Effective Composition

As a retired art teacher, artist and curator, I find the America covers creative and thought-provoking. I especially liked the collage that graced the March 25 issue, on Anti-Catholicism in the United States.

Each cover is a work of artcommunicating a message as well as being an effective composition of color, line, shape and texture. If I were still teaching, I would save them and display them in my art classroom, as I did with old New Yorker covers from the 1970’s and 80’s. My compliments to your artists!


Amie Tatem Araaya

Staten Island, N.Y.

Lourdes Water

I have to commend your book editor for her subtle humor. Did you notice that the review of the new Lourdes book is followed immediately by a review of Dangerous Water (5/20)? This juxtaposition brought a smile when I read the table of contents. Like most other folks who grew up in a Catholic ghetto in the pre-Vatican II days, Lourdes water was omnipresent in my little world, but it certainly would not have carried that adjective.

Fred Hofheinz

Indianapolis, Ind.


Patricia A. Kossmann’s comments concerning Fulton J. Sheen in Of Many Things (5/27) reminded me of a brief personal encounter I had with Bishop Sheen over 40 years ago. The Fulton Sheen program sponsored by Admiral Television was a must-see program for me, as for many of my generation. To me and millions of others, he was a television superstar. All who met him fell under his spell. Thank you for the reminder.

Richard Strickland

Steilacoom, Wash.

Worst Zealotry

As a Jesuit alumnus of many decades ago, I find it encouraging that students no longer parse Cicero, study last-gasp Thomism or struggle with Casti Connubii. Unfortunately, the replacement education model (propounded in the May 20 issue) seems every bit as poorly related to the interests of students and their check-writing parents. Any university’s major mission is to work for global transformation toward greater justice for all, we are assured, and there follows a litany of Greenpeace bromides and approving plugs for the incoherent nihilism of Seattle protestors.

Poor St. Ignatius, most flexible of saints, is claimed as the inspiration for today’s trendy causes, just as he was for the archaic exercises of 1950.

Let us hope that there is enough common sense on most faculties, and among students and their parents, to shrug off the worst forms of zealotry and pursue something more easily identifiable as education.

Thomas Farrelly

Greenwich, Conn.

Of Ivy and ICEL

Reading the recent reports in America (5/13) about the controversy over the ICEL psalter piqued my curiosity. Did St. Jerome face similar opposition when he introduced the new Latin translations that came to form the Vulgate?

Hunting in the seminary library and digging into several volumes of Migne’s Patrologia Latina revealed that some parts of Jerome’s translation created much more violent reaction than the struggles over the ICEL psalter. The big point at issue was the nature of the plant that shaded Jonah as he watched the fate of Nineveh (Jonah, 4:6). Was the plant a gourd or an ivy? In his translation Jerome substituted ivy for gourd. Writing to Jerome, St. Augustine reported that a bishop in North Africa was faced with rioting among his clergy and faithful when he introduced Jerome’s ivy in place of the gourd. The bishop finally gave in, thinking it more prudent to hold on to his flock rather than defend the ivy to the death. Augustine encouraged Jerome to cool it. His changes cast aspersions on the Septuagint, the translation used by the apostles, and on the Old Latin versions, to which the faithful had become accustomed. Substituting a word from the Hebrew texts seemed, moreover, to be caving in to the Judaizers. Certainly a word that was different from the word the faithful had become accustomed to hearing and saying all these years could not be correct!

What does this brief excursion into patristic history teach us? Perhaps we need to see our own issues against the broader background of the long history of the church and her teachings. Or is the lesson that we need to lighten up a bit and laugh at ourselves and the way in which we can be distracted by minor questions?

Dennis R. Zusy, O.P.

Denver, Colo.

Our Language

Even in cases of profound difference of opinion or position on matters Catholic, I believe that most of us make an effort to avoid offensive criticism about opposing views. However, reading and re-reading Cardinal Medina’s letter on ICEL (5/13) evokes for me one word, hokum!

In particular, the claims about the wisdom and knowledge of the Holy See merit the label hokum. The sweeping statement that, The Holy See is no stranger to any culture... admits of no exceptions and cannot be substantiated. Cardinal Medina’s letter stands as an example of the foolishness of such an absolute claim and shows his ignorance of the democratic culture of English-speaking peoples. I find it remarkable that the cardinal refers to the Holy See as if it were an entity distinct from the pope and the papal bureaucracy. Is the Holy See like some huge ocean liner, plowing through the seas of its own volition, with the officers and crew merely along for the ride?

What the cardinal has written is as silly as it is sad and wearisome. As a layman, I empathize with the clergy who, in Christian charity, do deal with such pronouncements as if they had real meaning beyond the unintended one of showing a serious disconnect from people outside the Vatican walls.

J. Richard Durnan

Newport, R.I.

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