MOTHER LEAKEY AND THE BISHOP
A Ghost Story Peter Marshall
OUP, 336pp, hbk
978 0 19 927371 3, £12-99
Dr John Atherton, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1636-40) is the only Anglican bishop to have been executed for sodomy. So far. Who knows what may happen after Lambeth 2008. His story forms part of this fascinating book by Peter Marshall, Professor of History at Warwick University.
Within a chronological structure, the narrative ebbs and flows. Tributaries are explored. We linger for a time in pools. The journey encounters eddies and rapids but is sometimes languorous. Sometimes we go back to the beginning to review our progress before we set off again with a new set of directions.
Throughout all this, Professor Marshall is a lucid and patient guide, with a keen sense of the questions which need to be asked at the right time. He is candid when he does not have the evidence to answer them and he avoids undue romantic speculation.
To adopt his technique; let us go back to meet Susa Leakey, a widow, Atherton’s mother-in-law. Her death was serene enough for the times but she evidently lay unquiet in her Somerset grave. She appeared to members of her family, and to others, but she especially appeared to her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, whom she told to go to Ireland to her daughter Joan (Atherton, nee Leakey) and deliver a potentially harmful message. Although Elizabeth is reluctant to reveal the information committed to her charge to the judicial tribunal which investigated the sightings of Mother Leakey, Professor Marshall reveals a body of evidence which includes accusations of incest and infanticide against Dr Atherton.
Before we leave Mother Leakey for a while, we learn about the Leakey family tree, its business, the economy of Minehead in Somerset, church-manship, Puritans and Laudians and all manner of things thanks to Professor Marshall’s prodigious and detailed research, lightly worn and clearly recorded.
Let us cross to Ireland. After a series of curacies and incumbencies in Somerset, this is what Atherton did. He set sail from Minehead to Dublin and to a canonry at Christ Church Cathedral. Here, fired with Laudian reforming zeal, he set about improving the cathedrals worship and also its finances. The latter required the rigorous instigation and pursuit of litigation. The religious policies of William Laud (that most splendid and unusual of politicians, a true reactionary) were being implemented in Ireland by the new Lord Deputy, Thomas Wentworth. He and Laud agreed, somewhat hesitantly as they had heard rumours of accusations against Atherton during his time in Somerset, to appoint him as Bishop of Waterford and Lismore.
He swept into this dull, down-at-heel, ecclesiastically and financially impoverished diocese and launched a series of lawsuits, mainly against the Earl of Cork (whom Wentworth has supplanted) to recover alienated church land and property and endowments. He made enemies with insolent ease. His fall from power and from grace was coterminous. His fall, and what a great fall it was through the trapdoor of the scaffold, was also coterminous with Wentworth’s recall to England and his own fall and his execution.
Atherton was accused of sodomy by his servant, who for his pains and for his evidence was also executed. Atherton denied the charges, and they may (just may) have been trumped up by his political and ecclesiastical opponents. He was caught up in the great constitutional conflict that faced England because, of course, we are in the foothills of the English Civil War. In this sorry tale, the particular illustrates the wider political and social scene. Here the national bears upon the particular, the local and the individual. Here folklore (Mother Leakey) and history meet. From here they part company.
On death row, Atherton is claimed by the godly’ or Puritan Dean of Armagh, who publishes a highly influential pamphlet about Atherton’s confession and reconciliation with anti-Laudian precepts. Professor Marshall is an assured guide through the subsequent story of Mother Leakey and Dr Atherton.
They surface from time to time throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and we learn much about coffee house culture, eighteenth century publishing and politics and journalism, the changing currents over the veracity and acceptance of ghostly appearances, the mistakes, errors and inventions that intrude on the historical narrative; the categorization of folk tales and ghost stories as a genre (‘this sort of sorting and bottling fulfilled a need on the part of folklorists to feel that they were doing something useful and academically respectable’).
Although this book is more about the nature of historical evidence and the writing of history, it, of course, touches on, without sensationalization or with an axe to grind, changing attitudes towards homosexuality. If only the Anglican Communion (sic), which seems to be stranded somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle of ‘that love that dare not [and, some might say, should not] speak its name,’ screaming from the rooftops, and ‘hanging is too good for them’ (what we might call the Nigerian insight) were as restrained, sane and sensible as Professor Marshall’s prose, we would all benefit.
Beyond the ‘facts’ of the story, the narrative is an exemplary exposition of how historical research is undertaken; how sources can be discovered which subvert previous conclusions or assumptions; how byways can be fruitfully explored or become dead ends. He also shows how history is written. He tells what might seem a minor episode in the great scheme of things, but he has written, in the best sense, a minor masterpiece.
Epilogue. A pedant writes: there were spotted one split infinitive (yes, I know what Fowler says, but I cannot reconcile myself to them); one plural form of a verb with a single subject; Bath is not a cathedral city; the phrase ‘the hoi polloi’ does not require two definite articles. Finis.
William Davage is Custodian of the Library, Pusey House
IN OVER OUR HEADS
Meditations on Grace William R. White
Augsburg Press, 144 pp, pbk 978 0 8066 9059 9, £5-70
William R. White is a Lutheran pastor in Madison, Wisconsin, with a regular Sunday congregation of two thousand in his church, and many thousands more in a state-wide cable TV network. His gift is in story-telling and to read his sermons on the Bethel Lutheran Church website or in the several volumes he has already published is a joy, with their good theology and strict biblical orthodoxy lit up by the vivid word pictures he paints. It is after all the technique Jesus himself used, and the fact that it may surprise is itself a comment on much modern preaching.
Bill White has conducted preaching courses in England to great effect, always demonstrating the fact that stories in sermons can illuminate theology though memorable pictorial images.
In his latest work he has turned to meditations, built around Newton’s great hymn Amazing Grace’. There are twenty-seven of them, divided between five parts; Forgiveness, Amazing Grace, Following Jesus, Exploring the Core, and Telling the Story, each with questions for further reflection. They could be used with great value either for personal meditation or for Lenten study groups.
All the chapters, he comments, began either as sermons, Bible lessons, or newspaper articles, and helped by friends have been reshaped for this book. At its heart is the conviction that ‘nearly everyone has failed to become what they once dreamed they would be. Each is in need of God’s love and forgiveness. Each finds grace amazing and wonderful.’ Amen to that.
John R.T. Lamont
Ashgate, 245pp, hbk 0 7546 3709 3, £50
This is not the kind of book New Directions usually reviews. It is a worked-up doctorate and for those without a degree in theology or philosophy it is not an easy read. But it is a good book, perhaps an important one and readers of New Directions who do not have the time or energy to work their way through it should take heart that books like this are being written.
Dr Lamont begins by addressing those irritating people who say smugly that they believe in a person and not creeds or other propositions about God. This intolerant either/or polemic is shown to be false. When we know something, we know it as it really is, but the knowing is expressed in propositions. Propositions do not come between us and the thing we know; they are a necessary part of the knowing. So when we believe in another person, part of that belief must include concepts or propositions about them. In other words, we cannot know Jesus Christ or preach his Gospel without propositions, because we know things through propositions.
The question Lamont then addresses is how we know things about God. He argues that much of what we know about God we know because God has revealed himself and his intentions in a way which is certain and reliable. We know this revelation by faith which gives us a true, though not complete, knowledge of God. Revealed knowledge of God is to be found above all in the Bible, which was inspired by God and which, by Gods will, is interpreted authoritatively by the Church.
The arguments behind this bring in linguistic analysis – much the hardest part of the book for this non-philosopher – and a review of the tradition of the Church, above all St Thomas Aquinas and John Owen. ‘Who?’ we might well ask. And the answer is he was Oliver Cromwell’s chief religious adviser. Not someone you would expect to find alongside the Angelic Doctor or quoted by an avowed Roman Catholic author, but Owen serves two important roles.
Firstly, consciously or not, he develops Aquinas’ understanding of faith when he anticipates and answers the liberal assumption that faith is a rather feeble kind of knowledge. And ‘assumption is the word, as Lamont shows how much classical and later liberal thought is polemic rather than carefully thought through. By contrast, his own critique of William Temple is a model of fairness to the archbishop, and all the more devastating for that.
Secondly, Owen serves Lamont’s ecumenical purpose to reach out to all Catholic Christians, east and west, and to Protestants who believe God inspired Scripture. He does this while criticizing the nineteenth century seminary teaching of the Church of Rome as both incoherent and historically inaccurate. The failure of this ‘magisterial’ teaching, he believes, is why even now the Bible does not give the life it should to the Church of Rome.
In the end, what Lamont is writing for is a confident and intelligent reclaiming of the Bible by the Church. Whatever the undoubted successes of Bible scholarship over the last century, the end result is dry and unappetising. Somewhere something has gone wrong.
This something, Lamont argues, is the belief that the Bible is essentially what its authors wrote rather than what God revealed (though the two overlap). If the Bible is just what its authors wrote, then it is often wrong and sometimes nasty. But if the Bible is God’s revelation, then all of it may be legitimately read in the light of the supreme revelation of God – Jesus Christ.
How Lamont might actually read the Bible is beyond the scope of this book, though Richard Swinburne’s Revelation is a major inspiration which gives examples of key readings. And in case anyone is worried, Lamont does use the tools of critical scholarship. And he sees that, for all the certainty which faith gives, there is room for doubt, though doubt which deliberately opposes revelation is contrary to God’s will. But that said, the message of this book is that Christians can and must read the Bible as the word of God.
Owen Higgs is the Vicar ofPetts Wood
THE EVOLVING REPUTATION OF RICHARD HOOKER
An Examination of Responses 1600-1714 Michael Brydon Oxford University Press, 232pp, hbk 0 19 920481 0, [£40]
On the book jacket we read: ‘it is clear that the seventeenth, not the nineteenth, century was responsible for the creation of his reputation as a leading Anglican father.’ Michael Brydon examines how, during a period of both religious and political consolidation, Hooker became both an authoritative figure and an Anglican emblem. There are six chapters, plus an introduction and a conclusion.
Brydon’s purpose is to chronicle an essential stage of seventeenth-century myth-making: the evolution of Hooker, with all his complexities and ambiguities, into the iconic emblem of Anglicanism.’ So the introduction summarizes the purpose of Hooker and the Polity and discusses revisionist attempts to position him within the Reformation tradition, concluding that Nigel Atkinson’s argument is good but ‘somewhat overdone,’ and gives his reasons, citing Lake and Secor who have argued
‘that Hooker still deserves to be considered an Anglican, not because he inherited this tradition, but because he invented it.’ The further defining of Anglicanism after Hooker rested on ‘Hooker’s shoulders.’
Brydon discusses Nigel Voak’s views, who sees Lake as closer to the truth than Atkinson and Torrance Kirby, for while the Polity appears to be reformed, Hooker moves away from this consensus ‘in several respects’ Keble and Newman are blamed for creating ‘the popular, unambiguous, if somewhat one-sided view of Hooker as an advocate for a distinctive form on Anglicanism.’ So the Tractarian legacy ‘defined Hooker’s reputation as the epito-mization of the Anglican tradition that dominated the twentieth century in the writings of H. C. Porter, H. R. McAdoo, E. T. Davies and J. S. Marshall and most of the editors of the Folger edition of the Polity; though the origin of it lies in the Caroline Church and the non-jurors. Hence, Brydon’s study is concerned with evaluating the creation of Hooker’s posthumous reputation and the various strands within the struggle for intellectual control of Hooker alongside evaluating chronologically the influence of contemporary events upon the interpretation of the Polity.
This begins with a discussion of the scarcity of contemporary references to Hooker and the effect of such Jacobean reserve on the Polity’s subsequent reputation. It was these Jacobean voices that prepared the way for the public transformation of Hooker as the ceremonialist and theologian of a distinctive English via media. Hooker’s development as an Anglican icon is promoted under Charles I and the Commonwealth through the influence of Andrewes and Laud and the king’s sympathy for the theological outlook of the Laudians, which stressed the God-given importance of the established order and the king’s belief in the divine right of kings that Hooker did not share. Hooker was useful in promoting the importance of the visible Church and was used by Laud in his Conference with Fisher.
The backlash came from Calvinist conformists and Puritan critics who were concerned about the Laudian use of Hooker, as was the Great Tew Group, a loose grouping of intellectuals. Nevertheless, the sufferings of the Civil War, the royal martyrdom and the authoritarianism of the Commonwealth ensured the triumph of the Laudian understanding of Hooker, who emerged as the authentic voice of the English Church.
The renewal of Laudian activity dates from 1649, the year of Charles Is execution, though after the Commonwealth and the return of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660, ‘it was far from clear that the Restoration would lead an accompanying triumph for the Hooker-sponsored ambitions of the Church loyalists, and a drastic reversal in the fortunes of the Presbyterians and Independents.’ Chapter 3 traces the establishment of an Anglican trium-phalism and the place of Hookers Polity in the re-establishment of episcopacy, as Jeremy Taylor, Casaubon and John Gauden encouraged people to read it alongside the Prayer Book and the Ordinal.
Protest and counter-protest continued on both sides of this dispute, with attempts to credit and discredit the last three books of the Polity and discussion of Walton’s reliability as Hooker’s biographer and subsequently the accepted authority for many years, even though John Gauden’s biography attempted a corrective to the Laudian understanding.
These differing views are fairly presented until ‘the 1662 Act of Uniformity ensured that the old Laudian understanding of Hooker, as the authentic unchanging voice of what may conveniently be called historic Anglicanism, was to be the dominant voice of the Restoration.’ Bosher’s view that Charles was working discreetly to re-establish the old Caroline Church is contested by I. M.Green. Brydon uses contemporary sources to describe the struggle between Presbyterians and Church loyalists ‘for the Hooker-sponsored ideal of the English Church as a Catholic and Reformed body,’ and the re-establishment of the Prayer Book.
The use of Hooker to support the Restoration settlement became stronger, but the seeds of its own decline were present in the impossibility of reconciling it with the accession of an openly Catholic king who was unable to keep the ecclesiastical side of the equation and whose private aim was to secure a greater liberty for his Catholic subjects.
Nevertheless, Walton’s depiction of Hooker remained intact and this perception of him is to be found in contemporary popular Anglican apologetic such as Sparrow’s Rationale and Nicholson’s Catechism. With increasing tensions between Anglican loyalists, non-conformists and Catholics and Charles’ policy of religious inclusiveness, there is useful and informed discussion of the use to which the Polity is put, especially by Richard Baxter and Locke. There is a comprehensive discussion of Hooker’s reputation during the reigns of James II, William and Mary, and Queen Anne, and the Tory Revival.
Brydon concludes that this development of Hooker continues to the present day: ‘As always his reputation remains dependent upon the discreet marginalization of some sections of the Polity, as well as the explicit citation of others. Such an approach, of course, was partly invited by the Polity with its recognition that ‘wisdome which is learned by tract of time’ may find that ‘the lawes that have bene in former ages establisht, needful, in later to be abrogated.” Without such a treatment it is certainly true that Hooker’s Polity, a work which initially aroused little interest, would ever have been transformed into the public iconic expression of a unique seventeenth-century Anglican tradition.
This is a good read and Brydon’s theological evaluations and judgements are presented fairly. The literary style is pleasing and this reviewer was strangely warmed by use of the phrase ‘and of their ilk.’ It is well-referenced and there is a good bibliography, while Oxford University Press is to be commended on a handsome volume. Hopefully, it will appear in paperback at a price that is affordable by most people.
A personal journey David Shepherd
978 184101 536 1, £6-99
A low-key, undemanding, evangelical self-help book. With attractive simplicity and an almost embarrassing honesty and lack of self-awareness, David Shepherd, a theology lecturer from Nowheres-ville, Canada, middle of the road Methodist, with a wife and baby daughter, sets out to re-establish a proper weekly Sabbath. The task he sets himself is to fulfil the fourth commandment in the twenty-first century.
Interspersed with commentary from the Jewish Rabbis, and occasional elements of later Christian wisdom, this is his Sunday by Sunday diary from 26 September 2004 to Easter Day 2005. Set against the nice-ness of Methodism (heightened by the niceness of being in Canada) his simple evangelical earnestness is most engaging. Full of a young person’s self-absorption, it has a charm I was convinced one would not find in the liberal equivalent. There is a seriousness to his enterprise that is genuinely helpful.
There is something in this godly self-help. It may be questionable as Christian theology, but one cannot help feeling it works. Certainly one can sense the progress he makes as the weeks unfold, and there is little doubt that his familiarity with the Bible was crucial to the maturing of his understanding. All of which made the conclusion something of an anti-climax; the dull, passionless celebration of Holy Week and Easter made me want to cry. Lovely little book – just stop at page 90.
An introduction to Lectio Divina Innocenzo Gargano osb
Canterbury, 100pp, pbk 978 185311 790 9, £8-99
The Holy Bible is a gift. So too is the capacity to read it with understanding, for it is our spiritual food, given by God himself, by which we may live and grow, and mature as men and women created in his image.
That the Church has developed a pattern and discipline of reading Scripture is a truth too often neglected by those distracted by contemporary historical criticism. Lectio divina can sound, however, too esoteric to be regarded as relevant to the ordinary Christian. And there is no doubt it is demanding of the reading: it is an ordered discipline, not merely a disposition.
This brief introduction makes no attempt, despite a chatty introduction from a Church of England priest, to make things easy. Instead, we have a clear, austere summary from a highly intelligent Italian monk. He knows of what he speaks, and if one reads him slowly and in short segments (easily done, for the text is well edited) the discipline will be grasped.
How many lay people could follow this rather old-fashioned teacher I do not know, without an encouraging vicar alongside to give constant assurance that yes, it is difficult and that’s not their fault. The fact is that in most parishes there is simply not the expectation that reading Scripture should be this demanding; an individual without prior training will need support; a good reason perhaps to start a parish Bible reading group and use this book as an initial guide.
The subject is the Word of God, that is the Lord Jesus Christ as he reveals himself in Scripture. So great a truth is not lightly gained. The engagement of the individual with the Word himself is a profound and exacting mystery; and requires a rich discipline, not simply good intentions. However difficult he was to follow, I never doubted that Fr Gargano was a reliable teacher.
He takes passages from Matthew chapters 8 and 9 as examples, taking the reader through the various stages of this technical form of reading. This makes the process easy to follow, and reveals how much modern biblical scholarship is drawn into the older tradition of lectio divina.
PRAYING WITH UNDERSTANDING
Explanations of Words and Passages in the Book of Common Prayer
The Latimer Trust, 2nd edn,
978 0 946307 913, £2
Throughout his ministry, Roger Beckwith has been an informed and constructive defender of the Book of Common Prayer and its place in the worship of the contemporary Church. He is an Evangelical and a scholar, who is well-respected by Anglicans of other shades of churchmanship with whom he has found an empathy. He has spent his life in academia, though has never been isolated from involvement in the parish.
In this booklet, first published in 1992, republished in 2006 and again in 2007, he states that ‘If we are to be edified by our worship, we need to think about the words we are using, so that we can make them our own.’
So explanations are given about the terms used in the Daily Offices, from collects, canticles, creeds and responses. Also, the meaning of certain terms used in the Litany are explained, as are a number of selected Collects. There is similar treatment of Holy Communion, Baptism, the Catechism, Confirmation, Marriage, Burial, Churching, the Ordinal and the Consecration of Bishops.
The aim is to make participation in the use of the Prayer Book more meaningful and to familiarize people with the Church’s language of prayer. To this end it will inspire people to incorporate the Church’s liturgy into the language of their own personal prayer. After all, the private devotions of Anglican divines that have come down to us are impregnated with the language of the Prayer Book. Our personal devotions will be enriched by a meaningful use of the Church’s language of prayer and the realization that there is a language to be learned.