BY JOHN HORGAN John XXIII, by Leone Algisi (Malan, Longman and Todd, 30s.).
Smuch attention has been 1-./ focused on Pope John's brief reign that. inevitably. significant trends in his earlier life have been ignored or obscured. This book helps to correct the balance.
After a short hut fully detailed description of Angelo Roncalli's family background in Sotto il Monte. Signor Algisi plunges right into the heart of the Roman Question. This vibrant and vital controversy between Church and State in Italy, and within the Church itself, was the chief background to the ycning seminarian's life and thoughts. Its influence is ace u ratel y and thoughtfully assessed.
We are also given revealing glimpses of the Papal administration, with its intensely Italian character strengthened by the close liaison between the Pope and the Italian bishops and which, more than anything else, favours the election of an Italian Pope.
Mgr. Roncalli's three most important diplomatic posts before he became Patriarch of Venice were, probably without exception, the three most critical posts that the Vatican had to fill.
In Bulgaria. he had to overcome the monumental distrust of the government. To this he replied with his good humour, tact, gentleness and love, an armoury which was to stand him in good stead.
It was the same wherever he went. In Turkey, faced by the extreme secularism of the state, and the delicate political and religious situation, he cheerfully set about learning Turkish and healing the breaches caused between Orthodox and Latin rites by centuries of prejudice and misunder standing. In Greece he did the same.
he description of his stay in France as Papal Nuncio is particularly rewarding. The difficulties he had to face the problem of the bishops accused of "collaborating" with the Germans, that of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, and that of the worker priests are put in perspective.
Throughout the book we are made continually aware of the complete consistency in Pope piety modulated gently, through maturity, to the acceptance of a paternal 'responsibility for all those under his care. The original sense of filial devotion remained. and was exemplified in the many actions of the serrui servorton bet. There is a rich vein of continuity and development.
The book is, however. inadequate in two ways. The author's Italianate turn of phrase (and. occasionally. of thought) have survived the translation into French and the subsequent retranslation into English only too well, Nor has the text been added to since about 1960. 'Therefore it contains very little information about the Council or about the later encyclicals. But this is not so important. as these have been so fully treated elsewhere. Despite its textual limitations. John XXIII is a notable and genuine contribution to our knowledge of the great man who. when he had reached the age of 60. unknown to few people outside Rome and the East. wrote to a friend in quiet resignation: "May the Lord make what remains of my poor life as profitable and edifying as possible."