Newman’s Apologia

newman picJohn Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua is an excellent book that I would not recommend to most people. If I had attempted it in high school, I would have failed. Even if I had tried in college, I suspect I would have received very little benefit from it. But having become acquainted with Newman’s writings and his life, I became very interested in the controversy surrounding his entrance into the Catholic Church, and was very eager to follow the path which eventually led him to Rome.

The work I want to compare the Apologia with right away is St. Augustine’s book of Confessions, and the circumstances occasioning these works are quite different. Continue reading


Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

silent planetAfter the receiving many a recommendation and finding the first volume quite short, I finally decided to begin C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. And what an enjoyable read! I did not care for the first 40 or so pages, since they involved unpleasant characters and drawn-out descriptions. The one observation in this first section that encouraged me to continue was that space is not so much space—empty and void—but something full and bright, and that planets are more truly considered dark and void-like. This theme is revisited throughout the book, and I think makes it ironic that the series is called the Space Trilogy, and perhaps why some editions call it rather the Cosmic Trilogy. I am also not so sure I would call it science-fiction, as I would fantasy (or a fairy-tale as Lewis says in the third volume). There are certainly themes and tropes of science-fiction, but no one calls Dante’s Paradiso science-fiction on account of his visiting several planets. So many of the “scientific” bits of the book don’t hold in light of consequent space-exploration, but I don’t think they were all that important for the story anyway. Continue reading

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

moscowI just finished reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. The novel becomes dramatic within the first few pages, though it takes 100 or so more before it arrives at the central drama of the book.

He includes so many details of the moral life and illustrates them well: habits, virtues and vices; passions, joy, sorrow, anger; jealousy, bitterness, regret; emotions quick and enduring, reasonable and ungrounded; friendships and family relations; men and women, children and parents; the effects of work and of play; faith and doubt, divine and human faith, superstition, ritual; the importance of place, home; thought, intellectual ambition, intellectual despair; contradiction among persons, contradiction within oneself, contradiction with society; death and birth; money, luxury, necessity; the tension between physical beauty and moral goodness.

But when I finished the book, I was disappointed by how it ended. It seems it could have ended the same way much sooner, and it wouldn’t have made a great difference. (I would contrast this with Middlemarch by George Eliot, where I don’t think the novel could have ended anywhere else than where it actually ended.) I could say more about his approach to religion, which I found quite true to reality at the beginning, but a bit superficial and moralizing by the end. Beyond anything, Tolstoy excels at showing the effects of sin, both internally and externally, and in the effect it has on others. Perhaps I did not like the later parts of the book because he does this too well.

[This book is #9 on my Classics List.]

Jesus the Samaritan and Procedural Canons

«Nonne bene dicimus nos quia Samaritanus es tu, et daemonium habes? Respondit Iesus: Ego daemonium non habeo.»

Innocent_III_bas-relief_in_the_U.S._House_of_Representatives_chamberThe more one digs into canon law, past the codified laws of 1917 and 1983, one finds the Scriptural and Patristic roots which were gathered in the Middle Ages and became the basis for juridical action within the Church. Saint John Paul II, the Legislator who promulgated the 1983 Code of Canon Law, was particularly astute and in his addresses on canonical matters delivered to the Roman Rota (the highest appellate court in the Church). Reading his 1980 address, I saw him quote decretals from Pope Alexander II (d. 1073) and Pope Innocent III (d. 1216), and went searching after the original. This brought me to the Liber Extra  of Pope Gregory IX, the first authoritative collection of papal decrees, which remained in effect from 1234 until 1917. Continue reading

The worst heresy and the Dominican response

thomas aquinas nouveau“It is argued according to the insanity of certain people, that corporeal things were caused by an evil god, […] and that is the worst heresy” (In IV Sent., D.26, q.1, a.3.).

Looking back at the original text, I probably would have translated the last words as “a most awful heresy”, taking the superlative adjective as a rhetorical excess. And so I was struck by how the translator/commentator in this passage does not qualify the phrase but, in connection with the main topic, affirms that “[Saint Thomas] reserves his strongest condemnation for those who denigrate the material aspects of marital intimacy” (Mortensen 42). Continue reading

Readings in Church History (Part 1)


Benedict XIV

Someone asked me the other day for recommendations for reading in Church history. Where to start! I became interested in the history of the Church about 12 years ago, and I continue find out there’s far more out there than I ever expected. As a student in canon law, I have lately been researching the origin and development of the legal tradition of the Church, obtaining my own copies of the Decretum of Gratian (~1150) and the Corpus Iuris Canonici (1234-1500), and I am also reading a biography of Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758), who is considered one of the greatest canonists of all time. This biography is itself one volume of the 40 volume History of the Popes by Ludwig Pastor—which is just to say, there is a lot of history out there. Continue reading