The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis

Written by David Dalin

(Regnery Press, 2005)

Reviewed by Colin Kerr

the myth of

The record on Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) is still evolving, and Dalin’s work is not the final word on the matter, but it does constitute an important moment in the evolution of the scholarship. This book is important for a few reasons, not least of all is the ad hominem that the author is a rabbi. But this is not to be thought the sole basis for this work’s credibility. The author’s credentials are extensive: a long list of degrees and publications, for instance.

Excluding notes, the work is 165 pages long. It is concise, thankfully. It is well organized, not repetitive, as so many work are that are looking for something more to say. It says what is important to say and then moves on. This kind of brevity makes it a pleasant read. The author begins Chapter One by laying out the history of the claim that Pius XII was either partial to Hitler’s anti-Semitism, or at least did nothing to protect Jews during World War II. These are powerful and, indeed, dangerous, claims. To blame a pope is tantamount to blaming a whole religion. The facts of the one are meant to characterize the whole. The historiography of the claim is important, and it is here (pp. 2-10) that we meet such figures Hochhulf, author of the play The Deputy (p. 2); Goldhagen, author of A Moral Reckoning; James Carroll, author of Constantine’s Sword, to name but a few of the works relevant to the history of the ‘claim’ made about Pius XII. Continue reading

Mozart: The Boy Who Changed the World with His Music

Written by Marcus Weeks

(National Geographic Society, 2007)

Reviewed by Colin Kerr

mozart

This book is aimed at young readers. It is beautifully illustrated and laid-out, as one might expect from National Geographic. With index, it is 64 pages long. It won’t intimidate any reader.  And it is very interesting. The first thing the reader wants to know is about Mozart as a child prodigy. How early did he actually learn to play and write music, anyway? He was playing the harpsichord well and writing little pieces of music by five.

But this book takes us into the life of the young boy beyond the music too. It talks a little bit about his every-day life, his travels to the royal courts of Europe with his father and sister. But the prodigy thing had to run out eventually – by fifteen he had to look for a concrete job. This started in Salzburg as first violinist, a position which he was soon to outgrow. The book talks about his friendship with Joseph Haydn (pp. 42-3), describes some contemporary musical instruments (pp. 26-7), discusses the Enlightenment – but without being preachy as National Geographic sometimes is (pp. 40-1), and has an informative section on operas (pp. 54-5). It mentions billiards, a game called ‘skittles,’ and the Freemasons. It talks about Mozart’s family life and his problem managing his money.

The book is a perfect introduction for young readers, and would help to situate this great musician historically, indeed, provides a good, light history lesson in itself. None of the sensationalism that is often associated with the life of Mozart (courtesy of Pushkin and the movie, Amadeus) is found in these pages – which is a very good thing. But, alas, neither is the famous anecdote about Palestrina! Sure, it’s light on the religious element, so you will have to consult other, fuller biographies to get a solid sense of the faith of the Freemason who wrote such great Catholic church music too.

Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke

Written by St. Ambrose of Milan (translated by Theodora Tomkinson)

(Center for Traditionalist Studies, 1998)

Reviewed by Colin Kerr

luke

We rely on both Matthew’s Gospel and on Luke’s for our knowledge of the Nativity. Matthew’s records the birth, the events with the Wise Men, the flight and return from Egypt. Luke’s has the Annunciation, the Visitation, birth, the shepherds, and the Presentation.  Luke’s has those famous words we hear every year, “In those days a decree went out from the Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” (2:1)

The four Gospels bring out different things. When one compares Matthew’s and Luke’s stories of the birth of the Lord it is possible to evince something of their individual perspectives, something of the messages these authors – and ultimately, God – wished to convey. In his Infancy Narratives, the third volume of his Jesus of Nazareth, we see Pope Benedict XVI standing in a long line of Scripture scholars who have noticed the ‘priestly’ theme of Luke’s Gospel and the kingly theme of Matthew’s. Their genealogies reflect these different perspective. Each perspective has a message: Jesus is the High Priest of God, says Luke; Jesus is the King of Israel, says Matthew.

The first printed edition of the Catholic Review of Books will have much more to say about Pope Benedict’s commentary on the Gospels. For now I wanted to draw attention to another book worth reading at this time of year – St. Ambrose’s Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke. Those who know just a few things about this author (c. 340-97), know that this is the bishop who baptized St. Augustine in the year 387, and know that this was the bishop who boldly defied the order of the Emperor, Valentinian II, to sign over one of his churches to the heretical Arians. But Ambrose is also one of the four, original, select, ‘Doctors of the Latin Church’ (with Sts. Augustine, Gregory the Great and Jerome). Ambrose’s writings are not as well-known as those of the other three these days, and that is too bad. He offers many gems. He wasn’t as original a theologian as Augustine, as mystical as Gregory, or as scholarly as Jerome, but we can see how he combined bits of all of these things in his many writings that have survived. One of the best is this commentary on Luke. Very few commentaries on this Gospel have survived the Ancient World – another important one being Origen’s (c. 184-254), who influenced Ambrose heavily. Ambrose was influenced by Origen’s spiritual type of interpretation – we know that, because that was what so impressed Augustine when he went to hear him preach. But Ambrose was an eminently practical man too, and that is why this gospel, the Gospel of Luke – the ‘Gospel of the poor’ – drew his attention. Characteristically, while considering the Visitation, he writes, “Do ye also, holy women, learn zeal which ye must use towards your pregnant sisters.” (p. 43)

Ambrose has a great deal to offer Catholic readers today. He looks at the Gospel more deeply than you will likely hear on Sundays. He is a spiritual writer and a moralist – and he blends them in way that reminds me of Pope Francis. Yet this translation is getting a little difficult to find. The binding is okay – though not great – and the use of antiquated terms like ‘ye’ and ‘whither’ are a little annoying, but the value of the work is so great as to justify putting up with these little vexations. But whatever you read over these next few weeks, I pray it expands your mind and consoles and uplifts your heart.