09 December 2009

Some Book Highlights

I think the time has now come for a brief book update. I’ve recently acquired a few titles that I had wanted for some time and about which I am therefore quite excited.

To begin with the most recent, there arrived at my door last night (rather late for a UPS delivery) a package containing Anthony Esolen’s Ironies of Faith: The Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature (Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2007), courtesy of Bishop Savas. Attentive readers will recall that I mentioned it here, and that I intended to look into it. Well, as Providence would have it, just before that post Bishop Savas had walked into a Catholic bookstore in a strange city he was visiting, seen this book, and thought to himself, ‘I wonder if Aaron knows about this?’ Anyway, upon learning of my interest, he kindly sent it along, and now I can’t wait to read it. FMG’s blurb is certainly intriguing:

This elegantly written volume will introduce those who think that the church is an irony-free zone to a historic and literature Christianity that searches beyond superficial concepts of irony and mere sarcasm to places of paradox, wisdom, and deep understanding.

Thomas Howard’s comment teeters on the brink of hyperbole: ‘At the risk of sounding frivolous, one really wants to say, “Drop everything and read this.”’ Fortunately, the caveat rescues him somewhat, since as it turns out he’s not really saying, ‘Drop everything and read this.’

Anyway, I’m currently relishing the irony that the notoriously liberal Bishop Savas has (perhaps unwittingly?) purchased a publication of the very conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Should I tell him that another item in their catalogue which I own is The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis (Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2001), by Robert P. George (author of this)?

The immediately previous book that I will mention is The Holy Grail: History, Legend & Symbolism (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2006), by Arthur Edward Waite (whom I have discussed here). It was Charles Coulombe, primarily in this article, that first got me interested in Waite. I am curious how the eccentric occultist will attempt to discover ‘an almost ab origine claim on a concealed and super-valid mode of Eucharistic Consecration’ or ‘a Super-Apostolical Succession’ in the history of the Grail. Also, it will be interesting to consider Waite’s no doubt frequently extraordinary claims in light of the wonderfully level-headed treatment of the subject by his friend Charles Williams in ‘The Figure of Arthur’ (in Taliessin Through Logres, The Region of the Summer Stars, and Arthurian Torso, by Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980], pp. 189-274).

Next, God saw fit to send to me a book I have long desired to buy but only ever laid eyes on in libraries: C.S. Lewis’s The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (Oxford: Oxford U, 1959). This was thoughtfully obtained for me by my good friend James Kelly at the astonishing price of $2 at a sale at the Bizzell Library of the University of Oklahoma. Lewis’s The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval & Renaissance Literature and his Preface to Paradise Lost are absolutely two of my all-time favourite books, and I am very excited about reading more of his studies in this area (Andrea Elizabeth has already blogged about this book—take a look through her Lewis category). The opening paragraph of the present study should be sufficient to illuminate what I find so exciting about them:

The allegorical love poetry of the Middle Ages is apt to repel the modern reader both by its form and by its matter. The form, which is that of a struggle between personified abstractions, can hardly be expected to appeal to an age which holds that ‘art means what it says’ or even that art is meaningless—for it is essential to this form that the literal narrative and the significacio should be separable. As for the matter, what have we to do with these medieval lovers—‘servants’ or ‘prisoners’ they called themselves—who seem to be always weeping and always on their knees before ladies of inflexible cruelty: The popular erotic literature of our own day tends rather to sheikhs and ‘Salvage Men’ and marriage by capture, while that which is in favour with our intellectuals recommends either frank animalism or the free companionship of the sexes. In every way, if we have not outgrown, we have at least grown away from, the Romance of the Rose. The study of this whole tradition may seem, at first sight, to be but one more example of that itch for ‘revival’, that refusal to leave any corpse ungalvanized, which is among the more distressing accidents of scholarship. But such a view would be superficial. Humanity does not pass through phases as a train passes through stations: being alive, it has the privilege of always moving yet never leaving anything behind. Whatever we have been, in some sort we are still. Neither the form nor the sentiment of this old poetry has passed away without leaving indelible traces on our minds. We shall understand our present, and perhaps even our future, the better if we can succeed, by an effort of the historical imagination, in reconstructing that long-lost state of mind for which the allegorical love poem was a natural mode of expression. But we shall not be able to do so unless we begin by carrying our attention back to a period long before that poetry was born. In this and the following chapter, I shall trace in turn the rise both of the sentiment called ‘Courtly Love’ and of the allegorical method. The discussion will seem, no doubt, to carry us far from our main subject: but it cannot be avoided. (pp. 1-2)

Finally, another gift of the generous Bishop Savas—St Basil the Great, On Social Justice, trans. Fr Paul Schroeder (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 2009)—arrived a few weeks ago. If I were not trying to read through the recent translation of St Maximus the Confessor (which I mentioned here), I would have finished this book by now. As it is, I plan to finish it and write a thorough review very soon. For now I shall just mention that so far the homilies are of course wonderful and, indeed, astonishing, though I have some misgivings about a few statements in the introduction. Also, I highly recommend the perspicacious comments on St Basil’s teaching in these homilies by my friend Justin (here).


John said...

Some of us (SVS seminarians) have a doctoral seminar on Maximus with Fr. Behr at Fordham this semester. We use this book among others. It's nice to have some of the later Ambigua, as well as Opuscalum 6, the opsucala are my favorites. If you haven't read it I would highly recommend Fr. Louth's introduction to Maximus, both for the works there translated and the commentary. His chapter on Christology I found particularly helpful. Enjoy!

aaronandbrighid said...

John> Thank you for your comment. As it happens, I HAVE read Fr Louth's introduction to St Maximus, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I sure wish I could sit in on your seminar though!