Rorate Caeli

Traditionalist Publishing Renaissance (3): Angelico releases definitive book on Medjugorje, among other new titles

As Rorate has before featured announcements of new books from St. Augustine Academy Press and Arouca Press, so too we have mentioned the premiere traditionalist publisher in English, Angelico Press. The “Catholic Traditionalist Classics” series, for example, includes Fr. Bryan Houghton’s Mitre and Crook and Judith’s Marriage as well as Tito Casini’s The Torn Tunic. With many new titles having been released by Angelico in recent months, it is high time for a brief presentation of ten of them. Some of the following short reviews are in my own words and some are publisher descriptions (I will indicate which is which).

Louis Charbonneau-Lassay. The Vulnerary of Christ: The Mysterious Emblems of the Wounds in the Body and Heart of Jesus Christ. Translated by G. John Champoux. Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2021. 586 pp. Paperback $28 / Hardcover $40. Available at Amazon and Tumblar.

(PAK review) The author of The Vulnerary of Christ, Louis Charbonneau-Lassay (1871–1946), traveled throughout Europe looking at churches, monasteries, public buildings, monuments, manuscripts, paintings, vestments, stained glass, furniture, host-molds, escutcheons, banners, trademarks, objets d’art, anything that bore or could possibly bear Christian symbols, and drew copies of them into his notebooks. He left behind tens of thousands of drawings and notes, which he planned to include in a series of books. This magnum opus—a one-of-a-kind exposé of the subtle interplay between theology and symbolism, spirituality and art, faith and culture—was published in French only in 2018, and now in a deluxe English edition, which features 359 engravings and 32 plates.

In this encyclopedic work, at once archaeological, artistic, historical, literary, liturgical, and devotional, C-L pursues the thesis that devotion to the wounded Heart of Christ, far from being an invention of eighteenth-century French piety or even of high medieval piety, has its roots deep in the early Church, in the earliest artistic representations and symbols of Christ. The sheer exuberance of the imagery C-L compiles—where we see, for instance, the Heart of Jesus depicted as a grape in the winepress (126–28), or as the cup of a holy water stoup (106); a chalice so depicted that its opening suggests the wound in His side (80); the Pantocrator reigning upon a heart-shaped throne (255, 277–78); the divine Blood depicted as a jewel in a cup (195); Adam and Eve in the garden, holding aloft a Heart surmounted by a Cross as a foreshadowing of their redemption (270); a trademark in which chant notation provides the “so-la” for the phrase “sola fides sufficit” (274); a Carthusian astronomical marble that depicts the constellations revolving around a wounded Heart glowing like the sun (354); the depiction of a flaming Heart on which has been drawn the map of the world (364); a brotherhood’s emblem consisting of thirty-three tiny hearts enclosed in a Heart surrounded by a braid of thorns (399); a carved wooden lyre in the shape of a Heart (417)—is enough to fill the reader’s mind with an ever-growing wonder at the inexhaustible profundity and playfulness of the Christian imagination suffused with faith in the Redeemer. Among the many categories of readers who would find this book enthralling must not be forgotten artists, craftsmen, and designers, who will discover in it a delightful catalogue of inspiration.

The Vulnerary of Christ contains “bonus” chapters one might not have expected from its title. The legend of the Holy Grail is examined in chapter 15, and competing stories about the vessels of Jerusalem, Genoa, and Valencia, each claiming to be the cup of the Last Supper, are compared. The cult of the Holy Name of Jesus and the depiction of the monogram is explored in chapter 18. The use of Christic symbols in the coats of arms of royalty is the subject of chapter 20. Chapters 21 and 22 look at astronomical sculptures and heart-shaped sundials, primarily from Carthusian monasteries. Chapters 30 and 31 enter into the question of secular adaptations or thefts, misuses, even mockeries, of the Heart. For example, the Freemasons in France produced blasphemous versions of the Sacred Heart that they distributed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as “counter-propaganda” against the Faith. Large numbers of five-starred medals depicting the Sacred Heart bound with a chain and surrounded by the words “Psychology and Science” were sent to French soldiers on the front in World War II to combat the “threat” of popular devotional medallions. Part Seven looks at the use of the Heart of Jesus as the identifying emblem of the counterrevolutionary armies of the Vendée (pp. 431–87)—an emblem that has remained in use among traditionalists after the Council.

Vladislav Andrejev. The Angel of the Countenance of God. Theology and Iconology of Theophanies. Translated by Alex Apatov. Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2021. 328 pp. Paperback $19.95 / Hardcover $35. Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

(Adapted from publisher’s description) Iconography is the study of the history, practice, and symbolism of painted Christian images. Iconology probes into the “icon” of Divine Presence in the inner man, who is himself made “in the image [eikón] of God” (Gen 1:26), as the place where Wisdom seeks to make her home. Written by an iconographer with forty years’ experience researching the nature and mission of the icon, The Angel of the Countenance of God explores the biblical epiphanies of God—their translation into images, their mythological parallels, and their Trinitarian and Christological implications. Drawing on his own icon-writing, V. L. Andrejev here focuses on the biblical theme of the “Angel of Jehovah,” distinguishing the “created Angels” of the Heavenly Hierarchies from this “uncreated Angel” of Theophany, which Christian tradition depicts as the royal maiden Sophia, personification of the Wisdom of God. The icon written on a board is the “spoken” word made visual, but its final significance lies within each person. The fulfillment of the icon as the image of God is love—the love uniting Bride and Bridegroom in the Song of Songs; that same love hymned by St Symeon the New Theologian and St Maximus the Confessor.

Pierre Barbet, M.D. A Doctor at Calvary. The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ as Described by a Surgeon. Translated by the Earl of Wicklow. Reprint of work published in 1958 by P.J. Kennedy & Sons. Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2021. 196 pp. Paperback $16.95 / Hardcover $25. Available at Amazon and Tumblar.

(Adapted from publisher’s description) What kind and what degree of physical torture did Our Lord suffer during His agony? What was the medical cause of His death? These are the questions the author, an eminent French surgeon, answers in this work. As he says in his Introduction: “Theologians can imagine and describe the moral sufferings which formed part of the Savior’s Passion…. But when the same theologians wish to describe the physical sufferings of Jesus, one is struck with the difficulty which they find in helping us to take part in them…. The truth is that they scarcely understand them.” It was to document and substantiate with the findings of medical science the theological statement, “Jesus suffered,” that Dr. Barbet began the arduous task of investigating the effects on His body of all the injuries our Lord suffered at the hands of men, from the Agony in the Garden to the consummation at Calvary. His conclusions caused even Pope Pius [XII] to go pale with grief and to complain, “We did not know; nobody has ever told us that!”
Todd Hartch. A Time to Build Anew: How to Find the True, Good, and Beautiful in America. Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2021. 234 pp. Paperback: $17.95 / Hardcover: $26. Available at Amazon and Tumblar.

(PAK review) The author tells us at the start that he knows how bad things are in the Church and in the world, and that he has decided to write a book about some of the things that have gone or are going right—some small victories of the Christian and Catholic Faith understood, loved, and lived out in the USA. Traditionalists who have been around for a while may remember the short-lived but well-appreciated magazine Sursum Corda, which later became an insert in The Latin Mass magazine, and which had a similar purpose: “whatsoever things are true, modest, just, holy, lovely, of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things” (cf. Phil. 4:8). Hartch delivers on his promise with seven very different stories that have as their common denominator people who take seriously discipleship to Christ, the towering worth of the Western tradition, and selfless service of neighbors, for the sake of the common good.

The objects of his attention are (1) the works and legacy of sculptor Frederick Hart, (2) the Sisters of Life, (3) the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program and its fruits, (4) the Dominicans of the Province of St. Joseph, (5) the Franciscan University of Steubenville, (6) the Notre Dame School of Architecture, founded by the late Thomas Gordon Smith, (7) Joe Riley and the revival of Charleston. Readers will find that some chapters resonate more strongly than others, but all were interesting and enjoyable and, yes, uplifting. I found the chapter on the IHP particularly interesting, given the influence of John Senior’s vision on the founding of Wyoming Catholic College (mentioned by Hartch) and, of course, on so many individuals and institutions, as well as on the traditionalist movement. The author writes from a decidedly conservative perspective (think First Things and John Paul II) in which Vatican II presents no problems but only its implementation or lack thereof, yet this does not mar his gift for storytelling or the real positives he focuses on. More than Hartch seems to realize, the overall “philosophy” behind his book is not only compatible with but sustained by traditional(ist) principles. For me the most inspiring chapter was the sixth, on the Notre Dame School of Architecture.

The Introduction and Conclusion to the book are substantial essays in their own right, the former summarizing the challenges presented by modernity to Christian orthodoxy, and the latter pointing to the “vitality of tradition” and the “priority of beauty” that Hartch puts on display in his seven chapters.

Pierre de Lauzun. Finance, A Christian Perspective: From the Medieval Bank to Financial Globalization. Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2021. 232 pp. Paperback: $17.95 / Hardcover: $26. Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

(PAK review) I was edified and challenged by this extremely readable book, written by an author whose theological mind and historical learning are clearly equal to his skills in the financial world. De Lauzun notes that only the religious texts of the Christian tradition make such a prominent use of economic metaphors and lessons, and that some of the basic principles of free market economies are, in fact, rather startlingly outlined there. At the same time he recognizes that Christianity issues an absolute challenge to any supposedly self-contained and self-sufficient earthly system, by reminding us that we will lose everything, including ourselves, if we do not primarily invest in eternal life.

De Lauzun offers a panoramic view of medieval economic thought: St. Thomas Aquinas, Godfrey of Fontaines, Peter John Olivi, Duns Scotus, St. Bernardine of Siena, Luis de Molina, John Buridan, Henry of Ghent, St. Antoninus, et al., on the just determination of prices, common estimation of value, comparison of marketplaces, analysis of costs and profits, supply and demand, risk factors, proportionality, due knowledge of relevant circumstances, negotiated price, and coercion. The author treats of the debate on usury at a level of sophisticated seldom seen. He patiently collects the data from Scripture and the philosophers, looks at sociological and anthropological arguments, and indicates with a wealth of examples how often interest was practiced in hidden ways or in ways approved by the moralists. A major theme emerges: the role of credit in any economy, and the positive value this credit has of itself. After presenting the standard arguments against usury, de Lauzun finds a new way to frame the question in terms of the “destination” of money—what money in society is for, and how it generates stability, productivity, and profitability. In the second part of the book, the author offers a simultaneous critique and defense (in different respects) of the enterprise of finance in light of Catholic Social Teaching.

It is perhaps the vibrant realism, the combination of carefully thought-through doctrine and hands-on business sense, that makes this book stand out in the literature of Catholic Social Teaching. De Lauzun does not dismiss the critique of capitalism offered by personalists and socialists, which he ably recounts, but tries to show that a business and finance economy does not necessarily conflict with the good of persons or of society as a whole; on the contrary, in its normal operation, it furnishes conditions of human flourishing. The author does not dispute that markets must be regulated and that a strong juridical framework is necessary in order to avoid, or at least limit, exploitation, manipulation, and social chaos. 
Roy Peachey. Popes, Emperors, and Elephants. Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2021. 224 pp. Paperback: $16.95 / Hardcover: $25. Available at Amazon and Tumblar.

(Publisher’s description) In Popes, Emperors, and Elephants, Roy Peachey takes us on a wide-ranging and sometimes surprising journey through the first thousand years of Christian culture. Starting in Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem, we travel as far as China, Ethiopia, and Iraq, meeting saints, sailors, popes, emperors, and the occasional elephant as we go. Written in an accessible style, Popes, Emperors, and Elephants can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. It is a book that tells familiar stories in an unfamiliar way, introduces us to many forgotten aspects of Christian civilization, and brings some of the historical greats to life. It is a book that explores intriguing questions such as “What did the past sound like?” “When did the Roman Empire really end?” and “Were the barbarians barbarians?” Whether you want to know the history of the liturgy, when Vesuvius really destroyed Pompeii, or why hair matters in history, this is a book that will provide the answers.

Stronger than Steel. Soldiers of the Great War Write to Thérèse of Lisieux. Foreword by Fr. Dwight Longenecker. Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2021. 174 pp. Paperback: $16.95 / Hardcover: $26. Available at Amazon and Tumblar.

(Publisher’s description) “In my distress, I cried out with absolute faith: ‘Over here, Sister Thérèse!’ No sooner had I uttered these words than the saint suddenly appeared to me, bright and with a large halo. With her mighty hand, she abruptly stopped the enemy’s shooting, and not a single shell was released any more, until I arrived in Verdun.” (May 1916) “I saw a sort of brightness, and the little Sister Thérèse who was looking at me with a smile. Oh, what kind eyes this saint had for me!” (June 1917) “I began to pray to the little Sister to have mercy on me, for I was without courage at the moment, and she appeared to me as she is on her image, but without telling me anything; I only felt she was protecting me, it was as if I read in her eyes: ‘I am here, do not fear anything.’” (October 1918)

In the seventeen years between her death in 1897 and the outbreak of World War I, the fame of Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face had spread widely, especially in France and its colonies: her autobiography The Story of a Soul was hugely popular, and soldiers carried around holy cards, medals, and relics. This remarkable collection of letters from (mostly French) soldiers fighting in the Great War and enduring its abysmal horrors are astonishing and moving testimonies of how Thérèse appeared to them or spoke to them when invoked—how she miraculously protected them from “showers of iron and fire,” delivered them from precipitous danger, healed them when doctors despaired, and encouraged them in the trials of battle. Shedding new light on the enduring mission of this beloved saint, Stronger than Steel will rekindle the reader’s devotion to “the greatest saint of modern times” (in the words of her devotee, Pope Pius X). 

(PAK addendum) My wife and I read Stronger than Steel aloud and could hardly put it down—the Little Flower’s interventions in the lives of soldiers in World War I, told in their own candid, stirring, tender, often humorous words, makes for capital reading.

Barry R. Pearlman. A Certain Faith: The Catholic Alternative. Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2021. 308 pp. Paperback: $19.95 / Hardcover: $30. Available at Amazon.

(PAK review) In the late 1960s when the Catholic Church was throwing off its traditional forms of worship, the Anglican convert and Catholic apologist Arnold Lunn remarked: “If it is so that the Latin Mass is only for the educated few, surely Mother Church, in all her charity, can find a place even for the educated few?”

That quotation came to mind as I was reading Barry Pearlman’s intriguing work of apologetics, which challenges the reader with arguments not only from Aquinas, as one would expect, but also from Duns Scotus, Henry of Ghent, Malebranche, and Rosmini—which is not something you see everyday. The arc of the work goes from Reality (part one) to Wisdom (part two) to Spirit (part three). The first comprises God’s existence, the creation of the world, and the problem of evil. The second focuses on the person, deeds, and teaching of Jesus Christ, as Son of God, Lamb of God, and King. The third concerns our ascent to God through purgation, illumination, and union, a classic triad in mystical writing.

To give a sense of what to expect, the opening chapter furnishes an impressive ontological proof for God’s existence based on the premises and presuppositions of all thought, a sort of “Cogito ergo Deus est.” Substance and causality are implied in the activity of consciousness: we directly find ourselves in a situation that requires a primary explanation. Reason’s very ordering to Being rather than Nothing (which cannot be thought) demands Being; otherwise identity, contradiction, criteriology, etc., all collapse into meaninglessness, and scientific explanation is useless. But we see that this is not so; ergo, the conclusion follows. Chapter 2 identifies Kantianism as the greatest (albeit by now largely implicit) mental roadblock to a sane approach to God and the world; the author demolishes this epistemology with verve.

The section critiquing modern “form criticism” of the New Testament is breathtakingly good: Pearlman shreds the case that skeptics like Bultmann made against the NT and its reliability, and persuasively holds up the nobility of the message preached and lived by Christ. The rigorous demonstration of the credibility of the Resurrection of Christ (pp. 136–49) is particularly commendable, done with a care that I have seldom seen elsewhere. He cuts through a lot of nonsense of the James George Frazer (The Golden Bough) or Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) type, by showing that Christianity makes unique claims among all the world religions—they are not just “variations on a theme”—and that its claims, calmly considered, carry conviction.

The review of apostolic and patristic witnesses (pp. 166–82) will be eye-opening for many who have been tricked into thinking that such a thing as “Christianity” exists in the abstract, or that it can be set up like a street-corner shop by any preacher with a Bible. All the authoritative records point to a very different conclusion: the religion established by God in and through Jesus Christ exists in the Catholic Church. In a fireworks finale, Pearlman looks at five saints as models and agents of Christlikeness. Those who draw nearer to God become more themselves as they were created to be. The saints are the most distinctive, colorful, exciting, tremendous, and influential persons in history.

Shane Kapler. James: Jewish Roots, Catholic Fruits. Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2021. 144 pp. Paperback: $17.95 / Hardcover: $26. Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

(PAK review) A rich and complete commentary on a book of the Bible in only 127 pages is a wonderful thing. Kapler’s writing sparkles. The first chapter summarizes the history of the inclusion of James in the NT, showing parallels between its content and that of other apostolic and patristic writings, and giving one of the best short accounts of the formation of the NT canon. Chapter 2 presents the different Jameses of the NT and pinpoints the authorial James and his relationship to Jesus’s family. The theological heart is chapters 3 and 4: “Salvation--A Synergy of Faith and Works” and “The Redemptive Nature of Suffering.” Kapler reconciles what initially appear to be opposite conceptions, namely, the faith-emphasis of Paul (emphasizing the primacy of grace in justification) and the works-emphasis of James (emphasizing the “progress in justification” that takes the form of its fruits, namely, works of charity). In chapter 5, “Sacred Tradition: Source of the Written Gospels,” Kapler argues that James is the earliest written record of Jesus’s words, and that we glimpse here the preeminent role of the apostolic preaching out of which the NT emerged. A sixth chapter concerns social justice or social ethics, and the final chapter summarizes the Catholic tradition’s understanding of the ministry of healing through the Church and its sacrament of extreme unction.
Donal Anthony Foley. Medjugorje Complete: The Definitive Account of the Visions and Visionaries. Foreword by Dr. Manfred Hauke; Preface by Dr. William A. Thomas. Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2021. 538 pp. Paperback: $22.95 / Hardcover: $32. Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

(PAK review) Donal Anthony Foley’s stupendous new book, Medjugorje Complete, serves multiple purposes.

On a first level, it is simply a comprehensive history: it tells you about the persons (lay, religious, clerical, episcopal), places, dates, interviews, interventions, investigations, reports, political influences, and so forth. This painstaking and sober examination of the Medjugorje story does not begin, as many do, with the mysterious events of June 1981. Crucially, Foley looks into the pre-history: one cannot understand the unfolding of the events without knowing the region’s dark backstory, its wars and ethnic tensions, and the alternately heroic and disturbing role of the Herzegovina Franciscans over the decades. Foley also does something that (as he shows) almost no one else in the literature does: a close reading of the transcripts of the taped interviews done with the visionaries at the start of the events. Drawing on the doctrine of classic spiritual authors, Foley argues that the evidence points not to a heavenly origin of the visions but to a diabolical one. This key premise provides Foley with a powerful explanatory principle for the subsequent history of disobedience, subterfuge, manipulation, lying, profiteering, and other unsavory conduct on the part of the visionaries and those who have accompanied them at various times in their careers.

On a second level, Foley skillfully weaves into the narrative an account of the many and varied interpretations of Medjugorje, providing a much-needed summary of the abundant and often contradictory literature on the subject. He is not naïve about the extent to which some ecclesial authorities have allowed prejudices and pragmatism to color their viewpoints.

On a third level, Foley pursues the overarching thesis that the Marian message intended for modern times is above all that of Fatima. In terms of evidentiality, content, and fruitfulness, the contrast between Fatima and Medjugorje is very much to the former’s credit and the latter’s disparagement. The same can be said of the contrast between other approved apparitions, such as Lourdes, Knock, La Salette, Banneux, and Beauraing, and false ones such as Garabandal, Necedah, Bayside, the Army of Mary in Quebec, etc., all of which Foley discusses.

To those looking for a deep dive into the subject, I recommend Medjugorje Complete as truly being what its subtitle proclaims: The Definitive Account of the Visions and Visionaries.