Paul Lakeland is the Aloysius P. Kelley, SJ, Professor of Catholic Studies at Fairfield University.
By this author
In these days when American bishops seem to have the time to write scolding books informing us how we should be thinking and acting in public life, arguably areas about which people in general know more than their clergy, it is refreshing to discover a newly-translated classic that breathes the air of common sense about the Churchs mission in the world.
Raymond Chandler didnt just write some of the best American detective fiction. He also wrote about the genre and in much the same hard-boiled style of his own Philip Marlowe. He takes no captives, whether he is writing about authors or readers.
Im starting with a long list of names but I need to in order to make my point. So, suppose you had encountered a new book on the Catholic Church by Michael Lacey or Francis Oakley or Joe Komonchak or Frank Sullivan or John Beal? What if it had been written by Gerard Mannion or Lisa Cahill or Cathy Kaveny or Charles Taylor? And how about Leslie Woodcock Tentler or Katarina Schuth? Or another sociological study by the indefatigable team of Bill DAntonio, Jim Davidson, the late lamented Dean Hoge and Mary Gauthier? Wouldnt you be excited to read what the book had to say?
When I was in grad school working on a dissertation on Hegel, my director warned me that Hegel is easy to get into, very hard to escape. He should know. Hes still inside Hegel. However, I escaped Hegel. The one I cannot escape is Henry James, and Im not even sure I want to.
Ron Hansens latest novel is a real page-turner. Want another clich? I couldnt put it down. But I also couldnt decide if it is really a novel or not.
For many centuries the Catholic Church kept the Gospels from the eyes of the ordinary believer. If you couldn’t read Latin you were dependent on the oral tradition, the paintings on the church walls, and the preaching of the local parish priest. Putting the Bible in the hands of the people, or at least of those who could read, was a concern of the sixteenth-century Reformers. So, where Catholicism held sway, to translate the Bible into the language of the people was a crime—one that William Tyndale, among many others, paid for with his life.
From Enoch Emery in Wise Blood to Miles and Flora in Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, young people in fiction are often privileged interpreters of reality. Maybe it’s the absence of an ideology—their decidedly direct, if not always innocent, take on things. Kids might not always see things clearly, but they do say clearly what it is they think they see.
Edmund Wilson memorably characterized the later novels of Henry James as “large, loose, baggy monsters.” It might be unkind to describe historian Peter Gay’s latest book in the same way, yet Gay’s subject, modernism, itself exhibits all the symptoms—not only largeness and looseness, but also extensive baggydom and not a little monstrosity. In undertaking a six-hundred-page guide to a movement that has affected every art form for over a century, Gay intrepidly aims to bring order out of chaos and help a reader grasp at least the major features of the thing.
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s new book represents a signal accomplishment in the genre of writings by disgruntled ex-something-or-others. Even as Robinson retired in order to write it, the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, where he had worked as auxiliary for some twenty years, was listing his retirement “for health reasons.” Well, to paraphrase the Psalmist, out of the mouths of babes—and diocesan curial officials—come the darndest things.