Black Friday book suggestions and a request

I know a lot of you will be looking to buy things online at a discount for Black Friday and this time period. Please consider coming here and using one of my links to go into Amazon. You get the same prices but I get a small percentage of each sale. I can’t see what you buy. This is an important part of my monthly income, thanks in advance.

To get you started today, I received a lovely new book by Joseph Pearce – winning a great reputation as a biographer – about Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI.

This would make a good Christmas gift. It is not overly long or weighed down with extensive notes. There is an index, which helps. It’s forthright about Benedict XVI’s enemies without being over the top. It is quite personal. The forward is by Scott Hahn because Card. Burke went down for a while with COVID-1984.

Benedict XVI: Defender of the Faith


Another favorite of mine by Joseph Pearce is the must read

Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief


I also think that he get’s the whole Shakespeare as Catholic debate right.

The Quest for Shakespeare


Also learned recently, that he scored an interview with the reclusive Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Pingback: Black Friday book suggestions and a request – Via Nova Media

  2. misanthrope says:

    Great suggestions Fr. Have read all the works cited with the exception of the one on Benedict – all very good; the Solzhenitsyn work is excellent (though I am biased, there – Cancer Ward by Solzhenitsyn is one of my favorite books – highly recommend it).

  3. Raphael Sabadim says:

    Father, question

    What would be the consequences of us changing from Gregorian calendar do liturgical calendar?
    Chinese, japanese, Jews have their calendars… Why can’t Christians follow the Churches calendar and what do you suppose would happen if we did?

  4. Semper Gumby says:

    Excellent book suggestions. Literary Converts has a few pages on the road to Rome for actor Alec Guinness (“may the Faith be with you”), his wearing clericals for a movie role and walking through a village back to his hotel during which a chatterbox boy mistook him for a priest, and Guinness’ retreat at a monastery.

    I second misanthrope’s recommendation of Cancer Ward, an allegory of the Soviet state first distributed as samizdat, read it in college on a professor’s suggestion after 1984 and Brave New World. Good suggestion.

  5. Semper Gumby says:

    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1983 Templeton Address:

    “More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened…But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

    The Gulag Archipelago:

    “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say goodbye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? …The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more- we had no awareness of the real situation…We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”

  6. Semper Gumby says:

    Solzhenitsyn interview with Joseph Pearce, St. Austin Review, 2003:

    “In different places over the years I have had to prove that socialism, which to many western thinkers is a sort of kingdom of justice, was in fact full of coercion, of bureaucratic greed and corruption and avarice, and consistent within itself that socialism cannot be implemented without the aid of coercion.

    “Communist propaganda would sometimes include statements such as “we include almost all the commandments of the Gospel in our ideology.” The difference is that the Gospel asks all this to be achieved through love, through self-limitation, but socialism only uses coercion.”

    The Gulag Archipelago:

    “Oh, Western [libertine] “left-wing” thinkers! Oh, left-wing laborists! Oh, American, German and French progressive students! All of this is still not enough for you. The whole book has been useless for you. You will understand everything immediately, when you yourself — “hands behind the back”—toddle into our Archipelago.”

  7. Semper Gumby says:

    On the other hand, in a 2006 Moscow News interview Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn accused NATO of attempting to encircle Russia. In 2008, just before his death, Solzhenitsyn outright praised Vladimir Putin (with a bit of qualification) and also downplayed the Soviet man-made famine, the Holodomor, in the Ukraine. It is possible in 2021 Solzhenitsyn would revise and even reject a number of his statements.

    Solzhenitsyn also misunderstood and condemned the “Enlightenment” in the West. There were many complexities to the “Enlightenment.” Briefly, many “Enlightenment” thinkers grappled with how to limit the coercive power of the state, and attempted to define the rights and responsibilities of the individual. There was a British Enlightenment- see Gertrude Himmelfarb’s description of it as mainly “moral philosophers concerned with a sociology of virtue.” There was an American Enlightenment, which among other things produced the Federalist Papers which specifically avoided utopian politics, and acknowledged individual rights as “endowed by their Creator.” Then there was the French Enlightenment, which combined an exaltation of “Reason” with Solzhenitsyn’s “forgetting of God,” thus differing disastrously from the other two.

    At the end of his life Solzhenitsyn, a stout son of the Russian Orthodox Church and a healthy Russian patriot who unfortunately strayed into tribal nationalism and even a bit of xenophobia, damaged his legacy. In 2007 Pres. Putin awarded Solzhenitsyn the State Prize of the Russian Federation. Solzhenitsyn received a state funeral in Moscow in 2008, though many dissidents, Soviet-era and Putin-era, expressed disagreement with some of his later writings and speeches. For example, Solzhenitsyn’s 1990 essay as the Soviet Union collapsed: “Rebuilding Russia.” A brief quote with implications in 2021: “White Russians [Belarusians] and Little Russians [Ukrainians] acknowledged that they were Russians and fought against Polonization and Catholicism.”

    All that said, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn’s Soviet-era dissident activities, novels, many of his speeches and interviews, and The Gulag Archipelago are monumental achievements and important warnings for the West.

  8. Semper Gumby says:

    Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Jesuits in 1773, but they survived in Russia with the assistance of Catherine the Great and Joseph de Maistre, who was a court favorite of Czar Alexander I. De Maistre and the Jesuits focused on improving education in Russia, De Maistre was concerned the Romanovs would meet the same fate as the Bourbons in France. Russian nobles for the most part believed they could control the suppressed Jesuits.

    Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia produced a surge in patriotism and nationalism, then in 1814 Pope Pius VII restored the Jesuits. Also in 1814 the Russian Army entered Paris and were exposed directly to French politics and philosophy.

    The Jesuits in Russia, who had converted several nobles to Catholicism and were opposed to the Czar’s Bible Society, were now increasingly viewed as subversive to Holy Mother Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. By 1820 the Jesuits and De Maistre were expelled from Russia. In 1822 Alexander I issued an order banning Freemasonry and secret political societies, though Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace published decades later details Masonic rituals through characters such as Count Willarski.

  9. Semper Gumby says:

    George Weigel’s 2011 William E. Simon Lecture, printed later in First Things and collected in The Fragility of Order:

    “In a dinner conversation in late 1996, Pope John Paul II’s longtime secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz, said, when speaking of the Catholic Church’s struggle against communism in Poland, “You must understand that it was always “them” and “us.”” That is, the struggle between communism and Catholicism was not a matter of episodic confrontations, nor could it be understood by analogy to a parliamentary government and its opposition. It was all war, all the time.”

    “Feared by Stalin as the repository of Ukrainian national consciousness and hated by the leadership of Russian Orthodoxy for their adhesion to Rome, the Greek Catholics were caught in a political-ecclesiastical vise that closed on them with lethal force in 1946, when an illegal Sobor, or church council, was held in L’viv in western Ukraine. Staged by the Soviet secret police with the blessing of Russian Orthodoxy’s Moscow patriarchate, the L’viv Sobor dissolved the 1596 Union of Brest, which had brought Ukrainian Greek Catholics into full communion with Rome, and announced that this local church had been “reunited” with Russian Orthodoxy. ”

    “Perhaps the most dramatic Soviet-bloc attempt to manipulate the work of Vatican II involved an old nemesis, Cardinal Wyszy?ski of Poland.”

    “One well-placed Polish secret police collaborator in Rome, Father Michal Czajkowski (code-named JANKOWSKI), worked with the SB chief at the Polish embassy in Rome and directly with SB Department IV in Warsaw to furnish the secret police and the Polish communist government with regular reports.”

    “…by 1969, the Hungarian bishops’ conference was in large measure controlled by the Hungarian state. So was the Pontifical Hungarian Institute in Rome, all of whose rectors in the late 1960s and half of whose students were trained agents of Hungarian secret intelligence…The most accomplished of these moles, Fritz Kuzen (MOZART), was an employee of Vatican Radio.”

    “Two Lithuanian KGB agents, ANTANAS and VIDMANTAS, studied at the Gregorian University, while two others, DAKTARAS and ZHIBUTE, participated in meetings of the Vatican commission charged with the reform of canon law.”

    “In 1969, KGB chairman Andropov authorized a new series of active measures against the Vatican…”

    “In November 1973, the SB’s Department IV created “Independent Group D,” which was assigned the task of “distintegrating” Polish Catholicism through a coordinated attack on the Church’s integrity.”

    “The Polish SB, for its part, marked their countryman’s election as bishop of Rome by deploying to the Eternal City a particularly sophisticated agent, Edward Kotowski (PIETRO)…Working clandestinely under the cover of a diplomatic posting at the Polish embassy in Rome, PIETRO cultivated an extensive network of Vatican contacts…”

    “John Paul II suspected that the Holy See had been penetrated by Soviet-bloc intelligence and changed the papal routine to provide some measure of counter-intelligence capacity. Materials dealing with Poland and other sensitive matters were no longer archived for ready reference in the Secretariat of State; rather, they were kept in the papal apartment, where there was no chance for mischief-makers to prowl about. John Paul also declined to dictate memoranda of conversations with notables such as Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, evidently concerned that such notes might fall into the wrong hands somewhere along the curial paper trail. So he and his secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz, got together every night to review the day’s appointments and conversations, Dziwisz keeping notes in a series of diaries that remained under his control in the papal apartment.”

    “On this occasion, the SB worked in close collaboration with the Stasi, whose legendary spymaster, Markus Wolf, had his own intelligence asset in the Vatican: a German Benedictine, Eugen Brammertz (LICHTBLICK), who worked for the German edition of L’Osservatore Romano.”

    “The plot unraveled when Grzegorz Piotrowski of Independent Group D, the man charged with planting the fake diary in the home of a prominent Cracovian priest, got roaring drunk after the successful break-in, crashed his car, and told the traffic police what he had been up to.”

    “The Catholic Church’s experience with Soviet communism may also hold lessons for the Church’s relationship with Russian Orthodoxy and the Russian state today.”

  10. Semper Gumby says:

    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. In 1980 the Nobel was awarded to Polish Catholic Czeslaw Milosz, author of The Captive Mind. Published in 1953, The Captive Mind offers insight today. Andrew Michta in the Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2020:

    “Czeslaw Milosz, a future Nobel Prize-winning poet who had just defected from Poland, began work in 1951 on a book called “The Captive Mind.” Even as Stalinist totalitarianism tightened its grip on Eastern Europe, many Western European intellectuals lauded the brave new world of Soviet communism as a model for overcoming “bourgeois forces,” which in their view had caused World War II. Living in Paris, Mi?osz wrote his book, which was published in 1953, to warn the West of what happens to the human mind and soul in a totalitarian system.

    “Milosz knew from experience, having lived through the Communist takeover, how totalitarianism strips men and women of their liberty, transforming them into “affirmative cogs” in service of the state and obliterating what had taken centuries of Western political development to achieve. Totalitarianism not only enslaved people physically but crippled their spirit. It did so by replacing ordinary human language, in which words signify things in the outside world, with ideologically sanctioned language, in which words signify the dominant party’s ever-changing ideas of what is and is not true.”

    “Milosz, who died in 2004, would see an American mind [not all minds] bloated by a steady diet of identity politics and group grievance served up by ideologues in schools [not all schools] nationwide. These ideologues have nearly succeeded in remaking our politics and culture; they are reinforced by a media in thrall to groupthink [not all media], by credentialed bureaucrats, and by politicians shaped in the monochrome factories of intellectual uniformity that are America’s institutions of higher learning [not all colleges]. American society is faced with a stark binary choice. Either we push back against the unrelenting assault of the neo-Marxist narrative, or we yield to the totalitarian impulse now in full view in our politics.”

    From a September 2017 New Criterion review of a Czeslaw Milosz biography by David Pryce-Jones:

    “By the time I [Pryce-Jones] met him [Milosz] at a conference in Budapest in 1989 as the Soviet bloc was falling apart, he had become a Grand Old Man, handsome, upright, and well dressed, just as he might have looked if he’d spent his life in Szetejnie when the Tsar was on the throne. The egregious Susan Sontag and a gaggle of British lefties did not like it that I spoke against socialism. One of them said in true “poputchik” style [poputchik: not a full Communist Party member but a “fellow traveler”] that the Soviet Union may have had Stalin, but Britain had Mrs. Thatcher. Milosz crossed the room and said to me loudly enough for others to hear, “I have nothing but contempt for these people.”

    “The last thing Milosz wrote was a request to Pope John Paul II: “In the last few years I wrote poems in which I consciously adhered to Catholic orthodoxy, but I am not sure whether I was successful in achieving that. I therefore ask for your words confirming my pursuit of our common goal.” The Pope replied, “I am happy to confirm your words about our “pursuing a common goal.”” It may serve as Milosz’s message to posterity. Having returned to Krakow, he died there in 2004, by then an American citizen.”

  11. Semper Gumby says:

    In addition to the recommendations made above by our genial host:

    Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 by Cardinal Ratzinger.

    – Peter Seewald’s book-length interviews with Cardinal Ratzinger.

    One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Anton Chekhov’s short stories.

    – David Pryce-Jones’ book-length interviews of Communist Party officials, industrialists, military officers and dissidents collected in The Strange Death of the Soviet Empire (also titled The War That Never Was: The Fall of the Soviet Empire 1985-1991). This book offers much insight into conditions behind the Iron Curtain, but, caution here. Many of the interviewees adopt the position that the collapse of the Soviet Empire was due to “internal weakness” and was inevitable. That is false.

    Briefly, after the West successfully resisted Stalin with the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49 the West then adopted the strategy of “containment.” Containment was a losing strategy. Then, in 1979 John Paul II’s “Nine Days” in Poland began a sequence of events which led to Solidarity’s victory in Poland in 1989 that in turn led to the fall of the Berlin Wall later that year. Also in key roles throughout the 1980s were Prime Minister Thatcher, President Reagan, and millions of dissidents and hardy freedom-loving souls behind the Iron Curtain and in troubled places elsewhere such as El Salvador- all who refused to surrender to an evil totalitarian regime and were determined to rollback Soviet advances made during the 1950s-1970s.

    To drill down a bit further, see Western activities such as: QRHELPFUL (covert aid to Solidarity), AEDINOSAUR (the novel Dr. Zhivago, the Holy See’s pavilion at the 1958 World’s Fair, and balloons), Maj. Gen. Dmitri Polyakov, Adolf Tolkachev, Morris Childs (the FBI’s SOLO file), the FAREWELL Dossier and France, the covert funding of the films Animal Farm and 1984, to name just a few. Additional historical background can be found in the VENONA decrypts (evidence of Soviet espionage in FDR’s New Deal administration and in the Los Alamos A-bomb project), the Vassiliev notebooks, and the Mitrokhin archive.

    The battle against Soviet Communism spanned many decades, requiring the exertions of Western statesmen, Catholic clergy, Russian dissidents, pro-liberty civilians and military personnel on both sides of the Iron Curtain, bible-smuggling Protestant groups, etc.

    So, Pryce-Jones’ book is worth a read, many interesting details, but kindly be aware of the frequent “big picture” distortions made by many interviewees. During the Cold War more things were going on in heaven and earth than dreamt of in “internal weakness” philosophy.

    – Early Cold War memoirs such as With God in Russia by Walter Ciszek SJ and Zbigniew Stypulkowski’s Invitation to Moscow. Pius XI’s 1937 encyclical Divini Redemptoris (“Against the Commies”).

    – Historians Richard Pipes, Paul Kengor, George Weigel’s The End and The Beginning, Reagan’s War by Peter Schweizer (including Catholics DCI Bill Casey and National Security Advisor William Clark).

    – Michael D. O’Brien’s The Father’s Tale. A weighty volume, a great story, a Russian novel written by a Canadian Catholic. Excellent.

  12. Semper Gumby says:

    Pope Benedict XVI: “Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine” seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

    Food for thought for Tucker Carlson, Tulsi Gabbard, Rod Dreher and others, who are assuming incorrectly that Washington DC is “picking a fight” with Moscow.

    They should take time away from handwringing and virtue signaling to educate themselves with the facts- there are many. These three and others are not only engaging in relativism, they are aligning themselves with statements originating from the dictatorial Putin regime. True, any bellicosity by the West or NATO is unhelpful. However, appeasing dictators, as history has proven, undermines deterrence and encourages belligerence.

  13. Semper Gumby says:

    In a 1983 speech Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” An excellent point, which raises another. An autocrat who is a Russian Orthodox tribalist is not a Christian statesman.

    Comments on church attendance in Russia, Putin’s persecution of Christians, his multiple invasions of neighbors, nuclear bomber intrusions, modifying the Russian constitution to extend his rule to 2036, deceptive speeches, etc:

  14. Semper Gumby says:

    From the link in the previous comment:

    “Two examples of Putin’s unhelpfulness. First, his repeated violations of the Open Skies Treaty. Open Skies **permits overflights of reconnaissance aircraft to reduce the likelihood of war.** Open Skies was first proposed by Pres. Eisenhower and rejected by the Soviets. In 1992 (pre-Putin) the treaty was signed and went into effect in 2002. **After years of violations by Putin,** Pres. Trump in May 2020 withdrew the U.S. from Open Skies. Putin’s state controlled media (such as RT) of course blames the West, and Putin in January 2021 signalled withdraw from the Treaty. In May **Biden said the U.S. would not re-enter Open Skies (agreeing with Pres. Trump on Putin’s violations),** and Putin in June formally withdrew from Open Skies.”

    The second example involves Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, which also violated the earlier agreement between Russia, the United States, Great Britain and Ukraine that guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for eliminating its nuclear weapons.

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