THE NATURE AND USE OF PRAYER, by Mgr. M. Nedoneelle (Burns & Oates, 30s.).
SIN, ed. by Pietro Palazzini (Scepter, 55s.).
THE CHRISTIAN PURSUIT, by Henri Marduel (Burn & Oates, 18s.).
AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY, by Margaret Deanesly (Nelson, 25s.).
THE WAY. by Josernaria Escriva (Scepter, 5s.).
THE distinguished Dean of 'the Catholic Faculty of the University of Strasbourg, Mgr. Maurice Nocioncelle, gives us a book on The Nature and Use of Prayer. It is not (in case the title may suggest this) a devotional treatise; "we shall adopt" he says "a phenomenological approach".
This is a philosophical style so little familiar to Englishmen that probably most readers will be quite disconcerted with what they find. But they would miss a great deal if they were then and there to abandon it.
The author is a man of almost fastidious sensitivity and of very wide scholarship in his subject. Difficult as it may be to follow his elaborate analyses of the phenomenon of prayer, one has the impression that there is here an originality and a depth of insight which will take many years of commentary and elucidation before its full potential is recognised.
It may prove to be a truly seminal book; certainly it is sown in ground hitherto hardly broken. A snap judgment in a quickly appearing review column such as this is out of the question.
Phenomenology is not simply a description of observable facts, nor is it concerned with any and every kind of fact. It is the attempt to reach the essence of certain activities of consciousness by sorting out the basic promptings and the significant tendencies therein involved.
This Mgr. Nedoncelle attempts in relation first to prayer addressed from one man to another, then in prayer (particularly Christian prayer) from man to God. He places prayer as lying between command and mere declaration, in the order of the vocative.
With meticulous and sensitive care he uses examples drawn, for human prayer, from Homer, Racine, etc., as well as from the usage of everyday language, and for prayer to God, from mystics and others. So he builds up a picture of prayer as the perfect manifestation of inter-personal mutuality.
"Prayer discloses one of the ultimate secrets of being which from person to person in freedom and love sweeps through heaven and earth. . . . The loss of prayer would mean the loss of the person."
• Against the background of his "personalist" philosophy (again something extremely unfamiliar to English readers) the author makes a moving plea for the preservation of prayer as a fundamental human dimension tragically in danger of destruction in the modern world. Ile has, been very fortunate in finding an excellent translator.
For all the brevity of its title, Sin is a very large book, and yet only the first of a series of three, all on the same theme. However, such length may be excused, and may even reflect a Christian confidence, for in the words of one contributor to the volume "The effect of the darkness which sin throws over the work of creation is only to light up to perfection the mercy and justice of God".
The various articles are mainly by distinguished Italian writers, 'well translated by Prof. B. Devlin of Maynooth.
This first volume is in the main an historical survey—sin in the perspective of Comparative Religion, sin in the Bible, in the
Fathers, in contemporary theology, sin as viewed by Canon Law, sin as a social evil, sin in our world; in fact, an encyclopaedia on sin for (if we may put it so) the inquiring student.
The articles dealing with comparative religion, with St. Paul, and with St. Augustine are particularly effective.
Unfortunately, there is much overlapping and repetition in the treatment of Scriptural passages; a strong editorial hand would not have left two comments on the mysterious sin of Uzzah (II Sam. 6.6). two expositions of St. Paul's teaching on original sin, two lists of Hebrew terms for sin, and other repetitions.
Repetitious sin makes for increased guilt, repetitious writing for tedium. An anomaly is to find the Qumran Manuel of Discipline and the Didache cited in Latin— certainly not an English usage.
Th© volume concludes with an article by M. Daniel-Rops, who writes of how even sin redounds to the glory of God, and also of the great lack in our world of a sense of sin. Fr. Sage, earlier, had suggested that such a sense of sin might be recovered at the feet of St. Augustine; but we think it might take our world as long to get there as to get to the sense ol sin. The first need, surely, is for faith.
"Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue" is the theme of The Christian Pursuit. Fr. Francis Ripley contributes a nostalgic foreword regretting the drop in Sunday Benediction services and asking how many Catholics today take the spiritual life seriously (to which we might rejoin "As many as go to Evening Mass and compel the Carmelite Sisters to make many more communion hosts than before").
Admittedly not many, at any time, will get down to such closely woven spiritual reading as this hook provides, a synthesis of the Christian religion, based on St. John's -God is love". The 25 instructions were originally for a retreat in a Foyer de Charite-"a Christian community modelled on the original community in Jerusalem".
The lectures are good-quality "plain tommy". reminding us that the whole life of Christ was a cross and martyrdom which any Christian may have to follow without self-pity; but the term of the Cross is the Resurrection.
Almost all that we know of St. Augustine of Canterbury is contained in St. Bede's Ecclesiastical History. Few men have merited a full-length biography more. yet it is a considerable feat that Proi. Deanesley has achieved one. Her Augustine of Canterbury is part of a series on "Leaders of Religion" edited by Prof. Dugmore and clearly intended to reach a very wide public.
At times Prof. Detinesley seems to simplify; she uses the device of imaginary conversations and an occasional unsupported statement is mingled inextricably with facts. It is highly improbable that anyone ever said to St. Augustine "the ladies of Paris might consider the design outlandish", and though it is useful to emphasise that he was not a Benedictine it can only be a guess that he did not like beer.
The Way by Josemaria Escriva, having sold a million copies in ten languages now appears in paper back-an "Imitation of Christ" for modern times. or a human counterpart to the Book of Proverbs.