Several weeks ago I finished reading (studying, actually) David Bromwich’s The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: From the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence. A detailed and painstaking analysis of Burke’s writings and speeches and perhaps the best single work on Burke I’ve ever read. (Volume II to follow in time.)
Having watched the Masterpiece Theatre version, made more than three decades ago, of Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, I read the first volume, The Jewel in the Crown, set in India in the 1940’s and published first in 1966. This lengthy novel, using a semi-Faulknerian technique, presents the same story through the eyes of the various characters. Alternately interesting and tedious, Scott’s famous portrait of the Raj on the eve of independence is real and compelling. While halfway through the book, I picked up and read Arthur Herman’s Gandhi and Churchill, a very well-done comparative biography of the two rivals for the British Empire whose lives and personalities coincided in many interesting ways. And I began Northern Opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s War, edited by D. Jonathan White and published by the Abbeville Institute Press. Some excellent essays so far.
Over a rainy Memorial Day weekend I began Volume I of Harold Nicolson’s Diaries & Letters, edited by Nigel Nicolson, having read Volumes II and III when they were remaindered decades ago. The terse yet relaxed sentences and descriptions are very lovely. I have always regarded HN as the quintessential English gentleman. Also La Carte et le territoire, the novel for which Michel Houellebecq won the Prix Goncourt. Finally, since Ash Wednesday last I’ve been trying to read a sermon a night from Newman’s Parochial and Plain Sermons, brought together in a volume from Ignatius Press and representing his pre- and postconversion years. Newman’s scriptural knowledge is astounding, and his insight into human nature and psychology profound. Each sermon is thousands of words long and must have taken at least an hour and a half to deliver from the pulpit. (CW)
There is no overestimating the value of Hermann Sasse (1895-1976), whose Letters to Lutheran Pastors I am enjoying. Savoring, really.
Sasse is arguably the greatest Lutheran theologian of the 20th century. His This Is My Body: Luther’s Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar is indispensable. A master of the classics, philosophy, and Church history, Sasse’s German prose is magnificent, and eminently translatable into an English that is not just readable but delightful.
A student of Adolf von Harnack, Sasse began his academic career at Erlangen as a liberal, but events and Providence roused him to a confessional stance. Those events included the Nazi oppression of conservative churches. Ultimately, Sasse moved halfway around the world, to Luther Seminary in North Adelaide, Australia.
Over the course of his brilliant yet humble career, Sasse wrote numerous circular letters to pastors, epistolary essays on deep theology that touched the very practical concerns faced in parish life—expositions of dangerous broader trends and their correction in light of Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
The Letters come in three volumes from Concordia Publishing House, published 2013-15. They are edited by the Missouri Synod’s president, the Rev. Matthew Harrison, who has taken great pains to add linguistic precision to already fine translations.
I’ll share one sample, from a favorite letter of mine, Ecclesia Orans, written from Erlangen in 1949:
The church of the present day lives in a world which no longer prays and which can no longer pray. One has only to recall Kant’s famous dictum that the more a person progresses in the good, the less he prays. Has the lack of prayer in the modern world influenced the church more deeply than we are inclined to believe, just as the incapability of modern man to understand sin has influenced Christendom so deeply?