Wednesday, December 06, 2017

New Reprints of Three Theological Classics

People who enjoy reading theological books quickly discover, in the vaults of university libraries, at used bookstores, or by lucky links online, a lot of hidden gems out there — books that were first published 50, 75, 100 years ago or even more, which have long since fallen out of print and yet very much deserve to be back in print for new readers. This seems all the more true now that there is a real appetite among conservative and traditional-leaning Catholics for substantial, reliable, and profound writing after decades of featherweight pablum and heavyweight heresy. Moreover, a lot of people still prefer, if they can get it, a real printed book to a clunky PDF or a messy etext. Finally, in spite of the ongoing digitization of texts, a vast number of books are still unavailable from any source, whether a used bookseller or an online database.

For all these reasons, I am happy to announce that I have just republished three extremely interesting theological books, all of which have helped me a great deal in my own studies. For each, I shall offer photos and a brief summary.

The Life of Worship: Grace, Prayer, Sacraments, and the Sacred Liturgy. By a Seminary Professor. Originally published in French in 1895; this English version from 1920. xvi + 814 pp. $29.95. Available at or its affiliates.

This book is a fascinating glimpse into what catechetical training was once like before the meltdown of modernism and the onset of postconciliar dementia. Originally entitled Exposition of Christian Doctrine, Part III: Worship but retitled here The Life of Worship the better to convey its content, this hefty volume is part of a series produced in 19th-century France by anonymous seminary professors for the Brothers of the Christian Schools. The English version was published in Philadelphia in 1920 (this seventh edition is from 1927).

An exemplar of catechetical literature, The Life of Worship, laid out in question and answer format, is amazingly comprehensive in its treatment of grace, prayer, sacraments, sacramentals, liturgy, and liturgical places, objects, vestments, ceremonies, feasts, and devotions. The questions are well considered and logical in order, with answers that are precise, clear, and eloquent, full of scriptural quotations and valuable spiritual considerations.  When I first came across this book last summer, found myself thinking: "I wish someone had handed me this book two decades ago; it would have filled in so many gaps in my religious training!" Most delightful of all (at least to me, a scholastic at heart), every chapter ends with a schematic diagram of the entire content of that chapter, with all the pertinent distinctions and subdivisions. These charts are just brilliant.

The Life of Worship is an excellent book for personal study, homeschool or private school religion class, a parish study group, or a book club.

St. Thomas Aquinas: Papers from the 1924 Summer School of Catholic Studies at Cambridge. Ed. Cuthbert Lattey. xii + 311 pp. $19.95. Available at or its affiliates.

This collection of papers given at a summer school at Cambridge in 1924 includes the following:
  • Rt. Rev. H. L. Janssens, "The Study of the Summa theologica"
  • Rev. Peter Paul Mackey, "The Autograph of St. Thomas"
  • Rev. Richard Downey, "St. Thomas and Aristotle"
  • Rev. Francis Aveling, "St. Thomas and Modern Thought"
  • Rev. Michael Cronin, "The Moral, Social, and Political Philosophy of St. Thomas"
  • Rev. A. B. Sharpe, "The Ascetical and Mystical Teaching of St. Thomas"
  • Very Rev. Bede Jarrett, "St. Thomas and the Reunion of Christendom"
  • Edward Bullough, "Dante, the Poet of St. Thomas"
  • Rt. Rev. G. A. Burton, "The Liturgical Poetry of St. Thomas"
  • (plus several appendices and indices)
I learned of this book when researching my doctoral dissertation on ecstasy and rapture in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. My pursuit led me to Fr. Sharpe's contribution to this volume, which I recommend as one of the finest summaries of the saint's ascetical-mystical doctrine to be found anywhere.

The Incarnation: Papers from the 1925 Summer School of Catholic Studies at Cambridge. Ed. Cuthbert Lattey. xviii + 261 pp. $18.95. Available at or its affiliates.

The year after the papers gathered in the preceding volume, another conference was held, this time on Christology, yielding a collection of exceptionally fine papers from biblical, historical, and scholastic angles on the defining mystery of the Christian Faith: the Incarnation of the Son of God. The contents:
  • Rev. Patrick Boylan, "Messianic Expectations in the Old Testament"
  • Rev. J. P. Arendzen, "The Preparation of Jewry"
  • Rev. C. C. Martindale, "The Preparation of the Gentiles" and "The Gospel of John"
  • Rev. Hugh Pope, "The Synoptic Gospels"
  • Rev. Christopher Lattey, "Saint Paul"
  • Rev. Canon Myers, "The Fathers and Councils"
  • Rev. Maurice de la Taille, "The Schoolmen"
  • Rev. Thomas Garde, "Our Lady in the Early Church"
  • Msgr. Ronald Knox, "Kenotic Theories"
  • Rev. Richard Downey, "Rationalist Criticism." 
The writings in this volume are deserving of praise above all for their wonderful readability.  Christology is no easy area to discuss accurately without quickly descending into a morass of linguistic and philosophical issues. These authors, with great mastery of their material, give us a feast of reflections on the Incarnation as it was dimly anticipated by Jews and pagans, as it is unfolded in the Gospels and in the Epistles of Paul, as it was fought over and clarified in the patristic age and in the first seven Councils, as it was refined and systematized by the medieval scholastics, how it relates to the Blessed Virgin, and finally, how it is threatened by certain modern theories. Most of these chapters could serve as ideal introductions to their subjects and would enrich any private study or academic course -- above all Canon Myers on "The Fathers and Councils," who furnishes one of the best and most succinct accounts of the Christological controversies I have yet found.

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