Book Reviews

Looking to the peoples and traditions of the Orient

ANGLICANS AND ORTHODOX

Unity and Subversion 1559–1725

Judith Pinnington

Gracewing, 260pp, pbk

0 85244 577 6, [£14.99]

Since the Elizabethan Settlement, whilst some Anglicans have traditionally looked to Geneva for their model, others have looked towards Eastern Orthodoxy as a congenial example of non-papal Catholicism (as the Anglicans would have put it). Judith Pinnington gives us a fascinating account in this book of relations between Anglicans and Orthodox during nearly a century and a half. In particular, she focuses on the seventeenth century when Anglicans suffered first at the hands of Puritans during the Commonwealth and secondly at the hands of Whigs after the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688. Dr Pinnington is a convert to Orthodoxy but she reveals a great affection for classical Anglicanism and sympathy for catholic-minded members of the Church of England in the early twenty-first century. She also paints a ‘warts and all’ portrait of Orthodoxy during this period.

Dr Pinnington begins her book with a brief survey of links between the Church in Anglo-Saxon England and in what was to become the Orthodox East, and of contacts between the Great Schism (1054) and the Reformation. She then focuses on several key-players in Anglican-Orthodox relations. Isaac Basire (born 1607) was a French Huguenot who moved to England, became an Anglican High Churchman and was eventually appointed Archdeacon of Northumberland. During the Commonwealth when he was ejected from his archdeaconry he began an extensive tour of the Near and Middle East during which he acquired an immense knowledge of Orthodox Christianity which he brought back to England after the Restoration.

Sir Paul Rycaut was Secretary at the English Embassy at Constantinople between 1661 and 1668 and went on to become English Consul at Smyrna. Something of a linguist and a Fellow of the Royal Society, Rycaut used his time in the Levant to collect and arrange information about religion and local life and history which he published in two volumes, The Present State of the Greek and Armenian Churches (1679) and The History of the Present State of the Ottoman Empire (1686).

Thomas Smith (1638–1710) was an Oxford scholar who ended up as Vice-President of Magdalen. Between 1668 and 1670 he was the English chaplain in Constantinople, where he obtained several Greek manuscripts for the Bodleian Library (earning himself the nickname in those politically-incorrect days of ‘Rabbi’ Smith) and gathering material for his Account of the Greek Church (1676). He refused to take the oath to William and Mary and became a Nonjuror. In the last years of his life he kept up a correspondence with Greece and left 138 volumes of papers to the Bodleian.

A less attractive figure is John Covel (1638–1722), a poor boy from Suffolk with an ambitious streak which led him to the Mastership of Christ’s College, Cambridge. He accepted the chaplaincy at Constantinople in 1669 most probably to pursue an interest in botany, though he later suggested he did so for theological reasons, and according to Sir Stephen Runciman he used his time there to amass a large fortune in the silk trade. He also gathered material for a book about Orthodoxy written with something of a critical slant which he finally published shortly before his death entitled Some Account of the present Greek Church, with reflections on their present Doctrine and Discipline, particularly in the Eucharist and the rest of their seven Pretended Sacraments (1722).

Dr Pinnington carefully chronicles the attempts to establish a Greek Orthodox church in London which failed largely as a consequence of the hysteria surrounding Titus Oates and the alleged ‘Popish Plot’ (1678), and the abortive efforts of the Non-jurors and Scottish Episcopalians to bring about a rapprochement with Orthodoxy. There is much eucharistic theology in this book and along the way I was interested to learn of those late seventeenth-, early eighteenth-century Anglicans who believed in the objective Real Presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist, rather than holding a receptionist understanding of the Real Presence of Christ within the faithful communicant. I was also amused to discover that some High Church Anglicans added material to the Prayer Book in order to make it more ‘Patristic’.

This book might be summed up as a tale of good intentions, crossed wires and ultimate failure. It is a major work and all interested in Anglican-Orthodox relations and indeed in Christian reunion will be grateful to Dr Pinnington.

The first translation of the Prayer Book into Greek was in 1569; two important editions followed in 1638 and 1665; both restore the missing 'holy' to the Nicene Creed, but retain the filioque.

Robert Beaken is Priest-in-Charge of Great and Little Bardfield.

 

ANGLO-SAXON PERCEPTIONS OF THE ISLAMIC WORLD

Katherine Scarfe Beckett

CUP, 284pp, hbk

0 521 82940 2, [£45]

Five years ago, you would not have noticed this book; now it is of real interest. What were the connections between the emerging Christian nation of England and the Islamic world after its first triumphant conquests?

Most of the knowledge of the ‘Saracens’ was derived from literary sources, with Jerome in the east and Bede in England being the most important editors and compilers; unfortunately their deserved authority as teachers led to the neglect or ignorance of other lesser writers. For all that, there are some interesting sources, including the seventh-century account of Arculf’s visit to the holy places, and more important still the eighth-century travel narrative of the Anglo-Saxon pilgrim Willibald.

Most of the sparse material is a rewriting, updating and modification of the Old Testament accounts of the Ishmaelites. It is as though a description of the desert people, at times wise and wealthy but more usually implacable enemies of the children of Israel, has been revised to fit contemporary needs. Beckett is critical of the Europeans’ lack of interest in Islam itself, but she is hardly being fair.

This fierce, warlike, ruthlessly efficient, nomadic army had swept across and obliterated the Christian world of Africa and the Near East, had come within an ace of sacking Constantinople at the end of the seventh century, and was moving into France at the beginning of the eighth. With Christendom under devastating attack from two sides, with its future survival in real doubt, it is hardly surprising if inter-faith dialogue was not the order of the day.

Anglo-Saxon Christian culture began when the ‘Saracen’ threat was at its greatest. When later the pressure from the south eased, and it might have been possible to be a little more interested in them beyond their capacity for war, along came the Vikings from the north as a much more significant threat. Any interest in the southern invaders was replaced by fears of the northern scourge.

The non-literary connections are somewhat beyond the scope of the book but just as interesting. The details are fascinating in themselves: counterfeit Islamic coins being used in England in the early tenth century; the minting by King Offa of a gold coin in the late eighth century with Arabic inscription in imitation of an Islamic dinar; the use of the spice galingale in medicine (can you buy it in England a millennium later? not easily) And one of Bede’s last instructions from his deathbed, to fetch his ‘few treasures’ of pepper and incense, and share them among the brothers. Trade continued despite the wars.

Beckett is not always fair to her sources. In 786, Bishop Georgius of Ostia, papal legate to England reported to the pope, recording the decisions of two synods he had recently attended in Mercia and Northumbria, which included the following:

Item 9. That no ecclesiastic shall dare to consume foodstuffs in secret, unless on account of very great illness, since it is hypocrisy and a Saracen practice.

It is not a friendly way of putting it, but it does show a knowledge of the manner of Muslim fasting during Ramadan. One can see how the permission to eat and drink during the hours of darkness could be viewed as permitting it in secret, particularly in view of Jesus’ injunctions against hypocrisy when fasting, in Matthew 6.

One suspects there is more to be said. Mention is made of the import of lapis lazuli and its use in the making of the Lindisfarne Gospels in the 720s, but nothing is said about any (very positive) Islamic influence in the design of the strikingly beautiful ‘carpet pages’ before each of the four gospels. This study reveals a level of cultural exchange we may never have imagined. One ends it realizing there is still much more to be discovered. 

SR

 

THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST

The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy

Margaret Barker

T&T Clark, 423pp, pbk

0 567 08942 8,

There is a black hole at the heart of Old Testament studies which one woman has almost single-handedly been trying to fill. It is in our knowledge of the worship of the Jerusalem Temple, and the part played by the imagery of that worship in the texture of inter-testamental Judaism – the faith which surrounded and formed the understandings of the earliest Christians. In a series of books (The Older Testament; The Great Angel; On Earth as it is in Heaven) Margaret Barker has explored those themes. The Great High Priest is, in every sense, a distillation and completion of these earlier studies.

Why has there been so little reliable scholarship in this field? ‘Only a generation ago,’ says Barker, ‘Werner could write: "It is remarkable how few traces of the solemn liturgies of the High Holy Days have been left in Christian worship", and before that Oesterely had stated "Christ was more associated with the synagogue type of worship than with that of the temple."’

The answer seems to be simple. Anyone who treads where Margaret Barker has chosen to tread is very determinedly trampling on the toes of others. Much of the Old Testament and inter-testamental scholarship of the twentieth century was undertaken by German Protestants. Their prejudices and presuppositions abound. Above all else, Barker’s work is a frontal attack upon their most cherished Reformation principle: sola scriptura.

Her book begins with a bombshell chapter heading, ‘The Secret Tradition’. And her whole thesis almost casually presupposes that the Christian liturgy (which after all precedes the establishment of the Canons of both the Old and the New Testaments) is an important primary source in understanding the theology and ethos of the earliest Christians.

This affront to the German Protestant weltanshauung makes exhilarating reading. It has also (for Catholic and Orthodox Christians at least) a certain inbuilt inevitability. Barker is asserting, by careful but imaginative scholarship, what we have consistently held to be the case: lex orandi, lex credendi.

You will find in this book insights and illuminations which set off whole new patterns of thought and association. The ‘angel-Christology’ is linked to sacrifice; Passover and Yom Kippur are seen together in a way which illuminates both the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and the development of the doctrine of the Atonement. An understanding of ‘Wisdom, the Queen of Heaven’ in the temple cultus leads into the beginnings of patristic mariology. It is a world of which even the scholarly rabbi and former Catholic priest Geza Vermes seems hardly to have dreamed.

Is she right? Is it true? Those are big questions. ‘This book will surely fascinate and convince many readers,’ says Robert Murray SJ. He is half right. Fascinating it most certainly is; and for anyone who has wondered how Christians came to develop so quickly the rich and potent patterns of imagery within and around their apparently simple liturgy, it is startling and very nearly convincing. In the end this is a book, like the very greatest literary criticism, which inspires wonder, not certainty; speculation, not conviction. It is none the worse for that. Buy it; thinking broadly and boldly never did anyone any harm. GK

 

THE CHORAL REVIVAL IN THE ANGLICAN CHURCH 1839–1872

Bernard Rainbow

Boydell Press, 260pp, hbk

0 85115 818 8, £30

This reissued classic is unique in being the only book specifically on the musical history of the Catholic Movement in the CofE. Rainbow recounts here the dreadful state that existed before the start of the Movement, where music in parish churches was virtually non-existent, with only a metrical psalm, badly sung at the end of a service that had been merely recited by parson and clerk with no congregational participation whatever.

The great heroes were Fr Thomas Helmore and his younger lay brother Frederic. Their father was a Congregationalist minister but Thomas found his way into the Church of England, went to Oxford after some years of teaching, and was ordained priest in 1839. He was appointed as Vice-Principal and Precentor to St Mark’s in 1842, a year after its foundation as a Teachers’ Training College, the first of its kind, to train men to teach in church schools. There he quickly set up a tradition of daily sung services with a choir of students, with the treble line being provided by the boys of a nearby school used as ‘practice’ for the students. They worked extremely hard, fitting music into a programme that started with their rising at 5.30am and hardly a moment of leisure till retiring to bed at 9.30pm. They had an amazing repertoire of music including anthems and settings by Gibbons, Farrant, Tallis and other Tudor masters whose music still survived in the cathedrals. The amazing thing for our ears is the fact that they had no organ until the 1870s and so everything was unaccompanied.

They sang the Psalms to Anglican chants until, later on, Gregorian chant came into use. Helmore had already had influence on Frederic Oakley at the Margaret Street Chapel where similar choral methods were carried out, giving the first example since the reformation of a fully sung service outside the cathedral tradition. Fr Helmore later combined his post with that of being Master to the Choristers at the Chapel Royal where, among his pupils, was one Arthur Sullivan. With his Hymnal Noted and The Psalter Noted he can be said to be the founder of the new tradition of Gregorian chant in the Anglican Church.

There had already been produced, in 1843, a very beautifully designed and printed book Order of Daily Service by William Dyce which was turned out to look like a medieval illuminated manuscript and included an adaptation of Merbecke’s music for the Communion Service of 1549 which has become, of course, a regular feature in Anglican services ever since. Dyce was an artist and is, perhaps, better known for the remarkable frescoes in the Sanctuary of All Saints, Margaret Street.

The younger Frederic Helmore set off on a remarkable career, suggested by his priestly brother. He contacted clergy, initially in Kent, at places like East Farleigh, Harrietsham and Maidstone. He would settle for something like six months or more in the parish and train both children and adults into a competent choir for the parish church, together with training the organist and choirmaster. He would then move on to the next assignment and start the whole process all over again. In this way he became known throughout the whole country, even in Scotland and went on and on, training, teaching, establishing and then moving on, becoming known as the ‘Musical Missionary’. Slowly these choirs were able to lead the reluctant congregations into producing proper and decent music for the services as Tractarian clergy strove more and more for a transformed living worship in their churches.

There is no doubt at all that the worship of the Church of England was transformed in the mid-nineteenth century by these and many other pioneers. Bernard Rainbow’s book is about the only complete history of how it came about, both in the cathedrals and in the parish churches. When you read here about the great reluctance of Victorian congregations to sing at all, and the appalling laxity of the cathedrals and colleges, the present standards we have enjoyed for so long where our cathedrals, in particular, are home to a tradition second to none in the world, we must marvel at the dedication of those pioneers.

Michael Farrer is Secretary of the Anglo-Catholic Historical Society.

 

BLACK ROBE AND TOMAHAWK

The life and travels of Fr Jean Pierre De Smet (1801–73)

George Bishop

Gracewing, 200pp, pbk

0 85244 576 8, [£14.99]

We live at times when the liberal agenda is in the ascendancy. Books like this remind us that there is an austere and uncompromising aspect of our faith, to give backbone to what might descend into a religious flavoured marshmallow. George Bishop gives us an insight to another aspect of how the west was won, not by cowboys, but by one who got to know and love the Amerindian peoples. Fr De Smet’s undertaking was at least as hazardous. Unlike many ‘missionary journey’ books this has an underlying sense of joy.

It may appear to be a tale of daring do with a particular brand of religious flavour. We live in an age which has little time for either. Britain has one of the lowest levels of belief in the Western World, and appears to be in a perpetual state of paranoia over ‘being at risk’. Yet it still happens. I am privileged to have known some such who were sent to work in a ‘sensitive’ area in Rhodesia: they were all slaughtered for their pains. The risk is assessed as part of the need to complete the work. In the case of Black Robe and Tomahawk, there is also the sense of adventure and excitement. That and the urge to spread the word of God can only be a healthy combination.

We need to be reminded that there are still those who, in the words of Hebrews 11, wandered over deserts and mountains, and in the caves and dens in the earth. Such as these are part of the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and give balance to what passes for that Church for so many.

This is a tale of events in the past. But it also reminds its readers that, when the need arises, there are those willing and able to heed the call to renew the faith in their generation. Circumstances differ, but the call remains and there will be others to follow in the footsteps of Fr De Smet.

 

Donald Bird is a retired priest in the north.

 

SIMON MAGUS: THE FIRST GNOSTIC?

Stephen Maar

De Gruyter, 410pp, hbk

3 11 017689 0, [98 euros]

This is a major work of careful and thorough research. The end result, however, is not enlightenment for the general reader, but a solid volume in the ‘secondary literature’, required buying for any university library. When on the penultimate page, he writes ‘a simple, comprehensive and definitive answer of "yes" or "no" regrettably cannot be given,’ it hardly comes as a surprise; he would lose his academic membership card if he were to say anything positive. But we can.

Simon was the man who was practising his arts in Samaria when Philip brought the gospel, and who later wanted to buy from the Apostles the power to bestow the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands (Acts 8.9–24). A charismatic teacher, adept in the traditions of the Magi from the east, a man of considerable ability, charm and influence, he travelled across the Roman Empire, finding great favour with leading members of the establishment even in Rome itself.

Skilled in psychosomatic healing, confident in his handling of astrology and the cosmological world, affirming in his confident sexual freedom, he taught truth and self-improvement in a manner similar to other peripatetic philosophers of the time, but with an eclectic breadth that earned him great public favour and widespread respect.

‘The father of all heresies’ Irenaeus called him, and naturally, practised as we are in the hermeneutic of suspicion, we assume this to be mere Christian invective, a Catholic resorting to insults to damn the unconventional. What Maar shows, with infinite subtlety and many qualifications, is that Irenaeus was right.

What is particularly interesting is how Simon fulfils this role, not as a Buddha, Mohammed or Jesus figure, but as a self-help, lifestyle guru, a charismatic, inspirational teacher and wonder worker. He was the most successful conveyer of ‘spirituality’ in the early decades of the Christian Church. As the ‘Standing One’ he pointed people to God, but in a manner that answered their own needs, in a way that enriched their own lives, rather than conforming to the demands of a tradition, a church or an orthodoxy.

The Gnostic groups of the second century onwards are, in other words, only a formal, religious development of what began more informally and individualistically as ‘spirituality’. This positivist blend of Graeco-Roman mythology with eastern religion and self-affirming sexual freedom only later formalized itself into distinct religious groupings. Or looking at it from the other direction, the named Gnostic heresies of the later centuries are but the degeneration of the original, confident, syncretic liberalism.

That is not how Maar would put it, with his careful marshalling of the sources and his detailed tables of comparisons; but it is what begins to emerge from his research. He might hate to be told this, but he has produced a much more exciting book than he intended.

Incidentally, to summarize his discussion of the Magi who brought gifts to the new-born Jesus (Matthew 2), there are no magic or astrological connotations to them. They symbolize and embody the highest religious and intellectual traditions of the east, nothing more, and certainly offer no significant connection with Simon and his fellows. NT

 

PUBLIC FAITH?

Edited by Paul Avis

SPCK, 146pp, pbk

0 281 05531 9, [£16.99]

The series of papers, which make up a new volume edited by Paul Avis, attempt to use the various statistics and numerical results which are the product of ‘empirical research’ to analyze the position of Christianity in Britain today. Avis and his contributors ask ‘How do we know where we are?’ and ‘How do we respond?’ There is much discussion in the essays of the difficulties involved in sifting this sort of evidence. On the one hand, we all hear of falling electoral rolls, fewer baptisms, drops in Easter communicants. Avis highlights the fact that trust in the church as an institution, ‘the essential prerequisite to mission’, is surveyed at only 47%.

Yet on the other hand there are real doubts that data, for instance, for baptisms really compares like with like. The census questions were ill-drafted. People define their affiliations today in new ways. These and other caveats on the data are not merely an exercise in whitewash, as I thought they would be when I first started to read this book. There is a genuine ambiguity in the situation. It is possible to argue both that Christianity in Britain is ‘vanquished’, and that by failing to assert the true strength of faithfulness to the Gospel we entirely unnecessarily cede the field, just when we were winning. Certainly everyone thinks we live in a more secular society than in the past. Analysis of the data casts doubt on that premise.

Clearly there has been and is great change in the pattern of religious belief and practice. No change there then. Just how far this should lead us to conclude that our mission is less ‘successful’ than that of the past is difficult to tell. This book clearly helps in the process of thinking more clearly about it. For instance, the chapter on the ‘Seeing Salvation’ exhibition highlighted the very large numbers of older middle class people who mobilized themselves both to go and to write about it afterwards. There is clearly a fertile mission field here, often ignored in our worries about losing the young. Perhaps the point is not to see our position now as any worse or better than that of from the past, except that now we have better tools to analyze our situation the better to target our mission.

Luke Miller is Vicar of St Mary’s, Tottenham.

 

THE HEAVENLY MAN

Brother Yun with Paul Hathaway

Monarch, 350pp, pbk

1 85424 597 X, £7.99

Some books really are spiritual dynamite. This is one of them in its power to explode complacency and negativity about the future of Christian evangelization. It is a ‘spiritual blockbuster’ from the underground church of China. If it challenges our complacency in the west it is only because thousands there are now emulating the heroic witness of the hundreds of western missionaries who gave their lives over a thousand years to plant the church in China. They sowed gospel seed but it is only now that the harvest is beginning, so that hundreds of Chinese missionaries are even now taking the gospel back west on foot to Jerusalem, challenging Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu cultures on their way with the unique claims of Jesus Christ.

The story of Brother Yun shows how Christianity has become a movement again on the other side of the world. It is a movement that can pray, fast, love and suffer for the truth’s sake. Fifty years of persecution have prepared a church that travels light to everything other than holiness and the readiness to lay down everything for the sake of those who are living without personal knowledge of Christ. It is a movement of such apostolic vitality that it has actually started spreading out of China itself.

Yun’s story is written in blood and tears chronicling two cruel imprisonments (1983–88 and 1991–93) and one after his escape from China in Burma during 2001. It starts in the Cultural Revolution of 1974 when 16 year-old Yun and his family are led in desperation to pray to Jesus for his father to be healed from cancer. That healing is one of many extraordinary answers to prayer in the book, which must rank with books like The Cross and the Switchblade and Chasing the Dragon in its supernatural vision.

What is particularly compelling is the way divine intervention occurs again and again after people have been humiliated and reduced by circumstances, which are then dramatically turned on their head. This brings praise to God and dramatic growth to his church. The book is as exciting as any adventure story, with its miraculous healings, prison escapes and the greater wonder of mass conversion of lives to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour – all happening in these days on the other side of the world.

‘The gospel grows through hardship and will spread throughout the world. The truth will enter everyone’s heart. Truth is always truth. Nothing and no one can change that. It will always conquer.’ This uncompromising word of faith from Brother Yun captures the spiritual force of the book. Only by reading The Heavenly Man can a judgement be made on that conviction about Jesus Christ and the integrity of an exiled author whose testimony has written support from the house church leadership of tens of million Chinese Christians.

Yun’s recent flight from China has brought him into direct contact with the wider church and he senses something is missing there. If the Holy Spirit can turn the Chinese church inside out in sacrificial service The Heavenly Man lights hope that he can do the same for us. The reader is left in no doubt about God’s desire to loosen our selfish attachments, release more of our energies into prayer and worship, open our minds to scripture and equip us with new boldness to witness for Christ so that the harvest of transformed lives seen in China can extend into our own nation.

 

John Twisleton is Chichester diocesan mission & renewal adviser.

 

INCOMPETENCE

Rob Grant

Gollancz, 292pp, hbk

0 575 07419 1, £9.99

Dystopias are a useful form of fiction for the theologian. They clarify some of the problems to be solved, and highlight the hell from which God’s children need saving. Some are of interest because they set out, like Thomas More’s Utopia, to promote exactly the opposite. Most, however, are either too derivative (of Brave New World or 1984) or too depressing; or both.

So a light-hearted dystopia, expressed in the more relaxed genre of a crime thriller, that is genuinely funny, must be worth recommending. It’s a real laugh. Most of it is manic humour – it varies wildly according how the author was feeling that day – so that not all of it works all of the time; but the bits that do are life-affirmingly hilarious.

The core idea is the practical effects of a United States of Europe some time later in this century, in which laws for the security of employment are so sophisticated that no-one, but no-one, can be sacked for incompetence, however blatant, with the result that nothing works, everything goes wrong, and we all have to accept it as normal. What works unexpectedly well is that our indefatigable hero is so manifestly an American, for all that he seems to be pretending to be an Englishman. This is not a manifesto for the Conservative Party, but a wry look at Europeans trying to be Americans.

On a more serious note, he plays with the implications of increasing regulation. ‘It’s a very simple equation,’ he muses as he is being taken down to a vast underground Paris prison, ‘the more laws you pass, the more laws there are to break, and the more lawbreakers you’ll have to deal with.’ Tell that to Westminster and Brussels. Call it spiritual reading, and enjoy. NA

 

CELEBRATING THE CHRISTIAN YEAR

Vol. I: Ordinary Time

Compiled by Alan Griffiths

Canterbury, 320pp, hbk

1 85311 568 1, [£20]

 

If Common Worship was so wonderful, why are there so many books offering alternative resources for the Sunday Eucharist? Once General Synod had asked for new (improved) collects, it was open season for anyone who wants to show they can do better. This is an interesting addition to the genre, being compiled by a Roman Catholic priest and liturgist.

He offers a Scripture-related collect (already published by ICEL), a simpler collect Ôfor those who do not wish to use the CW collectÕ, a gospel acclamation, a concluding collect for the intercessions, a prayer over the gifts, toned down to cope with Ôthe traditional Reformed suspicion of offering languageÕ, a Eucharistic preface, and a post-communion prayer. Much better than CW (obviously), in better language than the Missal, but useable? We shall see. AS

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