Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Read Old Books!

A passage in an essay by John Dunlap struck me:

Down in the stacks at the main library on campus [at Santa Clara University], I pulled a copy of Jacques Maritain's memoir The Peasant of the Garonne, a book I hadn't read in years. ... Paging through the book, I noticed that the due slip in the back recorded a steady stream of check-out dates until 1971. Apparently, no one in the university had looked at this famous book for 32 years.
On a hunch, I looked up a few other Maritain titles. Then I got into it, and spent the next hour combing the stacks and pawing through the library's huge collection of, to me, familiar Catholic writers: Knox, Guardini, Newman, Chesterton, Belloc, Gilson, Pieper, Benson, Dawson, Lunn, Dimnet. With few exceptions (often as not, a date when I myself had checked out the book), the due slips told the same story, again and again: a long series of check-out dates stopping, suddenly, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Isn't that appalling!  The treasures of piety unopened!  One could add to this list several notable Dominicans, such as Vann, or McNabb.  There were so many great writers in the cause of Catholicism in the first half of the twentieth century, whether clerical or lay: to think they now lie forgotten.

There has been too much forgetting in the Church of Christ: too much of that pernicious hermeneutic of rupture, too much of a tendency to work toward achieving what Pol Pot planned for Cambodia: Year Zero.  Too many Catholics reject everything in the Church between the first century and Vatican II.  They are too stupid to see that that invalidates all the claims of the Church; then again, they may not believe any such claims, and prefer a therapeutic, subjective religion making no great demands.

Now, I've always been the eccentric who borrows the books that no one else has for years... and my own books at home feature treasures old as well as new.  Certainly, I've read some Newman, some Belloc, though not as much as I should. 

Just to list a few older (let's be honest and say pre-Conciliar) authors I have to hand:
  • Knox (2 books);
  • Chesterton (5 books);
  • Bl Columba Marmion (5 books);
  • Abbot Anscar Vonier (9 books, incl. his Collected Works).
Other authors of importance in my reading, overlapping into the time after the Council, would include Louis Bouyer, Pius Parsch, Joseph Jungmann (though I have read them critically).

It reminds me that just about the first work on the Mass that I read was Daniel Rock's Hierurgia (1833), published in 1830; and the other was Fortescue's The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy (1912).

I tend to trust older works of theology, published before about 1960, or better still, even earlier; whereas I do check the bona fides of modern writers.

Of course, I am very glad to read good solid reliable modern authors, such as Aidan Nichols, or Paul Haffner, or John Saward – indeed, I've just ordered several books by the two last-named theologians.

Quaintly, I even like Catholic books to bear both imprimatur and nihil obstat.

In my opinion, too many "Catholic" books to-day are full of psycho-babble.

Do readers have any thoughts to add?

5 comments:

François said...

Very interesting- i found in an old rectory library the same book by Jacques Maritain but did not take it. What are your thoughts about it? Then there were book by Dom Odo Casel on the Mass, a spiritual treatise by a 17th century Jesuit of the Berullean school, theological treatises published at the Gregoriana- de ecclesia, and such like,several copies of St Francis de Sales' Introduction to Devout Life, Louis Bouyer's books on Holy Week and on the Church. And so many other books for which the parishioners couldn't care less, or even the Incumbent. I also borrowed several books by Prof. Christopher Dawson- to be frank, i love his books. There are also lots of modernist books...Several Bellocs were wedged between Daniel-Rops' History of the Church. And old copy of Lyra Apostolica. And other works of thomist philosophy. I spend whatever spare i have there....

Joshua said...

Yes, If I had access to the books you describe, we'd be disputing over who could have what!

Certainly the Casel and the Bouyer and the Daniel-Rops (several volumes of which I have already) would be worth having. (Yes, I know SSPX sorts criticise Casel's theology on certain points, but his works are interesting, and I'm assuming people can read critically; his works are of the era when they would certainly have a nihil obstat, imprimatur and probably an imprimi potest as well, so I think it silly to overscrupulously avoid them.)

Joshua said...

As for my thoughts on The Peasant of the Garonne - I bought it earlier this year, but haven't read it yet.

François said...

The Casel volume has the imprimatur. There is another library in the neighbourhood that is worth mentioning: it belongs to a former monk of solesmes, now the curate to the rector. Their are some odd 'new-age' catholic book- John Main, christian meditation stuff. Not my cup of tea at all to be frank. But then there are spiritual treatises of the 18-19 cents. complete works of sts John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna, Charles de Foucauld. There is also a Graduale Romanum of the 1920's and the 1934 Antiphonale Monasticum. The works of saint vincent de paul, etc.

The Graduale Romanum would need some re-binding. But its not without any hazards, the library is situated in the middle of sugar cane fields and directly next to a banana grove, and colonies of wasps have several nets around.

In both libraries were resources for the Tridentine Mass...but not only bishop and clergy but whole segments of laity are opposed to it, especially those involved in charismatic and those who dabble in 'psycho' stuff. A real waste when you think about it.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Well, Aidan Nichols and Ratzinger are two post VII Catholic authors I read with profit. I can't think of many others, but I'm sure there are some. Pre-VII & 20th C. Bouyer is worthwhile, Jungmann on liturgy, but I've never had much time for Maritain. Priot to that I think to find anything much good you need to go back to Aquinas.