A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair
By Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

Harvard scholar Goldhagen, author of the bestselling and controversial "Hitler's Willing Executioners," turns to a question left unanswered in his earlier work: to what extent are Catholics and the Catholic Church morally culpable for the Holocaust? As in his earlier book, Goldhagen pulls no punches. In the second paragraph he writes, "Christianity is a religion that consecrated... a megatherian hatred of one group of people: the Jews." The story of this hatred, which Goldhagen views as a betrayal of Christianity's own moral principles, has been told many times and, most recently, in the works of Susan Zuccotti and Michael Phayer. In contrast to these accounts, Goldhagen offers not an objective history of the Church's role in the Holocaust but, as the title promises, a moral examination.

Goldhagen makes no apology for engaging in a sustained ethical inquiry and rendering judgment. (In fact, much of the book is either a direct or indirect defense of his much-criticized first work.) Goldhagen demands material, political and moral restitution but ends questioning whether the Catholic Church can "muster the will" to undertake these actions. There is little new information here; a definitive history of this dark chapter must await the opening of the Vatican archives. Readers should not skip the extensive and detailed endnotes, which contain a wealth of fascinating material.

The Vatican's Women: Female Influence in the Holy See
By Paul Hoffman
St. Martin's

How do women influence the inner workings of the male-dominated Roman Catholic Church when the door to priesthood remains closed to them? To find out women's impact on the Vatican, Hoffman, a former Rome bureau chief for The New York Times, conducted interviews with more than 40 representatives of the church's distaff side and did historical research aided by two of the Vatican's women professionals. He learned that although they are barred from many official positions of authority, women have managed to exercise persuasive power at the Vatican into the present day. Indeed, some of Hoffman's strongest examples are of women who wielded great power while assuming traditional and even subservient roles. Chief among these was Mother Pascalina, a Bavarian nun who spent more than 40 years attending to the personal needs of Pope Pius XII, and who had so much influence that she was referred to by some as "the popess." This book is as much about the Vatican as it is about women and is full of interesting, gossipy tidbits drawn from the author's years of working and living in Rome. Although such details make for interesting reading and will certainly attract readers with a taste for scandal and rumor, their inclusion detracts from what otherwise might have been a more serious study of the role of women in the church.

Canticle of the Sun: (The Calligraher's Notebook)
by St. Francis of Assisi

Shambhala, which has been broadening its line to include classics of Western as well as Eastern spirituality, offers a beautiful new series merging spiritual poetry and the art of calligraphy. In Canticle of the Sun: The Spirit of Francis of Assisi, the saint's prayers and excerpts from writings about him are complemented by facing-page calligraphy in bold colors. Alongside Francis's prayers of gratitude for Sister Moon, Brother Wind and Sister Water, for example, are the corresponding Latin praises, beautifully rendered by calligrapher Frank Missant.

Among the other three volumes in Shambhala's series is "Perfect Harmony: Sufi Poetry of Ibn `Arabi," which pairs the poetry of the 13th-century Sufi mystic with contemporary calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy. In a moving afterword, Massoudy explains how he became involved in calligraphy as a child, and how his work is inspired by poetry.

The Pope and the Heretic: The True Story of a Man Who Dared to Defy the Roman Inquisition
By Michael White

What is remarkable about Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) is less his execution for heresy by the Catholic Church than the philosophy that led to his death. White, who has written biographies of Galileo, Newton and Leonardo, offers a fast-paced account of the development of Bruno's thought and the reasons why the Church considered these ideas heretical. As White points out in an account that is part history of philosophy, part biography and part church history, Bruno drew on the atomistic philosophy of Democritus, the ancient occult rituals of Egypt and other magi, and the teachings of Jesus to develop a philosophical system that challenged traditional Christian doctrines. Drawing threads from each of these disparate traditions, Bruno became the first modern pantheist, contending that every individual is a part of God and that God is in every individual. He argued that individuals could use mnemonic occult rituals to discover this unity. Bruno also believed that the universe was infinite and filled with inhabitable worlds. The philosopher was so convinced that his ideas would allow individuals to seek God that, as White demonstrates, he was mystified at being charged with heresy. Bruno influenced numerous thinkers from Galileo, Leibniz and Spinoza to Coleridge and Hegel. Although White's tightly focused study offers a nice overview of the conflict between religion and philosophy in the Renaissance, Frances Yates's splendid "Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition" remains the standard account of Bruno's life and work.