Books: New and Notable

By George; Nuns in Black and White

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By Carrie Gress

ROME, FEB. 5, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Many Georges were busy this winter. While Cardinal Francis George of Chicago was being elected president of the U.S. episcopal conference, Cardinal George Pell, Robert George and George Weigel were publishing books.

Cardinal Pell, the archbishop of Sydney, has released "God and Caesar: Selected Essays on Religion, Politics, and Society," jointly published by Connor Court Publishing in Australia and the Catholic University of America Press. The book, edited by Michael Casey, is made up of 10 essays penned by Sydney's archbishop over the last decade on religion's role in modern democratic life and balancing the relationships between church and state, freedom and choice, truth and conscience, faith and reason.

The Australian prelate reminds his readers of the role the Catholic Church has played, and continues to play, in fostering the use of reason for public argumentation in order to form a moral ecology that protects the dignity of human life, the importance of law, and the responsibility that comes with freedom.

As the debate continues on embryonic stem cell use, Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen have written "Embryo: A Defense of Human Life," published by Doubleday. The primer puts together both the solid science of embryology as well as the philosophical argumentation for why, despite their size, they ought to be respected in their humanity.

The book tackles head-on the best arguments put forth as to why embryos can be used as spare parts. The familiar public arguments, such as "it would be better to kill an embryo if an adult can live," dressed in their philosophical names, such as ontological dualism, moral dualism, utilitarianism, and consequentialism, are poked and prodded for their inherent weaknesses. George and Tollefsen's clear and insightful use of reason and science explains why even a tiny embryo is worthy of having its life respected.

The latest offering from the ever-prolific George Weigel is "Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action," also published by Doubleday. This little book is a layperson's guide to understanding the threat of global jihadism through a Catholic lens. Weigel notes that at its core, a holy war of conquest is based on bad theology, as pointed out by Benedict XVI in his Regensburg Lecture, a theology that cannot embrace God as Father, but seems him as a god of absolute will.

The book swiftly illuminates many of the dizzying elements behind the violent form of aggressive Islam, including the sectarian engines driving jihadism, the reality of it as a threat, the suppression of reason and dialogue among believers, and the apocalyptic role of Twelfth Imam. It concludes with steps for the West to take, in the words of Winston Churchill, to "deserve victory."

Growing trend

As new vocations to religious life are on the rise in many places after a long dry spell, so is the number of books about nuns. Women religious seem to be a growing trend in the publishing world.

Among books published in 2007, a few are by nuns of global influence, including Mother Teresa's "Come Be my Light," edited by Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, and "Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality," edited by Raymond Arroyo as a follow-up to his biography about the founder of EWTN, "Mother Angelica," published in 2005.

Mother Teresa's book, a compilation of her letters and writings, raised worldwide speculation about her faith as her experience of the "dark night of the soul" was revealed. Many claimed that she really didn't have faith in God. A closer reading, as Father Kolodiejchuk told ZENIT last September, reveals that her "dark night" was the experience of feeling like she didn't have faith, though she knew intellectually that God exists. She offered this suffering for those who live without faith, both on an emotional and intellectual level.

"Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality" reads just as one would expect, if you have ever seen her on TV. It's full of no-nonsense and down-to-earth advice about growing in the spiritual life.

Ignatius Press released "Mother Benedict" by Antoinette Bosco. Vera Duss was an American doctor in Paris who joined the Benedictines in wartime France in the 1940s. After being liberated by George Patton's army, Mother Benedict Duss heard a call to return to her homeland to found the first Benedictine Abbey of contemplative nuns in the United States, the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut.

The book includes many historical curiosities, such as the entry of General Patton's granddaughter into the abbey, and the entry of the current prioress, Mother Dolores Hart, a former film star who shared the screen with Elvis Presley and George Hamilton.

"The Habit" by Elizabeth Kuhns was just released by Doubleday, as was "Nuns: A History of Convent Life" by Silvia Evangelisti, from Oxford University Press.

The first, as the name indicates, delves into the silent but powerful symbol of a nun's habit, decoding the theological significance of each garment. Additionally, it reflects on both the past and future of nuns' clothing as an outward sign of a woman's gift of herself to Christ and his Church.

The second book is more academic and historical in nature, richly sketching cloistered life from 1450-1700. Both books offer insights into what elements remain the same inside the convent, and what has changed as mores and culture have left their mark on the religious.