Aquinas and More. Good Faith. Guaranteed.

A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing?

by Ian on August 28, 2008

Note: Before posting this we contacted both the editorial and sales departments of Pauline Book and Media asking for a comment on the problems with this book. That was a week ago and we have not received any reply.

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?
“Good Faith. Guaranteed.” This means a lot to us here at Aquinas and More. It is one of the guiding principles of our business.

This week we pulled from the shelves and discontinued selling one of our most popular titles related to the Year of St. Paul. Although we try very hard to evaluate all of our products, sometimes an item slips through and we only catch the problem after the item has arrived at our store - even worse, when we have already shipped the item to some of our customers.

We have contacted all our customers who purchased the book from us, informing them of the problem, and recommending that they return the item to us for an immediate and full refund.

Typically we rely on the expected good judgment of the publisher, and information in their catalog, when we decide to carry an item. We hope that Catholic publishers, at least the ones we have considered to be orthodox, have proper controls in place in their editorial departments to make certain they are publishing books that conform to the teachings of the Church.

The book in question is called “Paul: Least of the Apostles” and it is published by Pauline Books and Media, the publishing arm of a religious order, the Daughters of St. Paul.

Upon closer review of the book, here are just a few of the many problems we discovered - the author, Alain Decaux, states early on that St. Paul was “neurotic”. He quotes Remarius saying Paul “invented” Christianity. He quotes Neitzsche, the atheistic philosopher, saying Paul “imposed” his vision of Christianity on us. On page 106 of the book, the author states that James, not Peter, was the de facto leader of the Christian movement - denying, of course, the Petrine ministry. If one takes a look at the bibliography of the book, 11 of the 13 books listed are from Protestant sources, mostly Calvinists. Its no wonder the author denies the role of St. Peter in the Church. Mr. Decaux is a journalist and an historian in France. We don’t think he is qualified to write a book on Catholic theology or spiritual matters and certainly not one published by a Catholic publisher that purports to support the teaching of the Church as part of their mission. At the end of the book, the author includes a lengthy excerpt from something called “The Acts of Paul” - a work the Church considers to be non-canonical and apocryphal!

If one were to “google” the author, one discovers his background and his qualifications to write this book, presented as they are by Pauline Books, are problematic at best. Very disturbing, at least. Some sites claim he is a leftist/socialist with highly questionable academic judgment. You can find out more online about the author for yourself.

Last year we discontinued another book from Pauline in which the author of the text, a professor of Theology at the Boston University (a non-Catholic institution by the way), stated that some books of the Old Testament are “works of fiction.”

We call upon the Daughters of St. Paul to more carefully evaluate, prior to publication, all prospective titles and to be true to their mission to serve the Church in their media apostolate by insuring their publications are in conformity with Catholic teaching. Perhaps if just one or two people at Pauline Books and Media are involved in the review process, others should participate? In an age when the “Catholic” label gets slapped on all kinds of questionable and even herectical works, the stuff that typically packs the religion shelves at secular bookstores, we all need to be ever more vigilant.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Baron Korf August 29, 2008 at 9:36 am

Well sometimes things fall through the cracks. Good catch though. I’ve always thought that the Church should try to somehow trademark or copyright the Catholic name. Just a thought.

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af August 29, 2008 at 11:44 am

Thank you for your dedication to providing quality Catholic materials in line with the Magesterium.

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Aunti Mimi August 29, 2008 at 1:53 pm

Thanks, Ian, I appreciate this because I am in the market for a book on Paul.

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Lynne August 31, 2008 at 2:12 pm

Thank you Ian for your diligence. I wondered what happened to this post last week because I saw it in my Google Reader feed but when I clicked on the link to go to your blog, the entry couldn’t be found. It was good of you to give them a chance to respond. It’s a shame they didn’t.

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Stephen DiCarlo September 2, 2008 at 12:52 pm

This is not a new problem with Pauline. Some years ago I recall they tried to inclusify several Encyclicals/ Letters and quickly recalled them when they caught flack. The excuse was that they had let two new sisters handle the projects and they didn’t know the policies. The good news is that they did respond to the heat so it may be time to apply it again.

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Sr. Lorraine September 12, 2008 at 3:01 pm

Hello again,

I submitted a response on Wed. night but that comment has not been posted yet. I hope you will post it so that your readers can weigh our response in making an informed judgment about the book.

Another correction: concerning the other book you mention, the author (Celia Sirois) does not teach at Boston University. She teaches at St. John Seminary (Master of Arts in Ministry Program) and in other programs for the Archdiocese of Boston. What she said is in keeping with what Pope Pius XII wrote in Divino Afflante Spiritu about the literary genre of the various parts of Scripture. Some are allegorical works not intended to be taken historically. There is nothing wrong in saying that.

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Sally September 12, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Ian,
I wonder if you wouldn’t mind posting some excerpts of “Paul, Least of the Apostles” that you found troublesome. I’ve heard good things about the book from acquaintances that have solid Catholic backgrounds.

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Sr. Lorraine September 12, 2008 at 3:07 pm

I’m going to try posting my other comment again. It was in response to the email we received.

Dear Mr. Davis,

Thank you for your note concerning the book Paul, Least of the Apostles. We are always happy to receive feedback from our readers. I can understand your concern that the books that you promote will be faithful to Church teaching. We also have this at heart and make great efforts to insure that our books present the Catholic faith accurately. That is why we are taking your concerns seriously. I am presenting each of your points in what follows:

1. Are you aware that Mr. Decaux’s sources are overwhelmingly Protestant/Calvinist? 11 of the 13 books in his bibliography are such.

I’m assuming that your concern here is that Protestant authors would be misleading. I can understand this, and it is important to read such works with a critical eye. Yet, as I’m sure you will agree, scholars need to be aware of a wide variety of works in writing about their chosen field. To list a book in the bibliography does not necessarily imply agreement with everything in that work. It is simply meant to show that the author has done his homework, so to speak. The list of sources for each chapter gives more details about the wider works cited. Many of these are Catholic authors. Because the book was written in French, of course, quite a few of the works are from French authors.

Actually, three of the thirteen titles listed in the bibliography are by Catholic authors, and one is a collection of the works of Josephus, an ancient source. The Protestant authors of the other works are generally regarded as reliable mainstream authors. James Dunn, for example, has done quite an exhaustive study on St. Paul. The work by E. P. Sanders is regarded as ground-breaking in terms of his study of Paul’s relationship with Judaism. Granted, not everything that writers say may be acceptable to Catholics. But scholars do need to be aware of the wide range of work being done in a field.

2. Are you aware that the author says St. Paul was neurotic?

Can you clarify what you are referencing here with the exact quotation?

3. Are you aware that the author quotes Nietzsche, the great atheist philosopher, in giving opinions about St. Paul?

I am assuming that you are referring to this section: Some have recalled the conversion of Saint Augustine who felt the need of “stopping time” to put order in the “tumult”—he too—of his thoughts and feelings. Nietzsche said: “Whoever would be some day the bearer of an important message remains quiet for a long time; whoever wants to produce lightening must for a long time be a cloud.”

The context refers to Paul’s three years in the desert before he started his mission. The quote from Nietzsche brings out that point in a rather striking manner, it is not meant as an endorsement of Nietzsche’s philosophy in any way. Rather, it seems quite apropos to the context.

In his recent encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI draws on the work of seven non-Catholic philosophers. In doing this he is not endorsing whatever errors may be in their writings, but he is expressing a typically Catholic readiness to rejoice in truth wherever it is found. The sisters and staff at Pauline Books and Media also wish to follow our Pope in this attitude.

4. Are you aware, in a lengthy section around page 106, that the author denies the Petrine ministry and distorts Paul’s letters to “prove it?”

Could you clarify with quotations the exact material that you find problematic here? This section of the book deals with the controversy surrounding the question of Jewish Christians in the early church and the use of Jewish customs. It is a point of history that Paul did in fact oppose Peter on some aspects of this issue, as Paul says in Galatians, so the disagreement between Peter and Paul is a matter of the Scriptural record. It would seem far-reaching to conclude that the author has Paul rejecting the Petrine ministry. Decuaux is dealing with the situation as it was at the time. It took hundreds of years for the question of the Petrine ministry to be worked out in practice. As I’m sure you know, papal infallibility wasn’t defined until 1870.

5. The final chapter of the book uses the apocryphal “Acts of Paul” and includes a lengthy excerpt. The Church has never recognized this work as legitimate.

It is true that the Church has not accepted the Acts of Paul as a canonical work. However, that is not how our book is presenting it. The introduction to this section clearly states that the Acts of Paul is an apocryphal work. The author points this out, along with some reasons for caution concerning it. It is not presented as if it had Scriptural authority. Nevertheless, it is an ancient work that is of interest to those studying the life of Paul. We thought that some readers might like to read an ancient text about Paul’s martyrdom. The introductory information provided about it should alert them to the nature of the work and what to expect from it.

The Church has sometimes used elements from apocryphal works even though they are not canonical. For example, the liturgical feast of St. Joachim and Ann uses the names for Mary’s parents that are found in the Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal gospel. But information from it has found its way into the liturgy. So, it seems that the Church might be telling us that we can learn something from apocryphal works, even if it is nothing more than a snapshot of how some early Christians thought about these matters.

Hopefully these responses will help to resolve some of your concerns about this book, Mr. Davis, and serve to indicate our own concern for a correct presentation of Catholic teaching while leaving room for an author’s opinion on non-dogmatic matters. To this purpose, in our publishing apostolate we do our best to take to heart the words of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (4:8)

If I can be of any further assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Praying for God’s blessing upon you and your family, I remain,

Sincerely,

Sr. Marianne Lorraine, FSP

Editor

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Sr. Lorraine September 12, 2008 at 3:14 pm

Dear Mr. Davis,

Thank you for your note concerning the book Paul, Least of the Apostles. We are always happy to receive feedback from our readers. I can understand your concern that the books that you promote will be faithful to Church teaching. We also have this at heart and make great efforts to insure that our books present the Catholic faith accurately. That is why we are taking your concerns seriously. I am presenting each of your points in what follows:

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Tom September 12, 2008 at 4:25 pm

I think you have to be careful about not making your own opinions the standard of orthodoxy. There’s more room in the Catholic Church for a variety of opinions than you might think.
For example, you take exception to calling St. Paul “neurotic.” Well, don’t you think he was? He himself said that he persecuted the Church. Someone who would go to violent extremes in punishing people for thinking differently than he did certainly had some control issues, don’t you think? Fr Groeschel has often talked about how sanctity and mental health are not the same thing. Some saints were seriously disturbed, even mentally ill. So what? It didn’t make them any less holy. And that means that anyone can become a saint. Mental illness is no barrier.

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