Book Reviews

Bishops, curates and Anglican divines

 

MARIAN APPARITIONS, THE BIBLE AND THE MODERN WORLD

Donal Anthony Foley

Gracewing, 454pp, pbk

0 85244 313 7, £20

 

Not another weeping statue (or icon)? Not another child or nun having yet another tediously improbable vision of Mary? Not more Immaculate Hearts and First Saturdays? ‘Surprising stuff’, as one German theologian dryly described it, ‘to people from the Anglo-Saxon and German cultural world,’ peasant Mediterranean religion at its most superstitious and credulous; salvation by dodges; outlandish devotions leading to embarrassing plaster statues of saccharin sanctities. But here is a book that takes Marian apparitions seriously and comes to us with heavyweight back-up: Professor John Saward has lent a hand; Fr Aidan Nichols op has written a forward; and our own admirable Jill Pinnock has helped out.

This book makes clear that Rome does not require belief in any post-biblical visions or revelations. Indeed, the bishop who provides an imprimatur insists, ‘It does not imply agreement with the contents, opinions or statements expressed therein, or approval of, or support for any private revelations, apparitions, messages or devotions.’ The Church simply decides that a particular cult is safe and edifying; and she may also take a very negative view of those she regards with suspicion. Significantly, the word ‘Medjugorje’ does not appear in the index to this book. Perhaps those most devoted to Our Lady are likely to be the most offended by attempts to exploit her fraudulently. Witness that untiring promoter of devotion to Mary sub titulo Mater Misericordiae, Bishop John Grandisson of Exeter, who nevertheless ruthlessly demolished a questionable ‘shrine’. It remains true that a genuinely enlightened world-view would examine claimed phenomena coolly and objectively rather than with a bigoted and prejudicial antipathy.

Donal Foley’s book is long and meaty and perhaps uneven. I suspect that professional historians might differ in the extent to which they were impressed by the many historical judgements which Foley makes as he attempts to set a number of apparitions from Guadalupe to some in the twentieth century in their historical contexts. But, after all, any historical judgement must be provisional except as matters are seen from the Eschaton by the eyes of the Eschatos. Where Foley is most thought-provoking is in his demonstrations that the imagery and theology of so many of these apparitions cohere with biblical imagery; with the way in which the biblical texts and images relate intertextually with each other; with the continued development by the Fathers and the classical liturgies of same divine didactic game.

Thus, in his first chapter, as Foley unpacks the iconography of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he recounts the significance of snake cults in Aztec religion; of the Nahuatl title for Mary, Coatlaxopeuh, ‘She who crushes the serpent’, which probably lies behind the Nahuatl word translated ‘Guadalupe’; and relates it all to the patristic typological account of Mary as the New Eve complementing him whom St Paul typologically identifies as the New Adam; and … but stay: read Foley’s accounts for yourself in their totality; whether or not you are convinced by his thesis, you will learn a lot.

Foley provides interesting evidence for the view that, during the Enlightenment onslaught upon the rich tapestry of biblical and Christian tradition, during that trahison des clercs which culminated in the condescending unbelief of twentieth-century ‘biblical scholarship’, it was through the simple and the foolish that God kept alive for his Church understandings which the clever and the wise were certain they had outgrown. Yet even the most dogmatically intransigent liberal or atheist might pause for an uneasy moment before Our Lady of Fatima (Our Lady of Coincidences, as we might rename her) whose feast-day, marking her first appearance in 1917, is May 13; whose ‘Third Secret’, written down in 1944, was a tableau of papal assassination; whose devoted client John Paul II slumped forward in St Peter’s Square as blood pumped out through his white cassock on May 13 in 1981, when an assassin’s bullet missed, by a fraction of a millimetre, his principal artery, his spinal column and his more important nerve centres and organs. ‘It was a Mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path, and in his throes the pope halted at the threshold of death’, was the victim’s comment. ‘In the designs of Providence there are no coincidences.’

What an un-English business. But could it be that God is a touch more like a vulgar impresario of Mediterranean melodrama than like the quiet, well-mannered, self-effacing figure that polite English agnostics almost believe in? And how foreign to all our fashionable sub-Christianities is the shadowy truth dimly discernible behind these coincidences of divine omnipotence placing its free mercies in the intercessory hands of the Great Mother of God, Mary Most Holy. It makes you wonder who is blind and who it is that sees; who really possesses the divine wisdom which men call folly.

 

John Hunwicke celebrates the liturgy in Devon.

 

 

STEPS ALONG HOPE STREET

David Sheppard

Hodder & Stoughton, 356pp, hbk

0 340 86119 9, £17.99

 

I first saw David Sheppard when I opened a draw in a desk in my new home and he stared up at me! That’s bit of a dramatic opening, I know, but I couldn’t resist it! I was looking in fact at a newspaper photograph of the young David Sheppard as captain of the England cricket team. Two weeks later I did meet him in the flesh as he was one of the bishops in Southwark Cathedral who ordained me to the diaconate. It happened that I served in a parish which was in his episcopal area and so had contact with him quite a lot in my early days in the Diocese of Southwark.

One thing that became plain very early on was that, whilst he did his very best to fit in with the liturgical style of all of the churches in his area, he had his rules. For instance, he would happily wear a chasuble but would not change vestments. If he started in a cope he ended in a cope! He was very clear about his own Evangelical roots both in worship and theology, but worked meticulously at being able to fit in with anything that was put his way. I remember being very impressed by his wrist action with a thurible at the mass at my church.

I next worked with David Sheppard when he was chairman of the Board for Social Responsibility of the General Synod and I was a humble member. He always tried to keep the whole membership on board in any discussions we had, not be glossing over differences, but by creating an atmosphere where people holding different views felt safe to explore the issues without the debate descending into rancour. The ability to see where other people come from and to try to reach common ground on principles was a hallmark of his leadership of the Board.

Forgive my self indulgence in this wander down memory lane, but the man who emerges from this comprehensive autobiography reflects these remembrances of him. I found his description of his early life and discovery of faith fascinating. His struggling with the traditional Evangelical ‘individualistic soul-saving’ theology in the face of inequality and injustice, both internationally and domestically in society, shows a man and priest who could and did develop and change in the face of new situations.

Anyone reading this book will not only be hearing an account of one man’s life and ministry, but also following the history of the Church of England in the last few decades. David Sheppard was a participant in or observer of all of the major debates that have taken place. His observations of them necessarily come coloured by his own views, but as an eye witness he reminds us of where we have come from, where we are now and (for instance on homosexuality) where we still have to struggle in the future.

 

George Nairn-Briggs is the Dean of Wakefield.

 

 

The Private Prayers

Lancelot Andrewes

Verse and Prose

George Herbert

Poetry and Prose

Thomas Traherne

SPCK, 130pp, pbk

0 281 05440 1 etc, £10.99 each

 

In the June issue I reviewed David Scott’s introduction to the lives and thought of five seventeenth century Anglican divines. Now a volume on each divine will give the reader a more substantial taste of this precious part of our Anglican heritage. In this month’s New Directions, Professor Chapman, in the second article on Anglican Devotion, describes this devotional poetry as different from religious poetry because ‘it is created from an active state of mind and spirit, deeply feeling the presence of God, seeking to come closer to him through words.’ The language of the seventeenth century is one of the main characters in these books, expressing the uncreated through the created, an apprehension of the divine.

Each volume begins with the editor’s introduction to the series, the author’s introduction of the subject matter, before selections from primary texts. In Lancelot Andrewes, Scott describes his own discovery of the private devotions and TS Eliot’s influence on him. He discusses Andrewes the man, the privateness of the prayers, and the Laud and Lambeth manuscripts. This contextualizes the Devotions, in the living situation of a slower pace of life and advises the reader on disposition in their daily use, their methodology and biblical character. Each chapter presents selections of daily prayers from the Laud manuscript and then from the Lambeth Palace manuscript selections on meditation, the Lord’s Prayer, Occasional Prayers and a Confession. Here is a book that can lead the reader into a discerning experience of prayer through Andrewes’ usage of ancient liturgy and prayer in personal devotion.

The Herbert hymns sank unnoticed into Wendy Cope until years later as an atheist she bought a second-hand copy of his poetry and discovered she knew some by heart. She grew, through her return to churchgoing, into valuing them as ‘expressions of Anglican piety at its best’. In her introduction she contextualizes his poetry in biography, and gives the reader an informative discussion of his literary work. All this is placed within the context of the heavenly in the ordinary, a mystical awareness that is born of spiritual combat in one whose delicate and precarious health was bound to affect the moods and feelings which become a true expression of the prayer from which God does not turn away. This is a prelude to selections from the familiar writings: The Church-Porch, The Altar, The Collar, The Priesthood, The Pulley, The Elixir, Heaven, A Priest to the Temple, to name only a few. A select bibliography suggests useful further reading. Buy this book and let Herbert help you find heaven in the ordinary in the way of Anglican piety as you re-evaluate the poems you know as hymns.

Thomas Traherne will be less familiar to most people. Denise Inge’s first impression ‘was a largely discredited one’ as a minor poet until she ‘discovered that if you can invoke all the powers of your imagination to follow him he will take you on ventures into time and eternity that none of the others will. He will turn your understanding inside out, thrill, surprise and exhaust you.’ In Traherne Inge found grace, ‘unimaginable generosity woven into the very fabric of the universe’, and a vision of a gracious God in his creation who continually speaks hopefully to her. Her introduction includes biography, the story of Traherne’s discovery, literary critique, his sources and influences, and the historical context. Then come selections from Centuries of Meditations, from Poems and Thanksgivings in the Dobell and Burney Manuscripts, from Christian Ethicks, from Select Meditations and Commentaries of Heaven, and then selections from the Lambeth manuscript. The book concludes with a useful page on further reading.

These editors have exhibited their skill and sensitivity in their choices of what best portrays a balanced introduction to this devotional poetry that bridges the worlds of earth and heaven with an evocative power that rests on these poets’ perception of the extraordinary in the ordinary and is such a precious part of our Anglican heritage.

 

Arthur Middleton is a Tutor at St Chad’s College, Durham.

 

 

SANITY, SECURITY, SANCTUARY

Ann Bell

BG, 148pp, hbk

1 85776 307 6, £12.95

 

As we enter the twenty-first century, many people become increasingly aware that our society is moving away rapidly from its Christian roots. This book is written by the wife of an Anglican priest, who shows herself to be gifted in a number of areas, theology, history, art and as a writer. It is a powerful contribution to the pro-life movement, and a substantial challenge to the received feminist orthodoxy that abortion and the Pill have brought untold benefits to women. The author returns again and again to the theme that the human womb is sacred and deserving of human respect.

Ann makes the point that since this is God’s world the conclusions and consequences of Christian theology are for all men. This is correct, but I suspect that Western Europe has so departed from the mind of Christ, that the Church’s main task is to encourage Christian people to adhere to the will of God, and not to surrender to the world. This I believe to have been the outlook of Gladstone, whom the author admires, and Sir John Wolfenden, of whom she is critical.

The final chapter is a good defence of the Incarnation, very timely in view of the degree of scepticism within the Church of England, revealed by the recent Cost of Conscience poll. It is a pity that the length of the book means that it is rather condensed. Its ultimate value is to bring home to Christian people the need to challenge current political orthodoxy.

 

John Richards was formerly Bishop of Ebbsfleet.

 

 

THE OFFICE OF INNOCENCE

Thomas Keneally

Sceptre, 336pp, hbk

0 340 62473 6, £17.99

 

Keneally is a powerful and unsentimental writer, but can at times, for that very reason, be cruel and bitter. An Australian of Irish extraction, he nurtures strong hatreds for many institutions, so I was expecting a cruel pen as he unpicks the disintegrating innocence of a young Roman Catholic curate of the pre-Vatican II church. Surprisingly, it is done with great sympathy and compelling detail.

The setting is Sydney, 1942, with the Japanese advancing through south-east Asia and threatening Australia itself (one of the most dramatic and well-told scenes is the night raid on Sydney harbour). Fr Frank Darragh finds himself comforting the young children of the convent school as they practise their evacuation drill to the make-shift bomb shelter under the church, and encountering the American soldiers arriving in large numbers. He must also give comfort to young women whose husbands are away in the forces.

One in particular, the mother of one of his school children, has sought his help. Half recognizing his own attraction to her, knowing that his parish priest would not approve, he nevertheless offers what help he can, only to be caught up in jealousy at her involvement with another man. His innocence, frustration and mixed motives are all well told, and I relived my own first years of ministry. And then she is murdered.

When we came to that classic of Roman melodrama, the murderer in the confession box, I thought it would all descend into farce. Again I was surprised. The plot may strain a little, but the resolution of motives and hatreds is compelling. The final sad conclusion and the loss of a vocation is an unexpected resolution. I ended the novel glad that fiction allows a broader spectrum of emotion than orthodoxy and orthopraxy permit. SR

 

[Place this box, to cover two columns, somewhere near the review above.]

 

From The Office of Innocence. Fr Frank is finding it difficult to persuade his beautiful, married parishioner of the dangers of a dalliance:

‘I can’t see anything notable enough to risk a marriage over. That’s what puzzles me.’ Her face flushed, but only mildly. ‘I think, living in the presbytery, it’s hard for you to tell, Father.’

‘Is there nothing to be said then?’ he asked her. He knew traditional priests would scorn the asking of such a question. They would have walked out the door, warning her emphatically of hell. But that would not have been of any service to her.

‘You know what I’ll say,’ she said, suddenly straining for breath. ‘I know what you’ll say. Have more tea, though. Don’t give me up for another five minutes.’

So he drank more tea and there was minor conversation but little to say. He rose at last, and thanked her and left fairly briskly, not to string out the futility. He was aware too that there was no basis for future meetings, unless like Mrs Flood she should unexpectedly summon him to bring the sacraments or other comfort. Walking home, he felt depressed that the contact had ended. Was Catholicism and its orthodoxy sometimes better designed for the timid, for twitching souls who came too often to confession, for the scrupulous so hungry for absolution at every hour? That was a mystery. A mystery so great that, although not short of breath, he found himself pausing, like an asthmatic gathering strength for the next stride.

 

 

LITURGY, the Life of the Church

Lambert Beauduin osb

Translated by Virgil Michel osb

Saint Michael’s Abbey Press, 96pp, pbk

0 907077 40 4, [£8.95]

 

‘A classic of the Liturgical Movement’ is how Dom Cuthbert Brogan introduces this reprint of a book first published in French in 1914. This lovely little volume is likely to inspire the thoughtful hierophant to wonder whatever happened to the Liturgical Movement – as it was adumbrated by Beauduin and prophets like him. Surely, you ask, the Liturgical Movement succeeded? Do we not see the fruits of its success every time we go to mass? Well, up to a point. But a rereading of classics of the movement reveals that a very great deal of what Bugnini and his henchmen unloaded on the Western Church ‘after the Council’ went far beyond . . . no, let me correct that, went in the opposite direction from the one in which the Liturgical Movement pointed.

Read Beauduin and pause on what his reading in the Fathers and the classical liturgies led him to conclude. ‘Liturgical piety derives its transcendent character above all from what we can call its hierarchical character.’ ‘Liturgical Apostolate offers the most efficacious antidote to the poison of the secular spirit.’ ‘Rome should occupy in the love and worship of Catholics the place that Jerusalem occupied in the love and worship of the Children of Israel.’ ‘The importance of High Mass’, prayer, penance, fasts, alms, continence and, above all, the sacrificial aspect of the Mass are all emphasized. Here, perhaps, has been the greatest casualty in the folksy sequela of the Council, both among Roman Catholics and ourselves. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if our Catholic Revival may have been too single-minded in hammering home the Real Presence. Perhaps it was over-worried by hysterical polemics about ‘repetitions of Calvary’. Is it too late to preach insistently that, morning by morning, bread arid wine are changed into the Lord’s Body and Blood and so made to be the Lord’s full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction?

Read, and reread, Beauduin; and if you feel that water has flowed beneath many bridges since 1914, follow Dom Cuthbert’s hint and read, or reread, Joseph Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2000), where one of the best minds of the modern church re-presents the spirit of another great proponent of the Liturgical Movement, Romano Guardini. You will find Ratzinger weaving a rich tapestry: What is sacrifice? How does it relate to the cosmos or to history? How is it to be expressed in sacred places? In the direction of liturgical prayer? In music? In art? In the actions and gestures of physical liturgical participation? Perhaps we clergy need to go back to school liturgically. These two books would be an admirable start. JH

 

 

Faith beyond resentment

Fragments catholic and gay

James Alison

DLT, 240pp, pbk

0 232 52411 4, £10.95

 

Can a gay Roman Catholic theologian shed any light on the current Anglican debate on homosexuality? Such were my thoughts in picking up James Alison’s latest book which has a commendation from Rowan Williams.

It was a paragraph at the end of the book, that jumped out at me as a non-RC, ‘any church which does not accept our teaching on birth control has no logical position at all from which to forbid gay sex. Once you have accepted a rupture between the procreative and the unitive aspects of sex, the only barrier to complete acceptance of gay couples is prejudice.’ The quote is lifted from one of several cameos of gay culture that are shocking at different levels.

The whole book is a godly plea for dialogue to replace what Alison calls fratricide in the debate about the moral legitimacy of homosexual acts. What most impressed me about the openly gay writer was his recognition that the evil of resentment against the authority of the Church in the gay community is as pernicious as homophobia itself. He makes a courageous call for a move beyond such resentment so that somehow gay Christians can ‘inscribe our lives into the biblical story’. To this intent Alison introduces a number of biblical reflections which are highly imaginative and spiritually uplifting.

Is this a dangerous book? In that it clearly contradicts the consensual Christian position on homosexual acts, it is not a book to give to someone struggling in that realm without a caveat. At the same time no reader can fail to be impressed by the wit, candour and humility of James Alison and by his appeal for the dialogue on homosexuality to move forwards with generosity on both sides and with an eye to Scripture.

 

John Twisleton is Chichester Diocesan Mission & Renewal Adviser.

 

 

A BIBLICAL MISCELLANY

Bede

Liverpool University, 230pp, pbk

0 85323 683 6, [£12.50]

 

The great historian of the English he may have been, but his reputation as a biblical scholar should be more widely acknowledged. His two great works in this field, showing the force of his originality, are probably On the Tabernacle and On the Temple, in which he gives a comprehensive and highly allegorical explanation of these two, now defunct, constructions from the Old Testament. Translations of both have recently been published by Liverpool, and they are worthy of study. We are not, in our own generation, great fans of allegory, but before you dismiss it ask yourself, ‘How should I read and understand these chapters from the Holy Scriptures?’

This, a more modest collection of shorter pieces of his biblical exegesis, shows how serious and historical a commentator he could be when circumstances demanded. We will be more inclined to take his allegorical, christological reading seriously, if we can see how carefully and critically he unravels the complex problems offered by a literal reading of Scripture.

One of the works is called Thirty Questions on the Book of Kings, and is just that. The questions, on problem texts, came from Nothhelm, a priest from London, who was later to be consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury. The textual and historical resources Bede has to hand are as nothing to what current scholars have recourse to. His answers, therefore, do not stand comparison with what come from our own universities. But the skill, devotion and thoroughness with which he answers each difficulty is still powerful, and it is clear, with so few aids, how much he depends upon a deep knowledge of the texts themselves.

What Bede offers us is a model of biblical scholarship, as he gives his experience and wisdom, his privileged knowledge and the resources of his monastic library, for the sake of a serious inquirer. As he says himself, ‘I know of several passages in that book much more puzzling that you asked me about,’ but no matter, he is not writing for himself; he is offering his scholarship for the use of another. It is a moving and humbling example.

My favourite is the final collection of answers that were probably put together from letters after his death. His treatment of the question ‘On the wise men who adored the Lord at his birth, and on the star’ is so simple and so modern! I think one could (I shall try it some time) read it verbatim, perhaps instead of a sermon but certainly at a Bible study group, and other people now would find it helpful and encouraging. When one considers all that has happened in Bible scholarship since the Renaissance and Enlightenment, that is remarkable. RW

 

 

TOBIT

Joseph Fitzmyer

Walter de Gruyter, 392pp, hbk

3 11 017574 6, [£50]

 

This is as comprehensively academic a commentary as you could wish for (and a justifiable price tag to match) with both Greek and Hebrew in abundance in their own script, with full cross-references, bibliography and footnotes. I do not think an Old Testament scholar could ask for more, and yet I can seriously recommend this as the best available commentary for the general reader. The great Jesuit scholar Fitzmyer has given us a gem.

Tobit, he explains, is not a fully developed story, but a collection of shorter incidents that reflect the social and spiritual concerns of devout Jewish families two centuries before Christ’s birth. The importance of marriage, the maintenance of wealth, the care of children, responsibilities to the extended family, adherence to the law of Moses in a foreign land, sustaining the moral virtues, looking after those in need.

As the principle scholar working on the Aramaic and Hebrew fragments of Tobit discovered at Qumran, he is well placed to give a thorough and convincing treatment of the many and various versions of the text. He prints both the Long and the Short Greek recensions, favouring the first as the more original. Add the two principal Latin recensions, not the mention the Medieval Aramaic as well as the inevitable Syriac and Ethiopic and many other translations, and the general reader might naturally begin to lose interest.

That would be a mistake. The great charm of this commentary is the way in which Fitzmyer unravels the complexities of the texts, the geography, the social setting and offers a simple, almost cosy tale about ourselves and our neighbours. A popular, easy to use commentary would have trivialized what is (from another perspective) a rather dull, rambling and irrelevant text.

If you are a scholar wishing to study this work, you will not need me to endorse this book; you will simply buy it on the recommendation of the author. If you are a general reader, pass over the bits you do not understand, but allow yourself to be drawn into the many different layers of this story. The reward of virtue, or rather the apparent lack of it; the importance of a sound basis for a marriage, but the need also for the young couple to fall in love; the relative weight of a father’s sense of duty and a mother’s fear for her child; there are many homely but profoundly religious ideas being expressed and worked through. This would make an excellent study text for a parish Bible group. NA

 

 

Hosanna

An Easter Musical for Children

Denis O’Gorman and Barry Hart

Mayhew, 72pp, pbk

1 84003 966 3, £11.99

 

This is a musical telling the Easter story from Palm Sunday to the Ascension. It would be best performed by a school or church group. There are 29 speaking parts with plenty of extra parts for the choir and other children. The music is simple and easy to learn, but reminds me more of something by Andrew Lloyd Webber than anything I would buy for myself. There are serious, sad parts, but other children might enjoy singing because they are fun.

The spoken parts are fairly difficult, so I would give then to the older children. The scenes include the disciples fighting with the Roman soldiers and the crucifixion, so it needs some strong acting from some of the cast. On the whole the book is well laid out and includes a CD of the music. It has the written music inside with the lyrics as well as a clearly presented script.

I would not normally involve myself in musicals now, but when I was nine I would have enjoyed performing in this.

Eleanor Gall is aged 12 and lives in Axbridge in Somerset.

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