by Siobhan Nash-Marshall
Crossroad, 192 pages, $19.95
"Joan lived a rather normal life for several years after she began to hear her voices." In this matter-of-fact way, Nash-Marshall weaves the spiritual into the mundane in her book about Joan of Arc.
She doesn't try to explain away Joan's vision, nor explore feminist themes, if which there are plenty here. Instead, philosopher Nash-Marshall (assistant professor at Fordham and New York universities) writes like an engaging historian and simply tells Joan's spiritual and political story—so well that I failed in my attempts to skim the book; I kept being pulled into the narrative.
Along the way, Nash-Marshall helps the reader understand the role Joan's spirituality played in her own life in the history of France. Her philosophic explorations at the end, where she tries to understand the relationship of faith, God, and nationalism, is weak—and fortunately short.
Trials of Intimacy:
Love and Loss in the
by Richard Wightman Fox
University of Chicago, 419 pages, $30
Henry Ward Beecher was the celebrated pastor of Brooklyn's Plymouth Church. Elizabeth Tilton was the wife of Beecher's good friend Theodore. In 1872 Theodore accused Beecher of "criminal conversation" (adultery) with his wife. Henry and Elizabeth vehemently denied it. Then Elizabeth confessed it. But what did she mean by "adultery"-- consummation or just desire?
The question intrigued the public then and history buffs now. Unfortunately, Fox, a historian at the University of Southern California, doesn't tell us what he thinks actually happened between Henry and Elizabeth-- which is one of the historian's responsibilities. Instead, he lays out documents (letters, trial transcripts, editorial cartoons) and attempts, successfully, to provide a window into what the scandal says about love, friendship, intimacy, and betrayal in nineteenth-century America and, consequently, today.
by Bernard McGinn
Crossroad, 193 pages, $17.95, paper
A renowned medievalist at the University of Chicago Divinity School, McGinn introduces those whom the Roman Catholic Church has honored as a "doctor of the church." From Athanasius of Alexandria to Therese of Lisieux (and every doctor between, even the likes of Ephraem the Syrian and Lawrence of Brindisi), McGinn summarizes each life and each person's theological contribution, concluding with a bibliography for further reading.
by Cathleen Medwick
Knopf, 282 pages, $26
The human dimension of mysticism is quickly obliterated if all one reads is the mystics. Their prose leaves the impression that mystics lived one foot above the squalor of history, lost in spiritual rapture. Medwick's Teresa brings a refreshing balance to the picture of the great saint of Avila.
Teresa experienced unparalleled visions and described them and their meaning with such skill and insight that they still guide pilgrims-- Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox-- today. Through Medwick we discover that Teresa was single-minded and brash, a skilled negotiator and administrator, and a pain in the you-know-what to many of her contemporaries. Medwick (who has been a features editor for Vogue, Vanity Fair, Mirabella, and House & Garden) tells Teresa's complex story with respect and verve.
A Flame of Sacred Love:
The Life of Benjamin Broomhall,
by Norman Cliff
OM Publishing, 130 pages, 5.99
Biography is inadvertent mythmaking. By its single-focused nature, a biography implicitly suggests that its subject accomplished grand things by force of personality or genius. Yet great people rarely accomplish great things without help.
Missionary Hudson Taylor is but one example. While Taylor did heroic things in China, Benjamin Broomhall was back in England raising money, enlisting recruits, editing Taylor's popular journal China's Millions (and letting Taylor take the credit)-- in general, playing a key role in the explosive growth of Taylor's China Inland Mission.
One of Broomhall's favorite quotes was "It is the work done that counts, not the praise that follows." Norman Cliff has written a concise account describing that praiseworthy work.
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