Friday, October 5, 2018

Book Review: "God, Land & Freedom: The True Story of I.C.A.B."

Dr. Julie Byrne alerted me to the publication of "God, Land & Freedom" by Edward Jarvis. It was published by Apocryphile Press which, to the credit of Fr. John Mabry, PhD, is well known for its Independent Catholic Heritage Series. As soon as I learned of the book I rushed to buy it and delved in the day it arrived.

The author has done an excellent job researching the topic. Jarvis' detailing the history of Catholicism and religion in general in Brazil is helpful to the neophyte. It gives the impression that because of the tumultuous history of Brazil, a group like ICAB (The Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church) has factors which organically promote its success. He also cites numerous newspaper and first-hand accounts of the story of ICAB, as well as has a sizable bibliography. I remain impressed by Jarvis' ability to secure newspaper articles from over half a century ago in both Portuguese and Spanish. To his credit, Jarvis portrays the history and path of the church "warts and all." It may be uncomfortable for some members and advocates of the Church, but the book does not read overall as a condemnatory piece. In fact, Jarvis examines the theology of the ICAB movement from both a pro and a con perspective to provide reflection on the topic from a variety of viewpoints. His views of individual members may be less flattering, but the Church itself gets an open discussion.

Where the book does lack, for me, is its statistical details. I would have liked to read more in-depth reporting of the numerical strength of ICAB. Also helpful would have been more discussion about the various branches of the Church. Jarvis mentions the ICAB and its presents in other countries, but much of the work centers around Patriarch Castillo Mendez. Castillo Mendez becomes so pivotal that some of the other history from this time is lost. There is also a lack of information about the status of the church after the death of Castillo Mendez in 2009, so the reader does not have a good grasp of the current situation.

Overall, it is abundantly clear that the author is well versed in Catholic theology and history. He discusses theological concepts that indicate he has extensive knowledge of the subject. This allows him to in-depth discuss things like apostolic succession, liturgical aspects, etc. He highlights enough examples from multiple perspectives of Catholicism (from the SSPX to Rahner) that the work does not come off as biased towards traditionalism or liberalism.

The author's viewpoint on "micro-churches" does come through in the text. It seems apparent to me that the author is a Roman Catholic and, not only writes from that perspective, but sometimes presents the topic as if it's a case study for Roman Catholics. His use of words like "official Catholic Church" or [sic] after Catholic in the names of Independent Catholic bodies indicates a questionable objectivity.  Whereas Dr. Byrne's book indicates an openness to the topic, Jarvis seems to have made up his mind. He also provides opinions on the ICAB's validity, liturgical changes, and other areas that indicate he is writing from the viewpoint of Roman Catholicism. I'm unsure if a biography would have been helpful to alert the reader to his personal history and education. This could have dispelled any question of objectivity.

Overall, however, Jarvis is to be commended for documenting a church that has been ignored for too long. Given its numerical strength (generally speaking) and world-wide impact, a book on this topic was well overdue. While I believe the objectivity of some of it is questionable, Jarvis does provide excellent references which will be useful for many years to come (both positive and negative). 

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