Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Apostasy That Wasn't (Catholic Answers Press)

When I think of Catholic Answers, I think of their call-in radio show, their helpful website, and their informative magazine. However, they also have a very successful publishing arm of their ministry. They don't publish a lot each season, but the books that they do are always top-notch in terms of quality and presentation. I'd even go so far as to say that they are quickly becoming one of my favorite publishers. In addition to their ever-growing Catholic Answers Classics, two of their Fall titles which caught my eye are entitled Handed Down and The Apostasy That Wasn't. Both are about the early Church, and I will be reviewing the latter today.

The introduction to The Apostasy That Wasn't begins with the author, Rod Bennett, telling a story of a small community of Evangelical Christians in North Carolina which was founded by A.J. Tomlinson. This group of Christians, like other groups, believed that they were the only ones who were true Christians, descended from the Apostles, and everyone else was wrong. Their story and history, like other Christian and non-Christian sects, is very skewed. Allow me to explain. There is a theory among Protestants, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, etc. called the Great Apostasy. This theory, which is largely anti-Catholic, believes that the Church entered a fallen state due to their integration of Greco-Roman ideas. The emperor Constantine is one of the big lightning rod figures, and he is believed to be the one who pushed the Church of the New Testament into a dark period in history that lasted 1600 years, until a specific group (insert any of the ones I listed earlier) was formed and they are the heirs to the "true Church." Sounds crazy right? This book, The Apostasy That Wasn't, explains exactly why the Great Apostasy is mere fiction.

The book's first chapter talks about what the author refers to as the "Ghetto Church." People like to pretend that the Church was pure and holy from the time of Jesus until about the 300s. However, that is far from the case. Origen even said the Church was whoring itself. There was at least one man who stood up for what was right and what the Church and her leaders should be like, and his name was Anthony of Coma. You probably know him as St. Anthony the Great, and the only reason we know his story today is because it was written by St. Athanasius of Alexandria. Chapter Three in this book introduces us to Eusebius of Nicomedia. Eusebius was a friend and support of Arius; baptized Constantine; and was responsible for convincing Constantine that Arius' false teachings were not in conflict with the Council of Nicaea. The facts in this chapter are accurate, but it does take a little bit of creative license at some points to make history come alive. The major themes we see in this book deal with Constantine, Arius, Athanasius, the state of the Roman Empire, and the state of the Church. There was clearly turmoil in the early centuries of the Church, but the Church has always had the Holy Spirit and saints to light our way and keep us from straying too far.

The Apostasy That Wasn't is billed as a sequel to his first book Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words, but it also stands on its own and can be read without having read the other. This book is part history book and part dramatic prose, which both instructs the reader and keeps him engaged, not wanting to put the book down. This is a book that all Catholics should read to better understand a greatly misunderstood period in Church History. I would go so far as to say that it would be a perfect text at the high school level and should be adopted by all Catholic high schools. In conclusion, I highly recommend this book and plan to visit again as it was truly a fascinating read.

This book was provided to me for free by Catholic Answers Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Book of Isaiah (Catholic Scripture Study International)

Another year is winding down and in addition to making secular resolutions like getting in better shape, etc. I always think it's a good time to make spiritual resolutions too. My spiritual resolutions are to try and pray more/better, read more slowly (something I struggle with), and/or dive more deeply into Scripture. There are many great books, commentaries, and Bibles that help you to study Scripture better, but sometimes books are no substitute for a DVD study program. Catholic Scripture Study International has a great number of choices, and today I am going to tell you about one of their latest - The Book of Isaiah.

The Book of Isaiah is the second-longest book in the Bible in terms of chapters at a robust 66. It is second only to Psalms, which is 150 (or 151 if you're Orthodox). I have always heard the theory that Isaiah had multiple authors, but I thought it was only three. The introduction to this study suggests that there were six authors in five different time periods. Three of the authors are referred to as Proto-Isaiah, Deutero-Isaiah, and Trito-Isaiah. The other sections of Isaiah are classified as Historical Narratives and Apocalypse. The study gives a few theories on the multiple authors, but one book. The two plausible ones are 1. the ancient custom of attaching your work to a more recognized work to lend credibility to your writing and 2. a school of thought with Isaiah as the master teacher and his students/"children" adding to his work.

The study then dives into the book of Isaiah spanning 26 lessons. The lessons are arranged by author, which for the most part leaves them in chapter order. The exceptions to this are Lesson 19: Apocalypse 24-25, Lesson 20: Isaiah Apocalypse 26-27, and Lesson 21 Isaiah 34-35. Each lesson contains an introductory section, verse-by-verse commentary, study questions, and reflections for group discussion. In the leader's guide, there is a section at the end for suggested responses to the study questions. Also included in the lessons are Catechism references to enhance the material and a section called "Rome to Home," which contains an extensive quote from a pope (past or present).

If one were to do a lesson a week with their small group, this series would take six months to complete. I know that is intimidating, but the time actually flew by for me. Working my way through this study, I learned just how important the book of Isaiah is both in understanding the Bible and in the liturgical cycle of the Church. We see so many references to the coming Messiah's birth and also his death. I admit, I skipped ahead a couple of times, just because I couldn't wait to get to specific sections. I particularly was interested in Isaiah 53, which is commonly known as the Suffering Servant. The lesson did not disappoint! If you are looking for an in-depth guide to an intimidating book of Scripture, I highly recommend this study for your small group.

This Bible Study was provided to me for free by TAN Books in exchange for an honest review. Be sure to check out their other studies, including Doors of Mercy, which will help you through your Jubilee Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Universal Letters (Liguori Publications)

When we think of Epistles in the New Testament, we tend to focus on the major ones credited to St. Paul - Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, etc. What tends to get overlooked is the seven right before Revelation - James; 1 and 2 Peter; 1, 2, and 3 John; and Jude. None of these books contain more than five chapters, and because of their length, Fr. William A. Anderson was able to group them all together in one book called Universal Letters.

The book begins like all books in the Liguori Catholic Bible Study series in that it includes an introduction to the series, a brief explanation on what Lectio Divina is, and a how-to guide for using these books. The book itself is then divided into six lessons, which contain parts for group and individual study. The first two lessons cover the Epistle of James. The middle two lessons cover the Epistles of Peter, and the final two lessons cover the Epistles of John and Jude. Each lesson breaks up the Bible chapters/books by days, so you don't overwhelm yourself one day trying to do it all at once. At the end of every lesson are Lectio Divina guides and questions for review to also aid in your study.

I particularly enjoyed the two lessons on the Epistle of James, as it is one of the most practical books in the Bible that every Christian should read. In these two lessons, we learn about such topics as faith and works, keeping our tongue in check, and helping out those less fortunate than us. At less than 130 pages, this book is a good study for the individual or small group to explore and learn about a neglected section of the New Testament. After studying through this book, I would encourage the reader/student to continue with their studies and move on to The Book of Revelation, which is also in this same series and by the same author.

This book was provided to me for free by Liguori Publications in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Exploring Catholic Theology (Baker Academic)

Bishop Robert Barron has been credited with teaching many Catholics worldwide the basics of their faith. He has done this through his ever popular series Catholicism. However, to say that is the extent of his work would sell him short, as he is responsible for numerous study programs and books that dive deeper into the Catholic faith and explore some of the more heady ideas of the Church. In one of his latest books, Exploring Catholic Theology, Bishop Barron presents us with essays on subjects of God, Theology, Liturgy, and The New Evangelization.

Exploring Catholic Theology contains fifteen essays by Bishop Robert Barron, which have either been previously published in academic journals or given as lectures. By combining them in one book, Barron hopes to "provide a framework to help Christians think through some of the most pressing issues of our time." The first part tackles the doctrine of God by drawing from such great minds as Augustine and Aquinas and a chapter on the Trinity with Irenaeus as our guide.. Part Two begins with reflections on the Catholic intellectual tradition, a heady subject to say the least. We also see a lot of John Henry Newman in this section of the book. Lastly, there is a chapter on Biblical interpretation with Irenaeus once again showing us the way. Part Three is all about the Eucharist and Part Four focuses on the hot topic among Catholics of this day and age - The New Evangelization.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on Biblical interpretation. Barron tells us the way in which Irenaeus interpreted Scripture. He believed that God is the divine author; the Bible is like a symphony in that it is consistent with itself; and lastly, God's words should speak to us in the present. As fascinating as this chapter was, I still believe Part Four to contain the most important chapters in this book. It is in these chapters that we learn both why and how we need to evangelize the people and the culture around us. As great as the first eleven chapters/essays are, they will be all for naught, if we cannot find a way to spread the Good News to the people who don't already know Jesus. Barron understands this as well as anyone, as he has made bringing people to the Truth of Jesus one of his most important life's missions.

Exploring Catholic Theology is a challenging and engaging work on relevant issues in today's world. He draws from both Scripture and tradition to present the reader with essays that proclaim the Gospel in a society that is doing all it can to avoid the Gospel. I recommend this book for students, teachers, pastors, priests, and any other Catholic who is looking for a taste of theology beyond the basics.

This book was provided to me for free by Baker Academic in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Woman Who Was Chesterton (ACS Books)

Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton was a larger than life figure, both literally and figuratively. His personality was enormous, as was the amount of brilliant writings that he contributed to the world. Due to his larger than life personality, people now tend to overlook the fact that he was married. This might seem like a travesty to his wife, Frances, but she actually wanted this way. The author, Nancy Carpentier Brown, and I agree that the wife of such an influential Catholic should not be left in the shadows, whether she'd like it or not. Therefore, Ms. Brown did a great deal of painstaking research to write her book, The Woman Who Was Chesterton, and shine the spotlight on a remarkable woman who managed to avoid the spotlight her entire life.

You might recognize Nancy Carpentier Brown from her other book on Frances Chesterton - How Far is it to Bethlehem. In that book, we got to see Frances from her plays and poetry, and those painted us a brilliant picture of Frances. Her new book illuminates her life even more for us. In the introduction, we are treated to a beautiful summary of Gilbert and Frances' life and marriage. "Frances and Gilbert worked together as a team; they were lovers and friends, writing coaches and companions. They worked, ate, laughed, and slept together for thirty-five years, dependent on each other physically, emotionally, and intellectually. The love between them defined her life - and his. [ . . . . ] It is not an exaggeration to say that she was the person who would affect Gilbert's life more profoundly than anyone. He was totally dependent on her for his happiness."

The book then takes us through a chronicle of her life. The first chapter chronicles her early life, and by early life I mean the first 27 years. This chapter includes mention of her parents and sisters and touches briefly on the mystery of her father's military career. What was fascinating to me is that she was the governess of Rudyard Kipling's children! Chapter Two elaborates on Frances' courtship to Gilbert, and the absolute giddiness he felt when with her. In this chapter, Ms. Brown includes previously unpublished letters between the two and also compares the writing of Frances and Gilbert to show how in sync the two were. Chapter Three details the wedding, mentions the lack of photographs from the wedding, and includes an untrue and awful tale that Gilbert's sister-in-law (his brother's wife) wrote about Frances and Gilbert's wedding and marriage. It was completely unfounded, and an awful thing for someone to write about their worst enemy, let alone their family. I could go on giving you a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, but you'll have to buy the book.

The closing chapter which touched on Frances' death, obituary, and legacy was the most moving to me. It underscores the fact of how much Frances was subsumed into the man that was G.K. Chesterton. However, it also emphasized how brilliant, talented, and deeply religious of a woman she was as well. It's an old, but true adage that behind every great man, there is a great woman. This is true of Gilbert and Frances as well. Ms. Brown did a splendid job of capturing Frances' life and putting it on paper for us. She also managed to include Gilbert in this book without him overshadowing his wife, which is no small feat. If you want to know what made him such a great man, and possible saint one day, then you have to know his wife, and I know of no better book to accomplish that than The Woman Who Was Chesterton. Be sure to pick up a copy of this book and How Far is it to Bethlehem. You won't regret it!

This book was provided to me for free by the author in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Polar Express and The Nutcracker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Hesperus Press)

Everyone has specific things they love about Christmas. Some people have their favorite songs and carols. Others have their favorite movies that they have to watch for it to feel like Christmas. Sadly, not too many people think about favorite Christmas books, but I am going to tell you about two classics that you might want to pick up for your kids and/or you and find time to read during the Christmas season.

The Polar Express is 30 years old this year! It's crazy to think about it being that old, as it is older than my wife! The premise of this book is that a boy's friend tells him that Santa isn't real. The boy stays awake to try and listen for Santa, The boy then ends up a train that takes him and other children to the North Pole. This train is called the Polar Express. While at the North Pole, the children encounter elves and factories and see all of the toys for Christmas being made. The boy is then chosen by Santa to be the child to receive the first gift of Christmas. For his gift, the boy wants something that will help him always believe in Santa and he is gifted with a silver bell from the reindeer's harness. Unfortunately, he loses the bell and is devastated! However, when he opens his gifts on Christmas he finds a present from Santa with the bell in it. He and his sister can hear it, but his parents think it is broken. The book ends with the boy growing up and his sister and friends not being able to hear the bell anymore. However, he still can.

This is a beautiful story with equally beautiful images. The movie definitely did not do this story, especially the ending justice.There are many editions available of this book. There is a library edition, which is HUGE, but if you have a lot of children or grandchildren, I'd recommend it so that you can have the children gather around you to listen and everyone can see the images. There is also a 30th anniversary edition that comes with downloadable audio of Liam Neeson reading the story. I honestly figured it'd be Tom Hanks reading it, but Neeson is great too. This is a story for children who are on the cusp of not believing or who may have friends trying to take the magic of Christmas from them. Highly recommend.

When I was growing up, I saw The Nutcracker ballet in elementary school. I don't remember much about it, except I was bored and I didn't really know what was going on, and if I'm honest, I don't think I cared what was going on either. It wasn't until I was an adult that I learned it was a book too. The story begins with Marie and her brother Fritz waiting to receive their Christmas gifts from Drosselmeyer, their inventor godfather. They are given many gifts, but Marie's favorite gift is a nutcracker. It is tragically broken, but she mends it with her ribbon. When she goes to bed that night, she dreams of mice and toys fighting each other. She sustains a wound in the dream, and wakes up to find it is an actual wound.

While Marie is on the mend, Drosselmeyer arrives with her nutcracker repaired. He then explains to her the history of mice and nutcrackers, and why nutcrackers look the way they do. There is more to this story, which you may or may not know, but I don't want to spoil too much of it. There are elements for both boys and girls in this story. There is action and adventure, but there is also dancing and love. There's also a bit of a surprise ending, which I'm not really sure if it's how the ballet ends as well, because like I said, I didn't really care about it when I was a child. I really enjoyed this story, and it was such a short and quick read that it was hard to put it down and not finish it in one sitting. There are chapter breaks though, in case you have younger readers who need to spread out this delightful tale. There's also a brief foreword at the beginning of the book, which provides useful information on the history and origin of this story. This is particularly useful if your children use this book for a book report. Great story, and one that you should definitely read before you attempt the ballet.

These books were provided to me for free by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Hesperus Press in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Behold the Man (Ignatius Press)

When I was a Protestant, I remember there being books geared towards men. They focused on being a husband, being a father, and just being a better man. Though I was just in my late teens at the time, I remember reading those, because I wanted to be the best man I could be both now and in the future. Since, I became Catholic I have noticed that there is a lack of "male spirituality" books, but that trend seems to be changing, slowly but surely. In 2009, we had Fr. Larry Richards' book Be a Man! After that came the series of books Joseph's Way. Now, we have Behold the Man, from well known Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers.

Deacon Harold begins his Introduction by telling us how rare the Catholic man is, and says it is Catholic men themselves who are responsible for their own destruction and extinction. He then provides an example from a raunchy television show, Two and a Half Men, to show just how far we have sunk. After this painful example, we are presented with statistics that show how much men shape their children's religious lives. He cites a study that shows us the importance of Catholic men going to Mass regularly. If we don't go regularly, it says that only 2-3% of children will attend regularly. That's pretty devastating. The book is then divided into eight chapters, which cover topics like Biblical Manhood, Covenant Relationships, Theology of the Body, and Fatherhood.

Before diving into examples of Biblical Manhood, Deacon Harold reminds us that we need to understand Biblical context before dissecting a passage. In this chapter there is heavy focus on God the Father and the first family of Adam and Eve. He then dives into the meaning of covenants, how God's love is central in covenants, and how important marriage is. He tells us that it is so important that God Himself, Jesus, chose to be born into a covenant marriage. In the chapter on fatherhood, he begins by emphasizing the importance of the Mass and Eucharist, and how so many Catholic men view this Sunday obligation as a burden. He also tells us that as Catholic men, we must focus on Christ crucified and model our life after His life so that we can grow in love for God and our fellow man. The most interesting section on fatherhood compared our roles as fathers to Christ the King, Prophet, and Priest. As fathers, we must exhibit love-centered headship, servant-based leadership, and life-giving authority.

Deacon Harold always speaks with passion and conviction, so it was refreshing to see that style reflected in his book Behold the Man. He was able to mix practical with scholarly and deliver a book that was a clear call to action to all Catholic men. He didn't just rely on his words though, he backed them up with copious notes and references to both Scripture and the Catechism. What is most refreshing about this book is that it is not just aimed at a specific type of Catholic man, i.e., a husband or a father. It is instead aimed at ALL Catholic men, both laity and religious; single and married. So if you are looking for a book for the man/men in your life, I'd strongly recommend this one. For a limited time, you can receive this and the other two books I mentioned for 40% off when you buy them together here.

This book was provided to me for free by Carmel Communications in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Case for Catholic Education (Angelico Press)

The Case for Catholic Education is a short but eye-opening book by Dr. Ryan N.S. Topping, the author a book from 2013 that I still remember today - Rebuilding Catholic Culture. His current book looks objectively at Catholic schools, Catholic education and exposes the weaknesses. His reason for doing so is because "there is potential for greater strength."

The first chapter sets the stage by explaining why there is a crisis in Catholic education. Dr. Topping believes the root cause to be a "lack of confidence in truth." He goes on to explain what is lacking and Common Core and discusses a different curriculum briefly. He also speaks of Christopher Dawson and Dorothy Sayers and how they could see this crisis coming before it happened. The second chapter is the most depressing to me. In it, we are presented with numerous statistics and graphs that compared secular students, Protestant students, and Catholic students. Not all the numbers were bad, but with a lot of the moral and social issues you could see the degree of subjectivity Catholic students have adopted. Where is the objective moral truth that our children are supposed to be learning? But we cannot blame this solely on the schools, Catholic parents have failed as well. The remaining four chapters in this book discuss the purpose of education, the methods of the teacher, a curriculum of seven liberal arts (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music), and a hopeful chapter on the future of Catholic education.

It is hard to pick out a chapter as one that spoke to me the most, because each chapter built upon the previous one. I found myself nodding along the further and further I progressed in the book. After the chapters is a set of discussion questions, which can be used solo or in a small group setting. As for my opinion of the book, I found it to be succinct, but important enough that all Catholics should read it, not just parents and teachers. Catholic education is in need of a change, and we must stand up and do something about it, because it is not just our children's minds that are at stake but their souls as well.

This book was provided to me for free by Angelico Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Wanderer: Elegies, Epics, Riddles (Penguin Classics)

Today, I am continuing with my monthly reviews of the series Legends from the Ancient North from Penguin Classics. Last month, I reviewed Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and this month I am reviewing The Wanderer: Elegies, Epics, and Riddles. I had never heard of this title before receiving it in the mail, so I was eager to dive in this book and see what it entailed.

The book begins with an introduction on Anglo-Saxon people and verse. There is also a brief lesson on how poetry has changed over the past thousand years. After that is "A Note on the Translation" and several prefaces. I always try to read notes on translations, because when reading a translation of something, you often wonder how accurate it actually is. That is why I enjoyed what the translator, Michael Alexander, wrote when he said, "I have never seen the point of translating verse into anything but verse. 'The harmony of prose' may be useful for a first impression, or for 'the story' of the narrative poem; and it may be that any translation is better than none. But it seems to me that the first aim in translating a living poem from a language which happens to be unknown into one's own language is to produce something with art in it., something which lives." After reading that, I knew the Mr. Alexander would provide us with the best translation he possibly could.

There are several types of poetry included in this book, such as elegies, heroic poems, gnomic verses, and riddles. Each section in the book contains an introduction on the type of poetry as well as an introduction on the specific poem. For example, in the heroic poems section, there is a selection from Beowulf. With some of the shorter poems, Mr. Alexander included the original text in Northumbrian. It was fascinating to see, but this bit might only be of interest to true students of Anglo-Saxon poetry. My favorite section of the book was the selection of riddles. I thought I was really good at riddles, but I was honestly stumped by most of these. Thankfully, there was a suggested answers section at the end of the book. I will provide you with an easy one to test your riddle skills:

The wave, over the wave, a weird thing I saw,
thorough-wrought, and wonderfully ornate:
a wonder on the wave - water become bone.

This was a fairly interesting read that contained many different types of poems. If you've never read Beowulf, this book provides enough of a selection to entice you to read more, which thankfully you can by the same editor in Legends from the Ancient North series. If you are a lover of poetry and riddles, then you will want to give this book a go. Also, if you are a lover of Tolkien and would like to see some of the works that inspired him, then you will want to read this too!

This book was provided to me for free by Penguin Classics in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Deeper Vision (Ignatius Press)

When we think back on the 20th Century, the first thing that enters most of our minds is war. The United States and other global parties lived through two World Wars and many lives were lost. When we look at the Catholic landscape in the 20th Century, the big event that comes to mind is the Second Vatican Council. However, there was so much going on in this century, both in the secular world and the Catholic world, that it's easy to get overwhelmed. Robert Royal's latest book A Deeper Vision provides a brief (600+ pages) overview of the Catholic intellectual tradition of the 20th Century. Such figures discussed include Ratzinger, Wojtyla, du Lubac, Pieper, Chesterton, and Tolkien just to name a few! Royal's book is divided into the following sections:

Part One: Faith and Reason
1. The Thomist Revival and Preconcilar Catholic Thought
2. Catholic Philosophy in a Time of Turmoil
3. Theology and the Throes of Modernity
4. Critical Interlude: The Second Vatican Council
5. A Renewed Theology and Modern Culture
6. The Three Ages of Scripture Studies
7. Scripture Study after the Council

Part Two: Creed and Culture
8. The Emergence of Culture as a Protagonist
9. Freshness Deep Down Things: The Catholic Literary Revival
10. The Two Frances
11. The Motley Society and After

I started this book at the beginning, as you would any book, but quickly found myself puzzled. Philosophy has never been my strong suit, nor has Thomas Aquinas. I plugged along, absorbing as much as I could. Chapter Three I started to get more familiar with the subject matter and didn't feel as overwhelmed. I found Pope Paul VI's statement on Vatican II very telling. He said that he felt "the sensation that through some fissure, the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God. There is doubt, uncertainty, trouble, disquiet, dissatisfaction, confrontation. The Church is not trusted. . . . It was believed that after the [Second Vatican] Council there would be a day of sunshine for the history of the Church. What has come instead is a day of clouds, of darkness, of seeking, of uncertainty. . . . We believe that something preternatural (the devil) has come into the world to disturb, to suffocate, the fruits of the Ecumenical Council and to prevent the Church from bursting into a hymn of joy for having regained full awareness of itself."

As a book lover, I found the chapter on the Catholic Literary Revival to be most fascinating. Apart from talking about the great writers like Chesterton, Tolkien, and Belloc, Royal treats us to some excerpts of their writings. Chesterton's "Wine and Water" is one such example we read in this book. As a lover of the Bible, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Chapter Six and Seven. We learn about different Biblical interpretation methods and how interpretation methods have changed and evolved over time. We also learn about the three criteria Church Fathers have to guarantee that the interpretation method is in line with what the author wrote. First, you must keep divine authorship in mind. Second, you must keep in mind the content and unity of the whole work. Lastly, you must keep in mind church tradition and the "analogy of faith."

Overall, I found this book to be a deep but edifying book. It is not a book you just skim and put down, but one you read slowly and digest piece by piece. I think it would be especially useful in a classroom setting at the high school and/or college level, both in Catholic schools and in the homeschool setting. If you are looking for an impressive overview of the Catholic Church's intellectual tradition in the 20th Century, then this is the book for you. It is the perfect skeleton (and I say that lightly for a 600+ page book) that will provide you with plenty of names of people to read and flesh out your understanding on many different subjects.

This book was provided to me for free by Ignatius Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Art of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

If you're an extreme Tolkien fan, like myself, probably already own several versions of The Hobbit and The Lord of Rings both in paperback and hardcover, illustrated and not. Each edition has its strengths and weaknesses, but none is perfect on its own. Over the past three years, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has released two books of original Tolkien illustrations. Allow me to briefly tell you about each of them.

When reading through various editions of The Hobbit, which I own, I find myself puzzled by the lack of illustrations in a book of this nature. There's a scant few and a map or two, but not nearly enough to capture the beauty of Tolkien's words. When going through the hundreds of documents in Tolkien's estate, scores of illustrations were found and scanned to create the book The Art of the Hobbit. The book itself is 150 pages and hardcover, measuring in at 10" x 10". It's an odd-size for a shelf, but you'll probably not have it on the shelf much and find yourself flipping through it or displaying on the coffee table. The book contains over 100 original Tolkien sketches, illustrations, and maps.

Tolkien was not a trained artist by any means, but his artwork would make you think otherwise. Like, the words in his books, which went through numerous changes, his maps and illustrations did as well. The book does a nice job of capturing the evolution of his artwork, going from very crude sketches to beautiful masterpieces of pen and ink, sometimes even full color. Accompanying each illustration is text excerpts from The Hobbit and explanations of the illustration, the changes in the illustration (if there were multiple illustrations of the same scene), and commentary on why Tolkien chose to illustrate something a particular way. This is truly a beautiful book, but if I had to change one thing about it, it would be that some of the pages fold out. I'd rather there be no fold-out pages, but that is a minor gripe for such a treasure of a book.

The Art of The Lord of the Rings is the long-awaited companion volume to The Art of the Hobbit. The publisher kept the size of the hardcover the same (10" x 10"), which I always appreciate. There is nothing worse than having a book that belongs with another and them being different sizes! The length of this book is almost 250 pages, which is 100 pages more than The Art of the Hobbit. 250 pages is a generous plenty, but greedy Tolkien fan that I am I was hoping for close to 500 pages, since this is a trilogy after all! Also unlike its companion book, there are no fold-out pages, which I greatly appreciate, as I always felt like I was going to end up getting those pages even more folded up or worse ripping them.

Upon picking up this book, I was expecting many illustrations of Frodo, Gandalf, and Aragorn. Instead, I would say this book is more maps and runes/inscriptions than anything. That is not a complaint, merely an observation. There are images of castles and keeps and towers. But one notices that there are numerous illustrations of the inscription on the One Ring and so many maps and revisions of maps. At times, it feels like looking through a time lapsed atlas where you see the changes and evolutions of a specific area. Other times, it feels like you are flipping through a travel log and tracing the journey of the Fellowship. Pair all of these illustration with the masterful commentary by editors Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, and you have a book that makes the perfect gift for any serious Tolkien fan. Be sure to check out other books edited by them including J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator.

These books were provided to me for free by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

To the Martyrs (Emmaus Road Publishing)

When we think of martyrs, our minds race back to St. Stephen the Protomartyr or the thousands of Christians persecuted under Nero, Diocletian, and other Roman emperors. We tend to ignore the persecutions, deaths, and martyrs that are occurring this very day! With his recent book To the Martyrs, Cardinal Donald Wuerl not only walks us through the centuries long examples of martyrdom, but challenges us to realize the current persecutions happening and speak out against them too!

The book begins with a Foreword by Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus. In his opening words, he explains what a martyr and martyrdom actually are. In today's world, we tend to see martyrdom as murder, but the word actually means witness. Martyrs witness is the free giving up of their lives for the ultimate truth that is Jesus Christ. Cardinal Wuerl then explains in the first chapter how martyrdom is the "supreme testimony." He speaks of the value of books, sermons, etc. but say that they all pale in comparison to the ultimate testimony of blood that is shed by martyrs.

The following chapters then highlight examples of martyrdom through the ages. It begins in the Old Testament with the brothers who were executed in 2 Maccabees. Next, we learn of Stephen's martyrdom in the Acts of the Apostles and persecutions that occurred in the Early Church such as Ignatius of Antioch, Perpetua, and Felicity. We then see martyrdom that occurred in the Byzantine Empire due to the Arab Invasion and martyrdom that occurred in the West due to Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution. Reading through all these chapters proved to be a sobering history lesson, but the most eye-opening chapters were the final four. In these chapters Cardinal Wuerl tells of modern-day martyrdom which occurs in the Middle East and we see constantly on the news and YouTube. He also speaks of the prejudice Catholics face in the United States and how it has become acceptable. Lastly, he ties all Christians together and reinforces the point that it is not just Catholics being martyred today but Orthodox and Protestants as well!

This book is part history lesson, part tribute, and part wake up call. Cardinal Wuerl does a masterful job of weaving all three elements together to create the definitive book on martyrs. He not only educates us, but encourages us to speak out against the atrocities facing Christians on a global scale. May we heed his call and remain silent no longer. May we fight for our the lives of our fellow Christians, and may the blood of the new martyrs be the seeds of a global revolution that strengthens the Church and brings people to Jesus Christ!

This book was provided to me for free by Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here! For a limited time (until 12/23), you can get this book for $17.25 straight from the publisher, which is cheaper than Amazon!