Books

‘I felt like weeping for the sheer beauty’: the philosophers who found Catholicism

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Here is an invaluable collection of 10 essays, all written by American academic philosophers, which demonstrates, particularly to those who think religious people will always have to suppress their reasoning processes, that intelligent people outside the Church do indeed use their minds when contemplating the challenge and invitation to faith. As the foreword to Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism (Edited by Brian Besong and Jonathan Fuqua, Ignatius Press, 289pp, £15.99 /$19.95) states: “The Catholic philosopher maintains that although reason is the limit of the human intellect’s power, it is not the limit of what the human intellect may reasonably believe.”

Edward Feser, associate professor of philosophy at Pasadena College, California, writes that “Christianity was so systematically doctrinal a religion” it made it “especially attractive to a philosopher”. A lapsed Catholic, he reasoned himself back to the Church. Significantly, he comments that, when he finally examined the teachings of Catholicism, he read the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe’s writings on sexual morality and “saw the logic of natural law arguments against contraception and was convinced by the historical arguments that Christianity had indeed condemned contraception from the beginning”.

Sometimes one anecdote illuminates a long mental process, as when J Budziszewski, who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and was raised a Baptist, relates that reading Dante’s Paradiso to his students and lecturing to them on St Thomas Aquinas, “Some days … it took all the control I could muster to conceal the fact that I felt like weeping for the sheer beauty of the appearance of truth, an appearance I bitterly told myself was an illusion.”

Robert C Koons, a colleague of Budziszewski, had a moment similar to that of Newman when he confesses that reading Cyprian, one of the Church Fathers, was a “deeply disturbing experience … one from which I have never fully recovered … Contrary to my expectations, the early Fathers sounded much more Roman than porto-lutheran”. Brian Cutter, an assistant philosophy professor at Notre Dame, quotes from Francis Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven and admits that “I came to feel that a life without worship was a half-human life.”

This introduction has barely scratched the surface of this book. For any honest seeker after truth, these intellectual journeys, undertaken with unsparing honesty and courage (especially that of Candace Vogler, a professor at Chicago University), make a compelling case.

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First published in 2014 and now reissued following the death of Jean Vanier in May, Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man (by Anne-Sophie Constant, Plough Publishing, 250pp, £12.29/$17.89) is written by a longstanding friend of Vanier and supporter of L’Arche, the organisation he founded.

The book provides a clear and succinct introduction to Vanier’s life and mission on behalf of people with a learning disability. Constant traces the stages of his early life when he was searching for his vocation, only to find it in 1964 when he set up home with two disabled men and discovered the meaning of true community: a living relationship with vulnerable people rather than simply caring for them.

Most moving is Constant’s account of Vanier’s later years, when old age curtailed his energetic worldwide travelling and lecturing and forced him to stay at home in Trosly, the village north of Paris where he first set up his eccentric but Gospel-inspired household. It is an example to others contemplating loss of physical strength in their final years – and how this decline might make one live “in the present moment and [make] that moment a place where the important thing is to be open to what the other brings me”.

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In the year of Newman’s canonisation, a momentous event for all English Catholics, the Sisters of The Work at The College, Littlemore, Oxford, have brought out the reminiscences of Bernard Basset, SJ, who first published them in 1983 when he was living at The College in retirement. Newman at Littlemore (Gracewing, 108pp, £7.99/$10) is designed for the general reader who wants an introduction to Newman’s life in Oxford until his conversion at Littlemore in 1845. The book includes many illustrations of people and places significant to the 18 years that Newman spent as pastor of Littlemore.

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Gabriele Kuby, a German convert, has already published the wide-ranging book, The Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom.

In her new book, Abuse of Sexuality in the Catholic Church (Divine Providence Press, 173pp, £10.70/$12.95), she gives a sober account of the gradual subversion of certain elements within the Church by the values of the world.

In her account she cites Benedict XVI, Goodbye, Good Men by Michael Rose, and the influential 2012 essay by the Polish priest Fr Dariusz Oko, “With the Pope Against Homoheresy”. Gerhard Cardinal Müller’s “Manifesto of Faith” is included, as well as an autobiographical essay by Canadian icon painter, Michael D O’Brien.