“The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee”
by R. David Cox. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2017). 336 pp., $26.
More than 153 years after the end of the Civil War, Confederate military leaders are in the news. More precisely, monuments of them are in the news.
Amid the turmoil that has risen from demonstrations for and against the monuments, in “The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee,” R. David Cox provides insight into an aspect of the Confederacy’s most prominent figure.
To be sure, this book will have no impact whatsoever on resolving the stay/go arguments surrounding Lee monuments. However, it provides a perspective as to how Lee, an Episcopalian, was formed in the faith, and how he applied those beliefs on matters of his day, particularly slave ownership and states’ rights, and leading an army into war to maintain both.
To establish that perspective, Cox goes deep into Lee’s life, detailing the influence of his parents and his wife, as well as other relatives and friends, and continuing that detailed narrative throughout the remainder of the general’s life.
In fact, detail is an essential part of this work, maybe overwhelming at times. Nonetheless, it is critical as his source material includes scholarly historical works, and, more importantly, he draws upon the correspondence written by and received by Lee to establish what one could consider the general’s faith journey.
It is from these letters that the reader sees the evolution of that faith through various stages of his life — from youth to West Point cadet to military leader to husband and father to cavalry commander to leader of and defeat of the Confederate army to college president.
Readers will appreciate the attention Cox, an Episcopal priest since 1972 and a professor of history at Southern Virginia University since 2006, devotes to each of these areas, as together they provide a composite of Lee’s spirituality and how it is entwined with other aspects of his life. He was not without the struggles one experiences in trying to discern the will of God and applying it to his daily life.
Cox states as much, “As a person of faith, convinced of God’s providence, he had to wrestle with what seemed to be the will of God, and how he had been on the wrong side of it; the Lord had ‘decided against’ him and his cause.” Might that be a statement readers could apply to their own lives?
Those looking for a condemnation or a canonization of Lee will not find it in this book. Rather, they will find a text that offers insight into an important facet of the life of a prominent figure in U.S. history who was formed in faith and who experienced spiritual conflicts, at times, as he tried to live it.
As Cox writes, “In short, Lee, the vanquished chieftain in war, had become a leader in peace, esteemed even by some of his former foes. His character impelled him to move from one to the other, and his character was shaped by faith.”
Olszewski is the editor of The Catholic Virginian, newspaper of the Diocese of Richmond.
In a time to build, CatholicPhilly.com connects people and communities
As society emerges from the loss and separation of the pandemic, CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you join in our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103