Orthodox teaching and a monastic handbook


A Commentary on John Paul II’s ‘Gospel of the Body’

Christopher West

Gracewing, 548pp, pbk

0 85244 600 4, £20

Christopher West here provides an extended and in-depth commentary on the addresses delivered at the Wednesday Papal Audiences between 1979 and 1984 on the subject of marriage and sexual love. These form a response to the pastoral crisis created by Humanae Vitae. No concessions whatever are made to the encyclical. What is new is the spirit in which it is approached. The Church’s teaching is not to be seen as an externally imposed burden. Obedience is not to be reluctant, but something which ‘wells up from within. People no longer feel forced to conform to truth. They want to conform to truth.’ ‘The traditional teaching on the purposes of marriage … is not done away with but is reaffirmed and deepened from the viewpoint of the interior life of the spouses.’ One need not buy into the philosophy of phenomenalism to make the point. It simply reflects the golden rule in the preparation of any piece to be heard or read. ‘If it doesn’t make sense to me, it certainly won’t make sense to anybody else’.

As the title indicates, far from being an object of suspicion, the body is good news. The Holy Father develops the concept of creation ‘in our likeness and image’ in such a way as to suggest that the communion of human persons literally embodies the dynamic relationships of the Divine Persons within the Blessed Trinity. Marriage therefore becomes the primordial sacrament and the nuptial mystery not to be rationalized away in the modern Great Divorce between the Cartesian ghost and the machine.

The contents are divided into two parts. The first three sections set out the theological groundwork. The first section, Original Man, is built around Christ’s saying to the Pharisees, ‘in the beginning he made them male and female’ and the ‘great mystery’ in Ephesians 5, taken to refer to Christ and his Church, but not to this alone by any means. The second, Historical Man, takes its starting point from the saying in the Sermon on the Mount about looking upon a woman with lust. Where lust prevails, persons cease to be real subjects in themselves, and are reduced to the level of mere objects. The third section, Eschatological Man, rests on Christ’s saying in the dispute with the Sadducees, ‘in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage’. The sons and daughters of the resurrection are not disembodied in the sense of their personality being obliterated. They remain the persons that they always were, but their personhood is immeasurably enhanced, and with it the potentiality for the communion of persons. From here we move on to the doctrine of the Communion of Saints.

The second part is entitled ‘How we are to live’, and is the concrete application of the theology and anthropology of the first. The vigorous and much to be desired vindication of celibacy follows from the previous discussion of eschatological man. The true celibate is not someone to be pitied, ridiculed or patronized. Because they are not committed within a single exclusive relationship, they are already open to the wider communion of persons which awaits married and celibate alike in the world to come. Neither state, however, is to be reckoned superior or inferior to the other, as the following section on the sacramentality of marriage makes plain. If celibacy looks forward to the kingdom of heaven, the nuptial mystery is nothing more nor less than the expression, within the bodily conjugal relationship, of the divine creative and redemptive purpose.

To seek to defend marriage merely as the sole legitimate outlet for concupiscence is a gross blasphemy. It is only concupiscence where the partners or spouses cease to be personal subjects, and are reduced to objects. Love, in other words, has turned to lust. This may occur within marriage as well as outside it. Something of the partner is being withheld from the other. This is spelt out in the final section on ‘love and fruitfulness’. The exclusion of the possibility of the creation of new life is just one, but by no means the only, example of the partners or spouses withholding the full gift of themselves from each other. Where there is any no-go area, love has withered. So we come back to Humanae Vitae.

Every section is followed by a review of the contents, but this is not to be taken as an excuse for skip reading. This would be to risk missing the sensitive and frankly erotic exposition of the Song of Songs – no allegory now; or the discussion of the difference between art and pornography – what is wrong with a cinema poster and right with a nude in the Vatican; or Christopher West’s reflections on his own feelings at the sight of nubile bikini-clad girls on the beach, and an ugly duckling out for a bathe by contrast.

Whatever one’s own attitude, the overall effect is impressive. This will certainly become a standard work of reference on the subject for quite some time to come, though it will not be much help to a penitent preparing a confession, or a confessor setting the penance! At last we are given a masterly reintegration of biblical exposition, dogmatic and moral theology, and a solid piece of natural theology into the bargain. General Synod working parties, please copy!

If ‘the body’ is Gospel, then sexuality is theological and discussions about it are to be conducted on this level. One might, possibly, seek further clarification from the Holy Father about what he means by ‘original’. Was there ever a prehistoric time (contradiction in terms) of man’s first state, which has now been lost? Or does it denote God’s creative purpose? In the latter case ‘original’ and ‘eschatological’ overlap. It is not unimportant for historical man to understand how he is situated. Is he struggling to recover paradise lost? Or is he striving, aided by redemptive grace, however fitfully, for the perfection for which he was created?

Hugh Bates is a retired priest living in the Archdiocese of York.

Adventures in Orthodoxy

Dwight Longenecker,

Gracewing, 170pp, pbk

0 85244 406 0 (£9.99)

This book comprises twenty short and readable chapters on the articles of the Christian Creed by an American who has lived for twenty years in this country and was an Anglican priest before becoming a Roman Catholic. It is not merely an intellectual account, something off the top of the head, but is the product of the author having put his head into his heart for imaginative meditation. In other words, this credal dogma has been prayed in the sense that Austin Farrer asserted it should be, and so has engaged the imagination that often finds expression in a Chestertonian turn of phrase or an idiom akin to CS Lewis. My advice is to read it through, marking such phrases and then to reread it and ruminate on them more slowly, for this book not only stimulates the mind but it also moves the heart.

‘Missouri man’ personifies a cynical and suspicious attitude in our culture concluding that nothing can be believed. It finds expression in the theologian who ‘smiles through his sherry and says, “What works for you is true for you.”’ In other words, truth has no value. The authentic atheist does not attack religion but is unaware that religion exists. The humanist’s independence from religion declares him to be subhuman, for human history and culture declares that being human is to be religious, for there are more things in heaven and earth than Horatio’s philosophy had dreamt of. A spiritual and physical dimension brings in a personal God, the storyteller of Chesterton or the first cause of Aquinas. To affirm God the Creator is to repudiate creation by chance.

Buddhism is the kind of religion one would make up if one had to devise a religion but real Christianity is particular and predictable, contradictory and messy, its truth being stranger and more ordinary than we expect. A central truth not only makes sense, but also makes sense of everything else. The Incarnation is only a more specific kind of presence that God has always maintained in the world. Maybe in countless worlds God is clothing himself in a multitude of forms we can never imagine.

The surprise would be if Christianity had no shared characteristics with other religions. How could God ‘burp, smile, and gurgle?’, yet it is where the logic leads. The mark of the truly great is that everywhere it becomes small and we call it humility, which means to be truly oneself. So the saints have learned to lower themselves in imitation of the Incarnation and have discovered the secret of becoming like God, and like Jesus show us what God is like.

Truth is always stereoscopic. Error has single vision. The heretic is one-eyed. So in debates about the nature of Jesus the perennial conflict between the earthly and the heavenly continued as Arians denied his divinity and Apollinarians his humanity. This clash is resolved in the one Person who is fully God and fully man, the God-Man conceived by the Holy Spirit that brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven through the Yes of ‘the second Eve’. By suffering and death he introduced the possibility that suffering and death itself can be redemptive. If Jesus is a unique synthesis of humanity and divinity, is it not natural to expect the unique conclusion that he would not remain dead?

Fire is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Six centuries before Christ the philosopher Heraclitus claimed fire as the symbol of an eternal essence unified and unchanging, but which enables individual changing things to exist, running through all living things and linking them together. An eternal flame burns in the temples of most religions. Christians picked up this vague religious symbol and made it ‘more sophisticated, precise and revolutionary’, and saw behind the shadowy force, the third Person of the Trinity with a distinctive character that makes the world more personal.

The final articles of the Creed, Church, Communion of Saints, Everlasting Life, are discussed in the final five chapters. I would question the restriction of the word ‘catholic’ to universality for this does not express it exactly. Catholic from two Greek words kath’ ‘olou belongs not to the phenomenal and empirical but to the noumenal and ontological plane and describes the very essence not the external manifestations. The word gave prominence to the orthodoxy of the Church in contrast to sectarian separatism.

Arthur Middleton is a tutor at St Chad’s College, Durham.


John Holdsworth

DLT, 116pp, pbk

0 232 52488 X, £8.95

I have a theory. It is about first impressions. What do people look at initially when buying a book? Is it the cover? Do they read the ‘blurb’? No! I reckon that, particularly if they have fixed incomes or limited budgets, they firstly look at the price in relation to the thickness of the work (namely, the number of pages). So, £8.95 for 116 pages = just over seven pence a page? No thanks. Put back on the shelf.

In this case, that would be a mistake. For when was the last time you actually read a book on Christian communication? Indeed, can you name any title of a work on this subject? What a sadly neglected area. A poor reflection on an organization whose product is ‘Good News’. Further, as one might expect given the subject, this book is imaginatively written, eminently readable in style, and well constructed (short sections and chapters with clear introductions, contents and conclusions). Even better, it has pauses for guided reflection and reader participation.

Despite all this, one has to recognize there are limitations. In the Introduction there is a claim that this is a work about Ecclesiology (what the Church is for) and Practical Theology (where Christian traditions such as the Bible come into contact with the world of today). So a stated aim which is accurately addressed in the rest of the book. But the ‘Church’ here is Bible/word based. Scant attention is given to a sacerdotal view of the Church or ministry, of Liturgy as means of communication etc. Chapter 2 claims theology is being done in communicating but what are the theological assumptions here? One has to say then that the book is OK – as far as it goes!

Nevertheless, every preacher ought to read ch4 ‘Speaking to a Congregation’, and every Catholic ch5 (for how other members of the Church view it). There are also some challenges in the revisionist views of the Bible. At the end of the entire work there is a statement, ‘Those who understand the why of Christian Communication will invariably be better at the how.’ Pity the ‘why’ is not as all embracing as it might be. So, a shallow book? Maybe, but if more profound tomes were this user-friendly perhaps more people would read them.

Fr John Hervé is parish priest of St Agatha’s, Sparkbrook.


Richard Bewes

Christian Focus, 200pp, pbk

1 85792 812 1, (£5.99)

A clever idea. Take thirteen famous quotations, from ‘I have a dream’ of Martin Luther King to ‘I’ve been on a calendar, but never on time’ of Marilyn Monroe to ‘I’d like to be a queen in people’s hearts’ of Princess Diana, and add a Christian commentary on contemporary society and the Gospel. It is a way of preaching the biblical truths, from where people are, working with their preconceptions and bringing a broader vision to their limited world view.

The result, however, in this case is lazy. Bewes is apparently a noted Evangelical, but in this book, other people’s words are no more than tags for a clever man to hang his sermon upon. I felt cheated by a teacher who should have worked harder. In times of controversy, agnosticism and apathy, those in a teaching position within the Church must work harder, pray more fervently and think more carefully.

Why is it worth considering a book that is not worth considering? Bewes may be right and he may be clever, and he may be a better teacher than you and me. But this is a lazy book from a man who knows that he is right. Traditionalists at either end of the theological spectrum must for ever beware of that laziness. Let this book be a warning.

It is worse than that. There is also dishonesty. He cites President Clinton on 17th August 1998 as saying, ‘I did not have sex with that woman.’ That, as you may remember, is not what he said. The actual words (and you can view a video replay on the internet if you do not believe me – the BBC website is probably the easiest) were ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman.’

Clinton may have been lying, but it was not strictly a falsehood. A grubby little act of self-gratification with an intern is not ‘sexual relations’. It is precisely this confusion of any form of sexual groping with what the Bible calls ‘knowing’ that has led us to the current confusions over homosexuality as a symmetrical alternative to what is glibly called heterosexuality. The moral equivalence of all forms of sexual gratification is precisely the heresy that needs combating. Bewes should have his wrist slapped.

Lie once, and can you be trusted again? In the ensuing rant against modern sexual laxity, he quotes the following sad judgement. Supposedly, it comes from a ‘Boy, 9 years of age, Twickenham, Middlesex’. He cites no source, so there is no way of checking. The phrasing, the syntax, the spelling and mis-spelling are such that I simply don’t believe him:

When I leave school I shall probably go to St Paul’s School, or the City of London, or King’s College, Wimbledon. After that, I hope to go to university. After that I will buy myself a house, a car, and furniture. I will probably get married, although at present I have doubts about it – because Mum spends half her time telling Dad off, for such things as buying the wrong beer, waking up the baby, and not keeping promises; and if this is the outcome of the weeding (sic), it isn’t worth the salmon and the three storey cake.

I reckon he made it up himself. NA


Stephen Savage

4 Austhorpe Gardens, Leeds LS 15 8TF, 61pp, pbk

£5 incl. p&p

Leeds, like all other cities in Britain, was growing at a tremendous rate in Victorian times and this had to be matched by the building of new churches and the forming of new parishes. One of the great landmarks in the history of the Anglo-Catholic movement in England was the building of St Saviour’s, Leeds, funded by the great Dr Edward Pusey. This was the first instance of a church built with a definite intention of showing the teaching and worship of the Catholic Faith in the Church of England. At its consecration on 28th October 1845 Dr Pusey himself put £212 into a special collection for ‘a new church in St Saviour’s Parish in which there would be daily services’; so, even at that early stage the eventual building of St Hilda’s was planned to meet the spiritual needs of the ever expanding population of Leeds.

Nothing further was done until 1869, when a Mission was set up in the district in a rented room. As so often happened in those days a temporary iron church was erected in 1873 preparatory to setting a proper church building later. A lot of the work in establishing worship and teaching in the district was done by one of those indomitable ladies to whom the Catholic Movement owed so much, Mother Agnes Logan Stewart who set up a small community in Somerset, moving it to Leeds in 1872 where she set up an orphanage as well as other works. Various priests-in-charge came and went and plans for building the church had to be delayed because of lack of funds.

The architect, JT Micklethwaite designed a noble building, which was eventually completed and consecrated in 1882, only two weeks after the death of Dr Pusey, its first priest being the Revd Edgecumbe Staley, whose brother, Vernon Staley is better known as author of that great manual of instruction The Catholic Religion, which came out in 1893 and ran to 30 editions up until 1983. A lot of money to finish the building came from the Hon Mrs Meynell Ingram, the sister of Lord Halifax, who also gave generously for the building of the Clergy House and the schools. Another major benefactor was Mr JW Cudworth who subsequently left money in his will for the present buildings of Pusey House, Oxford.

The church, like a lot of others in the Gothic revival, is a little grim on the outside but has a splendid interior, particularly when later enhanced by a hanging Rood put up as a memorial after the First World War, and a rich font cover put in later as a memorial to a departed Vicar. As there were usually two curates there was a High Mass as a regular thing right from the start, although the second Vicar for some unaccountable reason let this slide and held Mattins as the main service on Sunday mornings. A thing never seen there before or since!

The parish became separated from St Saviour’s in 1885 under the patronage of Keble College, Oxford. After two fairly brief incumbencies the Revd HJ Sharp became Vicar in 1889 and is referred to as ‘setting St Hilda’s on its feet’. He stayed until 1908, and was responsible for building up the sound parish life with full teaching of the Faith that has endured ever since. He was succeeded by a regime that ran virtually unbroken until 1947 in that the Revd JS Willimott was there until his sudden death in 1934 and was immediately succeeded by the Revd AS Midgley, who had been his curate for ten years. A strict and rigorous life was maintained. There was strict adherence to the Book of Common Prayer, during a period when most Anglo-Catholics were adopting more and more Roman interpolations, the address ‘Father’ was never used for any priest, only the more established use of ‘Mister’. Adherence to Catholic faith and practice was absolute and ceremonial of the English or Sarum Use maintained, although photographs show the retention of six candles on the High Altar.

A more Roman style developed under later vicars, until the parish was brought back with St Saviour’s, and both were further merged in a larger parish in 1979. This, in its turn, has now closed down, but Catholic worship still persists at both churches when so much seems to be collapsing and so many of the old landmarks are withering away. We can only hope and pray with confidence that they will continue as vehicles of a living Catholic faith and not just as architectural examples of a Victorian Gothic past.

Michael Farrer is Secretary of the Anglo-Catholic History Society.

Empowering Priesthood

John Twistleton

Tufton Books, 44pp, pbk

0 851910 44 0, £4.99

The sub-title to this book is A Celebration of the ministerial priesthood representing Christ to help form his body. The book is deceptively small but massively significant in a time that depreciates the supernatural character of priestly ministry. It can be read in one sitting, but it needs to be pondered more meditatively, for these are not the author’s personal opinions but what the tradition understands priesthood to be.

There is a need to believe in priesthood if the Church is not to be reduced to an institution for man’s conversion instead of a spiritual temple for God’s worship. It is a representative role distinct from the ‘priesthood of all believers’, for the handing on of apostolic teaching that is the responsibility of bishops and priests. ‘The Man for Others is also the Man for God.’

Behind the priest there is a life that must be lived, the consecrating of myself that others may be consecrated in the truth, and this is a work of God. Two prime examples are Michael Ramsey and Frank Weston where we see the primacy of the mystical that makes Christianity reach beyond morality to that which is transcendent. The ministerial priesthood looks to the consecration and maturing of the Church in love, truth and powerful witness. Convincing authority is bred in humility and involvement in the joys and sorrows, doubts and perplexities of the people and the encounter of priest and people in the mystery of God in Christ as priest, prophet and pastor.

The priest must help people discover God’s gifts, then enable them to develop and use them where grace and mercy triumph over the judgemental and Christian friendship can grow. The way forward is to ‘await God’s tide and timing’ and the clue to priestly zeal is to develop such an interest in the things of God that our priorities are sifted accordingly in the generous time given to prayer. The same rule applies to the community’s discernment of priorities where the issue is not about improvement in people but transformation of people in Christ. We are to affirm and encourage an experience of the sacred. The recovery of the Lordship of Jesus and his self-sacrificing love is central to the priest’s life and the Church’s life is the secret of revival. This self-sacrificing love is what made the great slum priests of yesteryear such effective evangelists.

Here is a book to stimulate vocations, to encourage ordinands, to inspire theological college staff, to be read on the anniversary of ordination and to help bishops and CME officers to ask the right questions for clergy assessments.

Arthur Middleton is a tutor at St Chad’s College, Durham.

Chapter 37 of the Rule of St Benedict:

Human nature itself is drawn to tender concern for those in the two extremes of age and youth, but the authority of the Rule should reinforce this natural instinct. Their frailty should always be given consideration so that they should not be strictly bound to the provisions of the Rule in matters of diet. They should receive loving consideration and be allowed to anticipate the regular hours laid down for food and drink.


Canterbury, 364pp, hbk

1 85311 499 5, (£9.99)

A companion not for Benedictine monks and nuns themselves, nor even full members of a tertiary order, but for inquirers and the those on the outer edge of what they call ‘the Benedictine family’. The heart of the book is the Rule and a simplified but easily useable set of morning and evening offices, to which are added a historical who’s who of Benedictines, and several short essays on history, discipline and spirituality. A well-produced and welcoming book. AS

From Out of their Mouths, a money-raising collection of groan-making children’s jokes from St Francis Church, Barkingside; £5 from 192 Burrow Road, Chigwell, Essex IG7 4NQ:

A group of American tourists were visiting Runneymede and the tour guide was explaining its significance. ‘This is where the Magna Carta was signed,’ he told them. ‘When was that?’ asked a voice in the crowd. The guide replied, ‘1215.’ ‘Blast!’ said the teenage boy, ‘We missed it by 20 minutes.’


George Herbert

Canterbury, 138pp, hbk

1 85311 532 0, £9.99

George Herbert’s A Priest to the Temple also known as The Country Parson hardly needs any comment or introduction, for it is a classic. ‘Part handbook, part village recording and very much part autobiography’ as Ronald Blythe says in his brief and sensitive introduction, it is a text that needs still to be read and reflected upon.

This is an excellent, clear and well priced edition. It includes a few selected poems, and would make an appropriate present for any priest who has not already read it (or needs to re-read it). We may blame dioceses, bishops, General Synod and modern times for the fact that the life of a parish priest is not what it should be; we might also with due humility acknowledge that most of the fault is ours. Be humble, dear brother, and read. TG


It is not that we do not like it, it is more a case of not knowing what to do with it. Reviewing, for the most part, is a critical activity, answering the following kinds of questions. Do I agree or disagree? Is it well written or confused? Does it say something new? Does it help us understand more fully? And so on.

With poetry one can ask the same questions. It is finding the answers that is the problem. What have we received recently? The best produced book is I Thirst, a hardback at £10, by an Irish Anglican Peter Rhys Thomas, on religious themes.

There are the intensely local and private publications, that seem too personal to be available for review. Among the laity, we have House of God, Gate of Heaven by Ann Liles; from the clergy, we received A life of poetry, places and people by Charles Cole. Such works, surely, are diffused through the local networks of friends and acquaintance, not by reviews.

And there are also an increasing number of mainstream publishers producing paperbacks of ‘popular’ poetry. Three no less from Mayhew. Monday Mornings and Traffic Jams by David Gatward makes me realize my own internal mutterings and whingeings are not the worst on the planet, but whether they truly rise to the status of prayer as these claim to, I doubt. Toothpaste and Pasta by Pete Townsend adds recipes to its prayer poems and aims for the young marrieds with troublesome two year olds. The Electric Bible by Peter Dainty claims its own (admittedly sharper) poem prayers are for public worship. Remember Michel Quoist? At New Directions we read anything; but it does not mean we can review anything.