Best Christian Writing 2001

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Overview

This remarkable collection includes:
  • "Living with Furious Opposites," Phillip Yancey's penetrating examination of the distance between the faith we champion and the way we really live.
  • "Confessions of a Reluctant Catholic," Alice McDermott's ironic reflections on the tensions between her roles as novelist and believer.
  • Stephen L. Carter on the dominant culture's threat to religion as an alternative, prophetic voice in "Religion, ...
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Overview

This remarkable collection includes:
  • "Living with Furious Opposites," Phillip Yancey's penetrating examination of the distance between the faith we champion and the way we really live.
  • "Confessions of a Reluctant Catholic," Alice McDermott's ironic reflections on the tensions between her roles as novelist and believer.
  • Stephen L. Carter on the dominant culture's threat to religion as an alternative, prophetic voice in "Religion, Resistance, and the Curious History of America's Public Schools."
  • Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's sensitive, literate look at joining the church and the reaction of her academic colleagues in "A Conversion Story."
  • Richard John Neuhaus on the paradox of the profound yet commonplace nature of death in "Born Toward Dying."
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This collection of important writings on Christianity -- the follow-up to the 2000 edition, which received much critical praise -- offers a comprehensive gathering of thought and insight from the best minds on the subject. Offerings include Philip Yancey on "Living with Furious Opposites," Alice McDermott's "Confessions of a Reluctant Catholic," Reynolds Price's "Letter to a Man in the Fife," and Richard John Neuhaus's "Born Toward Dying."
Publishers Weekly
Calling any compilation "the best" certainly invites criticism, if not outright skepticism; in this case, the scope of the project alone culling 22 articles from the daunting amount of Christian writing published in the course of a year guarantees widespread disagreement. This collection, though, proves to be as good a starting point as any in the search for a thoughtful sampling of recent Christian writing. Series editor Wilson, who is editor-in-chief of Books and Culture magazine, compiled the anthology from articles appearing in various Christian periodicals during the last calendar year. The conversational tone of the personal narratives, such as Sarah E. Hinlicky's delightfully humorous "Seminary Sanity" and Alice McDermott's "Confessions of a Reluctant Catholic," contrast nicely with analytical essays like Joseph T. Lienhard's piece on Origen and J. Bottum's look at Pius XII's relationship with the Nazis. Readers will recognize famous names such as Stephen Carter, Erik Erikson, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Reynolds Price and Philip Yancey among the contributors. A few of the essays particularly Alan Jacobs's "The Only Honest Man" are so theologically dense that casual readers are apt to get lost in the scholarly morass. For the most part, however, the selections in this year's edition of the annual series provide an excellent overview of the range and depth of contemporary Christian thinking. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060697075
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/1/1901
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



Pius XIIand the Nazis


(From Crisis)
J. Bottom


He was a cosseted Renaissance prince, and he looked like an El Greco painting, as whip-thin and dangerous as a pistol, as ascetic as a razor.

He was a Victorian Italian, born in 1876, and entirely a product of his place and time. But he was also a "big man," in the sense in which a 1920s American industrialist might have used the phrase — one of those people, instantly recognizable to another, who understands exactly how things and organizations work: a getter of things done.

He was hard and competent, perhaps the most sheerly competent man ever to hold his position, though he also showed a tender, almost sentimental streak from time to time, and he trained himself to a habitual charity by force of will. He was more longsighted than most such quick and decisive men, but shortsighted sometimes as well, as they all eventually prove. He lived in a castle and flew in an airplane. He spent three hours a day in prayer. He could never learn to ride a horse. Six months before Hitler's total war of modern tanks and divebombers smashed its way across Europe, he assumed control of a vast medieval institution whose international operations were best suited to solve the question of what to do about Charlemagne.

Most of all, he was an insider. Inside the Church, inside the diplomatic corps, inside politics, inside the world. He knew how a president's office works and what a banker does, how a scholar functions and what an army colonel thinks. Hecame from a powerful and important family, who groomed him for great things from the beginning. At every point, his teachers and elders recognized his discretion, his self-possession, his superiority, and his strength. And they always responded by taking him further, and further, and further in.

Early in his career, he was the highest example of a type you sometimes notice at an embassy party or a state reception. The kind of young politician you can almost sense — like an ultraviolet color just beyond seeing, a bat-squeak just beyond hearing — is destined for power. The kind of young diplomat who has quickly become the ambassador's right-hand man and is standing near the entrance talking quietly with the other ambassadors' right-hand men. The kind of young priest who will run his eye over you as you walk in, weigh you to the last scruple, file you away for future use in the endless, careful cabinets of his mind, and pray for your soul that night on his knees. He had something finer, harder, sharper than vanity — a will that had come out on the far side of personal ambition and turned into an institutional ambition, an ambition for God.

Later in life, he wore round, silver-framed glasses that made his eyes seem never to blink. He had the kind of physical courage that allowed him to stare down an armed assassin and the kind of mental courage that allowed him to keep the secret of the general's plot against Hitler from even his own closest advisers. He had enormous rights to expect loyalty and personal freedom, and for six years he was trapped inside a hundred acres in the middle of Rome, walking every day the same path through his garden — spied on by half a dozen major intelligence services, his mail opened, his employees bribed, his telephone lines tapped, his papers copied, his radio signals jammed. He hated extemporaneous speaking. He kept his own counsel.

He was a saint and a failure, a success and a sinner, a man designed by nature to be the finest wielder of the delicate tools of civilized diplomacy the Vatican had ever known — and confronted during his papacy with only blind, monstrous barbarity, like a fencing master forced to duel a panzer tank. He was the most important man in the world and utterly beside the point. From the time he became pope in 1939 until his death in 1958, every thread of world history passed through his hands. But for the most part those threads proved steel cables, and he could never make them bend.

His name was Eugenio Pacelli — reigning as Pope Pius XII — and he was either one of the greatest disasters to sit on the throne of St. Peter, or one of the greatest men to live in the twentieth century.

Slandering a Saint

Perhaps the most curious thing about the man, however, is exactly this bifurcation, for there seems no third option, no middle ground for us to choose. Whenever the topic of his pontificate is raised, Pius XII is either unreservedly lauded as the only significant resister of Hitler to survive on the European continent, or unrelentingly denounced as a cowardly failure who passively or even actively participated in the Nazis' destruction of six million Jews.

So, in the mid-1960s, Broadway gave us Rolf Hochhuth's widely discussed play The Deputy, which presented the guilty silence of the Catholic Church during the war as an obvious matter of history, and Hollywood gave us The Sound of Music, which presented the Catholic Church as the sole source of shelter for refugees from the Nazis. For the recent British writer John Cornwell, Pius XII is "the most dangerous churchman in modern history," without whom "Hitler might never have come to power or been able to press forward with the Holocaust." But for the Israeli diplomat Pinchas Lapide, in his 1967 volume Three Popes and the Jews, "The pontificate of Pius XII was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000, Jews from certain death at Nazi hands."

These absolute extremes are why Pius XII's papacy is a topic we seem to have forced on us over and over. This spring alone saw the appearance of four books on the question: Cornwell's extremely bitter Hitler's Pope, Pierre Blet's...

The Best Christian Writing 2001. Copyright © by John Wilson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2001

    A Fine Read, although Lightweight in Parts

    A very nicely selected volume, with a great deal of wry autobiographical writing. I would have liked some more weighty pieces, or some that were more contextually current, but overall a very nice collection and a nice weapon in the armory of proving that not all Christians are humorless and intolerant.

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