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Phoenix from the Ashes: The Making, Unmaking, and Restoration of Catholic Tradition Paperback – July 14, 2015
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From the Back Cover
"This wide-ranging account of the self-destruction of the Roman Catholic Church and its identification of her only realistic route back to the land of the living simultaneously strikes a blow at history's two most prevalent temptations: rejection or twisting of evidence in the service of an ideological thesis, and honest dedication to intense research on subjects whose ultimate existential value the 'unbiased' historian somehow fears to reveal to his readers. Henry Sire courageously shuts no doors and stifles no evidence, employing a passionate and lively prose that leaves no doubt regarding his sense of the crucial moral and cultural importance of his topic."--JOHN RAO, author of Black Legends and the Light of the World and Removing the Blindfold
"For Catholics feeling lost at sea as a result of the turbulent crisis tossing and flooding the Barque of Peter, Henry Sire's work identifies clear landmarks to steady our gaze. He situates the present disarray within the larger historical context of the Arian heresy and Protestant revolution, and points to the buoys of tradition--liturgical, doctrinal, and philosophical--as sure guides to our way out. Sire distills entire epochs of history, from the first centuries of the Church through the current pontificate, into a highly readable and thought-provoking story. In the course of his tale he exposes the radical progressivism of the Second Vatican Council and its after-effects as well as the tepid conservatism of the Reform of the Reform and the Hermeneutic of Continuity."--BRIAN M. MCCALL, author of To Build the City of God
"Historian H.J.A. Sire has compiled a balanced assessment of the revolution in the Roman Catholic Church. His mastery of the material is complete. The book flows along easily and readers will finish it confident that they have a comprehensive understanding of the last 60 years in the Church."--ROGER MCCAFFREY, President, Roman Catholic Books
"Thanks to Henry Sire's penetrating book, we have some profound answers to nagging questions. How did the West end up so quickly in a post-Christian age, when only decades ago one could still speak of a Christian culture? How did we go from the seemingly healthy Roman Catholic Church of the 1950s to the mass apostasy and grave scandals of recent years? As Sire shows, the antecedents go back quite far, in fact many centuries, but the possibility of healing and regeneration is not as remote as we think."--STEPHEN KLIMCZUK-MASSION, Senior Adviser, Hildebrand Project
About the Author
H.J.A. SIRE was born in 1949 in Barcelona of a family of French ancestry and was educated in England, at Stonyhurst College and at Exeter College, Oxford, where he took a degree in Modern History. He has written several books on subjects of Catholic history and biography and currently lives in Rome, where he works professionally as a historian.
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Part II, however, is where Sire really shines, with a trenchant presentation of the many factors of humanism, liberalism, rationalism, and secularism that merged into the debacle of the Council and the aftermath. He has taken the best observations of such authors as Wiltgen, Davies, De Mattei, and Antonelli and synthesized them into a trenchant account of the irregularities of the Council and the anarchy that broke out afterwards. His section on the Liturgical Movement and the reforms under Bugnini's Consilium (226-286) is itself worth the price of the book -- if you get it and read no other part, you'll still have done yourself an immense favor.
There are a few mistakes in the book, as when Sire incorrectly defines the medieval quadrivium (p. 28) or opines that the angelic nature is essentially one (p. 169) when the majority opinion among theologians is that angelic natures are as numerous as individual angels, but such things are very minor in light of the strength, coherence, and eloquence of this book. It's a tour de force of historical and theological analysis, one not to be missed by any Catholic who wishes to be an educated Catholic (or anyone who is interested in the history of the Catholic Church).
"But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator."—"Lumen gentium", 1964
With this new work, H. J. A. Sire has done the seemingly impossible: He has produced a clear and cogent historical synthesis of the great theological crises in the Church's history and, in doing so, has shown how these events laid the groundwork for the seismic shift that took place during the Second Vatican Council and its immediate aftermath. In academic yet accessible prose, Sire leads the reader from the heresy of Arianism to the Middle Ages, from faithful popes to unfaithful, from the rebellion of Luther and Calvin to the so-called Age of Reason and the collapse of the Church's role in shaping society that set the stage for the turn of the twentieth century, an era that would be further devastated by two World Wars and the rise of the atheistic Communist regimes in the USSR, Cuba, and China. Sire's clear objective in writing the first half of this work—and he makes no claim that his is an unbiased viewpoint—is to demonstrate that, contrary to the accepted viewpoint in academic circles, the fortunes of Western civilization rose and fell with those of the Church; when the Church was at the height of its secular influence during the High Middle Ages, Sire contends, the economic and moral standing of even the lowest of society was far better than when the Church's influence was to dwindle, as happened with the rise of the usurious practices of unfettered capitalism—so diametrically opposed to traditional Catholic teaching—that were to sweep across Europe and, by extension, America.
But the real meat of Sire's work comes in the second part of this book, in which he meticulously and relentlessly eviscerates the underhanded and unprecedented tactics used by the Modernists that had come to power within the Church's hierarchy to disrupt the planned schemata that Pope John XXIII had envisioned for the Second Vatican Council. Sire writes in great detail about how the progressive bishops, particularly those of Germany and France, used unscrupulous tricks of parliamentary procedure to change the voting rules set in place before the Council began in order to override the more conservative factions within the Council (pp. 175–205). And, with refreshing candor and honesty, Sire demolishes the work of the chief reformer of the Church's liturgy, Annibale Bugnini; one can practically taste the contempt dripping from Sire's words as he castigates Bugnini for the unprecedented hubris he displayed in his iconoclastic decimation of the sacred liturgy. Indeed, Sire places the blame for the turmoil that has followed the Council upon the wrecking ball taken to the Mass, writing: "Of the many evils that have been visited on the Church since the Second Vatican Council, the most grievous by far is the destruction of the traditional liturgy and the devotional life that used to accompany it. If the liturgy had not been touched, the doctrinal anarchy . . . would have had slight effect on the ordinary faithful" (p. 226).
Not faring much better in Sire's narrative is Pope Paul VI, who comes across as weak and impotent, seemingly horrified at the disintegration of the liturgy taking place around him but at the same time unable to recognize his own culpability for his mismanagement of the curia and his delegation of responsibility to those who interpreted his vaguely-worded instructions as license to rewrite Church teaching without fear of reprisal. The firestorm of dissent from theologians and prelates that rose up against Paul VI upon the promulgation of his encyclical "Humanae Vitae" upholding the Church's traditional teaching against contraception sapped whatever strength remained within him, leaving him unwilling to fight against the chaos that threatened to tear the Church apart upon his watch.
Sire devotes the rest of his narrative to a scathing critique of how the post–Council Church has destroyed the sacramental purpose of the priesthood—casting aside orthodox applicants to seminaries in favor of those who will simply "go along to get along," lest they offend the feminists and dissident bishops—and how this contributed directly to the sex-abuse crisis that exploded in the early 2000s. Sire also tears apart the failed efforts at ecumenism that have hampered the Church the past 50 years, highlighting how these efforts have, in fact, contributed directly to a loss of Catholic identity among the faithful and the sense that all religions are equally valid (with particular anger directed toward Pope John Paul II's disastrous interfaith meeting at Assisi).
The Church that Sire presents in "Phoenix from the Ashes" is one in the midst of an unprecedented identity crisis. Having thoroughly documented the road to this point, Sire's final chapter offers his own thoughts regarding the antidote, which I will leave for the reader to discover on their own. Sire's scholarship is impeccable, though occasional small lapses and typos have crept into the text, as other reviewers have noted. My one regret is that there are not more footnotes to document sources, particularly in the chapters discussing what took place during Vatican II. Having documented sources would make it easier to defend Sire's work against those who would attempt to discredit his research; however, the practical limitations of size and cost most likely prevented Sire from supplying more references (which could very well fill a book on their own). But for those who are tired of hearing about how Vatican II simply hasn't been properly interpreted, for those who are tired of hearing apologists twist their arguments into linguistic pretzels in vain attempts to support the flawed, vaguely-worded documents produced by the Council, "Phoenix from the Ashes" should prove to be confirmation that traditionalist fears have been correct all along and provide much-needed ammunition in trying to turn the tide back against the coup d'etat the Modernists have waged against Holy Mother Church.