May 2018 Print

Book Review: Heroism and Genius

By Fr. William J. Slattery (Ignatius Press, 2017)

We live in a time when the Faith of all times is being thrown in the muck or down the drain. This being so, it is refreshing to read a book which makes no bones to defend this Faith. Not only does it defend it, but it boldly sings the praises of known and unknown Catholic Churchmen. And not only does it praise the men of the cloth for their religious achievements, the cultus, but it praises them especially for advancing culture itself, embracing the education, social life, economics and many other ingredients which have produced the Western civilization. It is with this rather polemic endeavor to mainstream scientists and media that Fr. Slattery writes a cogent history, if unusual, of the Catholic achievements up until the Middle Ages.

For, throughout the 250 or so pages divided unequally into ten chapters, we are witnessing the making of Christendom drafted by the Church Fathers amid the ruins of the Roman empire, rising from the foundations during the Carolingian era in the midst of the Dark Ages, and finally reaching full bloom with the Christian civilization of the High Middle Ages.

The author renders us a welcome service by going into great detail of how the Irish monks Christianized Barbarian Europe in the early medieval times. Not only are we provided with the relevant biography of the Benedictine monks and their respective monasteries in the mainland, but we are also acquainted with their specific method of apostolate, as compared to the Italian monks, especially concerning their manners of teaching and confessing. And here, Alcuin, Charlemagne’s right hand, is rightly given pride of place. The other section describes the various cultural traits proper to the late Middle Ages, with chivalry and the crusades, the troubadours and discoveries in architecture or music, and even, a shock to many readers, some inroads into free-market economics. A short chapter, which is right in the center of the book, squarely defines “the Mass of All Times” as the backbone of Christian culture.

Reading the introduction to Heroism and Genius strikes us with the author’s passionate pen, the idealistic thought and the breadth of vision which has given life and spice to the whole work. And if we did not know what the book is all about, a clue is provided from the rather lengthy subtitle: How Catholic Priests helped build—and can help rebuild—Western Civilization. This, then is the main purpose of the book: to foster vocations to the traditional priesthood among youth who are highly idealistic. May Fr. Slattery’s contribution be instrumental in fulfilling this wish!

–Fr. Dominique Bourmaud, SSPX