BOOK REVIEWS

Archaeology, Disestablishment, Joanna Southcott, Sin

 

EXCAVATING JESUS

Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts

J D Crossan & J L. Reed

SPCK, 318pp

0 281 05488 6, £12.99

 

The sub-sub-title is ‘The key discoveries for understanding Jesus and his world’. It is the collaborative enterprise of John Dominic Crossan, the American (West Coast) New Testament scholar and Jonathan L Reed, presently the lead archaeologist at Sepphoris. Together they explore the interaction of the twin disciplines of archaeology and the textual study of the gospels. The general reader (like myself) will find the archaeology fascinating. We may already know something of the Qumran complex and Masada, but have only heard in passing, at best, of the Galilean fishing boat, the Caiaphas ossuary, or Peter’s house at Capernaum. With clear comprehensive diagrams together with lavish illustrations, Excavating Jesus does much to give the feel, sight and smell of Galilee and Jerusalem in gospel times, for which alone it is excellent value. At a deeper level it exposes the profound tensions between rich and poor, rural and urban, covenantal and commercial – always set against the brooding backdrop of the ever present Roman imperial power.

After making allowances for frequent transatlantic neologisms like ‘atop’, anything by Crossan is bound to be attractively, provocatively and sometimes seductively written. Read with profit, but always keep the salt cellar handy! For example, do ‘layers’ of text fall into the same category as archaeological stratigraphy? A coin or shard discovered at this or that particular level constitutes a brute archaeological datum. But whether a particular incident or saying belongs to level one, two or three of the record is far more problematic, and more of a matter of opinion. Those who wish to investigate further may be referred to the appendices of Crossan’s The Historical Jesus, where the method and results are set out, and draw their own conclusions.

Neither, perhaps, should we move too quickly from general descriptions of the conditions of the Galilean peasantry to particular conclusions about Jesus and John the Baptist. Nobody disputes that John’s father was a Levitical priest and that his mother Elizabeth was also ‘a daughter of Aaron’. Jesus also, therefore, may be said to have had priestly connections, at least on his mother’s side. In any case and as a general rule, revolutionary leaders are not drawn from the down-trodden proletariat who have neither thought nor energy for anything beyond their own survival. More likely they will be from a rung or two further up the social ladder, with the understanding, perception and compassion to recognize injustice and oppression when they see it.

The Emperor Heraclitus (p22) should, of course, be Heraclius. I was disappointed not to find any discussion of the edict of the Emperor Claudius against tomb-robbery, said to have come from Nazareth of all places. The book closes with the rather sardonic observation that though Constantine was able to raise the Church of the Holy Sepulchre over the site of Christ’s grave, it has never been possible to design or construct a Church of the Blessed (I would prefer to say ‘Glorious’) Resurrection. This is to strike an unnecessarily pessimistic and defeatist note at the end of an otherwise lively and stimulating piece of work. Neither is it altogether accurate!

 

Hugh Bates is a retired priest living in the Archdiocese of York.

 

 

 

BEYOND THE BLUE GLASS Vol. 1

Catholic essays on faith & culture

Aidan Nichols op

St Austin Press, 216 pp, hbk

1 9011157 16 4, £14.95

 

This is a series of essays dealing with the development throughout the second half of the twentieth century of various aspects of Catholic theology and liturgy. The declared touchstone of the essays is ‘epiphany’, by which Nichols means the illumination and transforming impact of Catholicism upon our understanding of being, goodness, truth and beauty. In a previous volume of essays he describes his approach to be that of ‘intelligent conservatism’, which might be construed as enlightened traditionalism over against theological liberalism.

An interesting prologue to the book is a synopsis of the life and work of St Thomas Aquinas which recounts how Thomas, destined for the abbacy of Cassino, nevertheless ends up with the Dominicans, endlessly travelling between Naples, Rome and Paris. Although he is chiefly known for the Summae, he was also responsible for a large number of commentaries, poetry and sermons, most of which are now, alas, forgotten.

The enigmatic title of the book refers to the visible and invisible powers and presences beyond the famous blue glass of Chartres Cathedral. This appropriately sets the tone of his first essay which examines ‘la nouvelle theologie’ of French Jesuits such as de Lubac and Danielou over against the work of the French Dominican school. He describes the process whereby the open-mindedness of the Jesuits to modern thinking coupled with their strong allegiance to the Bible and the Fathers set the mental climate of the Second Vatican Council, and is the predominant theological outlook of the pontificate of John Paul II. Meanwhile, the insistence of the Dominicans upon a theology grounded on metaphysical first principles became somewhat eclipsed.

Of similar contemporary interest is Nichols’ essay upon Joseph Ratzinger, the Panzerkardinal, the one whom everybody loves to hate, but of whose thought and work very few have an intimate knowledge. In this chapter Ratzinger is portrayed as one who insists upon the primacy of the Absolute and who reminds us that the moment we begin to relativize then Jesus emerges as no more than one religious leader amongst many. The Church, its teaching and the sacraments lose their unconditional character, and we lose our vision of the infinite and the totally ‘other’ God. The content of the Faith, in other words, becomes something which we may decide, whilst liturgy inevitably becomes the subject of endless trivialization. As one might expect, Ratzinger has little time for a society where the highest court of appeal is public opinion and its judgements, and sees the rediscovery of Christian orthodoxy as the means whereby not only the heart but the intelligence of the West may be restored.

A considerable portion of the book is devoted to the thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar, a writer who shares with Barth a passion for the Bible and much wordiness. One of the essays thus comments on the discovery by Balthasar of further implications of Newman’s ideas concerning the development of the Church and the impact of conversion and the objectivity of the intellect upon its life. Another focuses upon Balthasar’s concept of theological aesthetics, connoting the relationship of Biblical revelation to beauty. His contention is that a theology that neglects what is beautiful in revelation will finish up in a dead end, incapable of inspiring anybody, nor of endowing the Church with anything of lasting consequence. For the Church to gain such an insight is no easy task, however, living as it does in a hyperactive and unthoughtful age, and Balthasar concludes by mournfully likening his efforts to the man who puts a message in a bottle in the middle of an ocean.

Other contributions concern the so-called anonymous Christianity of Karl Rahner, the impact of the liturgical reforms suggested by Odo Casel and the Marialaach school, and an examination of the relative importance of Mediator Dei and Sacrosanctum Concilium. The book concludes with a critique of Catherine Pickstock’s thinking concerning the liturgical consummation of philosophy, a chapter which I found difficult to penetrate.

Fr Nichols does not exactly present us with bed-time reading in this volume. He is a theologian’s theologian, and those with both knowledge and an interest in the shifts and polemics of the theological outlook of the last century will have a head start. His style is on occasion opaque and his employment of neologisms such as ‘latreutics’ and ‘facticity’ can be irritating. His essays vary in their appeal and interest; it is therefore a book which I would prefer to dip into rather than to purchase.

 

Peter Harrington is Assistant Priest at St Francis, Hammerfield.

 

 

SETTING THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND FREE

The case for disestablishment

Edited by Kenneth Leech

The Jubilee Group, 98pp, pbk

0 905595 13 0, £4.99

 

I live one mile away from The World Turned Upside Down. Or have I, since my baptism, lived inside it (Acts 17.6)? In his three-page conclusion, Ken Leech shows he knows the text as well as the pub. Not all the eight contributors are as concise as he; ‘The Constantinian era is coming to an end [already?], and we are moving into a new situation, closer to the New Testament than to any period in between.’ Many of his thoughts on the alternative lifestyle of the pilgrim people could have been written by Quakers or Plymouth Brethren. Trouble is, these once-radical groupings are not much in evidence in the Old Kent Road (where the pub is) or Upper and Lower Oakley (where the pubs have gone but the established Church remains).

The other trouble is that in these pages we keep meeting people who are either going (Carey) or gone (Habgood); Trevor Huddleston and Valerie Pitt are usually worth reading, but when they say ‘now’ and ‘today’ we have to check the calendar. ‘The Archbishop of York said recently...’; er, who, when? Tom Hurcombe is still around; he spoke at the book’s launch, and asks ‘Why are there no post-catholics?’, and with Chris Rowland provides some potentially fruitful Bible study. The kingdom of God is both rule and territory. Tony Benn is not here, but at the launch he wittily scorned any idea that in the Old Testament the kings should choose the prophets. What about half the priests being women, then? How selective we all are!

I began this book in sympathy with its cause. I ended it still not sure if we can have establishment without the military, the monarchy, or ‘an elaborate charade of consultation and convention’ in order to get any bishops. In between I wished the writers didn’t describe all the other side’s good points as ‘rhetoric’.

To the genuinely rhetorical question about non-Anglicans, ‘Are they any more introverted, any less committed to the welfare of the whole nation than the Church of England?’, the answer is clearly ‘You betcha.’ The contributors also misjudge Thomas à Becket, Mrs Alexander, and the BCP. It is Jonathan Chaplin who modestly sounds the stirring trumpet-call, that ‘disestablishment may be an idea whose time has almost come.’ CMI

 

 

JOANNA SOUTHCOTT

Frances Brown

Lutterworth, 300pp, pbk

0 71883 018 0, £17.50

 

Joanna Southcott was born in Ottery St Mary in April 1750 and spent most of her childhood in the village of Gittisham, where her father William was an unsuccessful tenant farmer. Joanna entered domestic service in Exeter and soon became very devout, attending services in the cathedral on Sunday mornings and nonconformist meeting houses in the evening. She appears, unusually for the time, to have been a weekly communicant, and frequently declared ‘back to the Church all must come’, that is,. all dissenters would have to return to the established Church.

In 1792 Joanna first claimed to have received a spirit of prophecy. The background to this was the French Revolution and the wars between Britain and France which were to last for the best part of a quarter of a century. Joanna’s dreams and prophesies were all very apocalyptic and were regularly printed and disseminated around England. She attracted quite a following, mostly amongst the poor, but a few trades-people, clergy and minor gentry also supported her. To her chagrin, the bishops of the Church of England cold-shouldered her and after 1811 her separation from the Church was complete.

In 1814 in her sixty-fifth year, Joanna claimed to be pregnant after divine intervention with a second messiah who was to be called Shiloh, after a misunderstanding of Genesis 49.10 in the AV. Her followers ordered costly robes and a crib for the child, which still exist in the care of the ‘Panacea Society’. Cartoonists had a field-day and Joanna was several times burnt in effigy. She was examined by many of the leading medical experts in London, and by Professor Paul Assolini, accoucheur to the Empress of France, who were surprised to find her exhibiting all the symptoms of pregnancy. Her marriage to John Smith, a follower, was brought about so that the comparison with Mary and Joseph might be complete, but still no child came.

On 27th December 1814, Joanna died at 38 Manchester Street, London. Her followers kept her corpse warm for four days, as she had instructed them, but despite her promises she did not return from the dead. Doctors carried out a post-mortem examination of her putrefying remains, which revealed that though she was a virgin, she had never been pregnant. Joanna was buried with the utmost secrecy in St John’s Wood Cemetery to avoid the attention of the mob.

This book tells us much about the pre-Tractarian CofE where the religion of most country-folk was a mixture of Bible stories and superstition. It has been well researched and gives an almost weekly account of Joanna’s life, but it neglects to analyze her teachings to identify any strands or themes in them or see how they developed. More might have been made of the background to Joanna’s prophesying – the anxiety caused by the Napoleonic Wars – and she might have been compared with other similar figures.

The author shows no familiarity with information given in George Bell’s biography of Randall Davidson. Between 1915 and 1927, the Archbishop received repeated requests that 24 bishops should be present at the opening of a sealed box of Joanna’s which would result in untold blessings for the whole world (she had left careful instructions that it should be untouched for 100 years). It was eventually opened in 1927 in the presence of a single bishop and found to contain a woman’s night cap, a novel called The Surprises of Love: or an Adventure in Greenwich Park, a 1796 lottery ticket, a 1793 French court calendar, a 1772 medal of the Princess of Wales, a gun, a dice-box and some coins. Bell recorded that at the time of writing (1935) a second sealed box had appeared, so perhaps all is not lost for Joanna Southcott’s modern devotees.

 

Robert Beaken is Vicar of St Barnabas, Colchester,

 

 

SIN

Hugh Connolly

Continuum, 165 pp, pbk

0 8264 5184 5, £12.99

 

This book is part of the New Century Theology series which Continuum are producing. Fr Connolly was set an almost impossible task in covering a deeply unfashionable topic in so short a space. He rises to it with aplomb. After a brief introduction, which addresses the problem of defining sin, and which includes the snappy aside, ‘The "sins of the flesh" are as prevalent as ever, but nowadays they are big business – and, what’s more – they sell newspapers.’ Fr Connolly covers ideas about sin and evil in ancient European and Near Eastern civilizations, in the Old and New Testaments, and as developed in Christian theology down to the last century. He then turns to look at current discussion, starting with Vatican II in a chapter intriguingly entitled ‘Rediscovery, Renewal and Revitalization’. He goes on to examine ideas about human personality and the origins of sin, about communal or institutionalized evil, then about overcoming sin. The last chapter attempts a synthetic account of sin, which includes treatment of feminist and political theologies.

There is a great deal here crammed into a very small space. Inevitably some of the judgements are pretty summary and based on straightforward accounts of main ideas. This is particularly so in the historical chapters, though I for one could have used the wonderful Augustinian defence of a distinction between mortal and venial sins many times. When he examines the contributions of the present Pope, Fr Connolly is, perhaps unsurprisingly, ponderous and over-cautious. There is a great deal of scriptural discussion in the later chapters which lacks real critical engagement with the text, and supplies the basis for some sermonizing. That said, there are also pages which sparkle with entertaining phrases and which do not spare the inadequacies of the contemporary culture of narcissism.

The book is well produced, with reference notes at the end of each chapter. There is an unfortunate split infinitive on p28, and an alarming pair of misprints on p57 which give both Luther and Calvin a century of life. The index is adequate, though it hovers between a full academic list and a mere catena of names cited. Engagingly each chapter is headed by a quotation relating to its theme. These range from John’s Gospel to Paul Tillich and Aldous Huxley. They reflect the strength of this book, its wide range and generally stimulating comments. Its weakness is the limits imposed by space. As a start to renewing our thinking about sin in an informed and Christian way, it succeeds.

 

Patrick Allsop is Chaplain of King’s School, Rochester.

 

 

CHRISTIANITY FOR BUDDHISTS

Frederick Farrar

Saint Austin Press, 100 pp, pbk

1 901157 23 7, £7.95

 

In the west, Buddhism is reported to be spreading faster than Christianity. This is probably due to a widespread reaction from a narrow materialist view of life and a dissatisfaction at the failure of so many Christian teachers to emphasize the spiritual dimension and the way of contemplative prayer. For this reason meditation in the Buddhist tradition has become popular among many young people. Consequently the publication of Frederick Farrar’s book is timely. He is himself a convert from Buddhism, now a Roman Catholic. Clearly he has learned a good deal from the Buddhist way of meditation, but he now recognizes its limitations.

Although Buddhism is often listed in reference books as one of the great religions of the world, it is not (in the usually accepted meaning of the word) a religion at all, because it has no belief in any god. The Buddhists teach that we need to get beyond our craving to find peace of mind, and that meditation leads to enlightenment. But Farrar emphasizes the biblical truth that God created this world of beauty, that he made us in his own image, and that our fallen state is restored by our Saviour, whom we know to be the Way, the Truth and the Life.

This is not an easy book to read, and one has to reckon with the fact that the author uses lots of technical terms. But it is to be recommended for careful study, and it will help those drawn to Buddhist-style spirituality to see that the ultimate goal of meditation must be the vision of God. BrM

 

SECULARISATION

Edward Norman

London: Continuum, 2002 160pp, no index

0 8264 5945 5, £12.99

 

THE DEATH OF CHRISTIAN BRITAIN

Callum G Brown

London: Routledge, 2001 198 + 58pp, notes, index

0 415 24184 7 £12.99

Almost by coincidence I found myself reading these two books in tandem, and found that they happily contrasted with and complemented one another. Norman’s is the newer, and is the work of a pastor and theologian. Norman won few friends amongst traditionalists with his new Catechism, but he seems to share many of their concerns. His work is passionate – a veritable J’accuse directed against those whom he sees as destroying both society and church.

Brown’s work is older by a year and comes from a sociologist, yet he also seems personally saddened by what he sees as the demise of a long-standing culture: ‘This is not … the death of belief in God […]. But the culture of Christianity has gone in the Britain of the new millennium. Britain is showing the world how religion as we know it can die’ (198).

The gloominess of Brown’s conclusion is matched by Norman, who sees society in general as obsessed with the ‘easy’ life, and the leadership of the Church as rushing headlong to endorse the same outlook: ‘The age has made humanity its god, and far too many who are called as Christians have allowed themselves to accept the human agenda as a reliable embodiment of the message of Christ’ (158).

Norman’s viewpoint will find many sympathizers amongst readers of New Directions. In particular, they will share his concern about the lack of a central doctrinal authority in the Church of England: ‘The determination of authority remains absolutely essential if the Church is to resist error’ (98), whereas, as recent events in Ireland have shown, lacking a recognizable magisterium, ‘The Church of England is particularly liable to error’ (100).

Norman’s book is divided into no less than nineteen pithy chapters, covering everything from Humanism to Pluralism and Theology to Truth, and is full of ‘quotable quotes’. The only difficulty is that whilst long on passion it is short on answers. My own sympathy with his outlook was matched only by a shared frustration at the intractability of the problems, especially since, as he points out, many of them lie with the upper reaches of the institution.

Brown’s book, on the other hand, whilst similarly quotable, also suggested some answers – or at least some ideas one could apply to one’s own ministry and some avenues for further thought. Brown puts forward a fascinating thesis that secularization really began in earnest not in the nineteenth century but with the post-World War II sexual revolution. Moreover, the cause was not the steamroller of scientific and industrial progress, but the earlier dominance of a peculiar form of Evangelical spirituality which denigrated men as innately irreligious whilst simultaneously exalting women as the saviours of men and the preservers of the godly household. According to Brown, ‘The discursive death of pious femininity destroyed the Evangelical narrative’ (179) and hence signalled the collapse into secularism.

Brown’s is quite a technical book, especially where he argues that the statistical analysis of nineteenth and early twentieth century censuses of churchgoing has been misleading. His demonstration of the significance of Sunday lunch is particularly fascinating! But his book is in its own way, as disturbing and thought provoking as that of Norman.

 

John Richardson

 

 

Some Daily Prayers for Church of England People

Harry Ogden

SP, 84pp, booklet

0 9542207 XXX, £3.50

 

This is a wonderful resource. It is the product of decades of parish ministry and ‘hits the spot’ in so many crucial areas. It is laid out in a straightforward way that makes a daily pattern of prayer possible and sustainable. It has a wealth of common-sense teaching about the faith and the practice of it. It would make sense to folk whose background is unadorned Church of England; it is a sound introduction to Catholic spirituality that would not frighten the average Anglican. The selection of material is imaginative and catholic and would introduce the reader to a wealth of spiritual traditions within the Church.

First produced as a parish resource and then finding a much wider readership, the previous edition came out in 1977 and sold well over fifty thousand copies. The present edition contains much new material, including some useful parts of Common Worship. I cannot recommend this book too highly. It could be used as a gift to any kind of enquirer and searcher with complete confidence. A perfect gift for confirmation and a useful addition to any priest’s bookcase.

 

Andrew Hawes is Rural Dean of Beltisloe.

 

 

SHANNON

Damaris Kofmehl

Hodder & Stoughton, 259pp, pbk

0 340 78648 5, £6.99

 

We have heard much in recent weeks, following the Damilola Taylor trial, of the rise in street crime and of pre-teenage and teenage gang culture, which is on the increase in many of our cities. This very readable biography/testimony is timely in its publication. Much of Shannon’s life is beyond my wildest imaginations of what life is about in these street gangs and all the more terrifying for Joe Public than most of us care to believe.

At the tender age of nine, Shannon gave up school and joined one of these gangs in Cleveland, Ohio; her initiation ceremony was to murder another novice in the same gang. Her journey took her through witchcraft, crime, murder, weapons and drugs, both dealing and taking; constantly on the run, and imprisoned in what can only be described as a hell hole.

This little volume raise a lot of questions. Where were her parents? Did the school not notice that she was no longer attending? What of social workers or child protection officers? Were the wardens at the youth detention centres trained? Her conversion many years later, which only takes up the last 59 pages, is more realistic and down to earth than many others I have read or heard, and I did not get the impression that this was because her story was written by another.

Shannon’s life and witness to gang culture and mentality deserve to be taken seriously and even if you are not a reader of the testimony genre it might still offer food for thought. PT

 

 

JUNE 8, 2004

Eli Maor

Princeton, 200pp, hbk

0 691 04874 6, £17.95

 

‘Lift your eyes to the heavens, and consider who created it all.’ Isaiah’s advice is still apt, for though astronomy has no direct relevance to theology, neither do psychology, sociology and biology. Many subjects feed theology, through the head or the heart, however much logic might prefer otherwise. The advantage that looking at the heavens has over these more modern alternatives is that it lifts our gaze beyond ourselves and our bodies, and stimulates the sense of wonder.

The date of the title marks the next transit of Venus, when that planet will be seen moving across the orb of the sun (cue severe warnings on looking at the sun without adequate protection). The event is rare, the last time being in 1882. It will happen again in 2012, after which there is another gap of over a century.

There have been five sightings before the 2004 date, of which the eighteenth-century pair (1761 and 1769) are the most fascinating and important. By using the different measurements from expeditions across the globe (many thwarted by cloud after the years of preparation), the first serious attempt was made to measure the size of the universe by discovering the astronomical constant (the distance between earth and sun).

These are esoteric scientific details, but the technical descriptions are clearly made and the story itself is fascinating, entertaining and full of curious tangents. The Enlightenment was never theology’s best friend, but despite itself, it cannot help pointing to the glory of God’s creation. AS

 

 

SHARING SPACES

Prayer and the Counselling Relationship

Jessica Rose

DLT, l40pp, pbk

0 232 52387 8, £9.95

 

There is a view which holds that book reviews say more about the reviewer than the work reviewed. Nevertheless, here goes! I do not like this book. It is a shallow treatment of the subject; the author would appear to know a great deal about counselling (much of this will connect with current knowledge of those trained in the field) but not a lot about prayer. Further, I found the style of the book incredibly irritating.

Firstly, it seems to me to be a bandwagon or ‘flavour of the month’ book. That is, counselling is a growth industry, the panacea for all the ills of the world. It seems to claim an elitism for itself in the context of pastoral care. So let us have a book about prayer and counselling. But as early as 1979, Scally and Hopson (A Model of Helping and Counselling) were warning that it is only one of many helping strategies and ‘decidedly not the answer to all human difficulties’.

In this book, the comments on practice and theory of counselling are mainstream; I guess that most involved would agree with them. But they are not authenticated – bland assertions without justification. For example, ‘Particularly in the early stages of practice’ (p21) ‘In counselling it can sometimes seem’ (p60) ‘Again, stories abound of counsellors (p81). Where is the evidence/source for and of such assertions? Who says this and where? What is the justification for such claims? Has the author ever heard of Nelson-Jones (The Theory and Practice of Counselling Psychology 1982)?

Assertions about prayer suffer from the same treatment, except they are much less structured. Again, many assertions, none authenticated. In the entire work, only two classic writers are quoted, and they get scant attention: Basil the Great (p59) and Maximos the Confessor (p111). One is reduced to the impression that this is a superficial and subjective ramble through the subject of spirituality in relation to counselling. One would do better to refer to Clinebell 1966/84 (Basic Types of Pastoral Care and Counselling) or the excellent short paper by the Ulanovs (both psychologists) in The Study of Spirituality 1986 (‘Prayer and personality: Prayer as Primary Speech’).

But, as if that were not enough, there is one more significant point. The really irritating aspect of this book is that all of the examples given to illustrate the assertions are anecdotal. Indeed they comprise much of the work. They begin ‘In a discussion, someone asked’, ‘A counsellor said’, ‘A client found that’. What was the context of the discussion? What was the nature of the counselling? Surely we need to know more about the client? Are these anecdotes the author’s own experience? Are they hearsay? Are they even manufactured to illustrate a point? Confidentiality (if that is the reason for this) does not preclude details of authentication; many professional journals and research use case-studies to verify findings and assertions without compromising confidentiality.

All the books reviewed are available from the bookshop at Faith House. If you find this review too outrageous you could always buy the book and make your own judgement. But if I worked at Faith House, I would throw the stock of this particular book away!

Fr John Hervé is Parish Priest of St Agatha’s, Sparkbrook.

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