Saturday, July 20, 2019

Book Review: "Love is a Radiant Light: The Life & Words of St Charbel"

Hanna Skandar's Love is a Radiant Light (Angelico Press, 2019) is a book to be savored. Saint Charbel Makhlouf (1828 - 1898) first came to my attention while working on the Tending the Temple devotional. A monk of the Labanese Maronite Order, an otherwordly character surrounded the humble man. After his entry into eternal life on Christmas Eve of 1898, supernatural phenomena started being reported around his tomb; and a flood of miracles issued from his intercession. 

What I treasure about this book is that the bulk of it consists of Charbel's homilies. He is a man of great brilliance who, like Christ, imparts wisdom in imagery meant to be accessible to every listener. Originally published in France, William J. Melcher's translation captures the "poetic" beauty of Charbel's words. Reading his homilies, I felt simultaneously convicted of my sin and filled with joyful hope of what God longs to do in and through me. 
If a human being draws his love from God, he is naturally oriented toward others. If the love is from you, it returns to you. The human being whose love emanates from himself, loves himself through others, while thinking that he loves others (p.86).
There is one homily that, although written for Charbel's 19th century confrères, struck me as especially prophetic of our time:
Human beings have more knowledge than wisdom. Their theories have become in their minds like the fog on the mountains and in the valleys; they prevent them from seeing things as they are...Their buildings rise, their morality sinks. Their worldly goods increase, their value diminishes. Their speeches multiply, their prayer grows scarce. ...They have many paths, but they do not lead them to each other's houses. They have multiple means of communication, but they do not help them to communicate with each other. Their beds are spacious and comfortable, but their families are small, broken up, and exhausted. They know how to go faster without being able to wait. They are always running to make a living, forgetting to lead their lives....Human beings sow thorns which, while still tender and new, caress their feet; but once they have hardened they will tear the feet of future generations.You cut the wood, you pile the logs, you light the fire, you feed it so as to throw yourselves into it, and you wonder why you are burned by it! Humanity has gone astray, man is sick, and the world is catching fire. 
God is love; he is the goal and the guide of this lost humanity. Christ is the remedy of the sick man. The water of baptism in the Spirit is what extinguishes the fire raging in the world....Meet one another, look at one another, listen to one another, greet one another, console one another with sturdy, charitable words, go out from yourselves to visit one another, embrace one another in the love of Christ, work in the Lord's field without growing weary or bored (pp.74-75).
That is only a selection from one of his homilies - this book contains 17! This is the perfect book to take to Adoration and keep by your bedside. I find myself instinctively moving from the page to prayer; and it's a thrill to know that Charbel is praying with me. This isn't a book I can read just once though. These words cut to the heart. I am going to bringing this to Adoration for quite awhile.

Love is a Radiant Light: The Life and Words of St. Charbel is a striking addition to Angelico Press's impressive list of titles.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Book Review: "Jesus the Priest"

When I see a book with back cover endorsements from N.T. Wright and Brant Pitre, I experience an almost reflexive need to acquire it. Jesus the Priest (Baker Academic, 2018) is the second of a proposed trilogy from Dr. Nicholas Perrin of Wheaton College. I must admit that I had yet to run across his first volume, Jesus the Temple, but would like to read it and his future Jesus the Sacrifice. Dr. Perrin has an incredible grasp of the primary and secondary literature and is a skilled writer. That said, I did not feel that he achieved his goal in this volume - showing, via the words and actions recorded in the gospels, that the historical Jesus primarily thought of Himself as the eschatological high priest. Dr. Perrin offers a great deal of speculation on the background behind specific words and actions of Jesus, but in my mind his arguments never rose above the level of speculation.

As a Christian, I obviously agree with Dr. Perrin that Jesus understood Himself to be the high priest of the new and eternal covenant. Unlike the good doctor, however, I find very little in the gospels - apart Jesus' statements that He would give his life in sacrifice - from which to illustrate my claim. (It is the Church's great Tradition, with pride of place given to the Epistle to the Hebrews, that communicates this truth to us.) Dr. Perrin has a very Catholic vision, proposing that Jesus meant to share His priesthood with His disciples and that the disciples suffering, united to Christ's, is given a redemptive value. He was speaking my language. I simply wasn't convinced by the evidence he offered that:

  • the traditional reading of the Our Father "has a debilitating weakness," and that "with each petition Jesus is [actually] alluding to a different aspect of a single eschatological reality, all centered around a newly consecrated priesthood and sacred space" (p.52).
  • Jesus' baptism was not so much his anointing as Messiah as it was a priestly anointing.
  • The beatitudes were offered by Jesus as a priestly blessing
  • The disciples eating of the grain on the Sabbath was Jesus recreating the priests' eating of the shewbread.
  • The Danielic Son of Man as a priestly figure

Even though I was not persuaded on these large points, I still found the book to be filled with exegetical gems:

  • Parallels between the Aqedah and Christ's transfiguration
  • Parallels between the Exodus and Gethsemane
  • "Perhaps it is our unconscious prioritization of certain formulations of atonement theology over and against the biblical data that has caused us to understate the communal nature of Jesus' suffering" (p.237).
  • The historicity of Mark's account of Jesus' trial before Caiaphas.

Such gems have me looking forward to reading Dr. Perrin's other works.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Exposing the Anti-Mary: Author Interview with Carrie Gress

In his first epistle, the Apostle John wrote, “as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (1 Jn. 2:19). St. Paul wrote of a final antichrist, “the man of lawlessness…the son of perdition” who will arise prior to Christ’s return (2 Thess. 2:3).The spirit of antichrist has been sowing its seeds in the world from the first century until now. In her fascinating new book, The Anti-Mary Exposed (TAN Books, 2019), Dr. Carrie Gress takes aim at a specific aspect of this anti-Christian spirit, one that, since the 1960s, has distorted the vision of authentic femininity found in Christian Revelation and enfleshed in the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Dr. Gress marshals a mass of scholarship, presented in easily-accessible language, to detail the cultural shift brought about by a small group of elite American women. They convinced an entire generation of women that they could not be “equal” to men, could not lead “fulfilling” lives until the relationship between mother and child was disrupted. In 2019, we live with the deadly fruits of this revolution: sixty million abortions, skyrocketing divorce rates, an increase in female depression, anxiety, STDs, and substance abuse.  Gress also boldly proclaims the answer to the culture of death: Christ, Truth incarnate, and Mary, his mother and partner in redemption. It is an incredibly book, and I was honored to interview Dr. Gress:

Shane Kapler: Dr. Gress, you pull back the curtain on the ideological roots of the modern feminist movement as well as the personal lives of many of its leaders. As I was reading these revelations - Marxism, childhood abuse, diagnosed mental illness, substance abuse, the occult and pagan liturgy - I remember thinking, "I have friends that I want to share this information with, but they are never going to believe me." What did you, personally, find most shocking?

Dr. Gress: I did this research over two years, so I can imagine the experience of reading all of this over a couple of days. I think what was most shocking to me was our ignorance of the brokenness of second wave feminists. Women like Betty Friedan, Kate Millet and Gloria Steinem are held up for us as role models. Why don’t know about the depth of their brokenness and what it was they were responding to? The reality of who they were has been shielded from us. They considered themselves “Lost Girls.” Almost to a one, they had deep issues with their mothers. They all had major emotional trauma that they struggled with; and yet, these are the women who have led us to what we understand femininity to be in our culture. The fact that this hasn’t been scrutinized, talked about, and even rejected – that was what was most surprising to me.

Kapler: In your book, you point out how, when an ideology fails to deliver on its promises, and people begin to point out its faults, its adherents claim that we simply haven’t gone far enough. They place the blame on the fact that the ideology hasn’t been embraced by everyone. Do you think this it part of our rejection of God, that rather than turning back to him in him in humility and repentance, we keep soldiering further down this road?

Carrie Gress, Ph.D.
Dr. Gress: I think it is part and parcel of an ideology. We saw this very clearly among the Soviets, “Things will just start working once there is more Marxism,” or “once we are more egalitarian.” There is this push, and it becomes so strong that people are almost spellbound by it. One of the things I’ve come to see, and around feminism in particular, is a realization that women approach the world with a certain set of presuppositions: “I need to be more assertive. I need to assert my individuality. I need to compete with men.” What happens actually is that women begin taking on certain vices – rage, aggression – and it ends up making things worse. People don’t want to be around a woman who is really angry.

This pattern is striking to me; and I hear it among Catholic women, too. “When I’m dealing with men I try to be more assertive and not let them think they have the upper hand.” We’ve bought into the ideology enough that we think we need to compete with men. These are not the things that make people want to have deeper relationships with us. What has happened with feminism is that we have created this shell around ourselves, and people don’t want to engage because it’s not kind, it’s not compassionate, it’s not other-centered. All of these great virtues that women have; we’ve kind of been told, “Put those away. You don’t need those.” Women are embracing these broken pieces of feminism and womanhood that they are being offered, without realizing how it has this effect of cutting their feet out from underneath them.

Kapler: What is authentic feminism today? What ways are women being authentically discriminated against today?

Dr. Gress: That’s a difficult question to answer, because victimhood has become such a popular status to have in our culture. It’s hard to see what authentic injustice is and what is a manipulation of people. But I think that, if we can step aside from those realities, the biggest injustice is how women have been convinced that the only way they can get ahead is by making their children and families the enemy, making anything that gets in the way of their career the enemy. If we are going to talk about an actual injustice to women, it is that lie. That lie – that our children are obstacles to our success -- has permeated our culture without anyone pointing out how radical an idea it is, and how it had never been introduced into human culture before.  We have embraced slogans like “Shout Your Abortion” wholeheartedly, and treat it like it is some sort of native human right, because without abortion a woman cannot have her career and be successful.

Kapler: How do you see the Christian acceptance of contraception paving the way for today’s “brave new world”?

Dr. Gress: The biggest problem with contraception is the fact that it sterilizes women. It denies our motherhood, denies our fertility; and as a result, it ends up opening the doors for us to only be thinking about sex as something that is physical pleasure. It is something between consenting adults; and it doesn’t have anything to do with children anymore. This of course also led to the opening of the door to the acceptance of homosexuality. Charles Rice, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, used to talk in his classes about the way contraception was going to lead to the normalization of homosexuality; and everyone used to think he was ridiculous. And yet, we are seeing it in spades. It’s one of those things where any kind of deviancy can be enmeshed into the ethos, because people think, “How is their sex life different from ours? We’re just trying to get sexual gratification, and so are they. There’s nothing else to consider.” I think that, at root, contraception lies behind all of the gender confusion that we are currently dealing with. Of course, Pope Paul VI was right about all of these things, which he predicted would happen with the onset of contraception. Among them is the relationship between men and women and their unifying force as a couple. Divorce rates have certainly spiked because of it, and it has not led to the emotional closeness it was supposed to usher in. All of these things happened because we tinkered with God’s design at a biological level and really disrupted the family.

Kapler: Following Vatican II, there seemed to be a lessening of Mary’s role in the devotional lives of many Catholics. We, of course, also saw this among our Protestant brothers and sisters over the past five centuries. Do you think this great cultural shift could have occurred if Mary's place in the Christian life had not first been diminished?

Dr. Gress: No, this would never have happened if Our Lady had been held at the center of culture. I think you are absolutely right to talk about the Protestant break first, and I have seen Protestants write about this: Protestantism hasn’t carved out any place for women to be women. Obviously, religious orders were eradicated, as was Mary as a role model, so there wasn’t any place for women to understand their role. As a result, men were put on a pedestal; and women are responding to this. The traditional avenues women had to have this close relationship to Christ were walled off from them. That’s one of the biggest issues to begin with.

If we look at what the Catholic Church has actually said about women – not that every Catholic has responding rightly toward women – but in terms of the way the Church upheld femininity, much of that was developed because of who our Lady was. The Church is way ahead on this. We hear this ridiculous line that “Well-behaved women never make history.” That’s not true at all. Historically, if we think about different women who made history, they were saints. They understood that they had to connect their will with God’s will, and then through that they were able to do things they could never do – things they could only do through God. I am thinking of women like St. Helen, St. Lucy, St. Monica, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Joan of Arc. All of these remarkable women had very different vocations. None of these women could be referred to as a doormat. This is what the Catholic Church has had going for it – this understanding of what happens with women when we become holy. Sadly, that was washed from our collective memory, as was Mary. So many women wanted to follow, culturally, what was happening with the trends of the culture: contraception, leaving home to build their own careers, and whatever else was happening culturally at the time. If so many women did not find it absurd to suggest Our Lady as a role model of womanhood, we would not be in this place where we are.

Kapler: Dr. Gress, thank you for your time. I know my readers have thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into TheAnti-Mary Exposed: Rescuing the Culture from Toxic Femininity.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Book Review: "The Manly Art of Raising a Daughter"

When I received Sophia Institute's email blast about this book on my daughter's 14th birthday, it seemed like more than coincidence. Over the past six months, I had been sensing a distance developing between the two of us. I understand that it is natural and good for children to begin expressing more independence; but I worry about the distorted vision our culture works so hard to perpetuate and whether I am doing enough - or even the right things - to prepare my daughter to face the world with the mind of Christ. 

Like all good reality checks, I found Alan Migliorato's The Manly Art of Raising a Daughter comforting in many respects and challenging in others. Migliorato is a straight shooter. I wasn't shocked by any of his advice; it is common-sense. (But that's in woefully short supply these days; and I found over 120 straight pages of it refreshing.) His tone is blunt, but offset with plenty of humor.

Chapters can be read in less than ten minutes, and each stands alone quite well. Migliorato's choice of topics is spot-on, too: 

1) Introducing your daughter to God via the sacramental life and prayer
2) Getting to know your daughter's friends and guiding her to be a good judge of character

3) Teaching her when and how to fight: physically, for justice, and spiritually

4) Dressing modestly

5) A father's need to practice active listening

6) Boyfriends

7) The importance of distraction-free family meals

8) Overcoming smartphone addiction and navigating social media
 As a father of three dauthers, Migliorato shares a great deal of wisdom, born of his successes as well as mistakes. I'll give you an example, which I thought was brilliant, from his chapter on modesty: While clothes shopping with his daughter, a high school freshman, she asked to buy a pair of short shorts. When he asked what type of reaction someone waring those shorts might receive, she explained how the shorts were "stylish" and that "if people looked at someone wearing clothes like this and treated her any differently, it was not the problem of the person wearing the clothes; it was the problem of the person looking at the girl wearing the clothes....[I]t should not matter what someone is wearing, only who they are inside." Migliorato's response is one every dad should commit to memory:
     I asked her how she would feel if I went into the dressing room and tried on a pair of those shorts. She stared at me for a second, not able to tell whether I was being serious. Fearing I was serious, she said, "Dad, please don't." I said, "Why not?" She said that people would stare at me and think I was a sicko or a pervert or something like that.     I said, "I'm confused. I thought you said it was not the problem of the person wearing the clothes, I thought you said it was the problem of the person wearing certain clothes who had the problem?" I added, "I know who I am on the inside, and that is all that should matter, right?"     She said, "Okay, let's go to another store. I get the point." Then she laughed at the image in her head of me wearing those tiny shorts.     We sat on the bench, in the middle of the mall, just outside of the store we were just in, and talked. I knew what she was trying to say; I just wanted her to know what she was actually saying. I have found that allowing my daughters to come to their own conclusion through self-realization is better than trying to tell them something. It's a sweet science that takes time to get right. (p.50-1)
And that's only one example from the chapter on modesty. Each chapter is filled with such real life examples, and each ends with bullet-point summaries and a specific challenge calling dads to begin work on that aspect of their parenting. (His chapter on the importance of eating meals together as a family, really called me out.) There are also overarching points that we need to constantly remind ourselves of: "Remember, building a relationship with your daughter is not a sprint; it's a marathon" (121); "Reach out to your daughter but don't expect her to be where you are mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. It will happen in time, so be patient. And of course, lead by example!" (122). God is a good Father, and He wants to make us good fathers. We must ask for the grace, and then get to work.  The Manly Art of Raising a Daughter is solid advice, from one God-fearing workman to another.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Who Does God Use?

“It takes no great military expert to predict the results of a war in which large numbers of the solders do not fight, do not even know there is a war on. The officers are essential, and obedience to them is essential. But an army in which only the officers fights is likely to have no spectacular success in any war, least of all that which the Church is fighting for the souls of men.” 
  – Frank Sheed, 2nd World Congress for the Lay Apostolate, 1957

My greatest joy has always been to speak, and more recently to write, about the Faith. I am not however, a professional theologian nor a philosopher — heck, I don’t even play one on TV. I don’t feel particularly dismayed by that though — my favorite religious works were written by a couple of fisherman, an accountant, and a physician. Whatever our educational and occupational backgrounds, if we will just slow down enough to “sit at Jesus’ feet” and listen to Him for awhile each day (speaking in Scripture, through His Church in the Catechism, during our Rosary meditations) then we’re bound to learn some incredible things, things we will be dying to share with others.

Almost a decade ago, I had the great pleasure of listening to Dr. Scott Hahn speak. The most vivid memory I have of that day was hearing him talk about when Peter and John were hauled before the Sanhedrin, and quoting this verse: “Observing the self-assurance of Peter and John, and realizing that the speakers were uneducated men of no standing, they were amazed. Then they recognized these men as having been with Jesus ” (Acts 4:13). That is the key to being instruments of God. A shepherd boy from Bethlehem, an unassuming young woman in Nazareth, three poor Portugese children — it is those who place their hearts before God, very simply, that He uses to communicate with the world.

I praise God for priests who challenge their flocks, for RCIA and adult ed. programs, for youth ministers and programs like LifeTeen — but it just isn’t cutting it my friends. It’s you and I who have to be raised up and empowered to share the Truth if this cultural battle is to be won, if the deterioration that surrounds us is to be reversed. The Church in the West may still reveal itself as a sleeping giant. If it awakes, we could see a manifestation of Christ come to “full stature.” “It was He Who gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in roles of service for the faithful to build up the body of Christ, till we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, and form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

You know, I often get the impression that we are hesitant to share our enthusiasm for the Faith with youth. “Oh, kids can’t get into the Bible; it’s a completely different world.” “The Trinity? The hypostatic union or the intricacies of moral theology? That’s over kids’ heads!” Really? Are we talking about the same teens whose high schools offer chemistry, physics, and even calculus? The same kids who read and take tests over works of Shakespeare? To hear an eight year-old boy describe The Lord of the Rings ‘ Middle-Earth, or a fifteen year-old girl elaborate on the subculture of Twilight ’s vampires and werewolves, convinces me that they wouldn’t have a problem getting inside the customs of biblical times.

We must live who we are, share what we are excited about with our coworkers and friends. When someone asks if we are reading anything good, we can let them know, “I’ve been going to this study on the Gospel of Luke; I never realized how fascinating the Bible could be…” When someone asks you to pray for them, take a chance: “I will; but is it alright if I pray with you, right now, too?” And if they are willing, take their hands in yours and speak the simple, heartfelt words that enter your mind. Let your loved one experience the Spirit loving and praying for them through you. We don’t need to manufacture opportunities to share our Faith, if we’re just honest about who we are and what animates us, every conversation can become an open door for God to enter others’ lives. Reebok will have nothing on us (Isaiah 52:7)!

But it all comes back to spending time with Jesus — gazing upon Him in the Eucharist, in Scripture, in His Church. It is only by being fused to Him that we “uneducated men [and women] of no standing,” become powerhouses. Only by sitting at His feet will we be able to simultaneously tear down what is false, and establish the Kingdom in its place – “conducting ourselves with innocence, knowledge, and patience, in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love as men with the message of truth and the power of God; wielding the weapons of righteousness with right hand and left, whether honored or dishonored, spoken of well or ill” (2 Cor.6:6-8).

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Book Review: "The Lord's Prayer" by TJ Burdick

Part of OSV's new Companion in Faith series, T.J. Burdick's The Lord's Prayer is a solid work of spirituality, helping readers pray the Our Father in a deeper way. As a young husband and father, as well as a high school educator and lay Dominican, Burdick has wonderful insights into the way spirituality informs every aspect of our lives. 

The Our Father issues from the heart of Christ; its depths have yet to be plumbed. Burdick sees the seven petitions of the Our Father as not simply the perfect prayer, but a means for prioritizing our lives:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Priority #1 - Honoring God and Neighbor

Thy kingdom come.
Priority #2 - Advancing God's Kingdom

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Priority #3 - Submitting to God's Will

Give us this day our daily bread...
Priority #4 - Balancing Your Life

...and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us...
Priority #5 - Forgiveness

...and lead us not into temptation...
Priority #6 - Discipline

...but deliver us from evil.
Priority #7 - Fighting Sin and Evil

Burdick has crafted wonderful meditations on each of these points, deftly woven of everyday experience, Scripture, the Catechism, and the Summa Theologica.  It is theologically meaty but eminently readable. One of the things I really appreciated about the book was its size: 4" x 6" and 54 pages. It was easy for me to slip into my coat pocket and read during breaks in my work day. A book that causes me to be more attentive during prayer is an exquisite gift; The Lord's Prayer is certainly one of those books.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Book Review: "Teaching with Authority" by Jimmy Akin

To say that we Catholics are living through confusing times will strike many as understatement. Over the past fifty years we have grown used to hearing the Church's faith, especially her moral teachings, disputed by her lay members; but today we encounter such statements from bishops conferences and cardinals. Pope Francis's habit of offering off-the-cuff remarks during homilies and interviews - remarks sometimes wanting in theological precision - have also led to confusion. Further, questions regarding his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, have gone unanswered for more than two years.  

The majority of serious Catholics are familiar with Vatican I's criteria for recognizing ex cathedra pronouncments; but what about the Council's further teaching that Catholics are bound to believe "all those things" taught through the Church's "ordinary and universal magisterium," since they, too, are proposed infallibly (De Filius, 3)? When is the pope exercising his "ordinary magisterium," and what level of authority is attached to it? Many of today's arguments are heightened by disputes regarding what level of authority must be accorded to various papal and ecclesial statements.

In Teaching with Authority: How to Cut Through Doctrinal Confusion and Understand What the Church Really Says, Jimmy Akin goes to great lengths to bring clarity to these murky waters. I have other books on this topic (H.G. Hughes' What Catholics are Free to Believe or Not, Sullivan's Creative Fidelity, and Gaillardetz's By What Authority?), but I did not find any to be as helpful as Akin's. At 400 pages, his book is double, if not triple, the size of other treatments. (This shouldn't come as a surprise to those familiar with his work at Catholic Answers.)

My overall impressions: I finished the book with the almost paradoxical sense that (1) Catholic faith and morals are exactly what I have always understood them to be; and (2) I need to devote a great deal of time and research to ascertain what exactly has been taught infallibly and what has not. Jimmy Akin is careful in coming to conclusions. As much as we, the faithful, may wish the Church's pronouncements on a given matter to be more definitive, Akin has the integrity to refuse to go beyond what has been definitively stated. 

Teaching with Authority is divided into four sections: (I) The Church as Teacher; (II) Where Church Teaching is Found; (III) Understanding Church Teaching; and (IV) How Doctrine Can Develop - and How It Can't. The first section lays the theological foundation for the Church's teaching magisterium, showing how Christ made it intrinsic to her very nature and the various ways it is expressed through the bishops' individual teaching ministries, bishops conferences, ecumenical councils, and the papacy. It is informative, and I came away with a better knowledge of the Roman Curia.The second section begins with Scripture and Tradition as sources of divine revelation, before turning to the various documents in which the Church offers instruction to the faithful. A few examples of the type of information you'll find:

  • The only time documents written by national bishops' conferences "constitute authentic magisterium" is when they are doctrinal in nature and either (a) unanimously approved by the full body of bishops, or (b) approved by 2/3 of the bishops and granted the recognitio of the Holy See.
  • At Vatican II, the "constitutions are the most authoritative documents, and the dogmatic constitutions - Dei Verbum (on revelation) and Lumen Gentium (on the Church) - are the most authoritative of all" (p.110-11).
  • The names and nature of papal documents have changed over time and are not always consistent.
  • Apostolic constitutions are considered the most authoritative papal documents (examples: Ineffablis Deus infallibly defining the Immaculate Conception and Muntificientissimus Deus, defining the Assumption of Mary).
  • Pope have used papal encyclicals to reaffirm infallible teachings but no propose new ones.
  • Curial documents, even those issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, must carry express papal approval to be considered acts of the Magisterium.
  • Simply because a teaching is included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997), does not mean it is infallible. As Cardinal Ratzinger noted, the Catechism's teachings "receive no other weight than that which they already possess," meaning that one must look at earlier and later documents of the Magisterium to determine a teachings level of authority.

Akin's third and fourth sections, which constitute the majority of the book, were of greatest interest to me. Akin goes into great depth, exploring the skills needed to correctly interpret magisterial documents: checking the original Latin, a knowledge of technical vocabulary and what it meant in a given century versus today, the need to respect intentional ambiguity in Church teaching and not going further in drawing conclusions than an author intends, etc. They are much-needed reminders for the armchair theologian. He also unpacks the technical meanings of "heresy" and "schism," showing how they are frequently misused. theologian. 

Chapter 12, "The Spectrum of Authority,"and its analysis of Cardinals Ratinger and Bertone's CDF document, Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio fidei, clarified the three levels of authority attached to Church teaching better than anything else I have read. Akin spells out what the Church means by "theological" (or "divine and catholic faith"), "firm and definitive assent," and "religious submission of the mind and will" and the distinctions between them.

Akin's Teaching with Authority is not an "easy" read. He is a gifted communicator, and he writes very clearly; but this is a complicated topic. For anyone, however, who wants to enter into this crucial area of study; I have not seen a more thorough or even-handed introduction to the topic. I call it an introduction, though, since I can't imagine a reader finishing the book without coming to the humbling realization that, however much he has already studied the Faith, a lifetime of work still lies before him.