50 KEY CONCEPTS IN THEOLOGY
DLT, 176pp, pbk
978 0232526226, £10.95
In this short paperback, Hugh Rayment-Pickard offers a summary of fifty theological ideas, each of between one and two pages. His subject matter is largely doctrinal, but also covered are some important movements in contemporary theology and the occasional discussion of social phenomena such as atheism or secularization. His summaries are almost always historical in structure, beginning with the Bible (or with the Greek philosophical tradition where this is helpful) and proceeding through the Fathers and the medievals on to the Enlightenment and modernity. Rarely are we left with any doubt that this sequence involves ‘progress’.
After each survey there follows a list of the thinkers whom he associates most closely with the subject in hand, a glossary-like treatment of key ideas and some suggested reading. The entries in these lists of thinkers and ideas are often so brief that it is not clear how much use they would be for a reader for whom this was entirely new territory. We learn no more about Philip Pullman, I for instance, than that he ‘argues that belief in God diminishes human moral dignity and leads to oppressive religions’. (The example of Pullman illustrates another point: Rayment-Pickard’s book has the strength of using up-to-date examples and the concomitant weakness that these examples will soon be out of date.) Perhaps if these thumbnail introductions alert the reader to what might be of interest, Google or Wikipedia could do the rest.
The book is engaging and well written, displaying a broad knowledge of theology and philosophy. It is all the more regrettable, then, that Rayment-Pickard is so convinced an apologist for liberal theology – someone who champions the heretic as ‘one who stands up against…the repression of individual freedoms and theological arrogance’. This is a survey of the central ideas of Christian doctrine from the perspective that ‘the very notion that the Church should codify its doctrines is problematic’.
By and large, when Rayment-Pickard sets out to destroy traditional theology he does so by presenting traditional theology as destructive. His approach to the doctrine of the atonement, for instance, or sin, is to concentrate on what he finds most offensive and unhelpful in classical accounts, setting them up for a modern, liberal dismissal. His treatment of ‘sin’ (in general) is almost immediately collapsed into a discussion of original sin alone, which he then dismisses with an appeal to Pelagius and the ‘many modern people’ who find the idea ‘barbaric’.
With the doctrine of the atonement we are given a choice between a conservative evangelical model of penal substitution and a liberal anti-metaphysical model of exemplary non-violence. The ‘conservative approach’, so presented, is dismissed as ‘increasingly an embarrassment to Christian theology’. (Penal substitution is wrongly attributed here to St Anselm, supposedly the first to have proposed ‘a new theory based upon God’s need to punish someone for the sins of humanity’. In fact, Anselm’s approach in Cur Deus Homo is subtly and importantly different. The emphasis is on satisfaction for offended honour, deploying feudal imagery, rather than the sense that God must mete out a certain degree of suffering in retribution. When Anselm mentions punishment he brackets it with satisfaction or compensation for dishonour.)
A clergyman in London (or, for that matter, an academic in Oxford – though not this reviewer), living in affluent ease, may find notions of sin and atonement antiquated and redundant. It is a simple matter of fact that Christians whose loved ones are dying of AIDS in Africa (or England) or whose parents have been shot in Iraq (or America) are far more attached to full-blooded accounts of these doctrines -and for good reason. The history of Christian doctrine is not without excesses and deviations, but there is little sense here that Rayment-Pickard wishes to reclaim the ancient faith of the Church. Instead, he plays upon those distortions so as to dismiss anything like a traditional account of her doctrine.
Readers of ND are unlikely to find 50 Key Concepts attractive, but we must resist the temptation to dismiss it and comfortably pride ourselves on our orthodoxy. This book, and the mind-set it represents, poses a question: why has Rayment-Pickard and his generation of theologians rejected the Christian tradition which so captivated the Fathers, the scholastics, Chesterton, Barth, Balthasar? How has Christian theology failed so dismally to hold out the ancient faith as exciting and endlessly resourceful? It will not suffice for us to reject the theological approach represented here and to rest on our laurels, because it will not go away of its own accord. Catholic-minded Anglicans, whatever our differences, must surely take this book, and others like it, as a provocation to witness to the splendour and creative genius of the ancient Christian theological tradition.
To give one example, 50 Key Concepts praises ‘process theology’ in that it allows us to speak of desire in God. So, for all its errors, it does – but then so did orthodox Trinitarian theology, and all the more so in that it placed desire, without lack, at the very heart of God. In this same entry, classical Christian theism is said to describe God as ‘eternal, static, abstract’ (a standard introduction to an attack upon divine impassibility). It is tragic for these three words ever to be yoked together. God is not ‘abstract’ for Augustine or his followers: he is the most real reality and nearer to us than we are to ourselves. God is not static for Thomas Aquinas but quite the opposite: he is actus purus – being entirely in act. God is eternal but this implies nothing ‘static’ or ‘abstract’. According to the famous description of divine eternity offered by Boethius, his eternity is so far away from being static or abstract that it can only fittingly be described in terms of life. (‘Eternity is the entire and perfect possession of endless life at a single instant.’) God’s eternity is a life so full that time in all its dynamism can only begin to form its ‘moving image’ (to borrow the words of Plato).
Until the glory of these ideas is expounded with confidence, thinkers will take refuge in the ruins which are liberal theology. They will continue to suppose (for instance), as Rayment-Pickard does, that what he calls ‘Logos Christology’ downplays the physicality of the body of Christ. They will do so until we make it clear that this is entirely wrong: only this sort of high Christology can render the full, human physicality of Christ so remarkable and glorious – by insisting that this body is the body of God. (No Catholic Christian plays down his corporeal body – far from it, she insists on it as the way in which God is present on the altar; she makes it the centre of her life and worship.) Let us lament that liberal theology could ever seem more exciting than this -and resolve to teach the Catholic faith with quite as much boldness, ingenuity and passion as Rayment-Pickard teaches his own, attenuated version.
The Revd Dr Andrew Davison is Tutor in Christian Doctrine
at St Stephen’s House and the
Junior Chaplain of Merton College, Oxford
THE HOLKHAM BIBLE
British Library, 170pp, hbk
In simple terms, this is a complete graphic novel version of the highlights of the Bible from the fourteenth century – strange and unsettling to a modern reader, but full of striking imagery and fascinating detail. Devised by an artist (rather than a scribe), around 1330 from the milieu of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, it may have been intended not as a book but as a story board and picture draft for a series of large tapestries.
Written in French, with clear influence from both clerical Latin and popular English, this is an urban telling of the gospel story; the great bulk focuses on Jesus, with but a brief introduction from Genesis, from the creation through the fall and up to Noah, and an even shorter conclusion from Revelation. With apocryphal embellishments, especially for the childhood of Jesus, it also shows a fascination and ambivalence about Jewish life, mixing careful and accurate detail of dress and practice with harsh prejudice – Edward’s expulsion had occurred some forty years earlier.
There is an amazing energy to the artistic depiction. It may take time to perceive, but the detailed commentary by Michelle Brown is excellent and full of insights and references even the best scholar will have missed, and with a little care and attention one can enter an energetic world of the ambitious, intelligent and interested metropolitan middle class, only a decade before the arrival of the Black Death.
There is furious economic activity on page after page, from the arrival of ships to the building projects, the farming, and (just before the crucifixion) a female blacksmith humouring the nails at her furnace. There are kings and soldiers treated with accuracy and not a little disdain, but above all an urban population in constant discussion and movement.
Most pages have two or more scenes, sometimes as many as eleven in a double page opening; but even within a single scene, there can be more than one thing happening, certain characters repeating themselves as it were against the common background of the other players. The narrative text is kept brief, but it is still lively with plenty of dialogue: at some points there are speech bubbles as the characters engage with each other, sometimes with added numbering to ensure the correct sequence in the conversation.
Any student of the graphic novel (an increasing section in most bookshops these days) would gain from seeing what they were doing nearly seven hundred years ago. Students of French could read the medieval text: it is both more readable and more easily comprehensible than most such texts of the time.
And the theologian? It is interesting to see so inventive and accessible a retelling of the central story, to sense both the vigour of what was then a new and exciting form and (liberals please note) to observe the beginnings of that over-retelling that was to develop insidiously over the next couple of centuries, so that by the sixteenth century the reformers could rightly point to a real corruption of the biblical tradition. But that is for later – for 1330 London, this is a terrific book!
ANGLICAN COMMUNION IN CRISIS
How Episcopal dissidents and their Anglican allies are reshaping Anglicanism Miranda K. Hassett Princeton University Press,
978 0 691 12518 3, £23.95
In the last ten years the civil war within The Episcopal Church (TEC) has become globalized. The conflict has expanded into the Anglican Communion, threatening to divide it. At the same time, the Communion has been brought into TEC, in a balkanization whereby no fewer than five Anglican provinces now oversee former TEC congregations. For those wishing to understand that process, this book is essential reading.
The background is briefly sketched. Growth of charismatic evangelicalism from the 1960s onwards coincided with a marked leftward shift in an already predominantly liberal (albeit liturgically catholic) church. The dismissal in 1996 of charges against Bishop Walter Righter for ordaining a practising homosexual was a defining moment. Many evangelicals concluded that TEC could not be reformed from within. (The authoress takes both sides’ positions as given – not enquiring, for example, why evangelicals could tolerate thrice-married bishops but not partnered gay priests.)
Conservative evangelicals began to contact overseas bishops and invite them to America. By 1998, conservative American and Southern bishops knew each other and could work together. Lambeth Resolution 1.10 was one result of this networking. Another was a Rwandan bishop offering oversight to a new congregation of conservative Episcopalians whose bishop had refused them recognition as a parish. Congregations seceded to form the Anglican Mission in America, a branch of the Rwandan church for which two American bishops were consecrated in 2000. Other conservatives criticized that step as premature.
Miranda Hassett’s detailed account of these developments is interesting enough, but her analysis of them as an anthropologist, in the light of research in America, Uganda and Rwanda, is fascinating.
Globalization, she argues convincingly, resulted not (as conservatives suggest) from a rise in prominence of Southern Christianity, reflecting a global shift in Christianity’s centre of gravity, but from the efforts of American dissidents and their Southern allies. The internet and email facilitated developments but did not drive them. At Lambeth 98, rival globalisms’ were in conflict.
The dissidents promoted ‘accountability globalism’, whereby individual churches (though diverse in culture and worship) are accountable to the wider Church for their actions, which are to be measured against objective truth revealed in Scripture. The liberal Conference planners, by contrast, advocated ‘diversity globalism’, in which diversity of belief is encompassed by a unity that ‘often consists in nothing more clearly defined than general mutual goodwill’. The North-South alliance achieved Resolution 1.10, against which TEC could later be held to account.
Hassett criticizes conservatives for idealizing African Christianity and echoing colonial talk of ‘noble savages’, but finds liberal/moderate efforts to explain away Southern support for the resolution ‘condescending’, ‘derogatory’ and ‘blatantly racist’. Ugandan bishops’ views, she argues, were shaped by their history and by the beginnings at home of a politicized gay identity with strong Northern associations. Briefing meetings gave them procedural skills to put their views across, and convinced them that they should do so, but did not shape those views. Nor did Africans sell their votes for chicken dinners’, as some liberals alleged. They voted for the resolution because they agreed with it, and were quite capable of voting differently from their Northern allies where their interests differed – for example on international debt.
Each side has accused the other of buying influence in Africa. Having given examples of apparent attempts by liberal Americans to use money coercively, Hassett analyses sensitively the role of money in the new alliances, pointing out that the capitalist distinction between commerce and gift is difficult to maintain in the Ugandan context. Inequality means that money can never be irrelevant (‘the reality of the role of money in these relationships lies somewhere…between commerce and gift’), but Ugandans stress that while their actions may attract material support they are not undertaken in order to obtain it.
The book’s least successful parts are the opening and concluding attempts to con-textualize the findings and apply them to more recent developments. Hassett’s claim that ‘In arguing that the worldwide Communion should be considered and consulted in Episcopal Church policies, Episcopal dissidents are challenging the historical modus operandi of the Anglican Communion flies in the face of 130 years of Lambeth resolutions which consistently assumed that provinces and churches would indeed ‘consider and consult the wider Communion’.
She fails to appreciate that in 2003, by consecrating a bishop against the expressed wishes of the Communion, TEC changed the issue from homosexuality to an ecclesiological issue of intrinsically global’ import, alienating moderate opinion. African consecration of bishops for America having put conservatives ‘in the wrong’, TEC was now ‘in the wrong’ too. The story since 2003 has not simply been an extrapolation of the developments up to 2002 (when Hassett concluded her research).
But this does not invalidate the achievement of Miranda Hassett (a TEC ordinand) in transcending her avowedly liberal sympathies to write an objective and insightful study of the developments between 1997 and 2002 which form the backdrop to the ensuing crisis.
ALFRED HOPE PATTEN
His Life and Times in Pictures
Anglo-Catholic History Society
24, Cloudesley Square, London N10HN
978 0 9550714 3 0
Michael Yelton has followed up his biography of Fr Hope Patten with this volume of photographs in the fine series published as Occasional Papers by the Anglo-Catholic History Society. The title of’ life and times’ maybe a little ambitious in a relatively modest volume but he has assembled, mainly from the archive of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, supplemented by some of his own photographs, a worthy and interesting addition to the study of Anglo-Catholicism in the twentieth century.
He has tried to avoid the replication of photographs that have appeared elsewhere and in previous publications, so there are here some unusual treasures. As he admits, not all the photographs are of the quality that we would expect nowadays but it is, nevertheless, good to have them.
He offers a brief summary of Hope Patten’s life and adds explanatory captions to the photographs which supplement the biographical information. The images take us from the first known photograph of Hope Patten as a baby of four months, to pictures of his Solemn Requiem, funeral procession and interment at the parish church on Walsingham. Along the way, we see him at most stages of his career, from the handsome young curate to the austere, unsmiling public persona of his mature years. The view that Hope Patten was rather humourless is finally put to rest with a series of poses he struck when having his passport photograph taken. His charming, unforced smile and the series where he wears a broad-brimmed hat at a series of jaunty angles see a most attractive side to his character.
There are plenty of photographs of liturgical functions to satisfy the most ardent afficionado of lace and biretta. There are three characteristically simple yet affecting drawings by Enid Chadwick and a delightful photograph of her in a floral smock painting in the Shrine. Building work in the Thirties is represented, and looks little different from current work at the Shrine. There is a marvellous magisterial, prelati-cal and imposing study of Bishop Mow-bray Stephen O’Rorke, dalmatic, chasuble, gloves and a mighty mitre. There are also fine portrait photographs, and one drawing, of the early Guardians, including Abbot Denys Prideaux, Major A.E Bowker (who had known Dr Pusey), Jack Banson, Hope Pattens churchwarden, and Fr Roger Wodehouse.
William Davage is Priest Librarian and
Custodian of the Library, Pusey House
AELFRIC’S LIVES OF THE VIRGIN SPOUSES
Edited by Robert Upchurch
University of Exeter,
978 0 85989 780 8, £15.99
The English church was facing a crisis at the end of the first millennium, in particular from the increasingly well-organized Viking raids. It needed renewal, a return to a steadfast faithfulness to the Catholic tradition; so Aelfric, the great preacher, teacher and leader understood. The demands of the Gospel, he insisted, should not be accommodated to the prevailing mores of the contemporary culture, but re-clarified and re-invigorated.
Above all, the laity should be encouraged to share Christ’s moral demands, in particular the moral commitment more usually intended only for the religious. At this time, so it seemed, the influence was the other way round: the parish clergy were generally married, and so they shared the same moral sphere and concerns as ordinary lay people, with the same anxieties for wives, children, property and inheritance. This was not the context for serious renewal.
One of the more extraordinary aspects of his programme (to our eyes at least) was his translation of three legends of ‘virgin spouses’. There were three Latin lives which he used as his material, the stories and martyrdoms of Julian and Basilissa, of Cecilia and Valerian, and of Chrysan-I thus and Daria. By writing shorter Anglo-Saxon versions, he directed the stories towards the laity whom he wished to influence.
It was a bizarre project, clearly contrary to the Christian tradition, of husband and wife living a married life of complete celibacy for the Lord, which perhaps explains why there is an element of secrecy evident in the tales, as though the couple know that theirs is a higher calling not to be vouchsafed to ordinary members of the Church.
One of the more delightful elements is the presence of beautiful odours. Julian, for example, is forced on his arranged marriage to share the one bed with his new bride; he prays that the Lord might preserve him ‘from all burning desires and evil temptations’. She says to him, ‘It is now winter, so whence comes this pleasant scent of flowers?’ ‘The fragrance is from Christ who is a lover of chastity’ In the third story, when Chrysanthus is being tortured, the Roman soldiers drench him with ‘old urine’ to drive away his power, ‘but they laboured in vain because the urine through God’s power was changed at once into a sweet smell’
This is an academic text, with the three Anglo-Saxon texts with parallel translations, full notes and glossary, and then the Latin texts of Aelfric’s sources also with translations. They are strange tales, but worth the study, for they show that the Christian tradition of marriage (much praised in these pages) is not without its odd tangents. This is almost the exact opposite of the same-sex agenda of our own age, but in its own way just as off-message.
They do however (or so it seemed to me on my reading of the texts) show that not all medieval Christian writers were as irredeemably patriarchal as contemporary feminist theologians suppose. The oddness of these tales might pose something of a challenge to the wimmin agenda.