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Book Reviews by Dr Pravin Thevathasan

  Eucharist and Covenant in John's Last Supper Account
New Hope Publications
Monsignor Anthony A La Femina

ISBN 978-1-892875-56-3

This work on the Holy Eucharist has received endorsements from Cardinal Raymond Burke, Fr Aidan Nichols and Bishop Peter Elliott among others. It notes that the Gospel of John has no account of the institution of the Eucharist in contrast to the synoptic Gospels. There is however an account of Footwashing that is unique to John and this has often been presented as an example of the humble obedience of Our Lord. But the author argues that it is much more than this.

The Footwashing shares certain Eucharistic characteristics. It signifies the death of Jesus, it establishes a covenant and it purifies from sin. These points are discussed in detail in a manner that is both clear and readable. One point it notes is that John presents the Footwashing as a covenant establishing action, because by this Jesus gives his disciples a share in his unique heritage : "If I do not wash you, you have no part with me."

So there is a family union between Jesus and his disciples and his Father. It would appear that John gives a covenantal characteristic to the Footwashing.
The author notes that the motives for devising the Footwashing analogy was never to undermine the importance of the Eucharist but to explain it in a more profound way. John makes the Footwashing an anological presentation of the Eucharist to teach us that the Eucharist is a true sacrifice which really makes present the death of Jesus on the altar. As a protaganist of the Footwashing, Jesus is presented as the new Moses who leads God's people from bondage to real freedom, freedom from sin.

Perhaps there has been an undue emphasis in recent times in presenting the Eucharist as a meal. This book helps to redress the balance by reminding us throughout of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist.

The book is beautifully produced and is well illustrated with the author's own icon presentations. It is a work that will help us appreciate the centrality of the Eucharist in our lives.

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Catholic Bioethics for a New Millennium
Anthony Fisher
Cambridge University Press
ISBN 978-0-521-25324-6

The aim of this excellent work is to demonstrate the enduring relevance of the Judeo-Christian tradition in contemporary bioethics. Bishop Anthony Fisher, a Dominican and a moral theologian, covers a range of vital issues in bioethics including ethics at the beginning and end of life. There is a helpful critique of the fashionable view that human persons come into existence about twelve days after fertilisation. Another chapter is dedicated to assisted hydration and nutrition. Fisher shows that it is reasonable to ordinarily feed patients if they can no longer feed themselves. But it is also reasonable to discontinue when it is burdensome.

In the chapter on stem cells, Fisher notes that even Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the sheep, has given up on embryonic stem cell research. The future is with adult stem cells, from both a moral and scientific perspective. In the chapter on abortion, Fisher writes that autonomy is not useful in determining what to do. Motherhood ought not to be about ownership or competition. A disabled child ought not to be aborted but given all the assistance he or she needs in order to flourish.

Fisher sees four promising developments in moral theology: a greater emphasis on scripture, a renewal of natural law theory, a recovery of virtue theory and a greater appreciation of the distinctly Catholic contribution to ethical reflection. He is critical of a certain mentality which he refers to as "the technological imperative," the notion that something has always got to be done, even when that something is a morally bad choice.

For Fisher, there are truths about the human person that are objective. Conscience, for example, is not a subjective feeling but something that needs to be guided by objective principles. The teaching of the Church informs our conscience much like a soul informing a body.

In conclusion, this is a very good resource which covers some of the major issues in bioethics from a Catholic perspective.

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The Law And Ethics Of Medicine
Essays on the Inviolability of Human Life
John Keown

Oxford University Press
ISBN 978-0-19-958955-5

John Keown holds the Rose F kennedy Chair in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. His research has been cited by the United States Supreme court, the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics and the Australian Senate. He has also served as a member of the Ethics Committee of the British Medical Association. In this work, he explains and defends the principle of the sanctity or inviolability of life (IOL) and its relevance to English law governing aspects of medical practice at the beginning and end of life.

Chapter one shows that IOL requires to be distinguished from "vitalism" (preserving life at all cost) on the one hand and " quality of life" ethics on the other. It is also argued that the definition of "best interests" in the Mental Capacity Act is unsatisfactory as it is based on subjective opinion. It is also stated that the exercise of autonomy is not the fundamental source of worth in a person's life.

Chapter two examines the various errors of the legal scholar and utilitarian Glanville Williams. It is quite astounding to note that so many basic errors of theology were made by such an influential figure.

Chapter three evaluates Sir Ian Kennedy's understanding of the value of life. Kennedy makes exaggerated claims on the value of autonomy and thus builds on the shaky foundations of Glanville Williams. His misunderstanding of IOL is in part due to his conflation of intention and foresight.

Chapter four is an assessment of of the works of two academics, one of whom confuses IOL with vitalism and the other dismisses IOL as "religious" and "speciesist."

Chapter five is a critique of Roe v Wade, the ruling which established a right to abortion in the United States in 1973. The author argues that the ruling was a radical departure from the law's historical protection of the unborn child.
In chapter six the author questions the soundness of the judgement which states that the morning after pill does not procure a "miscarriage" contrary to the the Offences against the Person Act 1861. It is argued that the nineteenth century medico-legal texts make it clear that "miscarriage" was understood in 1861 to include the prevention of implantation.

Chapter seven is an evaluation of C v S, a case in which a man unsuccessfully sought an injunction to prevent his former girlfriend from aborting the child.
Chapter eight considers the legal status of the human embryo in vitro in Anglo-American law.

Chapter nine is on assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Netherlands and Oregon. It concludes with a discussion of the Joffe Bill.

Chapter ten looks again at the euthanasia debate in the light of recent cases including those of Dianne Pretty and Debbie Purdy.

Chapter eleven argues that almost 100,000 people suffer unnecessary pain because of unmet need for palliative care. There is an urgent ethical obligation to meet this need.

Chapter twelve is on the outcome of the Tony Bland case, involving a young man in a "persistent vegetative state" whose life support was withdrawn even though he was not dying.

This work is uniformly well written and,though scholarly, is very readable. Keown is undoubtedly one of the most powerful defenders of the inviolability of life principle.

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Introduction to the Science of Mental Health
Fr Chad Ripperger F.S.S.P. PhD
Sensus Tradiotionis Press
ISBN 0-9745419-8-2

If you are ordering internationally, it is probably easier for you to order the book from the following website:

Let us begin by noting what is not claimed in this hugely important and impressive work. Fr Ripperger, a professor of theology in Denton, Nebraska, does not claim expertise in psychiatry and he is not suggesting that people with severe mental illness give up taking medication.

Rather, this is a study of mental health as understood in the great Thomistic tradition. Mental health is defined as a "quality residing in the possible intellect which render the faculty capable of acting according to its proper nature, i.e. rationally." It is difficult to find such a clear definition in current psychology text-books. This is because modern psychology takes a view of man as simply a material thing with no soul. We need to see man as body and soul with spiritual faculties such as intellect and will.

In order to be valid, a science needs to know its subject matter. If modern psychology does not know man, then it follows that it is not a valid science. Certain schools of psychological thought, as found in the psycho-analytical and behavioural traditions, deny free-will and therefore have a false understanding of man.

In contrast, the author shows that Thomistic psychology offers us the metaphysical principles we need in order to know man. The proper operation of our faculties leads to mental health. Or, to put it another way, good habits are virtues and lead to mental health. Bad habits are vices and lead to mental ill health.

To digress somewhat, imagine a person who develops a psychotic episode and thinks himself evil. There is no rational foundation to his belief and he surely needs psychiatric help. Now imagine a second person who thinks himself evil and is depressed. He has a history of financial irregularity and he feels guilty for what he has done.His conscience torments him. It is unlikely that medication of itself would help him towards mental health. Neither would talking therapies unless those therapies have a proper understanding of man. In contrast, Thomistic psychology goes to the root cause in a way that modern psychology may not :

"Many schools of psychology think that conscience is just a habituated way of thinking, but because the conscience is an act of the intellect which is governed by the natural law, it is something essential or natural to man and cannot be done away with. This is why psychologists have had very little success when it comes to matters of this kind because they counsel individuals contrary to their own nature... Rather the psychologist must query the conscience of the individual so as to find where the problem is and counsel the directee to stop acting contrary to his nature, as well as seek to have the conscience clear. Moreover, the psychologist must urge the directee to form his conscience properly by conforming his conscience to the natural law."

How far removed this is from the non-directive and non-judgemental therapies offered by Carl Rogers and colleagues, therapies that have done significant damage within the Church. And what better way to "clear the conscience" than by going to confession? Also recommended is the reversal in some fashion of the bad act done. The man guilty of financial irregularity, for instance, ought to make reparation and be determined to live an honest and upright life.
In order to have good mental health, we need to live virtuous lives. The author examines how the infused virtues influence our mental health. It is shown that the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity have a profound psychological effect on us. Grace and the indwelling of the Holy Trinity have a crucial role in advancing our mental health. With such a rich understanding of mental health, it is not surprising to see chapters on the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. There is also a chapter on the temperaments defined in the classical way as sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic. The influence of angels and demons are further examined.

This is a work that ought to be read in seminaries, by clergy and by Catholic psychologists. A certain understanding of the teaching of St Thomas is presumed. However, this reviewer found the writing to be clear and precise. The author modestly calls his work an introduction. It is surely much more than this.

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  On The Meaning Of Sex
J Budziszewski
ISI Books
ISBN 978-1-935191-24-7

The author of this brilliant book is a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas. He is one of the clearest exponents of the Natural Law tradition writing at present and this work is solidly rooted in that tradition. He observes that we need to be true to ourselves, to our nature. Human beings are designed in a particular way and ought to behave in a certain way in order to flourish. What is particularly enthralling is the reflection that this law is written in our hearts. All behaviour, including sexual behaviour , flows from this interior reality.

The author writes that sex ought to be meaningful in order for human beings to flourish. Meaningless sex leads to unhappiness. That is why psychiatrists spend time assessing people who have taken overdoses after their sexual companions leave them. The author notes that being a libertine may have been fashionable some decades ago. Now it has become part of the "culture." Some months ago, on the radio, a young man from South London told his listeners that he meets his sexual companions after going clubbing. There is no exchange of names because, apparently, there is no need for this when having meaningless sex. That man is acting against his nature and his behaviour will not lead to his flourishing.But he was still commended for always using a condom.

The author looks at how we have come to this. But, perhaps fortunately, he also offers us a positive vision of human sexuality. He thus writes of the reality of sexual difference, of sexual beauty and sexual purity. The alternative to meaningless sex is therefore not the body destroying heresy of angelism.
The author writes well of romantic love. But what really matters is erotic charity which entails a permanent commitment of the will to the authentic good of the other. Marital fidelity is not an external imposition but is something intrinsic to married life as flour is intrinsic to bread.

The author shows that human love only makes sense ultimately in the context of divine love: "Human love means so much, because divine love means still more."

There are plenty of books on sex out there but so few are written wisely. This is a really wise work.

Copyright ©;
Dr Pravin Thevathasan 2012

Version: 29th May 2012

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