A Mystical Portrait of Jesus: New Perspectives on John’s Gospel by Demetrius Dumm OSB

You really can’t go wrong with anything written by the late biblical scholar Fr. Demetrius Dumm. He is one of the few elite scholars who writes not only in an accessible and understandable manner, but also captures the spiritual meaning of Scripture. Perhaps this is partly due to his Benedictine background.

Given Fr. Dumm’s track record, one can justifiably anticipate his reflections on John’s Gospel, which departs so much from the Synoptics. Fr. Dumm does not disappoint at all.

A Mystical Portrait of Jesus is distinctive for its broad audience. Scholar to neophyte can find it fruitful, for it goes beyond the historical critical method, without downplaying or ignoring it, in an effort to plumb the depths of John’s insights.

This book, like Fr. Dumm’s other works, have the unusual quality of imparting an innovative approach to personal biblical appropriation. It puts John in context, identifies his tendencies, and helps the reader to derive proper and in some cases unconventional interpretations and applications.

John’s Gospel is particularly ripe for such an approach, and thus this makes a fitting cap to Fr. Dumm’s writing career. The book holds your interest from beginning to end, and most important eovkes thought and reflection. It will help you appreciate both the historical critical method and the contemplative, Ignatian and Benedictine approaches to Scripture on a deeper level. Highly recommended.

The book is available from The Liturgical Press, whose website is litpress.org. Their phone number is 1-800-858-5450. Published in 2001, the book retails at $29.95

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Easter Fire: Fire Starters for the Easter Weekday Homily by Fr. Joseph Juknialis and Bishop Richard J. Sklba

If you watch or attend daily mass, or read the lectionary readings, Easter Fire should not be an optional purchase. Call it essentially mandatory. A sequel to the previous volumes on Ordinary time readings, it exhibits many of the same qualities: sound exegesis, concise conclusions, and accessible explanations and applications. The addition of Fr. Juknialis is barely noticeable, which is a good thing. Their work is seamless and helpful.

Bishop Sklba is a highly respected biblical scholar and has been a prominent proponent of lay biblical spirituality within the American Church. He has identified disconcerting popularization trends at the grass roots level, and is a deft proponent of the historical critical method used in accordance with magisterial guidelines. He was instrumental in the revisions of the New American Bible translation. This book is interesting to read as well as insightful, and thus is well worth the investment. It is available from The Liturgical Press at a cost of $24.95.  Their website is litpress.org., and their phone number is 1-800-858-5450.

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Moral Reflections on the Book of Job: Volume 5 (Translated by Brian Kerns, OCSO)

Cistercian Press continues their updated translation and release of a spiritual classic with the publication of Volume 5 of Gregory the Great’s “Moral Reflections on the Book of Job.”  The translator is Brother Brian Kerns, who has lived primarily at the Abbey at Gethsemani in Kentucky, and at the Abbey of the Genesee in New York.

 

I have reviewed previous volumes of this translation, so I will confine myself to particularities of this volume. Please reference the aforementioned for background information on the book itself and Gregory, as well as my own work with the book of Job.

This volume is particularly noteworthy for its excellent introduction. It discusses the uniqueness of this particular section of the Moralia, and how the reader might fruitfully approach it. It also underscores the enduring value and significance of the work in a way that draws the reader in and evokes anticipation.

This is a volume that is ripe for lectio divina, as well as learning how to be responsibly creative in accommodating the text to personal needs. In the mode of patristic biblical expositions, and by insightfully, even encyclopedia-like,  referencing related biblical passages, Gregory provides abundant food for thought for the serious reader. Perhaps most importantly, the reader can then appropriate Gregory’s approach to make the Scriptures come alive, up-close, and personal.

 

Volume 5 includes books 23-27 of the Moralia, covering Job 32-37, which contain the speeches of Elihu, a mysterious young intruder into the drama who is dissatisfied with the observations of both Job and his friends.  Exegetes believe it may be the work of a later editor of the book, and are divided as to its purpose and meaning.

Gregory’s creative and allegorical reflections can inspire us to not flinch when encountering a difficult biblical text, but to instead try to get at the essence of the passage and apply it to today with a reasonable degree of literary license, as the Fathers of the Church did in their commentaries. This can have an eisegetical dimension (that is, reading into the passage,  and projecting one’s personal bias and perspective into the mix, as opposed to exegesis  proper (literal interpretation).

Gregory shows us that eisegesis and accommodation have their place in biblical interpretation and applications as long as these are acknowledged and not substituted for exegesis. His biblical cross-referencing (what the medieval monks referred to as reminiscince) reminds us of the Bible’s internal unity and the importance of contextual interpretation.

As in previous volumes, the book jacket is very helpful for setting the stage for the book and its particular vantage point on the book of Job.

Volume 5 is priced at $39.95. The book is available from The Liturgical Press, whose website is litpress.org. Their phone number is 1-800-858-5450.

 

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The Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science is a landmark museum in downtown Dallas, walking distance from the Dallas Museum of Art. The Perot Museum is a delightful excursion for both children and adults because of the variety of its exhibits and the helpfulness of its staff. Be prepared for a bit of walking, however, as the museum occupies five floors and offers a breadth of perspectives on both nature and science. Fortunately, elevators and escalators are centrally located and volunteers are everywhere, so if you need to find something you won’t have to go far to get help.

The museum also features a very nice theatre and assortment of films when a break from touring is called for.

Despite its size, the museum is in no way overwhelming. Its exhibits are tasteful and accessible, and well laid out. It strikes a nice balance between technical explanations and popular consumption.

Whether one is a serious science and nature buff, or simply looking for an enjoyable excursion, the Perot Museum is an outstanding choice for those living in or visiting Dallas. It also offers nice views of downtown Dallas from its stairwells. Very highly recommended for both children and adults.

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Paul VI: The First Modern Pope by Peter Hebblethwaite

In 1993, Paulist Press published Paul VI: The First Modern Pope, a definitive biography of Pope Paul VI by veteran Vatican correspondent Peter Hebblethwaite. It received very good reviews but went out of print after a few years.

In conjunction with Paul’s canonization in 2018, Paulist Press reprinted the book with a new introduction by Massimo Faggioli. The book remains as much a must read today as on its initial release. It offers a balanced and thought-provoking commentary on his life, diplomatic career, and papacy, as well as the state and challenges of the Church at the time. The reader is left with a very human portrait of perhaps the most influential and vilified Catholic leader of the twentieth century. The Introduction offers new perspectives that will be of particular interest to St. Paul VI aficionados.

The book retails for $49.95. It is published by Paulist Press and can be ordered through their website, paulistpress.com.

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Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction by Fr. Lawrence Boadt, CSP (Second Revised Edition).

Fr. Lawrence Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction has been the standard Catholic introduction for the last three decades. In the wake of his death in 2010, Paulist Press selected two prominent Catholic biblical scholars, Fr. Richard Clifford, SJ, and Fr. Daniel Harrington, SJ, to update the book in light of recent scholarly advances.

The revised edition retains the stimulating quality of the original edition and brings the book into the second decade of the new millennia. Fr. Boadt wrote the book at the age of 42, which is quite impressive for a work of this scope. As expected, there is nothing to find fault with given the original work and its revisers. It actually makes a nice companion purchase with Fr. Ska’s A Basic Guide to the Old Testament, also by Paulist Press. There is little overlap and the style of writing and narrative differs significantly.

The reader interested in a comprehensive introduction to the Old Testament need look no further, period. The careers of the three scholars is such that one can just be glad for this collaboration. The book is up-to-date, readable, engaging, and cohesive. A must read for any student of the Old Testament.

This revised edition was published in 2012 and retails for $26.95. It is published by Paulist Press and can be ordered through their website, paulistpress.com. Reading

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A Basic Guide to the Old Testament by Fr. Jean-Louis Ska, SJ.

In 2019 Paulist Press published a popular introduction to the Old Testament by one of Europes’ most respected Old Testament scholars, Fr. Jean-Louis Ska.

Fr. Ska is a long time professor of Old Testament at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He is a Jesuit from Belgium, and is highly respected for his writings and perspectives on the Old Testament. He has published several works primarily for academics, and his recent Paulist Press title is his first foray into the popular market.  His 2006 Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch is considered one of the finest works on the subject since Vatican II, but it can be a bit foreboding for the newcomer to Old Testament studies.

One of the compelling attributes of Fr. Ska’s newest book is that it would be useful for individuals at all levels of familiarity with the Old Testament. He writes in an accessible manner without resorting to over-simplifications. He imparts helpful generalizations pertinent to Old Testament interpretation. He is not afraid to make assertions that might surprise those who are new to the Bible and perhaps come at it from a more fundamentalist standpoint.

Unlike many exegetical works, this is a delightful and stimulating read, and thus it is a book that does not fatigue the reader. It is informative, interesting, and inspiring. It helps you return to the Old Testament with a greater appreciation of its human roots and subtle and profound insights. For anyone seriously interested in understanding the Old Testament, this book is a must have. Very highly recommended.

The book retails for $19.95, and is published by Paulist Press. It can be ordered through their website, paulistpress.com.

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“Raymond E. Brown and the Catholic Biblical Renewal” by Donald Senior, CP

Fr. Donald Senior came into prominence as a Catholic Biblical Scholar in the mid-1970s, about fifteen years after Fr. Brown came on the scene. His doctoral thesis on the Passion of Matthew: A Redactional Approach gained unusual renown for such a work. He later published four popular guides to the passion narratives, as well as many other books and compendiums. He was also appointed to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and was President of Catholic Theological Union. He was also editor of the Catholic Study Bible, published by Oxford Press, which has gone through numerous editions and printings. Thus he is very qualified to examine and document the career of America’s most prominent post-conciliar biblical scholar, Fr. Raymond E. Brown, SS.

Fr. Senior’s expertise is invaluable in assessing the critical / scholarly aspects of Fr. Brown’s career. The book offers a tremendous window into the post-conciliar biblical renewal within the Catholic Church, in which both Fr. Brown and Fr. Senior played a leading role.

Fr. Senior is objective in presenting Fr. Brown’s human side and chronicling details of his personal life. The book is not a eulogy, but a testimony, richly deserved, to one of the most prolific biblical scholars of the post-conciliar Church. I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Fr. Brown on two occasions, and found him to be very accessible and down-to-earth.

Those who have read Fr. Senior’s popular works know that he is a very lucid writer who aptly bridges the academic and popular worlds. This book is compelling evidence of this, and thus despite its depth and level of detail it is truly a compelling read.  I had trouble putting it down because there was so much in there that was new to me, though I was very familiar with Fr. Brown’s corpus and career. It would be difficult to find a more fitting biographer than Fr. Senior. Superbly done and highly recommended.

Excellent for scholars and informed laypersons familiar with Fr. Brown, but also for anyone wanting to understand the post-conciliar biblical renewal in the Catholic Church, as indicated in the book’s title.

The book is published by Paulist Press and retails at a most reasonable $29.95 for a hardcover book of over 300 pages. It is available from their website, paulistpress.com.

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Moral Reflections on the Book of Job: Volume 5 (Translated by Brian Kerns, OCSO)

Cistercian Press continues their updated translation and release of a spiritual classic with the publication in 2019 of Volume 5 of Gregory the Great’s “Moral Reflections on the Book of Job.”  The translator is Brother Brian Kerns, who has lived primarily at the Abbey at Gethsemani in Kentucky, and at the Abbey of the Genesee in New York.

 

I have reviewed previous volumes of this translation, so I will confine myself to particularities of this volume. Please reference the aforementioned for background information on the book itself and Gregory, as well as my own work with the book of Job.

 

As mentioned in previous reviews, the model of lectio divina is helpful for squeezing, so to speak, all the inspiration and meaning from the text, as Pope Benedict XVI observes:

The more I review these volumes, the more focused my attention becomes on each individual entry by Gregory, thereby causing my evaluations to be more general, because to do justice to each volume would require a tediously long review. There is no substitute for exeriencing Gregory for yourself.  You will discover why interest in his works, particularly the Moralia, Dialogues, and Pastoral Care, endured well into the Middle Ages. We would do well to rediscover St. Gregory today.

Among the many fruits of this biblical springtime I would like to mention the spread of the ancient practice of Lectio divina or “spiritual reading” of Sacred Scripture. It consists in pouring over a biblical text for some time, reading it and rereading it, as it were, “ruminating” on it as the Fathers say and squeezing from it, so to speak, all its “juice”, so that it may nourish meditation and contemplation and, like water, succeed in irrigating life itself. (Benedict XVI, November 6, 2005)

Volume 5 includes books 23-27 of the Moralia, covering Job 32-37, which contain the speeches of Elihu, a mysterious young intruder into the drama who is dissatisfied with the observations of both Job and his friends.  Exegetes believe it may be the work of a later editor of the book, and are divided as to its purpose and meaning.

Gregory’s creative and allegorical reflections can inspire us to not flinch when encountering a difficult biblical text, but to instead try to get at the essence of the passage and apply it to today with a reasonable degree of literary license, as the Fathers of the Church did in their commentaries. This can have an eisegetical dimension (that is, reading into the passage,  and projecting one’s personal bias and perspective into the mix, as opposed to exegesis  proper (literal interpretation).

Gregory shows us that eisegesis and accommodation have their place in biblical interpretation and applications as long as these are acknowledged and not substituted for exegesis. He also references other parts of Scripture for context, thereby reminding us of its continuity and the importance of deriving both an individual and overall understanding of the passage within the canon of Scripture.

As always, the book jacket is very helpful for setting the stage for the translation, and alerting the reader when he or she is in for.

Since prior to this series the Moralia had not been fully translated into English since 1848, each volume has value simply for its clearer wording and presentation. We must also remember that his work was widely referenced for almost a millenia, and served as a reference text and classic work through the Middle Ages. Even though volume 5 covers the most cryptic section of Job, Gregory’s insights and method nonetheless serve as an inspiration and guide to us and exemplify the responsible freedom we can exercise when encountering Scripture. He had to deal with the obscurities just as we do, and as the reader will see he found plenty of spiritual nourishment to justify his close reading of the text.

Like the preceding volumes, this translation of Part 4 of the Moralia is priced at $39.95. The book is available from The Liturgical Press, whose website is litpress.org. Their phone number is 1-800-858-5450.

Liturgical Press’ annual inventory reduction sale will be in force through June 30. You can access it through the link litpress.org/sale. This traditional and annual event can be a great source for excellent titles that for various reasons have overstock.

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Gregory the Great: Moral Reflections on the Book of Job: Volume 3 (Books 11-16)

Cistercian Press continues their unearthing of a spiritual classic with the publication in 2016 of Volume 3 of Gregory the Great’s “Moral Reflections on the Book of Job.”

The translator is Brother Brian Kerns, who has lived primarily at the Abbey at Gethsemani in Kentucky, and at the Abbey of the Genesee in New York. This work is obviously a labor of love.

Along with Gregory’s other famous works, “Pastoral Care” and the Dialogues (which recount the lives and miracles of Italian saints of the patristic period), the Moralia has retained interest down through the ages. The method of exposition is obviously much different than styles used today, but for the serious reader it is a goldmine of reflections on life, primarily from a moral perspective.

Essentially Gregory takes each line of the book of Job and reads it in the context of other biblical texts, often citing them, and explains what the verse means, using contemporary applications. The reader used to strict literalness will have to adjust to Gregory’s creative use of the Scripture that mirrored the rabbinic as well as Christian expository style of this period.

Volume 3 is similar to Volumes 1 and 2, which I reviewed on May 9, 2016. Besides of course being of interest to patristic scholars and exegetes of the book of Job, it has utility for the reader who practices lectio divina, the holistic and prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture.

This book brings maximum profits when read slowly and patiently. Gregory offers timeless insights into life, but in a dense, theological style that requires repeated readings. Of the six parts of the Moralia, part / volume 3 is closest to the oral version transcribed by notaries during conferences he gave to monks and clerics in Constantinople. The Introduction to Part 3, like that to the previous parts, is extremely helpful for preparing oneself for the text, because Gregory changes his style throughout the book. He did not have the opportunity to revise this part to the degree he did the other parts. Gregory is more focused in this part for both practical (time and space/codex considerations) and interpretive reasons (when tackling a mammoth text like Job, as St. Gregory himself pointed out, one naturally varies one’s approach both for literary reasons and in order to avoid monotony), and does not elaborate or digress as much.

Thus the reader needs to read the Introduction first in order to historically situtate this part and thereby adjust to Gregory’s stylistic changes and purposes.

Perhaps a section from Pope Benedict’s 2010 apostolic exhortation, Verbum Domini, best summarizes how to properly view and assimilate St. Gregory’s writings, not only in this part, but in the two previous ones as well.

Pope Benedict observes that we should pay particular attention to the biblical interpretations of those who lead saintly lives. If their compass is directed by the Holy Spirit, it is likely to be reflected in their atunement to the Spirit during their encounter with the inspired texts.

Gregory’s holiness and human greatness is beyond question. One of only two popes to be designated “the Great” (along with Leo, d. 461), like Leo he held the Church and Rome together amid the barbarian invasians. Thus Gregory was a man of both ecclesiastical and secular historical importance, not unlike St. John Paul II.

He was able io integrate both mysticism and pastoral sensitivity in his writings alongside his keen interpretive understanding of Scripture. Thus he brings a well-rounded perspective grounded in a saintly life. He is a doctor of the Church, and thus his writings can be thoroughly trusted.

In his encounter with the book of Job, St. Gregory wrestles with a timeless literary classic. He is able to draw out philosophical and theological applications alongside the moral ones which were his primary focus. Thus he bears studying, rather than just surveying.

The late Jesuit scriptural scholar Cardinal Carlo Martini, former archbishop of Milan, the world’s largest Catholic diocese, was a great admirer of Gregory (and in some ways an imitator in that he was able to integrate pastoral insights with intellectual inquiries, and communicate them in an accessible manner), and frequently references him in his talks and writings.

Thus this book is a work worthy of intense scrutiny and contemplation, during which we will also develop our interpretive method, similarly as one does when reading the works of Cardinal Martini, which likewise mostly originated in oral talks. Through spiritual and literary osmosis, we assimilate the interpretive tendencies of great commentators and enrich our exegetical and expository capacity. In plain English, if we read St. Gregory carefully and contemplatively, we will develop positive reading and interpretation habits, and hopefully bear much fruit in our lives and ministry.

Since the Moralia has not been fully translated into English since 1848, and that translation is outdated, we are greatly indebted to the author and publisher for the opportunity to encounter this classic work. It stands as one of the outstanding biblical expositions of all time.

Like the first two volumes, this translation of Part 3 of the Moralia is priced at $39.95, which is about the going rate for academic books of limited circulation and press runs.

Because I have published three books on Job, and written numerous articles on it, I am aware of the interpretive challenges a commentator faces. I also studied Latin extensively, and received the Phillips Classical Prize in it while attending the University of Michigan. Thus I am particularly qualified to give this book a high recommendation, both for its readable and accurate translation and because it brings together a noetworthy saint and a timeless biblical book, both of which originated during a troubled time like ours. As with volumes 1 and 2, a must read not only for fans of St. Gregory, but for admirers of the book of Job as well.

The book is available from The Liturgical Press, whose website is litpress.org. Their phone number is 1-800-858-5450. I also suggest that you be on the lookout for their annual clearance sale, which occurs in the spring, during which one can get bargains not only on remaindered titles but on books in which the publisher has overstock. .

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