A Deeper Vision

The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the 20th Century

By Robert Royal

619 pages, $26.95

Ignatius Press, 2015

To order: ignatius.com

 

Robert Royal is the president of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington and editor of the online forum The Catholic Thing. (Full disclosure: I am a non-resident fellow of the Faith and Reason Institute and have known Dr. Royal for years.)

I have read all of Royal’s books with profit and pleasure. In my opinion, this one is the best: a must-read for every serious Catholic in order to understand the great figures of Catholicism in the last century. It shows how the great Catholic intellectual tradition that has created a long, intergenerational conversation was, in the 20th century, augmented and extended by faithful and creative Catholic minds who reflected on those preceding them and on the challenges of their own time.

Not to be a name-dropper, but in a concise way, Royal helps the reader to understand some of the greatest Catholic authors, both laymen and religious, up to our day. For example, among those who figured prominently in the last century’s Catholic thought, he writes about Jacques Maritain, Romano Guardini and Karl Rahner (and another influential German theologian whose name should be familiar to all, Joseph Ratzinger). Among the English are G.K. Chesterton and Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit poet who lived in the 19th century but whose work was only widely disseminated in the 20th century. One of my favorites included in this work is Chesterton’s close friend, fellow Distributist and religious influence Hilaire Belloc. Then, of course, there is J.R.R. Tolkien, whose linguistic erudition and thoroughly baptized imagination allowed him to create a world and its history in The Lord of the Rings that none of those imitating him in the field of fantastic fiction have been able to match.

Royal includes the historical work of Christopher Dawson, who traced the development of Catholic culture in such works as Religion and the Rise of Western Culture and The Formation of Christendom. The contributions of Catholic philosophers Joseph Pieper and Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) are also described, as well as those of Alasdair MacIntyre and Pope John Paul II. Inevitably, I am leaving out the names of someone’s favorites. However, the important thing is that Royal includes them all and makes it clear that the past century — for all its blood and horror — nevertheless was a time of extraordinary Catholic fruitfulness. This book offers much-needed encouragement in the midst of the deepening storms of our own times. In addition, it is a cultural and intellectual education for serious Catholics and for anyone who would like to show non-Catholic friends the wide-ranging beauty of the faith incarnate in these many talented men and women.

The reader who spends time with A Deeper Vision at his own pace will be encouraged to go deeper in the Catholic literature that is unique in bringing people closer to the Lord and to his holy Church. A Deeper Vision will cheer you and make you proud of the gifts that through God’s grace have been given to the world by both saints and sinners.

Opus Dei Father C. J. McCloskey is a non-resident fellow of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington.