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Inventing The Individual
Inventing The Individual
by Larry Siedentop
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.16
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4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful study of human equality is flawed, Aug. 14 2014
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In Inventing the Individual, Larry Siedentop offers a provocative study that traces modern concepts of human rights and equality to roots that are religious rather than, as Enlightenment thinkers would have it, secular. As delicious as Siedentop’s argument is, however, it fails to support his conclusion that today’s culture wars between secularists and Christians are founded on a historical misunderstanding.

Siedentop begins by disposing of the Enlightenment myth that thinking could be liberated from Christian superstition and tradition by refocusing on that of Greek and Roman societies which were primarily humanistic with some religious gloss on the top. In fact, he argues, those societies were deeply religious. Further, their religiosity was one of profound inequality centred in the family where the paterfamilias was the high priest and the first-born male had exclusive rights of succession.

It was Christianity, specifically St. Paul, Siedentop maintains, that replaced the family as the focus of religion and morality with individual moral agency. Paul was the discoverer of human freedom and equality. External conformity to tradition was replaced with inner adherence to divine law as the source of moral rectitude.

Christian martyrs, meanwhile, offered a new model of heroism. To be a hero, one no longer needed to come from a “successful” family; the Christian martyr was one who defied societal norms because of his or her allegiance to conscience. The persecution of Christians rendered the ideal of moral equality more visible and more intelligible to the populace, and was a primary source of conversions to the faith.

Over time, Christianity came to challenge slavery and Western monasticism brought egalitarian attitudes to the governance of society. Christian preaching envisioned a world where God’s justice reigned, and the Church’s legal system – which notably abolished trial by ordeal – was coherent, predictable and centralized at a time when secular justice was notably lacking in those qualities.

In dealing with the barbarians, Siedentop argues, Christianity strove to dis-enchant the physical world, arguing against the belief that fairies and spirits gave nature a sort of mysterious intentionality.
Eventually however, the egalitarian morality spawned by the Church began to be turned against the Church itself, giving rise to a movement that rejected any privileged place for the Church in society.

Where Siedentop begins to go astray is in lionizing the 14th century nominalist William of Ockham not only as “the greatest Franciscan theologian and philosopher,” but also a true purveyor of the Christian tradition. Both contentions are highly questionable.

Ockham was highly influential and did contribute significantly to the Enlightenment split between faith and reason. Believe it or not, many Christian intellectuals today, notably the radical orthodoxy movement, see Ockham’s philosophy as pernicious and something that needs to be overcome, rather than as progress from the Franciscan and Dominican thought of the previous century. Siedentop seems unaware of this, preferring to see Christian anti-secularism as the sole preserve of born-again fundamentalism.

A better analysis would see fundamentalism itself as one consequence of Ockham’s sundering of the ties between faith and reason.

Siedentop also seems unaware that the understandings of the human person that have evolved into secular individualism are poles apart from any Christian philosophy of the person as a relational being for whom rights must be understood in the context of the common good rather than as the private possessions of autonomous individuals.

Despite these strong reservations, I would argue Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual offers important insights through most of the book to the history of the development of human equality and freedom as a Christian, rather than secular, contribution.

Balthasar: A (Very) Critical Introduction
Balthasar: A (Very) Critical Introduction
by Karen Kilby
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.29
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5.0 out of 5 stars A serious criticism of a leading theologian, Dec 12 2012
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In her conclusion to this book, Karen Kilby quotes theologian Fergus Kerr's comment that while Hans Urs von Balthasar is currently the most discussed Catholic theologian, he has been subjected to little criticism, "which is perhaps surprising - unless critics do not know where to start." Kilby's little book Balthasar: A (very) Critical Introduction goes a long way towards overcoming that problem. She has found and attacked the neuralgic points in Balthasar's synthesis to the point that the credibility of the Balthasarian project - as a systematic theology - is in dire need of a defence.

To take but one example - Balthasar's theology of the Trinity. Where other theologians see Trinitarian theology as a bog of technicalities and intellectual difficulties, Balthasar's theology soars above those difficulties, giving us (apparently) detailed insight into the intimate workings of the immanent Trinity. He explores the relations among the Divine Persons in terms of love, gift, infinite distance, otherness, risk and kenosis. Through the idea of infinite distance among the persons, which is inherent in the Trinity, Balthasar presents the Cross as a drama between the Father and Son while remaining true to the tradition that insists that God is not altered through his involvement with history. This is a drama of abandonment and rejection of the Son by the Father that is not a one-off at Calvary but essential to Trinitarian life.

Kilby says it is difficult to make sense of how this infinite distance could be part of the Godhead, yet Balthasar discusses this notion with great confidence, all the while failing to provide a reasoned account of how this theology makes sense or to provide with a solid scriptural foundation. It is as though Balthasar has been privileged with a unique insider's view of the life of the Trinity, one which his readers will have to accept on faith alone.

Here is another line of her attack. Balthasar, in his five books of Theo-Drama, argues that theology must be dramatic - it cannot be what he calls lyric or epic. That is, everybody is an actor in the play, including the theologian. There is no bird's eye view from which the theologian can survey salvation history without being involved. Moreover, the theo-dramatic is an approach that encompasses all sorts of tendencies and movements within contemporary theology - event, dialogue, political theology, etc, etc. Everything can be - and, by implication, should be - rolled into theo-drama. Indeed, the relations within the Trinity itself are themselves dramatic and the Divine Persons are actors within the drama.

Yet, Balthasar himself is above the theo-drama. "Balthasar's use of the image of the drama, fascinating though it is, seems implicitly to locate him well above all that he speaks of, so that ultimately he is in a position to survey not only all of world history, but all of history in relation to God, and God's own inner life, and describe the whole to us as a single play," Kilby writes. One rather obvious question is, How does he know all this stuff about the inner workings of God? He doesn't argue for it and his scriptural basis is very thin.

Kilby finds a similar dynamic at play in Balthasar's understanding of "seeing the form" and gender. Balthasar's theological methods of exposition through fulfillment and "the circle" also assume that Balthasar himself has somehow risen above the normal theological process of argument to provide a view of things as they truly are from a divine or quasi-divine perspective.

Kilby concludes that while Balthasar has provided many fruitful insights for future theological exploration, but that his overall system of theology is irreparably flawed. She has certainly overcome the reticence to criticize Balthasar to which Kerr drew attention and has given a line of criticism to which Balthasar's disciples must respond.
The book is eminently readable and is essential reading for anyone with an interest in Balthasar. Highly recommended.

What Happened at Vatican II
What Happened at Vatican II
by John W. O'Malley
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.24
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enthralling history of Vatican II, May 17 2010
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John O'Malley's book What Happened at Vatican II is bound to rekindle the debate on what is most important about the Second Vatican Council -- the so-called spirit of Vatican II or the letter of the documents the council produced.

By providing an historical account, O'Malley pretty much of necessity casts his lot with those believe the spirit was most fundamental. The story of Vatican II was one of well-educated, well-advised bishops, largely from Western Europe, helping to drag the Church's self-understanding into the modern age. There are heroes and villains, the villains largely being Vatican officials who just didn't "get it."

Telling the history, rather than the theology, is pretty much inevitably going to lead you to see the council in such black-and-white terms. And O'Malley has written a page-turner that provides the drama of Vatican II without getting too bogged down in the details.

Nevertheless, knowing the history may lead one to conclude that the same battle between liberal good guys and conservative bad guys -- O'Malley avoids the liberal-conservative labels -- is going on today. That assumption is called into question by the fact that some of those who contributed so much to the "progressive" side at Vatican II -- e.g., Joseph Ratzinger, Karol Wojtyla and Henri de Lubac -- ended up being cast as conservatives. By and large, their views remained unchanged so there must be a different post-Vatican II dynamic in play.

In his conclusion, O'Malley does not deal with that reality. He assumes that those who disagree with his interpretation of such issues as collegiality are basically unreconstructed pre-Vatican II trogolodytes.

Nevertheless, for recounting the history in a manner that is both well documented and most interesting, O'Malley deserves something pretty close to top marks.

Curl To Win
Curl To Win
by Russ Howard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Russ Howard sweeps the house clean, Dec 1 2009
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This review is from: Curl To Win (Hardcover)
If you own no other curling book, let this be the one. Russ Howard does march to his own beat and his techniques do not always coincide with what you get from the Canadian Curling Association, but he provides more solid advice between the covers of this book than you will find in any other publication.

Howard covers everything from how to keep score to some of the fine points of strategy.

He is one of the proponents of the backswing delivery. He tells you why he prefers a backswing, shows you how to do it, but also demonstrates the more popular no-lift delivery. Howard also teaches both how to sweep with a gripper on your lead foot and with a slider. As gruff as the man appears when calling the sweep in the Brier (and few people will forget that broken broom in Calgary!), he is not doctrinaire when doling out advice.

Howard offers up a 16-page chapter on the goals and commitment involved in serious competitive curling that covers topics such as finances, scouting your opponents and practice time. Maybe it's a bit much for most of us hackers, but it is still interesting.

The best part of the book, in my opinion, is his tactical analysis of 20 different on-ice scenarios. Howard provides "unconventional wisdom" and lots of useful tidbits: "You don't have to hit the rock in the rings"; "Make the opponent's rocks work for you"; and "Making the double looks good, but doesn't score any points."

The only weak part of Curl to Win is the section analyzing the different positions on the team. Howard invited other top curlers to write most of these sections; he should have written them himself.

This is a well thought-out book. It is presented in an easy-to-read fashion with lots of pictures, occasional sidebars and attractive typography. If you are a curler with a serious interest in improving your game, you will refer to Curl to Win again and again over the years.

Sober Intoxication of the Spirit: Filled With the Fullness of God
Sober Intoxication of the Spirit: Filled With the Fullness of God
by Raniero Cantalamessa
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.51
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An inspired and inspiring book on the Holy Spirit, Oct. 27 2009
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There are few, if any, writers and preachers in today's Church who are as moved by the Holy Spirit as Father Raniero Cantalamessa. Father Cantalamessa, a Capuchin Franciscan priest who has been the personal preacher to both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, has blended deep spirituality with wide-ranging theological knowledge.

In this book, Sober Intoxication of the Spirit, Cantalamessa reflects on St. Peter's words at Pentecost, "They are not drunk as you suppose," referring to the disciples who had just been filled with the Holy Spirit and begun to speak in tongues. He finds several references to this "sober intoxication" in Christian writers of the fourth century - "the golden age of the Church." In the state of sober intoxication, the Christian "passes beyond reason into the light of God."

Father Cantalamessa names the spiritual depravity of our own age, but he does not dwell on it. He is an inspired preacher, not a prophet of doom. He encourages the reader to seek the outpouring (or baptism) in the Spirit and to seek a path of spiritual renewal. "The Church has always demonstrated its greatest strength and vitality when it has acted on (the) charismatic and pneumatic level," he writes.

This book is less academic and more inspirational than some of Cantalamessa's other books. It also contains practical advice for growth in the life of the Spirit. I recommend it highly, not only because it is so inspiring, but also because Father Cantalamessa is calling us to the path of renewal in the Holy Spirit that I believe is so desperately needed in these times.

Paul For Everyone: Romans Part One: Chapters 1-8
Paul For Everyone: Romans Part One: Chapters 1-8
by Tom Wright
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.24
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wright takes us beyond me-and Jesus, June 24 2009
This volume on Romans is probably the best in Wright's Paul for Everyone series. He is deceptively simple in the interpretations that he gives. You can get to know Romans as it should be known without getting weighed down in a bunch of technical language. He has a great appreciation of Paul's Jewish background and how it affected his writing.

One example: Wright translates Romans 3.22 as saying God's righteousness is available to us "through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah," while most translations give some version of saying that righteousness is disclosed through "faith in Jesus Christ." It makes a huge difference. The standard version leads us to a Me-and Jesus spirituality while Wright's translation emphasizes that it is Christ's faithfulness to the covenant that sets us free.

The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive
The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive
by Michael Fullan
Edition: Hardcover
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.11

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fullan copes with a complex world, Feb. 1 2009
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This is a business book that takes a critical, detached view of business books. Michael Fullan provides a perspective within which to view all the gimmicks, techniques and fads that you might read elsewhere. And his own "secrets" are not some magic bullet that will replace those gimmicks, but rather principles that can only be learned by being reflected upon, applied, reflected upon some more and applied some more.

Sounds like work! But isn't that what real change takes? "It may seem odd that in this book I am giving you advice and then cautioning you to doubt it, but that's precisely what I am doing," Fullan says in his introduction. For example, his first "secret" is to love your employees. But if you love your employees, you had better balance that with love for your customers.

Fullan finds the best in other business books/research and presents it in capsule form. You can go to the source if you want more detail. One article he cites is "Professional Development: A Great Way to Avoid Change." I love it! Two pages later he lists "seven self-destructive habits of good companies" outlined by J. Sheth.

Instead of reading five books on business leadership, my suggestion is to read this one five times . . . over a period of a couple of years. It may make a positive difference.

Curling, Etcetera: A Whole Bunch of Stuff About the Roaring Game
Curling, Etcetera: A Whole Bunch of Stuff About the Roaring Game
by Bob Weeks
Edition: Hardcover
8 used & new from CDN$ 34.30

3.0 out of 5 stars A bunch of trivia about curling, Jan. 31 2009
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Bob Weeks provides the ultimate curling bathroom book in Curling Etcetera, a collection of well-known and not-so-well-known trivia about the world's finest sport. Much of the information in this book is recycled from Weeks' earlier writings.

Some new stuff that I found interesting:
How Marco Ferraro redesigned the hack;
How Ken Watson defied Canada's curling establishment and set up the first world championship;
Finnish curler M-15's wizardry with a Rubik's cube;
That Bruce Springsteen is a curling devotee;
That Stefanie Lawton's team had the third highest team percentage in history in the 2005 Canadian women's championship, but only placed fourth that year.

Some irritating errors: Weeks mentions Garnet Campbell's Brier victory several times, once saying it was in 1954, another time that it was in 1957. It was in fact in 1955. Also, he refers to Joyce McKee, perhaps the greatest woman curler of all time, as Joyce Potter.

If you collect curling books, but don't like to read, this is a good one to buy. Myself? I would have preferred if Weeks had updated his fine 1995 book The Brier.

The Letters of Paul
The Letters of Paul
by Charles B. Cousar
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 24.22
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5.0 out of 5 stars An essential guide to Paul's writings, Aug. 7 2008
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This review is from: The Letters of Paul (Paperback)
If you read no other book on the writings of St. Paul, read Charles Cousar's The Letters of Paul. There are other, flashier books that are more likely to attract the reader with an interest in Paul. But Cousar provides an overview in which he makes his own theorizing secondary to the needs of the reader. He is modest, yet probing. He raises the questions that one needs to know and grapple with in coming to one's own personal appropriation of St. Paul's writings.

The first half of the book deals with "issues in reading the letters of Paul." Reading this section may appear to be a dreary undertaking better reserved for undergraduates than for one who wants to get into the meat of Paul's theology. Well, to some extent it is. But if you are seriously interested in understanding Paul, you should know something about how he constructs his arguments, the extent to which he relies on Old Testament and other sources, and the life of the churches to which he writes. Unless you are an expert in Paul, you will likely learn things of interest and value here.

It should be noted that Cousar avoids discussions you can find elsewhere about the routes of Paul's missionary journeys and about why certain letters are deemed to have been written by Paul and why others are not.

The second section deals with theological themes in Paul's writings. Cousar may have his own theological axes to grind. Who doesn't? But if he does, he does not show it in this section where he nicely gives an overview, in five chapters, of a whole series of theological issues in Paul. He urges us to be wary of the personal biases we bringing to reading Paul's letters.

In this section, Cousar does not attempt a full-blown theology of Paul. "We will stick to the letters themselves, the major themes that emerge, and their interrelatedness," he writes.

In his introduction, the author states, "Paul places heavy demands on readers." That he does. With his modest, but probing approach, Cousar can help the serious, but beginning student of Paul come to a much greater understanding of some of the cornerstone writings of the Christian faith.

Fateful Passages: The Life of Henry Somerville, Catholic Journalist
Fateful Passages: The Life of Henry Somerville, Catholic Journalist
by Joseph Sinasac
Edition: Paperback
10 used & new from CDN$ 2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Catholic editor expounded social teaching, Aug. 3 2008
It was almost astonishing to me to find a biography published on the life of an English Canadian Catholic journalist. And to find within its pages that journalist described as "for many years, particularly during the 1930s, the most influential layman in the English-speaking Catholic Church in Canada."

The Catholic press is not strong in Canada and, to a practitioner, it is heartening to see the life of one editor made the subject of a popular biography.

Henry Somerville lived an intriguing life. Born in 1889 and raised in the British industrial city of Leeds, he quickly developed a strong yearning for justice for the working class. In 1908, he founded the Catholic Socialist Society, a group that was promptly condemned by the local bishop in a pastoral letter.

Somerville then developed his life-long interest in the new Catholic social teaching and set out to make that teaching known both by the laity and the clergy. He worked for the Manchester Guardian but came to Toronto, at the entreaty of Archbishop Neil McNeil, in 1915 to write for the diocesan Catholic Register.

Somerville found Toronto even less accepting of his passion for Catholic social teaching than was England. A visit to England for Christmas 1918 led him to stay in his homeland for another 15 years. There, he met and married Margaret Cooper and began to raise a family.

He served as a correspondent for the Toronto Star and in 1929 visited the Soviet Union, a visit which deepened his mistrust of communism. He and McNeil remained close friends and in 1933, the archbishop convinced Somerville to return to Toronto as The Register's editor.

Somerville was a man of strong faith. He was unquestioningly faithful to the Church and sought to bring to fruition its social teachings through the written word and, indeed, in any way possible. He urged Catholics to break out of their intellectual ghetto. And he laboured to get Canada's bishops "to recognize that left-wing political parties could be legitimate avenues for promoting the social doctrine of the Church."

He did influence Church leaders and, likely to some extent, the Catholic faithful. Although Somerville died in 1953, he continues to influence the Church in Canada through his children, two of whom - Father Stephen Somerville and journalist Janet Somerville - have achieved some measure of prominence.

Joseph Sinasac, today's editor and publisher of The Catholic Register, follows in Somerville's footsteps. He is well placed to provide not only an accurate, but also an interesting, account of the earlier editor. Sinasac not only tells the story of Somerville's life, he provides historical context to help understand that life.

More people like Henry Somerville are needed - devout, faithful Catholics who are determined to see Church teaching affect the life of our nation. Such people are destined to be, at best, on the fringes of Canadians' awareness. But Sinasac shows they can be a force for good, however indirect that force might be.

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