UPDATE – Book recommendations as things fall apart



Today I saw at First Things a review of three books along a common theme.  Guess which three books they were.

Here is an interesting point (for links to the books, scroll down):

All three of these books make reference to the decline and fall of Rome. Esolen’s Out of the Ashes begins with a quote from Livy lamenting the eclipse of the Roman Republic, followed by lines from St. Jerome after the sack of Rome in 410. Esolen writes that America, like Rome, declined not ultimately “from without,” but instead fell by “sagging into lethargy and indifference from within.” Both Dreher in The Benedict Option and Archbishop Chaput in Strangers in a Strange Land devote pages to the famous closing lines in Alasdair MacIntyre’s sweeping critique of liberal modernity, After Virtue….


Originally Published on: Mar 13

I suspect that many of us are acutely aware that things are not going well in the world and in the Church.   Structures are toppling, literally.  What to do?

I bring to the attention of the readership a couple of books I am presently into.  I alternate for the sake of variety.   My Kindle is getting a work out.  US HERE – UK HERE for an entry level option.

Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World by Archbp. Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia. US HERE – UK HERE

I’ll have more to say about this one in the future. And, no, it isn’t a science fiction book. (Some of you will get that reference.)

Along the same line … which goes to show that great minds think alike…

Anthony Esolen’s Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture  US HERE – UK HERE

What to do?

Do we rebuild?  Do we walk away from the wreckage and withdraw?  Do we engage?  De we retreat?

I’ll be attending soon a talk about this very matters with Rod Dreher, who will spark some conversation about these matters in The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation– US HERE – UK HERE  This is to be released on 14 March (tomorrow, as I write), and so it is available now, today, at a greatly reduced pre-order price.   I’m putting it on my Kindle Wishlist.

BTW… “Benedict” here refers to St. Benedict, the 6th c. abbot.

Meanwhile, let’s have some Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. hwriggles4 says:

    I’m sure others will mention this, and I believe Fr, Zuhlsdorf had a post about it a few months ago. I haven’t personally read it, but it is Hope for the World by Raymond Cardinal Burke. I was at a fundraiser for a crisis pregnancy center in January 2017 where the good Cardinal was present.

    I also recommend (which I have read) the short (about 30 pages) document by Bishop Olmstead on the Pastoral letter for men titled Into The Breach. A pdf version can be found online.

  2. Uxixu says:

    Where’s the Charlemagne option?

  3. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I cannot tell you, dear Father, how often the lines from Yeats’ poem come to mind these days…

  4. NBW says:

    Archbishop Chaput’s book is very good so far. The other two books look like very good reads too!

  5. acardnal says:

    Rod Dreher, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, is scheduled to be on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News channel tonight, March 13, to discuss his book. 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT

    This is Dreher’s latest column where he writes about his new book: HERE

  6. Kerry says:

    Uxixu, not forgetting Roland and Olivier!

  7. Semper Gumby says:

    hwriggles4: Thanks for the recommendations. Cdl. Burke’s Hope for the World is in my stack of reading. Bp. Olmsted’s Into the Breach is also available in audio version on the Into the Breach website.

    From Dreher’s previous blog posts, (see acardnal’s comment), it seems that Dreher’s new book will discuss Catholic themes such as the monks at Norcia, and Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma that has a Catholic village growing around it.

  8. Semper Gumby says:

    Uxixu and Kerry: A Charlemagne and Roland option indeed. Perhaps we could add an Alcuin option to promote solid education and catechesis. If I recall, though Roland came to an unfortunate end fighting Islamist invaders, the Song of Roland helped inspire the First Crusade.

    Which brings to mind this paragraph from Bp. Olmsted’s Into the Breach:

    “Throughout all of history, including the history of Christianity, important movements were spurred on by bands of brothers, friends in Christ. The Early Church Fathers St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Basil were great friends and co-workers in the defense of Christ as they stood for the truth and defeated early heresies threatening the Church. St. Benedict and his monastic companions established communities of men that preserved and furthered Western culture in the face of barbarian destruction.”

  9. Dienekes says:

    Just got Bp. Chaput’s book. I scanned the chapters, but on first glance it looks like all the other fixit volumes. I may not even read it. After 60 plus years of getting hammered by our own hierarchy their credibility is pretty well shredded.

    Fr. Z's Sour Grapes Award

  10. acardnal says:

    FatherZ , perhaps you should include Alisdair MacIntyre ‘s After Virtue to your reading list.

  11. Maltese says:

    I also greatly admire the Orthodox faith, but I believe the Catholic rite to be the more legitimate one; because you can only have one Pope, as much as I think the current one is silly, as were the Borgia Popes.

  12. capchoirgirl says:

    I’ve read both Esolen and Dreher. I liked Esolen’s a little better because there were more concrete examples/suggestions (especially in the realm of liturgy). Dreher provides a sort of overview of how we got here and is more overtly political, which makes sense, given his background. But both are good reads.

  13. Semper Gumby says:

    Insightful essay from First Things.  “Traditional Christians now wonder if a just and righteous society must be built in opposition to a national creed that has led inexorably to libertinism.”  This appears to be the heart of the matter for these three authors, and this essay sums up their answers.  (I’ll have to move these three books up my reading list.)

    This essay makes another good point.  The Founders adopted Enlightenment-era ideas of freedom, but Tocqueville warned that individualism can lead to libertinism.  A society with few moral constraints and declining faith and civility then requires a stronger and stronger central government to “preserve freedom.” That, of course, can lead to authoritarianism and perhaps totalitarianism.

    The 2014 Obergefell Supreme Court decision (if I recall, Dreher in other writings calls this decision a key turning point in the culture wars), is an example of simultaneously expanding “liberty” while also increasing intolerance towards Christians. Of course, much of pop culture and some public school and university teachers and textbooks displayed antagonism toward Christianity before 2014.

    Then again, many “progressive” Christians support Obergefell. As the author of the First Things essay points out: “Even where religious faith persists…religion for many Americans is individualistic and therapeutic rather than a source of discipline and moral norms.”

    Certainly, the coarseness of Western culture and the decline of “discipline and moral norms” did not begin in 2014. In a June 1999 New Criterion essay- “The Moral Consequences of Impatience”- John O’Sullivan takes a rapid tour of various 20th century socialist and cultural revolutions. It opens with this:

    “In order to see where we are going, it might help to recall where we used to be. In mid-Victorian England, a group of illiterate workers in a Lancashire mill town hired a local teacher to give weekly public readings of Macaulay’s History of England, at the time just published. At their close they voted to send a message of thanks to the historian for bringing the history of their country within the reach of uneducated working men…”

    “Between the Boer War and the First World War, my own grandfather managed a public house in the Liverpool Dock Road, frequented mainly by dockers. My grandmother sometimes served behind the bar. On only one occasion did a customer use foul language in her presence, at which some of the “regulars” took him aside for a quiet word. He returned and apologized.”

    “These tales of Victorian respectability and aspiration do not, of course, exhaust the full range of working-class experience of those days. Reports of the squalor of Victorian slums, the number of London prostitutes, or the poor physical condition of British Army recruits in 1914 will balance the picture. But they describe the direction in which English, American, and continental European societies were travelling a hundred years ago–and even the moral and cultural solidity which they had already achieved.”

    Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.

  14. Andy Lucy says:

    I grok what you did there, Fr.

  15. A.D. says:

    I, too, am old enough to “grok”. And thank you, Father and others, for all the good reading suggestions.

  16. Charles E Flynn says:

    From Christians Who Shill for the Secular Left, by Paul Kengor, for Crisis Magazine:

    These three authors [Esolen, Dreher, and Chaput] see in our culture nothing short of a collapse of a basic grasp of human nature, an aggressive repudiation of human essentials that every Western culture has innately understood since at least the time of Christ, an unthreading of the moral fabric that has held America together since its inception. They discern an undeniable unraveling and rewriting of institutions as utterly elemental as marriage, family, sexuality, and even our very gender, which they view as absolutes ordained by the laws of nature and nature’s God. More so, they have stuck out their necks in saying so.

  17. Semper Gumby says:

    “All three of these books make reference to the decline and fall of Rome.”

    Here’s a brief look at a few books that look closely at the fall of Rome:

    -Peter Brown in 1971 wrote “The World of Late Antiquity.” For Brown, there was no collapse or barbarian conquest. Rather, he rejects decay and catastrophe, painting a picture of the Empire transforming into a multi-cultural society. This book led to a vocabulary shift in certain academic quarters from “decline” and “crisis” to “transition” and “change.”

    -Peter Heather does much better than Brown in 2005 with “The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians.” Heather takes a clear-eyed view of problems both internal and external. But, Heather writes: “There is in all this [the destruction of Rome] a pleasing denouement. By virtue of its unbounded aggression Roman imperialism was ultimately responsible for its own destruction.” This is both callous and incorrect. Heather himself wrote about the pressure the Huns were placing on Germanic tribes, for example.

    Heather is worth reading, but should be supplemented by Thomas Madden and Bryan Ward-Perkins. Thomas Madden, in Empires of Trust, 2008, raises the intriguing theory that Roman expansion during the Republic was to prevent Rome being sacked yet again, and also an effort to gain/defend allies. Madden also has some interesting things to say in this book against the shrill Left post-9/11.

    -Bryan Ward-Perkins’ 2005 book “The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization” is more of a 190-page essay rather than a straightforward chronicle of events. Ward-Perkins is an archaeologist/historian and carefully examines the physical evidence. This well-written little book demolishes Brown’s multi-cultural transformation thesis, and fills in key gaps in Heather’s book. Ward-Perkins sifts through pottery distribution, the sizes of churches, graffiti content, the shrinking sizes of cattle bones, the decline of population in Rome and villages to its north, etc., to highlight that the fall of Rome was a miserable, lethal, and destructive event.

    Here’s how Ward-Perkins begins Chapter Two:

    “In 446 Leo, bishop of Rome, wrote to his colleagues in the North African province of Mauretania Caesariensis. In this letter Leo grappled with the problem of how the Church should treat nuns raped by the Vandals some fifteen years earlier, as they passed through Mauretania on their way to Carthage–‘handmaids of God who have lost the integrity of their honour through the oppression of the barbarians’, as Leo discreetly put it.”

  18. Semper Gumby says:

    Charles E Flynn: Thanks for the link. I’ve been a fan of Kengor since his God and Ronald Reagan.

  19. OldProfK says:

    I just started the e-book of After Virtue, courtesy of my institution’s library. I’ll put the others on the list. Thank you, Father Z.

    Semper Gumby, I read Ward-Perkins a few years back. I agree with you — it’s excellent.

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