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For the Bible tells him so

10 August 2010

Robert Mackley on a zealous apologist


Signs of Life: Forty Catholic customs and their biblical roots
Scott Hahn
DLT £12.95
Church Times Bookshop £11.65

SCOTT HAHN knows how to write. Not only in terms of quantity (he is the author of more than 20 books, largely on scripture and the Catholic faith), but in his very engaging and witty style.

Although some of the humorous subheadings in his books are enough to make you wince, and they frequently have a heavily American feel to them (especially the cultural references), it is never a tedious or hard-going experience to read Hahn’s work.

Signs of Life continues this ap­proachable style. It takes “40 Cath­olic customs” and relates them to their scriptural roots, and explains how we might use them in our lives.

Most of these customs are simply Christian (baptism, grace before meals, Bible study), while others are rather more obviously Catholic (rosary, indulgences, scapulars, and medals). Hahn is excellent at show­ing how many things that look at odds with the Bible at first Protes­t-ant sight are in fact deeply scrip­tural: the mass, confession, prayer for the dead, veneration of relics, and so on.

This is also a more devotional book than some of Hahn’s more academic efforts. Each of the sec­tions ends with an excerpt from a saint, a church Father, or a pope, and contains plenty of personal reflection and anecdote on the various customs and practices. It is a book to dip into, and provides all sorts of useful little illustrations for sermons, confirmation classes, and the like.

My only reservation concerns its sort of “absolutism”, whether in terms of occasionally tortuous at­tempts to justify everything from the Bible (I have no problem with them, but I’m never going to be convinced of the use of miraculous medals and scapulars by reference to the mantle of Elijah) or of a more-Catholic-than-Catholic ap­proach of thinking that just because we find something in The Catechism of the Catholic Church or the writ­ings of a recent Supreme Pontiff, it must be true.

Coming originally from a Protes­t­ant tradition that requires things to be permitted in the Bible, Hahn has a more difficult task than, say, an Anglican who knows that things need only not be “repugnant” to holy scripture.

Hahn’s work of reconciling Protestants to the Catholic faith through his writing on the Bible over many years has been impres­sive, and many aspects of it can be applauded by Anglicans; but just occasionally you think he needs to relax: the convert zeal seems to have lasted undiminished since he be­came a Roman Catholic in 1986.

As an introduction to his work, I’d probably start with The Lamb’s Supper, but, that said, this book is a worthy addition to Hahn’s writings.

The Revd Robert Mackley is Assistant Chaplain at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

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