I have been a bit busy for a few weeks!
I finished reading von Balthasar's The Threefold Garland. It's a very fine collection of scriptural meditations on the mysteries of the Rosary (minus the luminous mysteries promoted by John Paul II later).
By way of wrapping up what I was saying in earlier posts concerning other of his works, this one reflects his intention of going back to the sources: he sticks to the Bible in talking about the mysteries. In this case it works, considering the narrow focus of the book. But like I was saying before: it's silly in my opinion to insist upon ignoring the good that can be found elsewhere than in the sources. I would assert that St. Thomas' exposition of the Hail Mary is no less valuable than von Balthasar's. Shall we just ignore a doctor of the Church? No thanks.
I guess by way of concluding that topic I'd say that there is good to be found in von Balthasar's work, but I'm not going to ignore 2000 years of theological treasure as he suggests. And at this stage in my humble theological growth I'd say that digging the good out of von Balthasar is far more work than, say, digging it out of St. Thomas, or St. Augustine, or St. Bede (or Chesterton or Belloc, though they weren't theologians).
Since finishing up with vB, I've read Bainton's Medieval Church. It's a short little book and so nothing more than introductory. Bainton has an engaging style. This particular book is different from other stuff of his that I've read (I'm thinking of his two-volume history of the Church) in that (literally) half of it consists of selections from primary source documents - and in my view that's two-thirds (or maybe more) of the value of the book. On the whole my impression of Bainton is positive, though I think at times he is a bit cynical about the Church - which is unsurprising, since he was Protestant. But he doesn't seem to me to be anti-Catholic at all.
The one serious objection I had to the book involves his portrayal of Thomism. He describes it as "more nearly in line with the ancient Stoics" than with Aristotle (p. 58)! I wonder what he'd been reading, but it certainly wasn't the Summa Theologica. He goes on to say (p. 59) that faith and knowledge are "mutually exclusive" but not antithetical. "Mutually exclusive" seems to me to be saying way too much, and I can't help wondering whether Francis Schaeffer got his botched ideas about Aquinas from reading this book (since he obviously didn't read Aquinas). Now Bainton does acknowledge that we can by means of reason "elucidate" what God has revealed - but that seems to me to turn mutual exclusivity on its head. It may be that Bainton is simply giving poor expression to the fact that there are some things we can know only by means of revelation: we cannot reason our way to a knowledge of the Trinity, for example.
Yesterday I started reading St. Bede's Ecclesastical History. The Oxford edition that I'm reading includes a wealth of notes, but I have a serious complaint about this.
(Reginald mounts a hobby horse)
The notes in the book are all at the end of the book. This is really, really, really, really annoying for the serious reader. It's inexcusable. Footnotes! We want footnotes! Publishers: It's a tremendous disservice to the reader and to the author to force us to flip back and forth. It's nothing more than laziness and trying to save a buck on publishing costs. Please stop. Bring back the good, honest, useful footnote. Thank you.
Okay, I digressed :-)
Setting aside the publisher's grotesque presentation on this score, it's a good volume, and St. Bede is an engaging author.
Looking ahead, I expect to be spending a fair amount of time reading history (mostly medieval history) in the coming months. Aside from the Cambridge Medieval History (the "short" version for me, a non-specialist - but it's still two big hardcover volumes) I've got stuff on Charlemagne, The Deeds of Frederick Barbarossa by Otto of Friesing, a few other miscellaneous things on medieval church history and theology, a few volumes of Pelikan, etc. The work of fixing my pitiful formal education continues :-) Onward!
Oh - lest I forget - I also read Belloc's Characters of the Reformation during my absence from the blog. I'm not sure that he hasn't occasionally got things wrong (his portrayal of Cranmer seems a bit self-contradictory for example - but maybe that is simply a reflection of Cranmer himself), but at the worst it's a refreshing alternative to the standard portrayal of the Reformation.