BOOK REVIEWS

 

EMMAUS, The Way of Faith, National Society/Church House Publishing (ISBN 0-7151-4872-9) and The Bible Society (ISBN 0-564-08925-7), 1996, six books.

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IT WOULD be a rare priest who has not waxed lyrical about the importance of the story of Jesus and the disciplines on the road to Emmaus. And so this story of the risen Jesus opening up the scriptures and breaking bread becomes an ideal basis for a course for new Christians. Emmaus: The Way of Faith is a major enterprise, not be undertaken carelessly, lightly or selfishly, but reverently, responsibly and after serious thought. It comes with a substantial collection of literature, comprising an introductory booklet, a booklet for stage 1, a spiral- bound book for stage 2, and three spiral-bound books for stage 3, costing just over 100. The three stage format takes us from "contact", as Jesus stood alongside the disorientated disciples, through "nurture", as he debated and taught, to "growth", which is what the disciples went on to do. The material claims to be usable by any Christian denomination, although all five authors are Anglican; the best-known name to those of us in the Catholic tradition will be that of Stephen Cottrell, the Diocesan Missioner for Wakefield and co-author of Follow Me.

Some of us have dabbled with the Alpha Course, but decided that we couldn't really use it without having to re-write so much of the material that we could just as easily have started from scratch. However, we accept the principle that it is important to be able to offer such a catechetical course, for potential Christians and existing ones. What we will be looking for in Emmaus is material that comes carefully prepared, accessible without being patronising, and which presents the Christian faith in a way which is at least sympathetic to a Catholic interpretation.

The first stage is a booklet which contains suggestions for making contact with people outside the Church. It would need to be read by priests and PCCs, and raises a variety of different points, which could perhaps have benefitted from more detailed examination. After all, we all know that we see hundreds or thousands of people in the course of a year who come to baptisms, weddings, funerals, social clubs, crib mass, remembrance Sunday, concerts, carol services, school events and who happen to drift into the building because they are passing through, but a few more concrete suggestions might have helped. The gap left unbridged is between having the contacts, and getting people to come to anything else. Our communities are full of people who think that the Church should be like the old NHS: free (of commitment) at the point of delivery.

The second stage, then, assumes you have enough people to nurture into the Christian faith. Mercifully, for those who have looked with dread at the pictures of the Alpha course at H.T.B. showing hundreds of eager catechumens just itching to be received into full communion, Emmaus groups should contain about six to ten people. This second part is a course of fifteen sessions, some on "What Christians believe", some on "How Christians grow", and some on "Living the Christian life". There are plenty of handouts that can be photocopied. Leaders will have to account for the fact that people like to digress into other areas, which can be valuable to pursue. That is probably not going to be a problem, as I suspect that much of the material will take less time to cover than is suggested. And I am afraid that not all of it is equal quality, so we do not have the ideal package where you could simply run the course from beginning to end without having to add, subtract and rewrite. Indeed, from the time to time we can perhaps detect the differing agendas of the authors pulling against each other. For instance the "Contact" booklet tells us that there are two kinds of church: fortress and fuzzy. Fuzzy is the way to be: "Fortress churches demand that you believe before you can belong - which is contrary to research. Research shows that people find it easier to belong to a `fuzzy' church, because the boundaries are much easier to cross". Contrast with that this statement in the member's handout for the second session: "One day each of us will die... The Bible is very clear. Not everyone will enjoy eternal life. The offer of life is made to all. But many reject it". It seems a strange thing to say to people who are just dipping their toes in the water. Likewise, it seems odd to plunge them in week three into the deep waters of the atonement, especially when they have only just been told that "Jesus is a historical figure. He really existed".

The third part of the package comes with the most literature. "Growth" is divided into three books, the first of which is called "knowing God". It starts with four sessions on a technique to help people identify and evangelise prospective Christians from their families, friends, colleagues and neighbours, "to make every small group in the Church a dynamic and effective base for mission and every group member an effective witness for Christ". Then we move into sections on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Here at last we find reference to the Holy Trinity: in fact we are suddenly given the whole of the Nicene Creed, the Trinity as the model of Christian community and Rublev's icon all in one handout. After so thin a doctrinal diet, I wonder whether people might not now suffer from indigestion. After all, an effective teacher will take a topic and return to it again and again, building each time on what has been learned before. In this course, we had the atonement fifteen weeks ago, when we were starting out, and only now do we get the divinity of Christ, and all as part of this Trinity package.

The second volume of the part three material, "Growing as a Christian", starts with a good unit on prayer based on the Our Father, then moves on to scripture. This promises more than it delivers; certainly the intention is good, but I do not think I could give a group of adults a series of worksheets which have great chunks of text with certain words left blank to be filled in: "the [New Testament was] written in G_ _ _ _". On we move to the Church, dealt with in four sessions. I realise that Catholic sensibilities are likely to be delicate here, but I am afraid the discussion of "the relative strengths of liturgical and spontaneous worship" just about killed it for me. The two suggestions for strengths of "liturgical" worship are that "Every service has within it a balance of praise and thanksgiving, confession, intercession, scripture and teaching", and that "If the Church uses a lectionary which follows the Christian year, over a period of time the congregation are exposed to a full range of Christian teaching and not simply the favourite themes of the minister". With the best will in the world, this material does not come out of a Catholic stable. Having said that, it comes as a relief to read in the much better unit on the Eucharist, that it is "the main act of Christian worship". There is also some useful material on the sacraments of healing.

The final volume is about "Christian lifestyle", and often seems rather wordy, and likely to duplicate discussions that will have been had during earlier digressions. For instance, if you ran the unit on the sacrament of reconciliation, you will have had to talk about sin. The whole package is tied up at the end with a unit on integrating our Christian vocation with the rest of our lives, which is a very important area for Christians in the modern world.

Clearly, then, the Emmaus course is intended to require a major commitment on the part of any parish intending to use it in its fullest way, and so it should. But I wonder exactly who will use it. Evangelicals are happily running Alpha courses, and I do not think it is easily usable in a Catholic context. However, if it gets used and it brings people to Christ, then so much the better, for we will be taking seriously the Lord's command at the end of St Matthew's Gospel.

Christopher Smith is the assistant priest at Wantage in Oxfordshire

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FOCUS ON JESUS, Gerald O'Collins and Daniel Kendall, Gracewing, Fowler Wight, Leominster, 1996, viii + 255 pp, pbk, ISBN 0-85244-360-9, 12.99

"WHAT ARE they saying about Jesus now"? so the introductory chapter to this new collection of essays on Christology and soteriology asks. And who "they" are is a whole gaggle of contemporary exegetes and theologians who have been pursuing their enquiries of late with a greater or lesser degree of scholarly concern; a greater or lesser desire to communicate the fruit of their labours; and a greater or lesser degree of downright wackiness. It all makes for a very confused picture at times and for the non-specialist can be downright intimidating.

Well, fear not, for here is a real gift (unfortunately late) for Christmas, the birthday of "Our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in humanity, truly God and truly Man", to coin a phrase. For in this collection of essays Focus on Jesus you are going to be in safe hands for once - all be it in the four hands of two Jesuit theologians - Gerald O'Collins and Daniel Kendall.

O'Collins is well known by way of his publications in this country, and his most recent Christology is an excellent one volume, biblical, historical and theological tour de force. Daniel Kendall's work is unknown to me but the evidence of these essays suggests that he shares with his Australian brother an agile orthodoxy and real desire to communicate.

The book collects together twenty one articles published by the two over the past twenty years or so. Four are co-authored and the others - rather annoyingly - are not credited (although you can work this out by way of an assiduous use of the index).

O'Collins and Kendall introduce the essays by suggesting that "for the convenience of the reader, this present work (.....) will take the `mysteries' of Christ as they unfold sequentially: from the incarnation, through the public ministry, the crucifixion and the resurrection, and on to the mediation of salvation for the human race." This is an attractive approach and the whole sequence is prefaced by a sharp and helpful survey of current trends in Christology.

The essays themselves have a lightness of touch which, far from making them light weight, very effectively deflate the often laboured and heavy posturing of revisionist and liberal approaches. One cannot but smile when one of the authors rather laconically remarks after reviewing the work of the `Jesus Seminar' that "One is left puzzled over what the members of the Jesus Seminar are finally trying to do".

But this is by the by, for although the essays do have a polemical edge to them, overwhelmingly they endeavour to set forth with clarity and expertise, wisdom from the Tradition that far from being silenced by modern theological scholarship can in O'Collins' and Kendall's hands walk with it. The essays are short and offer both flashes of illumination and helpful provocations towards sermon writing - see for instance "Jesus between poetry and philosophy" or "On not neglecting hatred" - or larger and more exegetical pieces which revive one's interest in close textual study.

Indeed, I found the essay on the Pauline dialectic between power and weakness in 2 Cor. 12:9-10 particularly interesting and helpful (Chapter 18).

Of note, there are also essays on "Interpreting Christmas", "The Uniqueness of the Easter Appearances" (with separate essays on both Newman's and Ignatius of Loyola's readings of the resurrection) and "Did Joseph of Arimathea exist?".

I mentioned earlier how O'Collins' and Kendall's work is marked by a keen desire to show how the yield of modern critical scholarship can be reckoned to work together with, and not against, the insights of orthodoxy, and if they say many sensible things that need to be said against, for instance the revisionist work of John Hick (see especially Chapter 3), they are also not afraid to cast a critical and occasionally reproving eye over aspects of their own Church's recent doctrinal productions (see for example Chapter 21).

All in all this is a very enjoyable and helpful collection of essays; a pleasure to read and recommend.

David Moss is Director of Studies at St Stephen's House, Oxford.

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HYMNS FOR PRAYER AND PRAISE, ed. John Harper, the Panel of Monastic Musicians and Canterbury Press, 1996, lxi + 559 pp. hbk. ISBN 1-85311-126-0. 14.99.

THE THREE-VOLUME Divine Office (1974) in English was, in one respect, a great disappointment. It was weak on hymnody. Gone were many of the ancient and mediaeval hymns. Others were summarily abbreviated. The translations of Ronald Knox were often chosen, as if the stern anti-Protestant policy of Dr Terry's Westminster Hymnal were still in force. Instead of office hymns with ancient pedigree, we sometimes had to make do with `pot boilers' or brave new verses.

There have been attempts to improve things. A Song in Season (1976) was one such. Another was The New English Hymnal (1986),

which made extensive provision for the office but in some of its liturgical decisions ignored contemporary revision, Catholic and Anglican. A third was the American The Hymnal for the Hours (1989). Hymns for Prayer and Praise is the latest and perhaps the definitive collection. Starting from the Solesmes Liber Hymnarius (1983) and scrutinizing some 5000 hymns from English speaking countries, the Panel of Monastic Musicians (Roman Catholic and Anglican) has produced a collection of about 270, divided into the Temporal (89), the Diurnal (66), the Common (12), the Common of the Saints (30), the Proper of the Saints (57) and Latin Hymns (15).

Each hymn has two tunes, a simple plainsong melody and a modern tune. The plainsong melodies, unlike some in, for instance, the English Hymnal, do not require the assistance of a monastic schola cantorum or trained choir. Tunes and words, as befit an office hymn, have the quality of bearing repetition. There are few `big hymns' in Hymns for Prayer and Praise and this is not, therefore, a parish church hymnbook, as such. It will be used with great success in religious communities, I predict, and far-sighted cathedrals will employ it for the daily office hymn at choral evensong. But there is a third use: I could envisage the little groups that gather in churches up and down the land to celebrate the Daily Office using this collection. Two men and a dog might feel self-conscious singing `big hymns' in draughty side chapels. Yet gently to enter into the common heritage of office hymns day by day, by using this book, would be very satisfying. Are there enough well-known tunes? Yes, I think so. Is there enough variety for the green seasons? Three settings of Phos Hilaron, 14 ferial hymns for Evening Prayer and seven compline hymns which could be pressed into service would provide a repertoire of 24 for evening ferial use (each with two tunes).

The bias of Hymns for Prayer and Praise is still towards translations of Latin and Greek hymns but there are plenty of new original texts. Stanbrook Abbey and Mount St Bernard Abbey are major contributors to the collection, as are Ralph Wright OSB of Saint Louis Abbey, Missouri, and Fr James Quinn SJ. Most of the words have been translated or written in the last quarter of a century and this is the particular strength of the book. A classicist of my acquaintance seemed well satisfied with the translations and the literary quality of the English.

When The Divine Office was produced in 1974, the vernacular office hymn was in its infancy in the Roman Catholic tradition. The religious communities, Anglican and Roman Catholic, were working hard then, and have been working hard since, at renewing the office. Anglican religious had a vernacular inheritance, Roman Catholics have been discovering the vernacular as a medium for worship. Hymns for Prayer and Praise is a joint harvest of the fine fruits of their labours.

Andrew Burnham teaches liturgy and music at St Stephen's House, Oxford, and is a member of the Church of England Liturgical Commission.

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MAKE MUSIC TO OUR GOD: How we sing the Psalms, Reginald Box SSF, SPCK, 1996, xi + 143 pp. pbk. ISBN 0-281-04932-7. 15.99.

PSALM SINGING has never been the same in the Church of England since the Parish Communion killed off Mattins and the Forsyte Saga killed off suburban Evensong. There have been new psalters available - the Revised Psalter and the Grail in the `60s, Frost-McIntosh and the American ECUSA Psalter in the `80s, the ICEL Psalter in the `90s. There have been schemes for re-instating the psalms and use of the responsorial psalm has become widespread. However we are still not quite back to the position where the psalm is regarded as being as important as any of the other biblical readings. Such was the importance of psalmody in Mattins and Evensong and such is its importance in the Roman Mass. The ASB did half the job: it gave us psalms for the Eucharist but the compilers balked at laying out the psalms in the lectionary according to any one method. The result has been that the psalter has not been used as well as it might have been.

Submitted for the Lambeth Diploma of Theology in 1990, Br Reginald Box's thesis was published at the suggestion of the examiners. Indeed Professor Raymond Warren, who contributes a foreword, had suggested to Br Reginald that a book on the music of the psalms was needed. The historical survey in Make Music to our God is thorough with detailed explanations of the different pointing systems used to set psalms to Anglican Chant, a good account of the metrical psalm repertoire, an exploration of Anglican plainsong and of various experimental methods of psalm setting. The point which Br Reginald makes well is that many of the historical systems were for choral use: elaborate methods of chanting were possible because choirs had the time and skill to perfect them.

The survey is no less interesting when it examines what simple methods are available for modern use. It is no longer to be presupposed that a choir is available or that, where there is a choir, congregations are prepared to delegate psalm singing. Though Br Reginald pays due attention to Gelineau and Dom Gregory Murray, his hero is a man called John Crowdy who published A Free-Chant Service for Morning Prayer and A Recitation Service for Evening Prayer 130 years ago. The system, found also by accident or design in the work of several other composers, derives equally from the chords of Anglican Chant or from the unison tone of Gregorian Chant. What you get is four reciting notes, one for each half verse of the two-verse unit, each followed by a single ending note. Inflection is therefore simple: dump the last available syllable on the ending note; sing the rest on each of the recitatives in turn.

Responsorial psalmody has many of the virtues of Box's simple systems. It is unfortunate that so much responsorial psalmody is said rather than sung and that congregations are often required to retain in the short term memory up to ten words. Revisions of the lectionary are likely to contain shorter responses but, ideally, responses should be read rather than memorised and preferably sung. The most exciting bits of psalm singing I have heard outside choral evensong have been when congregations have had a good response to sing and choir and organ have contributed a beautiful chant in any one of the traditional styles, Anglican chant, plainsong, responsorial. At its best - and "best" need not mean "elaborate"- such psalm singing is as moving as any part of the sacred liturgy.

Andrew Burnham teaches liturgy and music at St Stephen's House, Oxford, and is a member of the Church of England Liturgical Commission.

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TERMINAL CHOICES, Robert N Wennberg, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1989, 246pp, ISBN 0-8028-0454-3

THE ADVANCES in medical technology in the last fifty years have been remarkable, with scientists and doctors routinely transplanting animal parts into living humans, operating on the human foetus in utero and altering the human genetic profile in order to combat inherited diseases. Philosophers and clerics have expressed disquiet that many of these advances have been enacted without sufficient examination of the ethical and economic costs to the community, whilst lawmakers have had to rely on landmark cases in order to control what rapidly becomes standard medical treatment. Of particular concern to many secular and Christian thinkers alike is the role of medical technology in what have been termed `end of life decisions'. Modern medicine has forced us to ask what is the correct Christian response to the cancer patient dying in intractable pain who asks to be put out of her misery, to the patient in a persistent coma whose relatives ask for life support to be ceased and to the baby born without any higher brain whose parents ask doctors to deny her food or water and let nature take its course. These dilemmas are not rare and a Christian response is pressing - already in Australia the world's first legal killing of a terminally ill patient was conducted in September when Bob Dent was finally granted his wish to be relieved of his suffering and every week in the Netherlands patients with a variety of illnesses are despatched by doctors with the tacit approval of the government. Is it, as Caitlin Thomas puts it, simply a matter of a `leftover life to kill'?

In a book written in 1989 Robert Wennberg, an ordained Christian Minister, professor of philosophy and member of a hospital ethics committee, examines many issues of end of life decisions from a Christian perspective. In this scholarly and impeccably referenced work Wennberg examines attitudes to suffering and suicide from the ancient Hebrew and Greek cultures through to the writings of Aristotle and Aquinas. He then attempts to deal with many of the difficult end-of-life decisions in cases of severe mental handicap, suffering and coma and draws arguments together invoking both the past and present. One of the strengths of this book is the way Wennberg examines each issue with impartial reference to both secular scholars and Christians, representing each argument fully and clearly before calmly and sometimes even tentatively offering his own conclusions. Some of these conclusions may surprise the casual reader. For example, he states that it may be in keeping with the Christian values to remove life support measures from patients in `irreversible' coma yet he also argues that Christians should not submit to the temptation to ask others to end her life early in the face of terminal illness, no matter how painful or undignified such an illness may be.

In a debate which has been characterised by extreme examples of patient suffering and extravagant claims by the palliative care movement it is refreshing to find a book which presents reasoned and dispassionate arguments, which is rigorously researched, and which brings a sense of clarity to some very complex and difficult moral problems. I came to this book a firm believer in passive euthanasia, a belief which, because of Professor Wennberg, I no longer hold.

Geraint Duggan is a clinical research nurse at the Centre for Developmental Cancer Therapeutics, Melbourne, Australia.

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