Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Four Cultures of the West

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Four Cultures of the West

Article excerpt

FOUR CULTURES OF THE WEST. By JOHN W. O'MALLEY. Harvard University Press. 261 pp. $24.95.

Like all good historians John O'Malley, the distinguished historian of the Catholic Reformation, has always read far beyond his field of specialization. In this reflective work he summons up years of study of the history of Christianity and Western culture. This is a book about style, what O'Malley calls cultures: the different ways in which the great figures in Western history-philosophers, churchmen, writers, artists-sought to give form to the true, the good, and the beautiful. "How things were said," writes O'Malley, "was just as important as what was said." The cultures are four: prophecy and reform, illustrated by persons such as Isaiah, Paul, Tertullian, Luther; the academy and the professions, such as Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, the Académie Française, and Benjamin Franklin; poetry, rhetoric and the common good, such as Homer, Virgil, Cicero, Petrarch, and Erasmus; and art and performance, such as Phidias, Agia Sophia, Cluny, Michelangelo, and Palestrina. …

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