Book Reviews

 

‘Lest we be Damned’

Lisa McClain

Routledge, 410pp, hbk

0 451 96790 2, [£60]

The 1066 and all that view of the Reformation, that on the whole it was a good thing, and welcomed by all, has come in for a great reversal in the last half century. With The Stripping of the Altars and The Voices of Morebath we have learned that England immediately before the reformation was by no means the benighted, superstitious and priest-ridden society we had been led to suppose. Neither can we any longer imagine that the breach with Rome and the subsequent upheavals during the reigns of Henry VIII’s three children led to a golden age in which the reformed Church of England answered the religious longings of all Englishmen.

In her detailed but necessarily fragmentary study of post-Reformation England, Lisa McClain addresses the difficult question of how Catholic lay devotion survived and adapted in a time when priests were being hounded by the state, and non-conformity was punished by severe taxation and worse. ‘As the decades passed,’ she writes, ‘(Catholicism) ceased to be the same Catholic faith that Elizabeth I suppressed with the Act of Uniformity in 1559’, and she attempts to trace the way Catholics adapted their faith and practice.

How far she has proved that, for instance, the adherence of the Cornish to their own Saints and Church Ales was ‘Catholic’ rather than simply bloody-minded Cornishness is not clear. Yet her detailed investigations into some of the remoter by-ways of ecclesiastical and social history make fascinating reading. She expresses sadness that Rome’s stubborn refusal to accommodate those Catholics who wished to attend Anglican services (because the State required it), while privately renouncing Protestant belief, drove many of the faithful into reluctant conformity.

History does not repeat itself. Yet it still may be helpful for those of us under present threat of being cast into outer darkness to recall that our fellow Englishmen four centuries ago found ways of remaining loyal to the faith – and under much greater duress than today’s bishops of Salisbury and Lincoln can apply to us.

+Edwin Barnes

 

I THIRST

Peter Rhys Thomas

Stockwell, 126pp, hbk

0 7223 3515 6, £9.99

I was wrong. Many months ago, I did a quick run through of a whole number of poetry books we had received, explaining why we did not review them – not out of malice, but because it is so hard (meaning impossible) to apply critical judgement to the form. I think I called this volume ‘the best produced’, but I had not, I now admit, read the contents with a fair degree of attention. More recently, I did a quick notice of a book of theological verse (not the same thing as poetry). Whereupon the publishers of this volume reminded me that I was perhaps not being strictly fair.

Admirable persistence, for they were right. This collection is not so much poetry as a collection of verse, or measured prose meditations. There is an imaginative retelling of the Passion introduced by the Archangel Gabriel and some personal pieces, which are a matter of taste, but more valuably there is a solid collection of texts for all the services of Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, that could be used (with some preparation and practice) exactly as they stand.

I would not wish to encourage laziness among my fellow parish priests, but for those who are, say, returning after illness, or lay readers caught out in an interregnum, or any with a sound excuse for not being able to give the necessary time and prayer to proper preparation, this is an excellent resource. The theology is sound, the foundation is biblical, and the emotion is not exaggerated. The pieces are too long to be able to give a meaningful quotation, but I do commend this collection of Holy Week material.

Nicholas Turner is the reviews editor of New Directions.

 

BEGINNING TO PREACH

A practical guide to preaching well

Robert Beakin

Canterbury, 44pp, bklt

0 85191 047 5, £5.99

Distilled and refined, this brief and simple guide is, as Rowan Williams says in the foreword, ‘a treasure of a book’. It is written by an orthodox parish priest, who knows of what he speaks and who offers clear and trustworthy advice. He relies on no new research nor on any recent psychological theory, but simply upon the norms and expectations of parochial life.

It is the simplicity of his advice that is its greatest merit. There are other books that delve into the issues, problems and setbacks with great zest and insight, and then offer a multi-faceted approach so comprehensive as to be more daunting than the original task it intended to support. Fr Beakin simply tells us what needs to be done and how to do it. He begins with the theology, he tells us why we preach, what a sermon is, what it means and what part it plays in the life and worship of a congregation. He then moves to the pattern and discipline of sermon preparation and writing, firmly based on the biblical text. Only then does he move to the delivery and the particular details and techniques that apply to preaching at the occasional offices.

Most young curates and all ordinands should acquire a copy and read and re-read it, slowly and quietly, many times. Do not be put off by its modest approach, for there is more wisdom in these few pages than in most books four times as long.

Do not be put off either by the somewhat old-fashioned typesetting of Tufton Books. The outside, the cover, is by Canterbury Press, full-colour, pleasing layout, entirely professional. The inside, the text itself, looks rather as though an office typist has prepared a company report; it is clear and readable, but (taken that the work does not suffer from the common problem of too many words to be fitted into too few pages) more effort could have been spent on making it more imaginative and pleasing to the eye. Tufton Books, as part of Church Union, ought (surely) to be working harder to present orthodox teaching to an unbelieving and heterodox world. DN

 

From Beginning to Preach:

Two ideas undergird all that follows. The first is the belief that the primary purposes for which the Church of God exists on earth are to worship Almighty God, to tell people about His Son Jesus Christ, and to work out the implications of Christ’s incarnation, life, teaching, crucifixion and resurrection in the life of the present generation. Everything else the Church does is of secondary importance. We are in the business of communicating the Good News by many different means and I firmly believe in the importance of preaching in church Sunday by Sunday as a central part of this task. Good preaching will not by itself necessarily attract people to church or commend Christianity to them, but bad preaching will surely drive them away and dispirit already existing churchgoers. I would add to this my conviction that the principal Sunday service ought to be the Eucharist with a sermon, because word and sacrament go together.

 

 

THE COST OF CERTAINTY

Jeremy Young

DLT, 200pp, pbk

0 232 52580 3, £12.95

What a fascinating book! It is a study of the pathology of certainty within the patterns of the Christian Gospel described and analyzed from within a psychological context. Its central conundrum is powerfully told. Christianity teaches that God’s love is unconditional; however he only accepts those men and women into his kingdom who have repented of their sins and who believe and trust in the Jesus Christ as Saviour. But this is a condition, and as such breeds anxiety and fosters a sharp division between saved and damned, righteous and condemned.

The gospel of liberation can therefore be turned into a spiritual prison, and the good news should really be called ‘bad news’ for all the benefit it brings to many of those who believe. Fr Young (he gave up the parochial ministry a decade ago to become a family therapist) has a very clear sense of the distortions that people so readily introduce into the notion of sin.

He gives a most impressive description of the good news of sin, how the understanding of ourselves as sinners is the work of God’s grace, and how we learn what it means to be a sinner as we learn more of what it means to be forgiven. I could imagine him preaching very fine sermons on the subject. His principal approach is rather less theological than an analysis of the mind: what people do and why they do it, how it is that we can turn good news for ourselves into the scapegoating of others.

That being his approach, it is inevitable that he will fall into the traps he so clearly sees in front of others. He does cover himself with such qualifications as ‘there is a danger that non-Catholics may scapegoat the Roman Catholic Church’; nevertheless his quite long study of how that Church has coped with the accusations of sexual abuse, particularly in Ireland where he now works, is intemperate at best, and vicious scapegoating at worst. It is clear that in his enthusiasm for uncertainty he rejects most of what makes the Church the Church.

A psychological analysis can reveal the problms and the dangers more sharply perhaps than ‘ordinary’ Christian theology, and in a language that is very persuasive to our generation, but in the end it does not show what to do and why. A solid and orthodox telling (and retelling) of the Christian Gospel will teach us more deeply what sin is, and why it should never lead us into the forms of certainty that become the basis for fundamentalism.

I am probably being unfair, because I did fully engage with this book, and if it drew out a strength of disagreement that surprised me that is partly to its credit. It is sharp, very perceptive and forcefully argued. Its success was summed up in the accompanying diagram. This absurdly complex set of interactions. What are we to make of it? It is to the credit of this book that it made sense of all this, without weighing down the reader. And yet, in the end, is this the heart of the matter? There is a sense in which if he is right then he may also be wrong. NA

 

 

 

 

CRUSADES

Edited by Thomas Madden

Duncan Baird, 224pp, hbk

1 84483 040 3, £19.99

Richly illustrated, this makes a most obvious Christmas present for anyone interested in this much maligned and ultimately doomed enterprise of medieval Europe. In a complete sequence of short chapters and accompanying text boxes, interspersed with stunning photographs, it covers the whole history from the rise of Islam to the decline of the Ottomans. To the five great crusades are added details of the development of that idea, against the Cathars, and in the Baltic states.

With so many centuries and so many nations and leaders to be covered it does not leave much room, in what is a popular rather than exhaustive study, for explanations or judgement. What historical verdicts it does offer are measured and contemporary – it has moved far beyond the crypto-imperialism of popular imagination. It is careful to point out that Muslims were as much part of the Holy Land society when it was under Christian rule as were Christians when it was under Muslim control. If there seems at times too much detail, it always reminds us just how complex and convoluted was that history of the eastern Mediterranean.

One picture is of a modern, Islamic statue of Saladin, archetypal Arab leader, both army general and statesman, symbol of the historic struggle against the West. How ironic, in view of more recent events, that it was the Christians, not the Muslims, who created his myth, who turned him from one leader among many in the long years of conflict into the icon of moral leadership and the noble treatment of enemies. SR

 

AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF JUDAISM AND CHRISTIANITY

Dan and Lavinia Cohn-Sherbok

DLT, 180pp, pbk

0 232 52564 1, £15.95

When a book sets itself an impossible task, it is a joy when it succeeds. What are the differences and similarities between Judaism and Christianity, and how can these be understood and compared when there are so many branches and divisions within them? It helps of course that one derives historically from the other (how would one attempt the same exercise with Islam?) but it is still a challenge to say anything worthwhile when so many qualifications suggest themselves at every turn.

In a series of short articles (e.g. Mariology, Marriage, Martyrology, Messiah … Morning Prayer, Music, Mysticism) they compare the traditions, beliefs and practices of the two faiths, explaining the shared ground, the differences, and why some elements are simply missing from one or the other. There is a tendency to over-emphasize the Protestant input in Christianity, and to favour the liberal traditions in both faiths, for the context is the United Kingdom. That is absolutely right, for this is not a theological assessment of the teaching of the children of the two covenants, but a practical resource. For whom?

The obvious readership would be university students, that is to say young people, of a certain intelligence and openness to the world, with a desire to learn more about both faiths. This is not comparative religion, but a most useful and encouraging guide for personal contact. Have you fallen in love with a girl/boy of the other faith? If it ends up in marriage, there are going to be deeper questions to ask than can be summed up in these pages, but for the present buy this book and read up on the several themes as and when they come up. This is a fine piece of writing, done with great care and sensitivity. AS

 

DRAWN INTO THE MYSTERY OF JESUS THROUGH THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

Jean Vanier

DLT, 360pp, pbk

0 232 52572 2, £9.95

The Bible commentary that had the greatest influence upon me as a young man was one by Suzanne de Dietrich, published in 1966, on the Gospel of John, in a meditative and at times even lyrical free verse. It brought me closer to the words and phrases of the divine text, by reflecting upon them almost as objects, even living things; it also conveyed the power, the cosmic reach, of those words of scripture. I was therefore glad to receive this commentary on John also by a French theologian, also in meditative verse.

Jean Vanier is the founder of L’Arche and co-founder of Faith and Light, two communities with and for people with disabilities, a preacher and theologian who has built his authority upon the power of his work and vision. There is, without question, great energy and authority in his reflections on John’s gospel, and yet, old man that he is, revered by many and with a world-wide reputation, he needed a more severe editor. What he says is wonderful, but he says too much.

The form demands something a little more spare and sparse. Not that his discussion of the Greek words (transliterated) is wrong, but it begins to move into another form of commentary; but perhaps more seriously he repeats, or re-emphasizes some of his more important points, as though it were an ordinary piece of prose, to be read at a certain speed and only once.

Meditative prose, set out as though it were free verse, has a slower rhythm. If the point is not made first time, then instead of repeating it in a different form to ensure that it does get across, which is the general writing technique, the writer should do nothing. It is up to the reader to read again. Maybe much will be lost and much may be misunderstood, but that quiet dialogue is what verse is all about.

Vanier does fill his text with insights gained from L’Arche and his wider work, but he also offers a lifetime’s prayer and experience. He may stray from time to time away from the text, but always he shares the assurance that the power of these sacred words will transform our lives and draw us closer to God.

Divided into twenty-six sections, it could be used for a sort of personal and reflective Bible study, around half an hour, or more if you have the discipline to reflect at length. Read it through slowly, possibly with the gospel text open in front of you, ignore the cross-references at least initially. Much of it will be simple and straightforward, and then some powerful insight will burst off the page; slow down and let it sink in. Keep up the gentle rhythm, and by the end of the section, you will have been drawn into a vivid and inspiring picture of some part of Christ’s ministry or passion. AS

From the commentary on chapter 11 in Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John:

In this gospel, Lazarus is present but he never speaks and is never described. In Luke’s gospel, when Jesus visits this family in Bethany, the home is described as the ‘home of Martha,’ not the home of Lazarus. In the home, we find Martha and Mary; but Lazarus is not present. Lazarus seems to be a ‘nobody,’ except to his sisters and Jesus, who love him deeply. He seems to be at the centre of the family, living with his two unmarried sisters.

As I read all this I cannot help but come to the conclusion, which of course comes from my experience in L’Arche with people with disabilities, that Lazarus has a handicap and probably a serious one. The word asthenés can imply this. Were the two sisters unmarried in order to look after him? The words of his sister, ‘the one you love is sick,’ seems to me significant. To me, these words imply ‘the one that you visit and bathe, the one you love with tenderness and affection, is in danger of death.’ This is of course only a supposition and is in no way central to what John seeks to reveal here about the love of Jesus for each one in this family

 

AN ORDER FOR THE HOLY EUCHARIST

The Church in Wales

Canterbury, 208pp, hbk

1 85311 617 3, [£9.99]

This is the new order of the Mass for the Church in Wales, in both Welsh and English, produced by the Holy Eucharist Revision Committee, whose chairman is Bishop David Thomas.

Just as the 1984 Welsh prayer book was a more restrained version of the ASB, so the 2004 version is a more restrained version of CW. There are of course too many alternatives, for that is the nature of modern liturgy in a divided church, but nevertheless it still maintains the sense of a definitive, shared liturgy, rather than simply offering a resource book with more options than there have been days since the Last Supper. It is a subtle distinction, but part of it has to do with layout. Here, with the exception of the Eucharistic Prayer itself, it would be possible for a newcomer to follow the service directly from the book without having to be given the page number before every item (always assuming that the alternative prayers are not being used).

There are seven Eucharistic Prayers, probably rather more than will be needed; five of them have the Epiclesis after rather than before the words of institution; one is taken (with permission) from the Scottish Episcopal Church. One takes up the CW prayer ‘when Jesus had supper with his friends’, and continues in the same vein, until we reach this petition, ‘Help us all to walk hand in hand with Jesus’. It is all a matter of intonation, but it is not difficult to imagine how to say it in a way that could have any member of the Prayer Book Society frothing at the mouth.

CW has its Order One and Order Two, either of which can be in traditional or in contemporary language. The Church in Wales, with greater wisdom and a more becoming humility, has the new Eucharist (2004) in contemporary language, and retains the former version (1984) in traditional language. There is no question that many improvements could have been made to this twenty-year-old rite, many subtle additions and alterations that could have been argued over. How right they are not to have done so. How right to acknowledge that use and devotion add more to a liturgy than a committee, that the solemn rite of the church should not be constantly improved, that it is more often better to accept what we have than hanker always for something new.

Both rites have, in the section of additional material, a clear and unequivocal form of individual confession and absolution. It is particularly valuable and important that this should be attached quite clearly to the Eucharist. You know as well I do than many in evangelical circles will object and many more will never avail themselves of this ministry, but as one of the Church’s great gifts it should not be hidden in a metaphorical corner (among prayers for the sick), but placed in the front of people’s consciousness as part of their eucharistic discipline.

I have in front of me the Pew Edition. One of the things one can always ask a new prayer book is, ‘Which is the principal edition? Is it a priest’s book, made smaller and lighter for the congregation? Or is it a people’s prayer book, enlarged for use on the altar?’ Not as much as the Prayer Book perhaps, but this does fulfil the latter intention. It is a pity, therefore, if this is a book that ordinary members of the Church in Wales might possess at home (a confirmation gift for example), that more of the rubrics are not written with them in mind. Too many choreographing instructions makes it appear that only clergy can read and understand the Mass. There are eighteen ‘notes’ to the Eucharist, with a further eight for celebrations with children; could have been worse, but could have been better.

A striking feature of the book is that although it is admirably restrained, by comparison with CW the richer, grander offering of its sister and neighbour, much of the writing is new and fresh, almost idiosyncratic. I am not sure, after an initial reading, that all the phrasing has the necessary flow and cadence to last the passage of years, but perhaps that is to be found in the Welsh.

The Eucharistic theology is a matter for separate, and unending, discussion. As an order for the Mass, it is most attractive, for unusually in Anglican circles, it offers what it states on the cover.

From the Church in Wales’ An Order for the Holy Eucharist (2004).

An alternative to the Collect for Purity:

Father of glory, holy and eternal, look upon us now in power and mercy. May your strength overcome our weakness, your radiance transform our blindness, and your Spirit draw us to that love shown and offered to us by your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

An alternative to the Prayer of Humble Access:

Lord Jesus Christ, you draw and welcome us, emptied of pride and hungry for your grace, to this your kingdom’s feast. Nowhere can we find food for which our souls cry out, but here, Lord, at your table. Invigorate and nourish us, good Lord, that in and through this bread and wine your love may meet us and your life complete us in the power and glory of your kingdom. Amen.

One of the post-communion prayers:

Eternal God, comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken, you have fed us at the table of life and hope: teach us the ways of gentleness and peace, that all the world may acknowledge the kingdom of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

A GENTLE JESUIT

Philip Caraman sj

June Rockett

Gracewing, 360pp, hbk

0 852 44593 8, [£20]

Here is a Christmas present for someone who enjoys the genre of celebrity biography; the writing is clear, the photographs well chosen; I especially enjoyed the one captioned ‘Dame Edith Sitwell in 1956, the year after her reception into the Catholic Church by Fr Caraman’.

He was indeed as the title suggests a gentle Jesuit, an educated, cultured and scholarly Englishman of Armenian ancestry, who had close and enduring friendships with Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark, Alec Guiness and, until they fell out, with Graham Greene – Fr Caraman played a major part in ending the affair between the author and Catherine Walston, the mistress who had inspired him to write The End of the Affair.

A prolific author in his own right, he wrote influential works on Elizabethan Catholicism, but it is as a major participant in twentieth century literary England, playing a significant role in the lives of other more well known literary figures, that he is worthy of remembrance, and of this biography, written by one who knew and admired him and has had full access to his papers, and who is, as the dust cover blurb assures, descended from a recusant family. NA

 

HOPE HAS WINGS

Stuart King

MAF, 368pp, pbk

0 874367 58 2, [£5.99]

The story of Mission Aviation Fellowship, reissued and updated for its sixtieth anniversary. A story of planes and evangelical Christians and help to those in need.

Return to Home Page of This Issue

Return to Trushare Home Page