Book Reviews: August 1997
CATENA AUREA, A Commentary on the Four Gospels collected out of the works of the Fathers by St Thomas Aquinas, translated and edited by John Henry Newman, 1841, published with a new introduction by Aidan Nichols OP, Saint Austin Press, Southampton, 1997, four vols., hbk, ISBN 1 901157-40-7, £85
BETWEEN FIFTY and sixty patristic authors were used by Thomas Aquinas in the Catena Aurea, a work commissioned by Pope Urban IV, when Aquinas was conventual lector at the priory of Orvieto, a city where lay the substantial archives of the Roman curia.
Only the first volume of the Catena was completed within the pope’s lifetime, but this was an enormous project with its own momentum: there was an interest in the latter part of the thirteenth century in the Greek and Latin fathers and in the once united Church of East and West which they represented.
Not surprisingly the Tractarians showed a similar interest in the inheritance of the Greek and Latin fathers and it was in his Anglican period that Newman edited and wrote a preface to the “golden chain”. His preface, of course, is included in this new edition, for which Aidan Nichols has written an introduction, giving a helpful background not only to the composition of the Catena but also to its Tractarian translation.
Newman had in mind a family readership, and not just vicars’ households. He omitted the dedicatory letter to the pope. Its eloquent recognition of the office of Peter would not have been acceptable to the readers of the new translation.
The letter has now been included and it assists us to understand Thomas’s method. He adds a few things to the words of some of the fathers, but notes these additions under the title of the Gloss. He gives us the authors’ names in the margin. The name of the author on its own means that that author’s commentary on the gospel in question is being used. Otherwise he gives us in the margin the name of the work as well as the name of the author.
Thomas’s intention, as he tells the pope, is ‘to provide not only the literal meaning but also the mystical; on occasion to confute errors and furthermore to confirm Catholic truth’. For Thomas, the Gospel contains nothing less than ‘the form of the Catholic faith and the norm for the entire Christian life’, ‘handed down in a pre-eminent way’.
To own this treasure you may need first to sell a few of your Halifax shares: the four volumes of this limited edition must be purchased together. Nevertheless, as hardbacks go, this set of four is a bargain. We are indebted to benefactors who have subsidised the edition and to Saint Austin Press for another interesting and important publication. There are few things more urgent in the life of the Church than the revival of interest in and knowledge of the Fathers.
Andrew Burnham is Vice-Principal of St Stephen’s House, Oxford.
THE DISCOVERY OF GOD, Henri de Lubac, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1996. xii + 220 pp, pbk, ISBN 0-567-08538-4
WHAT might the human being think of God? The question is not new; it is one that will continue to disturb and fascinate. It seems both to harbour the suspicion that perhaps the only proper answer would be “nothing”, and nevertheless also to suggest that we must always think at least the question of this “nothing”, and so paradoxically persist in thinking of God. This double bind has been felt particularly acutely in modern thought, with its attention caught by the apparent impossibility of thought of God and the subsequent conviction that all and any religion must be illegitimate, inadequate, or a sham.
And yet, this “nothing” is a silence with which the Christian tradition is familiar, not least in the practice of the contemplative. Moreover, the apparent “problem” of the impossibility of but necessity for thought or talk about God is one of which Christian theology has not fought shy. At the same time, at its best, it does not become consumed by these questions, forever stalled before it can begin.
That, because of the very fact and structure of creation, human beings can and must talk of God is perhaps the most famous insight of St Thomas Aquinas - the analogia entis of his “Five Ways”. In this century, it has been in a renewed attention to his thought, as in some sense gathering the thought of Christian theology, that catholic theology has found a much needed antidote to the interminable frustrations of modern philosophy.
Henri de Lubac was a theologian thoroughly engaged in this rediscovery. And this short but remarkable volume in particular belongs pre-eminently to the studies of the twentieth century which have sought to bring to light the depths and the promise of the Great Tradition - of both philosophy and Christian theology. His is an approach which refuses to read theology and philosophy as natural enemies, despite their differences.
This book is remarkable, firstly, because of the elegance with which it expounds a thought at once astonishingly simple and surprisingly difficult: to think at all is always already to be thinking of God, implicitly at least. Scholarly yet readable - despite drawing upon such a wide variety of other writers (the range of his reference, the extent of his reading and knowledge of the Tradition, are remarkable in themselves), de Lubac’s voice is consistent and always easy to follow. Aphoristic at times, it is also dangerously quotable.
But this book is also remarkable because the original publication of a much shorter version (as De la connaissance de Dieu) in 1945 caused a stir: what were these new thoughts? was this orthodox or not? This reception astounded de Lubac who insisted that he had only re-presented and paraphrased the thoughts of the Fathers. These facts point eloquently to the dilemma faced by any re-presentation: de Lubac called upon the Tradition to speak to “modern” thought, and so, of necessity, was engaged in re-interpretation and thinking old thoughts anew.
In response to this reception, de Lubac was eventually stung into publishing an extended version of his book (this time as Sur les chemins de Dieu) in 1956, in which he added numerous footnotes in an attempt to demonstrate how “traditional” its thought and teaching were. The Discovery of God is a translation of this later work, and is thus further remarkable in that it reads in effect as two texts: the original and de Lubac’s own, later commentary upon it.
The Discovery of God thus represents an invaluable addition to T & T Clark’s excellent “Resourcement” series. This series, itself heavily influenced by de Lubac’s work and thought, aims to continue the restatement and rediscovery of the Tradition in its labour of retrieval and renewal, seeking out ways forward offered by Christian theology.
The reception of de Lubac’s original book reveals the difficulties of the editors’ endeavour not only to re-print work from earlier this century, and indeed it reflects the difficulties faced by any who undertake to work with and from the tradition: to live “in the tradition”, to remain faithful, is neither to remain in the past nor simply to repeat it; rather, to remain faithful will always demand new thought and a fresh reception of God’s grace.
But all this sounds rather dry - and it should not, for this rehearsal of Christian thought forms a rich and beautiful book. The wonder which it conveys, the poetry of its thought, are integral, not incidental, to its movement. God is fearfully unavoidable: this can and should be the cause of much joy.
Those who are suspicious of the seduction of metaphysics and philosophy will perhaps, rightly, wonder whether its argument is not all too convincing, if not even simply all too human and ultimately mundane. But the quiet passion of this book as it contemplates human transcendence witnesses not only to the beauty of thought, but primarily to that beauty as the result of the beauty of the thought of God.
The Christian’s “mystical philosophy” does not have to create its own beginning - for it has been given everything already, including the thought of God, in the never-ending gift of God’s thought, that is God’s Word, the Son. Framed initially in terms of our search for God, this book reveals that search as dependent upon the miracle that God has first sought out us in love. The task of the theologian, as the task of anyone who prays, will always be to attempt the impossible: to sound the depths of this love. The Discovery of God amply demonstrates that the impossible is far from futile.
Lucy Gardner is Tutor in Christian Doctrine at St Stephen’s House, Oxford.
THE MEANING OF KNOCK, ed. Donal Flanagan, The Columba Press, 1997, £5.99
“HOW CAN you review a book about Knock if you haven’t been there?” A perfectly reasonable question, it would seem. But for those who like me have never made the pilgrimage to this Shrine in Ireland a book like The Meaning of Knock is of interest as both an introduction and explanation.
The history of the Shrine begins in the year of terrible famine in Ireland, 1897. In the evening of 21 August that year the parish priest’s housekeeper, Mary McLoughlin, went to visit a friend, Mary Byrne. It had been a particularly wet day, and as Mary McLoughlin left her friend’s home. Mary Byrne saw figures on the south-facing wall of the parish church of St John the Baptist. At first she thought they were statues, but then noticed that they were moving.
Family, friends and passers by, thirteen people in all, aged between 5 and 75 years, saw the apparition. They saw the Blessed Virgin Mary, clothed in white, crowned and seeming to be in prayer: they saw St Joseph on her right, an older figure with greyish hair, and they saw St John the Evangelist on her left, a small mitre on his head, an open book in his hand and he appeared to be preaching. Next to this group of three figures they saw an altar on which stood a young lamb, behind which was a large cross, and the altar was surrounded by angels.
In October 1879 the Archbishop of Tuam set up a commission to inquire into the apparition. The witnesses were examined and they were found to be trustworthy. The following year there was a pilgrimage to Knock in March and large numbers gathered again to mark the first anniversary of the vision. So began a pilgrimage centre, its focus on the mystery of the Assumption, and its work, like that of Lourdes and Walsingham, centred on healing.
Donal Flanagan has written a balanced article on the meaning of the apparition and tackles admirably the significance of St John the Evangelist in the tableau, drawing out how the image of the lamb and the altar might be understood. He manages to combine the insights of biblical criticism with a deep feeling for tradition, and offers thereby a valuable understanding of the interaction between the two. There are also good chapters on the nature of popular piety and on pilgrimage as an expression of human searching for God and a means by which we account for the mystery of life itself.
It is interesting to note how many of the themes and experience mentioned here could be included in an account of other Marian Shrines. In addition to the familiar devotions such as the rosary and the Stations of the Cross, the use of holy water, taken in a small bottle, is identified as something which connects the pilgrimage experience with life back at home.
Donal Flanagan has provided a handy account of the history and significance of the Shrine at Knock. What emerges most clearly from his description is the fact that although very many of the characteristics he describes could be found elsewhere, Knock has an unmistakably Irish quality about it.
In a different context, Stephen Cottrell the Wakefield Diocesan Missioner wrote that “the eternal Word which re-orders all creation speaks only local dialects”. Beside “England’s Nazareth” Knock takes its place as evidence that the Word made flesh dwells in every place and is known through every culture. The meaning of Knock thus has, in its way, Irish and universal significance.
Martin Warner is administrator of the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
ESCHATOLOGY - Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics (vol. XIII), John R. Stephenson, MA (Oxon.), Ph.D. (Durham), Professor of Systematic Theology, Concordia Lutheran Seminary, St Catharines, Ontario, Canada
SYSTEMATIC TREATMENT of the articles of the faith is a tradition among Lutherans since the 16th Century. In that sense, this newest (and still being written) Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, is hardly new. What it does take up, as the late Robert Preus, founder of the Luther Academy describes it, is the ongoing task of addressing theologians of our day with a truly confessional answer to the theological issues we are facing in Christianity and in our Lutheran Zion today.
Stephenson’s answer to the various issues associated with eschatology has that wonderful combination of eloquence with conservatism which orthodox Christians are privileged to have on their side with precious frequency. Not to be taken for granted is Stephenson’s ability to articulate the shortcomings, indeed apostasy, of the liberal theological literature with which he is strikingly familiar. He draws the modern Christian’s attention to the fact that, more dangerous by far to the integrity of Christendom than foes outside were the moderate Deists of England and the Neologians of Germany, who deliberately remained within the churches so as to modify their publica doctrina in the direction of Enlightenment thinking. His treatment of the contributions to theology and eschatology of philosophies from the likes of Kant to the New Age movement is impressive and what is needed if not expected of such a volume of Dogmatics in the 1990s.
Feminism’s war on Almighty God is well-documented by Stephenson, as is his exposure of the scurrilous belittling of Almighty God inflicted on Christendom by process theology. With refreshing irreverence toward the icons of modern liberal theology, Stephenson leaves no one from Barth to Bultmann unscathed where the vandalising of Christian theology has taken place in the name of scholarship. At the same time, however, Stephenson expresses his admiration for such modern theologians as Joseph Ratzinger whose masterly work on behalf of the eschatology of the Church of Rome makes the critical writings of his adversary in that same church, Hans Kung, resemble a Chihuahua yapping at the heels of a St Bernard (Stephenson - Eschatology: 45).
From the beginning of this book, terms such as micro-eschatology, macro-eschatology, realised and inaugurated eschatology are explained, compared and contrasted. Yet all of this is done with a view to applying the theology of the Lutheran Book of Concord of 1580 to these much more recent approaches to the subject. As documents such as the Augsburg Confession, and the Formula of Concord are referred to in the book, sometimes without lengthy explanation or quotation, readers are advised to have a copy the Book of Concord ready to hand to fully appreciate some of Stephenson’s arguments from Lutheran orthodoxy.
To a book which obviously follows the Lutheran awareness of the centrality of the Gospel of salvation through the finished work of Christ, Stephenson adds a Luther-like awareness of spiritual warfare that is less common in recent dogmatics. Throwing a verbal ink-well at the diabolical aspect of the lesser known poems and plays of Karl Marx, which contain lines which could have been written by Satan himself such as:
I wish to avenge myself against the One who rules above and then will I wander godlike and victorious through the ruins of the world and, giving my words and active force, I will feel equal to the creator.
With further evidence, gleaned from the discoveries of Richard Wurmbrand, Stephenson reveals how even godless Communism works into the biblical claim that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Stephenson -Eschatology: p.73).
Those who wonder if today’s rebellions against Scripture from within the historic churches of Europe are of apocalyptic proportions will find substantial proof in this book for such a thesis. Luther leads the way to this insight with the quote:
dissension and contention over the Scriptures is a divine quarrel wherein God contends with the devil.
Stephenson judges that all the heresiarchs of old were but timid forerunners of the apostates who today have wrested control over most of the pulpits and teaching podia of Christendom. The virus of the historical critical method has so poisoned many who hold regular and valid calls within the church that they cheerfully deny the Lord who bought them and trample the inspired Scripture and its message underfoot (Stephenson -Eschatology: p.75).
An almost equally withering charge is laid at the foot of the door of Dispensationalism, whose secret rapture is attributed to their rejection of Christ’s charge to take up their crosses and endure hardship until His once and for all second coming. Christians are called to suffer in and with and for the world, not to lord it over the world in some airtight provisional heaven whence they may behold the final great tribulation in the manner of popcorn-munching layabouts watching a horror movie. (Stephenson - Eschatology: p.90).
Characteristic of his approach to the whole Bible, Stephenson follows the orthodox method of interpreting obscure Bible passages in the light of clearer ones. For this reason he dismisses fictitious interpretations of Millennialism on the basis that they do the very opposite, beclouding clear texts by interpreting them in the light of eccentric and unprovable expositions of obscure passages (Stephenson - Eschatology: 87).
An example of Stephenson both as a confessional Lutheran and as a churchman respectful of the Fathers of the early Church, is the connection he makes between the Chalcedonian Christology (he credits to Cyril of Alexandria) in the eighth article of the Formula of Concord and the eschatological doctrine of the parousia. He writes:
The Lord now seated at the right hand of the Father who will reappear on the clouds of heaven is the one to whose manhood divine majesty has been communicated. Confession of the parousia is an especially intense acknowledgement that all true theology is christocentric from first to last. The communication of divine majesty to the assumed humanity of Christ is a most practical truth, since it is the basis of our Lord’s real perduring relation both with his mystical body in general and with each of its members in particular. (Stephenson - Eschatology: pp.100, 101).
The Judgement Day, with the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, is treated with faithfulness to the biblical understanding of the nobility of the bodies God insists on rejoining eternally to the same souls from which they were separated at physical death. Stephenson admits that the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is as controversial as it is astounding. Even some who believe in the immortality of the soul have difficulty with the doctrine and may even view the separation of the soul from the body as an improvement. Yet the perversity of such thinking is exposed. As God originally created body and soul as a unit, we are reminded that the separation of the soul from the body was God’s punishment for sin. The resurrection of the body, on the other hand, is God’s permanent end to that consequence of the Fall. Teaching the biblical view, the body of a believer is not the soul’s prison, but the temple of the Holy Spirit. As far as the world to come is concerned, although:
The risen bodies of the glorified will indeed be composed of matter, we must prepare ourselves to register the as-yet-unimaginable perfection of the resurrection body in comparison with this-worldly corporeity (Stephenson - Eschatology: p.130).
When he turns to the doctrines of Hell and Heaven which he calls the consummation of the Law in the finally impenitent and the consummation of the Gospel respectively, he approaches these ever timely subjects with illustrative verve. His zeal for the scriptural truth even drives him to differ with his mentor Austin Farrar, whose tendency toward universalism Stephenson describes as elegant, but incompatible with the truth of Scripture. In his judgement, contemporary theology’s overwhelming rejection of the Scriptural teaching concerning Hell parallels its failure to perceive the vileness of sin as a culpable assault on God’s tender-hearted loving-kindness (Stephenson - Eschatology: p.116). Stephenson credits E.B. Pusey with putting his finger on the crux of the matter when he asked, in the days of the Oxford Movement: “What do those who disbelieve Eternal Punishment think that God became man for?”.
His explanation of Heaven is as Christocentric as it is reserved. Above all, it is true to Holy Scripture which tends to lack much of the detail that has been supplied by enthusiastic, if misguided, interpreters over the years. Stephenson’s view is that Heaven is less a subject for our imaginations than it is a subject beyond our imaginations. Those, like myself, who crave as much detail, even speculation, as one can get about Heaven, will be happy that Stephenson does supply some lyrical descriptions. Among the characteristics of the world to come will be: love which abides when tongues and prophecy are no more and which enjoys primacy over faith and hope (1 Cor 13.8,13) embraces the divine love for man, the creature’s love for God, and the love of men and angels for each other. Holy Scripture speaks of heaven as a banquet (Is 25.6, Mt. 8 11), thereby pointing to the perfect fellowship that will mark the blessed’s dealing with one another. Heaven, says Hoenecke, includes the consummation of love of neighbour, and Joseph Ratzinger speaks delightfully of the “open society of the communion of saints” (Stephenson - Eschatology: 132).
The fact that all of us are travelling down the road to the end of the world, one way or another, is but further incentive to read this book. Readers will be convinced that, if it is anything at all, this is a text book on eschatology in which God Himself is heard to describe the route.
Jonathan Naumann is Pastor of St Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Ruislip.
BELIEF REVEALED, Malcolm Barker, S.C.E.F, 15 Tunnelwood Road, Watford, WD1 3SN.
MALCOLM BARKER, who used to be the Assistant Secretary of the Church Society, has produced a most innovative and useful aid to evangelism.
It is a booklet for people to work through on their own at home and is what is sometimes called ‘programmed learning’, in other words readers answer questions which then send them to other questions appropriate to their answer. This means that it is endlessly adaptable to many different people at various stages on the road to faith.
Timothy Dudley Smith produced something similar many years ago and it proved most helpful. I think that this will be no less useful and will appeal to people with logical minds. It is also the kind of booklet which can be given to a friend without offence.
John Pearce has retired and now lives in Bury St Edmunds.
THE TRUE LIGHT (An Evangelical’s journey to Orthodoxy) Fr. Michael Harper, Hodder & Stoughton £7.99 PP.190 ISBN 034067861 5
TWENTY YEARS AGO Michael Harper wrote a book which had a great influence on many in the Church of England - and beyond. It was called, Let My People Grow. When it was reissued, nine years ago, the writer of the Foreword said this:-
“When the history books are written on this part of the twentieth century, Michael and Jeanne Harper’s names will figure significantly because of the leadership and vision they have given the Church. Michael, particularly, has become an international statesman for Renewal and his wisdom, guidance and experience are greatly appreciated.” The author goes on to testify to the tremendous effect it had on his parish and ministry and many, evangelicals especially, would say “Amen” to that in their own ministries.
It is a measure of the times we live in that, in those brief nine years, the author of the Foreword has gone on to become Archbishop of Canterbury and the author of the book has, with great sadness, been obliged to leave the church his admirer has created.
The True Light is the simple and moving story of the Harpers’ journey to Orthodoxy. That this should be the final destination of one of the great evangelicals and international charismatic leaders of our time may seem curious to many in England. In the U.S.A. it would seem less so. There, in the last twenty years, thousands of evangelicals, tired of biblically disobedient churches, have “come home”, as they call it, to Orthodoxy. National figures amongst the leadership of Campus Crusade for Christ, including Peter Gilquist - once tipped as the next Billy Graham - and Frankie Schaeffer a powerful young evangelical leader are amongst their number. Their magazine, Again, is one of the best religious publications currently available.
For behind the cultural strangeness, Orthodoxy is a profoundly biblical church - almost uncomfortably so for some western evangelicals whose sola scriptura has become increasingly selective under the remorseless pressure of secularisation. It puts great emphasis of the Holy Spirit and makes sense and order, within the life of the church, of the hitherto individualistic struggles and experiences of the charismatics in the Western churches.
The Orthodox church’s teaching on the Papacy would find an echo in many Anglican hearts and its insistence on the unity of doctrine and worship makes the Anglican hobby of reinventing the liturgy every twenty years a palpable absurdity.
Its experience, in the last 900 years, is different from the West in almost every particular - no Reformation schism, no “Enlightenment”, no liberal ascendancy. For most of that time it has been a martyr church living successively under the variable “tolerance” of Islam and the merciless contempt of Marxism.
The True Light is one man’s story. It is not a great work of theology: it is not intended to be so. It is the simple accessible account of the resolution of a spiritual struggle familiar to huge numbers of contemporary Anglicans. The fact that it is written by an eminent and godly priest, with affection for the church of his birth and without a trace of rancour or bitterness, makes it a difficult testimony to ignore.
Robbie Low is Vicar of St, Peter's Bushey Heath in the diocese of St. Alban's
(Fr. Harper’s excellent book on women and priesthood Equal and Different is being reissued in September, by Hodders, with a foreword by the Bishop of London. Again magazine is available from the Orthodox Book Service (Suite 407), 95, Spencer Street, Birmingham B18 6DA at £10 p.a.)
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