Our chief book reviewer Brian Brindley presents a selection of Christmas books ONE OF THE. GOOD THINGS that have happened in the past 20 years (there have not been very many) has been the increased quality and availability of colour printing. Not . only is it possible for The Catholic Herald to be illustrated in colour, but books both scholarly and popular can be enriched with photographs, or reproductions of works of art, and still be sold at reasonable prices.
At no time is this more welcome than at Christmas, with the opportunity to give, and to receive, lavishly illustrated books: as so much of the world's great art is Christian in origin and content, we are likely to be well served. First and foremost this year I must put
AD: 2,000 years of Christianity,
edited by Christopher Howse (SPCK £20). This began as a set of colour supplements to The Daily Telegraph. One expects such things to be well presented and beautifully illustrated; the accompanying text is not always up to the same level. In this case, however, the pictures are matched, or more than matched, by the written word. The various articles are mostly of dictionary or encyclopaedia length and style; within those boundaries, they are first class, both for scholarship and for readability. All too often„ books surveying the history of the Church concentrate on the periods that interest the editor and rush through the intervening ages. This book takes its title seriously, and follows a stately course down the Christian centuries: out of 180 pages, 28 bring us to the year 400, another 30 to the year 800, 30 to 1200, 30 more to 1500, another 30 to 1800, and another 30 to the present day... and beyond. So, if you want to know what the Donatists actually believed, or the first Quakers, here there is room for authoritative expositions. The editor, we are told, "lives between Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral"; the same might be said of his book.
The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, has, among the many amenities of his position, a magnificent picture-gallery literally at the bottom of his garden. Dr John Drury is an artist as well as a theologian, and he has put together
Painting the Word: Christian Pictures and their Meanings
(Yale, and the National Gallery, London £14.95) in which he reproduces a large number of paintings, and submits them to a scholarly critical analysis from the Christian point of view. One caution is necessary: with very few exceptions, the beautiful colour illustrations are taken from pictures in our own National Gallery; this is not a problem, for the holdings in Trafalgar Square are among the richest in the
world; but it is something of which the potential purchaser ought to be aware. The Dean's commentary is as good as one would expect. No such limitation of sources applies to A Journey into Christian Art, by Helen de Borchgrave (Lion £20) — there is, indeed, a gazetteer of the international galleries from which the illustrations have been derived. Inevitably it covers much of the same ground as Dr Drury, but the concentration here is more on the individual artists, and the tone of the commentary is more "devotional". It is hard to make a choice between these two lovely books, which will give hours of pleasure; if pressed, I would have to say that John Drury speaks more to the scholar, Helen de Borchgrave to the ordinary Christian art-lover. Either book would be good to have.
Treasury of the Catholic Church: Two Thousand Years of Spiritual Writing, complied by Teresa de Bertodano (Darton, Longman and Todd £19.95) is a book of quite a different kind. Without illustrations or decorations of any sort, it aspires to be a work of art in itself; finely printed in large type of an unusual design, stoutly bound with a silk head-band and ribbon marker, it has all the marks of a Gift Book. It contains 300 passages of Catholic poetry and prose, each occupying approximately a page, and each obviously intended for reading one a day. There are passages from the scriptures, from the Fathers, from the modem saints, and from 20th-century writers. It is obviously destined to be well used and well loved by those who own it. For obvious reasons it is not intended to offer critical texts: the prayer "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace" is attributed without comment to St Francis, and "Teach us, good Lord, to serve thee as thou deservest" to St Ignatius Loyola. One final, clinching, word: the book has a foreword by Cardinal Basil Hume; that will be enough to commend it to very many people. FINALLY, going from the sublime to the less sublime, The Times Book of Church Cats, by Richard Burman (HarperCollins £9.99) is a cat-book for catlovers. It contains lovely colour photographs of 18 amiable-looking moggies, and pen-and-wash drawings of the churches they inhabit and (presumably) keep free of church-mice.
Most of them are Anglo-Cats (a.k.a. Pusey-cats) but a few of them are Roman Cats. If this sort of cat-talk annoys you, give the book to a cat-loving friend.