book coverimageAuthority Not Majority: The Life and Times of Friedrich Julius Stahl by Ruben Alvarado (Wordbridge Publishing, 134 pp.)

Principles of Law by Friedrich Julius Stahl, ed. and trans. Ruben Alvarado (Wordbridge Publishing, 140 pp.)

Alvarado’s two volumes make available for the first time in English the life and writings of Bavarian born legal scholar Friedrich Julius Stahl (1802–1861). Stahl, a convert from Judaism to Lutheranism, “stood as one of the last in a long line of confessing Christian statesmen drawing upon the fast-disappearing common-law tradition of the vanished Holy Roman Empire.” Following Burke and von Savigny, Stahl articulated for the Historical School of Jurisprudence a conservative legal philosophy in which “authority, not majority . . . established the framework of the social order.” Stahl located the source of authority in Christianity, which provides the commands and principles through which institutions, the cornerstone of the law for Stahl, provide order and allow for authentic liberty.

Alvarado frames Stahl’s life between two cataclysmic events: The French Revolution and German unification. Whereas the former’s attack on Christianity and authority gave Stahl his life’s task, the latter’s rejection of Christianity and tradition in favor of blood and iron brought Stahl’s work to an unrealized end. After sketching Stahl’s early life and the factors that contributed to his legal philosophy, including his German patriotism, orthodox Lutheranism, and von Savigny’s Historical School, Alvarado describes how he applied his philosophy in two political arenas: first, he helped steer Prussia and King Friedrich Wilhelm IV through the turbulent years following the revolutions of 1848 by contributing both to Prussia’s new constitution and to the formation of its first conservative party; and second, he served on a consistory to oversee ecclesiastical affairs, through which he sought to preserve sound doctrine against staunch opposition.

Alvarado’s biography and edition of Stahl’s Principles of Law have done a great service for readers seeking serious articulations of the law’s proper foundations, and the relationship between religion and the law in an age of secular jurisprudence and judicial activism.

book cover imageA Natural History of Latin by Tore Janson, trans. Merethe Damsgaard Sorensen and Nigel Vincent (Oxford University Press, 316 pp.)

Although its presence has been fading from academic curricula and public view, the very mention of Latin as a language and subject of study should still evokes curiosity and intrigue in the minds of many. Those seeking to inquire into Latin and its immense influence on western civilization will learn a great deal from Janson’s book, which he describes as “an overview and an appetizer” that explains “how and when the language was used, and how it has gradually influenced other languages.”

Janson adapts his title from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, for like Pliny he aims to “provide a suitable blend of useful information and entertaining anecdote.” In the first two parts Janson narrates the development of Latin from the language of a small Italian tribe to the international language of Europe, including brief summaries of the greatest writings of antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. In tracing Latin’s slow development over millennia, Janson identifies differences in pronunciation and style, including those changes that gave birth to today’s modern Romance languages. While these nascent languages were used alongside Latin for centuries, the eventual changes “were slow and gradual but almost always to the detriment of Latin from the thirteenth right through the twentieth century.” Even with a contemporary revival in the Harry Potter series, in which “there is not a lot of Latin, but it is used in a very special way,” Latin today mainly survives in its linguistic descendants that “have to use Latin words every day and every hour for as long as one can see into the future.”

The remaining three parts are a primer to Latin grammar, vocabulary, and common phrases for beginning Latin studies. For “[l]ike it or not, we will always have a link with antiquity, and it is primarily the Latin language which allows us to investigate that aspect of our heritage should we choose to do so.”

book cover imageThe Writer’s Workshop: Imitating Your Way to Better Writing by Gregory L. Roper (ISI Books, 244 pp.)

In the Middle Ages artisans and craftsmen learned their trades by a formal process of apprenticeship: young novices entered established shops, studied and imitated their masters, and eventually developed their own styles by building upon their masters’ skills. Following this model, Roper has shaped this textbook with selections from the greatest masters of the written word with the aim that “by apprenticing oneself to a master, one eventually begins to discover one’s own voice, and in talking back to these masters, one develops one’s own point of view.” In this book that “you must do, not just read,” writing apprentices receive lessons in description, definition, argumentation, and more from diverse masters throughout history, including Dickens, Joyce, Thomas Aquinas, and Cicero.

Roper’s methodology makes his writers’ guide an outstanding resource for both high school and college students as well as individuals learning on their own. Each chapter begins with an invitation to free writing that focuses on a particular writing skill. A model is then given for imitation; in footnotes Roper highlights the macrostructure and microstructure of each passage as an aid to classroom teachers and private readers. Following careful study, the reader imitates the passage, after which Roper provides an imitation done by one of his own students. Next, he invites the reader to revise his imitation and reflect upon its strengths and weaknesses. The chapter concludes by placing the master writer and the exemplified skill within its historical context for proper understanding and fruitful discussion. For example, the chapter on observation, which features Hemmingway and Joyce as masters, concludes with a discussion of realism and the limits of language.

Roper’s method, passages, and commentary are a great benefit to apprentices seeking “the skills to be able to write well in all writing situations that you may find in the future.”

book cover imageLooking Before and After: Testimony and the Christian Life by Alan Jacobs (W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 124 pp.)

Since the publication of Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, Christian theologians have explored the narrative dimension of tradition and experience. In particular, they have underscored the story of the Christian community as the means in which the lives of individuals find expression. Jacobs argues that this emphasis overlooks “the narrative dimension of individual Christian lives.” While affirming the importance of the community narrative, Jacobs’s book recalls “that successful church communities depend, at least in part, on our ability to invoke and exemplify theologically rich models for individual lives.”

For Jacobs personal testimony enables individual narratives, although he cautions these narratives are neither self-help “journalings” nor altar calls. Rather, testimony is “a speech genre whose purpose is to describe a life genre.” In other words, testimony “attempts to represent in verbal form the shape of a life.” Testimony begins with memory, which Jacobs calls “memoria” to stress its active dimension. Memoria “allows one not only to recall but also to restructure, to reinterpret past events, to discern a pattern in them that was not visible when they occurred.” The pattern discovered may be difficult to trace, painful to view, or full of twists; nevertheless, for the Christian “life conforms in some degree” to the path of Christ, a path that includes suffering. Thus by viewing “our lives as emerging, developing instances of one (or more) of the various genres of the Christian life” the believer avoids “the twin dangers of presumption and despair.”

Throughout the book Jacobs engages challenges to his understanding of testimony, memoria, and the discernment of patterns within testimony. For example, he defends the possibility of narrative wholeness and he preserves memoria from charges of backshadowing. Ultimately, for direction and sustenance Jacobs’s account of individual narrative returns repeatedly “to its moral and intellectual source: Christian theology.”