BY GERALD J. RUSSELLO
The One Thomas More
By Travis Curtright
CUA Press, 2012
216 pages, $64.95
To order: cuapress.cua.edu
The life of St. Thomas More continues to attract attention. Scholar, brilliant apologist for the faith, devoted husband and father, Lord Chancellor of England and one of Henry VIII’s confidants, More was martyred in 1535 for refusing to take the Oath of Succession, which confirmed Henry as head of the Church of England and his divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
Some academics have seen "two Mores" — the early tolerant scholar vs. the hardened heretic hunter and Catholic fanatic he supposedly later became. This view continues, for example, in novelist Hilary Mantel’s recent historical fiction, where More is portrayed as a humorless fundamentalist and his tormentor Thomas Cromwell is a tolerant adviser.
In this new book, Travis Curtright aims to set the record straight. There are not two, three or more Mores. There is just one, unified by a belief that faith and reason work together — and that both are bound together in a common social framework rooted in proper authority.
Curtright, a research fellow of the University of Dallas’ Center for Thomas More Studies, states that his aim is to explain how "More’s religious commitment, his sense of service and his scholarly activities constitute a basic coherence."
This coherence is rooted in a conviction that neither reason nor faith makes sense without what More called sensus communis (common sense). This "common sense" required authority and common understanding of reality.
More uses it to imply two things. First, that knowledge is communicated through words with a meaning common to all. Secondly, common sense implies "a shared understanding due to shared human nature." The study of humanitas is not an introduction to arcane academic disciplines.
Rather, it "opens a window into the human condition; it is a shared understanding and a way of life, and for More a way of life pursued within a community of belief." Reason needs the study of the liberal arts, not just for its own sake, but also as a tool to grow in virtue.
Curtright’s analysis of More and humanism and his understanding of heresy as both a religious and political offense led up to the central question of More’s life: his resistance to the king’s authority and his death because of it.
Positing "two" Mores ultimately makes little sense. As Curtright shows, the king’s rejection of the Church was an affront both to More’s faith and his humanism. It could not be otherwise. Intertwined with More’s notion of sensus communis and humanitas is the requirement that a society be also a community of belief. To attack the one was to attack the other.
As Curtright notes, just as scholars who deny the sensus communis of words exclude themselves from the humanists, the reformers, by denying the tradition of the Church, cut themselves off from that common patrimony in a religious and oftentimes in a civil sense as well.
St. Thomas More remains an example for Catholics who wish to be good citizens and people of faith. Although the book at times can be a bit specialized for the non-academic, Curtright ably explains that the resources in More’s work are still available to contemporary Catholics.
Gerald J. Russello is the editor
of The University Bookman (KirkCenter.org).
Man of Faith
BY FATHER C.J. MCCLOSKEY
A GOOD MAN
Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver
By Mark Shriver
Henry Holt, 2012
288 pages, $24
To order: us.macmillan.com/HenryHolt.aspx
The title — A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver — offers a clue about what is to come. What the title does not tell you, however, is to what extent this is also the story of Mark Shriver’s discovery of the importance of his Catholic faith, family and service over politics, fame and personal gain.
As the reader may already know, Sargent Shriver wooed (for seven years) and won Eunice, one of the daughters of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, thus entering into a dynastic family famous for both its triumphs and tragedies.
Sargent Shriver came from an old Maryland Catholic family, attended Yale, and then served as a naval officer in World War II. After marrying Eunice, he ran the largest commercial building in the world, the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, which was owned by the Kennedy family. He returned East to help his brother-in-law John F. Kennedy in his presidential campaign, then founded the Peace Corps, helped Lyndon Johnson wage the "War on Poverty," and served as ambassador to France.
In 1972, he was the vice-presidential candidate with George McGovern, and, four years later, he competed in the Democratic presidential primaries.
This is an impressive collection of accomplishments, but Mark Shriver concentrates more on his family life and his father’s personal service to others, all based on deep faith apparent in genuine and sustained acts of piety: daily Mass, devotion to the Rosary and willingness to share his faith with others — both in his professional work and charities.
I can testify to this personally, as during my time as director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, he made many visits to the Blessed Sacrament and frequently attended weekday Mass there.
In a remembrance at Shriver’s funeral, President Bill Clinton (not often quoted in this newspaper) recalled, "He knew that what matters is the moment and eternity. I have never met a man in my life who was happier in the moment than Sargent Shriver and who made more of it and thought less of how he could rewrite the past or reach into the future to inflate himself above others."
To "Sarge," family was foremost, as Mark’s memories of hunting trips, Baltimore Orioles games, visits to ancestral homes and dozens of handwritten notes on all types of topics, often slipped under Mark’s door while he was asleep, amply testify.
Among the most poignant notes was one written when Mark graduated from high school. His father reminded him not only of the love of his family, but also of the "passionate interest and love God showers on you." To this day, Mark carries a photocopy of the letter in his briefcase as an enduring reminder of his father’s faith in God.
The last chapter is certainly the most moving, as Sarge descends gently into Alzheimer’s and Mark becomes his father’s caregiver. He learns much about himself and his father in doing so.
Mark relates that everyone — from presidents to janitors — called his father a "good man."
May I say more? Sarge was a great man who reminds me in many ways of St. Thomas More.
It may be time in the United States to introduce the cause for sainthood of a layman, woman or couple. I think we have a candidate in Sarge and perhaps his wife, Eunice, founder of the Special Olympics. Hers is another story that deserves to be told.
Father C. J. McCloskey III
is a Church historian and
research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington.
United Under God
BY CELESTE BEHE
Restoring Faith, Family and Freedom Before It’s Too Late
By James Robison and Jay W. Richards
Ignatius Press, 2012
384 pages, $18.69
To order: ignatius.com
Even before one turns the flyleaf of Indivisible, one’s thoughts are sublimed by the cover image of a gracefully windblown American flag against a white background.
The image evokes the patriotism of a simpler time, when schoolchildren would recite Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Concord Hymn opposite a classroom flag and a wall crucifix.
It’s a well-chosen picture, since the message of the book is one of hope for a return to America’s foundational values.
"Our freedom, our way of life and our future are in peril," warn the authors, one a leading evangelical and the other a prominent Catholic. They note that the most pernicious threats come, not from enemies outside our borders, but from our very government, institutions and citizenry.
The prevailing "corrosive ideas and destructive policies" can be tackled only by an alliance of principled and well-informed "Christians, other believers and friends of freedom."
The first step in forming such an alliance is for Americans to recognize both moral truth and economic truth.
To that end, Robison and Richards begin with a thorough and lucid explanation of the natural law, and then they go on to show how free enterprise cannot exist in the absence of morality. They continue with equally sound analyses on a spectrum of issues, among them immigration, property rights, marriage and family, climate change and school choice.
Enlightened by faith and buttressed by scriptural references, their arguments supporting a Christian worldview are accessible even to those with only the most rudimentary knowledge of the issues, and they provide a powerful antidote to the nation-wide blight of muddled thinking.
The authors also identify two stumbling blocks to a Christian transformation of the culture: a lack of individual holiness and a lack of unity.
They exhort believers toward greater personal holiness, which, when joined to public witness, will "preserve the good in our culture, expose the bad, and give guidance to those who are headed for disaster."
The appeal for unity is, for Christians, a call to fulfill Jesus’ prayer "that they may be one."
For Catholic Christians, it is also a reminder of the power of unity in the Mass, when the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant worship together, and graces are freely given to us to "fight the good fight."
Of the authors’ own unlikely alliance, Robison says, "It’s unusual for an evangelical and a Catholic to come together on a project like this, but we hope to provide an example of unity. We haven’t compromised the theological convictions on which we differ, but built on the deep principles that all Christians share."
That is the thrust of Indivisible — that all people of faith must, like Emerson’s "embattled farmers," unite behind their principles for the sake of freedom.
Those who would venture into the fray will find ample ammunition in Robison and Richards’ defense of fundamental truths and of the policies that are rooted in them.
Celeste Behe writes from
Additional book pick about Breaking Through was previously posted as Daily News here.