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From TAC's Bookshelf: The Road to Triumph

Looking back at a year of reading with the staff of The American Conservative.

Saint Mark The Evangelist
Saint Mark the Evangelist, ca 1624-1625. Found in the collection of Musée de l'Histoire de France, Château de Versailles. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

As we celebrate Christmas and look forward to a new year, in an homage to an old “TAC Bookshelf” series, we hope you’ll enjoy a glimpse this week of some of what we at The American Conservative were reading in 2022.

You can't really do this job well if you don't read. Reading expands your universe of references and analogies. It sharpens your thinking, exposes you to different styles and approaches to writing, and expands your areas of knowledge. It keeps a journalist from writing the same four or five columns over and over again.

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Of the books I read this year, three stood out to me.

The first is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’m embarrassed to say it took me twenty-five years to read my first McCarthy novel, but this year I finally read one and I’m glad that I did. The Road follows a father and son, “each the other’s world entire,” trekking together through a post-apocalyptic hellscape, scavenging for food and shelter. Unlike other survivors, the father and son resolve never to partake in cannibalism, no matter how dire their food shortage.

The novel is a moving testament to a father's love for his son and a portrait of a love purified in the fire of mutual suffering. McCarthy contrasts the boy’s moral convictions with his father’s world-weary wisdom, and presents the tragedy of a boy robbed of his boyhood. But even as he hears of cannibals and cataclysm, the boy retains a pure heart. The scene that stuck with me was the boy’s prayer of thanksgiving upon finding food in a dead man’s bunker:

“Dear people, thank you for all this food and stuff. We know that you saved it for yourself and if you were here we wouldn’t eat it no matter how hungry we were and we’re sorry that you didn’t get to eat it and we hope that you’re safe in heaven with God.”

The book was an affirmation of Christ’s injunction that “unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

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On that theme, the second book that moved me this year was the second edition of Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Bauckham challenges the view of many New Testament scholars that the Gospels were originally anonymous and have no connection to the evangelists to whom they are ascribed. In Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Bauckham presents convincing literary and historical evidence that the Gospel texts are based on eyewitness accounts, and that their structure plausibly suggests connections between Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and the gospels bearing their names.

Bauckham’s chapter on St. Mark’s Gospel was particularly strong, and reinforced my faith in the Church’s traditional teaching on apostolic authorship. He demonstrates the link between St. Mark’s Gospel and St. Peter, whom the Acts of the Apostles reveals to have been an associate of St. Mark. Bauckham highlights the portions of Mark's gospel that use “inclusio,” a literary device that bookends an episode with references to the same character. In Mark's gospel, St. Peter serves as the bookending figure in several of the gospel's most prominent stories. Bauckham argues the gospel writer’s use of inclusio, and the verb tenses deployed in the original Greek manuscript, are evidence of the Markan stories being first-person accounts recorded by a scribe, potentially St. Mark himself.

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Last, I enjoyed The Best of Triumph this year. The book is a collection of essays from the short-lived Catholic magazine founded by National Review exile Brent Bozell. Triumph ran for only a decade between 1966 and 1976, but it was the premier journal of political Catholicism in the United States. The essays it published pierced the traditional left-right divide in American politics and offered a substantially Catholic alternative.

My favorite essay in the anthology was Dr. William Marshner’s “A Mass at the Valley of the Fallen,” recounting the author’s trip to a funeral Mass in Francoist Spain. Marshner, a former theology professor at Christendom College and, in my view, the most underrated living American Catholic intellectual, reflected on the contrast between the convictions of his homeland and those of mid-century Spain.

I wondered when again men would have the opportunity to fight for a government that would remember their sacrifice in this way. I thought of the bare ecumenical chapel, no doubt located just off public property, in which Mass might be said for my soul, if I should die in my country’s next war. I wondered how a public authority comes to be in such a state that it would memorialize me because I died and because I wore its uniform but not because of any of the things that matter in Eternity, where I would be by then, wondering, perhaps, if God’s adoring angels had ever heard of the First Amendment.

I assume, for whatever it's worth, that God's adoring angels don't have much time for the establishment clause.

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