- Nature and Grace: A New Approach to Thomistic Ressourcement by Andrew Dean Swafford, and: Do Not Resist the Spirit's Call: Francisco Marín-Sola on Sufficient Grace ed. and trans. by Michael D. Torre
In Isaac Bashevis Singer's "The Destruction of Kreshev," Reb Bunim Shor has an only daughter, Lise, who is beautiful, chaste, and highly intelligent. All seems well when she marries the unprepossessing Schloimele, a prodigy of learning and apparent piety, but it transpires that he is a heretic, and he leads Lise into doctrinal and sexual depravity. Soon her downfall is complete; the couple's sins are exposed, and while Schloimele repents and goes into exile, Lise is humiliated by the villagers, despairs, and takes her own life. She is lost "in this world and the next" (translation by Elaine Gottlieb and June Ruth Flaum in Singer's The Collected Stories [New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982]). After her suicide, the townsfolk themselves are overcome by remorse, and so the whole shtetl is devastated by shame and regret. And here the story includes a remarkable scene: Lise's father, Reb Bunim, returns from a long journey, and an old woman tells him that his daughter is dead. Immediately he says, "Praised be the true Judge!" echoing the graveside benediction, the Tzidduk Ha'din of the Jewish burial service. His spontaneous action is to "justify the judgment" of heaven, confessing that God is righteous in sentencing Lise to death. Are his words an empty gesture, an unthinking piety? By no means. The story continues:
Gradually she [the old woman] explained to him that his only daughter hadn't died a natural death but had hanged herself. She also explained the reason for her suicide. But Reb Bunim was not shattered by the information, for he was a God-fearing man and accepted whatever punishment came from above, as it is written: "Man is obliged to be grateful for the bad as well as the good," and he maintained his faith and held no resentment against the Lord of the Universe. [End Page 437]
Besides reflecting Singer's own supreme distrust of humanism and humanist sentimentality, Reb Bunin exemplifies a recurring theme in Singer's fiction: religious purity in the face of the most severe trials. To our culture of televised, commodified, let-it-all-hang-out emotionalism, Singer offers a picture of deep, pure faith in this man confessing the Rock whose "work is perfect, for all his ways are justice." Reb Bunim makes a good literary example of the old rule put so neatly by Thomas à Kempis: adversity does not weaken a man but rather shows us what he is.
What convictions do we bring to suffering? Whatever they are, they will be tested—or, better to say, we will be tested when adversity shows how deep and thorough those convictions really are. It may even show whether our convictions are true or the extent to which they have been involved in our transformation.
It is good to have suffering and loss vividly in mind when we consider claims about the theology of grace, because it is in adversity that the proverbial rubber meets the road. Soberly, then, Thomists should welcome two new books proposing that Catholic theology retrieve two late modern authors whom the discipline has mostly forgotten, namely, Matthias Scheeben (1835-88) and Francisco Marín-Sola, O.P. (1873-1932).
The new book dealing with Scheeben is Nature and Grace: A New Approach to Thomistic Ressourcement by Andrew Dean Swafford. Nature and Grace reflects Swafford's doctoral work at Mundelein Seminary under the late Edward Oakes, S.J., who contributed a foreword to the book and reiterates some...