All posts filed under: Christian History

Kingdoms of Faith: A New History of Islamic Spain (Brian A. Catlos)

I read this book, about the history of Spain under Muslim rule, hoping it would be less biased than Darío Fernández-Morera’s The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, which I found to be too polemical in its criticism of Islamic domination. This book was closer to neutral, on the other side of neutral, but the author, Brian Catlos, has taken a fascinating period of history and made it boring. It’s not that the writing is bad, it’s that he takes a kitchen sink approach that loses the reader in minutiae, with so many dramatis personae that there is no drama. Still, Kingdoms of Faith is useful as a reference work, and in addition, I think that the history recounted here has much to say about conversion of Muslims in lands reconquered by Christendom, past and future.

The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs (Martin Mosebach)

This book is, brought to the temporal sphere, Revelation 20:4. “I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Martin Mosebach’s The 21 is an exploration and explanation of the twenty-one Coptic Christian migrant workers killed by Muslims in 2015 for refusing to to apostatize from their Christian belief, a martyrdom made famous by the slickly produced video through which the killers broadcast their bloody work.

Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX (Andrew Willard Jones)

Like Diogenes searching for an honest man, I spend my days searching for a useful political program.  Necessarily rejecting all Left philosophies as anti-human and anti-reality, I go searching through the thickets on the Right, where of late various new approaches have arisen, to accompany various old ones that are getting fresh attention.  They do not get much older than the one espoused in this book, Catholic integralism—versions of the idea, in essence, that church and state should be cooperative joint actors in pursuit of a flourishing society, rather than separate spheres of action.  There is a lot to be said for this approach, but as always, its modern proponents spend too much time talking about the past, and too little on how elements of this approach could be used to build the future. Before Church and State is a very detailed examination of the relationship of church and state in the kingdom of Saint Louis IX (r. 1226–1270).  The focus is not so much on the king, although he appears often in the vehicle …

Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (Mark Sedgwick)

This book is an academic study of an obscure movement, Traditionalism.  The name has a specific meaning; it does not mean traditional forms of belief, that is, generically, conservatism.  Rather, “Traditionalism” is a type of Gnosticism, holding that a core of hidden knowledge, contained within all true religion, is the cure for what ails the modern world.  I certainly think that the modern world needs curing, though I don’t think that Traditionalism is what the doctor ordered.  Still, the pull of Gnosticism across time and space must mean something.  But what?  Mark Sedgwick’s book helps us begin to answer that question.

Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages (Etienne Gilson)

Etienne Gilson is one of those men who shot across the sky of the West in the first half of the twentieth century, and were mostly forgotten by the end of the century, thrown overboard in the general wreck of Christendom.  He combined in his thought any number of now-unfashionable currents:  a love for Roman Catholicism and high medievalism; a focus on Thomistic thought; a dislike for the downsides of the modern world; and many more.  No wonder he has slipped from our memory, or more accurately, been erased by neglect.  But, as with other thinkers from his vanished time, from Carl Schmitt to Henri de Lubac, there are signs his star is rising again (though to some it is a baleful star), so I am here to summarize a little of his thought.

The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity (Timothy Ware)

As I and my family continue our inevitable pivot toward Orthodoxy, I have been reading more works on, you guessed it, Orthodoxy.   This book, by the English theologian Timothy Ware, who as a bishop uses the baptismal name Kallistos, is a classic introduction to Orthodoxy.  It was first published in 1963 but has more recently been revised, so it is fully up to date on history—and doctrine has not changed in Orthodoxy since 1963, or 963, for that matter.  I’ve actually owned the book for several years, but have only now read it, having been told by several people that it is very much worth reading.  And they were right—it is an excellent book.

The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality (Kyriacos C. Markides)

In these days of changing ways, so-called liberated days, it is not only political beliefs that are getting a fresh look from a lot of people, but beliefs about all aspects of human life.  These include the beliefs of traditional Christians in America, whose options for Christ-centered communal worship within an organized framework narrow every day.  The Roman church is both corrupt and led by that man of perdition, Jorge Bergoglio; the degradation of ecclesiastical Protestantism is complete; evangelicals offer only Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or obeisance to Trumpian caesaropapism.  This leaves as the last institution standing the Orthodox Church, which shows no signs of trimming its sails to modernism and for whom Saint John Chrysostom might as well as have died yesterday.  Hence the recent surge in popularity of this 2001 book, a modern exposition of Orthodox spirituality, written by a man with a foot in both the West and the East.

The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Brad S. Gregory)

Exhaustively documented, and in some ways just exhausting, though at the same time exhilarating, Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation is a towering achievement.  It synthesizes centuries of history and multiple avenues of thought to analyze how we arrived at certain negative aspects of modernity.  Gregory’s claim is that we got here as the result of the unintended consequences of choices made in response to “major, perceived human problems.”  Those choices were, initially, the Reformation’s religious choices, which ran counter to the entire worldview of medieval Christianity.  But the Reformation did not solve the problems—it made them worse, in a declining spiral, accelerated and exacerbated by subsequent secularization, itself partially the result of the Reformation.  The result is a world in which the ability of humans to find meaning in their lives has been crippled, rather than enhanced.  We would, implicitly, be better off with something more like the High Medieval synthesis destroyed by Martin Luther.

To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism (Ross Douthat)

Ross Douthat has a job that is, I would guess, either enviable or unpleasant, depending on the day—that of being the only regular conservative contributor to the New York Times.  A frequent focus of Douthat’s is that most counter-cultural of doctrines, orthodox Roman Catholicism.  If you want to suffer, you need only visit the comments section in the Times for any Douthat column, especially one on Catholicism.  Exposing yourself to the firehose of bile and stupidity there will show you what Purgatory will be like, although perhaps Purgatory will be an improvement.  Undaunted, Douthat now offers a full-length book on the changes being brought about by Pope Francis.

God Is Not Nice: Rejecting Pop Culture Theology and Discovering the God Worth Living For (Ulrich L. Lehner)

As I so often complain, the quality of modern discourse is atrocious.  Probably this is due to everyone being told for decades that his opinion always matters, along with a belief that democracy means all opinions are equally valid regardless of reasoning, capped off by modern avenues of communication that allow easy, free broadcasting of stupidity, when in the past dumb people had very limited ability to force the rest of us listen.  Worthless discourse exists across the political spectrum, of course, although that the Left dominates  popular media means the average person probably has to suffer more from being bathed in drivel from that side of the spectrum.  A subset of this general problem is that religious discourse is of equally low level, though rather (in most cases) being vicious irrationality, it is vacuous irrationality.  It is this vacuous irrationality, at its core the idea that God is “nice,” that Roman Catholic theologian Ulrich Lehner is here to dismantle, in this brief and accessible book.