BOOK REVIEWS

History, prayer, exegesis, and mathematics

REFORMATION

Europe’s House Divided, 1490–1700

Diarmaid MacCulloch

Allen Lane, 832pp, hbk

0 7139 9370 7, £25

This door-step of a book is set to become standard. It deals with a longer period than most other books on the Reformation, and has a wider scope and breadth. For those who have long wanted to know about the Reformed Church in Transylvania, Lutheranism in Lithuania, and the fate of Hungarian Protestants under Islam, this is the book.

It is also balanced and informative about Carlo Borromeo, (who gets a bad press) and François de Sales (who is accorded hero status). Neither the Jesuits nor the Inquisition is blackguarded; and the internal squabbles of the Hapsburgs are, for once, narrated with exemplary clarity.

This is a European book, dealing with a Europe-wide phenomenon. The peculiar characteristics of the English Reformation are dealt with in no greater detail than the rest; except that MacCulloch’s obvious affection for things Anglican (he is a lapsed Scottish Episcopalian) has persuaded him to add a coda, ‘A British Legacy 1600–1700’ which goes some way to mending the reputation of Lancelot Andrewes, recently savaged in Adam Nicholson’s Power and Glory.

MacCulloch’s obvious talent is for narrative history. Every detail here is related to the general pattern, which emerges with clarity and precision. But at the same time there are masterly vignettes of individual people; the contrasting personalities of Luther and Melancthon; the pervasive influence, on both sides of the divide, of the epicene Erasmus. And there are some surprises. Reginald Pole emerges as a figure of international stature, and Philip II as a rather sad obsessive (‘devout busyness’ is the telling phrase).

At the heart of the whole tale is the gigantic figure of Charles V, wiser and more competent than he has seemed to some historians, the benevolent ruler of a still expanding Empire which included the richest and most complex culture of the continent, the Low Countries. The struggle to make sense of the Empire in the light of new religious divisions wore Charles down. His beloved Burgundian inheritance remained irreconcilable. The political and religious divisions survive to this day.

For the general reader, the fascination of this narrative is surely the extent to which the events of the great divide have permanently marked the culture of Europe. In a new secularist age, and on a post-Enlightenment agenda, the attempt is being made to put Europe back together again. It is a Humpty-Dumpty of a task, and one that is unlikely to work if it does not take account of both the divisions and the common values of the continent’s complex religious history.

Professor MacCulloch is not, I guess, a devotee of John Paul II; but his book eloquently underscores the Vatican’s protest that to leave out of the preamble to the proposed European Constitution any reference to the formative influence of Christianity is little short of absurd. GK

God in All Things

Gerard W Hughes

Hodder & Stoughton, 240pp, pbk

0340861355, £10.99

I look forward to being prayed for by Gerard Hughes; for he writes in his preface ‘If it (the book) annoys and irritates you, pray for me even more! And I shall remember you.’

Perhaps the problem is that we come from different starting-points. As a Roman Catholic, he argues forcibly for a more open, less dogmatic church. Living in just such a church, I find myself longing more and more for some central authority in Anglicanism, and far less allowing every bishop to do just what he thinks is right.

What is true of the church is also true of methods of prayer. We once had a prayer book, a book of prayers held in common, which everyone used. Now worship is increasingly ‘experimental’ and ‘new-age’ – though in reality very middle-aged and middle class. So Fr Hughes, with the Missal and the Daily Office firmly in his experience, can safely enjoin us to ‘sit in the lotus position. When you feel ready, concentrate all your attention on what you can physically feel in your body’. We have been there, done that, written our sins on leaves to float down a stream, or tied our requests to helium balloons. It all palls very quickly.

We need to be encouraged to pray, and for some this may prove just such an encouragement. It is, though, an uncostly, self-regarding, universalist encouragement. He writes of the inculsivity of God’s kingdom, which he asserts is illustrated in the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22.10–14) but he manages to ignore the sting in the tail, the last four verses with the ejection of the man without a wedding garment. Again, for me, ‘God pledges Godself to Israel’ rather than ‘himself’ is a total turn-off, just one instance among many of Fr Hughes’ political correctness.

Even more unfortunate, though, is the whole notion that prayer is about feelings and self-expression. I prefer the advice of the priest who prepared me for confirmation half a century ago. ‘Don’t trust your feelings. You may not feel like going to Mass; but God wants you there, and what you obey is not your feelings, but his command “do this in remembrance of me”.’ Better still, if you want to be taught to pray, then listen to what Our Lord said when he responded to the disciples’ request, ‘Lord teach us to pray as John the Baptist taught his disciples’.

The model prayer that Jesus gives us speaks throughout in the plural – Our Father, our daily bread, our trespasses – so prayer is not about me, it is about us. This results in its being far more inclusive than Fr Hughes’ political vision, despite his constant fretting about anti-personnel mines and multi-national corporations. Above all, it is addressed to our Father, not some inner feeling, or the Tangent to a Circle. But if you want to read it, go ahead – it might help you understand that there are as many ways of praying as there are people who pray, and possibly it will have something useful for you too.

Edwin Barnes was the first Bishop of Richborough.

How to be an Anglican

Richard Giles

Canterbury, 146pp, pbk

1 85311 560 6, £7.99

For those of us who do not believe in reincarnation this slim volume will give pause for reconsideration. Many of us will remember the Revd Richard Giles as one of the most affected and disturbed by the General Synod vote of November 1992. Our household was not alone in receiving agonized calls from Giles lamenting the Church of England’s break with Catholic teaching and his ruminations about what possible future there could be for orthodox believers in such a disobedient church. It was, orthodox General Synod members may recall, to his church that they went on the Sundays of the York Synod meetings.

All this was, of course, a long time ago. The Richard Giles who wrote this book is an entirely different creature. He is a born-again liberal and his distaste and contempt for his former friends who nursed him through the dark times washes over almost every page. In Giles’ previous book (Mark my Word) on the Gospel of Mark the style was ‘cheeky chappie meets Jesus’. The same superficiality abounds here but the humour is replaced by a breathtaking smugness and a dismissiveness of his own (unacknowledged) past beliefs effected without a tinge of embarrassment.

The last time I spoke to Giles (on reviewing Mark) I teased him that his writing indicated he was well on the way to Pelagian heresy. We are not far into this book before Pelagius and David Jenkins get the thumbs up, and that is just the beginning. His treatment of Scripture is utterly cavalier. Fundamentalist Aunt Sallies are knocked down but there is little real engagement. As a good liberal he is anxious that no enquirer draw the uncomfortable conclusions that the Church has historically drawn from the Word of God. He exhorts us, at the beginning of the chapter on doctrine, to be faithful to the common mind of the Church of the first millennium. It is a statement completely at odds with the rest of the book. At the end of the same chapter we are warned that ‘defensive dogmatic dugouts is not the Anglican way.’ We receive from the past and reinterpret and renew doctrine for the future. This is Liberal shorthand for ‘ignore’ or ‘change’.

For Giles ‘tradition’ is a word ‘tarnished by those who claim it to describe putting their head in the sand in the desperate hope that when they pull it out again the earth would be found to be flat after all’. With one voice Giles laments the fissiparousness of Protestantism – a different church and truth on every corner – while rejoicing that we Anglicans are ‘unencumbered with a weighty Magisterium’. Or any Magisterium at all he might more honestly have added.

On moral questions we reject ‘just war’ theory while saying nothing about abortion. It is a self-evident truth that contraception ‘should be used as widely as possible’ to decrease Third World birth rates. Homosexuality (by implication a God-given orientation) has given an excuse for ‘a handful of bishops from the Southern hemisphere to have a field day’. According to Giles, ‘apparently having nothing to do in their own dioceses, they have taken to wandering through the USA denouncing any thinking bishops they can find.’

Ecumenism is going swimmingly, although it was ‘almost undone’ in the 1990s! Here the personal trauma has clearly affected Giles’s memory. Rome and Canterbury each threw a ‘big spanner’ into the works, he writes. ‘First the Vatican … in 1993 finally gave the Commission (ARCIC) findings an extremely lukewarm (i.e. freezing) response and then later the same year the General Synod’s vote to admit women to the priesthood provided another serious setback.’ Poor theology backed by inaccurate history.

Perhaps the most ironic passage is on the role of a bishop. A man whose authority, it seems, has been greatly diminished and yet who ‘tends to be highly popular with the faithful, a symbol of our shared life and a source of affirmation in good times and in bad’. Readers in Pennsylvania may be forgiven for hollow laughter. For Giles is now Dean of Philadelphia and the bishop he serves is none other than the rapacious and dictatorial Charles Bennison, whose treatment of the orthodox has scandalized successive Archbishops of Canterbury and even the arch-liberal Presiding Bishop of his own Church (ECUSA).

What comes across above all in this book is Giles’s delight at being on what he perceives to be the ‘winning’ side. He has answered, to his own satisfaction, what an orthodox believer needs to do to thrive in a corrupt and disobedient church. Those of us who regret his personal reinvention should nevertheless be grateful to him for this book. It is an eloquent symptom of the terminal infection of Anglicanism if the American heretics are not quarantined. RL

Is there a right to have children?

Mary Warnock

OUP, 120pp, pbk

0 19 280500 2, £7.99

This essay by Baroness Warnock, reissued in paperback, deserves to reach a wider audience for it is a simple and readable account of an important and complex subject.

Having had a distinguished career as a philosopher, Mary Warnock became chairman of the Committee of Enquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology in 1982 and was made a Life Peer in 1985. The report produced by her committee contributed to the legislation in this field. The purpose of the Family Law Reform Act of 1987 was, ostensibly, to remove the stigma of illegitimacy from a person born out of wedlock, but it also stated the law regarding the artificial insemination of a woman. At the time, not only representatives of the Church of England but also those of the ethnic minorities saw in the Bill a threat to family life. The legislation, which began its life in the House of Lords where the Bishops expressed those concerns, gave as a general principle: ‘Parents not being married to have no effect in law on relationships.’ This not only damaged a fundamental institution of society but tarnished the State which condoned the falsification of a birth certificate in the case of Artificial Insemination by Donor.

Since then, besides the moral issues which arise over the use of novel methods of reproduction, a culture of rights has sprung up, and this also has been addressed by Baroness Warnock. She is sympathetic to those who wish to have children but for various reasons have difficulties. Scientific discoveries have raised expectations which cannot always be fulfilled, and have brought with them moral dilemmas which were once unrealistic; the new circumstances are set out clearly, marshalled under separate headings.

The Family Law Reform Act redefined the family, de jure rather than de facto, the new law reflecting the replacement of the established religious moral code by a secular utilitarian view of society. At the same time the environment grew into a quasi-religious movement with its own moral codes and causes. These have embraced two concerns, for the extinction of species and an over-populated world; but parallel trends tend to be ignored, for there has been a sharp decline in human fertility in the developed world and in the poorer regions the grim reaper still comes with famine, war and disease. Science seeks solutions to these challenges.

Experimental techniques were perfected on animals before being applied to humans. With animals, the incentives were economic; with humans compassion has been invoked to discredit the old mores. Without some degree of moral certainty there can be no consensus as to what is and is not acceptable. There was a time when the Book of Common Prayer’s marriage service was generally accepted. There the causes for which matrimony was ordained are listed as: first, for the procreation of children; second for the remedy of sin; third, for the mutual society, help and comfort that the one ought to have of the other. When describing the technical development of cloning, Baroness Wamock rightly points to the fear of A Brave New World.

Charlotte Horsfield is a journalist in Kingston-upon-Thames.

Our Restless Heart

The Augustinian Tradition

Thomas F Martin osa

DLT, 172pp, pbk

0 232 52410 6

This is a brief and readable book on a vast and extremely complex subject: the real and claimed contributions of the most influential western church father, convert, philosopher, monk, rhetor, bishop and theologian. In the ambition of the undertaking lies its inevitable risk, the merely oblique allusions or fleeting references to materials the reader ought to be more familiar with for full appreciation.

The first and longest chapter summarizes Augustine’s journey, with numerous quotations from his writings. In the chapter’s conclusion Martin sketches a portrait of his subject, with some salient features of his spirituality which will, in a variety of ways, shape and influence a great number of players and movements in the western tradition. The next chapter outlines Augustine’s monastic vision and treats of his Rule which, for the author, is foundational and ‘holds true for the life of every Christian’.

Beginning with chapter III we undertake a panoramic journey through history, examining selected moments, authors, movements, religious life-styles, theological contributions that, one way or another, bear the marks of Augustinianism. It becomes clear that both the claims of direct dependence – by various branches of Augustinian monastics and canons – and the theological interpretations and emphases claiming Augustine as their father are spread far and wide, in the sixteenth century exemplified by such diverse figures as Erasmus, Luther, Calvin and the respected papal theologian of those contentious decades, Jerome Seripando. From Janssen to Descartes and Blondel, even to post-modern philosophers such as deconstructionist Jacques Derrida, very few have entirely escaped some distant connection to Augustine.

The initial rehearsal of Augustine’s life may be redundant to most, but as the historical survey unfolds the book becomes more interesting. We also find out that in the late twentieth century hitherto unknown writings of Augustine have been discovered! We are by no means finished with the man!

The Revd Dr Ernest Skublics is a retired professor of theology, living in Dent.

EXPLORING THE OLD TESTAMENT

Vol 3: the Psalms and Wisdom Literature

Ernest Lucas

SPCK, 210pp, pbk

0 281 05431 2, £16.99

It is a truth universally acknowledged that some types of books are read less for pleasure than out of a sense of duty. All too often books on biblical exegesis fall into this category. It is therefore gratifying to find a book on the Psalms and Wisdom literature that is a pleasure to read. It is wise as well as learned, thought-provoking as well as thoughtful.

With the Psalms, no attempt is made to deal exhaustively with each one; instead the author (sensibly, I feel) comments on a selection (judiciously chosen) leaving the reader free to exercise his own critical judgement on the rest of the Psalter, using the tools given by Dr Lucas; particularly helpful is a chapter on Hebrew poetry.

The author has a distinguished record in Christian education and the hand of a practised teacher is evident throughout his book, not least in his use of interactive panels headed ‘think about’ or ‘digging deeper’ by which the student is invited to extend his horizons or deepen his knowledge by reference to specific Hebrew words, particular theological concepts or apposite parallel texts.

In his chapter on Ecclesiastes, he gives a timely reminder that early rabbinic doubts about the canonicity of the book were not so much about whether or not it should be included, but why it was included – a fine distinction, the significance of which will not escape those of us who see the Scriptures as the living word of God.

I enjoyed the chapter on the Song of Songs for it is a notoriously difficult book because of its explicit sexual imagery. Dr Lucas deftly guides us with a sure hand through the complexities of scholarly interpretation both secular and religious, and provides stimulating suggestions for further study by eclectic approach to parallel texts, ranging from Shakespeare, Robbie Burns and ancient Egypt to the love poems of Thomas Lodge (1556–1625).

The Song of Songs is about the joy of human love and sexuality, but Dr Lucas is in no doubt that the book also assumes that sex was part of the creator God’s purpose for human beings, and importantly that the appropriate context for the fulfilment of love is marriage between a man and a woman, as Genesis 2.23–24 states, was God’s purpose. At a time when sexual mores loom so large in Anglican debates, such scholarship and common sense is most welcome.

This is just the sort of book which in my teaching days I would have been glad to put into the hands of my A level students.

Gordon Marr is a Reader in the Bradford Diocese.

LESSONS IN DEPRAVITY

ES Williams

Belmont House, 336pp, pbk

0 9529939 5 3, £8.00

This is not a book you will find in an ordinary bookshop. Discussion only goes so far in a modern, liberal society; and this book undoubtedly goes a good deal further. It is a study that documents the development of sex education in this country over the past two centuries and especially over the last four decades. It offers convincing (and horrifying) corroboration for the suggestion that all this morally relativist information has not merely been ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancies (this country boasts the highest rate in Europe) but has actually encouraged the promiscuity that causes it.

The author, you see, does not go along with this modern, liberating agenda. Worse than that, he is a Christian. Worse still, he is a conservative Evangelical. So, no, you will not find his book in an ordinary bookshop. But he is no fool either. His careful, detailed, historical survey offers the solidly researched background material you will need if you wish yourself to argue against the current secular orthodoxy. Solid fare. AS

THE ART OF THE INFINITE

Robert & Ellen Kaplan

Allen Lane, 330pp, hbk

0 713 99629 3, £20

If we live outside a monastery, it is inevitable that our Christian life and faith will be informed by something more than the traditional disciplines of prayer and Scripture. The most common candidate is perhaps psychology, or maybe sociology, but certainly one of the humanities. It is these disciplines we tend to favour when seeking a perspective on our spiritual life. What can mathematics teach us about God and the universe he has created?

I gave up mathematics after gaining an O level over thirty years ago; this is the first time since then I have genuinely regretted not taking it further. This book achieves what I imagined to be impossible; it had me following proofs, unravelling equations and understanding theorems for the first time in my life.

As each chapter extended the language a bit further, we moved a little closer to a grasp of infinity, until near the end it began to tackle the key question concerning the different qualities of infinity. The answers it gave, in terms of set theory, had nothing of the theological in them; but that is partly why I found the book so valuable. There is no mystical musing, no contemplative wonder, only numbers and symbols, and the clarity of God’s (?) language. A brilliant book, and a good exercise in prayer. SR

God Calling

Christ for others

Videos, £15 each from Te Deum,

All Saints Vicarage, 12 Powis Gardens, London W11 1JG

Vocation is a curious affair. For a few it is sudden and dramatic, a Damascus road event. A life savagely heading in the opposite direction, encountered by Christ and transformed into service and surrender. For others it is a gradual stirring of the heart, a growing awareness of a long awaited inevitability.

The reaction of all genuinely called is unworthiness and, initially at least, confusion, excitement, fear and a scarcely expressible doubt about God’s wisdom in his choosing. For anyone going through these events it is difficult know who to talk to. Obviously the parish priest, but there is, even here, an anxiety about presumptuousness. Certainly the family, but won’t they just think you’ve had a funny turn? After all they know all about you and just how unrealistic and unworthy a candidate you are.

All that being said, the Church needs priests and, moreover, priests who know themselves called, know what they are doing and why they are doing it. Anything that assists men in recognizing and responding to their calling to priesthood and assists the Church in encouraging vocation is to be welcomed.

From the beginning Forward in Faith has recognized the need to pursue vocation with the utmost seriousness. To assist that process it appointed Fr John Brownsell, a gentle, unassuming and highly experienced parish priest, to head up this ministry. Fr Brownsell and his team have produced a series of videos to assist parishes and people in this difficult but exciting area.

Some priests take the direct line with potential ordinands – the tap on the shoulder and the direct question. (Bishop John Richards regularly ‘eyeballed’ young male confirmands after the service and told them that, whatever else they might be planning, their first duty was to consider if God was calling them to the Sacred Ministry. As the ‘Lion of Exeter’ took no prisoners with highly experienced clergy, the impression upon an eleven-year old was certain to be memorable!). Other priests wait expectantly for the long prayed for ordinand to take those first hesitant steps forward.

However it occurs, the method of discernment and support must be widely understood by the whole Church. And it is here that the videos are so helpful. Interviews with bishops, spiritual directors, candidates and lay supporters build a picture of the Church’s task in affirming, correcting, teaching and guiding those who have felt the ‘twitch on the thread’. The puzzling and apparently labyrinthine processes are explained to reveal their wisdom and their purpose. Indeed, the process of discernment and selection is as much a part of the training as what will follow. Human patience and God’s timing are seldom synchronized but the sooner a priest learns the infinite superiority of the latter, the quicker his ministry will grow and mature.

These videos will enable possible candidates to demystify the Church of England’s institutional procedures. It will also give them food for thought in their own reflections on possible calling. A penchant for buckled shoes and lace from the nipples down is not a good indicator. A firm and a scriptural dedication to be a servant of the servants of God, to work tirelessly for the Kingdom and let Christ’s love for his people daily overflow your heart is the daunting requirement.

These videos will undoubtedly assist the parish priest in his discussions with a candidate. More than that, they could be shown to the PCC and church fellowship groups so that vocational awareness and pastoral response becomes part of the ministry of the whole Church.

Forward in Faith already enjoys a younger age profile for its ordinands than the Church of England at large. The dissemination of this useful pastoral package can only assist the Lord’s future plans to raise up godly leadership in this land. RL

JOY OF HEAVEN

Edited by Benedicta Ward

SPCK, 160pp, pbk

0 281 05496 7, [£9.99]

A thoroughly good idea well executed. This is a collection of largely historical introductions to the central ‘canon’ of prayers and spiritual texts. The Jesus Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Apostles’ Creed, and others. The best is probably Jeremy Sheehy’s piece on the Beatitudes, in which he outlines their use in the teaching on prayer of Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Dante and Luther; few of us will finish it without agreeing that we should use them more often and more imaginatively in our spiritual life.

A short piece on Psalm 23 is followed by the hymns of Charles Wesley, not without merit, but the central theme of a spiritual canon is beginning to look a little attenuated; the final chapter on the Battle Hymn of the Republic was an interesting mixture of American religious politics and back-dated feminism, but frankly this is a ‘spiritual classic’ too far; it moves into the hymns-you-have-loved genre and it detracted from the rest of the book.

To whom is it aimed? I would suggest clergy and teachers, for the main articles are solid and scholarly fare. If it reinforces a sense of the overwhelming importance of these shared, historic texts for all Christian believers, and if it provides the background to be able to put that across to others, then it will have achieved its purpose. There is, of course, the required foreword by you-know-who. The dear man writes more forewords than you and I have hot dinners, and he still has to save the Anglican Communion. TG

THE VIGIL

Wendy Wright

DLT, 170pp, pbk

0 232 52492 0, £8.95

If you attend Advent church classes, may the Lord bless you. If you do not, then rather than feel guilty that you are beginning to celebrate Christmas before you should, read a book of reflection such as this. If you discover that the expected Advent Mass has been high-jacked by an all-age Christmas pageant, find your spiritual preparation in these pages. They look towards Christmas, but in a manner that allows for some spiritual growth.

Her two particular merits are excellent prose and a broad selection of quotations from biblical and later Church sources. Her style is discursive and intensely personal (you will get to know her family and friends), but being an American, it works in a way one could not imagine with a (more sophisticated) European. AS

From a Christmas Day sermon by John Tauler, a fourteenth century German cleric, quoted in Wendy Wright’s The Vigil:

Today Holy Christendom commemorates a threefold birth, which should so gladden and delight the heart that, enraptured with joyful love and jubilation, we should soar upward with sheer gratitude and bliss. The first birth, and the most sublime, is that in which the heavenly Father begets his only Son within the divine Essence, yet distinct in Person. The second birth we commemorate is that of maternal fruitfulness brought about in virginal chastity and true purity. The third birth is effected when God is born within a just soul every day and every hour, truly and spiritually, by grace and out of love. These are the three births observed in today’s three holy Masses.

THE VIGIL

Wendy Wright

DLT, 170pp, pbk

0 232 52492 0, £8.95

If you attend Advent church classes, may the Lord bless you. If you do not, then rather than feel guilty that you are beginning to celebrate Christmas before you should, read a book of reflection such as this. If you discover that the expected Advent Mass has been high-jacked by an all-age Christmas pageant, find your spiritual preparation in these pages. They look towards Christmas, but in a manner that allows for some spiritual growth.

Her two particular merits are excellent prose and a broad selection of quotations from biblical and later Church sources. Her style is discursive and intensely personal (you will get to know all her family and friends), but being an American, it works in a way one could not imagine with a (more sophisticated) European.

Eclectic and inter-denominational in the breadth of her illustrations, she draws the reader by easy stages into the great themes of the season. She seems to have been Anglican, Roman and Presbyterian in her time, which gives her much to draw from. As to whether you like such an approach, you must try it and see. AS

2017-09-11T15:32:03+00:00 December 2003 Articles|