NRO’s Summer Reading List

NRO’s annual Summer Reading List is up and you can find my suggestions on page 6 of this long, excellent list.

Some of you may be surprised to note that I did not include Sigrid Undset’s Stages on the Road among my suggestions, but since I wrote the foreword to it, I guess I felt like suggesting it might be too self-promoting. I did notice that I was the only woman participating, but perhaps many more were invited and scheduling/busyness prevented others from making recommendations.

The book will still get plenty of deserved attention, however, thanks to my friend Webster Bull’s really top-notch review here. Webster takes me to task for offering a rather “generic” foreword that looks at Undset’s stages from the perspective of a personal faith-journey, which is pretty much how I filter most things.

It’s odd for me to bring gender up twice in a post, but perhaps it’s a male-female, Men from Mars, Women from Venus thing: where I internalize, Webster externalizes, and goes to the historical angle:

But Scalia misses or chooses to overlook Undset’s biggest thump of all: Stages on the Road is about historical stages, not stages in the life of faith. It is a ripping historical critique of the Protestant Reformation and the brutal damage it has done to our Western culture, a culture nurtured over 1500 years by the Catholic Church.

As such it is a brave collection, as the lonely cry of a Catholic in Norway, a country that has been even every bit as inimical to Catholicism as England. Lutheranism became the official state religion of Norway in 1539, four years after the martyrdom of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More in London, and as in England monasteries and convents in Norway were dissolved and their property confiscated by the crown, which was then Danish.

Not until 1845 was Catholicism allowed back into the country. Until then, Norwegians were obliged to profess Evangelical Lutheran Christianity. Today, nearly 80 percent of Norwegians say they’re Lutheran, while Catholics are barely a presence, representing less than 2 percent of the population. Muslims represent 2.1 percent.

Undset focuses on four lesser-known “saints,” one of whom, the Majorcan mystic Ramón Lull, isn’t even a saint. Her second subject, St. Angela Merici, founder of the Ursulines, is falsely advertised as “a champion of the woman’s movement,” in a table of contents revised by the republisher, Christian Classics, undoubtedly to broaden the book’s appeal. In fact, the effect is to blunt the book’s point. The last two saints, Robert Southwell and Margaret Clitherow, were martyrs during the Tudor rape of the Catholic Church under Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I.

Two people read the same book and took away from it different but vital insights. To me, this is the mark of a really great book: it can reach people in disparate ways, but guide them toward a similar place: the life in Christ through his Bride, the church.

Read all of Webster’s essay; it — like Undset’s book — is a “thumping good” and very instructive read.

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About Elizabeth Scalia