THE CHRISTIAN FUTURE AND THE FATE OF EARTH, by
Edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker and
John Grim. Orbis Books. 130 pp. $22.
Reviewed by SISTER PAULA GONZALEZ,
S.C., Ph.D., an environmentalist and futurist.
This Sister of Charity has given over
1,800 programs that link energy, environment
FROM WITHIN the Christian community,
the late Thomas Berry was a
prophetic voice in awakening people to
"the environmental crisis." In his preface,
John Cobb states: "No other writer
in the ecological movement
has had an analogous effectiveness"
in clarifying "the
radical uniqueness of the
Distilled from Berry's
thinking, this book includes
10 essays that masterfully
synthesize his leading ideas.
In inspiring—often lyrical—language, he offers a comprehensive
look at the
emerging worldview which
provides what he calls a
"functional cosmology" for humans as
we address the challenges of our
A cultural historian, Berry knew well
the history of humans' religious pathways.
A deep study of Asian religions
and indigenous spiritual practices
helped him appreciate the great spiritual
unity that underlies the relationship
of humans to Divine Mystery. The
essay entitled "The Catholic Church
and the Religions of the World" can
provide the reader with the broadening
of perspective so needed in our multicultural
Perhaps the most captivating of
Berry's ideas emerged in 1978 when he
wrote New Story. He described the Western
world as being "between stories"—the biblical account of creation and the
scientific description of the evolutionary
development of the universe. For
many Christians this has produced an
alienation from Earth and an exclusive
focus on an "other-worldly" future.
In this volume, "The Third Mediation"
describes how Christians are
called to "return home" to Earth: "Now
we need a greater sense of humans, not
as transcending the Earth community,
but as members of the Earth community."
The genius of Berry's approach is
that he moved from a look at the societal
transformations, which we call
"world history," to a consideration
of how this fits into the
"universe story." He suggests
that wonder and awe
should be our response to
our ever-increasing understanding
of the human role:
"For the first time we can
tell the universe story, the
Earth story, the human
story, the religion story, the
Christian story and the
Church story as a single,
We can celebrate the insight
of Teilhard de Chardin that "the
human is a cosmic phenomenon, not
primarily an aesthetic, moral or religious
Berry reminds us that "this New
Story of the universe represents the
greatest change in human thought and
consciousness since the rise of the
Such a profound paradigm shift
will not occur easily. This may be
particularly difficult for Christians,
whose concentration on salvation and
redemption has distanced them from
seeing that everything in the created
universe is part of the "sacred Earth
community." We are "kin" to all of
God's creatures in what we call
Among the most recent of Earth's
creatures, we humans are unique in
our ability to choose. The present disturbed
state of our planet's ecosystems
suggests that we have not been choosing
Because we humans are the only
beings that can "know that we know,"
we are the "reflexive consciousness" of
the universe, especially of Planet Earth.
This unique endowment increases our
responsibility to commit ourselves
wholeheartedly to the enormous task of
For over two centuries, industrial
processes have been ravaging the
planet, but Christian response to this
has been rather late in coming. This
is due largely to concentration on
human-divine and human-human
relations. In recent years human-Earth
concerns are beginning to awaken the
various spiritual traditions to see the
appropriate role of humans to be "cocreators"
of a sustainable future.
In his essay "Christianity and Ecology,"
Berry clearly indicates the scope
of the changes in perspective that our
times demand: "We need to move from
a spirituality of alienation from the
natural world to a spirituality of intimacy
with it, from a spirituality of the
divine as revealed in verbal revelation
to a spirituality of the divine as revealed
in the visible world around us, from a
spirituality concerned with justice simply
to humans to a justice that includes
the larger Earth community."
You can order THE CHRISTIAN FUTURE AND THE FATE OF EARTH from St. Francis Bookstore.
THE GLORY OF ANGELS, by Edward
Lucie-Smith. Collins Design. 192 pp.
Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a
native Cincinnatian and retired public
SURELY YOU HAVE noticed that angels
have become wildly popular in the last
few years. Interestingly, since no authentic photographs exist, myriad
artistic images in painting, sculpture,
ceramics and even jewelry depict their
In early December The Cincinnati
Enquirer ran a popular comic strip about
a policeman searching for "angels" who
gave him a medallion that saved his
life, and then published an advertisement
for a workshop to "help you connect
with your angels."
But angels have long been objects
of interest and conjecture. In the eighth
century B.C., a limestone sculpture
entitled "Winged Genie" was produced,
and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th
century compiled a list of nine choirs
of angels, based on the teachings of
Plato and Pseudo-Dionysius.
Author Lucie-Smith, the compiler of
this gorgeous, oversized picture book of
angels, would say interest intensifies
in precarious times.
Angels exist to help humankind and
portray the loving concern of God.
They serve as messengers, guardians,
guides and agents of consolation. They
play prominent roles in the Easter and
Christmas stories in the Gospels. When
the world is in chaos, people are drawn
to the circumscribed order of the
angelic hierarchy where God reigns
supreme with powers and duties
assigned by rank.
Artists determine the angels' appearance
by their function, but also put
them in contemporary costume and
use the physical characteristics of their
own society or, if an angel is to operate
incognito, the ordinary dress of the
Many artists portray angelic choruses
and orchestras, as these performances
demand perfect unanimity of action, as
do armed forces in battle. Other than
the familiar archangels we know, the
orders appear to have no individual
Jacob de Voragine, archbishop of
Genoa (c. 1230-1298), taught that on
the Day of Judgment the elect will be
incorporated into an order of angels
depending on their worthiness. Being
absorbed into one of the choirs rather
deflates the image of heaven as providing
perfect fulfillment for each
saved soul, but then Voragine's idea is
not a tenet of our Catholic faith!
The devil, who after all is a fallen
angel, can adopt any form, animal or
human, as the case may merit. He is
often portrayed as the Greek god Pan,
or as a dragon or the serpent
in Eden. The devils
have the same hierarchy
as the angels but
perform deeds to the
detriment of humankind.
Hinduism and Buddhism
have a sort of
equivalent to angels in
Christian, Jewish and
Muslim belief. The Hindus
have devas (shining
ones) and asuras (evil
spirits). Interestingly, if the asuras
reform themselves and do good, they
can be reincarnated as devas. Buddhists
also believe in devas who are emanations
of energy and light but do not
usually interact in human affairs.
The existence of Islamic angels is a
part of their faith, and they have names
and ranks. Senegalese, Jamaican and
Ethiopian religious movements honor
angels and lovingly depict them.
With only 29 pages of text, the
remaining 163 pages are
pictures highlighted with
germane quotations from
wide-ranging sources. The
book format is a work of art
in itself, with the cover cut
so as to open out as a church
door does. Some of the pictures
fold out to the width
of four pages. The reproductions
are stunning, with
vibrant backgrounds and
figures so brightly illuminated
that seeing the pictures
here has to be more detailed than
seeing them in person!
Scala Group, headquartered in Florence,
Italy, provided the majority of
the illustrations and should be highly
commended for their expertise in
reproducing these masterworks. Even the 15-page Picture Resource that provides
relevant information on each
picture contains exquisite small illustrations.
There is also an excellent
Edward Lucie-Smith resides in London
and has appeared regularly as a
broadcaster on BBC art discussion programs,
as well as writing for British
newspapers and periodicals. He has had
over one hundred books published,
more than 60 about art. Three of his
works have become standard texts on
art. The Glory of Angels may well
become the book on illustration of
I highly recommend this volume for
art libraries, religious libraries and
home libraries. It would make a treasured
You can order THE GLORY OF ANGELS from St.
THE LAST JUDGMENT: Michelangelo and the Death of the Renaissance, by James A. Connor. Palgrave Macmillan.
231 pp. $26.95.
Reviewed by JEANNE HUNT, editorial
adviser for catechesis and evangelization at
St. Anthony Messenger Press. She is the
author of Choir Prayers and More Choir
Prayers (Oregon Catholic Press) and Holy
Bells and Wonderful Smells and When
You Are a Single Parent (St. Anthony
Messenger Press). She has a bachelor's degree
in art history from the University of
INTRIGUE, MYSTERY and hidden
meanings do not sound like the stuff of
which Michelangelo was made. The
visitor to the Sistine Chapel envisions
the great Renaissance painter to be a
saintly artist sequestered on a lofty scaffold,
painting holy scenes with devout
fervor. In The Last Judgment: Michelangelo
and the Death of the Renaissance,
James A. Connor gives us a whiff of
something quite different.
This well-researched volume offers
a hindsight version of the judgment
scene that graces the back
wall of the Sistine Chapel.
This book challenges long-held
beliefs. Connor places
Michelangelo squarely in
the midst of the late Renaissance
Michelangelo was painting
the vaulted ceiling during
the "last sultry days" of
the Renaissance. He painted
the altar wall with The Last
Judgment during the "first
freeze" of the Counter-Reformation.
Michelangelo was a man of his times,
and the times were full of theological
crisis and uncertainty.
The waning days of the Renaissance
brought a new time for the Church.
Therein lies the intrigue. The images of
The Last Judgment are more than they
seem. Hidden beneath the sacred story,
Michelangelo declares a message of discontent
and condemnation. Girolamo
Savonarola and the Spirituali, a group of
Catholic intellectuals who wanted
Church reform, stirred up a new spirituality
based on an emotional and personal
relationship with God rather than
an institutional relationship.
By 1536 the "Document of the
Mending of the Church" underscored
the common consensus that reform
was needed in the papacy and hierarchy.
Martin Luther was already very
active. Michelangelo put away the gentle
tones and light pastels of an ideal
creation scene for the darker, foreboding
colors of a Church in torment as he
painted The Last Judgment.
It was his friendship with Vittoria
Colonna, a gentlewoman of the Catholic
aristocracy, that brought Michelangelo
to a reawakening of religious fervor
and passion for reform in the Church.
He came to understand that his painting
was a vehicle to engender spiritual
conversion. He began to paint with a
deeper cause, not only to inspire but
also to bring the viewer to an encounter
As we look beneath the classic
Renaissance figures, we see a Christ in
the center of the judgment scene who
is the "unmoved mover." Christ is
beyond time, a cosmic Christ. There is
nothing sweet or sacred
about him. Christ is powerful
and full of emotion:
"He reaches for the sublime
through the mystery that
terrifies and fascinates."
This is a radical theological
shift as Christ is no
longer a historical figure but
a presence beyond time.
Then, as we look to the
damned tumbling into hell,
there is the face of the papal
master of ceremonies. The
figures are nude because Michelangelo
portrayed the physical body as defeating
Each detail of the great work reveals
another nuance of Michelangelo's beliefs.
He was not painting to please the
Church; he was painting to bring the
beholder to a deeper faith.
Connor engages the reader into a
provocative account of a time when
the need for Church reform brought
the glory of the Renaissance to an end.
Michelangelo painted much more than
we knew; James A. Connor gives us
eyes to see it.
You can order THE LAST JUDGMENT: Michelangelo and the Death of the Renaissance from St.
VANITY FAITH: Searching for Spirituality Among the Stars, by Terrance
W. Klein. Liturgical Press. 118 pp.
Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, who
teaches religion at St. Xavier High School
TWEAKING THE FAMOUS QUOTE by
the Church Father Tertullian, I offer the
question: "What hath Hollywood to do
with Jerusalem?" Is preoccupation with
the goings-on of Tinseltown a sure road
map to perdition? Put more directly,
what should the Church's and a Christian's
relationship with culture be?
In his book, Vanity Faith: Searching for
Spirituality Among the Stars, Terrance
Klein, a former seminary director of
spiritual formation and now associate
professor of theology at
Fordham University, gives
us the answer: engagement
The book itself centers
around six topics—the soul,
grace, love, suffering, Christ
and prayer. All of the chapters
are a mix of pop culture
teamed with serious
theological and spiritual
reflection: The Rockettes
and the Prophet Isaiah,
Princess Diana and Pope
Benedict, Lucille Ball and Jesus, Captain
Kangaroo and the Gospels—and
Though one may be inclined to
"canonize" some of the celebrities
named in the book, Klein urges caution:
"Am I making saints out of stars?
No, I know that many of them made
moral mistakes that shouldn't be envied
or emulated, but the thought
behind these pages is that we can learn
from the lives of others. God tends to
reveal God's self in the web of relationships
that we call lovers, family
and friends. Reading the life-scripts of
others may help us to recognize our
own cues. And maybe pondering life
among the stars can set your gaze even
a bit higher than Alpha Centauri."
Take, for example, the A-list actress
Jennifer Aniston. After confessing to
occasionally reading Vanity Fair, an
American magazine of culture, fashion
and politics, Klein admits he was
hooked by the headline "Jen Finally
Talks and Talks and Talks. And Cries.
And Talks." Far from a salacious celebrity
exposé, Klein saw in the article a
woman struggling with intense suffering
from the breakup of her marriage
with Brad Pitt.
In what may surprise many, he likens
it to the suffering the Prophet Jeremiah
experienced after being released from
imprisonment for proclaiming God's
Klein says, "A Christian reads both
stories with the conviction that God's
power is revealed in suffering because
God's solidarity with us is made manifest
in the Son who took his stance
by our side and freely chose to suffer."
In one of the book's more telling
stories, Klein shares how he
learned to be a priest from
the movies. A young man
had been injured in a farming
accident. What seemed
like a set for a TV show was
an actual hospital room. As
he relates, "Eight years of
seminary education, and I
froze. The only way I could
move was by telling myself:
'You've seen the movies.
What would a priest do?
You've got to act like a
priest.'" Bing Crosby gave him the
strength to comfort the young man
and his family in this tragic situation.
Don't be misled by the previous
examples, however. Amidst the seriousness
and pain of life that the book
explores, there is much laughter and
humor. I had to smile when he referred
to the show I Dream of Jeannie, saying
of himself: "Can a 40-something celibate
withstand Barbara Eden and her
midriff exposed?" You'll get more of
the same when he talks about his weekend
in New York with the Rockettes.
Taking a cue from the book's title,
Klein's attempt to connect what we're
reading at home and at the supermarket,
seeing at the movies, and watching
on TV with what we're hearing proclaimed
on Sundays is a relevant, appealing
and, at times, humorous read.
Though at times his cultural references
may appeal more to Baby Boomers
and Generation X, his engaging
writing style will bring in even Generations
Y and Z. Readers will enjoy this
book and find Vanity Faith more substantive
than they first realized. The
stars of Hollywood and saints of faith
aren't that far apart after all.
You can order VANITY FAITH: Searching for Spirituality Among the Stars from St. Francis Bookstore.