Friday, April 11, 2008

Book Review: Mary Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan

I finally finished this book which I've been reading for something like 6 months. It's not that the book is long (or dull) it's just that I'm slow when it comes to reading books.

I thought Pelikan's writing style has improved immensely since the 70s when he wrote his famous series on Church history. There were a few chapters however, that were highly reminiscent - where I read the entire chapter and had to constantly keep my mind from wondering and then finally not being able to regurgitate anything I had just read. I can't quite put my finger on what it is but sometimes he gets going and all I can think is 'where in the name of all that is holy is he going with this' or rather 'why in the name of all that is holy is going there' or more often still 'I wonder what I'll have for dinner to... oh yea I'm literally in the process of reading the book and I'm not paying attention'. There were really only one or two chapters like that and they were ones heavily dependent on the work of others.

I would recommend the book though and I think Protestants would enjoy it as well. I believe he was still a Protestant when he wrote this but you can tell by some of his wording that he was nearing the end of that. He did observe the reformation arguments rather fairly for both sides I thought.

My biggest complaint though was his 20th century liberal subtleties which I've noticed surfacing in some other good scholars I've read. Though not dominating by any means, there were a few quotes here and there that can really put off anyone who hasn't bought into the whole "the Church fathers were misogynists" nonsense. I think this quote exemplifies the subtlety of his liberal errors best:

If we could enable the silent millions among Medieval women to recover their voices, the evidence that we do have from those relatively few who did leave a written record strongly suggests that it was with the figure of Mary that many of them identified themselves - with her humility, yes, but also with her defiance and with her victory:
With her defiance? WTF? "With her humility, yes but"?? When was the last time you heard anyone apologize for Christ's humility? When did anyone ever shy away from a full embrace of Christ's humility in favor of championing some extra-Christian ideology? There were a few moments like that where I just wanted to smack him but otherwise, it was a very level headed book. In fact, the gems far outweigh those moments. Here's a gem:
The paradox of Mary as Virgin Mother not only effectively illustrated but decisively shaped the fundamental paradox of the Orthodox and Catholic view of sexuality, which was epitomized by the glorification of virginity over matrimony - and by the celebration of matrimony, but not of virginity, as a sacrament.
See what I mean about him starting to see the beauty and truth of the Church's teaching?


andrew said...

thank you. my sentiments precisely. Our Defiant Lady?

defiance is another of the new virtues. these refer not to anything in reality (defiance of what?); rather, they are strong emotional ends-in-themselves, and to experience those feelings is to be, ipso facto, virtuous. examples include: defiance, indignation, indulgence, willfullness and lust.

the marks of a "good," modern historian are: (1) (s)he will suggest that every significant woman in history secretly felt, and inwardly acquiesced to, and drew secrect strength from, these emotions; (2) (s)he will suggest that every significant man in history was a homosexual, or at least had homosexual inclinations; hence, despite his outward acts and public words, he was emotionally, to some degree, a repressed woman (ergo, of interest to the modern historian).

when my reading was focused upon anglican writers, it quickly became apparant that virtually every book written after the 1950s by an academic historian elicited an occasional WTF. when reading catholic academics (e.g., james white on liturgy) the effect is much the same.

andrew said...

I should add that Dr. White was a UMC minister who simply taught liturgics at a "catholic" university (Notre Dame).

Tim A. Troutman said...

Oh ok I was a bit confused. I was thinking of the other Dr. James White.

andrew said...

ah.... the rip-roaring james white. much superior, as a type, to the 'academic' one.