O'Malley (The First Jesuits
), a scholar of church history at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, offers a warm and conversational invitation to reflect on four cultural configurations that feed into contemporary consciousness. First comes the style of thought that the author terms "prophetic culture" and which might also be conceived of as a culture of inspired revolution, encompassing Gregory VII, Martin Luther and his spiritual heir Martin Luther King Jr. Second is the paradigm of restless, insistent, academic analysis—the perennial mode of questioning that was first institutionalized in the medieval universities and the one to which Father O'Malley professionally adheres. The third culture, to which his friends suspect that he really belongs, is the humanistic world of letters, with its fondness for multivalent ambiguity and well-rounded manners, a style that became pervasive in the classical world and re-emerged in the Renaissance. Finally comes the silent but ebullient culture of image and ritual, art and performance. What, O'Malley asks throughout, echoing the words of the late Roman polemicist Tertullian, has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What does human culture have to do with the culture of spiritual transcendence? His book, primarily concerned with the manifestations of these various cultures in the history of Christianity, spurs the reader on to meditate on the different streams that jostle, but sometimes converge, in an "ocean" we all navigate.
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John O'Malley's Four Cultures of the West
will delight scholars, students, general readers, specialists, young and old, the learned and the merely curious because of its combination of great learning with simplicity of language, elegance of style, and narrative gifts. Whatever our place in the culture wars of our troubled present we will learn to see ourselves differently from O'Malley's analysis of styles of thought and expression flourishing side by side in what we call Western culture. (Jill Ker Conway, author of A Woman's Education
and True North
O'Malley's succinct analysis of the Four Cultures of the West
is one of those rare books that uses history to tell us as much about the intellectual conflicts of the present as it does about those of the past. I predict his categorical analysis will be widely cited and widely debated by commentators well beyond academic specialists. (Kenneth Woodward, contributing editor for Newsweek
and author of Making Saints
This is a bold tour de force. (Jaroslav Pelikan, author of Divine Rhetoric
and Jesus through the Centuries
In this erudite work of cultural history, O'Malley extends 'an invitation to consider and notice' four distinctive paradigms or cultures that, taken together, handsomely help decode Western intellectual and cultural history. These four paradigms are the prophetic, the academic, the humanistic, and the culture of art and performance...O'Malley successfully showcases the affinities between historic cultures (e.g., the Greco-Roman) and persons (e.g., Aristotle, Aquinas, and Luther) and cultural realties in our own time (e.g., the contemplative rhetoric of Lincoln at Gettysburg prefiguring the rhetorical contemplation at Ground Zero). (Sandra Collins Library Journal
O'Malley...offers a warm and conversational invitation to reflect on four cultural configurations that feed into contemporary consciousness...What does human culture have to do with the culture of spiritual transcendence? His book, primarily concerned with the manifestations of these various cultures in the history of Christianity, spurs the reader on to meditate on the different streams that jostle, but sometimes converge, in an 'ocean' we all navigate. (Publishers Weekly
This sweeping survey of Western cultural history, by John W. O'Malley, S.J., ought to be required reading for--among others--literary and philosophical [unbelievers]: postmodernists, New Agers, Generation-Xers and college students everywhere. It's a clear cogent survey of the cultural roots we all have, willy-nilly, consciously or otherwise...In all this Father O'Malley makes an illuminating guide. His relaxed, agreeable prose (a blend of cultures two and three) should attract a wide spectrum of readers. (Peter Heinegg America
O'Malley has given us a readable book with very wide learning in four cultures...This book will be of interest to and accessible to anyone interested in the cultural life of the West. At a time when the Christian origins of our culture, which in reality are so fundamental, are ignored, it offers a very valuable reminder and corrective. (Richard Harries Times Higher Education Supplement
2005-08-19)Four Cultures of the West
would make an excellent text for an interdisciplinary seminar on Western civilization, but the non-academic reader can enjoy and profit from it as well. (Darrell Turner National Catholic Reporter
This wise and elegant little survey of western Christian culture began life as the first Blessed Pope John XXIII lecture series at the University of Notre Dame, and it is a fine example of rhetoric in the best sense: an explicit exercise in epideictic, sorting out praise and blame. (Diarmaid MacCulloch Ecclesiastical History
O'Malley's book is helpful in gaining a better understanding of the intellectual underpinnings of what we call the "student-centered" approach. This is one reason why the book will be of interest to educators. Lucid, yet at the same time rich in history, it will be attractive to students and teachers of world cultures in many different disciplines. (Dr. Dovile Budryte Bridges