The Catholic Thing
One of Seven Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 06 May 2013

Author Eric Metaxas has been described by the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters as “very smart, very funny, very savvy . . . [and] dangerous.” This says nothing about Mr. Metaxas and a lot about Mr. Winters, who was upset that during last year’s presidential race Metaxas criticized the Obama campaign because it “denounced [wealthy Americans] as fat-cats who weren’t ‘paying their fair share’ and whose wealth was ill-gotten gain.” Mr. Winters thinks that never happened, but, even if it did, Republicans lie too!

It is indicative, however, of much left-liberal reaction to a moral, eloquent, conservative spokesman with whom they’d rather not reckon – to one who doesn’t fit the stereotype. Not that liberals ever stereotype.

Mr. Metaxas has previously written some religious books for children and two acclaimed biographies of William Wilberforce (2007) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (2011), and his new book, 7 MEN and the Secrets of Their Greatness, includes brief profiles of both the reform-minded English abolitionist and the martyred German pastor. The other five: George Washington, runner Eric Liddell, Dodgers great Jackie Robinson, Metaxas’ late good friend Charles W. Colson, and – most important for readers here – Pope John Paul II.

Although written for an adult audience, 7 MEN may easily be read by teens, and it is highly recommended for that. These profiles are meant to be inspiring, and they are, although I’m disappointed in the author’s use of the excellent word “hero” as interchangeable with the odious “role model.” Jackie Robinson was heroic, and I suppose, therefore, he might serve as a model for kids, but character is such a complex reality that I doubt it.

All of the heroes of 7 MEN were, in more ways than one, strong, and Metaxas writes that “God’s idea of making men strong was so that they would use that strength to protect women and children and anyone else.” They had chivalry, in other words (a subject dear to my heart). This is strength “given over to God’s purposes.” How else do such men found a nation (Washington), end slavery (Wilberforce), turn away from fame (Liddle), sacrifice everything (Bonhoeffer), break the color barrier (Robinson), change the world (John Paul II), and overcome public humiliation (Colson)?

Each man had an almost preternatural resolve to do the right thing. In Washington’s case it wasn’t simply leading the new United States, but also setting an example of restraint – leaving public office and resuming private life. Wilberforce could have been prime minister, but he dedicated his life to freeing Africans from bondage. Liddle stood against king and country to honor the Sabbath, then gave up running for missionary work in China. Bonhoeffer faced the Nazis head on, even leaving safety in America to return to Germany, and was hanged for it. Robinson mostly kept his cool against savage racism, giving up, as Metaxas writes, what few men would: “the right to fight back.” Chuck Colson rose and fell and rose again: His faith was so strong that he knew the only thing to do was to trust God so completely that it would look crazy to the rest of the world. . . . But he didn’t care about what anyone thought – except God.

And then there’s John Paul II: “Of all the great men in this book, there is only one who has come to be called ‘the Great.’”

The biographical information about Karol Wojtyla included in 7 Men will be familiar to anyone who has read the work of George Weigel, but Mr. Metaxas, whose background is Eastern Orthodox, nicely captures the essence of this astonishing life: Every incident, every person he had met, every talent he had been given were helping him along the path God had planned for him. 

Here was a man, more so even than those five extraordinary others, called by God, directed by God, and protected by God.

Given the need to describe the life of Papa Wojtyla in just twenty pages, I don’t know what I would include (or what I would leave out), but Metaxas wisely zeroes in on those incidents that support the premise that the future pope was not only called by God for the historic role he would play, but was also a man who heard the call and never wavered in following it. During World War II, he and friends were hiding from Germans doing a house-to-house search, and as the others huddled in fear “Lolek” Wojtyla prostrated himself in prayer. The soldiers passed by.


When the papal pallium passed to him, he said: “It is God’s will. I accept.”

So strong was the pope’s faith – so clear in his mind and heart was God’s Word – that Catholics of all persuasions took him to be their man. He supported Solidarity; he supported free markets. He spoke about the beauty of love and sex; he never wavered from the orthodoxy of Humanae Vitae. And his ability to reconcile many competing interests within the Church won converts.

Thus Jennifer Bradley of the liberal New Republic would write that after not caring much for the pope early on, she nonetheless attended a papal Mass: “Now my skepticism will have to share space with awe and, oddly, gratitude.”

A fearless acceptance of the Cross, Metaxas writes, was the true secret of John Paul II’s greatness: He had not sought greatness and had not sought power, but both had come to him as he focused his attention and energy, as Christ taught, on those who were least able to reciprocate.

Chivalry again. Omnia vincit amor.

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (8)Add Comment
written by Mack Hall, May 06, 2013
Thank you!
written by Rosemary, May 06, 2013
And they are all men?
written by Bangwell Putt, May 06, 2013
We have to accept that a book entitled "7 Men" will be about men and only men. No "malice aforethought" in that. We would expect a book entitled "7 Women" to be about women and only women. There would almost certainly be no objection to that.
written by Frank, May 06, 2013
I say with all sincerity you have an opportunity to write 7 Women and I will applaud your effort. Let's see.

Theresa of Avila
Bernadette Soubirous
Margaret Thatcher
Dr. Edith Stein
Our Blessed Mother

Here's five. I think you can two more.
written by DS, May 06, 2013
Boys need good role models and Mr. Metaxas has chosen some outstanding ones. I look forward to buying the book for my son.

I think Rosemary's question is quite legitimate and it arises because of Mr. Miner's linking the book to the concept of chivalry. If his intent is to promote chivalrous behavior among men, I would whole-heartedly agree. But I would also point out that in all of the categories mentioned, women were behaved with similar courage and fortitude: founding a nation (Abigail Adams, Molly Pitcher, Hannah Arnett to name just a few)), ending slavery (Harriet Tubman), turning away from fame (Dolores Hart), sacrificing their life (Benazir Bhutto), breaking the color barrier (Rosa Parks), changing the world (Margaret Thatcher), overcoming public humiliation (Dorothy Day). Not to Mary, as Frank points out, or the women at the tomb.

However, if Mr. Miner's intent is to promote a return to a notion that only men can bear crosses and behave in a chilvalrous fashion, or that women need a Medieval type of protection by men, I would simply suggest that history has proven otherwise.

(Don't worry folks, I'll end here and won't say anything about Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.)
written by Br. Kevin Gregorek, MIC, May 07, 2013
For Rosemary, DS, and any others interested:
In an interview about this book over on the National Review Online web site, Eric Metaxas did specifically say that he would like to write another book later entitled "7 Women," provided that this one sells well and is well received in the way that it was intended by the author, as a profile of heroic virtue in the light of great obstacles in the world. He made a specific point about mentioning how heroes come in every race, creed and color, as well as being both women and men.

I think we have to be a bit less prickly about our own knee-jerk responses to efforts like this. It seems that someone like Metaxas can't write a positive book like this one without people immediately jumping to conclusions about his biases or sexism. That's not a healthy way to live in and hope to affect society as a Catholic, or for anyone at all, really.
written by Louise, May 08, 2013
I don't know what Rosemary's actual intention was but I have to admit her comment made me roll my eyes. If it was what it seemed--another salvo in the gender war--I feel justified. I am so tired of that particular skirmish. In the immortal words of Rodney King, Can't we all get along?
written by debby, May 09, 2013
Catherine of Sienna
Bl. Mother Teresa
Theresa of Liseux (sorry, can't spell it-the Little Flower)
Gianna Molla
Judy Brown (American Life League)
Mary Eberstadt
Caryll Houselander
St. Faustina
OMG do i need to go on?
Maybe the reason it is 7 men is because there are SO MANY women.....the book would be too long. that would be one reason why Louise would "roll her eyes!"

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