When we think back on the 20th Century, the first thing that enters most of our minds is war. The United States and other global parties lived through two World Wars and many lives were lost. When we look at the Catholic landscape in the 20th Century, the big event that comes to mind is the Second Vatican Council. However, there was so much going on in this century, both in the secular world and the Catholic world, that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Robert Royal’s latest book A Deeper Vision provides a brief (600+ pages) overview of the Catholic intellectual tradition of the 20th Century. Such figures discussed include Ratzinger, Wojtyla, du Lubac, Pieper, Chesterton, and Tolkien just to name a few! Royal’s book is divided into the following sections:
1. The Thomist Revival and Preconcilar Catholic Thought
2. Catholic Philosophy in a Time of Turmoil
3. Theology and the Throes of Modernity
4. Critical Interlude: The Second Vatican Council
5. A Renewed Theology and Modern Culture
6. The Three Ages of Scripture Studies
7. Scripture Study after the Council
Part Two: Creed and Culture
8. The Emergence of Culture as a Protagonist
9. Freshness Deep Down Things: The Catholic Literary Revival
10. The Two Frances
11. The Motley Society and After
I started this book at the beginning, as you would any book, but quickly found myself puzzled. Philosophy has never been my strong suit, nor has Thomas Aquinas. I plugged along, absorbing as much as I could. Chapter Three I started to get more familiar with the subject matter and didn’t feel as overwhelmed. I found Pope Paul VI’s statement on Vatican II very telling. He said that he felt “the sensation that through some fissure, the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God. There is doubt, uncertainty, trouble, disquiet, dissatisfaction, confrontation. The Church is not trusted. . . . It was believed that after the [Second Vatican] Council there would be a day of sunshine for the history of the Church. What has come instead is a day of clouds, of darkness, of seeking, of uncertainty. . . . We believe that something preternatural (the devil) has come into the world to disturb, to suffocate, the fruits of the Ecumenical Council and to prevent the Church from bursting into a hymn of joy for having regained full awareness of itself.”
As a book lover, I found the chapter on the Catholic Literary Revival to be most fascinating. Apart from talking about the great writers like Chesterton, Tolkien, and Belloc, Royal treats us to some excerpts of their writings. Chesterton’s “Wine and Water” is one such example we read in this book. As a lover of the Bible, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Chapter Six and Seven. We learn about different Biblical interpretation methods and how interpretation methods have changed and evolved over time. We also learn about the three criteria Church Fathers have to guarantee that the interpretation method is in line with what the author wrote. First, you must keep divine authorship in mind. Second, you must keep in mind the content and unity of the whole work. Lastly, you must keep in mind church tradition and the “analogy of faith.”
Overall, I found A Deeper Vision to be a deep but edifying book. It is not a book you just skim and put down, but one you read slowly and digest piece by piece. I think it would be especially useful in a classroom setting at the high school and/or college level, both in Catholic schools and in the homeschool setting. If you are looking for an impressive overview of the Catholic Church’s intellectual tradition in the 20th Century, then this is the book for you. It is the perfect skeleton (and I say that lightly for a 600+ page book) that will provide you with plenty of names of people to read and flesh out your understanding on many different subjects.
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Copyright 2015 Stuart Dunn