Three Thousand Letters a Day -- Still

This is an important and wonderful book. The National Shrine of St. Jude in South Chicago opened in the midst of the Great Depression. Venerated in Chile as the patron of lost causes, Jude was brought to Chicago from Arizona by a Spanish Claretian who founded the League of St. Jude in 1929. The Voice of St. Jude began publishing in 1935. Orsi mines its pages for this "study of the prayers of American Catholic women to St. Jude" (ix). Reworking a now standard "Americanist" story of Catholic devotionalism as a regressive survival from the nineteenth-century immigrant past, Orsi reinterprets twentieth-century devotion to St. Jude as a "modern, indigenous, postimmigration" development (31-39). Neither local nor universal, Jude, as a national saint, represents the Americanization of Catholic devotionalism.

In the columns of The Voice Orsi finds a "social history of praying" that is also a "social history of hopelessness" (49). During the Great Depression and World War II (58), immigrants' daughters found themselves between dissolving ethnic enclaves and the wider culture. In family conflicts about work, love, and responsibility, women experienced hopelessness and abandonment, exposure and judgment, humiliation and failure, as well as male absence, unemployment, and alcoholism. The Voice and Orsi's fieldwork among the devout "tell an inner history of women's lives at this time" (50). And though women in hopeless situations "imagined" St. Jude into being (41, 69), there is no hint that Orsi wishes to dissolve their religious experience into the social, cultural, and psychological stuff of his masterful and thick descriptions (see the extended note on 266-67).

In an angry third chapter, Orsi loses some authorial distance. The "Catholic Family Romance," is "a male child's dream of immigrant family life" (84): fathers disappear, while good young sons join with wise and powerful mothers to save the world from wild and dangerous young women who will later become wise and powerful through pain and silent suffering. Refusing such a cultural ideal, immigrants' daughters responded with the male figure of St. Jude (chapter 4). Like "other Depression-era popular heroes" (101), St. Jude empowered the devout. Praying to him enabled them to do things they needed to do.

Women helped other women out of hopelessness, as Mary is said to have helped Judas' mother. The devotion to St. Jude is like "a national chain of interlocking stories of hopelessness and hope. . . ." (122). Addressing Jude in "narratives of petition" permitted the devout to articulate suffering in ways that culture forbade. Jude responded through "narratives of grace" in which women described what he had done. Orsi likens this to "hagiographical ventriloquism" (126). St. Jude is hope mediated to women in hopelessness by other women. Whether this is God's hope mediated in the communion of saints Orsi neither asks nor denies.

Set in a gendered social history of American medicine, chapter 6 is the book's most powerful. Orsi construes "healing" broadly to include acceptance (174). Male doctors and priests were not good at listening to sick women. St. Jude gave them leave to speak and act. With their candles, medals, holy cards, and St. Jude's oil, the devout brought St. Jude into the spaces of sickness and reclaimed some authority over them. Male doctors became subordinate characters in narratives of grace told by the devout, who negotiated, rather than chose, between the natural and the supernatural, medicine, and devotional healing. "Thanks for [the] saints in heaven and modern medicine" (183), one woman exclaims. "[I]f the world of medicine had been truly secularized," Orsi writes, "no one would have gotten better in it" (184).

Orsi treats St. Jude and his devout with a near tender familiarity. He speaks for them against church professionals who would reform them and scholars who interpret their behavior as regressive. But what if the critics are right? What if Orsi has romanticized a set of harmful, self-delusional practices? Orsi's answer follows the way of negotiation. Jude belongs entirely neither to the ecclesiastical culture of the National Shrine nor to his devout. Orsi writes of their prayer with great insight (e.g., 186-87; 202-3). As both "inflected by desire" and "born in culture and history," Jude is a "cultural double agent" (210) who enables the devout to "play across the borders others would have made for their experience" (203). On the basis of an historical record in which dependence on Jude becomes the ground for undeniable "action, choice, autonomy, and healing" (201), Orsi refuses to pin the devout to either side of the various dichotomies he lists on page 200. They remain "in-between." As immigrants and their children well know, life is about negotiation. They can afford neither puritanism nor moral paralysis.

Orsi makes his case well and in the idiom of cultural history that I tend to distrust. Theologians might recognize in Orsi's "in-between" the familiar category of the incarnational. But Orsi's language and method remind them that sacramental mediation involves contestation and negotiation. The National Shrine still gets three thousand pieces of mail each day (32). In the face of continued efforts at reform and rationalization, popular religion retains a certain "qualified but genuine autonomy" (38).

Questions remain about the regional make-up of the devotion and its future prospects. Was the "Catholic Family Romance" as exclusive an ideal as Orsi's review of popular devotional magazines suggests? What of religious life as an alternative and the place of religious women -- a nun wrote the story that begins chapter 5 -- in the devotion? And finally, what of other contemporary devotions? What else is out there that Orsi's re-visioning of the history of devotionalism might alert us to?

One can only marvel at the depth and originality of this work. The review format resists efforts to convey the cumulative richness of Orsi's "Geertzian" thick description. In sources most scholars would have ignored, Orsi heard life-giving voices. Many will recognize in them the voices of our mothers and grandmothers. Reading his book can only deepen our respect for them. This seems important to Orsi. He insists, with a certain hard-nosed New York romanticism, that the devout are "realistic" (207, 211) and I think he is right.

Ways to African American Literature

Nine years ago I first gave a speech to a college audience "On Losing the Light of African American Literature." I was concerned about the increasing difficulty in creating a context, in class -- and, at times, among colleagues -- that made James Baldwin's fiction masterpiece Go Tell It On The Mountain as powerful to them as it had been and remains to me. How was that to be done when the students -- whatever their ethnicity -- were alienated from the language, did not know the Bible as literature or religious text, and had no echoes of the gospel hymns, sorrow songs, work songs, or folk tales in their ears? I brought tapes and records to class. At times, I even sang. I read the text aloud with a passion that leapt from my throat. . . . and gagged when I could not impress those students, reading Baldwin's short story Sonny's Blues, with the powerful compression of the meaning of the phrase "the very cup of trembling."

Such anxieties are diminished by the recent publication of two outstanding anthologies: Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition, and African American Literature -- the latter volume one in the series of Norton Anthologies. Each is accompanied by an audio disc. The Norton disc (edited by Robert G. O'Meally) serves up spirituals and gospel songs, work songs, secular songs, ballads, blues, jazz, rap and excerpts from two sermons, Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream," and Malcolm X's "The Ballot or the Bullet." The Riverside disc (produced by Robert H. Cataliotti) lacks that breadth of musical coverage, but excels in its inclusion of the spoken word, with readings by Claude McKay, Arna Bontemps reading Lucy Terry's only known poem "Bars Fight," Margaret Walker reading James Weldon Johnson's "Go Down Death," Sterling Brown, Langston Hughes, and Ruby Dee recreating Sojourner Truth, Dorothy Washington reading Phillis Wheatley, Ossie Davis recreating Frederick Douglass, and the voice of Booker T. Washington delivering a portion of his famous "Atlanta Exposition Address."

As we can gather from the difference in the titles of these works, each has a well-defined intent. Gates and McKay describe their anthology as "a celebration of two centuries of imaginative writing in English by persons of African descent in the United States. . . The authors of these works (whose births range from 1730 to 1957) have made the text of Western letters speak in voices and timbres resonant, resplendent and variously 'black.' Taken together, they form a literary tradition in which African American authors collectively affirm that the will to power is the will to write, and to testify eloquently in aesthetic forms never far removed from the language of music and the rhythmic resonance of the spoken word."

Hill and her editors draw from "three motifs unique to the African American experience. The first is the distinct African and African American antiphonal pattern of call and response. . . Not only do we present the pattern as it is most often recognized, that is black sermon, song, and speech, but we use it structurally. . . . in each section of the volume to show the written literature answering the call of the folk culture. . . . and thematically. . . . to feature African Americans throughout American history raising important socio-political issues and the responses to those issues either by their contemporaries or heirs in succeeding generations." Their second motif is "the journey of African American people toward freedom, justice, and social equality"; and the third, turning points, overlays the call and response pattern and black musical idiom. They also provide the reader with a rich cultural and historical context, stretching from 1619 to the present.

It is difficult to choose between these anthologies. Each has the complete text of Frederick Douglass's Narrative, a complete novel by Toni Morrison -- Sula (Norton), The Bluest Eye (Riverside) -- and a complete play by August Wilson -- Joe Turner's Come and Gone (Riverside) and Fences (Norton). The Norton volume also has complete plays by Lorraine Hansberry, Amiri Baraka, Ed Bullins and Adrienne Kennedy, as well as the full texts of W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk, Jean Toomer's Cane and James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Both anthologies contain Baldwin's Sonny's Blues.

Each volume thoroughly covers the vernacular tradition, from spirituals and sermons to rap. The Riverside anthology includes contemporary folktales as well, and a unique section on "Improvisations: Theme and Variation, Call and Response, Performance Styles, Rhythms and Melodic Structures." The books also have what are to me oddities: only one poem by Jayne Cortez in the Norton anthology, for example, and no poems by Clarence Major in the Riverside.

When I use Call and Response next semester, I expect that its literary-historical context will leave me less cause to sermonize -- or sing -- in making vivid such images as those in Sonny's Blues. The Norton anthology also does a fine hob in that regard, but for now I'll probably refer to the Riverside anthology more often.

Return to index

A Guide to the Guide to a Good Life

This excellent introduction to Spinoza's Ethics is a volume in the Routledge Philosophy GuideBook series. The purpose of the series is to ". . . . painlessly introduce students to the classic works of philosophy. Each GuideBook considers a major philosopher and a key area of their philosophy by focusing upon an important text -- situating the philosopher and the work in a historical context, considering the text in question and assessing the philosopher's contribution to contemporary thought."

This purpose is a laudable one, but is it realistic? I suppose there are major philosophers and texts to which students can be introduced "painlessly." But if there was ever an unlikely candidate for "painless" introduction, Spinoza and his great work would have to be very high on the list.

Fortunately, Professor Lloyd will have none of this. As she explains:

Lloyd is looking to introduce the student to Spinoza, but not to make Spinoza "painless" or simple, because Spinoza is not a "painless" or simple philosopher, and the Ethics is neither a "painless" nor simple work. One of the great virtues of her book is that she allows Spinoza to remain difficult where he is difficult, obscure where he is obscure, and open to various interpretations when he is open to various interpretations.

The range of Lloyd's scholarship, and her deft handling of the material, can be seen in the very first chapter, which provides an extremely useful summary of what we do and do not know of Spinoza's life, concentrating on the various strengths and weaknesses of his earliest biographers, Lucas and Colerus. This is followed by a brief survey of the intellectual environment of Spinoza's time, with a possibly too brief account of Spinoza's Marrano background. This early historical discussion gives evidence of another of the great strengths of this volume, its impressive breadth of source material. The discussion ranges from the aforementioned Lucas and Colerus to Leibniz to Simon Schama and Yirmiyahu Yovel, with historical stops in-between. Lloyd is as comfortable with her seventeenth as with her twentieth-century sources, and presents them in a way that makes them highly accessible.

This familiarity with a wide range of sources continues with Lloyd's discussion of Spinoza's various interpreters. In "How Many Spinozas?" she moves from Bayles to Delleuze by way of Hume, Hegel, and others, making their positions understandable, but also guiding students in such a way as to allow them to arrive at their own conclusions. The discussions of Bayles and Hume are especially good in emphasizing how these two thinkers misinterpreted Spinoza's thought.

After this initial biographical/historical survey, Lloyd gets down to guiding the reader through the intricacies of Spinoza's Ethics. And, as anyone who has even casually glanced at the Ethics knows, intricacies abound, starting with the very form of the work. Lloyd does not attempt to simplify the work, but lets the intricacies stand and attempts to give students the tools for navigating their way through them. And so, in her discussion of what Spinoza could have possibly meant by one of his most celebrated phrases, "the face of the universe," Lloyd presents the different explanations that have been given without in any way suggesting that it's easy to determine who is correct. In the same way, in discussing Spinoza's theory of attributes, another notoriously thorny issue in Spinoza interpretation, she deftly navigates between the interpretations of Wolfson's "subjective attributes" and Guerolt's "objective attributes." Her account of the distinction and relation of reason and imagination is another fine example of letting the complexities of the text remain while supplying the tools to handle them.

Examples of this sort could be multiplied by referring to page after page of Lloyd's text. Like a good introducer, she leads students to the text, presents the difficulties and alternatives, and then steps back to allow them room to make up their own mind concerning the issue. This is another of Lloyd's great strengths, her lack of intrusiveness. In many cases she is content to present the controversies as clearly as possible, and then, rather than imposing her own interpretation of the apparent chaos, lets her readers do the work themselves. This is something that the best of teachers strive to do, and at which Lloyd excels.

But this does not mean that she is unwilling to give her own interpretations when she believes the context calls for them. This is most evident in her reactions to Jonathan's interpretation and criticism of Spinoza's alleged egoism, and Bennett's verdict that the last half of Part V of the Ethics is so confused as to be valueless, or, even worse, ". . . . it is dangerous: it is rubbish which causes others to write rubbish." In answering Bennett, especially with regard to his second point, Lloyd shows that she is not afraid to enter the fray. In her discussion of "the intellectual love of God" Lloyd strives to show -- successfully, I believe -- that the concept is not a hopeless confusion, as characterized by Bennett, nor essentially inane, as held by Wolfson. This discussion leads her to an examination of the relationships between intellect and imagination and intellect and emotion as presented at the end of the Ethics. This analysis is one of the finest in Lloyd's book, an excellent example of her refusal to "write down" to the student. Although not as difficult as the discussion in Spinoza, it requires work and close attention, it does not oversimplify, attempting to lift the student up to the level of the Ethics rather than bringing the Ethics down to a level that would misrepresent the work and mislead the student as to its nature.

Throughout her exposition of the Ethics Lloyd never loses sight of the fact that the work was not intended to be seen simply as an exercise in metaphysics, but was intended as a "guide" to living a moral life. This is especially clear in her exposition of Spinoza's concept of the "free man." This emphasis on the intended practicality of the Ethics is present from the very beginning of Lloyd's book, and it is one of its great strengths. Too often introductions spend the bulk of their time on the first two parts of the Ethics, on metaphysics and the philosophy of mind, and rush through the last three. In avoiding this temptation, and showing how the early parts set the stage for the end, Lloyd does readers an enormous service in keeping them focused on Spinoza's intentions rather than on what tends to be of most interest to the contemporary philosopher.

Lloyd has taken the last paragraph of Spinoza as a guide to her approach:


Nature as Natural History

There is something odd about the composition of this book. The titular epithet, "the Emerson museum," suggests that Emerson's corpus is organized much as is a museum, with representative exhibits falling into some classificatory system. And yet, only one chapter in the book addresses that hypothesis. Other chapters concern entirely other issues. Indeed, The Emerson Museum is not so much a book as four and one-half chapters loosely connected by vague themes such as "practical romanticism" and "the whole."

This is not to say that The Emerson Museum does not contain valuable material. In the 119-page chapter 2, we have a piece of important and original scholarship. Brown's research into Emerson's experience of natural science in Paris is the most thorough study to date of this moment in Emerson's intellectual development. The thesis is intriguing: "Emerson realized in the Museum that nature was natural history" (86). In the display cabinets of the museum, every particular became a representative (of a species, a class, an epoch). Botanical and zoological classification constituted a recognition of unity in multeity, an encyclopedia of "nature's hieroglyphic plenitude" (65). True, the cabinets presented specimens of life in desiccated, stuffed, preserved, and pressed forms, but in revealing their hidden correspondences, they unveiled the principle of those lives, the invisible, ideal workings shaping those particulars.

Emerson transformed the classificatory methods of the museum into a compositional method for himself. In the same way the naturalists selected and organized the contents of nature into an "architectonics of reason and commodity" (63), so Emerson selected and organized the contents of his journals into the published essays. The arrangement of the museum taught him to regard his journal entries as pieces of natural history, with each fragmentary jotting coming to represent a whole intellectual progress. The journals were massive, they needed some method of retrieval and recomposition. The armoires and parterres of the museum provided Emerson a classificatory scheme he could apply to the plentiful, but seemingly haphazard record of his intellectual life. The writing of Nature could begin.

This museum-natural science context often proves to have supreme explanatory force (as when it explains Emerson's use of the term "caducous" and corrects earlier interpretations of it). Despite its compositional drawbacks, The Emerson Museum is a significant contribution to Emerson scholarship and merits a careful reading.

A Lowering of Hierarchy

This book is intended to reveal the underlying direction of cultural change in American Catholic life. It begins by documenting nineteenth-century conflict between Integrationists and Restorationists regarding the preferred structure of Church authority. Integrationists (or Americanists) favored more democracy and individual autonomy in the Church. Restorationists (or Europeanists) promoted the hierarchy and obedience to Church authority. Victory in the early twentieth century went to the Restorationists; the papacy of John XXIII and Vatican II clearly strengthened the position of Integrationists; tension between the two parties has increased during the papacy of John Paul II. This book focuses on the integration-restoration struggle since Vatican II, and especially between parallel surveys done in 1987 and 1993.

In broad sociological terms, the American Catholic Church has grown stronger but has weaknesses. The number of members grew between 1960 and 1992 from 40 million to 60 million and the number of students enrolled in Catholic colleges and universities doubled (from 300,000 in 1960 to 650,000 in 1992). At the same time, there was a sharp decline in the number of priests and sisters in the church, and Catholic financial contributions to the Church were per capita the lowest of any major faith group.

In regard to the preferred structure of authority during these years, the intended lesson of the book is clear: the majority of the American Catholic laity are inexorably moving in the direction of wanting a more democratic church. Although less than 20 percent of the Catholics are thinking of leaving the church, the majority want reform. They especially want a role in formulating a more nuanced sexual morality for the church and in determining questions such as the ordination of women and the reactivation of married priests. The percentage of women supporting the laity's right to participate in deciding whether women should be ordained to the priesthood rose from 45 percent in 1987 to 65 percent in 1993. As Catholics become more educated and have more contact with other Christian religious groups, they find such ideas harmonious with American ideals and with themes of Vatican II.

There is still a small, articulate, and highly committed minority which sees modern life as decadent, evidenced by the prevalence of nonmarital sex, use of contraceptives, remarriage after divorce, and, especially, abortions. They see little that is redeeming in the culture and argue that the Church needs to maintain its hierarchical structure and be a countercultural force, even if this means a less all-accepting church in the future. The point is not so much the power of this group, however, but its dwindling base of support.

Sexual morality among Catholics is increasingly determined by "consequentialism" (what are the consequences of the action?) and less by external regulation. There is a sense of alienation from Church authority in regard to birth control and abortion. Only 20 percent of the Catholic population between 18 and 59 said that premarital sex was always wrong. The shift toward increasing emphasis upon independence and personal choice is shown in differences between generations. Those whose religious consciousness was formed before Vatican II (1962-65) saw the church as most static and hierarchical, with an emphasis upon commitment to the institution. Those formed during Vatican II had a greater expectation of change, with more emphasis upon democratic governance and personal choice. Those formed after Vatican II saw the church as the people of God, with an emphasis upon the laity as decisive in all church-related decisions.

Denominational boundaries will become more blurred and Catholic commitments will be broadened to include Christian teachings rather than only those that are peculiarly Catholic. There will be a continued burgeoning of small Christian communities for Word, Eucharist, and direction in life. Some of these will be Integrationist (Call to Action, Women's Ordination Conference, Catholics Speak Out) and some more Restorationist (Opus Dei, Right to Life, Catholics United for the Faith). But the general move will be toward more independence and autonomy, with less call for hierarchical rule.

This is a valuable and informative study. It is possible that it understates the significance of the church's changes. It could be that the Church, as George Lindbeck thirty years ago proposed, will go through a winnowing and diminish to a church of the minority. Though few spoke of leaving the Church in these polls, majorities of (former) Catholics may find suitable affiliation in the secular identities of contemporary America. Perhaps it will require a change from the modern era of history before the need for a distinctly Catholic identity will again emerge.


Sometimes the Accidents Become the Substance

Historical theologian James Huff's recent study of the modernist poet, New Critic, and American Catholic convert Allen Tate reveals an agenda that goes beyond his archival work. Huff understands himself to be undertaking an exercise in intellectual biography and Catholic cultural studies, one he hopes will evidence detachment and sympathy toward its subject. And while he aims to negotiate around what Gene Burns has called the already overly politicized discourse charging the discussion of Catholicism's recent past, he also intends "to formulate ways for contemporary historiography to narrate the meaning of the entire twentieth century Catholic experience." The simultaneous fulfillment of these aims will prove difficult if not impossible.

Allen Tate began his literary career in the early 1920s as an undergraduate member of the Fugitives, a poetry group at Vanderbilt University credited with launching the first phase of the Southern Literary Renaissance, the resurgence of literature in the American South between 1920 and 1950 which brought writers such as William Faulkner and Eudora Welty to prominence. Tate subsequently developed a reputation as a modernist poet. But he is perhaps best remembered as one of the architects, along with John Crowe Ransom, I. A. Richards, Cleanth Brooks, and others, of the New Criticism, the Anglo-American effort to focus critical attention on literature itself which complemented the emergence of literary and artistic modernism. Huff argues that Tate is better understood as a religious than as a literary critic, however, and interprets Tate's critical efforts as "exploratory gestures toward an imaginative theology of culture."

Contemporary literary studies tend to attribute the far-reaching influence of the New Criticism to its practical, hands-on appeal, while frequently underplaying the theoretical differences that did, in fact, exist between the various New Critics. Huff's reading of Allen Tate as a lay religious critic thus makes a genuine and significant contribution to scholarly understanding of that movement, lending it needed texture and specificity. Huff notes, for example, that studies of the Fugitive group, to which Tate belonged, regularly neglect the religious interests of its members in favor of their literary involvements. He further demonstrates that almost from the beginning, as a consequence of Tate's connections with T. S. Eliot and other American expatriates, Tate strove to link his literary-critical work to larger programs of cultural criticism, especially criticism from an ethical/theological perspective.

In Allen Tate and the Catholic Revival, Huff furthermore demonstrates that Tate's program of cultural criticism was not static, but evolved from one form of religious criticism to another, arriving ultimately at the Catholicism of the international Catholic Revival. After the Scopes trial -- the 1925 prosecution of a Tennessee biology instructor for teaching Darwinism in the public schools -- Tate joined other Southern Agrarian writers in defending rural Southern culture, opposing industrialization, and appropriating fundamentalism as a heuristic device in their quarrel with modernity. Ultimately, however, Tate found Southern fundamentalism lacking as well, turning to the Catholic Revival as a more satisfactory link between the Southern agrarian imperative and a larger and more durable past. By 1930, under the influence of G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, the leaders of the English Catholic Land Movement called "Distributism," Tate was protesting what he perceived to be the narrowness of the Southern Agrarian agenda itself, and seriously undercutting that agenda in his writings by describing the Old South as a "feudal society with a feudal religion," and the New South, by implication, as a land without a spiritual legacy.

Throughout the 1930s the focus of Tate's criticism shifted steadily to the medieval agrarianism and Christian humanism of Catholic social teaching. The critique of industrialism and promotion of Chesterton, Belloc and the Catholic historian Christopher Dawson by his mentor T. S. Eliot, Tate's own involvement with Catholic Revival periodicals, and his contacts with Dorothy Day whose Catholic Worker, according to Huff, embodied "the most radical form of Catholic Agrarianism," all contributed to his shift. Ultimately, as a result of this deepening interest in the agrarian dimension of the medieval Catholic legacy, Tate became a committed student of neo-Thomism, which provided the foundation of what Huff calls Tate's "intellectual conversion" to Catholicism in 1950.

Neo-Thomism likewise informed Tate's New Critical call for a return to "real knowledge" by attending to the concrete literary image which he distinguished from rational, scientific cognition. By the time of his conversion, Tate was engaged in a full-blown cultural war with what he called "angelism" or "gnosticism," the modern dualist lust for pure spirituality separate from material expression and public cultural embodiment which Tate identified with Protestantism and American Romanticism, Emerson in particular. The New Critical turn to the concrete -- to the analogical or sacramental of Catholic thought -- provided the theoretical foundation for this cultural struggle. In it, Huff understands Tate to have pushed beyond the New Critical focus on the inner life of texts to a new form of public prophecy. Huff argues that Tate's efforts failed, however, in part because of Tate's own moral inadequacies (he was divorced twice), but primarily because of the lamentable unraveling of the Catholic tradition itself -- after Vatican Council II.

Huff's reading of Allen Tate as lay religious critic is hedged about on all sides by his understanding of the so-called Catholic Revival, the broad range of developments emerging from Pope Leo XIII's establishment in 1879 of Thomism as the preeminent philosophy of Catholicism, and from Pope Pius X's condemnation of modernism in 1907. Yet despite his stated desire to avoid current controversies over Catholicism's recent past, Huff clearly situates himself on one side in the disputed interpretation of that movement, reading it as an almost exclusively intellectual phenomenon led by a small international elite. Huff confirms this bias toward an idealist and elite construal by dismissing William Halsey's treatment, in his highly regarded The Survival of American Innocence, of the implications of the Neo-Thomist Revival for American Catholic culture broadly understood. He instead endorses historian Arnold Sparr's preoccupation with the focus and outlook of the "mind" of the Revival, that is to say, the conscious ideological intentions of the university-educated Catholic middle class.

By positioning himself thus, Huff is able not so much to analyze Tate's religio-cultural criticism as to recapitulate and extend it. As Huff admits, Tate had little but contempt for the religion of the ordinary American Catholic after his conversion; one of the first targets of Tate's anti-Gnostic critique was precisely American Catholicism itself, as embodied particularly in Francis Cardinal Spellman's novel, The Foundling.

As a Vatican II American Catholic who opposed the Vietnam War, I would have thought myself incapable of feeling the least twinge of sympathy for Cardinal Spellman, who was not only the military vicar at the time, but a strike-breaker as well. Huff's rendition of Tate's condescending evaluation of Spellman managed to elicit such a twinge, however. In point of fact, from Allen Tate and the Catholic Revival I was stunned to realize that Tate appears not only to have dismissed American Catholic culture, but to have joined the Catholic Church in the United States without having made contact with any native born American Catholics at all -- at least, none that influenced him sufficiently for Huff to have commented on them. Huff's construal of the Revival enables Tate's exclusive conversation with elite international Catholics (and Anglo-Catholics) -- Eliot, Chesterton, Belloc, Christopher Dawson, Tate's godfather Jacques Maritain, and a few equally privileged American converts -- to continue unabated.

In his claims about the impact of the elite, European-led Catholic Revival -- that it fired the imagination of a "generation" of American Catholics, that it reached "large audiences" of concerned Catholics -- Huff himself continues to exclude the same lower-class American Catholics about whom Allen Tate had such doubts. During much of the period with which Huff is chiefly concerned, the vast majority of American Catholics were too poor even to graduate from high school, and the impact on them of groups like the Catholic Worker, the Grail, or even publications like Daniel A. Lord's The Queen's Work was limited at best. It would seem that the one really widespread effect of the Catholic Revival -- besides Father Coughlin's radio broadcasts -- was on parish priests who were formed in the rigid neoscholasticism of the seminaries, and whose preaching, as William Halsey's work suggests, helped to make American Catholics even more American than they might have become through their appropriation of a rational certitude very like that of nineteenth-century American Protestantism.

A close reading of Huff's text suggests that he, like Tate, has been deeply marked by a neo-Thomist epistemology that cleanly and readily separates substance from accidents, thus making possible the production of a narrative of the "entire twentieth century Catholic experience" minus all but pejorative references to the "rank and file" of twentieth century American Catholics. This epistemology may account for Huff's curiously reductive readings of the work of scholars whose interpretations of American religion are substantially different from his own. Huff's comparison of John Terence Fisher's portrait of Dorothy Day to his own of Allen Tate is highly inaccurate. He would have done well to read Fisher's The Catholic Counterculture in America 1933-1962 more closely than he did. For the upshot of Fisher's argument about Day -- and about Thomas Merton as well -- is that no matter how passionate their devotion to the faith of European Catholicism, peasant or monastic, the Protestant individualism of their respective upbringings was an important component of their celebrity status, and had a significant impact on the future development of U.S. Catholicism.

An acknowledgment of the unconscious as well as the intended effects of a person's life and work would improve Huff's portrait of Tate. Take the matter of Tate's involvement in the New Criticism. Although Huff registers the irony that the New Criticism's call for universal literary standards contributed directly to the abandonment of the quest for a distinctively alternative Catholic culture, he subsequently claims that the countercultural worldview that Tate found so inspiring had been threatened by "competing" values and ideologies without acknowledging that Tate himself had unintentionally advanced those values and ideologies. In point of fact, the close readings and attendance to the text itself that are the practical legacies of the New Criticism helped bring about the poststructuralist experiments in literary and cultural criticism which Huff blames for declining interest in Tate's "unapologetic defense of high culture and unabashed classicism." Similarly, the changes in U.S. Catholicism that Vatican Council II helped to foster may have constituted a betrayal of Tate's convert faith. Then again, his preference for an elite international Catholicism over the devotional, ethnic Catholicism of the immigrant American church may have been more an instance of bad luck or bad timing on his part. What Huff -- and his hero Tate -- seem not to grasp is that what you intend isn't always what you get; sometimes the "accidents" become the "substance."

Perhaps the most unfortunate effect of James Huff's interpretation of Allen Tate is the impression it fosters that there was actually nothing more to him than defensive cultural analysis. Luckily, and in contrast to Huff's assertion that only Neoconservative critics are interested in Tate these days, there is a deeply moving rendition in James Carroll's award-winning memoir, An American Requiem, of Carroll's having been mentored as a young poet by Tate in the 1960s and of the death of Tate's infant son. These seven or eight pages provide the kind of insight into Tate the human being that might have considerably strengthened Huff's biography.


Toward Lives of Commitment

Four researchers spent several years interviewing more than one hundred people whom they identified as having devoted their lives to the "common good" in such fields as education, economic development, science, the arts, politics and social service. While coding and analyzing the interviews to identify patterns that seemed to cut across the personal stories which each of these persons shared, the researchers sought answers to four primary questions: "What are such people like? How do they become that way? What keeps them going in spite of inevitable discouragement?" and "What can be done to encourage this kind of citizenship in others?" The resulting book is a rich tapestry of narrative and analysis in which the authors let their subjects speak in their own voices, and then draw out the influences that seem most important as people move beyond the pursuit of personal interest to commit themselves to a larger purpose. Both narrative and analysis are richly supported by the authors' wide reading in relevant disciplines. Common Fire is a highly readable book, especially useful for groups.

Because the range of interviewees is wide, and the variety of professions in which they find themselves working is diverse, Common Fire should find a broad audience. It should be of particular interest to readers of Cross Currents who are concerned about the ways in which religion functions in the context of postmodern American society. The authors began their work expecting to hear a great deal about the role of faith in shaping lives of commitment. One of the surprises of the study was how little religion figured in the narratives they were transcribing. "We expected. . . . to hear more about the importance of didactic moral lessons, the elaborated content of religious belief, and events creating dramatic shifts in a life's direction and purpose. This was not the case. Moreover, the most powerful pattern to emerge across all the lives we studied was quite unanticipated" (17).

Before dealing with the authors' surprising conclusion, it may be worth commenting on the ambiguities of the word "religion." If it is understood as encompassing only the formal doctrines or practices of a particular faith community, it is easy to see why the authors found surprisingly little of its influence among those they were studying. After all, "didactic moral lessons" and "the elaborated content of religious belief" are not what ignite the imagination or motivate people to become leaders in any field of human endeavor. If there is a "common fire" that inspires people to grapple with problems of poverty, the degradation of the environment, racism, etc., its source lies deeper than what many people, including those interviewed for this book, associate with "religion." Moreover, a large majority of the people profiled here are well-educated, middle and upper middle class professionals, who have been successful in creating or leading institutions in their respective fields. Such persons are among those most likely to have drifted away from a worldview in which one's personal faith is defined by a single denomination or religious tradition. At one point in their analysis, the researchers borrow a saying from Quaker philosopher-mystic, Douglas Steere: "God is always revising our boundaries outward." Their conclusion follows: "Whether they would express this in theistic or other terms, the people we studied would tend to concur."

It soon becomes clear that the self-understandings and worldviews articulated by those interviewed for this book are constructed from the widest possible range of experiences. "The imaginations of the people we studied draw upon a world of images. The natural world, literature, music, film, theater, visual art, and other media such as newspapers, magazines, and radio were all mentioned as wells of important and memorable images. Principal among these was literature of all kinds -- from poetry to philosophy, biography to novels. . . The natural world appeared also as a particularly fruitful source of meaningful imagery." Still, as varied as their sources of inspiration are, the authors identified a number of common themes running through the lives of their interviewees: an awareness of the interconnected and interdependent nature of all life, an ability to deal with ambiguity and complexity, a positive and centered sense of self. But the most significant of these themes was the one the authors identified as the most surprising: "The single most important pattern we have found in the lives of people committed to the common good is what we have come to call a constructive, enlarging engagement with the other.. . . . We had not anticipated this finding, but early in the study as people told us their stories, we began to hear about important encounters with others significantly different from themselves."

By way of illustration, one subject relates how both his experience of Jesus in his Roman Catholic upbringing in the Midwest and his experience of Shiva in his more recent encounters in India inform his understanding of life. Though he formerly tried to keep the Christian and Hindu traditions separate in his mind, recently "they have begun to talk to each other." So the boundaries are again, revised outward. As the authors attempt to map such narrative journeys they recognize that it becomes harder and harder to use words drawn from a particular religious tradition to describe what is going on in the lives of the people they are following. Indeed, the word religion itself becomes increasingly problematic in describing people who are essentially rebuilding their personal faith from the thoroughly deconstructed remains of traditional religion. One observes in this book, and other contemporary writing, a tendency to substitute the words "spiritual" or "spirituality" where the word "religious" or "religion" would have formerly served quite well. In fact, it may not be premature to ask whether this book is inadvertently documenting the emergence of an eclectic spirituality that is thoroughly postdenominational, perhaps even postreligious: not just the "religionless Christianity" that Bonhoeffer envisioned, but a religionless spirituality that combines elements from both sacred and thoroughly secular sources.

Still, there are some countervailing factors at work in the lives of many of the people studied here. For one thing, a broadening of perspectives is sometimes accompanied by a renewed commitment to one's own, or another particular community or tradition. And in this context, the authors suggest that the sort of persons most needed in facing the challenges of the twenty-first century are the kind that Cornel West discusses in Race Matters as "race-transcending prophets," a phrase that might be amended to read "religion-transcending prophets." Such people who do not lose contact with their own particular roots or traditions, yet refuse to be confined by them. They are able to engage individuals of other races, other religions, or other classes, while "enlarging rather than relinquishing their own networks of belonging."

Common Fire is at bottom a very hopeful book which encourages readers with a sense of how many people there are who are leading creative and committed lives, and challenges us to move in similar directions as well. It ends with an epilogue discussing the approaches that one might take to encourage lives of commitment in homes and schools, in colleges and universities, in the professions and professional education, in religion, the arts, and the media, and, of course, in politics and public life. The book is of such importance that ARIL has invited the coauthors of Common Fire to be keynote speakers at Consultations later this year and in 1999. In the first of these, James and Cheryl Keen will be among the leaders of the conference, Becoming the People We Need: Mentors and Mentoring Communities, to be held at Brown University, June 14-17, 1998. Laurent Parks Daloz and Sharon Daloz Parks will be featured speakers at a second conference on June 13-16, 1999. Details about the 1998 conference are found on the back cover of this issue of Cross Currents.

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Briefly Noted


When asked her views on a junior seminary, Maisie Ward responded: "I've never much cared for babies in birettas."

This was the essential Maisie Ward -- pithy, outspoken, very much to the point. Always focused and always on a mission, she had little concern for how she lived or how she looked. She, like ladies of her generation, wore hats but hers was never on quite straight and any veil was always askew. She was so much her own person that her husband, Frank Sheed, once awaited her at trans-Atlantic ship crossing customs under the letter "W." It was only after a frantic search that it dawned on him that she traveled under the name of Sheed -- and there she was under "S."

In The Living of Maisie Ward (University of Notre Dame Press, 1997), Dana Greene has faithfully portrayed the life, times, struggles, triumphs and disasters of a life lived to the fullest. It is a "warts and all" biography in the Ward's ephemeral, ill-conceived housing projects, and her unconcern for familial arrangements are spelled out. Greene recounts Ward's dedication to Holy Mother Church and her writing of substantial, definitive, comprehensive biographies.

Greene weaves Maisie Ward's theological and spiritual growth into the story of people, places, and endeavors of her life. In the early years of this century, the then revolutionary notion (or doctrine) of the Mystical Body of Christ caused some consternation and even fear in many seminaries and among the hierarchy. It was the central concept in Maisie Ward's flowering as a deeply spiritual person and strong advocate of the thinking Catholic.

Maisie Ward was a founder and moving spirit of the Catholic Evidence Guild, which sought to bring the Catholic faith to a broad (mostly working class) public in England by training speakers to bring the good news to Hyde Park Corner and other venues. Guild speakers underwent arduous training in how to make the Church understandable and desirable -- and how to respond to hecklers without putting them down or speaking ill of another persuasion. This experience convinced Ward that a faith unchallenged was no faith at all. It was at the Guild that she met Frank Sheed, an Australian law student.

It was somehow inevitable that the young couple would conceive of bringing the best of Catholic thought to an even larger public under the rubric of a lay-run Catholic publishing house -- thus was born Sheed & Ward, Publishers. (Frank Sheed maintained that it was Mrs. Ward who suggested publishing, as she feared her Maisie might go off to live with the savages in Australia.)

Dana Green is most helpful in tracing the flowering of Catholic letters through the growth of Sheed & Ward and the friendships that grew out of publishing. Christopher Dawson, G. K. Chesterton, E. I. Watkin loom large in this picture. Other successful authors were Ronald Knox, Hubert van Zeller, and Charles Davis. It was a galaxy of stars.

Greene is most sympathetic and compassionate in describing the great sadness that came into Maisie Ward's latter and last days. A great believer in and advocate for the family and its sanctity, the floundering of both Sheed children's marriages left her hurt and quite bewildered. The great changes wrought by Vatican II were not entirely to her liking. She perceived the church as attacked and falling apart. Her response was to reach deep down and rely on the virtue of hope. She would not give in to despair, even with increasing and cruel physical disabilities.

Dana Greene deserves thanks and praise for giving us an abundantly researched labor of love -- the life of an extraordinary, even holy, woman.

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Between 1990 and 1994 over one-half million documented immigrants settled in New York City, almost 50 percent of them Latinos. Earlier, the city's Latino population was dominated by the Puerto Rican migrants. Now the Latino population has become much more diverse, with sizable communities of Dominicans, a small but growing group of Mexicans, as well as Ecuadorians, Colombians, and other groups.

The eleven articles and introductory essay in Latinos in New York: Communities in Transition (University of Notre Dame Press, 1996) offer historical and sociological perspectives of Latino migration and immigration and then focus on policy issues. Of special note is Ana Maria Diaz-Stevens's excellent analysis of the historical development of religious patterns among Puerto Ricans both on the island of Puerto Rico and on the mainland. Puerto Rico was the first site for the institutionalization of Christianity in the New World. By the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth rock, Christianity had already existed for a century on the island of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican Catholicism is syncretic, combining elements from African religious beliefs, the religion of the indigenous Tainos, and more recently, Afro-Cuban religious practices including Santeria. These influences along with Protestantism and Pentecostalism have transformed the religious expression of Puerto Ricans, especially those who live on the mainland.

Reviewers in this issue: Mark Bauerlein teaches at Emory University. Ronald Burke teaches philosophy and religion at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Linell E. Cady is professor of religious studies at Arizona State University. Stuart Z. Charmé is at Rutgers University (Camden). William Egelman teaches at Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y. Charles P. Henderson is executive director of ARIL. Nancy R. Howell is in the religion department at Pacific Lutheran University. Michael Jordan teaches philosophy at Iona College. Jane Kopas teaches religious studies at Scranton University. M. D. Litonjua is associate professor of sociology at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati. Catherine Madsen is a writer living in Amherst, Massachusetts; her most recent article for Cross Currents was "Liturgy for the Estranged," Winter 1996-97. Steve McKinzie is at Dickinson College. Joseph E. O'Connor teaches in the religious studies department at Wittenberg College. William L. Portier is professor of religious studies at Mount Saint Mary's College, Emmitsburg, Md. Alfred E. Prettyman teaches in the humanities and social science departments at Rockland Community College (SUNY). David K. Reeves, who lives in retirement at Princeton, was a long-time editor at Sheed and Ward. Marian Ronan, an associate editor of Cross Currents, is completing her doctorate in religion at Temple University.

Submissions are invited. Please send three copies and a SASE. Also include a HD computer diskette with the word-processing program clearly indicated. In matters of style and usage, follow the Chicago Manual of Style; for documentation, use the new MLA style. Please avoid sexist language. Manuscripts must be double-spaced. The editors will usually respond within eight to ten weeks after receipt of a manuscript.

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