Book Reviews

The Bishop of Gibraltar on Cardinal Newman

DISCUSSIONS AND ARGUMENTS ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS

John Henry Newman

Edited by James Tolhurst

Gracewing, 490pp, hbk

0 85244 453 2, [£25]

 The Millennium Edition of Newman’s works is making accessible again the complete corpus of Newman’s writings. Taken in conjunction with the now almost complete Letters and Diaries the stature of Newman as a theologian and a stylist is underlined and enhanced. In this reprint of Discussions and Arguments six short works are brought together, four Anglican and two Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic pieces deal with the plusses and minuses of the British Constitution at the time of the Crimean War, and with the trite inadequacy of the popular apologetic of Sir John Seeley’s Ecce Homo, which dismissed St John’s Gospel and hence traditional orthodox Christology.

Of the Anglican pieces, ‘How to accomplish it’ was originally written as ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’ not long after Newman’s return from his Italian journey with the Froudes in 1832. Under the guise of a fictitious encounter between three friends in Rome Newman addresses the question of the revival of the Church of England by drawing on its catholic heritage. ‘Great towns,’ he writes, ‘will never be evangelized merely by the parochial system’ The unstable multitude cannot be influenced and ruled except by uncommon means, by the evident sight of disinterested and self-denying love, and elevated firmness.’ What is called for is the revival of missionary communities and monastic orders rather than domestic comforts and virtues.

‘The Patristical Idea of Antichrist’ had originally appeared as Tract 83, and before that may have arisen from Newman’s correspondence with his brother, Frank, who had joined the Plymouth Brethren in 1831. It is a reminder of the millenarian and apocalyptic fervour in Evangelical circles in particular that was part of the context in which the Oxford Movement was born. It is worth noting that Newman admitted in the Apologia that the identification of Rome with Antichrist had been a ‘stain on his imagination’ until as late as 1843. Antichrist was not the one evidently opposite Christ, but the one who was the great deceiver who was perilously like Christ.

Tract 85, ‘Holy Scripture in Relation to the Catholic Creed’, wrestles with the question of the biblical grounding of Catholic orthodoxy. In it Newman makes some pungent attacks on contemporary liberalism, the attitude that ‘Christianity contains no definite message, creed, revelation, system, or whatever name we give it, nothing which can be made the subject of belief at all.’ ‘The Latitudinarian doctrine is this: that every man’s view of Revealed Religion is acceptable to God, if he acts up to it: that no one view is in itself better than another, or at least that we cannot tell which is the better. All that we have to do then is to act consistently with what we hold, and to value others if they act consistently with what they hold; that to be consistent constitutes sincerity; and that where there is this evident sincerity, it is no matter whether we profess to be Romanists or Protestant, Catholics or Heretics.’ What Newman attacks in the name of revealed religion is post-modem individualism before its time. In its study of the relation of Scripture and Creed this Tract is an important staging post on the way to Newman’s exposition of the nature and character of doctrinal development.

The piece de resistance, however, are Newman’s brilliant Tamworth Reading Room Letters. This sharply ironic attack on Sir Robert Peel’s defence of a reading room at Tamworth which was educationally devised on utilitarian principles and which therefore excluded religious books is a devastating dissection of the kind of high-minded dismissal of religion as divisive and unworthy of consideration. If you have merely useful knowledge, Newman argues, you will never deal with the great ethical and moral questions of right and wrong, nor engage with the human person as made in the image of God. ‘First shoot round corners and you may not despair of converting by a syllogism.’ ‘Many a man will live and die upon a dogma, no man will be a martyr for a conclusion.’ ‘No Religion has yet been a Religion of physics or of philosophy. It has ever been synonymous with Revelation. It has never been a deduction from what we know: it has ever been an assertion of what we are to believe. It has never lived in a conclusion; it has ever been a message, or a history, or a vision.’

What Newman was arguing was to gain fuller exposition in The Idea of a University, but the Tamworth Reading Room with its devastating demolition of an uncritical secular knowledge that has no place for religion, has more than an historic interest, it still has sharp things to say to the politically correct, multicultural and improving education which trains children and young people in transferable skills, and never asks the question of ‘who’ it is that is being educated, and what are the true educational needs of those made in the image of God and called to grow in likeness to Christ.

Geoffrey Rowe//is the Bishop of Gibraltar.

 

 

BLESSED PIUS IX

Roberto de Mattel

Gracewing, 202pp, pbk

085244605 5, £14.99

On his election Pius IX was hailed as the darling of Liberal Europe. By the end of his long reign his name had become synonymous with reactionary conservatism. Mattei is at pains to show that even before the shock of the 1848 Revolution Pius was misrepresented when he was thought Liberal.

The translation from the Italian, by John Laughland, is lucid, though there are some infelicities and one or two points at which the proof reader has fallen down.

For Pius IX the forces unleashed by the French Revolution were nothing other than a devilish attempt to overthrow true religion. As this reviewer has noted before in these columns, the Church weathered the storm of 1789 remarkably well; it was by 1830, and even more in 1848, that the real threat lay, as the alliance of Throne and Altar meant that the latter wobbled when the former was toppled. The Pope’s moral courage steadied the faithful in Revolutionary Europe. At the same time he encouraged affective devotion, a real tool with which to resist the cold rational atheism of the Revolution and the pantheism of early Romanticism. By the end of his reign the Basilica of the Sacred Heart was rising above the capital of the Revolution itself, at Montmartre.

The Pope had to face three great challenges to the Church. The infiltration by secret societies; the seizure of the Papal States by newly united Italy; the attempt to establish a ‘liberal’ Catholicism favourable to some revolutionary principles.

The secret societies and the Masonic Lodges are exposed as seeking nothing less than the overthrow of the Catholic Church, and the depth of their association with the policies of the ruling liberal elites is revealed.

Those of us brought up to despise Metternich’s observation that ‘Italy is nothing more than a geographical expression’ are reminded that united Italy is a political invention. More important for study of the Church is the discussion and justification of the reasons for the temporal dominion of the Papacy. Consideration of alternatives must give even those of us who serve in an established church some pause for thought. The existence of the enclave which is the Vatican City is due to the courage and persistence of Pius IX.

In discussing the Syllabus of Errors (usefully printed in an appendix) Mattei is persuasive that there could be no middle way between the Revolution and the Church. The declaration of the dogma of the Assumption and the proclamation of Papal Infallibility were responses to this attack. But even these had their devotional object. Pius IX was the Pope of Lourdes.

Many will disagree with much of this book. But the lazy assumption that liberal society is the only way deserves to be challenged; it needs to be made clear that the Second Vatican Council is dependent upon the First, and remembered that the kingdom of heaven is after all an absolute monarchy.

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

 

THE ORIGINAL STORY

God. Israel and the World

John Barton & Julia Bowden

DLT, 300pp, pbk.

232524858, £19.95

This is no conventional Einleitung in das Alte Testament, those worthy and solid volumes which say almost as much about the author as about the subject and demand so much previous knowledge as to need no Introduction. Here is an unashamed students’ text book for sixth formers, undergraduates, students in teacher and clergy training, and also for the interested general reader; excellent value for money too! To avoid possible discriminatory overtones Hebrew Bible is to be preferred to Old Testament.

No previous knowledge, or for that matter no faith-commitment, on the part of the reader is required. We start from scratch. The presentation is very much that of an extended web-site, copiously illustrated with maps, pictures, and even the occasional cartoon! The main sections are subdivided into bite-size easily digestible sub-sections, all minutely cross-referenced. End notes and footnotes are banished iii favour of icons indicating paragraphs inset. A little owl will alert readers to ‘useful hints or common misunderstandings’. A light bulb offers ‘issues for thought and discussion’. Quotation marks indicate ‘scholarly (or other appropriate) quotations on the subject in hand’, and are also helpful in suggesting further reading. Nothing is taken for granted, and even the otherwise familiar terms like ‘Pentateuch’, ‘pre-exilic’ and 'post-exilic’ are repeatedly explained.

The treatment of the material in the central section - Major Themes, History, and Institutions - is sober and judicious. Everything is played with a very straight bat. Wilder and more extreme theories may be mentioned, but only mentioned. The student is given the material but left to make up his or her own mind. However, at the end of the day they will find that ‘the original story’ is not what it first seemed. The creative focus now rests with the eighth and seventh century prophets and the realization of covenant obligation; with Deuteronomy and the necessity of coming to terms with the loss of ethnic and territorial identity; with the major prophets, in particular with the Second Isaiah, and the hopes for redemption and restoration; finally with the actual reality brought about by the elite company of returning exiles and their (re)discovery of Sanctuary, Land and People.

Perhaps the book is best read by beginning (naturally) with the Preface and Section 1, and then, reserving the intervening chapters, and jumping to the end, especially the very last pages, ‘A good read’! When all is said and done, and the Hebrew Bible has been taken apart and put back together again, the question remains, ‘How is it to be read, and by whom?’ The real problems begin now!

Hugh Bates is a retired priest living near York.

 

 

 

CREATING UNCOMMON WORSHIP

Canterbury, 258pp, pbk

1815311 590 8, £20  

Richard Giles       

This handsomely produced book will appeal to those who read and profited from Richard Giles’s previous volume ‘Re-pitching the Tent’. The publishers call it ‘ground-breaking’ - a pardonable exaggeration. It is nevertheless an easy read and filled with good ideas. If Monsignor Peter Elliott’s Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite can be called an Oratorian view of liturgy, then Giles can best be described as Cistercian in his approach. The emphasis is on bold but simple gestures, and on a certain monastic spareness.

Giles takes it as axiomatic that the liturgy is an action of the whole gathered community. The church is seen as a worship space in which the whole congregation choreographs its corporate offering. This is an attractive notion. Much of what Giles has to say will be useful in parish groups, retreats and quiet days or on the weekdays of Lent and Holy Week. But in terms of regular Sunday worship it has its limitations. The photographs in this book betray the reality. This is liturgy devised by someone with exquisite taste and a congregation too small to fill the building he has inherited. In that sense, I suspect, it is ideally suited to High Church sensibilities in the Church of the Latter Day Episcopalians. Giles is contemptuous of pews. They turn congregations, he opines, into mere audiences, sermon fodder. But more positively viewed, pews or fixed seats are the only rational response to a full church - to accommodating numbers of people in a finite space. They also allow what enquirers and casual Christians often need: a degree of privacy and anonymity. Those for whom extravagant osculations at the Kiss of Peace are a bridge too far will certainly not be at home in the all-including dance routine which Giles recommends.

If this is, in a limited sense, a useful book, it is also unpardonably self-indulgent. It is the High Church equivalent of those evangelical books (Church in the Market Place [George Carey], In the Crucible [Robert Warren], etc., etc., ad tedium) which are little more than self-praise in the thin guise of earnest instruction. As such it will probably stand its author in good stead.

Geoffrey Kirk is the Vicar of St Stephen’s, Lewisham.

 

 

 

SAINT CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA AND THE CHRISTOLOGICAL CONTROVERSY

John McGuckin

SVS Press, 432 pp, pbk

088141 259 7, £8.99

I have always found the Fathers fascinating, if rather impenetrable in many places. This difficulty in reading them is nowhere more apparent than when trying to read around the subject of Christology, the theology of the person of Jesus Christ. This magnificent book by John McGuckin, Professor of Early Church History at Union Theological Seminary of New York, goes some way to making the subject a little less perplexing.

It is an examination of the Council of Ephesus of 431, where the theology of St Cyril of Alexandria and Archbishop Nestorius was under scrutiny. Here is not the place to go in to any detail of their respective theologies, but for those who are interested this is a fine book with which to grapple.

It opens with a rollicking account of the events leading up to the Council, the Council itself and the events immediately after, If you think Patristics is boring, read this: it will change your mind. McGuckin brings to life the personalities of the main protagonists, and the issues at stake. The amount of political manoeuvring and politicking was incredible; a bit like General Synod’s activities I’m led to believe. What perhaps is so amazing for us, in a largely secular world, is the way in which ordinary people got involved with the debates. There was unrest in the streets, but great rejoicing when Mary was pronounced at the end of the Council as Theotokos (God-bearer). It is perhaps a salutary reminder of what we have lost in the twenty-first century, when even faithful and loyal Christians might well look at the arguments and wonder if it s not just a matter of semantics.

The next two chapters are detailed examinations of the respective theologies of Nestorius and Cyril. These are much harder work, but repay careful (and in my case repeated) reading. By necessity the style changes to a more scholarly tone, with a careful analysis of the various terms used. The next section examines the oecumenical reception of Cyril’s teaching and the important part it played in succeeding councils. Again this is a fascinating section, and not nearly so dense as the chapters preceding.

Finally, there is a selection of translated texts, largely comprised of Cyril’s writings, but including one or two other important writers. As you might well expect from Patristic texts these range from the fairly easily understood, to the downright mystifying, but the subject they are writing about is mysterious, so I suppose that is hardly surprising. In today s Church we are battling with so much controversy and in some cases misunderstandings. I drew from this book a great deal of comfort, for we, the Church, have been here before, and doubtless will be here again in the future. But as the Council of Ephesus shows us, through all things God is faithful and eventually the right decision is made, provided that we all listen carefully to the voice of the Spirit - although Cyril did his best to amplify the voice of the Spirit by various methods. Nestorius was never convinced that Cyril was not a heretic himself; there will be many in our Church who cannot see what the fuss is about; but it is our Faith, and like Cyril we must put up with untruths, caricatures of our position and a failure to engage with what one another is really saying. Some things, like this book, are well worth struggling with.

Simon Wakely ssc is Parish Priest of All Saints, Babbacombe

 

 

WELL-REMEMBERED FRIENDS

Collected by Angela Huth

John Murray, 470pp, hbk

071956487 5, £14.99

When this book first arrived, it seemed to be a kind of Readers Digest style précis of a hundred luvvies’ biographies. As bookshops reveal, it is a popular market, but hardly one that survives the sterner atmosphere of ND. But surreptitiously and insidiously, it grows upon one. It is a collection of some 110 eulogies delivered mostly at memorial services and mostly in London and mostly about recently departed actors, literati and members of the chattering classes, but also at funerals and in the provinces and about real people.

Much of the writing/speaking is excruciatingly embarrassing. You can sense immediately the arch phrases and clichéd quips, you can almost hear the self-conscious pauses for knowing ripples of gentle laughter. And then there are the ones overloaded with cringe-making private memories, crushingly self-indulgent and just crushingly boring. Some are good (I am sure) but many more are dreadful. As the schoolgirl Jane Eyre might say, if we want to avoid this terrible result, we had better not die.

It begins with a magisterial tribute to Neville Chamberlain delivered by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, at the Houses of Parliament on 13th November 1940. Strictly, this text should not have been included. Its gravitas and political importance as a statement about a man and a nation at a time of crisis is in total contrast to every other selected text. As is the sermon preached by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor at the memorial requiem for Lord Longford in 2001. A eulogy is not a political statement, nor is it a sermon; it is a form of address that has grown hugely in significance and popularity from the Sixties onwards.

Angela Huth is aware that the memorial service is taking over many of the functions earlier assigned to the funeral, that the art of eulogizing is one that many, including herself, may find thrust upon them, that it is an art both elusive and immensely demanding, because as her selection so vividly shows there is no shared set of criteria, no agreed sense of why it matters. She can only end her introduction by quoting the words of the Poet Laureate and semi-professional secular liturgist, Andrew Motion, that the eulogist strives ‘to bring the deceased into the mind’s eye of the congregation - and to let us enjoy their company a moment longer.’ Which, if you think about it for a moment, is about as poor a justification for most of these pieces as you could devise.

It is an interesting and entertaining exercise noting one’s reactions to the several contributions. In pieces so evidently spoken rather than written, some are far more evocative than others. Many are far too long. Some are no more than a poignant set of non sequiturs incomprehensible to all but a collection of friends, who are probably by now themselves dead. Two delivered by Ronald Blythe interested me, for he is a fine writer and a gentle priest, with a long and faithful ministry in rural East Anglia. One is of a local farmer, one of Dame Diana Collins:

both are excellent examples of the genre. And what do they suggest?

It is hard to say, and this selection offers no answers, but perhaps because the ‘bad’ ones outnumber the ‘good’ by a huge margin, it shows how vague and difficult is this contemporary appreciation of a life. In Fr Blythe’s hands, there is still, even in so modern a form, the sense of a life as a gift from God and returned to him; there is still some tangible continuity with the traditions of earlier centuries. For most, one is left with the accusing conundrum: if there were all these good and wonderful people, all of whom left the world a better place for their passing, why isn’t it?

AS

 

 

 

SPEAKING IN CHURCH

Burnham Hodgson

SPCK, 85pp, pbk

0 281 05659 5, [£7.99J

One event, which has always remained a vivid memory from my early days at a CofE Primary School, was a visit by the vicar - a formidable man at the best of times - to ‘hear the dear children read aloud’. His judgement, in my case, was that I would be suitable only for reading in church, the voice being quiet and unvarying in tone. It never occurred to me to challenge his conclusion that my faults equipped me so well for this sole purpose. However, when presented with this very portable book, I had the uncomfortable feeling that the basis of my long-time reliance upon Fr William s opinion was about to be undermined. And I was not wrong!

The first chapter of this interesting little book - indeed, I had barely reached the second page before the truth dawned - persuaded me that, so many years ago, I should have been banned from reading in church, rather than have been encouraged to believe I had all the qualities to do just that. However, I was committed to read on to the book’s end (well, not exactly to the very end, as the author makes clear the Addendum is optional) and, anyway, I entertained a high expectation that subsequent chapters would help me improve, if not transform, future predominance. I can assure you that the remainder of Speaking in Church does offer real hope of improvement, if only I can master (and remember) the nine golden rules very clearly set out.

Initially, it struck me that all the ground has been covered before in so many ‘How To’ books and courses, particularly in those aimed at direct canvassers, telephone sales-persons and, even, aspiring politicians. But such people are usually working from a script (often written by others and containing material iii which the speaker may or may not sincerely believe) of limited length and frequently concentrated upon relatively few concepts. By comparison, in this special case, the standard aimed for by Hodgson will prove a serious challenge for many of us, who lack the gift of effective public speaking.

Very soon after reading the final page (including the Addendum). I indulged the urge most carefully to follow the book in observation of the performance of others, away from my own parish, of course. Of more than a dozen speakers, readers and preachers, I concluded, on the strength of just one reading of Speaking in Church, that only a single one would have met with the author’s wholehearted approval, with, possibly, two more earning half decent ratings. The rest, I fear, would have suffered the judgement of Fr William. But, then, that would have been approval, wouldn’t it?

At this point, a health warning might be appropriate, something like ‘Readers of a nervous disposition, whose confidence is easily shaken, should exercise moderation after reading this book’. There is a huge amount of advice to take on board and many of us will have to be satisfied with modest improvements in only some of the nine areas. Those to whom speaking convincingly in church comes naturally might care to read the book to confirm their skills, whilst the rest of us, who do need serious help to improve our standards, would benefit greatly from a more detailed study of its contents. However, don’t make my mistake in concentrating so much time and effort checking every speaker s every sentence that you miss

the plot completely. Above all, don’t join me in the feeling of total failure if you simply do not always meet the high standards promoted.

Keith Wright still reads the epistle at Mass.

 

 

MORALITY MATTERS

Roger Trigg

Blackwell, 192pp, pbk

0 631 235957, [£10.99]

 

Professor Trigg has a quiet manner of writing. It took me some time to get into his new book, and to grasp what his central purpose was, but I persisted and it was worth it, for he is a fine teacher with a clear sense of what the main problems are. Morality does matter, and it was agreeing with the title that made me pick it up in the first place. I could not stop myself thinking on finishing, ‘This is the book that should be given to every minister in the current government, to slow the silly progress of their social engineering projects.’ A book to agree with and to recommend for others?

Its particular virtue is its sense of coherence. Philosophy is not always easy to grasp, by its inherent abstraction. Too often we follow the particular arguments only to lose the general understanding. Professor Trigg not only demolishes the lazy post-modernism and relativism that is the bane of contemporary political life, he also gives a very solid picture of the public moral discourse that ought to supersede it. It is a modem reworking of what used to be called the ‘natural law tradition’.

This is good, clear, serious teaching, timely and relevant. For a comprehensive study of rights and law, the clash of ideals and competing claims, the demands of social and political groupings and how to decide between them iii equity and justice, this is an admirable piece of sound writing, If you are a non-philosopher, you should end the book wiser, which is what you would expect, but also more confident, which is not always the case in such writing, and all the more valuable for it.

JT

From Morality Matters:

There is a tension present in much modern debate. Those who claim rights to privacy and choice are often reluctant to see personal moral choices constrained by anything beyond the individual. They do not want to be told they could be mistaken, or that their choices should be judged against the demands of human nature. The very idea of rights, however, implies that we are dealing with issues that are not matters of individual decision. It cannot be up tome whether you have a right to privacy. Rights create claims on all of us, and cannot be acknowledged or repudiated as a matter of personal decision. Thus, rights to choose, and to privacy, may seem to reinforce a view of morality that leaves everything to the preferences, or tastes, of individuals. In fact they bring us face to face with all the demands of an objectivist ethics. So, far from ethics being private and individual, it has to be a public and social matter. That is why there is pressure for legal recognition of the claims being made. The issue, therefore, in such controversies is not whether there are natural rights. The argument is which they are, and which have priority.

 

 

 

THE LIFE OF JESUS THROUGH THE EYES OF AN ARTIST

Based on paintings by Paul Forsey

BRF, 48pp, hbk

1 84101 3307, £12.99

This hardback book is very colourful and easy to read. Although the pictures are colourful, they are aimed at older children or adults as they are drawn in a hieroglyphic way.

They are based on paintings by Paul Forsey. The texts are good for 7+ and are very simple reading [from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible]. There is quite a lot of detail in the writing.

Each text is nicely decorated and has a picture, each with its own border around. The title, chapter and verse referring to the text is clear and bold. Overall I would give this book eight out of ten.

Amy Church, aged 11, attends Sts John Fisher and Thomas More High School in Colne.

 

 

 

THE DIAMOND SUTRA

British Library, CD-ROM, £9.95

In 1907 an archaeologist working in northwest China discovered a walled-up cave containing some 40,000 scrolls. Closed for a thousand years, the dry desert air had marvellously preserved its paper and silk scrolls; most of them were printed, using carved wooden blocks.

The oldest, dated ‘book’ is from ad 868, the Diamond Sutra, an important text of Indian Buddhism first translated from Sanskrit into Chinese some four centuries earlier. The scroll is made up of seven panels of paper, a finely detailed woodcut of Buddha and then rows of clear, neat Chinese characters. This then, and not the Gutenburg Bible, is the world’s oldest, printed, religious text.

Books are generally so much more interactive and easier to use than computers that the only merit of a cd-rom is its small size. However, for a scroll, a more cumbersome object in real life, it does have advantages: it is satisfyingly simple to move through the text, and best of all the entire text is chanted (press the appropriate button on the screen). I didn’t understand a word of it of course, but it sounded good. There is no translation and an introduction so short it could have been included on the disk-box, so I am not much wiser, but I enjoyed it.

DN

From Morality Matters:

There is a tension present in much modern debate. Those who claim rights to privacy and choice are often reluctant to see personal moral choices constrained by anything beyond the individual. They do not want to be told they could be mistaken, or that their choices should be judged against the demands of human nature. The very idea of rights, however, implies that we are dealing with issues that are not matters of individual decision. It cannot be up tome whether you have a right to privacy. Rights create claims on all of us, and cannot be acknowledged or repudiated as a matter of personal decision. Thus, rights to choose, and to privacy, may seem to reinforce a view of morality that leaves everything to the preferences, or tastes, of individuals. In fact they bring us face to face with all the demands of an objectivist ethics. So, far from ethics being private and individual, it has to be a public and social matter. That is why there is pressure for legal recognition of the claims being made. The issue, therefore, in such controversies is not whether there are natural rights. The argument is which they are, and which have priority.

 

 

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