The Wit and Wisdom of Father George Rutler
Ed. Edward Short. Sophia Institute Press
317 pages$15.99 paperback, $9.99 e-book
Raymond Kowalski writes for OnePeterFive —The great virtue of Edward Short’s new book is that it makes Father George Rutler accessible in terms of both content and price.
Most Catholics probably know, or have seen, Father Rutler. His series, “Christ in the City,” ran for several years on EWTN, and installments still show up there from time to time. Father Rutler has also appeared with Raymond Arroyo on The World Over, another EWTN program that appears in prime time each week. His essays appear on several prominent Catholic websites, including Crisis Magazine. His day job is as pastor of the Church of Saint Michael on W. 34th Street in Manhattan.
Father Rutler’s thoughts, observations, and opinions are so valuable because they are given in a large context. He has seen much and done much. More important, he has read much and absorbed much. The foreword to the book was written by Anthony Esolen. Esolen notes that Father Rutler has read the books and authors that the reader has read and a great many more that the reader has not read. He has taken their measure. Esolen describes Father Rutler as that friend who can lead you back from what Esolen calls “that far country of scholars, proud of what they take to be knowledge, back into the real world of grace and humility and truth.”
Father Rutler’s writings often begin with historical anecdotes, quotations from important figures, and scriptural passages. Context is everything. The reader soon understands that someone ages ago said or did something that bears on the most current topics of the day. Father Rutler’s observations often begin in light of what has gone before.
Take, for example, Father Rutler’s observation on “Power without Truth.” It begins with a quote from Sir Francis Bacon: “Knowledge is power.” But Father Rutler factors in the lessons learned from hard experience, which teach “that knowledge of the truth is the key to the right use of power — otherwise there is just raw power[.] … Mix sentimentality with legalism and you have a diabolical recipe for cruelty.” He gives the example of totalitarian political systems, which, in the twentieth century, destroyed an estimated 170 million lives through state-sponsored terror.
The title of the book mentions Father Rutler’s wit as well as his wisdom. Indeed, Father Rutler’s droll sense of humor pokes through on occasion. In “Christ No Robin Hood,” he observes that Our Lord “did not teach His apostles to be generous with what others have[.]”
Father Rutler’s televised lectures are always meticulously prepared, constructed, and delivered. Likewise his written essays. This can be a problem for people like me, who struggle to grasp it all as it goes by. Fortunately, I can usually re-watch the lecture or re-read the essay and compensate for my shortcomings. The genius of the editor, Edward Short, is that he has extracted sections of a larger, well developed thesis — sections that, nevertheless, standing alone, deliver the full payload in just a couple of paragraphs.
This is not a book designed to be read starting from page one. Go ahead and skip around. Pick a heading that catches your interest. Or look up a topic in the extensive index — say, “socialism,” “marriage,” or “heresy.” If you are interested in some topic in particular, chances are that Father Rutler has said something about it.
If you have not yet discovered Father George Rutler, a wise friend and source of calm in the chaos awaits you.
[Raymond Kowalski is from Rochester, New York. He is a product of parochial elementary schools and The Aquinas Institute. He holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University and a law degree from The George Washington University. After a forty-year career in communications law, he is retired and living with his wife in Gainesville, Virginia. They are the parents of three and grandparents of five].