Blessed James Alberione

Opera Omnia


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The word "recension" is understood here in its scientific meaning of "review" and in its practical sense as a "critical revision" of a new work, with a judgment on its merit and worth.
In the press apostolate [book] reviews must aim to be of practical use to readers and promoters. [They are] to enlighten the former as regards choice and to guide the latter as regards wise promotion.
To this end the review must be complete and the reviewer conscientious and competent.1
A review is complete if it gives the author's name, the title of the work, the publisher, the format, the layout, the number of pages, a résumé of the content and a judgment on its doctrinal, moral and artistic merit.
The author of a new book may be known or not known. At times it suffices to quote his name; at other times a help will be to recall his achievements and to list previous titles of his that the public may or may not know about.
If the person is an acclaimed author, he can be profiled as was done in Italy for the author of Pratica progressiva della Confessione e della Direzione spirituale.2
Note, however, that scholarly authors are not always esteemed in their own time or in an age when ideas contrary to or not in conformity with their own are in circulation. We have an example in Saint Alphonsus. His books were censured and burned in public by his contemporaries.
It is helpful to give detailed facts about the author: if he is alive or dead, his birth place, his calling (if a lay person, an ecclesiastic, a religious), some details of his life, his good qualities, successes, and so on.
The publisher is usually the printer. Given
this fact you can very often deduce what type of book it is as regards both content and its technical features because every established publishing house has its own particular characteristics.
The format, the number of pages and the price must appear in a review because, quite often, readers want such facts.
In the review the content must be explained in a faithful and comprehensive way so as to give the reader a complete idea of the subject and how it is developed. When dealing with light reading a résumé is to be given. Where it is difficult to give a summary of major works the table of contents or a general outline will suffice.
Judgment concerns the intrinsic and extrinsic value of the work. The intrinsic regards its suitability and its content from a religious and scientific viewpoint; it has to highlight the book's features. The extrinsic regards aesthetics.
The apostle's judgment must be pastoral. It is, in practical terms, to indicate the type of reader the book is aimed at or for whom it is recommended. It is also to suggest practical means of promotion or, in the event, of distribution.
The review can have serious consequences on people with respect to justice, as well. The reviewer must therefore act in an upright way. In other words,
He has to be conscientious in his reading: he has to read the work completely and thoroughly, especially when he is reviewing novels, works of fiction or other books that contain passages, expressions or even words which are improper, questionable or not commendable.
His judgment is to be unbiased. He is not to be influenced by any like or dislike of the author, the publisher or the type of book to be reviewed. What the apostle must look for is not what he or others like but the real value of the work. Nor must he hesitate, out of unfounded fear, to go against people when the work is not really up to scratch.
He has to make clear whether the book is good from all points of view. In practical terms: if it is to be recommended or if it is defective in parts; if it is acceptable for such categories of people as scholars or adults; if it needs corrections, but not to the point of "ruining it completely"; if it is just tolerable; or if it is to be completely banned.
He has to indicate clearly the kind of readers for whom this book may be useful.
It is beyond dispute that too much credit is given to what is printed, simply
because it is printed; that many people read all kinds of printed matter, without knowing how to come to right judgment or choice.
Yet not all books, even if they have a Catholic "basis" and are well written, are recommended for everyone. For example, there are books that could be of great help to mature people, but it would be grave imprudence to place them in the hands of young people. There are others that require a degree of education, preparation and experience if they are to be understood properly and not misunderstood!
Particular care is to be taken when reviewing books "for children". People think wrongly that children don't understand certain things! What is often "not quite understood" whets their curiosity all the more and leads them to get information from their companions...
There should be nothing that may upset them. Not even advisable are those adventure stories that can over-stimulate their imagination, even if there is nothing wrong in the story itself.
Although there is nothing to object to in this but sometimes pictures are anything but exact! It is not rare to find books that deal with subjects geared to adults but where the style and pictures are really for... children.
The apostle reviewer, aware of his responsibility before God, before himself and the
souls of others, is to thoroughly sift all the elements of the book under review, weigh up the pros and cons, and, finally, sum up his own judgment, taking care to express it in as complete a way as possible and in the least number of words.

In keeping with the above, it is easy to see how the review cannot and must not be undertaken by persons who are unqualified.
Generally speaking, a single person is not able to review every kind of book, although a single person would be able to attend to all that concerns the branch of knowledge in which he is specialized.
The reason is obvious. The reviewer must be in a position to judge the author. Now if, for example, what we demand of an author of academic texts is that he should not only be well versed in his subject but also have personal experience acquired through teaching the subject, all the more so will such skills be demanded of the reviewer who is to judge the author's work.
Common sense is not always sufficient to judge a book! You need clear ideas and competence.
The apostle is thus to train himself in judgment
criteria so that he can discern the good and the bad from among the mass of printed matter that swamps the world, and be able to enlighten those who avail themselves of this apostolate.
Such criteria are not to be feeble and personal, but trustworthy; criteria that establish absolute norms, especially in the field of religion.
Dogma is an absolute criterion in matters of faith. A publication that would deride or even debate a revealed truth that is, as such, taught by the Church, is to be rejected.
The moral law is an absolute criterion in matters regarding morals (natural law, decalog, Gospel, ecclesiastical laws). A press that advocates behavior that conflicts with this law is to be outlawed.
In practice, one is to follow, where possible, what is set out in Canon Law, in the Index of Prohibited Books, and the judgment of the juridical Institute of ecclesiastical review.
For particular cases, which are not subject to Church judgment, other criteria that may help in coming to a practical judgment are:
- the author;
- the publishing house;
- common sense;
- the time when the publications appeared, so as not to judge people and matters of
one's own time with those that concern another age;
- the milieu in which the publications have appeared;
- the specific categories of people the publications are aiming at;
- the age, sex, education, and especially the religious and moral formation of the people to whom such printed matter is to be entrusted.

1 Cf. Pane e tossico, la stampa U.D., by A.C.I., Rome.

2 * A.M.D.G. - Can. Leopoldo BEAUDENOM, Pratica progressiva... secondo il metodo di Sant'Ignazio di Loyola e lo spirito di San Francesco di Sales, vol. II, 3rd ed., Marietti, Turin-Rome 1931.