Tuesday 19 July 2022

Benedict XV Courageous Prophet of Peace - Father Ashley Beck - CTS Biographies

Benedict XV 
Courageous Prophet of Peace
Fr. Ashley Beck
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860824586
CTS Booklet B694

First some background. This book had been on my wish list for almost two years. It took a while to track down a copy that was within my price range. I saw several in the range of $150-400. When it finally arrived, I had mixed feelings for this book is an earlier edition of a different volume I have read:

Benedict XV & World War I – CTS Booklet B757 2014 Edition
Benedict XV – CTS Biographies B694 2007 Edition

I did read this older edition, and did a side by side comparison. Over the last few years, I have read over 300 volume from the Catholic Truth Society. I am a huge fan of the Catholic Truth Society’s books and booklets. I have read many volumes from the CTS Great Saints Series, CTS Biographies, and also Saints of the Isles Series. This volume is a great read is excellent read, and well worth the read today. It is one of eight volumes written by Father Ashley Beck for the Catholic Truth Society and it is the fifth that I have read. This volume does have the subtitle of ‘Courageous Prophet of Peace’ on the title page but not on the cover.

The description of the 2014 edition is:

“Giacomo della Chiesa was elected pope in September 1914, only weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. On the centenary of that tragic development, this booklet examines how he (Benedict XV) and so many others worked courageously to stop the carnage – against all the odds. Arguably now, as then, he remains a dishonoured prophet who yet offers a lasting example to all who seek peace and an end to war. His example is ever more inspiring in this centenary year to a world so troubled with violence, hatred and wars.” 

The description of this 2007 edition is:

“Giacomo della Chiesa, a small, highly intelligent man, disabled with a limp, was elected pope in September 1914, only weeks after the tragic outbreak of the First World War. Within 8 years he has died. Now, as then arguably, he remains a dishonoured prophet who worked courageously to stop the carnage, against all the odds, and yet whose name today Pope benedict XVI has made resound again in a world so troubled with violence, hatred and wars.”

The chapters in this edition are:

A man of Peace
‘James of the Church’ – Priest and Bishop
The First World War and the New Pope
The Peace Note of 1917
The Teachings of Benedict XV
Benedict’s Prayer for Peace
Benedict and Versailles
Benedict and Humanitarian Relief

The biggest differences between the first edition and the revised are mainly in the first and last sections of the books. There are 8 pages of very fine print end notes, this edition has 102 and the new edition has 101. The different is one from the last sentence of the book in the first edition in a subsection called ‘A Dishonoured Prophet’. 

This volume begins with these words: 

“In August J 917 took place one of the least noticed events of the First World War: the publication of the 'Peace Note' of Pope Benedict XV in an effort to bring about a negotiated end to the war, which h a~ remained one of the most horrific conflicts in human history. This anniversary is a good point to
evaluate that Pope's actions during the war and the striking originality mid influence of his teaching about peace and war - although much of this was ignored at the time, even by bishops and priests, it has helped to develop Christian teaching about war and peace in a way that could not have
been foreseen at the time. This underrated successor of St Peter and Vicar of Christ was thus a prophet ahead of his time.

I am concentrating on Benedict's role in the war - which occupied most of his short pontificate of seven and a half years - and his teaching about peace, rather than other subjects such as hi~ place within Italian political life or the 'modernist crisis’; nor is there any coverage of one of the most longstanding achievements of his reign, the publication of a unified Code of Canon Law in 1917. John Pollard's outstanding biography, which is based on important primary sources (including diaries of Benedict's friend Baron Carlo Monti which were only published in 1997) provides a comprehensive account of his life.”

And ends with this section:

A Dishonoured Prophet

The brevity of his reign and the failure of his efforts during t he war to broker a negotiated peace have obscured the importance of what he did, in spite of the
fact that the war and its aftermath did lead greatly to an enhancement of the Holy See's place in the world. Even among those not inclined to be positive. such as the governments of Italy and France, with whom relations did markedly improve - partly because he canonised Joan of Arc in l 920. In the many histories of the Great War itself he seldom receives a mention. and yet for Catholics and other Christians in our own age he is surely more important than ever. Jus t as prophets in the Old Testament, including many who warned against trusting in weapons of war. were dishonoured and ignored, so in his own time Benedict XV was dishonoured in his own country' - not only by Italy, but the family of the Catholic Church. A prophet is not primarily one who foretells the future. but one who speaks the Word of God in truth: and the truth about the First World War was not something which those in power in Europe wanted to face. As we seek to deepen the Church's theology of peace and help men and women to turn their hacks on war and on all that glorifies war. Benedict XV is a great inspiration.”

Only part of that last paragraph appears in the second edition. This book is an excellent read, even having read most of it in the second edition. It is great for those looking into the history, and the development of the doctrine of peace. Benedict was a man ahead of his times, but his messages and concerns are just as relevant today. I am uncertain why Father Ashely Beck made some of the changes he did in the revised edition, or why the CTS issued a new booklet and ISBN numbers but even being currently out of print, it was well worth tracking down and reading this version of the life of Benedict XV.

An excellent volume from the Catholic Truth Society.  

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

For reviews of other books in the CTS Biographies series click here.

Books by Ashley Beck:
Europe's Soul and Her Patron Saints
Ronald Knox
Thomas Merton: Contemplative and Peace-maker

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