Still no exhibitions


For the second month in a row it’s not possible to file copy about current exhibitions which readers can visit. There are resources on-line and many museum and gallery catalogues can now be seen on-line as well. Especially interesting during this lockdown has been the publication of 103 Hokusai drawings on the British Museum website. There are not many such drawings in existence because they usually were cut up in the process of scoring the woodblocks used in printing. The drawings came to the Museum in 2020 and have made its collection of works by Hokusai one of the most significant outside of Japan. The internet presentation is excellent, but, of course, not the real thing. 

What is the real thing is the continuing work of spreading the Gospel both in a time of covid-19 and beyond. Following on from the article I wrote last month about the setting up of a music foundation in the parish of St Gabriel, Pimlico, it was suggested that in the absence of an exhibitions feature the following description of our parish mission might be of interest. As with that last article, we have no claims to great wisdom or, to date, ‘success’ but in the changing CofE missional landscape readers may be interested in our experience.

Our parish of not more than a mile square and a population of 16,000 (it’s one of the most densely populated parts of the U.K.) was founded in 1853, when St Gabriel’s parish church was built. By 1870 it was clear that because of the numbers of people and the geography of the site the temporary ‘Iron Church’ elsewhere in the parish had to be replaced. A new church of All Saints was then built in the rundown area of what is now the Churchill Gardens Estate. All Saints was badly damaged in World War 2 and subsequently pulled down. But the need for a second altar in the parish did not go away and in 2017 with the support of Jonathan, Bishop of Fulham, the P.C.C. decided to re-found the daughter church, now known as ‘Heaven’s Gate’ – a name rich with Old Testament, angelic and Marian reference – under the leadership of a mission priest. 

This daughter church is strictly a project of the P.C.C. rather than a church plant (which would be a separate legal and spiritual entity). We believe that in a small parish this is necessary, and a good idea in larger ones too. And we don’t think the model of planting without the wholehearted support or prior agreement of already existing parishes is neighbourly. 

The set-up of Heaven’s Gate was made possible by one of the key elements of parish mission – resources. We are fortunate to have a large Parish House on the Churchill Gardens Estate held under a trust which pre-dates even the London Diocesan Fund and which restricts tightly what the property can be used for. Outside of pandemics the Trust generates sufficient income to resource a mission with a priest and layworker and has spaces (shared) for the celebration of the Mass and other mission work. We are working to develop the site to provide extra accommodation and dedicated chapel and office space – donations welcome. And we were recently blessed that a loyal member of the congregation at her passing left us a flat on the estate which allows us to accommodate our layworker.

We are very aware of our good fortune. And of the irony that parishes which would pursue mission work are often hamstrung because they lack the resource, not least because their ‘surplus’ resources, be they property or financial, maybe required at the centre, and even recycled as missionary initiatives led elsewhere by others.

Alongside the more earthly resources there is, of course, the spiritual resource provided by our mission team. Here we unintentionally anticipated some of what has been set out by Bishop of Willesden as our Diocese’s policy on the ‘mixed economy,’ and formed a partnership with the Message Trust to bring into our work an Eden team. This partnership was based on the premises that our congregation is too small to split into two churches, and that we needed outside mission expertise. The Message Trust specialise in developing mission (‘Eden’) teams to work in the more challenging parishes over a timescale of at least 5 years. As with all such support the need for missioners far exceeds the supply. We were fortunate to be supported in our first contacts with Eden by the Bishop of Islington, Ric Thorpe, and by the Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller.

The partnership with Eden is one which has been both fruitful and groundbreaking. Typically an Eden team will be composed of Christians from an Evangelical background and it wasn’t clear how that would play with an Anglo-Catholic parish which was going to maintain its identity. However, a lot of common ground has been found. We owe a debt to Fr Michael Dobson our Mission Priest for that, combining in himself both experience as a Church Planter and a devotion to the Catholic Faith. So, alongside such mission tools as schools work, Supper Clubs and House groups, the Daily Office is recited and the Mass is celebrated. There have been opportunities for growth in mutual understanding and prayer and fellowship. The work has a long way to go, it does in most parishes, but we believe solid foundations have been laid.

What have we learnt? To begin with that there is no one evangelical way to do things. Sometimes it seems as if, to follow David Goodhart’s distinction, our Church is only interested in the Anywheres and not the Somewheres. Our parish has both tribes and we serve both equally. St Gabriel’s and the Message Trust believe this kind of mission work takes time and requires a real presence, especially amongst those who don’t have the opportunity to be Anywheres.

And we have seen close up what perhaps we always knew, that Evangelical Christians have a deep devotion to the Bible as God’s Word and they expect their prayers to be heard and they will talk to people about God and they invite others in. Some Catholic Christians may find all that uncomfortable or embarrassing, but it is a necessary part (but only a part) of the Church’s armour. As St Augustine of Hippo wrote, given the choice of a golden key or a wooden one, the wise man choses the one which opens the lock. Ultimately, St Gabriel’s and the Message Trust are learning together what it is to be saved by Christ and to live in Christ, and that can only be a good thing. And we have found some genuine fellowship on the way.

Owen Higgs




Wagner’s Parsifal:

The Music of Redemption

  1. Scruton

Allen Lane, hb, £20


This is not the first time I have written about Parsifal in this journal; in 2013 I wrote in ‘The Way we Live Now’ about a new production at the Royal Opera House which I had found rather problematic, although it was musically fabulous.  Parsifal is Wager’s last great music drama, completed and first performed in 1882.  Parsifal is the Germanised form of Percival, and his story is an earlier part of the Arthurian legend.  Whether Wagner’s Parsifal is in any meaningful sense a Christian opera is doubtful, but there can be no doubt that it has Christian themes, being born out of a legend which involves Joseph of Arimathea, knights, heroism, the Holy Grail of Maundy Thursday, and the spear that pierced Christ’s side on Good Friday, with a version of the Eucharist thrown in for good measure.

The philosopher Roger Scruton wrote a book about Parsifal which he finished just before he died last year.  He had written on Wagner previously: on Tristan und Isolde in 2014, and on the Ring Cycle in 2016.  This, then, is his last work, and its full title is Wagner’s Parsifal—The Music of Redemption.  As he said in his book on the Ring, these Wagnerian plots are about folk heroes from a lost, pre-Napoleonic Germany, rags-to-riches tales in which a youthful wanderer like Parsifal blunders into a situation, and people’s ‘antagonism is gradually overcome, often by some wise father-figure like Sachs or Gurnemanz, who is able to understand and forgive’.

That’s quite revealing for us as Christians, and I do wish that Scruton had been a churchman himself.  It seems to me that this book expresses what we would describe as a longing for all things to be brought together in Christ, but Scruton can only see that in terms of the art.  Frustrating though it may be for many, we are not redeemed by music; we are redeemed by the most extraordinary act of love on the part of our Creator.  Going to a production of Parsifal, even going on Good Friday, when it is traditionally performed in Bayreuth, will not save you.

The meat of the book is in chapters three and four.  What goes before is mostly about the plot, and what comes after is an analysis of the music.  You can find both of those things elsewhere, not least in Tovey’s last volume of Essays in Musical Analysis, dating back to 1939.  Chapter three is a reminder that this is a philosopher’s book, and it draws on cultural references from T.S. Eliot, Dante, Sartre, Goethe, D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann and others.  Parsifal, says Scruton, ‘is a drama of things suffered more than things done’, and he knows perfectly well that, for all its use of Christian symbols, and especially with the Eucharist at the centre of the drama, the question ‘what is meant by redemption?’ is not answered in a Christian way.  There is no heavenly Father, only the ghost of a redeemer ‘who has gone from the world, leaving only mysterious traces in his wake’.  

And so, as Scruton acknowledges in the opening of his fourth chapter, ‘Christianity is acknowledged in Parsifal, but only as one strand in a web of predicaments, many of which challenge the Christian world-view’.  Indeed, the Eucharist in Wagner’s hands is not to do with the promise of eternal life with God so much as extending mortal life a bit further each time the ‘ceremony’ is carried out.  Yet, as I have said many times over the last year or so, our message as Christians is one not of the avoidance of death, but of the promise of life.

I do love the music of Parsifal, but I also think we need to place ourselves in the world of legend rather than theology when we go and see it.  And Scruton clearly adores the music, and knows a great deal about it.  Indeed, the music, perhaps music generally, had met the need he writes about so eloquently, although in most people, for most of human history, that need has been met by the worship of God.  The music, he says, expresses ‘the unity and wholeness to which human life aspires’.  Well, you and I will have a different idea about that, but, even so, this book is an interesting, though not ground breaking, read.  Go and see the opera—but don’t overthink it!

Christopher Smith 


Chronicles of Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery

Metropolitan Seraphim Chichagov, Compiler, Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), Editor, Ann Shukman, Translator

Saints Alive Press.

ISBN: 978-0-9567313-1-9. 850pp.


This book is a labour of love: presented in a beautifully designed slipcase, a luxurious cover and with a white ribbon marker; it is a treasure trove of the Spirit. Here, in English for the first time, is the complete text of the Chronicles of Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery. The text was compiled by Metropolitan Seraphim Chichagov (1856- 1937) who had a life long devotion to his namesake St Seraphim of Sarov (1754 -1833). Bishop Seraphim collected myriad written accounts, recollections, letters, and official records to bring together all the primary sources he could muster as a resource for the study of the life and teaching of St Seraphim. The Chronicle also relates the subsequent history of the Diveyevo monastic communities for women of which he was guardian and the men’s Sarov monastery of which he was a member. 

Western readers may know of Seraphim by the hauntingly moving account of his life by Julia De Beausobre ‘ A Flame in the Snow; A Russian Legend’ (1946). In the Chronicles this legend takes on a vivid and engaging life. Even in his own lifetime there was a widespread devotion to Seraphim throughout Russia. Immediately after his death his grave and hermitage, and other sites associated with his life, became places of pilgrimage and sources of healing grace. 

In many ways there are striking similarities with St Francis of Assisi. Both were from wealthy and privileged backgrounds. St Francis has the wolf, Seraphim the bear. They both founded religious communities and both wrote monastic rules. They both were magnetic teachers of the Faith and both of them practised extreme ascetism. Both were blessed with Divine visitations: Francis was marked with the stigmata, Seraphim was seen transfigured in light. Both had various stages in their vocation; Seraphim never had the peripatetic ministry of Francis, but he was called out of long period of silence and solitude to first open up his hermitage, and then return to the community house where people from all over Russia flocked in their thousands to seek his teaching and direction.

The difference in their legacy is striking. Francis, a beloved friend of Pope Innocent, was taken to the heart of the church and his order flourished and produced its own distinctive schools of theology and spirituality. In the present day Franciscan Studies abound and there is an on-going dialogue between Francis and the contemporary church.

This book hopes to provide the resource for the same engagement with Seraphim, whose legacy was tarnished by controversy after his death and lost in the turmoil of twentieth century Russia. The publisher is an arm of the Saints Alive Charity and this publication is part of its vision to nurture a ‘learning community of St Seraphim Studies;’ (www.

This book is a serious work of scholarship. The Chronicles themselves provide parallel accounts of Seraphim’s life and a carefully balanced view of his legacy in the communities of which he was a spiritual father. The translation itself it fluent and pleasing to read, each chapter is accompanied by full and detailed notes. There is a rich collection of photographs and other images with carefully presented maps and plans. There is much here to feed the mind and soul.

The introductory essay by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware on the life, ministry, theology and spirituality of Seraphim alerts the reader to the genius of Seraphim and the originality of his spirituality. Although clearly founded on the foundation of the ‘Desert’ or ‘Athonite’ tradition of mental prayer, penitence and fasting, Seraphim in seeking unity with the Holy Spirit became a ‘pillar of fire’ and his considerable intellect, married with his openness to the Spirit, gave him remarkable gifts of discernment of both individuals and communities. He made the language of Scripture and of the Father’s his own, giving an eloquent voice to them in his way of life and his engagement with the world.

The life of the Diveyevo Monastery after his death is rich with characters, political struggles, success and failure, scandal and holiness, all these foretold by Seraphim and always with his presence real and active. The Chronicles also include much of the evidence presented to the tribunal that recommended his canonisation. This happened at Sarov in great splendour in the presence of the Czar and Czarina in 1903 (the year the Chronicles were published in the present form). The years of revolution and of the Soviet Regime were cruel to the sisters of Diveyevo, first they became a collective farm and in the 1930’s the community dispersed and many of the sisters were martyred in concentration camps. Bishop Seraphim himself (now Saint Seraphim) was shot by a firing squad in 1937.

As the ‘Saints Alive’ information states, ‘ Seraphim’s powerful spiritual presence so disturbed the Soviet state, that wishing to annihilate his memory, the church and the very name ‘Sarov’ they built a Nuclear Centre on the site of the monastery. Here they created the most powerful atom bomb the world has seen.’

Since 1991 monastic life at Diveyevo has returned. The relics of St Seraphim were recovered from a museum in St Petersburg, and they are now returned to the community. Work is going on to seek out and conserve other material related to Seraphim and it is hoped that a centre for Seraphim Studies can be established. Let us hope and pray that this labour of love will bear fruit that will last to God’s glory. 

Andrew Hawes 


Disability in Medieval Christian Philosophy and Theology

Scott M. Williams

Routledge, 2020

ISBN: 9780367195229


‘Disability’ is, at the best of times, a slippery concept. Quite what distinguishes an illness from a disability is up for debate, as is the degree of difference that qualifies as a disability; I am dyspraxic, which means I’m clumsy and disorganised, but since I’m able to get on with life with little trouble, I almost never feel disabled, even whilst the Disability Act tells me that I am. It’s a metaphysical slipperiness that impacts how I think about myself, and that makes it a rather more important metaphysical slipperiness than anything Kant ever gassed about.

Ideas about disability often include some level of prejudice, which sometimes comes about in terms of well-meaning but profoundly misguided patronisation, but can also express itself in terms of vulgar dismissal. Television, as ever, gives us good examples of both of these in the BBC’s Crip Tales and ABC’s The Good Doctor. Ideas about how disabled is ‘disabled enough’ to receive support swim around liberally (you may even accuse what I wrote above about my dyspraxia as a case of this; there are certainly well-intentioned activists who’d rather take the problem more seriously than I have).

Even in Holy Scripture we see this sin raise its ugly head, with the Levitical law expressly condemning it (You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord; 19:14, ESV) and with Christ being concerned for the welfare of disabled people throughout the Gospel. It seems clear that we as Christians have a duty to people with disabilities, and, indeed, historically the Church has done its best to help them, with a great many hospitals and almshouses set up in the name of the Holy Trinity to the benefit of people living with some sort of difficulty (a more perceptive historian than I may critique the effectiveness of these institutions, but their founder’s hearts seem to be in the right place).

The problem is avoiding a sin that expresses itself in well-meaning patronisation (since I would hope that none of my readers would be inclined to shout anything cruel at a wheelchair user whilst on the bus), treating the person as a problem to be solved, rather than as a child of God. As the Church, it is vital that we both understand our duty to people with disabilities in an immediate sense and work to avoid, mitigate (or simply stop) those ways in which they may suffer from the actions of fallen society as a whole.

And to do this, we must have some idea what we are dealing with when we try to deal with disability; we must be able to grasp what we’re talking about if we’re to make any progressIs disability just difference? Or is disability a problem? If so, for whom is it a problem? These are tricky questions that sit awkwardly between the day-to-day lives of thousands of people in parishes across the county, and rest easy in the Ivory Tower of academia.

It is certainly true that the papers in this book come at the problem from the Ivory Tower approach, aiming to clear up where our contemporary idea of ‘disability’ comes from, and do a good job of presenting a history that is both sensitive to the lives of people with disabilities, and to the odd ebbs and flows of medieval philosophy. Indeed, it is to the credit of the editor that this book takes such a wide view of what counts as philosophy, including a chapter on the pastoral approach to deafness that was taken in the Middle Ages. It’s a text in which one can see some real valuable nuggets for how we think about disability today. Our writers also do sterling work filling in certain blanks in the history of philosophy that some may prefer to have left blank; the discussion on how Aristotle’s ‘natural slave’ (a blasphemous idea if ever there was one) theory relates to both disability and racism is a good case for this.

Perhaps the only issue here is not that it isn’t clear or interesting or valuable, but that it is completely inaccessible to someone without a decent grasp of – at least – Aristotle. As good as a lot of the ideas in here are, they are locked squarely into the academic world; it is clear that the target audience for every chapter is a jobbing lecturer. As ever, this is not to say that a particularly brave or committed reader couldn’t get anything out of it – quite the opposite – but expect to be blinded by jargon before you are enlightened by wisdom. 

Jack Allen



And Other Countercultural 


Graham Tomlin

SPCK, £9.99

ISBN 978-0-281-08179-0


Reading this book is rather like having a guided tour of a stained glass window that we think we know well, only to find that the tour leaves us with a refreshed knowledge and a greater appreciation of the colours, art and narrative portrayed.

Individualism and a growing culture of self-love are at the heart of Western society today, says Bishop Tomlin. Their voices are strong and influential. Constant bombardment by social media, advertising and peer pressure can lead us to believe that we are inadequate and that true happiness can only exist by the searching for, and indulgence in, what we think we desire and will make us happy. As the ground is laid for this modern problem of self-gratification the question emerges: what if the cult of self is a dead-end?

Perhaps what constitutes a truly good life is not, in fact, found solely within the individual ‘self’  but is rather discovered in sacrificing ‘the self’ and turning outwards towards a source of life that is constant, steady, waiting for us to turn in its direction. 

Between the first and the last chapter are laid out the basic questions of faith seeking understanding: from the Big Bang to God and suffering; from the origins of Christianity and the Historical Jesus to climate change and the fifth Mark of Mission, nothing is left unaddressed and unchallenged. To be reminded of the purpose of prayer and worship, of the necessity of Church and community are timely as we emerge from lockdown.

There are moments in the book that read a little like an ABC of belief but these are tempered by relevant anecdotes, references to contemporary culture, and summaries of Charles Taylor and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It is written with conviction, honesty and a compelling energy. The chapter on freedom theory is particularly apposite.

This is an accessible yet insightful volume for right now. Read it soon, for it speaks as a much-needed pastoral letter seeking to equip the Church in post-pandemic life, with the inevitable questions of mental health, faith and life-meaning. Tomlin guides us into the dynamic relationship of God with humankind and mediated through the life of the Church for the transformation of our world. It recovers the counter-cultural, inherently Christian notion of looking outwards to our neighbour, away from self and in the love of God.

Benji Tyler


Book of the month


Benedict XVI: A Life

Volume One: Youth in Nazi Germany to the Second Vatican Council 1927–1965

 Peter Seewald

Bloomsbury Continuum (ISBN: 978-1472979193)


The bare bones of this personal history will be familiar to anyone who has read Benedict XVI’s Last Testament in his own Words. To those bones has now been added considerable flesh in the first four, and formative, decades of the life of Joseph Ratzinger. Benedict once quoted Goethe saying that ‘anyone who wants to understand a poet must go to a poet’s home’. The truth of that aphorism is here amply demonstrated, most particularly in the book’s opening two thirds. How impossible to understand what made Joseph Ratzinger without reference to his attachment to Bavaria: deeply Catholic, particularly in his boyhood and adolescence, with a popular piety combining an austere reserve of character with an overt religiosity expressed in the baroque flamboyance of the churches and wayside shrines at the heart of community life. How impossible, too, to ignore the influence of his home, the close-knit family and its patriarch, Joseph’s father, with his ‘rational, deeply emphatic and reflective conviction of faith’. From him were learned the values of ‘go careful with resources; make life harmonious with what is possible; from the little we have, create spirit and joy; combine dignity with decency’ – precepts too of the Papal name, Benedict. 

Then the impact of growing up alongside the rise of Nazism and the challenges to faith exposing a deep theological divide in Germany’s churches with, initially, many evangelical and Lutheran leaders in the National Socialist “German Christians” programme and its emphasis on a ‘purified’ national church, while Catholic bishops declaring co-operation with National Socialism to be a sin. Later the situation became more blurred with the emergence of a Confessing church among Protestants, and a certain rowing back in the Catholic position as political events took their course. The Roman Catholic Church’s failure to live up to its own standards of moral responsibility in the face of Nazi onslaught has now become part of the accepted post-war narrative and challenged by the facts laid out here. In Bavaria, 50% of clergy were directly persecuted through fines, arrest, imprisonment or execution for their opposition, overt or covert, to the regime, while over 8,000 Catholics (laity, religious and clergy) were tortured and murdered across the Reich as a whole. Without doubt is the impact of this, including forced recruitment into the Wehrmacht, on the young Ratzinger’s mind and soul.

Ratzinger’s non-engagement with an evaluation of Catholic responses to Nazism at that time is, itself, a response – one that prioritizes lessons to be learned for the future over apportioning blame for the past (something we might well take on board in how our own culture deals with elements of its history today). For him, part of that learning, and something penetrated to the depth of his being, was the importance of truth: both intellectual and personal, and of love – something holistic expressed in a life that no longer seeks itself but that becomes concern for the other, a willingness to sacrifice oneself for their true good and openness to the gift of a new human life. These two, love and truth, were to become the core themes of his life’s work: no truth without love, no love without truth.

His experience of both totalitarianism and war also instilled in Ratzinger a belief in the imperfectability of man, something deeply reinforced by subsequent philosophical and theological study. ‘Ratzinger knew,’ writes Seewald, ‘only God was perfect. And every human attempt to rise to perfection ended in disaster.’ Over a lifetime it is to this that he constantly returns; the source (fons) of revelation is the Word of God himself, and the primary verbalisation of that word is to be found in the scriptures. ‘Thinking from the sources as a starting point’ became the trademark of his theology. 

Already these convictions can be seen growing in the shy, earnest, physically slight but cerebrally brilliant, young man who returned from his time as a prisoner of war to begin studies to fulfil his childhood sense of vocation to the priesthood. Called to be a priest, desiring to be an academic theologian: for a time he experienced an intense tension between the two. It was not until they could be reconciled with integrity that ordination could be embraced; from then on, professor and pastor of souls were one. His model was St. Augustine who combined reason and faith in his search for God and the truth. As a theologian and teacher, Ratzinger has exhibited clarity, precision, confidence, and what Seewald describes as ‘sharpness of mind’. Students flocked to his lectures wherever he taught, but also listened intently to his sermons wherever he said Mass. What was evident in Council or Confessional was the importance of a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. A priest is ‘required to know Jesus perfectly; he has met him and has learned to love him.’ He was never interested in just increasing knowledge, knowing that you can only learn the true import of Christianity when ‘it warms your heart’.

After being ordained, Ratzinger served briefly as a parish priest, but his future path was as a theologian. From his first academic post in Freising he moved through successive professorial appointments in the Universities of Bonn, Munster and Tubingen, bringing him into close contact with Rahner, von Balthasar, Kung, de Lubac, Schillebeeckx, and other bright stars in the theological firmament, his own rising all the time. And the Church hierarchy took notice, just as the papacy of John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council were about to make for decisive change in attitudes to the Church and its relationship with the world.

It has become a commonplace to see Ratzinger as originally a liberal theologian but adopting conservative views after 1968. However, Ratzinger himself said in a 1993 interview, “I see no break in my views as a theologian [over the years]”. All related to his understanding of revelation. Even before the Council he was making it clear that the role of a Council is not to formulate new doctrines, but to ‘enable a new deeper witness of Christian life in the world today.’

Against Hans Kung, Ratzinger insisted that the Church is not itself a Council but a Communion, waiting together in the school of the Holy Spirit and not debating speculatively in a parliamentary chamber. Indeed “all errors (in the area of faith and order) are ultimately caused by applying a secular constitutional model to the church”.

If Augustine was his mentor from the Patristic era and Bonaventure the voice that spoke to him from the Middle Ages, then we might say that the theologian of the modern era most reflected in his developmental thinking is Newman. ‘In close association with tradition, aiming for new horizons was not about rebellion but simply the challenge to take that legacy forward and expand it into new times. To use a metaphor: the glacier might be old, but it has to proceed like that. If it broke away it might become a massive flood.’ These insights give a fascinating portrait of Ratzinger as key adviser to the influential Cardinal Frings before, during and after Vatican 2, helping to shape its process and outcomes. How helpful to have the Council’s early days described in the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with the possibility of global nuclear war and perhaps the end of civilization. Joseph Ratzinger understood the fragility of civilization and this was yet another reason for the Church to be in dialogue with the modern world, whilst also remaining true to itself and the revelation of the Word of God.

I was pleased to read this book at the start of Lent. It contains so much of Benedict’s deep wisdom and insight that is equally spiritual, theological, pastoral and missional; rich material for reflection during this time of preparation for the paschal feast. At one level, it is an easy read, with a compelling story constantly pushing the reader forward. Yet whenever the author moves from narrative to allowing us to hear directly the voice of the man himself, I wanted – needed – to slow down and ruminate on, or simply contemplate, a fresh way of looking at part of a familiar scene.

Seewald through the personal interviews with Benedict himself and many of those who know him has clearly made a personal journey in appreciating and being grateful for this towering apologist of the Christian faith, and possibly the one theologian who will ultimately stand out in the 20th century as Newman did the one before. Despite adulation, the author avoids a descent into hagiography. Benedict’s weaknesses include naivety in judging people, structures and processes, and about how his words might be received in a world, and a church, where religious literacy is low.

“What the Church needs today, as always,’ Benedict wrote in 1962, ‘are not adulators to extol the status quo, but men whose humility and obedience are not less than their passion for the truth.” Such a man is the one I found described for us here. I hope we do not have to wait long for Volume 2. 

Bishop Michael Langrish