MICHELANGELO & THE POPE'S CEILING, by Ross King. Walker &
Company. 373 pp. $28.
Reviewed by JOHN F. FINK, editor emeritus of The Criterion,
newspaper for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
THE END of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th were
a fascinating period of history but, unfortunately, definitely not an edifying
time for the Catholic Church. It was a time of immoral popes, abuses within
the Church and warfare. But it was also a time when history's greatest artists
gave us masterpieces.
Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling has all the ingredients
of a great book—beauty, religion, politics, sex, warfare and intrigue.
Michelangelo Buonarroti and Pope Julius II are King's main characters,
but supporting characters include, among many others, Pope Alexander VI and
his children Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia, Raffaello Santi (Raphael), Leonardo
da Vinci, Donato Bramante, Martin Luther, Savonarola, Erasmus, Henry VIII of
England, Louis XII of France, Niccolo Machiavelli and Lorenzo the Magnificent.
The "ceiling" in the title is the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
Pope Sixtus IV, Pope Julius II's uncle, built the chapel to the exact dimensions
of Solomon's Temple. Pope Julius, a powerful and worldly man who fathered three
children earlier in his lifetime, became pope in 1503 after bribing some of
His ambition as pope was to return the papacy to its former glory.
He commissioned Bramante to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica, Michelangelo to paint
the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and Raphael to fresco the papal apartments.
(He also offered indulgences to people who paid money for the building of St.
Peter's, an action that led to the Protestant Reformation.)
Michelangelo's first contact with Pope Julius came after Michelangelo
sculpted his Pietà in Rome, when he was 23, and his statue of David in Florence,
when he was 29. Pope Julius summoned him to Rome where he commissioned Michelangelo
to sculpt a magnificent tomb for him. When the pope changed his mind after the
artist had designed the tomb and bought the marble for it, Michelangelo angrily
left Rome and returned to Florence, vowing never to return.
It took the pope four summonses before Michelangelo consented to
return to Rome, still hoping to work on Julius's sepulchre. But Bramante had
convinced Julius to have Michelangelo paint the 12,000 square feet of the Sistine
Michelangelo finally agreed to do the work—four years of it for
him and his assistants. (Later he sculpted the sepulchre, which today is in
St. Peter in Chains Basilica in Rome—although Pope Julius's body is not.)
King goes into great detail on the art and difficulty of fresco—painting
on wet plaster. He also tells how Michelangelo designed the scaffolding so that
religious services could continue in the chapel while work was progressing overhead.
The scaffold allowed Michelangelo (and his assistants) to paint standing up,
not flat on his back as he was shown in the 1965 film The Agony and the Ecstasy
that starred Charlton Heston.
Both Michelangelo and Julius had fiery tempers. At least once Julius
thrashed Michelangelo with a stick when he was exasperated with the length of
time Michelangelo was taking on the ceiling. Michelangelo refused to be hurried.
He would not let Julius see his progress. Once, when Julius was trying to see
the ceiling, Michelangelo threw planks down at the pope from the scaffolding.
Pope Julius was known as Il Papa Terribile for his temper
and as "the Warrior Pope" because he led troops into battle, taking his cardinals
with him. His enemies were the Italian cities that he wanted to reclaim for
the Papal States, and King Louis XII of France. His allies were King Henry VIII
of England and King Ferdinand of Spain. This book details the pope's victories
Julius also made the Swiss Guards the official papal escort in 1510,
giving them a distinctive uniform designed by Michelangelo.
The book has almost as much about Raphael as it does about Michelangelo.
Raphael was much friendlier to Julius than Michelangelo was—fortunately, since
he was working about 20 feet from Julius's bedroom.
Ross King has given us an absorbing book about intriguing people
during an interesting era.
You can order MICHELANGELO & THE POPE'S CEILING
LIVING CATHOLICISM, by Roderick Strange. Paulist Press. 143 pp.
Reviewed by JULIE S. DONATI, a Catholic school teacher
who lives in Sugar Land, Texas. She is married to Marcello and has three children—ages
11, nine and a newly adopted baby. She is working on her M.A. in theology at
St. Mary's Seminary in Houston.
WHAT CONSTITUTES a Catholic way of life? Is it doctrinal adherence,
fulfilling the Sunday Mass obligation or giving up chocolate for Lent? In Living
Catholicism, Roderick Strange tackles that question and reduces it to one
element—love. He writes, "Loving lies at the heart of living Catholicism."
Father Strange, the rector of Beda College in Rome and a former
chaplain at Oxford University in England, focuses on a "Catholicism come alive."
His earlier book, The Catholic Faith, focused on doctrine.
In a clear yet disarming manner, Strange paints a portrait of what
encompasses a Christian life of faith in today's world. Strange's main theme,
to which he returns repeatedly, is that when a person loves God and neighbor,
everything else will fall into place.
In the first part of the book, he focuses on the personal aspect
of what it means to have faith. He continues by calling on us to be watchful
for God in the ordinary people and events of our lives.
Hand-in-hand with the concept of watchfulness is that of prayer.
Prayer gives us the perception to see Christ in others and to love unconditionally.
Strange believes in the utter simplicity of prayer in placing oneself before
He gives five practical pointers to initiate a prayer life: Follow
our own style, acknowledge the need for silence in prayer, find the time, make
the practice a habit and deal with distractions.
Although written in a style that is straightforward and gentle,
the book caused me to reflect on my prayer life and the need to discipline myself
to a greater extent.
In the second part of the book, Strange moves progressively outward
from the personal to the community to the world at large. After treating Jesus'
life and ministry with broad strokes, Strange continues by exploring what it
means to be Church today, making the distinction between Catholicity as a quality
of life and not quantity of baptized Catholics.
Clearly and concisely, he gives an excellent synopsis of how the
pre-Vatican II Church came to understand itself in legalistic and triumphant
terminology. He subsequently presents an even treatment of how Vatican II sought
to change this in Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church).
Strange touches on some of the more "controversial" Catholic traits—such
as the belief in divine providence, miracles, and the Eucharist and Reconciliation.
He concludes with an invitation to love in action. In this chapter,
Strange challenges us to live out our faith in concrete ways. We must not allow
our love to be limited to individuals close to us but reach out to society.
Roderick Strange enlivens insightful writing with his own personal
experiences and the stories of others, from a British perspective.
I would recommend this book to the college student who has a shaky
understanding of the Catholic faith, to those who might not have come to terms
with the teachings of Vatican II or even to an RCIA participant.
You can order LIVING CATHOLICISM from St. Francis Bookshop.
THE ENNEAGRAM: A Christian Perspective, Richard Rohr and Andreas
Ebert. Crossroad. 293 pp. $17.95.
Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication.
INTEREST in the Enneagram remains strong. First published in
German (1989) and then in English (1990), this book has been revised and reissued
in German (1999) and English (2001).
"We have inserted only the new insights that we ourselves have
come upon and that have become especially important to us. This relates especially
to the history of how the Enneagram came into being," the authors write.
Rohr and Ebert now believe that the medieval Sufis (Muslims) developed
the Enneagram with ideas borrowed from the Christian desert mystic Evagrius
Ponticus (d. 399).
"I see a danger," Ebert cautions, "of a typological model like the
Enneagram being misused to thoughtlessly force oneself and others into a schematic
mold, and thereby not grow, but become fossilized. When misused, the
Enneagram can be more of a curse than a blessing."
"Much of what is called Christianity," writes Rohr, "has more to
do with disguising the ego behind the screen of religion and culture than any
real movement toward a God beyond the small self, and a new self in God." The
Enneagram has forced some people, he says, "to a brutal and converting honesty
about good and evil and the ways that we hide from ourselves and therefore hide
The Enneagram identifies nine types of personal gifts that can easily
be twisted into a sin typical for that person. Such a sin can be so comfortable
that only with difficulty can that person see it as a sin. The Enneagram can
help people grow in loving others, themselves and God. Each of these nine Enneagram
types can be redeemed and is that person's characteristic path to holiness—in
"No type is better or worse than the rest," explain Rohr and Ebert.
"All nine are in need of redemption and all nine have unique gifts that only
they can bring into the community."
After a general explanation of these types, the authors devote a
single chapter to each one and then present a section about how the various
types tend to interrelate. The volume concludes with 14 pages of notes, a 13-page
Index and three charts. My six years of living in Italy suggest that on this
chart Rohr and Ebert have misidentified the Italians' characteristic vice/gift.
The single chapters follow a standard format: overview of the type,
dilemma (temptations, defense mechanisms, root sin, avoidances and gifts), symbols
and examples, then conversion and maturation.
People representing the nine types could read this volume according
to their characteristic sin/gift, simply reinforcing how good they are at doing
any of the following: reforming, helping, being successful, being different,
understanding, being loyal, being happy, being strong or being content.
Rohr and Ebert certainly hope that readers will approach this volume with
enough humility to see how often and subtly we trade an invigorating,
God-given freedom for puny half-truths about ourselves, others
You can order THE ENNEAGRAM: A Christian Perspective
from St. Francis
ROCKS OF AGES: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, by
Stephen Jay Gould. Ballantine. 241 pp. $12.95.
Reviewed by MARIA KEMPER, a theology undergraduate at Franciscan
University of Steubenville, and an editorial intern with St. Anthony Messenger
THE LATE Stephen Jay Gould's view of scientists and theologians
seems like the squabbling husband and wife who draw a chalk line down the center
of their house and decide to reign supreme in "their territory"—while calling
it peaceful coexistence. In one sense this is accurate, for science and religion
are certainly distinct realms. In another sense it is not, because Gould was
also an agnostic, and so does not present the whole story. (Gould, born September
10, 1941, died May 20, 2002, from cancer caused by asbestos.)
Yet his book Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness
of Life is a good addition to the faith and science discussion, for in it
Gould explains his concept of Non-Overlapping Magisterium (NOMA). This is a
point often overlooked in both circles: Science and religion should be separate,
Rocks of Ages treats the creation/evolution debate in the
United States and the apparent conflict between science and faith in an engaging
way. Gould writes clearly and with wry humor, and advances a complicated argument
simply. An average adult with no background on the subject can pick up the book
and understand it.
His topic is timely, for if ever a gulf existed between the matters
of science and the matters of morality, it is certainly closing now with the
conflict over cloning.
Gould makes distinctions in the accountability of science and religion.
He is respectful toward religion and religious people. He understands and explains
that the Church does not suppress scientific development, and even refutes the
popular notion that all Church leaders at the time of Columbus thought the earth
was flat. (Some of them disputed the size of the earth, and were correct.)
Gould gives a fair view of the limits of science in regard to ethics.
Even with all this, he falls short of stumbling across the truth.
Perhaps because of his agnostic stance, he sets a sphere for science
to rule, and a separate one for God. One of the limits of NOMA is that the Trinity
is forbidden to poke a finger into the well-defined boundaries of science to
Indeed, the only God he refers to in his conception of NOMA is the
"clockwinder God" of the Deists, who started creation merrily ticking toward
eternity and hasn't bothered with it since. He allows for theistic scientists
as long as they can place their religion in a box and don't let it interfere
with their "day job."
His references are somewhat one-sided. To show the relation between
science and faith, he mentions Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley, whose religion
(atheistic humanism) did not interfere with their scientific thought or progress.
Unfortunately, he forgets to mention Christians whose faith supported them in
their scientific endeavors, like Blaise Pascal, Louis Pasteur and Gregor Mendel.
Consistent with Gould's belief in the separation of science and
faith, he believes that, just as religion has nothing to tell science, science
has nothing to teach religion. Gould denies that one can take any moral insight
from nature. Such a lack of integration in truth from the same God rankled with
me long after I closed the book.
Later that evening I realized why I was troubled. Such a dichotomy
cannot exist for long. Belief without natural corroboration is a blind judge.
And science without morals is a tyrant. Gould's view of blissful noninterference
is not enough.
Science and theology are two hands of revelation, according to the
great Franciscan theologian St. Bonaventure. True, there should be noninterference.
Even more than that, there should be cooperation. The God of theology and the
God of scientific learning are one and the same.
You can order ROCKS OF AGES: Science and Religion in
the Fullness of Life from St.
OUR POSTHUMAN FUTURE: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, Francis Fukuyama. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 218 pp. $25.
Reviewed by the REV. MICHAEL ORSI, a research fellow in
law and religion at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
DURING HIS RECENT TRIP to Poland, Pope John Paul II observed
that the new millennium offers "new prospects of development [for] mankind,
together with hitherto unheard-of dangers." The dangers arise, according to
the pope, from our habit of claiming for ourselves "the Creator's right to interfere
in the mystery of human life" and our wish "to determine human life through
genetic manipulation and to establish the limit of death."
In Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution,
social philosopher and member of the President's Council on Bioethics Francis
Fukuyama masterfully echoes the pope's concerns. By viewing the potential effects
of advances like neuropharmacology and genetic engineering in light of a Western
philosophical understanding of human beings and the threat they pose to natural
rights, Fukuyama posts caveats as well as solutions for protecting human dignity.
[These caveats take on special importance in light of recent claims to have
cloned several human babies.]
Fukuyama makes a case for the need to regulate biotechnology since
it often lends itself to reductionist theories. These compromise the integral
wholeness of the human being and, consequently, human rights and freedom.
He identifies human species-specific characteristics regarding physical
appearance and cognition. He relies on experience and reason to determine the
gamut of human emotions and the species' ingrained respect for the "golden rule."
Fukuyama challenges the errors in philosophical systems that propose
the impossibility of naming or prioritizing "human goods." He especially notes
the damage caused by David Hume's "naturalistic fallacy" ("You can't get an
ought from an is"), and John Rawl's theory of rights based on
reciprocity (the balancing of interests which are now embedded in U.S. Constitutional
An example of the devastation that these legal theories have caused
is now enshrined in the Supreme Court's 1992 decision in Casey v. Planned
Parenthood, which states, "At the heart of liberty is the right to define
one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery
of human life."
He believes that, with no clear limits, new technologies and procedures
in genetic engineering could endanger what we know to be human. Dangers are
already present, for example, in pre-embryo selection by the well-to-do for
desired traits in their offspring. Social scientists warn that this could produce
an over-class of humans and great disparity in terms of equality.
Even more disturbing is the possibility of germ-line (genetic) engineering.
Fukuyama says these therapies could indeed change the species through gene enhancement
of traits such as longevity, athletic prowess, intelligence, musical talents
and perhaps even a diminution of feelings or an increase of aggressiveness in
order to create a caste for military tasks.
Fukuyama worries that those qualities that are distinctly human
may be forever changed since the altered creatures' genes would be passed on
through normal sexual reproduction or mass-produced in laboratories.
More worrisome is the danger that germ-line breeding could eliminate
the opportunities to grow in the human virtues of compassion, courage and charity,
causing the human person to be lost.
Fukuyama does not favor a laissez-faire approach to biotechnology.
He sees the need for both national and international regulatory
commissions to safeguard human life and dignity. He believes
that present commissions and oversight committees are limited
by their missions and resources.
Fukuyama is to be commended for bringing the voice of religion,
as well as the insights of secular ethicists, into the debate to balance utilitarian
science. Not to be aware of and plan for what science can do to us, he says,
will compromise our very humanity.
You can order OUR POSTHUMAN FUTURE: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution
from St. Francis