an American spy and charged with “agitation with intent to subvert,” he was held in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison for five years. The Catholic priest was then sentenced without trial to ten more years of hard labor and transported to Siberia, where he would become a prisoner within the forced labor camp system made famous in Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Prize—winning book The Gulag Archipelago.

In With God in Russia, Ciszek reflects on his daily life as a prisoner, the labor he endured while working in the mines and on construction gangs, his unwavering faith in God, and his firm devotion to his vows and vocation. Enduring brutal conditions, Ciszek risked his life to offer spiritual guidance to fellow prisoners who could easily have exposed him for their own gains. He chronicles these experiences with grace, humility, and candor, from his secret work leading mass and hearing confessions within the prison grounds, to his participation in a major gulag uprising, to his own “resurrection”—his eventual release in a prisoner exchange in October 1963 which astonished all who had feared he was dead.

Powerful and inspirational, With God in Russia captures the heroic patience, endurance, and religious conviction of a man whose life embodied the Christian ideals that sustained him.

Rayside et al, “Religion and Canadian Party Politics”

In May, the University of British Columbia Press will release “Religion and Canadian Party Politics,” David Rayside (University of Toronto) and Jerald Sabin (Carleton University) and Paul Thomas (Carleton University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion is usually thought inconsequential to contemporary Canadian politics. This book takes a hard look at just how much influence faith continues to have in federal, 9780774835589provincial, and territorial arenas. Drawing on case studies from across the country, it explores three important axes of religiously based contention – Protestant vs. Catholic, conservative vs. reformer, and, more recently, minority religious practices. Although the extent of partisan engagement with each of these sources of conflict has varied across time and region, the authors show that religion still matters in shaping political oppositions. These themes are illuminated by comparisons to the role faith plays in the politics of other western industrialized societies.

“A Liberalism Safe for Catholicism?” (Philpott & Anderson, eds.)

In June, the University of Notre Dame Press will release “A Liberalism Safe for Catholicism? Perspectives from The Review of Politics,” edited by Daniel Philpott (University of Notre Dame) and Ryan T. Anderson is (Heritage Foundation).  The publisher’s description follows:

This volume is the third in the “Perspectives from The Review of Politics” series, following The Crisis of Modern Times, edited by A. James McAdams (2007), andWar, p03317Peace, and International Political Realism, edited by Keir Lieber (2009). InA Liberalism Safe for Catholicism?, editors Daniel Philpott and Ryan Anderson chronicle the relationship between the Catholic Church and American liberalism as told through twenty-seven essays selected from the history of the Review of Politics, dating back to the journal’s founding in 1939. The primary subject addressed in these essays is the development of a Catholic political liberalism in response to the democratic environment of nineteenth- and twentieth-century America. Works by Jacques Maritain, Heinrich Rommen, and Yves R. Simon forge the case for the compatibility of Catholicism and American liberal institutions, including the civic right of religious freedom. The conversation continues through recent decades, when a number of Catholic philosophers called into question the partnership between Christianity and American liberalism and were debated by others who rejoined with a strenuous defense of the partnership. The book also covers a wide range of other topics, including democracy, free market economics, the common good, human rights, international politics, and the thought of John Henry Newman, John Courtney Murray, and Alasdair MacIntyre, as well as some of the most prominent Catholic thinkers of the last century, among them John Finnis, Michael Novak, and William T. Cavanaugh. This book will be of special interest to students and scholars of political science, journalists and policymakers, church leaders, and everyday Catholics trying to make sense of Christianity in modern society.

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