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A Vision of the Future?


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 electors.

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 Chapel's ceiling.

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 and defeats.

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 from St. Francis Bookshop.

LIVING CATHOLICISM, by Roderick Strange. Paulist Press. 143 pp. $14.95.

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 the Lord.

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 from God."

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 community.

"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 and God.

You can order THE ENNEAGRAM: A Christian Perspective from St. Francis Bookshop.

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 last summer.

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, but equal.

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 perform miracles.

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. Francis Bookshop.

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 jurisprudence).

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 Bookshop.


 

Book Briefs

With the war in Iraq, these books take on special urgency.

• BLESSINGS FROM THE BATTLEFIELD, edited by Thomas R. O'Brien (Our Sunday Visitor, 127 pp., $6.95). These touching stories of Catholic military chaplains were collected by the head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. The stories here range from the frontlines in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War to veterans' hospitals. What is striking is the comfort the sacraments bring and how ecumenically sensitive these chaplains are.

• HOLY WAR: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today's World, by Karen Armstrong (Anchor Books/a division of Random House, Inc., 628 pp., $17, U.S., $26, Canada). First published in the United Kingdom in 1988, this book's second edition has a Preface written after September 11, 2001. A religious scholar rather than a professional historian, Armstrong spells out why the Crusades unleashed hatred which reverberates to this day.

• JESUS AND MUHAMMED: The Parallel Sayings, edited by Joey Green, with a Foreword by Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed and an Introduction by Dr. Kenneth Atkinson (Seastone/a division of Ulysses Press, 189 pp., $14). Quotes from the New Testament are presented next to key Islamic texts drawn from the Koran and the Hadith (oral reports of Muhammed's companions). Key values like charity, sin and the hereafter are similar, but 10 pages show differences, too.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6493, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 6.0 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.


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