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Commentary: Book and Media Reviews

The most recent Commentary items which review books and other media.

Tolkien the modernist: a glimpse of a unique creative process

[My work is] fundamentally linguistic in inspiration…The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows. That Tolkien’s creative work...

Catholics Confronting Hitler

Back in October of 2016, I praised and recommended Mark Riebling’s brilliant and exciting book, Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War against Hitler. Riebling focused almost exclusively on the relationship between the Vatican and the network of those within Germany who were seeking to...

Catholic drama: Matteo Ricci, China, and the problem of inculturation

Throughout history there has been an interplay between human culture and Divine Revelation. Different patterns emerge in the proclamation and reception of the truths of our faith in Jesus Christ. In each culture Christianity generates a different set of tensions, as the gospel builds on, purifies...

Combatting the dictatorship of relativism, one soul at a time

As an intellectual exercise, anyone who can think his way out of a paper bag immediately recognizes that relativism is a hopeless tautology. It affirms without a shadow of a doubt that truth does not exist, thereby proclaiming what would be, if it were possible, a very important truth. As a...

Scorsese’s Silence is a contemplative masterpiece

Warning: this review contains spoilers. Perhaps the most frequently noted characteristic of Silence—both book and film—is its ambiguity. Some revel in it, while others are deeply uncomfortable at best. (It is not necessary here to enter into psychoanalysis of the critics.) Most...

Benedict XVI faces his toughest critic: himself

Toward the end of his 4th (and presumably final) book-length interview with Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Last Testament, journalist Peter Seewald asked the now-retired Pontiff to name his own greatest weakness. Benedict replies: “Maybe clear, purposeful governance and the decisions that...

John Labarbara’s surprising take on “knowing God’s love”

This afternoon I skimmed through a book recently published by Sophia Institute Press. The title is Knowing God’s Love, and the subtitle is “8 Essential Truths Every Catholic Should Know”. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found that author John Labarbara shifts his discussion...

A unique Advent/Christmas album sets the O Antiphons to music

As Jennifer Gregory Miller has noted, tomorrow begins the O Antiphons prayed at Vespers for the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve. Few enough even among practicing Catholics are probably aware of the O Antiphons that it is a pleasant surprise to see that an album largely based around them has...

Sing of Mary, 4b: Everything there is to know about the Mother of God, Part 2

Having introduced Michael Hesemann’s remarkable book last week, I’d like to complete my consideration, as promised, of Mary of Nazareth: History, Archeology, Legends. The pervious installment closed after considering the Holy House of Loreto, where Mary lived with Joseph. Let us press...

Sing of Mary, 4a: Everything there is to know about the Mother of God, Part 1

One way to retreat from vexing situations, without failing to grow in our ability to handle them well, is to turn our attention to Mary, who faced so many of these situations without being able to change the unpleasant outcomes—outcomes which had their own role to play in Divine Providence....

Living the Sadness of Christ

The other week, when I was trying to think of something I should write about, I was fresh out of ideas. Even worse, I was feeling bored and lethargic. There can be many different causes for these problems, but in my own case, running out of ideas typically means I am spending too much time...

The Pius Wars? No longer a slur on Pius XII, but the Pope’s own war against Hitler

Do you recall the Pius wars? The conflict over the legacy of Pope Pius XII is probably best known from John Cornwell’s highly-biased book Hitler’s Pope, a title that is also a shameless bit of name-calling. But that was in 1999. Since then so many scholars have leapt to the...

YOUCAT and DOCAT: Catholic teaching for teens and young adults

After Pope St. John Paul II promulgated the preliminary French version of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church in the 1992 and the final Latin edition in 1997, the Church mandated that all catechetical materials should be consistent with this new and comprehensive official text. The desire for...

Unlocking the mystery of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Earlier this year, Ignatius Press brought out an English edition of a remarkable coffee-table book entitled Guadalupe Mysteries: Deciphering the Code. Authored by film director Grszegorz Górny and photographer Janusz Rosikoń, the 280-page oversize hardback book is printed in full color on...

Are you grieving? Here is hope and consolation.

I’m a sucker for old Catholic books. Not having been written in the midst of our own controversies, they have an air of solidity. The authors do not typically fall all over themselves responding to the least sensitivities of our modern naysayers, and in most cases they were written during a...

The Better Pastor: Learning to really manage your parish

Patrick Lencioni is a well-respected business author, writing primarily about team leadership and management. The magic of his popular books, written in the fable format, is that he uses storytelling to engage the heart and the mind—and unbeknownst to either, to begin the change...

Reading Mother Teresa: A Public Service Announcement

With the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta coming up on September 4th in Rome, there is renewed interest in her life and work. On the other hand, Mother Teresa was so famous during her lifetime that many of our older readers will already be very familiar with her story, which has been told...

Don’t discount meaning. It leads to happiness.

I’m gazing out a window overlooking Willsboro Bay on Lake Champlain. I have an opportunity to do this for a few days most Summers, because my mother-in-law has a “camp” up here. Each time I do so, I am struck by the beauty of the place. And each time I experience this beauty, it...

Is your family life an adequate school of marriage for your kids? Think about this now.

Have you had the facts-of-life discussion with your kids? If so, it is just one step along the way. Even more important is giving them the formation they need to properly approach relationships with the opposite sex, including dating, courtship and matrimony. Ideally, sound parental attitudes...

A better marriage preparation (and preparation for a better marriage)

In the furor over the recent apostolic exhortation on marriage (Amoris Laetitia), few commentators have paid much attention to the most important point made in the entire text. In the first paragraph in the section on “The logic of pastoral mercy”, Pope Francis wrote: To show...