TWENTIETH CENTURY CATHOLIC THEOLOGIANS
From Neoscholasticism to Nuptial Mysticism Fergus Kerr
Blackwell, 240pp, pbk 978 140512084 5, £17-99
This excellent book, a real gift, provides surveys of ten theologians who together span the twentieth century: Chenu, Congar, Schillebeeckx, de Lubac, Rahner, Lon-ergan, Balthasar, Kiing, Wojtyla and Ratzinger. Chapters on each are sandwiched between one on theology before Vatican II and one after. The result is not quite a Roman Catholic version of David Ford’s valuable Modern Theologians [Blackwell, 2005]. As the work of a single mind, Kerr s book forms a more cohesive whole. It is also a distinctly personal vision, expressive of his gripes and disappointments, and likely to appeal to a more popular readership than Ford’s volume. The book is slightly let down by occasional minor slips in editing.
Kerr shows that theology can only be understood properly when seen as an aspect of the life of the Church. The first half of each chapter is therefore historical in approach. Having set the ecclesiastical context, there follows a more systematically doctrinal exploration of the theologian’s thought. The combined effect amounts to a history of the Roman Catholic Church, told with a theologian’s eye, with ecclesiology to the fore. The Roman Catholic Church emerges as a body with a coherent story, even if it does not usually possess a single mind.
The subtitle suggests the overall structure of the period as Kerr presents it: it began with an unforeseen and fatal assault upon neo-scholasticism and it ended with an unexpected emphasis on what he calls ‘nuptial mysticism’. The decisive struggle emerges as a battle over the interpretation of St Thomas Aquinas. Only at the end, with the present Pope, is the question raised as to whether Thomism is indeed the definitive mode of Catholic theology after all. Central in all of this is the dispute over how Thomas relates to those who came before him. For the ‘baroque scholasticism’ (Chenu) or ‘sawdust Thomism’ (Balthasar) which was reigning at the start of the last century, monolithic late medieval scholasticism had done away with earlier theology by absorption and synthesis. The sources were footnotes at best.
The earthquake which brought down this particular house was the publication of texts and translations of the Fathers. This, for conservatives, was a supremely threatening enterprise. One wonders to what extent the Oxford Movement’s enthusiasm for patrology paved the way here. Anglicans, in any case, might feel a certain kinship with Chenu in his insistence that the Summa Theologiae (or any work) be read as a text rather than as a quarry for abstract theorems. We have never paralleled the Roman Church in her now-failed quest for a ‘timeless, unified theology’, ‘absolute and immutable’.
The other key factor is the relationship between theology and philosophy. Cardinal Kasper linked the death of neo-scholasticism to ‘the collapse of metaphysics’. Metaphysics had been asked to serve as the pre-theological foundation for all of Christian doctrine, and this was a weight too heavy to bear. Balthasar was instrumental in showing that philosophy hints at its own theological grounding, not vice versa. Wojtyla in his own way pointed to a fundamentally and necessarily religious vocation for philosophy, rediscovered as the love of wisdom.
Other themes recur frequently, notably liturgy and ecumenism. It is with the latter that John Paul II emerges as a radical rather than as a conservative. With Ut unum sint he was pressing on with the work of earlier thinkers such as Congar, figures whose ideas were regarded with deep suspicion at the time. The reactions of the various theologians to the aftermath of the council are illuminating. De Lubac, whose pivotal role in twentieth-century theology was demonstrated recently by John Milbank in his The Suspended Middle [SCM, 2005], sounds the most plaintive note: much has been spoilt by liturgical experimentation and the eclipse of theology by Marxist sociology.
In Kerr’s estimation, the decisive theological mood of our age is ‘nuptial mysticism’: an enthusiasm to work out theology and ecclesiology in terms of marriage, sex and gender. The roots, so it would seem, are in Origen. Generally Kerr judges this to be a dead-end, based on far-fetched exegesis. Even Congar, not the worst offender, is capable of a wild misreading of St Paul by which he finds the relationship between the hierarchy (sic) and the people to be equated with that of husband and wife. When Balthasar informs us that the Father is super-masculine (and super-feminine) and that the Son is super-feminine (and super-masculine), and that the Spirit is only super-feminine (but also not feminine at all, and certainly not a womb), has he really said much that is intelligible at all? No wonder the recent statement by the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue wrote off divine-human gender relations as an argument against the ordination of women.
There is real personal drama in the stories retold here. Harried and censured by Rome, many of these figures were summoned back to that city a couple of decades later as the architects of Vatican II. It is difficult to think who could have provided us with a more authoritative and engaging account of this decisive century in the theology of the Western Church.
Fr Andrew Davison is Tutor in Doctrine at St Stephen’s House, Oxford
PRAYER IN A WORKADAY WORLD
Grace wing, 184pp, pbk 978-0852446775, £9-95
The purpose of this book is to help seekers find God in their daily life: to seek and find him in every aspect of life. Canon Middleton hopes that between himself and the reader is a ‘sharing of life so that we can say ‘it is good Lord for us to be here’.’ If you are looking for a quick read to provide a few clues on your spiritual journey, then this is not the book for you. If you want to know how to make a narrow path through life with all its vicissitudes, and be equipped to plumb the heights and depths of true life in God, then this book will prove a valuable companion. It is unashamedly traditional.
Like the good teacher in the gospel, Canon Middleton ‘draws out of his treasure chest things old and things new’. There are jewels here quarried from the wisdom of Christendom, East and West. It is a book that could only be written by a Catholic Anglican, for it is the product of classical Anglican theological and spiritual method; it begins with Scripture and looks for light in the Fathers of the undivided Church. It brings to light the poetic beauty of the Anglican Divines and the enlightened humanism of several twentieth-century Anglican writers and preachers. It is a book that could only be written by a skilled historian, with the carefully balanced use of primary sources and the use of language that adds depth and colour to the subject.
Like a poet who never takes his focus off the object of his reflection, Canon Middleton never takes his focus off the task of sharing Gods life. It is a book that could only be written by a parish priest. There is practical uncommon sense which is the fruit of forty years of encouraging prayer in every kind of situation by every kind of person; there are many useful examples and illustrations. This is abookthat anyone in ministry would find immensely helpful; but it is a challenging read – not because it is difficult to understand, but because there is so much in it. It would be a marvellous addition to any church library and a great gift for adult confirmands. It would certainly help anyone who is serious about sharing Gods life.
Divided into three parts, the book first covers many of the nuts and bolts issues of prayer; time, place, frequency, patterns and content of prayer; it goes on to reflect on common questions about prayer: how does intercession work? What about the dead? What about the role of the saints? There are several short chapters that reflect on the experience of prayer – and it was the chapters on being an ‘icon of God’ and on the experience of ‘transfiguration’ that this reviewer found especially helpful.
The second part is a veritable tool-box for prayer, ranging from tips on how to write lists for intercession to how to organize a prayer group; there are guidelines for self-examination and for preparation for communion. There are also two appendices, one on the use and abuse of retreats and the other an essay answering the ques-
tion ‘whatever happened to ascetical theology?’ I have two small criticisms; the photograph of Newcastle City centre on the cover looks a bit dated and I found the font too dense and dark. I hasten to add, the contents are neither!
PORTRAIT OF A PRIESTESS
Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece Joan Breton Connelly
Princeton, 415pp, hbk 0 6911 2746 8, £26-95
Joan Breton Connelly is Associate Professor of Fine Arts at New York University. In this book she reviews the history of ancient Greek priestesses, and her conclusions should upset many of the assumptions commonly held about women in the time of Christ. Greek priestesses, she argues, do not give us evidence of systematic gender oppression. Greek society did not stop women having a leadership role in religion just because they were women (nor, we might add, did the Church either).
Apart from the clarity of its writing and the quality of its illustrations, this book is important because it helps the lay reader grasp what today’s specialists are thinking. Over the last thirty years there have been two major changes in the way scholars understand Greek priestesses. Firstly, the idea that women in ancient Greece were just second-class homemakers and child-rearers is now thought to be too black-and-white. Though it had been thought women could not be citizens, today it is reckoned they could. Scholars now believe women had considerable, if informal, economic power as well as their own defined spheres of activity where men had no place.
Secondly, it was never questioned that women could be priestesses, but these priestesses were thought to be on the edge of economic and political life. Connelly says this belief is a product of today’s cultural biases and she follows a new scholarly consensus to argue firstly, that the Greeks gave equal weight to religious and secular laws. Then secondly, because Greek society was one in which the religious and the secular were bound together this meant the leadership of priestesses was not at the edge but at the centre of a society.
Against the ‘the Victorian elite’s gender ideology’ and twentieth century feminists’ ‘subordination theory’ (both elites wanted to show ancient women as silent, submissive and invisible), Connelly argues priestesses were leaders of society. They spoke in assemblies, sealed documents, dedicated sanctuaries, initiated sacrifices. All these things mattered because religion was an integral part of daily life – upset the goddess and who knows what might happen. Even that canard so often attributed to traditionalists, that women were ‘excluded from sacrifice because, like animal victims, they bleed,’ is shown to be a modern invention, directly contradicted by the evidence.
Connelly is aware of the impact this will have on some of the commonly held assumptions about women in the early Church. So, in the penultimate chapter, she tries to find some continuity between cultic priestesses and women priests. To do this she sets out the evidence for women priests in the early Church, and it is helpful to have so much of the evidence gathered together in one place.
And how little there is! In the end Connelly says there is ‘disappointingly’ little evidence for women priests in early Christianity. She might have accepted that could just reflect the way things were. Outside what Connelly recognizes as Montanist circles, there is no evidence for mainstream women priests until Pope Gelasius (and that evidence is open to interpretation). When we think how ferocious the Fathers were in naming heretics and heresies, it is extraordinary not to find widespread references to mainstream women priests if they were at all common before the fifth century.
But, if Connelly’s attempt to see a tradition of women priests falls foul of the lack of evidence, she does draw our attention to some important points. Most important is that priests represented male deities and priestesses female deities. As she puts it, ‘the power of gender in the analogy between sacred servant and deity was so strong that it warranted a category of female cult agents.’ While this worries some people today, it did not worry the ancients – Athene was a goddess, served by priestesses, but that did not stop her being the deity of all Athenians.
For Connelly the idea of priest/ess as icon of the god/dess is not some modern invention but part of ancient religion. This cultural context provided remarkable equality for women, but it meant that in the Church the ‘analogy’ between the male Christ and his priest was lived out in male priests. The cultural context also makes it unlikely that women would have expected to be priests in the early Church. Indeed, according to Connelly, when Epiphanios criticized women priests, his point was that they were acting as the cult priestesses of Mary. She uses that to create an alliance between Mariolatry and liberal feminism, but ultimately her work supports the anthropology of Consecrated Women’? This makes Portrait of a Priestess essential reading for anyone engaged in open-minded debate on this issue.
THE TIMES OF BEDE
Studies in Early English Christian Society and its Historian
Patrick Wormald, ed by Stephen Baxter
Blackwell, 312pp,hbk 978 0631 16655 9, £50
‘There is no brilliance in Bede but much steady clarity; no overtones and undertones, no subtle intuition, no lightning flash of genius. He lives and writes in the noon-day sun…Simple, sane, loyal, trusting, warm-hearted, serious with that ready sense of pathos which has always been a mark of English literature…falsehood and vanity of any kind were quite foreign to him…a good man who, as he himself said, could live without shame and die without fear’ (R.W. Southern).
This sensitive portrait of one great historian by another is remarkable for the sense of intimate acquaintance and even friendship which it conveys. It is the interior knowledge of a man rather than knowledge about him and is characteristic of those who read and ponder Bede’s writings. It is as part of this tradition that the work of Patrick Wormald on Bede must be seen. Always a dynamic teacher, Patricks writings are more voluminous in print now than during his life, and this book is a valuable addition, bringing together his insights into the historian who most interested and influenced him.
He acknowledges and discusses the fact of the influence of the views of his teachers about Bede on himself and on scholarship generally and also shows that he stands in their tradition of love of Bede as a master. He combines this with an astringent sense of criticism equal to theirs and moreover provides a wide, European setting for Bede’s works.
The first essay was presented with verve at Durham in 1973, the 1300th anniversary of Bede and illuminates the life of Benedict Biscop and the monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow in Bedes lifetime. The second, ‘Bede, Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon Aristocracy’, was written for the same anniversary and presented two years later year in America; it provides a seminal contribution to the study of Bedes Ecclesiastical History, and the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.
The third chapter, ‘Bede, the Bretwal-das and the origin of the gens anglorum’ formed part of a festchrift for Michael Wallace-Hadrill in 1983. Both essay and its expanded footnotes are remarkable and well worth studying, especially as a contribution to the vexed question of the bretwal-den. The fourth is a reprint of a lecture on ‘Bede and the conversion of England: the charter evidence’, delivered with panache and authority in the church of St Paul at Jarrow in 1984. It forms a companion to Patrick’s monumental study, The Making of English Law (1999), and like the book, it is notable for showing how legal documents illuminate the study of social history, since laws reflect the cultural values of the societies that frame them.
There is a paper given in 1992 in Keble College Chapel in a distinguished series of lectures published as The English Tradition and the Genius of Anglicanism. Here Patrick, perhaps goaded by the title of the series, turned a critical eye on the concept of’Englishness’ and Bede’s place in its genesis, while in an additional note disposing of ‘celticism’, thus adding his weight to the consensus that there is ‘not the slightest support for the notion of an early Celtic church’ [p. 223]. He concluded that it was Bede who gave Englishness a ‘manifesto of unique grace and power’ by presenting the pivot of nationality as Christianity, a reminder to historians that Bede was more than an historian: as the first editor of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People wrote: ‘It is no light privilege to have been for so long in constant communion with one of the saintliest characters ever produced by the church of this island’ (C. Plummer).
The editor has managed to present the material in such a way that these written pieces manage to convey the sense that they were given as lectures, with all Patrick’s enthusiasm and sensitivity to his audience; the same is true of a final lighter contribution, ‘St Hilda, saint and scholar’, a paper given in 1993 at the anniversary of St Hilda’s College, Oxford.
In almost all cases, the text of the spoken lectures has been amplified by extensive and invaluable footnotes; for instance, in the first paper there are fifteen pages of footnotes to twelve pages of text; there are also photographs of the charters mentioned and an index.
This is a book filled with treasures and it is a fitting memorial to one of the eminent historians of early Anglo-Saxon England. It seems appropriate to conclude this account of Patrick’s work with Bede’s summary of his own life: ‘It has always been my delight to read and teach and write,’ and to add a verse from Bede’s first biblical commentary: ‘Christ is the morning star who promises and reveals to his saints the eternal light of life when the night of the world is past’ [Bede, Commentary on the Book of Revelation, 2, 28].
Benedicta Ward slg
How the Liberals Lost their Way Nick Cohen
Fourth Estate, 400pp, pbk 978 000 722969 7, £12-99
William Wilberforce’s work to abolish slavery brought evangelical Christians one of their greatest successes in British politics. And you will find references to the importance of Wilberforce’s faith if you look at the websites of the BBC or Hull City Council or Tearfund. Curiously, you won’t find mention that he was a Tory.
Nick Cohen was a journalist on the Observer and in his new book he dissects the mindset which attributes all virtue to the Left and none to the Right. And this is relevant to Anglicans, because when the Archbishop of Canterbury calls himself a ‘bearded lefty’ and when regular Church Times columnists write that, of course they are Labour voters, and, of course they only voted Blair because there was no one else, the Anglican Establishment looks very like what Cohen calls the Liberal Left. So, a dissection of the Liberal Left might say something about where our church is headed.
At a first glance we might be disappointed. On the front there is a quote from Lord Bragg, Labour peer and Christian, and that is promising. But inside there are hardly any references to Christianity, which is strange given the importance of Methodism and Irish Roman Catholicism in the founding of the Labour party in this country. Then again, the only reference to the Church of England is a criticism of the General Synod for anti-Semitism. So maybe at a time when we are told that the Church needs to learn from society, society thinks it has little to learn from the Church – any Church.
And yet Cohens description of the Liberal Left, as distinct from the Old Labour working class, sounds familiar. The Liberal Left campaigns on justice issues – justice for women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities – and it crusades against global warming and globalization. Such things are the stuff of synods. Cohen is clear that these concerns address serious matters. And he does not promote the Tories in place of the Left. The rapacity of Big Business, the disgraceful Conservative support of right-wing dictators, all are duly noted. No, what upsets him and drives him is his disappointment with the Left.
So the book describes his journey to disillusion. It begins with a childhood where every decision had a political slant. This moral seriousness might appeal to Christians, even if its focus has changed – who today would refuse their children a comic because it was produced by non-union labour? Cohen is first shaken in his unquestioning socialist faith when he discovers a teacher he admires is a Conservative, not having consciously met one before. Then in the Nineties, he has his most serious problem when he concludes that the Left lost the moral high ground because of its reflex anti-Americanism. He had believed that however bad left-wing dictators might be, at least the cause had a moral quality to it. Now he believes this has been lost, if it ever existed at all.
And the problem is not just at the extremes where a Livingstone supports any Muslim who opposes George Bush. Even Fairtrade is criticized, not because it seeks to support people who need help badly, but because it targets only those on the wrong end of US business. After all, Cohen argues, there is no fair trade in China or Zimbabwe – why doesnt Fairtrade go there, or stand up to the rougher dictators? It is an argument that poses questions for a Church where Fairtrade enjoys the dogmatic status once held by the virgin birth. Yet there are signs that the Church is not entirely in thrall to the Liberal Left, notably Dr Williams’ defence of the family and the unborn child. But what if no distinctively Christian political agenda is developed? If Cohen is to be believed, and his analysis is challenging, in the last twenty years the Liberal Left has successfully driven social change, but has also cut itself off from the working class, and no longer has a clear moral purpose nor anything positive to say. Is that where General Synod wants to go?
THEIR HEARTS BURNED
Walking with Jesus along the Emmaus Road: An Excursion through the Old Testament
Kevin O’Donnell Monarch, 204pp, pbk 978 185424758 2, £6-99
Christianity has a yes but attitude to the Old Testament, yes it is Testament, but it is Old. Sunday by Sunday the Old Testament readings in the Lectionary are chosen to fit the Gospel reading. In this book by a Sussex priest there is a resource for preachers who build on such fits and for all who seek sense in the Old Testament.
Seek sense, or rather, seek Jesus. This rapid tour of 31 books or groups of books is aimed at seeking Jesus in the spirit of the disciples on the Emmaus Road. ‘Their hearts burned then as Jesus explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself O’Donnell finds Jesus as Saviour in Joshua, Sacrifice in Isaiah, Refiner in Malachi and so on. He is wise to a long Christian tradition of so unlocking the Old Testament and open to authorities as diverse as Oswald Chambers and the Cure d’Ars.
Their Hearts Burned kindles spiritual imagination. Could Leviticus’ warning against strange fire [10.1] have relevance to multifaith worship or the cities of refuge in Deuteronomy [4.41] image the security believers have in Jesus? O’Donnell unpacks the disconcerting narratives of propitiatory and aversion sacrifice as love language in Christ. The so-called levelling experience of charismatic renewal prophesied by Joel
[2.28] witnesses Jesus as the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit. Ezekiel’s wheels within wheels [1.16] could signify the union of God and humanity in Jesus.
It is a fast moving tour of a book rich both in scholarship and in illuminating stories of the spiritual transformation that comes into play when people find Jesus. Like Rahab’s scarlet thread [Joshua 2.17], symbol of Christ’s blood, Their Hearts Burned is a pointer to what gives cohesion not just to the Old Testament but to everything in the Christian perspective.
MOTHER AGNES OF LEEDS
Agnes Logan Stewart 1820-1886 Stephen Savage
Anglo-Catholic History Society, pbk, £5 22 Cloudesley Square, London Nl OHN
Here is another figure from among those dauntless women who, in the wake of the Oxford Movement, answered a call to join the newly formed Sisterhoods. Dr Pusey’s role in the revival of the Religious Life in the Church of England is well known, and it has a particular bearing on this story because Agnes Stewart worked in the parish of St Saviour’s, Leeds, the church founded by Dr Pusey This is an account of what could be achieved by a determined woman in a slum parish, assisted, it must be said, by considerable personal wealth. (How much the work of Tractarian disciples was made possible by the generosity of wealthy individuals.)
The story is a characteristic one, though not one marked by enduring success. The pamphlet is well researched, though it could be better referenced. Much of the career of Mother Agnes involves speculation, though what is suggested here is always acceptable. However, this work has been written (as the author acknowledges) for a Leeds readership. The reader unfamiliar with Leeds may find the amount of local detail rather confusing, and the large number of names crowding the pages can feel overwhelming.
The lost king of England Chris Skidmore
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 368pp, hbk 978 0297 84649 9, £20
Ones bookshelves groan with the studies and biographies of the Tudor kings and queens, and of the courtiers and churchmen who used their positions permanently to change the course of England and to shape the contours of the Church of England. The flow of tomes shows no sign of
abatement. Even in recent months, studies of Henry Howard, of Leicester, and of the Tudor portrait artist Hans Holbein have enriched our understanding of this era.
A curious lacuna in this outpouring is the last of the Tudor kings, Edward, Henry VIII’s long-sought heir. It is a gap that Chris Skidmore, a young Oxford historian whose D.Phil, is still in progress, has elegantly filled with an articulate biography of the boy-king.
What this study makes clear is the extent to which the policies of the Edwardian reformation belonged to the young king himself. Edward is shown here to have been committed to a thorough-going Reformation. In this he followed the lead set by his Council and showed the fruits of their never-too-subtle efforts to indoctrinate him. But Edward was certainly his father s son in terms of force of will and intellectual acumen, and as he drew towards the time when he would have ruled in his own right, it is clear that his instincts about the reform of the church were more aggressive than those of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Skidmore’s study also highlights the relations between Edward and his two half-sisters. Above all, he documents Edwards singular determination that his father’s will be set aside and that he himself be succeeded by a monarch more certain to preserve the Reformation legacy he had bequeathed, Lady Jane Grey. The upsets occasioned by her nine-day reign, and the clear voxpopuli that Mary should instead succeed to the throne, Skidmore calls ‘one of the few successful rebellions of English history’ The extent to which Mary’s nursed grudge at her brother’s efforts to disinherit her influenced the policies of her reign would form a suitable starting part for a fresh study of this much-maligned monarch.
Nonetheless, Skidmore reminds us of the extent to which the Reformation that Edward put into place could not be turned back, and of the degree to which Edwards policies have endured for four and a half centuries since his death.
There are perhaps a few infelicities in the prose and, unfortunately, some une-radicated typographical errors, but this is a fine book (including a large section of brilliantly reproduced colour plates) which would repay reading for all those who find themselves a part of the church that Edward created willy-nilly.
Twelve lost churches of London Michael Yelton
Anglo-Catholic History Society, pbk, £5 22 Cloudesley Square, London Nl OHN
The poetry of wistful regret, of romantic remembrance, of rose-tinted glow comes to mind reading Michael Yelton’s latest book in the excellent series of Occasional Papers of the Anglo-Catholic History Society. It might be Wordsworth: ‘the vision splendid fades into the common light of day’ ‘Whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is now, the glory and the dream?’ It might be Kipling: All our pomp of yesterday / Is one with Nineveh and Tyre.’ It might be Tennyson: ‘We are not now that strength which in old days / Moved earth and heaven.’ Or we might even be moved to echo Sir Ranulph Crewe’s plangent lament for the medieval nobility: ‘Where is Bohun? Where’s Mowbray, where’s Mortimer? Nay, which is more and most of all, where is Plantagenate? They are entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality’
Mr Yelton briefly chronicles twelve London churches, once bulwarks of the Catholic tradition, now destroyed, redundant, put to other uses. St Francis of Assisi, Dalgarno Way, North Kensington; St Andrew, Carshalton; St Columba, Haggerston; St Alphege, Southwark; Holy Redeemer, Greenford; St Michael, Islington; St Michael, Shoreditch; St Oswald, Walthamstow; St Thomas, Shepherds Bush; St Augustine, Leytonstone; St Paul, Whitechapel; St Mary, South Bermondsey It is a roll of honour whose sonorous recitation should be accompanied by drums and trumpets. Alas, this is not the book to do it, welcome though it is. The black and white pictures are excellent. The prose, however, is bland and no more than serviceable. There is no evocation of past glories; rather we are treated to a series of inventories. No doubt, the sources have been culled efficiently enough, but with little imagination. Father Humphry Whitby’s First Mass at St Colomba’s, Haggerston was ‘opulent’ but ‘only Peter Anson could have described it with sufficient colour, and regrettably there is no record of him having attended.’ Pity.
INDIA: PAST GLIMPSES OF A COUNTRY LIFE
Melrose Books, 128pp, hbk I 905226 56 X, £12-99
Canon Copland lived in India before the Second World War, through the War and in the heady and dangerous days leading up to Partition. He remained in the newly-independent India for some years thereafter. He served as Mission Priest at Ghandafrom 1938 until 1942 and was Head of the Ghanda Mission from then until 1953. He was made a Canon of All Saints’ Cathedral, Nagpur in 1952 in recognition of his missionary work, and returned to Scotland in the following year to take up the post of Rector of St Mary’s, Arbroath.
The Mission to Ghanda was initiated from Scotland in 1870 and Canon Copland charts its history and draws on his first-hand knowledge, as well as mining a number of other sources, in his account. The missionaries lived in simple conditions, sharing the life of the Ghanda community and were gradually accepted. Their task had not been an easy one. Village families had been worshipping their own gods and had been dedicated to their own religions for centuries. If they embraced the Christian religion, they had much to lose, but they had salvation to gain. The task of conversion was a long and steady toil.
The Mission grew with the construction of schools and a hospital and the missionaries often worked as teachers or nurses, builders and plumbers. They had to hunt for their food and lived alongside their Indian neighbours, sharing in their individual lives and the life of the community. The missionaries became accepted partly because they made the effort to become fluent in the local language, Marathi. Here was inculturation at work; and at work successfully.
Although the focus of the book is the Christian Mission, there are descriptions of aspects of Indian culture and village life, and the division that existed between those missionaries who committed themselves to village and communities and those others of the Raj who adopted a more Imperial approach.
SERVICES FOR CHRISTIAN INITIATION
The Church in Wales
Canterbury, 112pp, hbk with cd 978 781853 11758 9, [£14-91]
Provision is also made in the equivalent part of Common Worship, but here it is clear and explicit: in the first Appendix ‘Private baptism of infants in an emergency’ it gives k the form for ‘Baptism by a lay person – ‘If no ordained minister is available, one of those present names the child and pours water upon him/her three times, saying…’
From the Elizabethan church onwards it had remained a constant complaint from the protestants that the Church of England permitted women ministers of the sacraments, a manifest travesty of the apostolic injunctions. How so? Because in an emergency a lay person can baptize, and in emergencies with the newly born that usually meant a midwife (though remember Tess baptizing her own illegitimate baby in Tess of the d’Ubervilles). A woman administering a dominical sacrament!
It has for a long time been one of the slightly arcane ironies of the Church of England that those with a high doctrine of the sacred ministry have been those most in favour of this informal extension, while those who appear hardly to understand what a sacred minister is should be those who oppose this most evident and gracious exception. It is good to have the circumstances and requirements clearly and explicitly explained for all to read; it is perhaps ironic, again, that it should be done when the sacred ministry is being so carelessly and lightly extended to include women priests and bishops.
The great merit the Church in Wales has shown in its CW equivalents is simplicity. Even repeating every page in Welsh, it is still shorter than its CofE sister text. True, there are options and alternatives, but the restraint makes both baptism and confirmation easier to follow, and, which is far more important, more authoritative. It is not just the prayers that matter, but the manner in which they are presented. If a church offers too many options, then even its central rites will come to be seen as optional.
THE DAWKINS DELUSION
Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine
Alister McGrath with Joanna Collicutt McGrath
SPCK, 78pp, pbk 978 0281 05927 0, £7-99
‘Might atheism be a delusion about God?’ is the cheeky last line of the McGraths’ slim volume engaging with Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. There is similar flamboyance in the book’s strap-line: ‘atheist fundamentalism and the denial of the divine.’ Compared with The God Delusion itself, The Dawkins Delusion has a humbler tone, though Alister cannot resist telling us of the atheist whose faith crumbled at one of his own lectures.
The McGraths engage selectively but forcefully: scientific method is important but falls down before questions of meaning; Dawkins’ focus on religion is prepositional and weak on experience; whatever world-view you hold, you can do good or bad; religions have internal means of reform and renewal; whatever Dawkins writes, the persistence of belief in God is telling; is there more evidence for God than Dawkins’ unseen ‘memes’ or viruses of the mind?
The McGraths aim for English sweet reasonableness, even taking a swipe at Intelligent Design (what is more basic is the explicability of the universe and how you explain that). The shrillest section responds to Dawkins’ portrait of Jesus, friend of sinners, as ‘in-group leader’, one of his many subjective judgements contested in this booklet, which should be read after reading Dawkins and not instead of doing so.
The Revd Dr John F Twisleton, Chichester diocesan mission & renewal adviser