Grace and Incarnation

The Oxford Movement’s Shaping of the Character of Modern Anglicanism

Bruce D. Griffith with Jason R. Radcliff

James Clarke & Co, 2022

ISBN 9780227177884


If the Anglo-Catholic Movement is seen today as one of bells, smells, and dressing-up that is not how it began. Its genesis is found in the studies, lecture rooms, and pulpits of the University of Oxford among a group of, mainly young, Dons, professors, Fellows, chaplains, and authors. It was a movement of the intellect and scholarship, grounded in the study of patristic texts, writings of medieval Scholastics, and the works of 17th century Anglican Divines. That study in such a setting, learned, academic, remote, captured a band of disciples and engendered great passion and explosive reaction, seems miraculous.

The appeal of the Oxford Movement between 1833, John Keble’s sermon on the National Apostasy, and 1845, John Henry Newman’s conversion to Rome, can be illustrated in two images. One, a painting of Dr Pusey in his study, shelves overflowing, open books scattered over the desk, papers cascading onto the floor, and the habitually shabby Pusey contentedly beavering away, the scholar among his sources. The other is of Newman gliding through the Church of St Mary the Virgin, ascending to the pulpit and, as Matthew Arnold records, in the most entrancing of voices, in the most limpid prose articulating a revolutionary ecclesial vision

A chirpy introduction sets the tone of the book, the thrust of which is that the Oxford Movement did not spring fully-formed from a vacuum. It had roots in the particularities of the Reformation, as articulated in the via media of the Elizabethan Settlement, reinforced by Laudian divines and Non-Jurors. The English church had not forgotten that it was in linear descent from the Patristic era and elements of the medieval church. Although the 39 Articles were decidedly protestant, the BCP was more catholic. It was neither novel nor revolutionary but included elements of several strains of Christian theology which created a bran tub of doctrines. If anything, it was more distinctively, counter-revolutionary.

The first chapter sets the stage for the Tractarians and features Alexander Knox whose writings prefigured the Oxford Movement. The Calvinist controversy over the doctrine of grace is outlined and forms the spine of the dispute between the adherents of the Oxford Movement and the Evangelicals. The means of grace and regeneration effectual in Baptism, or, as Evangelicals would have it, afterwards through faith alone, was the battleground that resulted in the Gorham Judgement that caused the exodus of several Tractarians, including Cardinal Manning, to Rome. 

Pusey did not have the mercurial attraction of Newman but he brought stability and steadiness to the cause. The early Tracts were unsigned, provocative and polemical. Pusey’s first contribution, Tract 18, was signed with his initials which signaled a seriousness of purpose, more persuasive and scholarly which tempered the more iconoclastic tendencies of Newman and Froude. He had less to say about grace and justification than did Newman but he was clear that faith and repentance are the conditions, but fulfilling the conditions does not cause the gift to be given, rather, the gift of regeneration is free and independent. ‘Regeneration is an incomprehensible gift. It flows from the greater gift of the Incarnation.’ Tractarian piety was rooted in an incarnational mysticism ‘shaped in the belief that in baptism Christ comes to dwell in the believer.’

One of the criticisms of the Oxford Movement is that it is rooted in the Incarnation at the expense of other mysteries. But while Pusey recognises that the supreme gift is Christ in the Incarnation he does not underplay the salvific power of the Passion and Resurrection in the fullness of the Christian life. In the Eucharist we receive Christ Himself and by receiving Him we have all the benefits of His life.

In his sermon on the Holy Eucharist as a Comfort to the Penitent, Pusey held that through grace the Eucharist gives strength to the life of the Church; that the Eucharist contains within itself the power of forgiveness by the means of grace; that comfort for the penitent is found in the life of sacramental grace; and that through grace forgiveness is an objective reality, not a feeling nor an emotional spasm. For such preaching he was banned from the pulpits of the University for two years.

The key text of Newman’s which is examined here is the Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification. These lectures ‘belong to the golden age of the Oxford Movement … a singular accomplishment in Anglican theology, dealing … with the theology of grace in a new light.’ Newman sought a system of doctrine that was grounded in scripture, confirmed by the Early Church Fathers, and was consistent with doctrinal and liturgical formulae of 16th century and, for good measure, supported by English 17th century Divines.

For Newman, Christ’s atoning sacrifice was ‘the heart of religion’, its vital, indispensable principle. Without the atonement there would be no justification. Justification was an act of God, declaring or making a sinner righteous before Him. At Baptism God pours His grace into our souls. Protestantism held that human beings were imbued by grace through faith in the cross. Grace, for Newman, was the unconditional love of God that was generous, free, and undeserved. Justification for the protestant reformers was by faith alone. The Tractarian doctrine of grace was that justification comes through the sacraments, is received by faith, and consists in God’s inward presence, and lives in obedience. A helpful chart is provided, contrasting the views of S. Augustine with those of Luther as a guide through the theological undergrowth.

The authors adopt the late David Newsome’s elegant summary of Newman’s argument that in his formulation of the via media Newman rejects the conflicting formulae of inherent righteousness and imputed righteousness to assert his formulation of implied righteousness. The communication of the merits of Christ to sinful man, initially through the regenerating sacrament of Baptism and subsequently through the sacrament of the Eucharist which sustains the Christian in holiness and infuses his soul with the presence of Christ, provided, Newman contended, a sound foundation on which a Tractarian theological system could be built.

The third theologian considered is Robert Wilberforce. He was born into an Evangelical family, the elder brother of Soapy Sam, Bishop of Oxford. He was an able theologian, lauded as the ‘greatest philosophical theologian of the Tractarians’ and admired by the historian S. L. Ollard and by Eric Mascall. He spent most of his Anglican ministry as a parish priest, converting to Rome following the Gorham Judgement. His major contribution to the cause was The Doctrine of the Eucharist published in 1848 in which he was ‘accommodating … to transubstantiation.’ His writing is in the Scholastic tradition and was noted for its dispassionate scholarship. Although notably less polemical than many Tractarians, he did not hold back in his book Doctrine of Holy Baptism. His inclusion here is a welcome rehabilitation.

Wilberforce argued that Grace is restorative and springs from God’s love. He emphasises that God is a loving Father, accentuated by a sense of love rather than justice or retribution. It changes us. The Incarnation is the means of grace to which all is related. Christ’s glorification in the resurrection is the glorification of his humanity, the product of his Incarnation which is central because it is the great event of re-creation. The whole of humanity is summed up in Christ and is made new in the Incarnation. Justification, he argued, was not required in the original state of creation but it is the peculiar office of the Atonement that reconciles God to man. For Wilberforce the Incarnation is the great salvific event, the centre of Christian doctrine –  but he does not demean the value of Christ’s Atonement as priest and victim. The Resurrection completes the Atonement. The second crucial element to his theology is Christ as Mediator for all people as distinct from Moses in the Old Testament who was mediator for his own, albeit the chosen, people.

The authors deal with knotty theological issues with a fair degree of clarity, alert to nuance and complexity. Critics of the Tractarians are considered, pre-eminently F. D. Maurice, the founder of Christian Socialism. Maurice’s analysis, it is argued, is based in ‘his own brand of Lutheranism.’ He is a ‘masterful apologist, a good Christian, but not a very constructive thinker.’ There are generous quotations that intersperse the narrative but, occasionally, threaten to overwhelm it. Where the writing is as good as Newman’s that is not a problem. Although they did not write as poetically as Newman, the extracts chosen from Pusey and Wilberforce stand up well in comparison. Wilberforce is always lucid and, at his best, Pusey writes with a cumulative passion. 

William Davage 


English Victorian Churches

Architecture, Faith & Revival

James Stevens Curl

John Hudson Publishing, 2022

ISBN 9781739822934


If you are reading this, there’s a good chance that the church in which you worship dates from the 19th century –perhaps  All Saints, Margaret Street, St Augustine, Kilburn, St Agnes, Sefton Park, St Augustine, Pendlebury: all built to proclaim the Catholic faith within the Church of England. The movement that inspired the architects of these churches and many more – the Gothic Revival, as it came to be known – had its origin in the work of writers, notably Thomas Rickman, who published the first scholarly work on medieval Gothic architecture in 1817. The ground was laid by the phenomenal success of Walter Scott’s novels, creating a romantic tase for medievalism. 

The majority of the many ‘Commissioner’s Churches’ built under an 1818 Act of Parliament were Gothic in style – a few were designed by Rickman, himself a Quaker. Most displayed, however, little understanding of medieval architecture and were pilloried by A.W.N. Pugin, a Roman Catholic convert whose Contrasts (1836) launched a new phase in the ‘revival,’ in which Gothic architecture was promoted as the only truly Catholic style. Pugin, struggling against Ultramontane prejudice in favour of Classical and Baroque – reflected most vividly in the design of the London Oratory – was the architect of several masterly churches, notably St Augustine, Ramsgate, adjacent to his seaside retreat, and St Giles, Cheadle. Later in the century another great Roman Catholic architect, J.F. Bentley, designed one of the finest Gothic Revival churches in this country – Holy Rood, Watford – but was forced to turn to the Byzantine style for his masterpiece, Westminster Cathedral.

For George Gilbert Scott, a phenomenally successful architect whose secular works included the Albert Memorial, the Foreign Office and the Midland Hotel at St Pancras, discovering the writings of Pugin amounted to a conversion experience – he wrote that he was awakened from slumber. Scott went on to restore many English cathedrals and to build or restore hundreds of churches across Britain. Many of his ecclesiastical clients were anything but ‘high’ churchmen. Indeed, Scott proudly catered for the ‘promiscuous herd’ which fervently opposed ‘ritualism.’ In his posthumously published autobiography, Personal and Professional Recollections (1879), Scott lashed out at the ‘wild absurdity’ of much recent church architecture. In four pages of the book, Curl provides a masterly analysis of the ‘glowing, noble and assured’ All Saints, Margaret Street, the model church of the Ecclesiological Society and the beginning of a new, extraordinarily inventive phase of the Gothic Revival – but not a building to Scott’s taste. Addressing the negative comments of Kenneth Clark, John Summerson, Nikolaus Pevsner and others, he writes of it as ‘the perfect setting for a scented Eucharist’ – ‘one of the finest works of architecture anywhere in England, of any period.’

The 1850s and 60s saw Scott still a dominant presence, with the completion of costly churches such as All Souls, Haley Hill, Halifax, and St George, Doncaster, but a new spirit was emerging in the ‘muscular’ work of Butterfield, G.E. Street and J.L. Pearson which sought inspiration beyond English models. Ruskin’s writings were an important influence, extolling the use of colour (‘structural polychromy’) in medieval Italian architecture. Even as this influence waned in the 1870s William Burges created, with the aid of landed patrons, two magnificent churches at Skelton and Studley Royal in Yorkshire which made lavish use of colour and rich materials, regardless of cost. 

A new direction in church architecture was evident in St Augustine, Pendlebury, a masterpiece of the 1870s by G.F. Bodley and Thomas Garner, late Gothic in style and with a single cell interior inspired, Curl argues, by the Dominican church in Ghent. While some critics have found in late Victorian church design an ebbing away of creativity, Curl sees the final triumph of the Gothic Revival in the work of J.T. Micklethwaite, W.D. Caroe, J.D.Sedding, Norman Shaw, W.R. Lethaby, Temple Moore and Ninian Comper, the last the subject of a detailed study by Fr. Anthony Symondson and Stephen Bucknall. Giles Scott, the grandson of Sir Gilbert, carried Gothic design into the 20th century with his design for Liverpool Cathedral. And after Comper and Scott came Stephen Dykes Bower (1903-94), vigorously defended here in the face of criticism from ‘offensively doctrinaire modernists in Cambridge.’ 

Curl is a pugnacious critic. A book that clearly sets church architecture in its theological and liturgical context ends on a melancholy note, lamenting ‘widespread indifference to the terminal decline of all that once was held to be of value, the finest architecture that England ever produced.’ Curl has produced the best study to date of Victorian church architecture and has been well served by his publisher: the book is a model of clear and elegant design, well served by a high standard of production. 

Kenneth Powell


Special offer for readers of New Directions: £35 plus p&p (down from £50) available until 30th April 2023. Enter code BB116 at https://boydel


The Gospel of John: 

A Theological Commentary

David F. Ford 

Baker Academic, 2021

ISBN 9781540964083


My first serious acquaintance with New Testament studies as an undergraduate was an arid experience. Scholars were engrossed in Form Criticism and Redaction Criticism and finding source material, and seemed almost desperate to rubbish the historical reliability of the Gospels. Many treated belief in the Resurrection and the empty tomb with pitying condescension. The idea that they were reading their own modernist presuppositions into the NT material appeared not to enter their heads. I was puzzled by their lack of historical sensitivity, but I thought that such clever people must know things which I didn’t. Only later did I read C. S. Lewis’s essay Fern Seed and Elephants, which turned the weapons of a professional literary scholar on these NT critics.

My first intimation that things were shifting came with Ian Boxall’s excellent commentary on Revelation (2006), where I read that whereas scholars had tended to treat the visions in the Apocalypse as literary fiction, recent scholarship ‘has been more willing to consider actual visionary experience’ as the basis of such writings. Now we have a new commentary on the Fourth Gospel, and reading it feels like leaving a stuffy academic cell and stepping into fresh air.

We have not been short of English language commentaries on John’s Gospel. The names of Hoskyns and Davey, C. K. Barrett and Raymond Brown come immediately to mind. Their scholarship is impressive, but one feels too often that the Gospel is vanishing beneath a mass of learned references. David Ford’s study is a theological commentary, concerned with the Evangelist’s message and how it speaks to us today.

Professor Ford has been working on John for twenty years, and he is familiar with the critical debates about authorship, purpose and background. However, while he touches on these matters when necessary, his focus is on what John intended to say. Even more striking is his desire to set the Gospel in dialogue with creative artists of different times and places. When, if ever before, did you read a Gospel commentary which calls upon testimony from the like of the Anglican mystic, Thomas Traherne, the contemporary poets Denise Levertov and Micheal O’Siadhail, from Julian of Norwich and the music of J. S. Bach? These and other witnesses are called upon as the author pursues the fundamental questions of the Gospel, ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘What is essential for those who follow him?’

What is so refreshing about this commentary is that it re-establishes the link between biblical scholarship, faith and prayer. (In this context, it is particularly good to see reference to Alan Ecclestone’s book, The Scaffolding of Spirit, a meditation on John’s Gospel whose value is out of all proportion to its modest size, and which has rarely been given the respect which is its due.) This is not simply a commentary for the student, or for the priest hunting sermon material. Its value is that it can assist us in the meditative and prayerful reading of scripture. The commentary is to be read slowly, sometimes taking only a few lines at a time before we pause and wait upon the Spirit to aid our understanding and guide us into the personal and practical implications of the Gospel message. (One suggestion: read perhaps the commentary on John 1, and then turn to the introduction dealing with issues of authorship and background.)

If I do not write more about this fine work, it is because my reading of it is very much a work in progress, and my aim is to draw the commentary to the attention of others. The fact that it speaks to one who is not a biblical scholar may commend it to a wider readership. I regret that the book is so costly, but this is not a volume to look at and then allow to gather dust. Professor Ford reminds us that the Fourth Gospel is a book to read, reread and then keep returning to throughout a lifetime, so that we find ever deeper riches in it. His commentary is a book which lovers of St John’s work will want to keep by them whenever they turn to the Gospel. The price is a small one to pay for such a companion in the way of Christian faith.

Barry A. Orford




Hallyu! The Korean Wave


Victoria and Albert Museum, London until June 25th, 2023


Over 100 million people across the globe have watched ‘Squid Game’, though I haven’t met any of them. ‘Squid Game’ is a fictional tv survival series which started in 2021. It combines children’s games with a commentary on Korean society and the chance to win US $35 million or ’die’ in the attempt. Costumes from ‘Squid Game’ are part of the hallyu (wave) of South Korean culture which is currently celebrated at the Victoria and Albert Museum with the sponsorship of the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. 

Readers may be more familiar with the artist known as PSY and his Gangnam Style dancing (in 2012 PSY performed at the Oxford Union). By March 2022 his signature dance had attracted over 4 billion hits on YouTube placing him above performances by Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry (Pope Francis’ top audience for a YouTube film is about 10 million, though he does appear very frequently). In other words, K-pop is a major force in global entertainment.

Why that came about isn’t quite answered by this show which traces how over the last century South Korea changed from being a poor Japanese colony to one of the richest countries in the world, via civil war and break up from what is now North Korea. Hard work by the whole of society, a willingness to cross cultural boundaries, and an early recognition of the importance of micro-technology in a country which only began to industrialise after 1945 are all given as reasons for success. Plus, a fluid but strong attachment to the people’s cultural roots, shown by the way the Hanbok style of traditional dress has been reinvented in recent years. Part of the fun of the show is the way old fashion has been translated into colourful and outrageous modern design. But there are also hints of how from the 1990s Korean film directors have stood up for old traditions against American cultural dominance which had begun with the presence of the post-civil war US military.

Alongside tech, the two main themes of the show are cinema and pop/fashion. Cinema is represented through posters and excerpts from major films. There is a clip showing the stylised violence of ‘Old Boy’, the mega-hit which derived from Dumas’ ‘Count of Monte Cristo’ via Japanese manga. And there is a room from the 2019 film ‘Parasite’ which not only won the Cannes Palme d’Or but also four Oscars, the first non-English language film to win the Best Film category. 

‘Parasite’ is interesting because it shows some of the grungy underbelly of Korean life and provides a necessary balance to the upbeat, fantasy world of K-pop. Indeed, the show itself is positive about all things Korean. It doesn’t refer either to the history of democratic authoritarianism in post-war Korean politics or of political and business corruption (South Korea has been placed just above Qatar in studies of global corruption). Some balance is restored by reference to the seamier side of the Korean film industry and the sexual harassment allegations against leading film director Kim Ki-Duk (he died of covid-related illness before the allegations could be resolved by legal process). But there’s nothing about the relatively high rate of suicide in the K-pop world either.

K-pop is the noisy, colourful and highly enjoyable heart of the show. The entrance features a bank of screens – something pioneered in Korea – featuring PSY’s Gangnam Style song and dance, both in its original format and in variations and lampoons thereon (Gangnam is a prosperous and hip district of Seoul). In the final third of the exhibition there is an opportunity for karaoke and dance copying your favourite K-pop stars (on a wet Monday afternoon in central London no one was taking up the offer). And then there follows a room with large-screen videos of Boy and Girl and A.I. bands, followed by rooms which show a range of cosmetics created and sold for that flawless complexion and a selection of fashionable wear for clubbing. 

The K-pop emphasis on perfection is both democratic – anyone can buy the products – but also harsh. The creation of K-pop bands is a cross between the Royal Marine Commando training and Britain’s Got Talent. K-pop stars are required to maintain a cute, hyper-clean image and take on some of the character of cute, hyper-clean animals. It’s no surprise that part of the commercial strength of A.I. artists – good but not nearly as good as the real thing – is that they have little PR downside and are unlikely to have a breakdown.

Still, on their own terms K-pop and this show are great fun. 

Owen Higgs



Simon Walsh reviews a selection of new titles for group study and personal reading


The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2023 is by Emma Ineson, Bishop to the Archbishops at Lambeth Palace, and soon to become the next Bishop of Kensington in the Diocese of London. Failure: what Jesus said about sin, mistakes and messing stuff up (SPCK) is a stimulating and thought-provoking addition to the genre. 

She writes with candour about her own examples of failure, including ‘when I was involved with organizing a…very big conference, involving thousands of people from around the world [when] a change was made in the presentation of some of the documents associated with the event… that ultimately, had a damaging impact and led to an understandable outcry’. Might this have been the Lambeth Conference last summer, and the Lambeth 1:10 Resolution documents? She doesn’t say, but does offer a  mea culpa and ‘Let me say it clearly now: I’m sorry’. All very noble, but don’t we need to know what and why someone offers apologies? Isn’t that part of the paradigm now? It is, of course, a rule of the confessional that this sort of thing is between the penitent and God. That’s a strength and weakness of her writing style. It’s chatty and revealing, interrogative in places, and with a certain breeziness that not all will find helpful. Yet it’s also disarming in its honesty and confidence. She does give a definition of the word failure in Chapter 1 before discussing its shortcomings and moving quickly into the existential and experiential; a good tack to take.

Two small stones in the shoe. The first is a contemporary reference which must have seemed harmlessly jocularly but damningly dates the manuscript. ‘The new Prime Minister in the UK, Liz Truss (or perhaps someone else by the time you are reading this)’ looks like a sentence even too prophetic to pause the print process. The second is a reference to ‘Easter Saturday’ as interchangeable with Holy Saturday. This is unfortunate as it happens in a long and meaningful passage on the place and purpose of Holy Saturday as a locus of uncertainty and what failure means in this context. She quotes Between Cross & Resurrection by Alan E. Lewis (1944-94; published posthumously by Eerdmans in 2001). Though subtitled ‘A Theology of Holy Saturday’ he consistently makes the Holy Saturday/Easter Saturday confusion so perhaps this is an infelicitous Americanism which strikes a false note.

But then, this is a book about failure, about getting things wrong, and the opening up of space for forgiveness which first of all we need to recognise. An original and rewarding read, it ranges widely across various sources and each of the six chapters ends with a few guiding questions which would help any group along.

Thomas Merton in No Man is an Island said ‘A man who fails well is greater than one who succeeds badly’ and Robert Inchausti’s The Way of Thomas Merton: A Prayer Journey Through Lent (SPCK) is a magnificent, slim volume with treasures on every page. In the main this is down to Inchausti’s careful, attentive reading of the Trappist monk whose accidental death in 1968 in Thailand cut short a talent in its prime, and when he was possibly considering conversion to Buddhism. Ordained in 1949, from 1941 he was a member of the religious community at Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Flavian Burns, Merton’s last abbot, is quoted as saying: ‘While I’m very happy that I did know him, I always felt the deeper part of Merton he revealed only in his books’, with the author adding ‘the soul-work of reading, as it turns out, is quite similar to the soul-work of writing’.

Inchausti is Emeritus Professor of English Literature at California State Polytechnic University so brings a professional eye with his feeling heart to the work of Merton. He appreciates and esteems the beauty of Merton’s work, yet is also concerned for the man behind the myth. It will be a surprise to some to learn that Merton fathered a child whilst a student for a year at Clare College, Cambridge – the mother being paid off by Merton’s uncle and godfather. Back in New York, Columbia College ironed him out, orienting him towards the glories of literature and religion, and through them a deep faith.

The book doesn’t ‘focus on Merton’s literary style… nor pore over the finer points of his theology  [but] instead, the focus will be on his “centre of living truth” as an aid in helping us to find our own’. And as Inchausti rightly reminds us: ‘Pope Francis has described [Merton] as one of the four greatest prophetic figures in American history, equal in stature to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day’. He advocates a form of ‘contemplative reading’ and models it beautifully. He cites Rowan Williams – ‘Being interested in Merton is not being interested in an original, or ‘shaping mind’, but being interested in God and human possibilities. Merton will not let us look at him for long: he will, finally, persuade us to look in the direction he is looking’ – which, says Inchausti, ‘is looking in the direction of God… as a result, the subject of any book by, on, or about Thomas Merton is really a book about who we are in relationship to God’.

This is an elegant and concise introduction to the life and work of Thomas Merton for anyone coming to him for the first time. For those returning, there is fresh insight in a structured, sympathetic guide to spiritual longing and the tilling of the soul which Lent asks of us all.

A book with a film is a popular concept for many, so A Place For Us: A Lent course based on West Side Story (DLT) by Lavinia Byrne and Jane McBride (with poetry by Phil Lane) will fit the bill. Five comprehensive chapters dovetail neatly with the weeks of Lent, with a ‘Coda’ at the end to help the reader into Holy Week. West Side Story opened on Broadway in 1957 (music by Bernstein, lyrics by Sondheim, book by Laurents). In 1961 it became a smash-hit film directed co-directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, who had directed and choreographed the show. 60 years later, Steven Spielberg directed a new version with a number of touching nods to the original; it is this latter film on which the Lent course draws.

This book combines Scripture with key scenes from the film along with reflections, poems, and some recommended ‘actions’. For example, a reading with Psalm 116 is followed with ‘Pray through the Psalm again with the inured man [from the scene] as he lies on the ground. If you have time, take a ten-minute walk. On the way out pretend you are walking away from Jerusalem; then turn round and face it as a place of salvation as you walk back home’ – an approach which some will find helpful.

The authors – Lavinia Byrne, a journalist and former Roman Catholic nun now living in Wells, and Irish academic Jane McBride now in Belgium – both have a strong interest in feminist practical theology which tugs at much of their writing. Lavinia’s description of herself as ‘a couple of heartbeats from being a refugee’ because her grandmother was a French immigrant seems a far cry from anyone crossing the channel in a dinghy today. But it helps her ‘sense of belong to the human family… vastly expanded because I have travelled emotionally as well as physically’. The point is not always entirely clear, such as when she recounts being in Manila for the visit of Pope John Paul II and at an open-air mass the distribution of communion didn’t get around to everyone so ‘an enterprising youngster had a gracious thought and opened a box of Dunkin’ Donuts which he shared with us. We smiled at each other as the red jam stained our teeth.’ She goes on to say she ‘had mixed feelings about this experience’ and seems to be tilting at the need for enough to go around everyone. Or was it because it was ersatz communion? Or because the mass was a bit chaotic? Or because elsewhere people were hungry?

The passages on the film scenes are without too much analysis, leaving that to charged questions for the group discussion or personal reflection. There is not much in the way of intertextuality or cultural analysis. Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet is referenced as the main source but without any of its theological themes and concerns which carry through, and there is not much either on the particular context of the Latin American community amongst which the film is set. A reference to ‘Latina’ is tellingly generational; the modern US preference is for the particular ethnicity or ‘Latinx’. But these are not likely to be major issues for the book’s intended audience, and as a companion to an audio-visual format it offers a thoughtful framework for the season.

Paul Dominiak, for a while on the staff at Westcott House, Cambridge, where he trained, is now Senior Tutor and Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. His The Falling of Dusk: The 2023 Lent Book (from Bloomsbury) is a sophisticated and pensive work on the Seven Last Words of Christ on the cross. This is not easy theology and it rightly shies away from ‘cheap grace’. Whoever sits down with this book will need to read carefully and purposefully. 

The seven chapters are arranged in thematic order: ‘Forgive, Be, Behold, Why?, Thirst, Finish, Commend’ – with an epilogue on ‘Truly’. Philosophy looms large throughout the text. An extended and interesting discussion on Nietzsche is valuable and in places surprising. Marx and Dionysius get a similar working out. An erudite discussion on the lynching tree makes for one of the most calm and sensitive treatments of black theology and the Black Lives Matter movement whilst linking it to the crucifixion. The ‘New Atheists’ also get an airing, and Dominiak is always a courteous and confident conversation partner as he vies these various sources, topics and developments in dialogue with one another.

‘Whichever way you look at it, theology has failed,’ is his quote from the contemporary theologian Marika Rose, and this is not a book which does the hard work of spirituality for the reader. It assumes that prior engagement and is therefore another strong contender for anyone going on retreat. But it is worth getting hold of for more and will enrich anyone’s thinking and preaching throughout penitential seasons and beyond.