STORYTELLING: A practical guide, Lance Pierson, Scripture Union, pbk, ISBN 1-85999-094-0, 128pp, £5.99
THIS IS A DIFFERENT kind of book from any I have reviewed before or, for that matter, from any I have seen reviewed before in New Directions. It is essentially a practical guide, rather than a theological treatise on the whys and wherefores. It is a straightforward little book about telling stories; but not of the nursery ‘Once upon a time…’ style.
Every culture has relied at least some time in its history on the strength of the oral tradition, not least the Aramaic tradition from which Scripture descends. Our own culture has its oral tradition, particularly it seems in rural areas, where historical details have been passed down through the decades, from parent to child, in a way which can be alarmingly accurate. Lance Pierson starts from the point of understanding that such tradition is powerful. ‘It’s no good trying to reason with people today; the way to get through to them is by telling stories’, he quotes.
Whether such a hypothesis from such a slim volume can really have an effect on sermon culture, I very much doubt. It is nevertheless a very good read, and provides the antithesis to exegetical eulogising that has become the model for classical 20th century evangelical sermons. It comes close to justifying what most of us expected but were afraid to admit, that the story-based Family Service talk might actually be a realistic way to get to parents as well as their kids.
Using stories as illustrations, Lance encourages us (somewhat ironically?) to use stories as the main teaching in talks rather than illustratively. Starting with a basic critique of the parable method Jesus used, Lance shows how this enabled his listeners to get their minds to work on and retain a story. He takes us through the different ways of telling stories to children, young people and adults, with each chapter packed with separate advice for beginners, middlingly experienced practitioners, and those who want to take their abilities to an advanced level.
His main point is that the telling of a story enables the imagination to get to work in a way that it cannot do with a normal homily. In this way he provides a fine introduction to the impact that Ignatian spirituality can have on sermon preparation and delivery, without actual reference to that part of our tradition.
The theology may be IVP standard, but the practical advice is of a depth that can only come from the personal experience of a skilled operator. I was left wondering whether Lance telling the story of a storyteller might now have been more honest to his brief, and more successful in getting his point across. But his work is a credible eye-opener to things we probably already know but were afraid to put into practice.
Tony Redman is a Reader in four rural parishes in deepest Suffolk.
LEADING INTERCESSIONS, Prayers for Sundays, Holy Days and Festivals, Raymond Chapman, Canterbury Press, Norwich 1997, pp xi + 147, hbk, ISBN 1-85311-176-1
SING HIS GLORY, Hymns for the Three-Year Lectionary, compiled by Alan Luff, Paul Ferguson and others, Canterbury Press, Norwich 1997, pp xiii + 194, pbk, ISBN 1-85311-175-9
BUILDING COMMON FAITH, A daily commentary on the cycle of readings in Celebrating Common Prayer, David Scott, Canterbury Press, Norwich 1997, pp 365, pbk, ISBN 1-85311-185-6, £9.99
THE RESOURCES offered by publishers for the new Church of England lectionary and calendar continue to enrich us. Raymond Chapman’s Leading Intercessions adopts the conventions of using the modern second person singular and of the intercessions leader addressing God. He (that is Raymond) prefers the ‘thou’ form, which he gives his readers permission to use instead of ‘you’. (It is characteristic of the author’s graciousness that he is content to provide for others a use different from that which he himself prefers.) The prose is clear, dignified and appropriate for today. My deep hope is that all those people who stand up and read their English compositions as the Prayer of the Faithful will steal Fr Chapman’s words shamelessly.
Addressing God is not, in my view, always best practice for intercessions leaders. A better format surely is for the celebrant – how much longer will we have to refer to ‘the president’? – to begin the Prayer of the Faithful with a bidding and to conclude it with a collect, and for the lay leader of intercessions to make a series of short biddings, each followed by a bit of silence. If a deacon (or the lay leader) concludes each period of silence with ‘Lord, hear us’, so much the better. The scheme is laid out with disappointing prose in Let us Pray to the Lord (Columba/Fowler Wright 1986) and with more effective prose in Together we Pray (Liturgical Press &c 1993), though of course neither of these is built round the Revised Common Lectionary or Anglican calendars.
Despite my preference for a different method, I unreservedly commend Leading Intercessions. I imagine that every parish priest will need two copies, one for the study and one to keep at church to lend to those whose endeavours at leading the prayers he has most cause to fear.
Sing his Glory is no less welcome. Anyone who has tried to use the list of hymns for the three-year lectionary at the back of New English Hymnal will turn thankfully, I think, to Sing his Glory. Unlike Roman Catholic resources – the Liturgy Planner, for example – this compilation works well for the Parish Eucharist with five or six hymns every week. To do the work, Alan Luff has convened a group of cathedral precentors, together with a hymnologist from the Old Kent Road (see below). Paul Ferguson, Precentor of York, and formerly organ scholar of New College, Oxford, was the collator of what is clearly a fine and helpful list.
Yet the list is very Anglican. Roman Catholic hymnals are excluded on thin excuses: ‘partly because of their number’ (too many? too few?) ‘and partly because the contents of the Roman Catholic lectionary differ somewhat from that on which we have based our work’ (p ix). I am intrigued with the notion that Mission Praise, the Church Hymnary and the Baptist Hymn Book service the Revised Common Lectionary better than Roman Catholic hymn collections would. Whatever happened to the idea that the Revised Common Lectionary has much in common with the Roman Catholic Sunday Lectionary? I advise parishes which use Celebration Hymnal for Everyone therefore to use the RSCM’s excellent quarterly guide Sunday by Sunday, which gives information about anthems and organ music as well.
Alphabetical order is used in both Sing his Glory and Sunday by Sunday. The lists assume then that compilers of weekly hymn lists understand which hymns are good as opening hymns, which suit the Preparation of Gifts, which work well during Holy Communion, which appropriately conclude the service and how traditional and modern styles should be handled. The assumption is surely unmerited. I have urged the RSCM to revise Sunday by Sunday by replacing the alphabetical lists with specimen sets of hymns. There are difficulties, of course. Should such sets be restricted to hymns available in the same hymnbook or should certain combinations of hymnbooks be encouraged? Again, whilst one church might need only a three verse hymn to cover the entry of ministers, another might need a six verse hymn, either because the nave is longer or because the altar has to be censed.
Building Common Faith is a courageous venture on the part of the poet-priest David Scott. For each reading he gives us a sentence or two. The publisher’s blurb calls them ‘simple meditations designed to act as springboards to further contemplation’. The author more modestly calls them ‘brief thoughts on the readings’ and, though he counsels against using them as introductions to the readings, many of them would work well as introductions. The courage of the author is his trust that the Celebrating Common Prayer material will survive. Already the Church of England Calendar differs from that of CCP: ‘after Pentecost’ and ‘Kingdom’ give way to ‘after Trinity’ and ‘before Advent’. Soon the psalter will change and, even if the CCP lectionary survives, it will not survive unchanged enough, I imagine, to make this book a sound investment for the purchaser, excellent though much of it is.
Andrew Burnham is Vice-Principal of St Stephen’s House, Oxford.
THE ENGLISH HYMN: A Critical and Historical Study, J R Watson, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997, hbk, 552pp, ISBN 0-19-826762-2. £60.
THE TWENTIETH century has seen three classic works on English hymns, by Benson, Manning and Routley respectively. Professor Dick Watson of Durham has now added a fourth. In this handsome volume he refers to the other three, but while appreciating Benson he offers a counterpoint to Erik Routley and a contradiction of Bernard Lord Manning.
In his literary approach to the texts the author breaks new ground which he hopes others will follow, while providing a whole series of model commentaries on particular hymns. Universities provide courses on pulp fiction, children’s comics and soaps; surely hymns deserve some place in the curriculum? At a different level, they may be the only poetry that some people know.
So while this study pays less attention than many hymnologists do to biography or psychology (its treatment of H F Lyte being a rare exception) its basic aim is to analyse the text, while never forgetting the public experience of standing together, books in hand, to sing the words to a known and repeated tune. This too is the meaning of the hymn. So in a wide range of hymns, their words are weighed and measured for sound and sense, their length and rhyme and place in the line, their derivations and repetitions, their subtext and intertextualities. Multiple meanings and resonances are enrichments. Of course we are not consciously aware of it all as we sing, but this kind of analysis helps us to see why some hymns work and others do not.
After two mouthwatering introductory chapters, the journey begins with a robust defence of the Reformation Psalmody of Sternhold and Hopkins, which is usually dismissed as doggerel by those who have read little, spoken less and sung none of it. There is more to be said for the ‘Old Version’ than most critics admit, and most hymns of any age have been rubbished by somebody.
From here we move to other psalters, with their erratic but irreversible development (evolution, Watson would say) into hymnody as we know it. Watts and Wesley define whole ages; the chapter ‘After Watts’ takes in Doddridge and Anne Steele, while ‘After the Wesleys’ includes Toplady and the Olney Hymns. William Cowper is spared further psychoanalysis, but the recent literary work of George Ella in this field is strangely neglected. Ella is perhaps the first scholar to understand Cowper; congregations have had less difficulty. But Watson values God moves in a mysterious way more highly than Routley did.
Montgomery, Heber and Keble signal the Romantic period, with useful reminders as always of contemporary secular literature, and of Montgomery’s hymn related prose. The other two are treated with a somewhat cool respect.
Five more chapters are needed to describe that most fertile of centuries for hymns, the nineteenth, with sidelong glances at Darwin and German rationalism. Professor Watson discusses women writers more perceptively than most men manage to do, and more carefully than the Methodist Companion to Hymns and Psalms which he jointly edited.
In American hymnody, Whittier and the Spirituals share the accolades, while Unitarian hymns are treated more kindly than the Sankey style. After quoting some ‘uncharitable and vulgar abuse’ (for hymns always raise strong passions) our author very nearly descends to some of his own. But after a glance at Scotland, though not Wales, and then at children’s hymns, we are soon into the twentieth century, English Hymnal, Songs of Praise and all.
Well, not quite all, since evangelical Anglican books and writers are hardly noticed, with the striking exception of Timothy Dudley-Smith, whose Tell out, my soul is said to mark the start of the new waves of hymns, usually but unattractively dubbed the hymn explosion. Albert Bayly is given his due as a link between old and new; but not George Bell, Margaret Clarkson, Rosamond Herklots or Frank Houghton. Contemporary Roman Catholics may also feel neglected. In a startlingly modest conclusion the author hopes that his work on hymns may ‘slow down their disappearance in an age of neglect’; please let us aim higher than that!
Among the book’s countless treasures are its powerful praise of Ken’s Doxology and a classic exposition of When I survey. Its author has a Routleyan gift for the one-liner: ‘In the game of life Frances Ridley Havergal was picking her side’. It came upon the midnight clear survives ‘like some piece of monumental sculpture, through a century and a half which has consistently proved Sears to be wrong’. Or of Christopher Wordsworth’s hymns, ‘Because of their failure to articulate any ideas (they) end with a “Gloria” verse that seems not to have been worked for’. Elsewhere, it takes an expert guide to have the humility to say ‘It is not easy to see what is wrong here’.
Are there gaps? I give immortal praise would repay more space; ‘Wrestling Jacob’, that greatest of hymns which no-one sings, is wisely left to others. The study does less than justice to Fight the good fight and All things bright and beautiful, and is less perceptive than usual over Praise to the Holiest and Alleluia, sing to Jesus. Sometimes the deductions seem over-subtle; sometimes a crucial Scriptural subtext is missed. Most of all we miss an Index of hymns referred to.
Professor Watson’s ideal hymn would contain surprises without shocks, strength without posturing, and truth at many different levels. It would be meticulously crafted, and confront rather than reflect the spirit of the age. He is not afraid to highlight flaws in classic hymns, or touches of gold in unlikely places. How odd that Mrs Alexander’s two masterpieces (excluding ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’) should both end on problematic, anticlimactic lines! Should we therefore change them?
He touches on ‘the appalling instability of hymn texts’ at least from John Wesley onwards, but half admits that editorial revisions are also part of the data. To rail against change is like nostalgia for the ‘original’ Third Programme, which he generally avoids. He even says that the Watts and Wesley hymns ‘have survived by modifying their original word structures’ (p343).
The author and his publishers, though not the readers, may feel that the book is long enough; some have already complained about the price. This latter is rather less than what many spend on newspapers in a month, or football in a week. As to the former, it could have started earlier (with Caedmon?) and continued later. To watch the author at work on the best contemporary hymns would further educate writers, readers, choosers and singers. One sentence on the Victorians could well refer to the diet of many churches today: ‘A hymn that puts forward the same message in the same language as a hundred others is unlikely to survive’.
Among the thousands of books I have read, there are only two that I wish I had written, or could have done. One was by Harry Blamires, but was not his best known. This is the other.
Christopher Idle is Associate Minister of Christ Church, Old Kent Road
SERMONS AT COURT, Politics and religion in Elizabethan and Jacobean preaching, Peter E.McCullough, Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History, Cambridge University Press, 1998, xv + 237 pp. + diskette containing a definitive calendar of court sermons for the period, ISBN O-521-59046-9
THE CLERK of the Closet, the Dean of the Chapels Royal, and the Lord High Almoner seem today to be redolent of Gilbert and Sullivan, and a curious, rather antiquated periphery of the Church of England. In Elizabethan and Jacobean England this was far from the case, as this fascinating study of Tudor and early Stuart court sermons aptly demonstrates. The Chapel Royal was a theatre, not only for preaching the Gospel, but for subtle – and sometimes not so subtle -theological and political pressure, in a context where the monarch looked down on proceedings from his closet window in the royal box at the west end of the chapel.
Not the least fascinating aspect of McCullough’s study is the chapter devoted to the architectural setting of court sermons. The elevated and partially concealed monarch has a long history in expressing ‘the divinity that doth hedge about a king.’ Charlemagne at Aachen and the Saxon Kings at Winchester, not to mention Philip II of Spain in the Escorial, all presided, or were present at worship, in similar ways. At Whitehall the open air Preaching Place made the Court Sermon an occasion not only for edification but for the presence to a wider public of monarch as well as preacher. It is also noteworthy how frequent court sermons were, particularly in Lent.
For James I the hearing of the sermon was important, so much so that the Prayer Book service was often interrupted when the monarch arrived in his closet. Preachers were skilled in interpreting Scripture with nuances relating to the King of kings on the one hand and the earthly monarch on another. Balancing Puritan and sacramentalist preachers signified a political concern to hold the breadth of the Church of England. Preachers who displeased the king by too overt criticism of royal behaviour or policy, might find themselves imprisoned for their pains – as happened to John Burgess who said that the king ‘flyeth the company of the wise, and advanceth fools.’ Under James the Clerk of the Closet moved from being an arranger of cushions and service books to a monitor of religious practice and the controller of the important preaching rota. Henry Burton, who held the office under Charles I, was a zealous defender of the Pope as Anti-Christ, became a foe of episcopacy and eventually suffered the pillory and the cutting off of his ears. At the Chapel of Henry, Prince of Wales, Daniel Price blamed Henry’s untimely death on too much leniency to Catholics, the vanity of ‘the quaint Crane-paced Courtiers of this time,’ and a sinful court and city, in which ‘men like women, women like Diuels… cheating, whoring, drinking, swearing’ were ‘as common as breathing.’ Preachers could range from tirade and denunication, to sycophantic flattery, and to the brilliant chiaroscuro of Lancelot Andrewes, perhaps the greatest of all court preachers. McCullough quotes a rhyme of Sir John Harington from 1615 to the following effect:
I Met a Lawyer at the Court this Lent,
And asking what great cause him thither sent,
He said that mou’d with Doctor Androes fame,
To heare him preach, he only thither came:
But straight I wisht him sofily in his care,
To find some other scuse, else some will sweare,
Who to the Court come only for deuotion,
They in the Church pray only for promotion.
Doubtless motives have always been mixed, but McCullough shows clearly that court preaching was one of the important barometers of Elizabethan and Jacobean church policy. In so doing he has given us an illuminating study of a previously uninvestigated source for assessing the shaping of Anglicanism.
Geoffrey Rowell is Bishop of Basingstoke
THE WAY FORWARD: Christian Voices on Homosexuality and the Church. ed. Timothy Bradshaw, Hodder and Stoughton, 1998, pbk, 229 pp, £8.99, ISBN 0-340-69393-2.
Since this book marks a major contribution to the current debate, we have sought to have it reviewed by a bishop from the traditionalist constituency. Bishop Paul Richardson brings us to the point where, for the time being, we let the matter rest though, as Bishop Broadhurst’s statement in February New Directions (page 26) makes clear, we shall continue to provide necessary news reporting. [Editorial Board]
THE DEBATE about sexuality that is currently taking place in the Anglican Communion provides interesting indications of where Anglicanism may be heading. By and large the argument is between liberals and evangelicals; insights from the Catholic natural law tradition are either ignored or misunderstood. Clearly the days of a vigorous Catholic theological tradition within Anglicanism are numbered if they have not already passed. The church is going to be a lot poorer as a result.
Affirming Catholics will disagree with this analysis and argue that they are able to preserve all that is true and important in the Catholic tradition. However while Fr Jeffrey John does refer to the Catholic idea of the natural law he does not think it has much of value to say to us.
Crude, ‘physicalist’ accounts of natural law, arguing that we must always follow what happens in nature, can certainly be found, but in its more sophisticated version the doctrine is claiming that in order to promote true human flourishing we need to take into account the way human beings are actually made. Such an approach does not require a static and unchanging concept of human nature. All that is asserted is that there are certain features of human nature we need to reckon with in deciding the best way to lead our lives. Applied to sexuality this suggests that relationships between members of the same sex lack the physical, biological and psychological complementarity that exists in relationships between men and women and that they are not open to a transcendent good, the procreation of life, that helps to ensure that heterosexual relationships are not purely inward looking. Friendship that is too exclusive usually withers away and can become destructive.
Turning from natural law to the revealed doctrine of the Trinity for an example of the same process at work, we see how, as the Lutheran Robert W Jenson has put it, the Holy Spirit ‘liberates Father and Son to love each other’. ‘If there is to be freely given love’, writes Jensen, ‘there must be a third party in the meeting of the “I” and the “Thou” ‘.
Natural law arguments are important because they can appeal to non-Christians who do not accept the authority of scripture. Anne Atkins recently wrote a sensitive and gentle piece in The Daily Telegraph to say why she thinks gay sex is wrong but she will not have converted many secular-minded readers because she based her case solely on scripture.
For classical evangelicals, of course, the authority of scripture is a key issue in the debate. They are concerned that in their own movement, never mind the church as a whole, belief in biblical inerrancy is fast disappearing. Jeffrey John seems to think that the battle over this issue has been decided already. He points out that St Paul placed more weight on his teaching about the role of women in the church than on his incidental references to homosexuality.
It is the contribution to this book by Canon Oliver O’Donovan, Regius Professor of Pastoral and Moral Theology at Oxford, that has aroused the most interest. Although he writes in a tentative and exploratory manner, he does say some startling things. Fundamental to his argument is the concept of vocation. Is there, he asks, a ‘homosexual vocation’, an objective condition within which people can learn to serve Christ? This is an excellent question but the answers suggested by Canon O’Donovan are not all convincing. For example, he speculates whether someone already involved in a homosexual relationship should be allowed to continue in it when he becomes a Christian for the sake of his partner. Concessions made to polygamous converts are quoted as a parallel. So far as I am aware, the most common practice in the history of Christian missions has been to request polygamous converts to continue to support all their spouses but to live with only one of them in a married relationship after baptism. Could a convert really continue in a lifestyle he felt was contrary to his new-found belief?
Agreeing that heterosexual marriage and homosexual relationships cannot have the same status, Canon O’Donovan looks at the possibility of some kind of recognition for a relationship between people of the same sex. He quotes Michael Vasey and Elizabeth Stuart as arguing that ‘affective friendship’ rather than marriage may be the right model for gay and lesbian relationships and appears to accept that such arrangements need not be permanent. Reference is made to St Augustine’s view that an excess of sexual energy is a venial sin. Although I think that St Augustine does indeed have a point and that there are dangers in giving too much attention to sexual sins, there is also the danger that sex can lose its significance as a sign of intimacy and love if it is used promiscuously. What makes sex so meaningful is that we restrict its use and are careful not to devalue a powerful symbol of love and an important bond of union.
Despite my disagreements with them, I have to say that both Fr John and Canon O’Donovan have produced important and thoughtful contributions to the debate on sexuality as have almost all the other authors represented in this volume. The essays all seek to comment on the St Andrew’s Day Statement of 1995 and it is useful to have that document printed in the book. Anthony Thiselton provides a major survey of hermeneutical issues raised by the debate and effectively challenges some widely accepted generalisations. Dr Tom Brown gives a short survey of the current thinking among psychiatrists, Michael Vasey and Elizabeth Stuart write sensitively in support of homosexuality while Simon Vibert and Martin Hallet write equally sensitively from a different point of view. There are also chapters by Rowan Williams, Gerald Bray, John Colwell and Dave Teal and the editor provides a balanced conclusion.
Many years ago Dorothy Sayers got tired of hearing Christians going on about sex and wrote a short pamphlet entitled The Other Six Deadly Sins. When Anthony Thiselton reminds us that we need rigorous standards about materialism and self-indulgence as well as about sexual morality, he is making the same point. Without making light of the issue, Catholic moral theology has taught it is mistaken to put sexual failings at the top of the list of serious sins. But it is possible to overestimate the importance of sex in other ways as well, especially by giving the impression that no one can lead a balanced and contented life if this element is missing. If this is true, what do we say to people whose partners are permanently disabled or in prison?
Canon O’Donovan refers to the Vatican statement of 1975 affirming that homosexual acts are ‘intrinsically disordered and never to be approved’. In an important article in the Jesuit weekly America (7/2/87), Archbishop John Quinn argued that this represents a ‘philosophical judgement on homosexual orientation or inclination’. People of this orientation are certainly not psychologically disordered but their inclinations are morally imperfect as are the inclinations people have to rash judgement, cowardice or hypocrisy. Specific acts flowing from these inclinations cannot be approved. According to a recent article in America, Cardinal Ratzinger accepted this interpretation. It provides a clear, concise summary of how the Catholic tradition regards the matter. It is not a point of view that is likely to change.
Paul Richardson is formerly Bishop of Wangaratta.
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT, Raymond E. Brown, Doubleday 1997, hbk, 840 pp. ISBN 0-385-24767-2
THE NAME of Raymond Brown looms large in the field of New Testament scholarship. Across the denominational and wider boundaries, he has earned the respect of his fellows in the academy for his weighty conmentaries on the Fourth Gospel and Johannine Epistles, as well as his detailed works on the birth and passion narratives of the gospels. Within his own Church, he has managed to combine a passionate commitment to critical study of the Bible with a profound sense of the ecclesial tradition in which he stands: for this he was appointed to the Pontifical Biblical Commission by Pope Paul VI. On a popular level, his many accessible works have done a great deal to bring the insights of scholarship to a wider readership. Finally, speaking on a more personal level, he has been an important role model for someone who, like Brown himself, attempts to teach and nurture a love of the scriptures as a Roman Catholic in an ecumenical context. Now, in retirement, he has distilled the wisdom and insights of a lifetime’s teaching into a long-awaited introduction to the New Testament.
There are many different kinds of New Testament Introductions the market today: some (e.g. Helmut Koester) offer a reconstruction of the history of early Christianity, unfettered by the constraints imposed by the Church’s New Testament canon; others (e.g. Raymond Collins) attempt to introduce their readers to the differing types of hermeneutical methods. Brown’s introduction follows a rather more traditional approach, introducing the writings one at a time, attending, at least in part, to the mundane issues of authorship, dating and provenance. But it is also an introduction with a difference. Brown’s primary goal in writing this book is to get people to read the New Testament scriptures: so many similar works can very easily become substitutes for reading the text itself, and Brown is concerned that his work should not become yet another surrogate parent. Thus each chapter on specific texts begins (after a table providing a ‘Summary of Basic Information’) with a ‘General Analysis of the Message’ designed to accompany the reading of that book, and often functioning as a kind of ‘mini-commentary’ on the text in question. Only then does he turn to the traditional questions of authorship and dating and a discussion of the book’s peculiarities. Finally, he presents a section of ‘Issues and Problems for Reflection,’ attempting to encourage theological reflection on the New Testament writings and the making of connections with contemporary theological and ecclesial concerns.
There are at least two features of this introduction that are worthy of particular note. The first is the ecclesial dimension of much of what Brown has to say. Though this book will surely be warmly received by a very wide readership (and, indeed, the dustcover records the accolade of a Jewish rabbi), nevertheless this is unashamedly the work of a Roman Catholic, who stands within the Catholic tradition of exegesis. Thus, though Brown himself is primarily a historical critic, who is concerned to locate these writings within their primary first (and, in the case of 2 Peter, possibly second) century context, nevertheless he is acutely aware of the limitations of the historical-critical method. The discussion of hermeneutical issues, and in particular the difference senses of scripture, at the beginning of the book, is important here. Catholic Christianity has long recognised that the ‘literal sense’ – in Brown’s definition, not a naive kind of literalism which would demand that Balaam’s ass actually spoke, but rather ‘what the biblical authors intended and conveyed to their audiences by what they wrote’ (p35), i.e. the traditional concern of ‘historical criticism’ – cannot exhaust the meaning of a scriptural passage The sensus plenior is something which even Catholic biblical scholarship has been in danger of losing sight of, just as the Catholic tradition was at one time in danger of overlooking the ‘literal sense’. Brown is concerned to do justice to both.
Brown’s awareness of being a Catholic biblical scholar comes through in other ways too. His ‘Issues and Problems for Reflection’ at the end of each section often strive to bridge the gap between first and twentieth centuries. Thus, for example, having discussed the issue of Gentile circumcision in his chapter on Ads, he hints at how attention to what was arguably the most divisive issue in the New Testament church, and the way it was handled, might have implications for contemporary ecclesial debates. Similarly, his fairhanded treatment of some of the often-neglected New Testament writings is an indication of the importance he accords to the canon, eschewing any attempt to promote a ‘canon within the canon’. Thus almost as much space is devoted to the Epistle of James as to Paul’s Letter to the Romans (one wonders what Luther would have made of this), while the Apocalypse is paid a fitting tribute in no less than forty pages.
The second matter of note is the even-handed way in which Brown deals with scholarly opinions, and his care to present the majority view as well as his own, if that should differ. Thus he is a trustworthy guide to the state of scholarly play. Moreover, in his own conclusions, he is careful and judicious. For example, he plays down the claims of some that Palestine during Jesus’ life and ministry was particularly turbulent: for Brown, the only serious Jewish uprising was that led by Judas the Galilean in AD 6, and he quotes approvingly Tacitus’ assessment of Judea under Tiberius: ‘Things were quiet’. Likewise, he carves a careful ‘midpath’ between the excesses of the Jesus Seminar and the reactions of scholars such as Luke T. Johnson. Further, it is good to see that, unlike many of his compatriots, he does not assume that the existence of Q is something to be taken for granted. While accepting the Two Source Theory, he gives space to the alternatives, and firmly rejects some of the excesses of the ‘Q’ enthusiasts with their bold reconstructions of the theology of the ‘Q Community’. In short, Brown, like the wise scribe of the Matthean community, ‘brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old’ (Mt. 13:52), rejecting nothing out of hand, learning from a whole host of scholarly approaches, while avoiding the excesses.
There are, of course, some minor criticisms. The other side of the coin to carefulness is over-cautiousness, and one wonders whether, for example, there is not more to be said in support of those who advocate a more revisionist chronology of Paul’s life (I am thinking not least of Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s recent magnificent book), or who propose a rather more precarious socio-political climate during the ministry of Jesus. There are also one or two sections which somewhat disappoint: the question of the historical Jesus, for example, and the vast literature which that has spawned is consigned to a rather brief appendix, dominated by the concerns of contemporary North America (notably the ‘Jesus Seminar’), and dealing with the two hundred years from Reimarus to the post-Bultmannians in little more than two pages. If Brown is not to take up the challenge of writing ‘The Resurrection of the Messiah’ to complement his magisterial ‘Birth’ and ‘Death’, then might there be the possibility that he will turn his great learning and scholarship to a rather more satisfying account of ‘The Quest for the Messiah’?
Finally, some might be put off by the sheer heftiness of the volume, running to some 840 pages. That, however, would be unfortunate. Brown’s combination of erudition, scholarship and pastoral concern means that this introduction is not only immensely readable and accessible but also encyclopaedic and shrewd. In his foreword, he describes this tome as introductory, ‘and therefore not written for fellow scholars’ (p. vii); I think many of his fellow scholars would dispute this modest assessment. If one is looking to recommend one New Testament introduction which will not be in danger of sitting on the shelf collecting dust, then this is surely the one.
Ian Boxall is New Testament Tutor at St Stephen’s House.
GENERAL SACRAMENTAL ABSOLUTION: an historical, canonical and pastoral perspective, Scott M P Reid, Saint Austin Press, London 1998, ISBN 1-901157-65-2, £1.95
APOSTLES AND MARTYRS, Peter R S Milward, Gracewing, Leominster, 197, pbk, 146pp, ISBN
THE EARLY PAPACY, Adrian Fortescue, ed. Scott M P Reid, Saint Austin Press, London 1998, ISBN 1-901157-60-1, £7.95
AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY, Margaret Deanesly, Saint Austin Press, London 1997, pbk, 167pp, ISBN 1-901157-25-3, £12.95
IN A short booklet, General Sacramental Absolution, the present use of such absolution in the Roman Catholic Church is examined and discussed, and a historical background to its present availability is outlined. I was interested to read it. ‘General sacramental absolution’ is the giving of that absolution which is given to us in the sacrament of penance and is thus sacramentally covenanted by God to his Church (as opposed to the declaration of the forgiveness offered by God and the prayer of intercession which is found in ‘absolution’ in some rites for the eucharist and the offices) without prior confession by the individual of their remembered grave sins.
A case is argued that this form of sacramental absolution has become customary, whereas the canonical provisions made and the pastoral guidance given suggests it should be extraordinary and available only where certain conditions are fulfilled. I suspect this is a issue which the Roman Catholic Church faces in other countries more than it does in England and Wales. Be that as it may, it is not an issue which English and Welsh Anglicans face, and I know of very few instances where general sacramental absolution, as defined by this booklet, has been made available amongst us. The pastoral strength of general sacramental absolution would seem to me to lie in its communal expression of repentance and reconciliation. The Christian is never just an individual. The pastoral danger can lie in the guidance we may give those who ‘relish the prospect of attempting to celebrate the sacrament without individual confession’ (p 34). Do some seek the gain, ‘the buzz’, of absolution without the pain of facing up to their own sin, the pain, in short, of confession?
Apostles and Martyrs is an interesting, readable and inspiring collection retelling the stories of some of the key people and events in the history of the early church. Unfortunately it might, I think, have been a much better and more useful book, for there would have been more room to tell us about the post-apostolic figures of the early church if the first forty-five pages had not been spent retelling the tale of the Acts of the Apostles which we can read for ourselves. Sadly, its value for many people who might read it or recommend others to read it will also be severely vitiated by the fact that it gives no references to sources for the different stories of the different saints and martyrs: as the author touchingly confesses in his acknowledgements, ‘some years have passed since I wrote this book, based on translations either from Greek or from Latin. Now that it is to be published I can no longer recollect which source I used for which saint or martyr.’
The reprinting of Margaret Deanesly’s beautifully written book of 1964, Augustine of Canterbury, usefully marks the fourteen hundredth anniversary of Augustine’s landing in England. The Saint Austin Press are to be congratulated for making it available. I found (on reading it once again after many years) her picture of monastic life in Rome as Augustine would have lived it and of the monastic life as it might have been at Canterbury particularly evocative and informative. Professor Deanesly was particularly concerned to set Augustine’s work in context as chapter 7, ‘The Sequel to Augustine’s Work’ bears witness.
There were, I fear, a number of minor proof-reading mistakes which are repeated in the reprinting (e.g. a doubling of material on pp 96-7).
The Early Papacy is another new edition. Adrian Fortescue was born in 1874 and after a Jesuit secondary schooling was educated at the Scots College in Rome and Innsbruck University. Returning to England he worked in various parishes in Essex and East London, becoming parish priest at Letchworth in 1907 and died at the age of 49 after an operation for cancer. In 1919 he was engaged in controversy concerning the Petrine primacy in the columns of The Tablet, and in 1920 he collected the articles for publication. Now they are newly re-edited and reprinted, and it is useful to have suggested a cogent argument for the full development of the primacy from the patristic thinking concerning it.
Here Fortescue argues for the papal prerogatives especially with those Catholic Anglicans of his time who relied on the first councils and the patristic writings in their controversies with Free Church thinkers and Anglicans of other schools but appeared to him unwilling to take seriously the message to those councils and writings about the Petrine primacy. The articles make an interesting collection especially in the light of ARCIC and the subsequent discussion of the place of a universal primacy held by the successor to St Peter. A full response to the collected articles would take more room than I have in this review but two issues that passed through my mind were how Fr Fortescue explained the ecclesiological consequences of the Great Schism of the West 1378-1417 (especially in the light of pp 65-74) and how his modern editor thinks recent developments in the relationships between Rome and Constantinople have affected the argumentation given here.
J P Sheehy is the Principal of St Stephen’s House.