Channel 4 16 August 2009
This was advertised as a programme in which five leaders of different religions were to answer the question: ‘How do you know that God exists?’ It was a stupid question, capable of only one sane answer: that we don’t know, only have a conviction. Each leader was wheeled on, and gave that answer, mildly qualified, which may have disappointed the sponsors but achieved two objects.
First of all, it seemed to show that all faiths were on the same lines, but that each had some mad followers who spoilt the happy picture. This was leading to the comfortable conclusion, dear to all liberals and media, that we ourselves, like the question, were a bit stupid. Why did we not embrace each other’s faiths? have an Inclusive Church, in fact?
The second point it established was that if you allow an hour, less breaks, to a subject on which there is a consensus, you are going to be struggling for material by half-time. So theyjettisoned the advertised theme, and asked about the small print. This is not so small either, when you remember that it includes the nature and disposition of God, damnation, women priests, the Taliban, Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic eccentrics, Zionists, saddhus and, of course, Pope Benedict.
The result was very good. People were allowed to expatiate, Rowan about his position as Archbishop, the Roman Catholics about the Pope’s disapproval of condoms, the Hindus about the nature of their theism, the Jews about the importance of family, the Muslims about their heaven. On the important fact of the attributes of each of their gods, it seemed that only the Muslims had summarized and codified the matter, and that in many ways their
code seemed reasonably acceptable to the rest. So why do we not favour an inclusive religion? This point was not faced, no doubt for reasons of time as well as complexity. But it seemed excellent that two vital lessons emerged: one, that all five religions should be co-operative and friendly with each other; the other, less explicit, that the differences are always in the small print, but that the small print can be very important indeed. We in Forward in Faith know this to our cost.
ALL FOR CHRIST
Anglican monks and nuns today
Te Deum, £13.50 incl. p&p, from Monastery, Crawley Down, RH10 4LH
This is the video produced by RooT presenting the religious life in the Church of England, which was discussed in last month’s ND. I add this review because I used it for a Diocesan Vocations Day, and had it running at the beginning of the event as people arrived and gathered. The inquirers, both men and women, were aged from 20 to 60 and of all churchmanships, probably mainly evangelical, and almost certainly no Anglo-Catholics. These were mainly those who have not begun any discernment process, but either responded directly to the publicity or else were encouraged to do so by others.
It is, inevitably, difficult to convey the atmosphere of a religious community and its sacred calling on a video, but this was certainly useful in making people aware of what is to many an unknown world and encouraging them at least to make a visit and see and hear for themselves.
The contentment of many of the monks and nuns was very evident, and the peace, serenity and security within the cloistered life were, at many moments, powerful and inspiring. I hope it will have sown seeds. Much fun was had as different people tried to identify those convents or monasteries of which they knew, but I did feel a lack of anything truly fresh or exciting, something to touch and draw out young vocations. The setting was rather what one might expect, rather than challenging in the fresh expressions style – I would have liked it to have taken more risks, for young people can be very demanding.
There was a lot of good material, and we did not get through it all. One unexpected note: Bishop Lindsay Urwin’s introduction was excellent, but unfortunately his extraordinary hand movements evoked a range of responses from fascination to downright annoyance, possibly to the detriment of what he was saying; a little editing would have been helpful. I don’t mean to be unfair, but I did want present religious as vividly as possible to the enquirers, for the standard expectation of priesthood does need to be challenged. Until a second edition improves on this, do please use it to encourage a response from those who feel a calling from God but do not yet know exactly what.
Canon Ann Turner is ‘Bradford Diocesan Director ofOrdinands
LECTURES IN CHRISTIAN DOGMATICS
John D. Zizioulas Edited by Douglas H. Knight T. & T.Clark, 192pp, pbk 9780567033154, £19.99
John Zizioulas has been one of the most influential of modern Orthodox theologians, remarkable in having had an equal influence on Reformed, Anglican and Roman Catholic ecclesiology His thought on the communion of the church, the role of the bishop and the Eucharist, held together by a high Trinitarian doctrine has been expounded in various volumes, notably Being as Communion. In these lectures -based on his teaching in British universities since 1970 – we have an accessible statement of his position. They cover the central truths of the faith and are published entirely without footnotes, to many readers an attraction, to this reviewer a bit of an irritant.
He expounds his understanding of God, creation and salvation, church and communion. The vision of being as communion, of the Trinity as communion which creates and redeems the church to be the way of uniting creation to God, has become well known. Although his criticisms of western trinitarianism, especially of St Augustine are not really tenable now, this is theological exposition of a high order.
There are questions to raise however. One criticism made of his trinitarianism is that the monarchy of the Father is given a priority which threatens to undermine the co-equality of the persons and to subordinate the Son, and therefore the Holy Spirit. It is good to read here that this is a danger seen and which the author aims to avoid. That there is an order [taxis] in the persons of the Trinity (p. 59) seems necessary, to secure the transcendence of the God who admits his church to the communion which he is (so Zizioulas), but to westerners the priority of the Person of the Father is not language which can be used easily without being misleading. Here Zizioulas uses the language of ’cause’ – the Father causes the Son and so forth which sounds very strange indeed to us, but is shown not to mean that the Son is a creature in the manner of ditties like ‘Dear Lord and Father!
Zizioulas at times seems to have a low view of material nature, of creation (the ‘biological’), regarding it as in opposition to freedom, for which the whole created order is made -to be free is to be like God (p. 95). This gives the impression of moving the fall and the creation close together, a proximity which sits ill at ease with the writer’s reflections on ecology. In his search to praise the paradox that we only are truly human in communion with God, truly human when deified, the writer suggests that the only autonomy there is one alien to God. This is hardly satisfactory as a responsible account of the diversity and integrity of the created order in relation to God.
Creation and Christ are intimately related as far as the salvation are concerned however. Some will miss more on the cross and feel that there is more which must be said, but the treatment of the person of Christ (pp. 101-119) in relation to the church is both brief and clear. His Christology is firmly Chalcedonian (what else?) though one will have to go elsewhere to find more technical engagement. Some recognition of the problems posed, by continuing to use the word person’ of the unity which is Jesus Christ, both creator of heaven and earth and born of a peasant woman, do need recognising. The strengths of the Zizioulan view far outweigh the weaknesses; the interconnection of Eucharist, Christ, the life of the Trinity and the church has not found a more eloquent exponent in our times. Although both personalism and existentialism have left their mark, we are far from occasionalism or the dressing up of secular philosophy in Eastern vestments. This is a good introduction to a great Orthodox theologian, with passages of real eloquence.
Thomas Seville CR.
AN EVANGELICAL AMONG THE ANGLICAN LITURGISTS
Colin Buchanan SPCK, 224pp, pbk 978 0 281 06026 9, £19.99
It is ironic that Bishop Colin has retired to the Diocese of Bradford, where he is still active as an Assistant Bishop. Bradford diocese was, once upon a time, known for its solid evangelical parishes; so how is it now only low church liberal in its general ethos? It was all thanks to the evangelical bishop Donald Coggan (who later went to York and then Canterbury). So keen was he to promote sound Evangelicalism that he resolutely persecuted and suppressed the Anglo-Catholic parishes. Successfully. And so there was no one left to keep the Evangelicals honest, and the rot set in.
I think of that salutary tale when I think of Bishop Colin. What on earth is an Evangelical doing in the Catholic world of liturgy? It is not like what is the point of a bull in a china shop, for Bishop Colin is immensely personable and friendly, even to FiF clergy and parishes (and has written several times for ND); it is more like what is the point of the sand in an oyster. He is the irritant that keeps the Anglican liturgists honest, who has prevented the Papalists from their worst exaggerations and Aff Caths from getting overly swept up in pious minutiae. I don’t think it was one of his Grove booklets, of which I still have several (the ones with the Alcuin Club) still in use, but one of his works with Geoffrey Cuming (an unpublished appreciation/lecture of him is included here) which taught me more than anything else about the development of the Eucharistic Prayer. It may sound silly, but it was the simple clarity of his comparative tables, showing what had been dropped, edited or added to over the centuries that sparked my interest and understanding. He knew exactly what he was saying, and that confidence was transmitted.
Has Bishop Colin had too much influence? From an Anglo-Catholic point of view, the answer has to be ‘Of course!’ and yet even his essay “The end of the offertory’ is full of good sense and timely reminders. The fact that, so popular wisdom tells us, it was his influence that removed the ‘offering’ of a sacrifice from the Common Worship Eucharistic Prayers (generally corrected back in Anglo-Catholic parishes) and his joke on the back of an envelope that introduced the (unusable) refrain in one of them to the effect that “This is his story: this is our song’ rather goes to prove that he has indeed been overly revered.
Nevertheless, he has done the CofE great service over several decades, and remains far and away the best teacher and devil’s advocate for the understanding of the modern liturgy in an Anglican context. Without him our own grasp as Anglo-Catholics would have been weakened and the rot of complacency would have corrupted us. Think what a Liturgy we might have devised without his dominating presence among the Anglican liturgists! The words might have been beautiful, but the celebrants would have been kept honest.
The only essay I thoroughly disagreed with was his ‘What did Cranmer think he was doing?’ but that, interestingly, is where he is closest to Anglo-Catholic prejudices, and even here he is extremely perceptive and worth studying. I liked the form of the essays, which have been well revised, and thoroughly recommend it to every Anglo-Catholic ordinand – there is a life and energy and acuteness that far outdistances any general introduction. Don’t claim to ‘know’ the liturgy until you have argued your case with the evangelical gadfly.
PRIESTS OF JESUS CHRIST
Pope Benedict XVI Family Publications, 272pp, pbk 978 1871217 90 2, £12.95
In declaring the Year of the Priest, Pope Benedict has rightly reminded us all not only of the importance of fostering vocations to the sacred priesthood, but also to the importance of seeing that our priests and bishops are sustained spiritually throughout their ministry. This collection of addresses and sermons goes some way to doing this and is a helpful reminder of the core teachings of the Church on priesthood. Since the decision to ordain women in 1992 and the advent of the PEVs, we, perhaps more than any other group in the Church of England, can understand what the Holy Father means when he reminds his college of bishops that they are a father, brother and friend’ to each of their priests. Indeed the Holy Father repeats this again and again, reminding us that priests and bishops are not simply administrators or spokesmen for one group or another but pastors; men who, modelled after Christ, are to show forth the love of Christ in the world.
Whilst many modern Anglicans may shy away from phrases such as ‘in persona Christi’ when talking about the priest, the Holy Father has no such qualms. He is not afraid to remind us that it is at the altar celebrating the Mass that the priest carries out the central act of his vocation. The Eucharist and the priesthood are inextricably linked. There is no way in which they can be separated.
Reading this in preparation for my own ordination to the priesthood I was struck by a sense of unworthiness for such a calling. In the Eucharist the priest is called to point with his hands to Christ. In saying the Mass the priest is the servant of both the Church and of Christ. The modern church has in some ways lost the idea of the priest as servant at the altar but the Holy Father is keen that we should rediscover this over and over again.
It is at the altar that the priest serves his people and God. Just as the priest shares in the work of Christ at the altar so too does he share in the mission of Christ. The Holy Father reminds us of the mission of Jesus the Good Shepherd, that priests are called to follow Jesus in bringing home the lost sheep, perhaps even laying down their lives for them.
Mission is to be central in this year of the priest. We know only too well that mission is central in all our parishes. We must support our priests with prayer and practical help as they seek out the lost sheep in our land.
Reflecting on what it is to be a Catholic in the Church of England at this time is not always easy, but this collection from the Holy Father gives us hope and help. I would suggest that both laity and clergy read it and reflect on it as we seek to be an ecclesial body moving forward in faith. In an address given in Poland the Holy Father takes as his motto ‘Stand firm in your faith!’ This is what we have been doing these past years and it has borne fruit.
The Holy Father exhorts us all, but especially priests, to serve all the people, to live our lives looking to Christ and being accessible to all at the altar, in the confessional and on the streets of our parish. He exhorts us to listen to the will of the Holy Spirit and like the Church to be guided by him. We need to live by faith.’ As we seek our future in the Church of England let that be central to all we say and do. Let us show the Church that we live by faith’ under the patronage of Our Lady, Mother of Priests, and St John Vianney
This year of the priest could be one of great re-awakening in our parishes and in our movement; we need to study this book and to pray!
Fr Philip Corbett is the Curate of Worksop Priory, and was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood in July 2009
STATIONS OF THE CROSS
Dominic Allain 978 1 871217 SS 9
STATIONS OF THE CROSS
John Henry Newman 97S 1 871217 &9 6
A WALSINGHAM PRAYER BOOK 978187121793 3
A CURE OF ARS PRAYER BOOK 978187121794 0
all published by Family Publications each priced £4.50
Family Publications continues to pour forth a stream of high-quality, user-friendly, pocket-sized devotional works. In each of these four recent additions to their list, there is sound material for prayer, beautifully and aptly illustrated. Fr Dominic Allain will be familiar to readers of The Catholic Herald for his weekly column, extracts from which were themselves published not so long ago under the title The Diary of a City Priest. His meditations for the Way of the Cross are challenging without being patronising or sentimental; the mediaeval manuscript illuminations which accompany them arresting in their almost cartoon-like simplicity and vivid colours. Newmans prayers exemplify all that is typical and memorable about his prose: elegant, polished, poised, if occasionally mannered, yet always memorable.
A Walsingham Prayer Book has much that is familiar as well as much that is new, to this reviewer at least. It is striking how often devotion to Mary continues to offer fresh ways of holding her Sons world, and its needs, before the Father. The fifteenth-century prayer which addresses Our Lady as ‘Cypress of Sion and Joy of Israel, Rose of Jericho and Star of Bethlehem’ brings poignantly to mind the enduring conflicts in the land of the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Holy House of Nazareth. Meanwhile, the Litany of Our Lady of Walsingham asks the prayers of the Blessed Virgin for all mothers, all families, all married couples, all who suffer and all who wait, as well as invoking her as Mother of the Unborn, the one who will pray for all children. Also included are the texts of some of the best-loved Marian hymns.
A Cure of Ars Prayer Book is a treasure-trove of wisdom, humility, adoration and intercession, in which the holiness and humanity of S Jean-Marie Vianney shines out from every page. It is a book which will recall priests to their first task, that of being – as Fr Paul King notes in his Introduction -‘instruments of the grace and mercy of the living God, through Word and Sacrament and prayer, touching and transforming souls.’ But it will provide rich nourishment for all the faithful, for anyone seeking words to express our love of God, and His love for us and for the world.
SEND THE FIRE, LORD!
Some places and characters of the 1859 Ulster Revival
Barry Shucksmith Our Inheritance Bible Ministries, 180pp, pbk 190281 709 5, £6.50
This year is the 150th anniversary of the 1859 Ulster Revival and this book celebrates that fact by recalling the times, places and people associated with it. It is beautifully written by Barry Shucksmith who, although no part of revival himself, understands it from a personal experience of conversion. Therein lies the difference between one soul coming to faith in Christ through the preaching of the Word in the power of the Spirit and large numbers being affected which is Revival.
The Revival began in New York in 1858 among Presbyterian laity at a time of financial depression. Some businessmen called for a lunch time prayer meeting. This meeting began to grow by word of mouth, spreading out through the city andbeyond. This was atime of large scale immigration from Ireland to the United States so that there was considerable passenger transport between New York and Ulster. The Revival crossed the Atlantic to Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales by boat. These were the days of passenger liners on the Transatlantic crossing, bringing people many of whom had been converted in the United States, to Britain and Ireland. It is related that passengers embarked unconcerned with spiritual things and disembarked with a fresh zeal in their faith.
The Church in the British Isles, which was languishing, came back to life with seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.’ Large numbers were added to the Churches and a significant part of the Revival was the gathering in large numbers of the people for prayer and preaching. It began in Ulster in 1859, hence is known as the Ulster Revival. It did not remain there but spread over to the mainland. Scotland, Wales and England were all blessed. Bishop Handley Moule of Durham wrote, in a delightful book of memories of his early life that, ‘1859 was the year of the right hand of the Most High…for surely it was divine.’
One of the problems in documenting the Revival is that it largely consists of eye witness accounts. Barry Shucksmith has drawn the various reports and anecdotes together with appropriate quotations from the Scriptures. One criticism is that there is no map of the various places mentioned, and this would have been a great help to those of us unfamiliar with the geography of Northern Ireland. Recommended reading in dark days which should lead the reader to pray, ‘Send the Fire, Lord!’
The Revd David Streater
Having lived through the Seventies and Eighties, I do not much want to relive them. However, history is catching up with me and my generation, and books are now appearing by social and political historians that chronicle those decades. Where centenaries were the norm to be commemorated now every ten, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, forty years offer opportunities for retrospectives and time for reappraisal and re-evaluation – and all that sort of thing. Perhaps it is the greed of television, the desperate need to fill the schedules of more and more channels. We are in danger of knowing more about the Second World War than our own lives.
And we know well enough the artificiality of breaking up time into such discrete fragments that can distort rather more than illuminate. However, there are three books which turn that argument to dust. They were written shortly after the decade they describe, written by journalists but written with such verve and drive that they are invaluable pieces of social and political history as well as good journalism.
It is cheating a little to begin with, even to include, The Strange Death of Liberal England by George Dangerfield [£14.99 from Amazon] because he deals with the period of the last Liberal Government from 1906 to 1916, so not quite a classic decade. However, it is a stunning history book, wonderfully vivid. It is history which concentrates on personality and politics and is acted out in parliament, on the hustings or picket line and in the corridors of power, but it is illuminating and percipient.
The Liberal Government came to power with a landslide and the Cabinet contained men of the calibre of Asquith, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill and laid the foundations of the Welfare State. This was achieved in the teeth of ferocious opposition and the constitutional battle with the House of Lords which had defied convention and defeated the Budget. This tale is told quite magnificently with several set-pieces that are sharply observed and laced with wit.
Far from depicting the eve of the First World War as a long Edwardian summer, Dangerfield identifies three other ferocious battles that tore society apart, a disintegration from which the War may have seemed, at least initially, some kind of relief. The collapse of industrial relations, a wave of strikes, the militant campaign of the Suffragettes, and the rebellion in Northern Ireland (‘Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right’) overwhelmed the values of democratic liberalism and it had few resources to deal with such opposition.
Force-feeding women, sending troops against striking workers, faced with mutiny and insurrection in the armed forces, England was sent reeling into the War. You do not have to accept Dangerfield’s thesis, and there is much that can be argued against it, to recognize a first-class book.
Similarly, you do not have to agree with the iconoclasm and satirical analysis that the late Malcolm Muggeridge brings to his study of the Thirties. (The Thirties: 1930-1940 seems to be out of print but a few second-hand copies were available on Amazon the last time I looked.)
Those, of a certain age, who remember Muggeridge’s compelling television performances, his anguished tussle with Christianity until his embrace of Rome, his strangulated voice and impassioned denunciation of human foibles and moral corruption, will find much to enjoy in this dissection of a venal decade, and a dangerous one. He skewers its pomposities and its absurdities with uncanny skill and scathing wit. Find a copy if you can.
Bernard Levin’s book The Pendulum Years: Britain in the Sixties [Penguin, £12.99] matches, and sometimes surpasses Muggeridge, in his scorn and derision of the two Harolds, Macmillan (‘a down-at-heel actor’) and Wilson, but read the chapter on the hapless Home Secretary of the day, Henry Brooke, whom Levin dissects and disembowels with the forensic skill of a surgeon, having battered him with a bludgeon.
His narrative of that salacious scandal, the Profumo Affair, is masterly in its telling detail and in searching out the hypocrisies, not least of the absurd Lord Hailsham, and dealing them savage blows. He lays about them, hip and thigh, as if they were erring Amalakites. Wonderful stuff. If you want sustained invective, in prose of sinuous strength and muscularity, here it is in abundance.
But he is not solely concerned with politics, high and low. He ranges widely over the cultural scene and comments with wide intelligence, sympathy and knowledge on many aspects of the artistic life of the decade (not all to his taste). His enthusiasms are as compelling as his hatreds and contempts: see his staggeringly alert description of Klemperer’s Fidelio to see a master reviewer at the height of his powers. Levin went on to cast his powerful eye and even more powerful pen over the next couple of decades and one of his last great polemical pieces was a sustained thesaurus-like paragraph denouncing the sleaze and fin de siècle decay of the Conservative Government of Mr Major. He should be living at this hour.