Why Does Sebastian Drink? Brideshead Revisited and Understanding God’s Grace.

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A favorite post of mine.

Brideshead Revisited was written by Evelyn Waugh, and it is an exceptionally good book, so much so that now I feel simply lost without it.  The book has been great to reflect on the importance of my Catholic faith and morality in a world that seems quite averse to it; I am even prolonging finishing the television series, as I am having a hard time letting go of this family that I’ve come to develop a relationship with over the course of time. I’m always reading books, although now all other fiction titles seem to lack in substance. It’s because the dignity of humanity is one of the great themes of Brideshead Revisited, and of course, it’s something missing in our society today and in many of the arts.

A reader of this blog asked me one time to comment on a post of his on the book on “Why does Sebastian drink?” I felt that I needed to share my thoughts that I shared with him because it deals with many of themes of my most recent posts on this blog such as sin, mercy, contrition, grace, and forgiveness. Sebastian’s drinking could most certainly have been to seek instant gratification of every moment, he may even say something of this nature early on, but what I believe is what drives Sebastian’s thirst is that he doesn’t believe he deserves the Grace given to him freely by God, and it eats away at him inside.

Waugh never clearly states if there is any reason for Sebastian drinking; however, I think the reason may have several layers of depth. Of course, in the novel, there is the connection of The Church and the state of Grace. Sebastian, for the most part, wishes to reject his mother throughout the entirety of the novel, which I believe he views her subconsciously as a replacement for his animosity toward God. In the last half of the book in a conversation between Charles and Cordelia, Sebastian’s youngest sister, the sentiment is expressed by Cordelia when she describes Charles’ feelings toward her mother:

“I never really knew your mother,” I said.

“You didn’t like her. I sometimes think when people wanted to hate God they hated mummy.”

What do you mean by that, Cordelia?”

“Well, you see, she was saintly, but she wasn’t a saint. No one could really hate a saint, could they? They really can’t hate God either. When they want to hate him and his saints they to find something like themselves and pretend it’s God and hate that. I suppose you think that’s all bosh.” ( p. 254-55 Bay Books 2012)

Sebastian believes his happiness is found disconnected from a Catholic world, which has all but revealed God to him. God is very much a part of Brideshead, and Sebastian seeks to find an Island, an oasis, from it. The relationship between Charles and Sebastian takes off into a joyous experience at first, and Sebastian needing his oasis seeks to keep Charles away from any and all sort of connection to this Catholic world.

I remember after the jail incident, Charles speaks about Sebastian believing his happiness to be tied to this separation from Brideshead, and in effect God. However, as Charles emphasizes Sebastian’s need for the disconnect, Sebastian begins to reject even Charles as Charles becomes friendly with his family and closer to Grace. 

Thomas Merton perhaps speaks of a different layer in his book No man is an Island. Merton says, “Only the man who has had to face despair is really convinced that he needs mercy. Those who do not want mercy never seek it. It is better to find God on the threshold of despair than to risk our lives in a complacency that has never felt the need of forgiveness. A life that is without problems may literally be more hopeless than one that always verges on despair.”

Sebastian always has had a degree of faith no matter how much he tried to reject it. When Charles challenges him about his faith, Sebastian cannot outright reject his faith. Sebastian says “Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.” There is something deeply rooted here, like Grace, that compels him to believe it. Perhaps, Sebastian rejecting the world through drinking is also a method for Grace to enter into this young man of wealth to fully accept the Grace of God. As a society, the humanist tells us, and tries to conform God, that moral actions must relieve suffering. However, these are not the same rules for God. (see: The Book of Job) If God truly relieved the worldly suffering of Sebastian would Grace enter his heart among the brothers later?

It wouldn’t appear so; this is why it is so vital that we understand that the state of souls do matter , even more so than our earthly state.
via Brideshead Revisited: Understanding God’s Grace. – The Latin Community

Silence

Check out my review of the book Silence by Shusaku Endo on the blog All Along the Watchtower.

All Along the Watchtower

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Shusaku Endo’s book is very well written and a fine piece of literature; however, Endo’s theology and conclusion reached at the end of the story is simply bad theology and not a conclusion that is Catholicism, but rather a new age religion. The book has great value when describing events that actually occurred in Japan to those who professed the Christian faith.

The main character of the book is Fr. Rodrigues and his story take place after the apostasy of a real priest who renounced his faith by the name of Cristóvão Ferreira.[1] I became interested in the title due to Martin Scorsese releasing a movie adaptation of the book. I decided before reading the book to read a few reviews, which of course led to spoilers—this post will have them as well. The great part about knowing the ending of the book is realizing how much the author has…

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‘Recovering Catholics’ and the Flytes

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First Published on http://newsforcatholics.info/ : a great source for Catholic News, Commentary and general information on the faith

It was toward the end of a hot day. I was in the midst of a “small talk” conversation of sorts with an acquaintance and the topic of religion came to the surface. Of course, when pondering the conversation, I can’t help but think that it was a peculiar topic to randomly come up amongst two strangers. However, the topic did somehow naturally develop between acquaintances when my fellow conversationalist told me that he had gone to Catholic School. At this point, I thought perhaps I had stumbled upon a new friend of mutual lifestyles and my reply to his revelation was “Oh, I’m Catholic too.”

The response of my acquaintance was a bit deflating as he said, “Oh, I am a recovering Catholic.”

I’ve heard the phrase before, and I’ve always thought it odd. How do these folks perceive their recovery? Do they feel that they have been so indoctrinated as a child that the foundation that had been forged in their youth causes them to relapse from their newfound clarity back to Catholicism or is it an ongoing process to cleanse them from their attachment to Catholicism much like the doctrine of purgatory?

Regardless, I didn’t continue further with the conversation because I felt that there was little more that I could say on the matter. However, I’ve been reminded recently of two particular parts of Brideshead Revisited after the conversation. My current employment has been a blessing that I am able to listen to many audio books, and when seeing that Brideshead was narrated by Jeremy Irons I could not resist, but it has allowed for little to no time for blogging.

(Although I do try to keep up on reading and browsing my favorite blogs)

As I began listening to Irons read the timeless words of Waugh with the conversation fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but focus on the particular passage in this great title:

“Bridey, you mustn’t be pious,” said Sebastian. “We’ve got an atheist with us.”

“Agnostic,” I said. (Charles Ryder)

“Really? Is there much of that at your college? There was a certain amount at Magdalen.” (Bridey)

“I really don’t know. I was one long before I went to Oxford.” (Ryder)

“It’s everywhere,” said Brideshead. (pg. 86 ebook Little Brown Book Company)

Prior to this clarification by Charles, Charles and Sebastian have a conversation on the topic of Sebastian’s Catholicism:

“Who was it used to pray, ‘O God, make me good, but not yet’?”

“I don’t know. You, I should think.”

“Why, yes, I do, every day. But it isn’t that.”

He turned back to the pages of the News of the World and said, “Another naughty scout-master.”

“I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?”

“Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.”

“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”

“Can’t I?”

“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”

“Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”

“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”

“But I do . That’s how I believe.” (p. 82)

As I was listening to these two scenes that are very near each other, I kept thinking in my mind “Recovering Catholic” over and over. I suppose it’s because in many ways both Julia and Sebastian attempted to be “recovering Catholics.” Charles, in a discussion with Julia about his love for her and her brother, commented on Sebastian being the “forerunner.” The two were so very much alike in many ways it’s not entirely surprising that Charles shared a love for both of them.

Our modern world questions the Catholic faithful much like Charles does of Sebastian’s faith especially when our Catholicism is counter to the prevailing wisdom of mainstream secular morals. When it comes to topics like the sacrament of marriage, unborn children, and rejection of material culture the world replies, “You can’t seriously believe it all?” Of course, when the faithful respond, “But I do. That’s how I believe.” The faithful will be mocked for being anti-science or anti –intellectual. In fact, when Julia is struggling with the realization of her own sins in the world, in a way, Charles mocks the idea in the narrative saying:

“Of course it’s a thing psychologists could explain; a preconditioning from childhood; feelings of guilt from the nonsense you were taught in the nursery. You do know at heart that it’s all bosh, don’t you?” (p. 272)

Julia’s replies: ““How I wish it was!”

“Sebastian once said almost the same thing to me.”

So what does this mean for “recovering Catholics”? What does Waugh attempt to tell us in his passages to a man who during those particular points in the story speaks just like our modern world? Waugh attempts to tell us to recognize God’s Grace in action. I didn’t say anything to my acquaintance, mainly because I thought I would do more harm than good, but we have to remember the words of the Venerable Fulton Sheen, “Actually, there are only two philosophies of life: one is first the feast, then the headache; the other is first the fast then the feast.” And so according to the precepts of Christianity, it comes down to a choice between picking up one’s cross or not. Preparing one’s treasures in heaven or on earth. However, a “recovering Catholic” may yet have the tools necessary to choose to accept God’s Grace.

Brideshead Revisited: Understanding God’s Grace.

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Brideshead Revisited was written by Evelyn Waugh, and it is an exceptionally good book, so much so that now I feel simply lost without it.  The book has been great to reflect on the importance of my Catholic faith and morality in a world that seems quite averse to it; I am even prolonging finishing the television series, as I am having a hard time letting go of this family that I’ve come to develop a relationship with over the course of time. I’m always reading books, although now all other fiction titles seem to lack in substance. It’s because the dignity of humanity is one of the great themes of Brideshead Revisited, and of course, it’s something missing in our society today and in many of the arts.

A reader of this blog asked me one time to comment on a post of his on the book on “Why does Sebastian drink?” I felt that I needed to share my thoughts that I shared with him because it deals with many of themes of my most recent posts on this blog such as sin, mercy, contrition, grace, and forgiveness. Sebastian’s drinking could most certainly have been to seek instant gratification of every moment, he may even say something of this nature early on, but what I believe is what drives Sebastian’s thirst is that he doesn’t believe he deserves the Grace given to him freely by God, and it eats away at him inside.

Waugh never clearly states if there is any reason for Sebastian drinking; however, I think the reason may have several layers of depth. Of course, in the novel, there is the connection of The Church and the state of Grace. Sebastian, for the most part, wishes to reject his mother throughout the entirety of the novel, which I believe he views her subconsciously as a replacement for his animosity toward God. In the last half of the book in a conversation between Charles and Cordelia, Sebastian’s youngest sister, the sentiment is expressed by Cordelia when she describes Charles’ feelings toward her mother:

“I never really knew your mother,” I said.

“You didn’t like her. I sometimes think when people wanted to hate God they hated mummy.”

What do you mean by that, Cordelia?”

“Well, you see, she was saintly, but she wasn’t a saint. No one could really hate a saint, could they? They really can’t hate God either. When they want to hate him and his saints they to find something like themselves and pretend it’s God and hate that. I suppose you think that’s all bosh.” ( p. 254-55 Bay Books 2012)

Sebastian believes his happiness is found disconnected from a Catholic world, which has all but revealed God to him. God is very much a part of Brideshead, and Sebastian seeks to find an Island, an oasis, from it. The relationship between Charles and Sebastian takes off into a joyous experience at first, and Sebastian needing his oasis seeks to keep Charles away from any and all sort of connection to this Catholic world.

I remember after the jail incident, Charles speaks about Sebastian believing his happiness to be tied to this separation from Brideshead, and in effect God. However, as Charles emphasizes Sebastian’s need for the disconnect, Sebastian begins to reject even Charles as Charles becomes friendly with his family and closer to Grace. 

Thomas Merton perhaps speaks of a different layer in his book No man is an Island. Merton says, “Only the man who has had to face despair is really convinced that he needs mercy. Those who do not want mercy never seek it. It is better to find God on the threshold of despair than to risk our lives in a complacency that has never felt the need of forgiveness. A life that is without problems may literally be more hopeless than one that always verges on despair.”

Sebastian always has had a degree of faith no matter how much he tried to reject it. When Charles challenges him about his faith, Sebastian cannot outright reject his faith. Sebastian says “Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.” There is something deeply rooted here, like Grace, that compels him to believe it. Perhaps, Sebastian rejecting the world through drinking is also a method for Grace to enter into this young man of wealth to fully accept the Grace of God. As a society, the humanist tells us, and tries to conform God, that moral actions must relieve suffering. However, these are not the same rules for God. (see: The Book of Job) If God truly relieved the worldly suffering of Sebastian would Grace enter his heart among the brothers later?

It wouldn’t appear so; this is why it is so vital that we understand that the state of souls do matter , even more so than our earthly state.

The Sign of The Cross: Why do Catholics sign themselves?

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One of the great histories written on the topic of the Sign of the Cross was written in defense of the ceremony by St. Francis De Sales. St. Francis De Sales took up his pen in defense of Catholicism while he was Bishop of Geneva in Switzerland, which was dominated during his time in the 16th century by Calvinists. Francis De Sales decided to write on the topic of the Sign of the Cross because the Calvinist of his day accused the practice of being a Papist invention that had nothing to do with the early Church.

The translator, Christopher O. Blum, writes in the forward of The Sign of the Cross that “The reader will not fail to be struck by the relevance of this work in our own age. Crucifixes to be sure, but even bare crosses, are conspicuous by their absence in America’s Evangelical churches, and the act of making the Sign of the Cross is regarded by many non-Catholics as superstition at best.”[1]

I am a born and raised Catholic, so the ceremony of the Sign of the Cross has always been  a part of my life. However, I have encountered instances where I have felt self-conscience because of a stare from another member of society–especially when I was younger. I never really knew the history of the Sign of the Cross just that it was done by Catholics, a distinct action of our Latin culture, but St. Francis De Sales book is a beautiful explanation that I wish I had to encountered at a younger age so that I could have been properly informed.

In the first chapter, St. Francis De Sales discusses how “the Sign of the Cross is a Christian ceremony that represents the Passion of our Lord.”[2] When discussing ceremonies that take place within the religions, Francis De Sales explains the importance of religion in the context of these ceremonial actions. He says, “the virtue of religion, having for its proper and natural work to render to God the honor that is His due.”[3] Francis De Sales explains that the action of the Sign of the Cross is an action that outside of religion would have absolutely no meaning and no use. He says, “Indifferent actions would remain useless if religion did not employ them, but once put to work by it, they become noble, useful, and holy.”[4] Of course, we Catholics do other actions when we enter our sanctuaries as we bend our knees to the ground to show a free submission to the will of God in front of him in the Tabernacle, as explained by Bishop Paprocki during the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

However for the Calvinist of De Sales days–and the Protestant of today– who are not convinced, he has the reader look back into scripture to find where religion requested such action from those in the world since the beginning of humanity. He explains for all to look at the story of Abel and Cain and notice how religion called for them to make offerings, and in regards to Noah, an altar was constructed without delay.[5] Regardless of the rejection from Calvinist in St. Francis De Sales day to Protestants in the modern world, The Old Testament is filled with examples such as the sacrifices and ceremony of Abraham, Melchizedek, Isaac, Jacob et al. Furthermore, look at the accounts of the New Testament where John is baptizing, St. Paul is cutting his hair for a vow, and prays on his knees with the church of Miletus.[6] De Sales reminds us that these action by themselves mean nothing, but when used in the context of religion to praise the glory of God “they become honorable and efficacious ceremonies.”[7]

St. Francis De Sales reminds us that God even works through ceremony when conducting miracles on earth. He has Moses touch the rock with his staff, or a beggar touches the robes of Christ they become healed.[8]

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So the Christian who employs the ceremony of The Sign of the Cross does so to honor God in a manner that is strictly Christian. A sign that was conducted in the early Church to symbolize to others during the height of persecution that they were Christians. A symbol of the Passion made by a simple motion that creates the shape of the crucifixion. It must be made with the right hand with either three fingers representing the trinity or five representing the five wounds of Christ. St. Francis De Sales reminds us to use either three or five fingers as the Jacobites and Armenians employed only one figure to represent their Christological heresies.[9] The sign of the Cross should begin at the forehead while saying, “In the name of the Father,” and move down toward the stomach while saying “and of the Son.” The downward motion illustrates that the Son proceeds from the Father by sending his Son to the womb of the Virgin Mary. The hand then moves to the left shoulder to the right while saying “and of the Holy Spirit.” Catholics do this to illustrate that the third person in the Trinity proceeds from the Father and from the Son.

The beautiful ceremony is the confession of the mysteries of the Trinity, the Passion, and salvation from sin.[10] It is one that is that shows our Catholic culture and one that honors the traditions of Christianity. If your own faith does not practice this beautiful ceremony, I ask that you reflect on the matter.

[1] St. Francis De Sales, The Sign of the Cross (Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 2013), xiii.

[2] Ibid, 3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 4.

[5] Ibid, 5.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 6.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, 9.

[10] Ibid, 10.

Doctor Zhivago: Defiance to a Godless State.

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The Soviet Union was not a nation who cared too much for dissenters of its engineered state philosophy of communism. In fact, when Boris Pasternak attempted to get his book Doctor Zhivago published by Novy Mir they rejected the title claiming that the “author’s point of view was incompatible with the spirit of the revolution and the Marxist ideology that was the theoretical foundation of the state.”[1] Pasternak was not surprised by the rejection and even expected some sort of retaliation from the Soviet authorities; however, in 1957, he was able to get his book published in Italian.[2] The book is filled with many characteristics that would be highly critical of the Soviet way of life; several passages on the subject of religion will be outlined to illustrate why the Soviet authorities would have rejected such a book.

Pasternak’s work employs several types of religious imagery or insinuations of religion, resurrection, or rebirth. The Soviet philosophy created by the Bolsheviks to progress Russia forward with Prometheanism–the ideology where mankind becomes God– sought to modernize Russia away from what they saw as superstition and myth and instead promote scientific empiricism.[3] (Sound familiar?) After the Russian Civil War, the new ruling class as described in A History of Russia,  “The government ordered the seizure of all Church valuables, temporarily imprisoned Patriarch Tikhon.”[4] In effect, outlawing religion within the borders of Russia.

The Soviet philosophy would have been threatened by any objection to their approved philosophy of atheism, which is why when Pasternak wrote about Yuri Andreevich, the main protagonist of his novel, relying on intuition rather than empiricism in Part Four chapter five of Dr. Zhivago it would be viewed as a direct assault on Soviet principles. A strange interpretation of the text to modern Western minds the scene that would be seen as nothing out of the ordinary to most people today in the western world,Pasternak writes, “Yuri Andreevich turned his back to the window and yawned from fatigue. He had nothing to think about. Suddenly he remembered. In the surgical section of the Krestovozdvizhensky Hospital, where he worked, a woman patient had died a couple of days ago. Yuri Andreevich had insisted she had Echinococcus of the liver. Everyone disagreed with him…The autopsy would reveal the truth.”[5] The text would appear harmless to any who never had lived in such an environment; however, what it reveals is a dangerous knowledge or truth that exists outside of empirical evidence and the Soviet philosophy. The text was a direct affront to the Soviet way of life–and presently any secular empiricist.

Pasternak goes on to criticize the modern secular utopia that the Soviet Union was attempting to create and its failure to do so in Part Six chapter nine writing, “Winter came, precisely as had been predicted. It was not yet as scary as the two that followed it, but was already of their kind, dark, hungry, and cold, all a breaking up of the habitual and a rebuilding of the foundations of existence, all an inhuman effort to hold on to life as it slipped away.”[6] Of course, Pasternak is creating a commentary on the false Soviet principles of creating a temporal utopia because of its fleeting nature. He indicates this later on in Part Six chapter fifteen writing, “Hell, and decay, and decomposition, and death are glad to take up, and yet, together with them, spring, and Mary Magdalene, and life are also glad to take up. And—have to wake up. He has to wake up and rise. He has to resurrect.”[7] The reason why Pasternak focuses on the imagery of Mary Magdalene and resurrection is its critique of the Soviet way of life. Mary Magdalene was the first to witness of the resurrected  Christ, “15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-bo′ni!”[8]

Early in Dr. Zhivago Pasternak creates a scene of Yuri riding a train, as Yuri looks out the window he sees the Cathedral of Christ the Savior appearing in the distance as he is arriving at Moscow. Pasternak’s image of focusing on a building that was destroyed by the Soviets December 5th, 1931 would have disturbed many within the party who wished to promote Soviet philosophy among the citizenry.[9] However, it appears that Pasternak, focusing on religion and resurrection as a theme in Dr. Zhivago, had been seeing the foundations of a movement that would occur from the 1960s to 1980s interested in the former Cathedral.[10] It appears that Pasternak hoped that everyone—like Mary Magdalene—would witness the resurrection of faith in Soviet Russia. The Soviets were not interested in the spread of such hope as it could not be tolerated by the state, not even in fiction, to their engineered philosophy.

[1] Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Pantheon Books, 2010), viii.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Nicholas V. Riasanovsky and Mark Steinberg, A History of Russia, 8th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 614.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Pasternak, 91.

[6] Ibid, 173.

[7] Ibid, 184.

[8] John 20:11-16 RSV

[9] Konstantin Akinsha, Sylvia  Hochfield, and Grigorij Kozlov The Holy Place: Architecture, Ideology, and History in Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 124.

 

[10] Ibid, 145.

The Catholic Enlightenment?

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I like to peruse new books on Amazon–or anywhere– and came across this new title named The Catholic EnlightenmentThe title of the book really drove my interest, as well as the billing of the book to be a huge addition to the historical record. My academic career being in history and also being a Catholic it would seem like the book is a home run for my interest of heart. Also, my ‘expertise’ or ‘focus’ in history academically seems to be tailor made for the book’s subject as it was a  focus on the Early American Republic, which was highly influenced by the Enlightenment.

The book, being released on February 3rd, 2016, has no reviews on Amazon, and so wanting to learn more about the title I sent off to find a more detailed review on the subject matter. I found one on www.patheos.com and here are some of the interesting points I pulled from the review.

** “the Enlightenment (a.k.a. “Age of Reason“) is commonly used by atheists as a blunt tool against religious people.”

** “Catholics tend to see the Enlightenment as a period of sinful darkness and secular fanaticism. For them this secular ideology fueled the apocalyptic destruction of the French Revolution and 20th century totalitarianism.”

** And one of the  most interesting thoughts** “Most interestingly, Catholics got a jump start on many Enlightenment reforms thanks to the reforms of Trent. The Council, much like Vatican II, aimed to improve the quality of Catholic practice by stressing active participation and social involvement (through the Works of Mercy). This is definitely not how many Catholics remember Trent–if they are at all familiar with it.”

The review is very thought provoking, one would only hope the book serves the intellect just as well. Many of my posts lately have challenged Traditional stances on Catholicism; however, I wouldn’t necessarily claim that I attempted to co-opt Trent to justify Vatican II. It’s a very interesting position, because, in my conversations with my fellow Catholics, most Catholics either fall on the Pro-Trent aisle or the Pro-Vatican II aisle. However, it’s also the heart of many of my dialogues to co-opt the two councils has a development of faith in Christ. Let me be clear–and my traditional friends will love this assertion–The Council of Trent is so vital to the Catholic faith that if you are Pro-Vatican II then yes you do have to justify Vatican II council with Trent (they are not equals and this would be why when defending the vernacular Mass, I cite Trent documents and sessions.)

Nonetheless, one of the skills everyone learns, or should learn, taking university level college courses is how to detect bias in every author’s written work. Let’s make a clear distinction here, every historical thesis is filled with author bias on the events. My posts all have bias, it’s unavoidable.

It appears the author, from this review, attempts to treat the subject matter with fairness. Although it will be interesting to see if the author attempts to come down on a pro-Trent, pro-Vatican II, or an attempt at both that all Catholics seem to focus their attention on. Is the book an attempt to fashion a more appealing brand of Catholicism towards secularists and will use Vatican II to do so or attempt to place Vatican II as a development of Trent?

I suppose I’ll have to read the book as quotes, shown below, only attempt to entice one to open the book and read.