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  • On the Road to Emmaus: The Catholic Dialogue with America and Modernity by Glenn W. Olsen
  • William M. Shea
On the Road to Emmaus: The Catholic Dialogue with America and Modernity. By Glenn W. Olsen. Washington, DC: The Catholic University Press, 2012. 316pp. $69.95.

Glen Olsen, a professor emeritus of medieval history at the University of Utah, collects and rewrites a dozen of his essays three of which deal with issues in medieval history. The other nine take on issues related especially to church and state in the modern world. The nine include inculturation of religious faith [1], faith in a neo-pagan society [4], the family [5], separation of church and state [6], religion and politics [7], America and the Enlightenment [8], John Rawls and authority [9], public philosophy [10], and subsidiarity in contemporary context [11]. The three are more directly concerned with medieval questions: the investiture contest [2], lay spirituality [3], and the ethics of the Spanish conquest [12]. The essays are uniformly interesting, informative, and nicely written indeed. The publisher has done well by Olsen. The volume belongs on the shelves of every university and college library and, though the price is a bit steep, will be of particular interest to readers who like their Catholicism neat.

There is a central argument to the essays. The author wants the separation of church and state reduced. He wants more cooperation between them. He regards pluralism in religion and in society a near fatal danger to the community that both should engender. A “dominant” religion has the task of building the culture, and as such deserves the moral support of government. The steps in his argument are:

(1) religion is natural; (2) religion is public and social; (3) government’ s primary concern is the common good implying its fostering religion. This theoretic take opposes the current situation, especially in the USA, where pluralism in the most basic values and Enlightenment ideals of individualism, separationism, autonomy, liberty, and equality rule. There is little or no chance for a relatively uniform and comfortable culture in such a complex. [End Page 78]

The essays are bracing and challenging. I admire his learning, his conviction, and his ability to write engaging English prose, but I remain unconvinced. Infected as I undoubtedly am with liberalism and Enlightenment values, I find Olsen’s convictions nostalgic [they seem closely related to Christendom] and their suggested applications, though vague, to be disastrous for both the Catholic Church and the society. Finally, the reader should be aware of Olsen’s heroes: John Paul II along with von Balthasar, Benedict XVI, Brent Bozell, Joseph Pieper, and David Schindler (15).

William M. Shea
College of the Holy Cross


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pp. 78-79
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