Nicholas Boyle really believes that Christ has ''broken down the dividing wall, abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances,'' (Eph. 2:14 ff) and that this transcending of boundaries applies to sacred and secular literature. ''Read as showing Christ in the moment in which they mark themselves off from their origin in God, secular scriptures become the limit case of sacred scripture, the word of God no longer as an address to us--as God's reply to our prayer--but as the inarticulate groanings of the Spirit within us: as our prayer itself.'' In three stages, Boyle presents a richly stimulating yet rather daunting argument to come to a Catholic understanding of literature. He examines and develops Dominique Chenu's post-Vatican II call for seeing the Bible ''as a divinely ordained mediation between human culture and divine truth,'' the Word giving dignity to the word of literature, which is ''language free of instrumental purpose'' that ''seeks to tell the truth.'' He then engages the thought of non-Catholics like Herder, Hegel, Schliermacher, Frei, Ricoeur, Levinas, and George Steiner to assist him in developing an approach to reading the Bible as literature and to form a Catholic and theological approach to reading all great literature, searching for truth and revelation in ''the tradition of 'both and' rather than of 'either/or.''' In the last part of the book, he practices this approach on Faust, Moby Dick, Mansfield Park
, and other works, including a chapter on ''The Idea of England.'' In the final chapter, we impudently claim he goes astray: a work he considers not ''real literature'' at all-The Lord of the Rings
-provides him with perhaps the richest opportunity for this Catholic approach to literature. We will be bold with our impudence: echoing yet diverging from C.S. Lewis' appraisal of John Jones' Aristotle and Greek Tragedy
-''About Aristotle, Mr. Jones is simply right''we say, and ''about Tolkien, Mr. Boyle is simply wrong.'' But that's just a caveat. Do not miss engaging this critical landmark. 299 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
Nicholas Boyle's latest work begins with an observation--from theologian and medievalist Father Marie-Dominique Chenu, O.P.--that the Bible should be seen as a divinely ordained mediation between human culture and divine truth. But how far can we say that the Bible is 'literature'? Chenu is surely right that God is revealed in Scripture not through a system of ideas, but through a vivid historical narrative of people and places. But the Bible is also a sacred book. Expanding on this central dilemma, Boyle demonstrates that biblical scholarship and literary criticism must work together in the largely neglected task of integrating theology and modern secular culture. Boyle explores two lines of thought. In the first series of essays, he discusses a range of writers, primarily philosophers and theologians, who have treated the Bible as literature as a means of reconciling the sacred and the secular. In the second series, Boyle moves to the theme of literature as Bible, seeking a Catholic way of reading secular literature. These sophisticated and learned essays--drawn from the Erasmus Lectures Boyle delivered at the University of Notre Dame in 2003--cover a remarkable range of philosophers, theologians, and writers, including Herder, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Levinas, Goethe, Austen, Melville, and Tolkien. This volume will reward its reader with penetrating, and often brilliant, insights.