Monday, August 29, 2005

Recent Doings

As readers of the effervescent Catholic and Enjoying It know, Mark Shea has finished writing a book on the Blessed Virgin. That's why he's been so scarce in the blogosphere this past year or so. It's also why I've been so scarce in the blogosphere for the last four months or so; I was helping out as a no-doubt-minor member of Mark's "trusty team of editors."

This is by far the most ambitious authorial project Mark's undertaken. The book has fourteen chapters which discuss and explain the Church's teaching and devotion to our Lady to wary Evangelicals and misguided Catholics alike. Without vanity I can say that "I know this stuff" about as well as an educated layman can possibly know it. Mark's book was still an eye-opener to me, and it will be to lots of other Catholics and to Evangelicals who've been snookered by the counter-Catholic polemics of their religious culture.

The book presents clear, concise, and highly-readable explanations of virtually all Marian things ranging from the earliest stirrings of Marian devotion to the proclamation of the Assumption in 1950. Relatively minor matters, such as our Lady's appearance at Knock, which are not covered in exhaustive detail are still generally discussed and placed in their proper theological, historical, and cultural context. As a kind of "intermediate-level primer" on Mariology, the book should be found in the library of any Catholic. But that isn't the book's most salutary aspect, in my opinion.

The most salutary aspect comes from Mark's broad experience as a pagan, then an Evangelical Christian, and his wide reading and deep appreciation of the progressive godlessness of Western civilization. In addition to explaining what Catholics believe about Mary, Mark has managed a brilliant portrait of why Mary matters. Catholics accustomed to thinking of Marian devotion in "honor thy mother" terms, as a "merely" fitting complement to the Incarnation without natural value or practical influence in our lives, will be astonished to read how Mary has served the Church of her Son as a weapon against heresy, despair, and their inevitable culmination in the culture of death.

English-speaking Catholics who are seriously interested in pursuing Marian reading have two choices. One is to purchase Carrol's massive three-volume work, Mariology, read and study it, then spend a couple of years or so "updating" their knowledge in light of John Paul II's pontificate. The other is to acquire Mark's book which, in a broad and sufficient way, gives you every salient benefit of Carrol's work and the enhanced appreciation of Mary which has come about through John Paul's papacy. The readability of Mark's work, and its division into Chapters which can be read separately, highly recommends it. When it's published, everyone I know who is interested in Catholicism is going to get a copy.

Mark's book is, as modern Catholic apologetics go, a long book. There's a reason for that. I've said before that while Mary isn't the sum and substance of the Catholic faith, she is a rubric for all of it. There simply is no way to write a book of this high value about Mary and not discuss just about everything else Catholicism is, has been, or may become. That Mark has managed the task in a single book is a prodigy of elegance. I think this work may well be a major part of Catholicism's apologetics for decades to come.

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