Book Reviews

Cornwall, Compostela, Cologne, East Anglia

The Cockleshell Pilgrim

A Medieval Journey to Compostela

Katherine Lack

SPCK, 176pp, pbk

0 281 05590 4, [£7.99]

 

I received this book just before setting off for a long railway journey, and took it with me for some light reading on the train. As soon as I began to read I became fascinated, because this book is so easily readable, and yet it represents some extensive and scholarly research.

The research was occasioned by the accidental discovery in 1986 of the mortal remains of a man, buried under the tower of Worcester Cathedral. His boots were strong, suitable for walking in rough country, and beside him was a pilgrim’s staff and a cockleshell. The conclusion reached was that he had made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James at Compostela in Spain.

Work on the cathedral archives enabled the author to identify this anonymous pilgrim with a fifteenth-century man named Robert Sutton with reasonable certainty. Having once assumed that she has got the right man, the author charts his pilgrimage in precise detail, giving a great deal of local colour as the pilgrim proceeded from place to place on the long journey.

As a result the reader will learn much about the conditions of medieval pilgrimages, and one is led to wonder how people ever managed to survive and to stay the course. As they walked through unknown territory they provided an easy prey to cheats and rogues. For example, sometimes they would be given drugged wine, and would later wake up to find their money had been stolen. In addition, the company of other pilgrims was not always welcome.

The author has plotted the most likely route which Robert Sutton would have taken, and she has even gone so far as to give the dates when he would have passed through various towns and cities on his way. She assumes that he completed the pilgrimage on Saint James’ day, and by working back she concludes that he would have been at Bordeaux for the festival of Corpus Christi, which she described in graphic detail.

If you allow for the fact that the author’s enthusiasm and imagination have sometimes turned conjectures into certainties, you will greatly enjoy this book, and you will learn much about pilgrimages in former times. Next time you make a pilgrimage to a shrine in another country, you will count the little inconveniences of the journey (like delays at airports) as nothing compared with the hardships of earlier times.

 

Martin ssf

 

TWENTY YEARS AT ST HILARY

Bernard Walke

Truran Books, 250pp, pbk

1 85022 164 2, £12.99

One of the most charming books in the whole canon of Anglo-Catholic literature is Fr Bernard Walke’s Twenty Years at St Hilary, published originally in 1935. It is a tribute to its value that it now has a third re-issue, putting it in the category of a classic.

It is the autobiographical memoir of a remarkable and fascinating priest, who began as a curate at Polruan near Fowey and moved to St Hilary, Marazion, near Penzance in 1912. He wrote this memoir while in a sanatorium, being treated for tuberculosis. His wife, to whom he always refers as ‘Annie Walke’ rather than just ‘Annie’, was an artist of some note and a lot their friends were of an artistic and generally Bohemian nature.

Bernard Walke was adamant and courageous in his principles, which included not only a very definite and ‘advanced’ Anglo-Catholicism but also pacifism, which came to the fore during the 1914–1918 War when he went to spend a week near Dartmoor Prison in order to say Mass for the pacifists incarcerated there.

His vicarage was often a haven for various waifs and strays. His other guests included donkeys, of whom he was very fond, and he also arranged the purchase of a house in the village that had been a pub called The Jolly Tinners, which he used as a home for orphans from London.

Suddenly St Hilary gained nation-wide fame when he wrote and directed a Christmas Play. Broadcasts were made of this and others, in the tradition of medieval Mystery Plays, all written and devised by Fr Walke and performed by the people of St Hilary. This was in the early days of broadcasting and he was able to put over a lot of Catholic teaching as listeners all over the country were charmed by these Cornish voices proclaiming Christ’s life. These became a feature of broadcasting in the 1920s and 30s, but unfortunately there had to be a tragic end.

The vicious element in Protestantism had been silent for some while, but the fame of St Hilary drew a nasty reaction. Various people with a grudge were determined to destroy this beautiful little shrine to Catholic devotion in Cornwall, where his wife and their artistic friends had painted murals and altarpieces and pictures. Complaints were made, court action taken, and finally the Protestant element broke into the church with axes, crowbars and hammers, smashing and defiling everything they could lay their hands on. Fr Walke was only just able to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament and take it to his home to prevent the ultimate sacrilege. This was in 1932 and he was absolutely shattered.

He shows no real bitterness in his book, and through all his struggles, he comes over as a happy man. One is left with the sense of a character it would have been a delight to have known.

 

Michael Farrer is Secretary of the Anglo-Catholic History Society.

 

THE ART OF THE INFINITE

Robert & Ellen Kaplan

Allen Lane, 330pp, hbk

0 713 99629 3, £20

 

If we live in the world, outside a monastery, it is inevitable that our Christian life and faith will be informed by something more than the traditional disciplines of prayer and Scripture. The most common candidate is perhaps psychology, or maybe sociology, but almost certainly one of the humanities. It is these disciplines we tend to favour when seeking a perspective on our spiritual life. It is part of the spiritual atmosphere of our generation. What can mathematics teach us about God and the universe he has created?

I gave up mathematics after gaining an O level over thirty years ago; this is the first time since then I have genuinely regretted not taking it further. This book achieves what I imagined to be impossible; it had me following proofs, unravelling equations and understanding theorems for the first time in my life. And not merely understanding but enjoying that enlightenment.

As each chapter extended the language a bit further, we moved a little closer to a grasp of infinity, until near the end it began to tackle the key question concerning the different qualities of infinity. The answers it gave, in terms of set theory, had nothing of the theological in them; but that is partly why I found the book so valuable. There is no mystical musing, no contemplative wonder, only numbers and symbols, and the clarity of God’s (?) language. A brilliant book, and a good exercise in prayer, especially for those who class themselves as non-mathematicians. SR

 

THE ROYAL ROAD TO JOY

David Bird osb

Gracewing, 310pp, pbk

0 85244 573 3, £12.99

 

‘Not the sort of book that ought to be allowed to fall into the hands of the laity,’ was my first thought when starting this review. Unfair and unkind? Let me explain. This is a book in which pretty well every page has something which could inspire, in a thoughtful pastor, a sermon or at least an apposite pulpit illustration. For that reason, it is a thoroughly good book for a priest to use, perhaps as his Lenten book, and thereafter to dip into for help when inspiration flags. But not if his congregation has all read it too!

It is a good book; and an uneven one. Good, because it is an easy read, because it garners a vast amount of wisdom from the Great Tradition and deals with so many important matters so clearly and succinctly. And Dom David has quite a gift for putting profound thoughts into a few nicely crafted and memorable words. Few will fail to benefit from, and to enjoy, his considered treatment of two great saints, one Orthodox and one Catholic, St Seraphim of Sarov and St John Mary Vianney – each of whom richly deserves this resurrection.

He visits, with a light elegance of touch, the perception that the Eucharist makes the Church and the controversy ‘which is the more basic, the universal Church or the local Eucharistic Assembly’. He gives a balanced, if faintly clichéd, view of the conflicting tendencies towards centralization and local autonomy in the RC Church. He offers an even-handed account of the pros and cons in the matter (now – sorry – back on our agenda) of whether the celebrant should face eastwards or towards the people at the Eucharist.

Uneven, because it is occasionally not quite accurate in its details, and, since (not claiming scholarly originality) it naturally does not give detailed references, checking its assertions is not easy. It devotes quite a lot of space to the Jewish antecedents of Christian worship without being as clear as it might that some of this is speculative. Everybody is agreed on the importance of the Jewish background to an understanding of the New Testament; how this actually works out in detail is curiously elusive and each generation of scholars seems to come up with differing perceptions.

(If we are to be enlightened by rabbinic scholarship, my own preference is still for the distinguished American Jewish theologian Jacob Neussner, who does not bother to speculate on how ‘the first Christians came to see the Eucharist as a sacrifice’; he just argues that Jesus himself, in ‘cleansing’ the Temple, enacted the end of its sacrificial cult and of the daily ‘Tamid’ lamb because he intended to replace it, at the Last Supper, with his own new propitiatory sacrifice, the Mass.)

Dom David’s political standpoint is Vatican II, but not that ‘spirit’ of Vatican II which has wreaked such dreadful havoc especially (but not only) on North American Roman Catholicism, ‘There is at least a generation of Catholics who are ignorant of the basic tenets of our faith’. He points to new movements (Opus Dei; Focolare; Neo-Catechumenate; Sant’Egidio; the John XXIII Movement) which are bringing new life and hope to the Hiroshima-like devastation left behind by ‘liberal Catholicism’.

Like CS Lewis, he highlights the diabolical nature of taking trendy -isms, putting ‘Christian’ in front of them, saying ‘this is what the Gospel means in the modern world’, and thus distorting the Gospel by limiting its scope to what the secular world appreciates. Dom David writes intelligently and intelligibly about the liturgical renewal which is so badly needed (‘what good is being joyful at Mass if it is because people like a good sing-song?’), drawing richly upon his lifetime spent living the Rule of St Benedict and a couple of decades working among the very poor in Peru.

This is not a mould-breaking book, but it is an extremely decent thirteen quids’ worth and takes us very much in the right direction.

 

John Hunwicke is the compiler of the ORDO.

 

TESTAMENT OF ABRAHAM

Dale Allison

De Gruyter, 540pp, hbk

3 11 017888 5, [98 euros]

 

The translator begins his preface, ‘Several years ago, I read some of the Pseudepigrapha to my children, who were then 6, 8 and 10. They hated Joseph and Aseneth. They liked the Testament of Job. But they loved the Testament of Abraham.’ This late, inter-testamental Jewish text, heavily reworked by later Christians, is by turns fantastic, inventive, compassionate and humorous; it is a text of real charm.

This is the only complete commentary on this book; it covers the textual and linguistic issues rigorously and comprehensively. This is absolutely necessary for it is a scholarly work, but it is also unfortunate, for it submerges the text itself under the weight of commentary and analysis. Taken that the original, second or third century ad work is now lost, and that the available manuscript versions (some as late as the seventeenth century) have been so extensively edited that we no longer have a single work, but rather a long and a short recension, it is hard to see how it could have been otherwise. Nevertheless, I do wish the publishers had worked harder.

I would have liked to have the full texts presented in continuous, readable form, as well as chapter by chapter introducing the commentary. If that meant the critical work had to be in smaller font, so be it. There is a sense in which this book has done everything to show us how warm, modern, endearing this obscure book is, only to forget it on publication.

The Abraham of this Jewish apocryphon may have been a curiously stupid, rebellious and stubborn old man, but he is also loveable, and his refusal to accept death, which is the essential theme of the story, shows us a generous and liberal Jewish philosophy of the eastern Mediterranean. SR

In ch.10 of the Testament of Abraham, the Archangel Michael takes Abraham on a tour of the world. The patriarch reacts with such stern righteous indignation that God has to stop him before all are killed off in their sin.

When Abraham looked down upon the earth, he saw a man committing adultery with a married woman. And Abraham said to Michael, ‘Do you see this lawlessness? Speak so that fire may come down from heaven and consume them.’ In that hour fire came down from heaven, and it consumed them. For the Lord had said to Michael, ‘If Abraham asks anything of you, heed him because he is my friend.’ … And again the cloud carried them along, and Abraham saw some coming to a desert place to commit murder. And Abraham said to Michael, ‘Do you see their lawlessness? Let beasts come forth and devour them.’ And in that hour beasts from the desert came and devoured them. Then the Lord spoke to Michael saying, ‘Return Abraham to the earth, and do not allow him to encircle all the creation, for otherwise he would destroy all the creation that I made. For he does not have compassion upon them, since he did not make them. But I made them; therefore I have compassion upon them. Perchance they will turn and repent of their sins and be saved.’ In that hour Michael returned Abraham to the earth.

 

AN ABC FOR THE PCC

John Pitchford

Continuum, 234pp, hbk

0 8264 6599 4, [£9.99]

 

If you do not already use this handbook in your parish, take the opportunity of its fourth edition to ensure that you have a copy in the vestry, or, if you are a priest, do not leave a parish until it has one. There are many handbooks for churchwardens, PCC members and anyone else caught up in the administration of a parish, but this is the only one that caters for traditionalists, the only one that acknowledges what General Synod claimed, that we are a full and honoured part of the CofE, the only one that will properly outline the formal procedures surrounding the resolutions etc.

Its wider merit is that it is quite happy to include a broad range of issues that will confront a PCC and its members. It is not constrained by the managerial style of parish management, nor is its scope limited to the legal pronouncements of General Synod. It offers prayers not just for meetings but also for sidesmen, and (imaginatively) for PCC members to offer (silently) before a preacher begins his sermon.

It is personal and quirky, but never loses the sense of why we do these things, why we allow ourselves to be drawn into the complex life of a parish church. I rather wish my own incumbent took more notice of this broader perspective. AS

 

MYSTICAL FLORA OF ST FRANCIS DE SALES

Translated by Clara Mulholland

Gracewing, 140pp, pbk

0 85244 562 8, [£7.99]

 

St Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva in the time after Calvin, whose feast day is 24th January, is a holy and humble spiritual guide. But if this anthology of passages from his writings had been produced now I should probably have summarily dismissed it. In fact, it is a facsimile of an 1877 collection devised to counter the prevailing romanticism of the Victorian age. As the original foreword puts it, ‘The love of nature in our days has gone so far apart from Christian feeling. Men have forgotten that God’s thoughts find expression in the visible.’ The connections seem rather forced, but the writings are holy, and the sentimentality of another age. NA

From a sermon for the Feast of St Mary Magdalen by St Francis de Sales

Having found the Saviour of our souls, Magdalen became so truly converted, that she was a pure and fragrant vessel, into which God poured the most precious and sweet-smelling liquor of his grace, wherewith she afterwards perfumed her Saviour; and she who by her sins was a mass of filth, became, through her conversion, a beautiful lily, a most sweet and fragrant flower; and the more foul and revolting she was before, because of her sins, the more was she purified and renewed by grace afterwards. Just as we see that the flowers in the garden take their growth and beauty from putrid matter, and the more the soil is manured the more beautiful the flowers become, so in like manner St Mary Magdalen, after her conversion, was more beautiful in her extreme humility, her fervent contrition, and the ardent love with which she did penance.

 

HEAR OUR PRAYER

Raymond Chapman

Canterbury, 200pp, hbk

1 85311 556 8, [£8.99]

 

Another in the red, CW-compatible, liturgical series: an updated set of intercessions for the Eucharist. Professor Chapman is a faithful and reliable priest, which makes these prayers safe to use, even in the hands of untutored laity. Based on the three year lectionary, they are clearly modern, meaning they tell God what he should be doing along solid political and environmental lines, but never in such a way as to make the more faithful cringe.

The problem lies with the ‘…’ – the space left for the insertion of names or extra material. We take this for granted, but are we right to do so? Look again at the BCP. The Prayer for the Church Militant may not be to your taste, but it is a genuine prayer offered to God, a formal and coherent whole, not a rambling set of biddings like Melchizedek (without beginning or end). Common Worship allows for the biddings to be offered first with the prayer of intercession then to be offered as an uninterrupted whole, but the advice seems too rarely to be understood or followed.

Biddings such as the names of the sick or the dead or some local or national crisis carry a whole range of passions and emotions; they can have an immediacy and poignancy that cuts like sword through the rest of the liturgy, or they can be the tired, hackneyed hobby-horses of one or another member of the congregation. By contrast the formal offering of prayer, whether as part of the Eucharistic Prayer (1549) or before it (1662) has a measured universality that accords with the rest of the worship given to God. It is not obvious that these two contrasting forms can profitably be mingled. Far better to have the biddings first and the prayer second.

I suspect that if Professor Chapman had been required to write a prayer of intercession as a complete whole rather than a progression of five shorter ones the result would have tighter and more inclusive. Use them, then, as though the gaps were not there. AS

 

MARRIAGE IN CHURCH AFTER DIVORCE?

Andrew Cornes

Christian Focus, 24pp, bklt

1 85792 904 7, [£2]

 

Subtitled ‘A delicate decision for the clergy’, this clear and simple booklet outlines the practical implications of the four official documents that have surrounded General Synod’s change of marriage discipline. There was Marriage, the House of Bishops’ rather weak pamphlet of 1999, issued as a warm-up for the second text and most important of the four, Marriage in church after divorce, the 2000 working party report popularly known as ‘Scott Joplin’; next comes General Synod Paper 1449B of 2002, generally known as ‘Advice to the clergy’, and finally A leaflet for enquiring couples of 2003.

A quick complaint. It may be that liberals make the biblical texts so complex that it becomes impossible to use them, but this does not mean that Evangelicals can so simplify them that all uncertainty is removed. Cornes states, ‘Any serious attempt to formulate and apply a Christian policy about remarriage must begin with the New Testament.’ Absolutely; but the unquestioned use of the word ‘divorce’ in the key gospel texts (Mark 10.11 etc) is poor exegesis. If one wishes to be ‘traditional’, it may be worth remembering that neither the Authorized Version nor the Revised Version use that word in these passages. For all that his conclusions are clear and orthodox.

The real merit of the booklet is its grasp of the pastoral problems inherent in the CofE’s current provision. We have here a parish priest who has studied and taught the Christian understanding of marriage, and has examined the full range of implications behind the rules that deal with what is generally called ‘the remarriage of divorcees in church’.

I gather that a Trust has funded the sending of this booklet to every member of the parochial clergy. If this is you, read it. Just as important might be churchwardens and PCC members of those parishes who have not already decided to say yes to every inquiry, who would benefit from a serious appraisal of the issues involved. We have a real pastoral problem on our hands, slowly building over the coming decade. We should, perhaps, have received better leadership from our diocesans; then again, this booklet may be better in coming from a parish priest, for he knows of what he speaks.

I am myself following the Marriage Statement that came from our own bishops at the last session of the Sacred Synod. I seek to be faithful to Christ’s teaching and as open and generous as I can to those who seek the Church’s ministry. I have also read all the documents to which he refers. I was still most grateful for his analysis of the dangers involved. NT

 

THE THREE HOLY KINGS

Hugh Mountney

Gracewing, 64pp, pbk

0 85244 407 9, [£6.99]

 

Late medieval legend and hagiography has a tendency to be overly pious, predictable and preachy, but Johannes von Hildesheim’s History of the Three Kings from the late fourteenth century is unusually quirky and entertaining. Fr Mountney, former Chaplain in Bonn, has translated a nineteenth-century German version of the Latin original and it makes for an enjoyable read. It vividly shares the post-Crusader ignorance and fascination with the world to the south and east of Christendom.

The introductory material is odd. It seems to come from the tradition of the CofE cleric as an innocent abroad. The good Reverend writes as though Catholic devotion to the saints were as distant and fantastic as were the Indian magi to the original fourteenth century author. TG

 

From The Three Holy Kings by John of Hildesheim, ch.16

On the day that the Three Kings brought the child their offering, Jesus was thirteen days old and lay in the crib wound round with mean clothes. Mary his Mother was comely in form, with a dusky complexion, and she wore a poor blue cloak. But the Three Kings were gloriously apparelled.

Melchior, the King of Nubia and Arabia, who offered gold, was the smallest of stature. Balthazar, the King of Saba, who offered incense, was of medium stature, and Caspar, the King of Tharsis, who brought myrrh, was the tallest and a Moor.

This is not extraordinary for the prophet foretold it in the psalm: Ethiopians shall kneel before him. It should also be noted that the nearer people live to the sun rising, the smaller they are, but plants, worms and animals are much more lively and stronger than in this country; the same applies to birds, whether wild or tame.

 

THE EARTHLY CAREER OF JESUS, THE CHRIST

Robert Culver

Christian Focus, 272pp, pbk

1 85792 798 2, [£8.99]

 

Modern biblical critical scholarship may be a ‘jolly good thing’, but its self-justifying sophistication can blind us to the work that was done before those wonderful Enlightenment-educated Germans burst upon the scene and carried all before them. In the olden days, scholars had to read the text, and then read it again and again and again. There is wisdom here, and this strange, conservative Evangelical work has up-dated this more ancient tradition of biblical scholarship.

There are a number of lists that show just how much information can be squeezed from the text itself. My favourite is the list of customs from the ‘local culture in Jesus’ teaching’, such as ‘arming oneself, plowing, two men sleeping in bed, kissing, marrying a wife, sucking the paps, girding the loins, smiting the breast, being buried’ and so on. Odd certainly, but it does draw us back to the words of the Scriptures themselves.

The highlight for me was the plan of the Last Supper. Not only the confidence that such a plan could be devised, but the flat, unaesthetic manner in which it is outlined. Is this, my brothers, what we make present each time we celebrate the Mass? A different world, and yet not without its own vision and passion. NT

 

Table positions at the Last Supper. (A) represents the two rows of single divans on which the Apostles reclined on their left sides, with their heads (B) nearest the table and their feet (C) stretching back towards the floor. The least certain feature in the diagram is the position of Peter.

 

TALKING TO THE NEIGHBOURS

Ronald Blythe

Canterbury, 220pp, pbk

1 85311 553 3, £8.99

 

As a Suffolk boy exiled in the north, I am fond of Ronald Blythe’s country writings. His seasons follow a rhythm I think I remember but see no more. He also takes Matins and Evensong every Sunday in the parish churches of Wormingford, Mount Bures and Little Horkesley. These are his homilies to the congregations drawn from the farming communities in the valleys once painted by John Constable.

His homily on the martydom of St Alphege is particularly fine, or was it that he drew out thoughts that had already begun to form? It is a gentle and easy style, not challenging so much as nurturing spiritual growth. I read them for two reasons. I should like to hold the same breadth of knowledge and observation when I am old. And when I lose faith that there exists any remnant of the Church of England outside of the traditionalist constituency, when all seems lost in urban liberalism, this older, gentler vision of a rural church is a real encouragement. AS

From an Epiphany homily by Ronald Blythe

Poor Dr Johnson, who was better than most of us could ever be, had dreadful New Years. January after January he wrote down resolutions which were beyond his capacity to keep, to get up early in the morning, to ‘lose no time’, and so on. ‘I have now spent fifty years in resolving, having from the earliest times been forming schemes for a better life. I have done nothing’, he wrote. This was not true. Although none of us should boast of our achievements, our kindnesses, etc., we should recognize them.

Here are some of Dr Johnson’s New Year resolutions, put down when he was an old man – an old man who could not change his ways, and indeed did not have to: ‘To apply to study. To rise early. To go to church. To drink less. To oppose laziness. To put my books in order.’

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