Book Reviews

Martyn Jarrett on Kenneth Leech

THE SKY IS RED
Kenneth Leech
DLT, 280pp, pbk
0 232 52499 8, £14.95

This exciting and challenging book helps to renew the vision of many within the Catholic Movement and beyond. It rekindles the exciting challenge that first drew many of us towards Catholic Christianity. Kenneth Leech's approach to priesthood rings bells with many in the Catholic Movement, who still remain within the ranks of those whom his book would label as conservative or conventional.

Readers from such a constituency should immediately note two health warnings. Kenneth Leech supports the ordination of women to the priesthood. More scarily, he stands a little aside from the near-consistent Catholic approach towards abortion. Those whose minds do not close down at this point will still find this book one that feeds their Catholicism. It would be helpful, though, if Leech had led us through some careful theological dialogue with those with whom he disagrees rather than seeing the ordination of women as self-evidently right and viewing those who think otherwise as beyond the pale.

The Catholic priest looking for restored confidence in his ministry will be excited by Leech's determined attack on a more bureaucratic and managerial view of priesthood popular in today's Church. His plea for a greater emphasis on pastoral care, prayer, theological reflection and a thirst for righteousness, will resound among many. Readers will warm to his often repeated plea for an authentic spirituality to be placed at the heart of the Church's life.

Leech understands the need for good liturgical celebration at the heart of every parish's worship and writes imaginatively as to how this might be achieved. While generally sympathetic to modern liturgical renewal and rightly dismissive of a certain kind of Anglo-Catholic love of minutiae, Leech rightly challenges some of the mundane forms of worship which have appeared in recent years, from both Roman Catholic and Anglican sources.

The exciting core of this book flows from Leech's clear perception that there is no true divide between the sacred and the secular. Creation is the sphere of God's activity. To claim anything else is to lapse into gnosticism. Leech presents us with a clear view of the Kingdom of God which Jesus proclaims. A theology which does not help to liberate human beings only serves to oppress them. Leech seeks to earth this quest for liberation in a number of specific issues.

At times I had to remind myself that this book was first published in 1997 and that this is a new, revised edition. So much is immediately relevant. It is hard to read the section on sexuality without believing it was written in our present anguish following the Jeffrey John debacle. Leech's concern at the rise of Fascism gains poignancy from the recent electoral gains of the British Nationalist Party. His strictures against racism or a demonizing of Islam could never have anticipated the post-September 11th world in which we now live, or the ever-growing prejudice against asylum seekers. Leech originally wrote his book before the advent of the Blair Government. Six years onwards, his reflections on social exclusion make pertinent reading.

This is a prophetic book. Like much literature of this genre there is a tendency sometimes to overstate, to use the broad brush rather than to attend to detail. For myself, I found an over caution towards Freud and an over generosity towards Marx, but how refreshing to read a book which relates Catholicism to either. This book should renew the hearts and minds of many Catholics who long to break out of all the too sterile debates which dominate so much of our movement today.

Marlyn Jarrett is the Bishop of Beverley.

 

THE NATIONAL CHURCH IN LOCAL PERSPECTIVE

The Church of England and the Regions 1660-1800

Edited by Jeremy Gregory and Jeffrey Chamberlain
The Boydell Press, 330pp, hbk
0 85115 897 8 250

Though Victorian derision of the established Church in the long eighteenth century (e1689-1832) persists to this day in some surprising quarters, historians have been steadily working to correct the distortions and to discuss the pre-Tractarian Church of England in the context of its own time rather than another one. The reassessment begun by Norman Sykes in the 1920s and continued by his pupil, Gary Bennett, from the 1960s onwards, has reached a vigorous and sophisticated maturity, as this interesting collection of essays, co-edited by Bennett's last research student, Jeremy Gregory, and Jeffrey S Chamberlain demonstrates.

Throughout this time-span, the Church of England was more unified than either before or afterwards, genuinely the national church, an essential core of establishment, barely troubled by dissent until the century was almost over. But what does a study of the localities indicate about its health? These essays attempt to take the temperature at a variety of levels - parish, deanery, diocese, even principality - and, though the contrasting results show the hazards of excessive generalization, a few can safely be made.

This was an essentially decentralized Church in which powers of appointment rarely belonged to bishops. On the contrary, the role of the laity was critical, as patrons certainly, but also in terms of benefactions and attempting pious living. Moves towards more frequent communion services were occurring, especially in urban parishes, despite universally low communicant figures. The average parishioner preferred sermons, though their standard was patchy. As John Ashburnham recorded of the Reverend Anthony Nethercott, his parish priest in Sussex, `Our parson preached (as usually) 2 Nonsensical sermons' (quoted p87).

Most of the authors return to topics in which their expertise is well known. Jeremy Gregory looks at the Canterbury diocese (returning to the subject of his Oxford Historical Monograph) and the leadership role provided by the archbishops nationally, and Viviane Barrie once more surveys the clergy of the London diocese.

Chamberlain's subject is `A regular and well-affected diocese: Chichester in the eighteenth century' reprising some of the themes which characterized his fine book about that see, noting the extent to which high churchmen became good Whigs by the 1740s, thanks to the careful management of the 1st Duke of Newcastle, whose personal piety Dean Sykes revealed in his pioneering Church and State in England in the Eighteenth Century (1934); Archdeacon Bill Jacob is equally upbeat about conditions in eighteenth-century Norfolk, the theme of his 1982 doctoral dissertation, WM Marshall, more guarded in his assessment of the state of things in the Hereford and Oxford dioceses in the century after 1660. Thus in Hereford catechizing was erratic (as opposed to Gregory's Canterbury) and he forcibly argues that the liturgical dreariness of long services was a problem for the Hanoverian Church that recent historians have perhaps too easily evaded.

Neighbouring dioceses provide contrasting pictures. William Gibson, preparing us for his forthcoming biography of Bishop Hoadly, singles out the energy of Winchester's Augustan bishops, the regularity of their visitations and the absence of factionalism among the clergy. Donald Spaeth, considering the failure of reform in neighbouring Salisbury, (perhaps the most nuanced essay in the collection) suggests an underlying malaise dating back to the contentious episcopate of the Whig Gilbert Burnet (1689-1715), and what he calls `the mental inflexibility of the Church and its clergy'.

The volume includes studies of both villages and deaneries. Michael Snape considers the fortunes of the Church in the largest parish in England, Whalley in Lancashire, while Colin Haydon examines the deanery of Kineton in the Worcester diocese. Both writers position themselves nearer to Spaeth than to Gibson, with Haydon concluding that `by the later eighteenth century, the provision of services and patterns of residence give grounds for pessimism' (p173). Two of the last essays move back from the micro to the macro level: Françoise Deconinck-Brossard on the Church in the north-east and Philip Jenkins on Wales, a splendid cameo covering 140 years in nineteen pages. The book includes a lengthy bibliography, though an afterword by the editors would have enhanced its usefulness further. Much work still remains to be done and a unitary image of the Hanoverian Church of England blueprint is unlikely to be persuasive. As Dr Haydon neatly puts it, ` ... the evidence does not conform to neat patterns while its deficiencies preclude satisfactory answers to some questions.'

Nigel Aston leaches History at the University of Leicester.

 

THE LINDISFARNE GOSPELS

Michelle Brown
British Library, 500pp, pbk
0 7123 4807 7, (£19.95)

For the comprehension and dissemination of the word of God, the invention of printing seemed an unqualified benefit. Or so I thought, until I encountered the Lindisfame Gospels in this stimulating study. An ancient book is not an immediately transparent artefact, even its beauty is not inherently obvious; it takes some time to appreciate the form of hand-written Latin.

One can stand before the 1,300 year old gospel book in the current British Library exhibition. The lighting is subdued, the atmosphere quiet, but there is (understandably but regrettably) nowhere to sit and pray. (For all that, I now fully support its remaining where it is, and not returning to Durham Cathedral; it is too valuable a national relic to be left in the hands of the CofE alone.)

In our own age, we want to know all the details and all the background, to demystify a well-known object. It is an approach that the Curator of the Library's Illuminated Manuscripts fully understands. The exhibition itself surrounds the book with painting, sculpture and manuscripts; it gives a sense of the richness of the context of this remarkable work of art, but it is this book though through its long and detailed study which conveys best of the all the extraordinary importance of this Gospel Book.

The Gospels were written and painted by Bishop Eadfrith of Lindisfame, between 715 and 720, in honour of St Cuthbert. Created in response to his cult, they helped to sustain and develop it; with his body, they were rescued by disciples from the destruction of the Vikings at the end of that century and kept safe at various places across the north until they were brought to Durham.

What do they show us of that high-point of Saxon Christian civilization? Firstly, how important the word of God was to the community. It has, literally in this artefact, iconic status. Like a cathedral building for us, it encapsulates what we understand about the majesty of God and the permanence of his gracious presence here among us.

Secondly, how important scholarship was this. It may not be scholarship as we know it, but the care taken over the Jerome Prologues and the Eusebian Canons, and even the later word for word translation into Old English, all show a care for and appreciation of truth and accuracy that we would do well to emulate. We may have more scholarly instruments to hand and more materials to work with, but the quality of their work is humbling as well as surprising.

Thirdly, they convey a sense of God's word as a gift to the community. It may have been one man who did the visible work, but clearly a vast number of other people provided the funds and materials to make it possible: the care taken to align all 130 cattle skins that make up the pages so as to minimize wear on the pigment is impressive. As for Eadfrith himself, he not only did the painting himself as well as the writing, he seems to have developed new pigments to enrich his palate.

Fourthly, it is a great work of art. The pictures may not be as striking as those of the Book of Kells for example, but the intricacy, detail and complexity of the cross-carpet pages, for example, though they need much study and reflection they repay that study richly. Though it is as well to note that an eighteenth century critic spoke of the pictures as `very stiff and unnatural ... yet not absolutely devoid of merit' What impresses me most of all (and Brown perhaps underplays this) is the beautiful proportion and sensitivity in the spacing of the script itself.

Fifthly, they show a breadth of influence that is almost modem in its extent. Eadfrith not only mixes Irish and Saxon elements, which may have been a deliberate attempt at reconciliation, he also shows many influences from all round the Mediterranean. There are Muslim and Coptic elements as well as echoes of France and Italy. All this on the Island of Lindisfame in the early eighth century.

This is a lovely work of scholarship. One might question many of the detailed suppositions and suggestions, but what Brown has offered us is a sense of the whole, a picture of the coherence of this whole extraordinary enterprise that is true scholarship. She shows something we would not otherwise see by our own little efforts, and which I had never till now suspected. She deserves to be proud of it.

SR

PAUL
A short Introduction
Morna Hooker

One World, 160pp, pbk 1 85168 314 3, £10.99

The author is a well-known New Testament scholar who now turns her attention to a simple introduction to Paul. She begins by saying that many find her subject difficult to comprehend and even offensive in these days of political correctness. She is right. I once taught under a headmistress of a Woodward school who dismissed Paul as a `nasty little man', and she was a mild-tempered lady! I wonder what she would think about this present book.

She might rejoice that in the opening chapters Morna Hooker throws up a number of clues about Paul's early days and his connection with history. For example, she queries the statement that Paul had been sent to Damascus by the priestly party to exterminate the new Christian movement on the ground that the high priest had no authority in that part of the empire and also because Paul belonged to the Pharisees. Yet if seems to me that the high priests might well have been glad to use this maverick Jew to do their work for them irrespective of party because they wanted this new movement stopped at all costs.

Hooker also points out the differences between Luke's account of Paul's activities and Paul's own words. She also tells us that many other scholars think that some of the Epistles are not Paul's work. We are asked to suspend judgement on 2 Thessalonians and those two much-loved letters to the Colossians and Ephesians, and also the Pastorals.

It would be a pity if readers were discouraged by these doubts from reading further because most of the book is a clear exposition of Paul's writings and thoughts. Hooker weaves her way through what she calls a `bundle of letters' to unravel Paul's theology. As the author tells us it is no easy matter to do this when he often does his thinking on his feet. We are given simple explanations of the place of law in the Christian dispensation. With the help of diagrams we learn what it means to be `in Christ', to understand the central teaching about our Lord's death and resurrection and our hope of life after death. Incidentally, Tom Wright's new massive volume on the Resurrection of the Son of God takes us much further in the last named subjects.

For those who on Sunday mornings have struggled with the more obscure readings from Romans or Galatians, there is light at last in this introduction. The author ends by saying that to understand Paul properly we have to see him in the light of his own situation and times to ask why he felt so passionately about his calling and why he reacted as he did. I wonder if my headmistress might change her mind about the `nastiness' of Paul if she could be persuaded to read this new book.

Ivan Clutterbuck is a retired priest.

 

VOYAGEURS
Margaret Elphistone
Canongate, 470pp, pbk 
184195 429 2, 29.99

A young Quaker from the Lake District sets out to find his lost sister, who had crossed the Atlantic on the work of evangelism, deserted the tenets of the Society to marry a fur trader, and then vanished in the wilds of upper Canada. The year is 1812, when war with America threatens the alliances between Europeans and Native Indians, and few communities are safe.

The first part of the book is that long journey deeper into an unknown world. A difficult expedition with the fir traders up the rivers following the line of the Great Lakes is especially vivid. These voyageurs paddle their canoes in the spring with food and trade goods thousands of miles into the further forested lakes, before picking up the furs for the same journey in reverse back to the eastern coast.

Slowly the Englishmen adapts to the demands of a new environment. His hold on his moral and theological convictions is sensitively and persuasively told. The coherence of a Christian life, even so narrow and austere a version as his, comes across powerfully. He has much to learn from his rough and ready companions, but he also has much to teach, young as he is.

Erom Voyageurs. Mark, the young English Quaker encounters the vastness of Canada, as a member of a canoe party following the line of the Great Lakes to the west.

In mist or winter our own hills become dangerous and vast, but from a high edge in the clear light of a summer day all can be encompassed. A man is safe: though the mood of the land may vary, its lineaments are known, and maps can be made. On the Outaouais River I understood for the first time that truly the ways of God are beyond us, for he `hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span'. Our canoes were so little, the river so great, it seemed to me the very angels must be mocking our temerity. And yet we were preserved. Slowly we tracked that endless body of water, forcing our way stroke by stroke against its current. Sometimes the banks were low and far apart so that we seemed adrift on a great lake; other times the land came in high and closed us in, and underneath we felt the deep waters resisting us. In wild weather the shining lakes turned to fierce seas. When the fog came down we were marooned in a treacherous world of changing waters. In rough places the smooth river became a fierce white stranger, roaring over the rocks to meet us, as if daring us to force our way on.

The second half of the novel seems of an altogether different character, a confused medley of relationships and emotions, of changing loyalties and sudden challenges. There is an especially powerful description of the three principal characters surviving a winter on the edge of a lake, confined to their wigwam and struggling to feed themselves and survive the isolation. But though the emotions are heightened and the plot moves to its denouement, the lives of the protagonists seem to fall apart. We end with farewells rather than resolution.

This leaves us, and perhaps that is the intention all along, with a compelling sense of atmosphere, of mysterious images and memories of place, of the vastness of a cold wilderness, of water and trees and wild animals; but the people fade into the distance. As though overwhelmed by the landscape, they are swallowed up in the fading light of another winter.

 

FAITH & FEMINISM
Nicola Slee
DLT, 140pp, pbk
0 232 52486 6, 28.95

This is a brief and workmanlike introduction to Christian feminist theology. Its special merit is to give a clear and concise sketch of just about every different school or approach; her task is not to judge or evaluate but to describe. How kyriarchy differs from patriarchy; the particular emphasis of womanism, as distinct from the more general feminism; the meaning of thealogy (note the crucial a); this is a most useful reference and textbook.

Only those already immersed in the arcane subtleties of academia will not be surprised by the extraordinary range of thought Slee lays before us. With so many themes to cover, some of the coverage is necessarily brief. We needed more on Christa, the female Christ figure. Althaus-Reid's `leather-clad lesbian, dying next to her lover' can, we are told, `shock and offend'. No argument there, but I wanted a little more comment than that; and at least a reference to substantiate the

following bald statement:

The crucified Christ in a female form ... is not an entirely modern phenomenon: there are depictions of a bearded, crucified female Christ-figure in medieval European devotional literature.

Many of the throw-away arguments may be (deliberately) offensive; she quotes the judgement that the Father's allowing his Son to die on a cross is mere child abuse, and that the Christian doctrines that support this idea mere attempts to make cruelty and neglect acceptable. One could go on. It would be easy to be shocked.

The overwhelming impression, however, from this profusion of ideas is how little they have touched other areas of theology. Perhaps I am being nostalgic, but I remember (as does the author) the excitement of RW the feminist theological writing of the early Eighties. Again, some of it was daft, but much of it was new and challenging and exhilarating (even for a man as object of the complaints).

I have always blamed the great matriarchs, Rosemary Radford Ruether and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, who succeeded in giving feminist theology its own methodology, so that it could now exist and thrive as a separate sub-section of a wider academic world. They built the ivory tower. As Slee says:

The creative and exciting developments in feminist theology which we have been considering in this book can seem a million miles away from the realities of ecclesiastical life. Most clergy and laity have never heard of these ideas and are not interested in them.

All of which is true. We know that all men are bad, but that is not a sufficient explanation. There is much excellent feminist thinking, and most of it is locked away in its own ghetto; and we (even traditionalists) are the poorer for it.

Slee herself remains a Christian, though many of those whom she cites no longer are. If there is a single tension that runs through every aspect, whether it is the language that should be used, whether a male saviour can save women, the nature of the atonement, or the character of God itself, at every stage there are those who part company with the Gospel and those who stay. Though the latter do so (as she makes quite clear) on their own terms.

AS

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From Exciting Holiness. 14°" October in the calendar of the Church in Wales.

ESTHER JOHN was born Qamar Zia on this day in 1929 in British-ruled India. She attended a Christian school, and her Christian faith grew secretly. Fearing marriage to a Muslim, she ran away, took the name Esther John and worked in an orphanage. Her family pressed her to return, but she moved to the Punjab and worked in a mission hospital. She studied in Gujranwala, and became a missionary, bicycling between the villages, teaching women to read, and working with them in the cotton fields, but there was still tension with her family. On 2 February 1960 Esther John was found brutally murdered in her bed. She is remembered with devotion by the Christian community with whom she lived and worked.

 

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EXCITING HOLINESS Canterbury, 702pp, hbk 1 85311 479 0, (215.99)

 

Is this the definitive collection of collects and readings for the festivals and lesser festivals to accompany Common Worship? It might be. The particular emphasis of this edition is that as well as all the `saints' of the Church of England, it includes those of the new calendars of the Church of Ireland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church in Wales. This means that only a handful days have no saint at all, and some have as many as four. Not all however have a collect, let alone any other propers.

From Exciting Holiness. 14°" October in the calendar of the Church in Wales.

ESTHER JOHN was born Qamar Zia on this day in 1929 in British-ruled India. She attended a Christian school, and her Christian faith grew secretly. Fearing marriage to a Muslim, she ran away, took the name Esther John and worked in an orphanage. Her family pressed her to return, but she moved to the Punjab and worked in a mission hospital. She studied in Gujranwala, and became a missionary, bicycling between the villages, teaching women to read, and working with them in the cotton fields, but there was still tension with her family. On 2 February 1960 Esther John was found brutally murdered in her bed. She is remembered with devotion by the Christian community with whom she lived and worked.

 

A smart and well-bound hardback in the standard red, it comes from the Franciscan stable. That being the case, there is no point in complaining that the texts are all taken from the dreadful and unacceptable New Revised Standard Version. If it is part of a set, it would be foolish to suggest it should not follow the mistakes of the earlier volumes. The Psalms are not NRSV, but from the CW Psalter; Psalm 8 is used once, for January 1st `The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus', and in its proper version, `What is man ... the son of man ...' Was this a special concession won from the PC brigade, to be nice to baby Jesus?

Of course I am obsessional about the issue. I may well be wrong; perhaps it is not so important that the Word of God is translated from within the Body of Christ; perhaps the christological reading of Scripture, so dear to the writers of the New Testament, does not matter that much. But the debate cannot be closed so peremptorily. The only reference to the translation used in this edition is on p681 in the list of acknowledgements, as though the NRSV were the inevitable text, the new authorized version, needing no further justification. We must simply repeat, as with so many other modern errors, `This is not so.'

Another matter on which I must be wrong. Suppose I wanted to keep the feast of John of Resole and Andrei Rublev on 18th February (Wales calendar). There is a collect on p100, but for suitable readings I must turn to `Common of any Saint, p642'. I am but a simple and unsophisticated little priest, but how do I manage this with just the one marker supplied? Nearly every similar volume we are sent only ever has a single marker. Are the publishers trying to teach us something?

The semi-formality of Anglican lectionaries has its problems. The book looks official and authoritative, and perhaps usage will make it so; but what actual authority does it carry? The do-it-yourself, work-of-a-few friends quality still pokes through in one or two places. The sixth-century Irish saint, Brendan the Navigator, is a wonderful island forefather, but his potted biography here lacks a certain gravitas: `Was it a companion of Brendan that founded the monastery on the summit of Skellig Michael? Did Brendan sail even further towards the sunset?' There is a difference between a bedside browsing book and an altar lectionary. 

NT

 

THE SECRET DIARY OF ST GARGOYLE'S
Ron Wood
Canterbury, 220pp, pbk 
1 85311 5371, 26.99

Gentle parish humour in diary form. Such books may have a short shelf-life, but they are fun while they last. The particular take on this earnest, nave and hapless young vicar is his middle of the road ignorance of Catholic ceremonial, but all the standards are here from mad bishops to nymphomaniac spinsters, obtuse diocesan officials and daft colleagues.

Ron's cartoons of St Gargoyle's are so deliciously surreal, that I found the same humour in print form less vivid; not every written entry quite matched his high stand ard in drawing, but enjoy it!

From The Secret Diary of St Gargoyle's: 

5th January, Friday
No jobs worth pursuing in the Church Times unless I want to be vicar of 14 parishes in Lincolnshire. Trying to make it sound tempting, theoint out that it's nice and flat for riding a bike. I love the way they always say, "Are you the person we're looking for?" as if they were expecting 44,000 applications.

10th July, Tuesday Chapter meeting. Talk on Holy Water, and the Use of the Aspergilium. Just as he was saying that not everyone is comfortable being sprinkled with holy water, Canon Rubble sneezed into his coffee. Not everyone was comfortable being sprinkled with warm coffee either, and we didn't know whether to say `Bless you' or whether he'd just blessed us.

 

 

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