Books read October 2018

BOOKS READ OCTOBER 2018

Oliver Goldsmith: The Vicar of Wakefield/She Stoops to Conquer, New York,  Harper & Row, Perennial Library, 1965 [1766].

Oliver Goldsmith was born in Ireland, educated at Oxford and travelled throughout Europe before settling down to write in London. He would perhaps have not achieved recognition except for the friendship and patronage of Dr Samuel Johnson. The Vicar of Wakefield is his only novel and can be regarded as a novelistic version of the Biblical Book of Job. Wakefield describes the ministry of a well meaning and devout country vicar and his family whose fortunes take several turns for the worse, finally resulting in total destitution and the imprisonment of the vicar in a very ordinary prison.  The plot which, on his own admission, is full of wild improbabilities, nevertheless makes entertaining, humorous and beguiling reading. The vicar’s sincere but sometimes foolish simplicity is tempered by the author’s presentation of the value of the vicar’s simple faith in the Christian God and human communion.* 

There is something in this novel of the initial despair of the two eldest daughters in Austen’s later Sense and Sensibility.  The steady stream of horrific and unlikely unhappy outcomes followed by the joy of the final chapter compare exactly to the final chapter of Job which describes Job’s rehabilitation after the most horrific hardship.  Goldsmith succeeds in creating a novel which can still raise a smile and a sense of moral uprightness even after 250 years.

At the same time as writing a humorous and engaging moral tale Goldsmith takes the opportunity to expatiate on his favourite issues of the day including politics (chapter 19) in which he defends liberty and the monarchy but opposes the accumulation of wealth to the few;  a minor sub-plot which describes the attempts of his son to make his fortune by various entertaining means, at first in London and then in various parts of northern Europe (chapters 20 and 21); and an essay on the best way to encourage reformation of prisoners in gaol (chapter 26). Goldsmith’s generous and clever good humour refuses to be defeated by a potentially shabby and destructive C18th moral environment and his generous and gentle mode of argument would be welcome today in our C21st lust for entrenched oppositional  hatreds and certainties on Facebook and in the media.  This is a novel totally out of date and fashion but still very readable.  3 stars.

*taken from the Introduction to this edition by R. H. W. Dillard,pxix.

Oliver Goldsmith: She Stoops to Conquer, 1773. [publishing details as above]

Goldsmith was singlehandedly responsible for turning the mood of the English theatre scene from the choice of the somewhat wooden and immoral world of Restoration Comedy and the sanctimonious sentimentality of the London stage in the mid C18th. Goldsmith’s play is simply laugh out loud funny and is still so today and still presented for the joy and amusement of the many. It is a complete farce but in a believable and elegant way which would have made Noel Coward proud.  I really enjoyed reading this play and did laugh out loud!   5 stars.

Virginia Woolf: A Room of One’s Own,  Frogmore, St Albans UK, Triad Panther, 1977 [1929]

Virginia Woolf is one of the twentieth century’s finest authors and this essay is about writing, in particular about women writing. The genesis of the novel was a request for her to give two lectures to the Arts Society at Newnham and Odtaa Colleges at  Girton, UK  in October 1928. The lectures are written in the form of a story or short novel and are written with all the exceptional grace, fluidity, imaginative force, elegance and learning that has marked her substantial works of fiction, literary criticism, memoirs and published letters.

Woolf’s key point about women writing is that before they can write they need both money and a room of their own in which to write.  Written just ten years after women in England were given the right to vote and where women’s colleges at Oxford and Cambridge were hard to find and substantially under- endowed this essay is yet written without anger or to make a particular case.  It simply states the fact that prior to the nineteenth century women did not have money of their own and anything they did earn was their husbands; and secondly that even if they were well off and encouraged by their husbands they did not have a room of their own to write in but had to write in sitting rooms where there were always other folk present, making demands and needing to be spoken to. The first of these barriers (money) she admits is true also of men…men also need money so that they have time to give to the serious business of writing and she cites a detailed article proving this by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: The Art of Writing. (on page 101).

Woolf cites many other reasons why so few women wrote apart from the above and the fact that “scribbling” was not considered an appropriate thing for women to be doing. These barriers include the fact that writing usually demands a wide experience..travel, contacts, experiences that were rarely open to women prior to the nineteenth century. She also looks deeply into the “state of mind” of writers..which is hard to determine, but good writing should be free of anger; good writing simply is good writing and is harmed by bitterness or deep regrets of the past or anything else that gets in the way of the finest wisdom and words that humans can put together.

. In establishing the foregoing arguments Woolf manages to include a vast array of female writers in England from Elizabethan times onwards and also finds space to make some useful comments about the relative merits of various male English writers and in particular the atrocious, ignorant and baleful negative comments about women’s writing from several otherwise highly regarded literary critics.

I found this to be a moving and elegantly written piece of writing which left me with several images of beauty and the difficulty faced by the first women “scribblers”  that will be hard to forget.   5 stars.

David Attenborough: Journeys to the Other Side of the World: Further Adventures of a Young Naturalist, London, Hodder & Stoughton/Two Books, 2018 [1981]

I first approached this book with some nervousness thinking it might be a rather dry scientific analysis of a number of obscure creatures and plants from equally obscure places. I was delighted to be immediately enjoying Attenborough’s engagingly urbane, humorous and indeed exciting writing style. Attenborough’s courage, energy and determination captivated me immediately and I found this beautifully photographed and illustrated book difficult to put down.

This book is a follow up to his 2017 Adventures of a Young Naturalist and is an abridgement of three already published Attenborough works: Quest in Paradise (1960 ..a search for birds of Paradise in New Guinea); Zoo Quest to Madagascar (1961) and Quest Under Capricorn (1963..Northern Territory journeys).

The New Guinea material is extraordinary. Even in the 1960s New Guinea, the second largest island in the world after Greenland) was largely uncharted.  Attenborough and his intrepid cameraman journeyed where only one or two white explorers and administrators had ever been in search of birds of paradise. The hardships, climate, dangers of all kinds were extreme and the communications severely limited. Apart from anything else it is a story of survival and of powerful interest.

The Madagascar journey was historically and biologically very worthwhile but perhaps the least interesting of the three sections.   The final third of the book detailing 1960s journeys through the Northern Territory is mesmerising, humorous, revealing and challenging. The interaction of white Australia with indigenous ancient Australian culture in the 1960s is thrown into new relief when viewed from an outsider’s perspective.

I think this is a book I will long remember and return to.  5 stars

Greg Sheridan: God is Good For You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 2018.

Greg Sheridan is a well known Australian media commentator on current affairs and since 1992 has been the Foreign Editor of The Australian newspaper. Sheridan is a committed Roman Catholic and his wife is a Sikh believer and they have three sons who are members of the Sikh community in Australia. He has written six books on Australian/International relationships and issues. This is his first book on religion.  Sheridan has clearly spent a considerable amount of time researching the material for this book and has interviewed in some detail a large number of political and religious figures in the process.

The book is divided into two quite different sections.  Part 1 is a defence of the validity and enduring value of the Christian faith even as it fades away in the West. The book has particular reference to Australian believers but with more than a nod to the Western world in general. Sheridan’s coverage includes an analysis of “the sins of Christians” including ancient scars such as the inquisition and the Crusades as well as the recent uncovering of horrific pedophile scandals. Sheridan writes as a committed Roman Catholic but has clearly researched deeply into many Protestant Christian communities and demonstrates an excellent understanding of their approaches and functioning.

Part 2 consists of a series of interviews with a significant number of politicians who espouse Christian faith from both sides of the political divide and other chapters on outstanding Christian leaders and spokespersons of a wide range of denominations and involvement including Planetshakers, Focolare, Monastics, Campion College and many others. Sheridan also devotes chapters to descriptions of vigorous “signs of life” in many Christian communities, new styles of church and worship  and organisations that are making an impact on Australian society. He closes with some advice to Christian leaders and churches on what needs to be done to reignite Christian faith in Australia.

Sheridan’s very up to date examples, his well known pithy and sharp style, his sensitive assessments of individuals and shades of difference in religious beliefs, his courage in fronting some formidable political leaders and his sympathetic attempts to get inside the real thinking of individuals about a topic which is seldom discussed in public make this book hard to put down. This book is half way between  serious research and serious investigative journalism. Insiders will quibble at some of his analyses and outsiders might think he spends too much time on some issues.  In my view he has sharply hit on just the right tone.

If Australian Christians don’t accept that their time in the sun is over, that their once privileged position no longer counts in Australian society, that in fact they are facing and will face increasing hostility and abuse for their views and that if they don’t regroup and reignite they will face oblivion, then it will not be Sheridan’s fault. He has sounded a bugle call for what needs to be done and given some fine examples. Ordinary Christians will sense a real challenge and excitement here. Church leaders and key operators should take careful note and read it twice. Truly a clarion call to the Australian church…Wake up ..get going…be alive and be faithful…don’t lie down and don’t water down. This is not the work of a professional theologian or of an ordained priest…it is the carefully delineated thoughtfulness of a highly committed Christian thinker and an at times brutally even-handed but also  highly competent  and sympathetic Australian journalist.  5 stars.

Andrew Moody: The Will of Him Who Sent Me: An Exploration of Responsive Intra-Trinitarian Willing, Bletchley, Milton Keynes UK, Paternoster, 2016.

Coleridge, in his once very popular Aids to Reflection (1825) wrote: …I have not entered on the Doctrine of the Trinity….[this doctrine] demands a power and persistency of Abstraction, and a previous discipline in the highest forms of human thought… (In Aphorism 96). I note also the Psalmist in Ps 131:1b ..I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvellous for me….

I should have taken both pieces of advice to heart before starting on Andrew Moody’s extraordinary  account of his Doctoral thesis which seeks to search out the possibility of an inter-trinitarian response from the Son to the Father within the one will of God who is Father, Son and Spirit. Needless to say this book is a difficult read even for someone well versed in theology. Three reasons for this difficulty stand out immediately, one practical and the other two inevitable.

On the practical side there are some problems with the layout printing of the book as the extensive footnotes often extend beyond the page of their notation requiring much turning forward and back and the footnotes can’t be ignored because much of the “juice” of the argument is contained within them. In addition there are numerous proofing errors and some web-references especially have been distorted by a copying process which makes them difficult to read.

The inevitable further  difficulties are first, the specialised language especially with terms emerging from analytical philosophy.  Immediately the reader is confronted with words like causal taxis, perichoresis, dyothelitic and monothelitic theology, aseity, innascibility, condescent, ectypal, supralapsarianism, apophatic,  decretive and so on which one hasn’t used since third year systematic theology research if even then.  Secondly of course is the Latin! I have good Biblical Greek but never studied Latin. The first chapter of this discussion focussing first on the “Pro-Nicene Cappadocian Fathers (Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzus), and followed by the magisterial work of Augustine and the Mediaeval Western synthesis after Augustine in chapter three inevitably involves extensive use of Latin sentences not all of which are easily translateable and to a non-Latin student this is a very tough beginning.

With all of these precautionary warnings this book is yet a vigorous and thought provoking read. Moody bravely jumps into the fray of tensions between the competing ideas of the subordination of the Son to a Monarchic  (and masculine) Father  verses a theology of total equality of the three persons of the Trinity, not least in lively disputation with his former teacher Kevin Giles amongst many others. After a while the reader becomes genuinely interested and excited by the whole notion of “ responsive intra-trinitarian willing” (RITW), which seems at first  an obscure central argument for a substantial book. Inevitably also these arguments tie in with current debates within evangelical circles between complementary and egalitarian models of Christian ministry. Moody steers a bravely fair and moderate path between these attached and divisive issues pointing out with clarity the strengths, weaknesses and challenges on both sides.

Another exciting part of the book for me is Moody’s helpful exploration into the current revival of Orthodox approaches to the mystery of the Trinity especially in the work of George Palamos and in addition the revival of Hegelian dialectic in various ways in Moltmann, Pannenburg and Robert Jenson, and in addition the revival of Christian Neoplatonic ideas in the work of Urs von Balthasar and David Bentley Hart, with even a glance at the “radical orthodoxy” of John Milbank. A strength of this book is the vast array of primary and secondary resources and books referred to. Having all this material together in one place is a substantial achievement and very helpful for anyone wishing to do further work on Trinitarian studies.

In the end for me, with my no doubt  too simple view of things,  there seems to be no realistic way to define finally the notion of the Trinity in Christian thought. Some approaches such as Arianism and tri -theism are definitely out; but when it comes to further delineation every writer, no matter how careful, in prosecuting their case, and trying to find analogies, will inevitably move at times towards either  modalism or put too much stress on the individuality of the “persons” within the Trinity.  The reasons I draw this conclusion are threefold. (i) the complex   philosophical terms inevitably required to define the indefinable are themselves subject to varying interpretation; (ii) The sheer extraordinariness of the incarnation of the divine Son of God as the man Jesus of Nazareth puts almost impossible stress on the notion of divine willing since Jesus has both a human and a divine will and as Moody shows some writers arbitrarily use this fact to decide that some Biblical events relate to the Son’s human will and some to his divine will and do so inconsistently (iii) any attempt to adequately define the reality and nature of “God” in any religious faith is doomed to inadequacy because in the end there is inevitably mystery here beyond human understanding.

This book is a tribute to Moody’s amazingly elastic and deeply penetrating mind and his grasp of many of the threads which make up current theological discourse. If you are looking for a simple and straightforward guide to the theology of the Trinity don’t start this book. If you seek a genuine exploration of the power and purpose of the trinitarian revelation of God to mankind according to the Church’s finest thought leaders throughout the last 1500 years then this book is an excellent place to start. It will set your mind to exploding in five directions at once. It has for me!  Five stars!

 

Navigating around naturally nature-filled New Zealand  23 Sept – 6 October 2018

Ann at SilverleavesWhy do we have to go to New Zealand? It’s so comfortable here on Phillip Island!

23 September: 5.30am start to drive 2 hours to Tullamarine airport for a 3.5 hour Qantas flight in a very long, narrow and tight tin can Boeing 737 packed to the gunwales. Landing in Wellington and  escaping through customs,  we renegotiated a hire car to include an incar sat nav (blue Ford Mondeo wagon with fabulous turning circle) and found our way through pre daylight-saving darkness  to the Grand Chancellor hotel Wellington where our room wasn’t really all that grand and not much was happening on Sunday evening!  Found some yummy Chinese food next door and happy to have arrived safely.  Note to future self drivers hiring a car in NZ …don’t go into detail about your itinerary.  Hire companies don’t like you taking your hire car across Cook Strait on the car-ferry! They will try to persuade you to change to a different vehicle on the other side which can by annoying. We were very pleased to have our Mondeo for the whole two weeks and two ferry crossings.

 

NZ Mondeo

24 September;  Walked our feet off all day in wonderful Wellington with cool sunny weather (which remained with us for two whole weeks!). Our first stop after the tourist centre for some up to date free maps was Te Papa, the People’s Museum which is an exceptional exhibition and includes an award winning ANZAC historical recreation using real N Z heroes and was certainly the most moving and powerful recreation of Gallipoli I have ever experienced..deeply emotionally involving.  In addition the Maori history, artifacts and  guided tour were all sensational especially an original and complete early  thatched  meeting house celebrated on a very popular 1935 2d orange stamp.

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View of Wellington Harbour from the top floor of Te Papa, the Museum of the People.

NZ Te Papa Museum Wellington.jpg

Amazing Te Papa Museum (Museum of the People) in Wellington  (tour guides fantastic ..need a good 2 hours plus here)

NZ"The Beehive" Wellington's Parliamentary building.jpg

“The Beehive”  ..New Zealand’s impressive Parliamentary Buildings in Wellington.

Next stop was the very short cable car ride to the top of the hill overlooking Wellington and a very steep but beautiful walk around the Botanic Gardens. NZ in Spring is an amazing mix of new leaf deciduous trees (larches and poplars especially contrasting with evergreen pines), pink and white blossom everywhere and exceptional rhododendrons and camellias in full bloom as well as the native yellow gorse flowering all over the hillsides and because their Spring is later than ours, daffodils, jonquils and tulips  everywhere also.NZ Wellington cable car.jpg

Finally we walked to the other end of town to one of  the largest wooden Gothic cathedrals in the world, Old St Paul’s Cathedral, now maintained by Government support and  not far away from the brand new cathedral on the hill, close to the Beehive Parliament building and  the gracious law school library. The new cathedral is also impressive and makes a remarkable contrast to the small wooden cathedral of old. We certainly used up some shoe leather in Wellington. It is a vibrant, friendly and creative city.

NZ Wellington Anglican Cathedral.jpg

Wellington’s “new” Anglican Cathedral replacing “Old St Paul’s”..a remarkable wooden Gothic cathedral now maintained as a working church with Government support.

"Old St Paul's" in Wellington.jpg

“Old St Paul’s”  Constructed in 1866 and one of the finest examples of wooden Gothic Revival architecture in the world. Still retained as a place of worship although no longer Wellington’s Anglican cathedral

Dinner at the Grand Chancellor was casual and we were overwhelmed by the friendship of locals who overheard our complex plans and gave us very good realistic advice and suggestions which were very helpful indeed.

25 September:  We headed north from Wellington and after an initial fight with the SatNav about finding a voice as well as the map for directions (which was eventually solved by a friendly Ford dealer in Lower Hutt (it took him 10 minutes..I didn’t feel completely stupid!) and commenced our driving tour. We drove first  cross-country from Lower Hutt through haunted hills and deep forest and very curly roads to the West coast of the North Island and the seriously blue/turqoise ocean of the Southern Pacific …what a sight as you turn a corner from the forest and find a turquoise ocean.

NZ North Island southern ocean.jpg We moved on to the small town of Otaki. Why I hear you ask? Because in Otaki is J R Mowbrays Collectables Ltd, NZ’s and one of the world’s largest philatelic dealers. I have been bidding online in their auctions for many years and it was a delight to meet John Mowbray himself and his staff and see the whole very large set up in action.

 

NZ Richard at Mowbrays Stamp Dealers Head office in Otika

Richard at Mowbray Collectables  Stamp Dealers in Otaki where he met John Mowbray, the founder,  in person.

Continuing north we stopped in at a very helpful “possum and merino” clothing outlet and succumbed to several of their beautifully created knitted garments. Hitting the highway again we finished up at Lake Taupo.. NZ’s largest lake and a very popular holiday spot.

NZLake Taupo North Island.jpg

Lake Taupo..huge lake; very pleasant town with two impressive art galleries.We had a little cottage to ourselves here for two nights and enjoyed the relaxed vibe and friendly environment of the town. Needless to say the scenery en route whether ocean, mountain pass or forest was always impressive.

26 September:  From our base in Lake Taupo we journeyed north through stunning snow capped mountains and plateaux to Rotorua and its powerful Wai-O-Tapu geyser and many other geysers besides in the Te Puia  geo-thermal park and artistic school. Students from all over NZ come here to create exceptional works of art in the Maori tradition and work with wood, fabric, steel, precious stones, musical instruments. and just about every other medium to produce works of art of exceptional quality.  As well as the bubbling mud-pools and excitable geysers we were able to catch a glimpse of our first real kiwi . a small black flightless nocturnal  bird which is the NZ’s national icon also recognized on an equally popular 1935 1d red NZ stamp. Te Puia has a special “nocturnal reversal house” which enables guests to see a kiwi in action although I have to say it was still pretty dark and it was just a glimpse of a very shy critter indeed!  Te Puia was a fabulous experience and our Maori guide was impressive.

 

NZ Rotorua geyser

Wai-O- Tapu  “going off” at Roturoa!

We returned the same day  to our Lake Taupo cottage

27 September:  From Lake Taupo this time we drove south east to the seaside resort of Napier in the Hawkes Bay region with our first sight of a black stony surf beach…it takes a while to get used to the idea.  In 1931 a devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake destroyed the area, killing 256 people and injuring thousands. The town of Napier was destroyed and when it was rebuilt it was the height of the Art Deco era.  The centre of town has retained and indeed celebrated these amazing shop fronts and major buildings and even many new buildings and homes are created in this style. It is a very stylish town but black stony surf?? I don’t think so!

NZ Napier black stone surf beach

What do you think?

Our trip back to Wellington had to be rerouted because of landslips in the Thompson Pass area but whichever way you travel through the mountains back to Wellington from Hawkes Bay area the driving is challenging, beautiful and needs care.  One interesting small town on the way back was Woodville which has two very impressive collectibles shops in one of which Richard found a treasure trove of early Dinky Toys and Micro Model cars.. a collector’s heaven.   We stayed that night back in Wellington at the St Paul’s apartments which were undergoing refurbishment so we had a good deal, but no outside view!

28 September:  After a slow start relaxing and reading we drove to the Inter-Islander port, one of two major ferry companies taking vehicles across Cook Strait. On both of our crossings we enjoyed good weather and calm seas. The journey takes about four hours and there is plenty to do on board including excellent dining facilities, films and many places to view the scenery or for children to be involved in activities. Our destination was the seaside village of Picton which has a glorious harbour at the head of Charlotte Sound and is again surrounded by hills. The one flaw of the Mondeo is that the vibration of the ferry upsets its burglar alarm. On both crossings I was called up to go down to the hold and unlock the car to stop the alarm!

 

NZ Cook Strait Car Ferry

Picton, at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound is one NZ’s most picturesque towns with many inviting galleries and restaurants and even a useful second hand bookshop! It has its own little Sydney Harbour Bridge which is still quite a steep climb!

NZ Picton harbour)

Picton Harbour looking out over Queen Charlotte Sound. Gorgeous town for just sitting and relaxing!

29 September:  We made an early start from Picton on Highway 1 to Christchurch. This is one of the most spectacular journeys anywhere in the world by car or by train.  But in 2016 the massive Kaikoura earthquake, magnitude 7.8 destroyed large sections of both the highway and the railway and produced structural damage as far away as Wellington as well as two major tsunamis. Fortunately the area at the epicentre of the Kaikoura earthquake is not heavily settled and only two deaths were attributed to this massive earthquake. The highway has only reopened this year and there are still many one lane only hold ups. The railway has not yet reopened. In spite of the many pauses this journey is one for the ages.  Massive surf beaches and sea-scapes, spectacular snow clad mountains, vast tracts of forest and beautifully manicured vineyards and orchards especially in the Marlborough region.  The “wow” factor is very much present on this journey.

In spite of hold ups we managed to make our Christchurch destination in good time to walk the 20 minute journey to the centre of the city. Christchurch is the second largest city in NZ and here once again we came face to face with yet another seismic catastrophe. In 2010 a magnitude 7.2 earthquake weakened the structure of many Christchurch buildings and in 2011 a 6.2 magnitude earthquake closer to the centre of Christchurch caused massive damage right in the middle of the city. The quake killed 185 people and turned the centre of the city into molten lava.  The magnificent brick Gothic Anglican Cathedral was severely damaged, many thought irreparably,  but in 2017 a decision was taken to rebuild the cathedral in its traditional Gothic style. In the meantime Anglicans have been worshipping in a nearby “Cardboard cathedral” which has its own unique beauty and simplicity (and many would wish it would remain the cathedral).

 

NZ Christchurch cathedral damage

 

 

 

 

NZ Christchurch Cathedral 2018A terrible sight but nothing compared with the trauma of the death of 185 people and the complete destruction and disruption of the business and transport centre of the city! Cathedrals can be rebuilt but the impact of seismic savagery will last for genderations in this city.NZ Christchurch Cardboard Cathedral

The temporary “Cardboard Cathedral” in Christchurch.  The interior ceiling is indeed made out of reinforced cardboard!

 

We wandered through several of Christchurch’s glorious parks and gardens ( there are over 90 in Christchurch) Christchurch is the second largest NZ city after Auckland and has its own style, not only its array of botanic gardens but also its old style trams in its centre (including a shopping mall with a tram running through its centre); a casino and some very funky restaurants (including an American style Route 66 eatery with wonderful fifties music where we had dinner.

 

NZ Christchurch USA Route 66 Cafe It is a city which seems to breathe the beauty and grandeur of New Zealand alongside its vulnerabilty and the warnings inside the various motel rooms we occupied were salutary. We arrived back in our motel room in time to catch the exceptionally tense last quarter of the AFL Grand Final between Collilngwood and West Coast and had to commiserate with the many Magpie supporters in our extended family. I have to say for Aussies one of the amazing things about NZ newspapers is the complete absence of any reference at all to AFL issues.

30 September.  From Christchurch we took another 300km+ drive to the very popular holiday destination of Wanaka just 40 minutes by car north of Queenstown. The drive from Christchurch was memorable once again with spectacular scenery including snow clad mountains, forest and agriculture, rivers,  attractive small communities and very well built roads. It is ridiculous how frequently we would turn a corner and let out an involuntary “wow” at the rich vistas  laid out before us.  We arrived in good time at Wanaka and found a very useful motel/park with very practical laundry facilities enabling us to catch up on some clothes washing. Like Taupo, Wanaka sits on a beautiful elongated lake and our weather here was warm and dreamy.  Here we made use of the local supermarket and cooked our own dinner for two evenings. Wanaka is a seriously relaxing place.

1 October .  From Wanaka we celebrated NZ’s commencement of daylight saving with an amazing “over the mountain” drive to Queenstown past the Cardrona Hotel, one of only two remnant buildings from the goldrush in the area in the 1860s.  The climb to the top past Cardrona needed careful attention (as did the climb down into Queenstown) but the view from the top was well worth the effort. We felt on top of the world.

 

NZ view from Cardrona pass peak

Queenstown once again boasts spectacular scenery with huge mountains on three sides and a smooth flowing quiet river on the edge of a seriously bustling town. Traffic here was excitable and the city radiates youthful energy with adventures of every type on offer in many places.  We enjoyed the vibe of Queenstown but were happy to retreat to Wanaka via the longer and flatter route through rich fruit growing areas (where yummy home made ice cream was a roadside treat.)

 

NZ Queenstown

Gloriously situated Queenstown surrounded on all sides by protective mountains with a beautiful river to sit and watch a busy town go by.

2 October.  We were sad to leave Wanaka but also were looking forward to our  300+km drive towards the South Island West Coast through some of its highest mountains including Mt Cook to the West Coast and once again were treated to quite inspiring landscapes and ever-changing vistas. After the forest came the spectacular Southern ocean with nothing between us and Antarctica. One highlight of this journey was lunch at the rather strange Hard Antler Bar and Restaurant in Haase. This wild west establishment had a distinctly “take it or leave it” style and the ceiling was literally covered with the antlers of vast numbers of deer that are hunted in the area (as an introduced pest).  [It is interesting to go online and see the warfare between antler bars all around the world and the attention they get from vegetarian and vegan protestors].

 

NZ Hard Antler Bar and Cafe Haase

Huntin’ and shootin’ Hard Antler bar and restaurant..not to everyone’s taste but we found the food was good!

Our goal was the Franz Josef glacier and appropriately it has produced its own town! With daylight saving help we arrived in time to walk the approximately 2km up and down walk into the glacier past a series of fine silvery waterfalls. Due to safety precautions it is no longer possible to actually set foot on the glacier without reverting to a helicopter and guide landing but it was exciting to be within a stone’s throw and see in reality a geomorphological feature I recall studying so carefully in the Melbourne University Geography department in the 1960s!  An additional highlight was the outstanding food provided by the chef at the Alice May restaurant in the village of Franz Josef Glacier.  This was a meal to be long remembered and a quite unexpected treat.

 

NZ Franz Josef glacier

Retreating Franz Josef glacierNZ North Island waterfall

Impressive “trident” waterfall  on the walk into Franz Josef glacier

3 October.  Our West coast journey continued with another dazzling surf, forest and mountain 300+km drive to the sleepy town of Westport. Our lunchtime stop this time was quite a contrast to the “outback” town of Haase. We were treated to the far more civilised and prosperous “greenstone and gold” town of Hokitika, made famous in recent years  by the widely book club read and Man Booker prize winning 1860s gold rush novel Luminaries, the second novel by Eleanor Catton. Hokitika is a stylish town with its own art deco cinema whose restaurant sells  seriously good meat pies of great variety and in addition some outstanding pastries.  Hokitika also has at least four major greenstone shops  (NZ jade whose sale is controlled by the Maori population) and in addition  The Gold Room, ; run by an outstanding jeweller this retail outlet is  a quite remarkable shop full of historical material about the gold rush days but also impressive for its high quality gold workmanship.

I have to say after all these highlights that the surfing town of Westport was somewhat of a letdown but nevertheless we had a comfortable motel with an attractive garden setting and in any case a good rest was needed.

4 October.  Our final South island journey was yet another 300km+ journey back to the Picton ferry through spectacular mountain gorge scenery, quiet little towns and finally the fertile Marlborough plains, source of so much of the sauvignon blanc and pinot gris downed in quantities by Australian quaffers. A particular highlight was the delightful rural town of Murchison which currently is lucky to have a gold star French pastry chef and his wife who have created a quality of coffee and cake which I believe it would be hard to match anywhere. Quite remarkable! How long can he last in this quiet little town?

In Blenheim near Picton we discovered the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre and the Omaka Classic Car display centre.  Local flying enthusiasts commenced this collection of classic aeroplanes and the chairman of the Centre is extraordinary Film Director and entrepreneur Sir Peter Jackson of the Lord Of the Rings films fame who is also the creator the impressive Wellington War Memorial.  The Omaka Classic Car collection of 140 vehicles is personally owned by Blenheim dentist and business man Ron Stewart and includes about 8 Jaguars, 3 impressive Daimlers, an Austin A105 in immaculate condition, many Holdens and Fords and a host of other now quite rare vehicles including a Super Shadow Rolls Royce. (But no Triumph Mayflower!]

austin A105

Immaculate Austin A105 and Wolseley 16/60 (Omaka Classic Cars

Rolls Royce Silver Shadow

One of 9 Jaguars in Ron Stewarts Omaka Classic Collection

jaguar-c-type-recreation

recreated C type Jaguar – very few originals anywhere in the world

After finally extracting myself from the Car Display we returned to the same amazing motel in Picton and enjoyed this stunningly calm and peacefully beautiful fishing village at the head of Charlotte Sound.

sad to leave Picton

5 October.    We mooched around Picton for the first half of this day enjoying the scenery, the Jewellery shops, the second hand bookshop and just the peace and quiet with very little driving!  In the afternoon we rejoined the InterIslander ferry and passed through gorgeous Queen Charlotte Sound back to the North Island.  Our motel on this evening was in trendy yuppy Lower Hutt and we truly enjoyed the wonderful dinner provided by the very crowded Buddha Stix restaurant.

 

5 October.  Our final day in NZ  was spent In Wellington at the Weta Conceptual Design and Manufacturing Workshop responsible for the amazing Peter Jackson visual characterisations which brought The Lord of the Rings to the screen as well as much of the visual wonder  of James Cameron’s Avatar movies. In addition Weta was also the company that animated the original UK produced Thunderbirds Are Go puppet tv programs into a new six dvd series. This guided tour workshop is simply an amazing place and the company maintains a huge staff employed in a variety of roles.  A highlight of this visit was lunch at The Larder, 500 metres up the hill from the Studio with the most sensational menu and food.

NZ Weta Design Studio troll from Tolkien

Richard outside the Weta Design Studio with a model of a Tolkienian troll

In the afternoon we sadly bade farewell to our faithful Mondeo and enjoyed the hospitality of the Wellington airport as we awaited our return flight to Melbourne. New Zealand had stolen our hearts…a peaceful, stunningly beautiful and energetic place. We are glad we went!

 

Books read September 2018

L. Frank Baum:  The Wizard of Oz, Camberwell Au, Puffin, 1994 [2000]

Lyman Frank Baum worked in the theatre, newspapers, magazines, inventing, retail and poultry farming before turning his hand to writing children’s books, (originally his own children).  His much loved story of Dorothy and Toto her dog, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the cowardly Lion, the mighty Wizard of Oz, the wicked and good witches, the Munchkins, the Winkies, the Quadlings, the Hammer Heads and much much more has become one of the most loved children’s books of all times.  The 1939 movie starring Judy Garland, one of the earliest technicolour movies, has become an all-time classic in its own right.  The Wizard of Oz also has its own psychological and moral message….look inside yourself for the brains, the heart and the courage you need to live a happy and effective life and at the same time don’t just take authority for granted without testing its validity and truthfulness. As for the compulsory green spectacles for all in Oz, things aren’t always what they seem!  An exceptional moral story for children, well before Narnia and Tolkien.  5 stars.

Anh Do: The Happiest Refugee: A Memoir, Crow’s Nest Au, Allen & Unwin, 2010.

One of the funniest and most powerful biographies I have ever read.  Anh Do’s extended family were refugees from Vietnam following the Communist North’s victory in 1976. The harrowing account of their boat trip to Malaysia assailed by pirates twice and finally without water, food or an engine! makes harrowing reading. Following resettlement in Australia as refugees Anh Do’s family work voraciously to establish a new life for themselves. The account of their financial ups and downs, Anh Do’s education in a Sydney Catholic school, his university studies, countless interesting jobs, his marriage and gradual emergence as a stand-up comic and an artist are told with fast humour, integrity, truthfulness (we get the good and the bad) and energy. This is a laugh out loud book but also a book which deals with serious change in Australian life in terms of attitude to racism, opportunity and amazing resourcefulness.  Serious challenges in the lives of his extended family are also dealt with sensitively and powerfully.  A book with serious energy that energizes the reader.  5 stars.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera, trans. Edith Grossman,  Melbourne Au, Penguin, 2008 [1985 in Spanish]

Regarded as Colombia’s greatest writer the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez has also been described as the most important writer in Spanish since Cervantes [ but what of Borges? Lorca? Neruda?] Love in the Time of Cholera is probably his most frequently read novel after One Hundred Years of Solitude and by and large is written in realistic style rather than that of magic realism like hie earlier work, with the possible exception of its concluding pages.

Based on the love affair and eventual marriage of Marquez’s parents which was strongly opposed by his grandparents Love in the Time of Cholera tells of the excruciating love life of Florentino Ariza and the beautiful but cold Fermina Daza.  Childhood sweethearts their friendship was forbidden by Daza’s father and she eventually married the outstanding young doctor Juvenal Urbino who became a national hero for his cultural, medical, musical, artistic and engineering skills. Their marriage lasted until they were in their seventies. His story and “battle” with old age and with Daza is the second major plot in the narrative. But Florentino Ariza never gives up and eventually, after Urbino’s death,  in their old age and dotage Florentino and Fermina truly fall in love.

All of this would make for engaging reading on its own as a story of indomitable love conquering all and it is indeed in this respect a thoughtful and powerfully written narrative especially about the importance of sexual pleasure in old age.  In the intervening years thirty years  of waiting, however, Marquez has Florentino engage in a literal avalanche of raunchy love affairs, many of which are described with joyously flagrant and literally “fragrant” detail because it is a novel in which perfume and bodily odour both play a major part! In addition Florentino’s role in these relationships can “from the outside” only be described as a hunter (a term the translator uses), a rapist, a man sick with  fixation with his own sexual drive,, a regular inhabitant of brothels, and on several occasions as a groomer and eventually a molester of young girls resulting twice in suicides. This appallingly immoral and destructive  behaviour is made worse by the  deliberate cultivation of a reputation for himself as a homosexual, uninterested in women, a pose which gains him unsuspecting access to women he intends to seduce. At the same time he manages to build a successful business career for himself eventually becoming Company Director and Chairman of a major river transport company, where he again used his power and office to seduce any woman who came his way. Marquez never at any stage makes any moral judgment about Florentino Ariza. It is simply “love in the time of cholera..it is what it is even if young people’s lives are destroyed by a dirty old man.

There is of course, a moral compass, not necessarily a Christian compass,  in D H Lawrence, in Tolstoy, in George Eliot, In Flaubert, in Zola and even in Borges. I struggled fifty years ago in English tutorials at Melbourne University because I insisted on bringing morality into the discussion of the worthiness of a novel or a poem. I guess I haven’t changed my view that, in the end, good literature lifts up and throws thoughtful and challenging light on what it is to be human, to live, to love, to be faithful, to make mistakes, even to be tragic but not to honour evil, destructive and fetishistic behaviour.

Only in one sentence in the last two pages does Marquez throw the book at Florentina Ariza.  When they persuade the captain of their riverboat cruiser to throw of all the other passengers for their return journey so they can be open lovers the captain flies the cholera flag which entitles them to leave passengers behind but when they come to their home port they are directed to quarantine dock for two months.  They decide to return and sail on for ever and the novel ends but not for before Marquez blames the ships companies of which Ariza was the key player for the destruction of the river industry for not caring for the river and preventing settlement along its banks resulting in the destruction of the jungle and the wild life ..the main reason for the cruising and also the destruction of the river by siltation. This one sentence does not do it for me. I give this novel just two stars, for the sheer brilliance of Marquez’s eloquent analysis of the delicacy of human relationships and the finely and brilliantly drawn flawed character of Juvenal Urbino but none for cruel and sadistic approach to the potential beauty of human sexuality.  2 stars

Jamming with Jaimie Smith on Cultural Liturgies

The following notes are based on James K A Smith: Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation, Grand Rapids MI, Baker Academic, 2009 (Volume 1 of Cultural Liturgies.)

INTRODUCTION

p17 “Christian education” has routinely been understood to be about Christian ideas— which usually requires a defence of the importance of “the life of the mind”.  This leads to regarding the goal of Christian education as development of a Christian perspective, or more commonly now, a Christian worldview.

p17-18  In this study, Smith asks the major question what if education, including higher education, is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires? What if we began by appreciating how education not only gets into our head but also (and more fundamentally) grabs us by the gut—what the New Testament refers to as καρδια (kardia – “the heart”)? What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions—our visions of “the good life”—and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking? What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect..What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?…That actually is the wager of this book: It is an invitation to re-vision Christian education as a formative rather than just an informative project? [

p19.  Smith introduces the phenomenon of “cultural liturgies”….how and why do we humans  do what we do? [Smith explains in fn 8 p25 that he uses the term liturgy  as a synonym for worship. In the word liturgy, readers should not hear the valorization of any particular form or stye.]Cultural liturgies “ which have parallels with religious liturgies include shopping malls and the rituals associated with massive sporting events (anthems sung by spectators with hand on heart etc).

p21 The major icons and temples of modern America are found in shopping malls, not religious cathedrals. (This was written in 2009…in 2018 with the rapid increase in on-line shopping many American shopping malls are emptying out and going broke. Folk are buying on-line or shopping in unique and chosen shops of interest to particular buyers and interests, not necessarily vast crowds of ῾οι πολλοι. ) Nevertheless Smith’s point is that “shopping” tugs at the heart-strings of more Americans than does religious observance.

p25.  The  core claim of this book is that Liturgies —whether “sacred” or “secular” —shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world. In short, liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love….every liturgy is an education, and embedded in every liturgy is an implicit worldview or “understanding” of the world….an understanding of the world that is pretheoretical, that is on a different register than ideas.

p26-27. Because I think that we are primarily desiring animals rather than merely thinking things, I also think that what constitutes our ultimate identities— what makes us who we are, the kind of people we are—is what we love. More specifically, our identity is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate what, at the end of the day, gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, understanding, and orientation to our being-in-the-world.

p27.  What is the aim, or τελος  telos, end/completion point] of a Christian education?…I think we need a rearticulation of the end of Christian education, which will require a reconsideration of worldview-talk as it comes to dominate conceptions of Christian education.

p28   In a long footnote (fn11) Smith distinguishes between cognitive approaches to education (a reflective propositional way of intending the world that traffics in thinking and ideas)  and an affective “attunement”  to the world that precedes the articulation ideas and even beliefs. He describes this as akin to Heidegger’s account of Befuindlichkeit, “attunement” or “affectedness”.

p28 We are so prone to associating education with the cognitive stuff of ideas that it’s difficult for us to imagine education as a more formative, affective matter. Our imaginations get stuck in a rut, and it becomes difficult to get out of them to imagine things differently….(fn 12) This is an example of the way that particular configurations of the “social imaginary” can become so dominant that we fail to see them as a particular, contingent construal. Instead, these ingrained habits of perception are taken to just be “the way things are”. 

Thus Charles Taylor contends that the “modern” social imaginary “has now become so self-evident to us that we have trouble seeing it as one possible conception among others.”  [Taylor: Modern Social Imaginaries, Durham, NC, Duke University Press,2004, p2]  On p65 Smith summarizes Taylor’s definition of a social imaginary…all societies and communities are animated by a social imaginary, but this does not mean that all are oriented by a theory. The social imaginary …is “much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode”. …what we “think about” is just the tip of the iceberg and cannot fully ore even adequately account for how and why we make our way in the world. There’s something else and something more rumbling beneath the cognitive that drives much of our action and behaviour. The social imaginary refers to “the way ordinary people ‘imagine’ their social surroundings,” which is “not expressed in theoretical terms, but is carried in images, stories, and legends.”  [Taylor: op.cit. p23]

p30. Smith uses George Orwell’s novel Road to Wigan Pier, [London, Penguin, 2001] to illustrate how the English public schools had little success in inculcating Latin and Greek into their average students (including Orwell himself) but were highly successful in inculcating snobbishness …the despising of the lower classes. Orwell writes: You forget your Latin and Greek within a few months of leaving school—I studied Greek for eight or ten years, and now, at thirty-three, I cannot even repeat the Greek alphabet—but your snobbishnes, unless you persistently root it out like the birdweed it is, sticks by you to your grave. [ibid, p128]

p31  Smith uses Orwell’s example to show that whilst education promotes head knowledge what actually sticks is the emotional/gut level/heart knowledge communication that can easily occur in the educational process such as snobbishness in an upper class school, or in C21st Christian education,  where many Christian schools, colleges, and universities —particularly in the Protestant tradition—have taken on board a picture of the human person that owes more to modernity and the Enlightenment, than it does to the holistic, biblical vision of human persons. In particular, Christian education has absorbed a philosophical anthropology that sees human persons as primarily thinking things….leading to the dissemination of Christian ideas rather than the formation of a peculiar people. i.e. the “world-view” approach dominates.

p32 …such construals of worldview belie an understanding of Christian faith that is dualistic, and thus reductionistic: it reduces Christian faith primarily to a set of ideas, principles, claims, and propositions that are known and believed. The goal of all this is “correct” thinking….in the rationalistic picture …we are also seen as things whose bodies are nonessential (and rather regrettable) containers for our minds…..Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behaviour; rather, it’s a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly—who loves God and neighbour and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love.

p33  We fail to counter the powerful cultural liturgies around us. We need a pedagogy of desire.

p34 Before we think we pray….The classical axiom is lex orandi, lex credence:  what the church prays is what the church believes. We pray before we believe, we worship before we know….we need to move from the model of “Christian universities,”  …to “ecclesial colleges”.

PART 1 Desiring, Imaginative Animals.  

We don’t counter the powerful cultural liturgies around us. The church has a stunted philosophical anthropology  p41

 

p41….humans are lovers before they are thinkers.

p42…Protestant Christianity has been overly cognivist/overly intellectualist; focussing on “messages”…It is just this adoption of a rationalist, cognitivist anthropology that accounts for the shape of so much Protestant worship as a heady affair fixated on “messages”  that disseminate Christian ideas and abstract values (easily summarised on powerpoint slides). The result is a talking-head version of Christianity that is fixated on doctrines and ideas, even if it is also paradoxically allied with a certain kind of anti-intellectualism.

p43.  …before we are thinkers, we are believers…Beliefs are more “basic” than ideas.  Thus Alvin Plantinga speaks of “properly basic beliefs”  and Nicholas Wolterstorff of “control beliefs”….Beliefs, we might say, are more “basic” than ideas. …human persons are understood not as fundamentally thinking machines but rather as  “moral believing animals” [Christian Smith: OUP,2003], or as 

essentially religious creatures, defined by a world-view that is pre-rational or supra-rational.  For a more technical discussion of this point, see Herman Dooyeweerd, In the Twilight of of Western Thought: Studies in the Pretended Autonomy of Theoretical Thought, ed. James K. A. Smith, Collected Works B/4 (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1999.

p44-5.  Jamie Smith agrees that Reformed Christianity has laudably assaulted reductionist rationalisitic  claims for the ‘objectivity’  of reason that engender a secularlzation of the “public sphere”  [especially the massive work of Alvin Plantinga  and others such as Nancey Murphy [Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1990] and George Marsden: The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, New York, OUP, 1997]. Nevertheless  Smith argues that this model of the human person seems just to move the clash of ideas down a level to a clash of beliefs and secondly that it still tends to operate with a very disembodied, individualistic picture of the human person.  The beliefs that orient me still seem quite disconnected from my body…what I am passionate about, how do/should I worship, how I live,what I do in my life. He cites with approval Stanley Hauerwas: When Christianity is turned into a belief system, it is reduced to something available without mediation by the church. [How Risky is The Risk of Education?” in The State of the University: Academic Knowledge and the Knowledge of God.  Oxford, Blackwell, 2007,p51]  Smith will go on to argue in this book that the “Christian academy” must be more completely expressed through “church”.

p46.   Jamie Smith seeks to go back beyond Calvin’s emphasis on belief to the Augustinian idea  that our primordial orientation to the world is not knowledge, or even belief, but love….we must get into the heart of folk ahead of the head!

p47-73 Smith uses the philosophy of Derrida, Caputo, Husserl and Heidegger as the philosophical basis of his analysis. To further develop his case he uses theologians Augustine, Hauerwas, MacIntyre, Graham Ward, Aquinas, and George Lindbeck;  He also uses  contemporary film,  Nabokov on Dickens, American baseball drills, sociology’s critique of theological axioms as unverifiable, psychologist Timothy Wilson, Charles Taylor’s ground breaking work on “Social Imaginaries (p63), Pierre Bourdieu’s “logic of practice”, Pascal, Gordon Graham’s idea of the irreducibility of artistic “truth”, early Christian asceticism (the importance of shaping desire in order to know), and Tolkien. [Phew!!!  Take a big breath before you embark on these pages! they are demanding.]

In brief, We need to shape desire in order to know!  The Christian vision of the kingdom of God must discern to what ends all sorts of cultural institutions are seeking to direct our love. What we do (practices) is intimately linked to what we desire (love) so what we do determines whether, how, and what we can know. (p70)We need to accept that all societies throw up an array of liturgies that function as a pedagogy of desire.” [p73] The Christian view of human flourishing is very different from secular alternatives! Folk don’t need more ideas, data and dogma necessarily ..they need to increase their desire for God. Many Americans for this reason have turned from evangelicalism to Orthodox mysticism e.g. C6th Maximus the Confessor who taught that the key to directing and increasing one’s desire for God is the acquisition of virtues..non-cognitive dispensations acquired through participation in concrete Christian practices like confession. (p71)

In my view they also need a genuinely loving and caring community which demonstrates the love of God through  meaningful liturgy, genuine and practical support, opportunities for growth including spiritual growth and service, and rich fellowship.

 [My problem with Smith’s analysis at this point is that he is assuming these folk are already Christian which I am guessing is easy to do in America where there are still so many Christians.  He is right that many evangelicals have grown weary of thin praise services with lengthy exegetical sermons which can easily become a retelling of the text that has already been read aloud hence their interest in the spiritual depth of Orthodoxy.  But before secular folk can be bothered exploring a religious “social imaginary” they need to be persuaded through ideas, teaching, apologetics and a worthwhile philosophy of religion that there is some value in religious spirituality. Smith’s work is great for jaded and shallow evangelicals but we still need Christian schools and universities teaching the philosophy, apologetics and biblical theology of the Bible so that they are equipped to rightly divide the word of truth and give an account of the hope that is in them.  We can’t con folk into the kingdom by explosive activities like a football final or disguised greed like shopping malls..my experience of such youth work is that it certainly attracts the masses but it doesn’t translate to Christian commitment. The numbers only last while the excitement lasts….a bit like the prodigal son. True love of God only occurs through God calling and this is a much more mysterious event which happens to the most unlikely folk in the most unlikely way including even in some church services no matter how “ineffective” or “uninspiring” they may seem to others.]

p75-7  The question is not whether we love but what we love…I’m guessing that I don’t have to convince you that sex sells almost everything. It is so pervasive that we can perhaps become a bit blind to it….marketing taps into our erotic religious nature and seeks to shape us in a way that this passion and desire is directed to strange gods, alternative religion, another kingdom….what if we didn’t see passion and desire as such as the problem, but rather sought to redirect it? What if we honoured what the marketing industry has got right— that we are creatures primarily of love and desire—and then responded in kind with counter-measures that focus on our passions, not primarily on our thoughts and beliefs?  In Smith’s view the church tries to get ideas to trump passion …to bring passions into submission to the intellect .  (p76)

p77     Smith turns to Inklings member Charles Williams idea of “romantic theology” to counter the current ideas/beliefs based notion of Christian formation.

cf Charles Williams: Outlines of Romantic Theology”, ed. Alice M. Hadfield, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1990, p70 and He Came Down from Heaven, 1938 reprint, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1984 p.96….Love is a testament to the in-breaking or emergence of the divine in human experience, and thus to be affirmed as an expression of our deepest erotic passion, the desire for God. (p77) cf Augustine: You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you. 

pp78 – 9 Smith channels Baz Lurhmann’s film Moulin Rouge (desire for art challenged by the desire for love vs desire for money challenged by love)…Love wins; Williams might say starting with  ᾿ερος (eros) and ending with ᾿αγαπη (agape).  Smith uses this material  to challenge the criticisms of “mushy” worship choruses that seem to confuse God with our boyfriend.  (p79fn7)….. I don’t think we should so quickly write off their “romantic” or even “erotic” elements (the Song of Songs comes to mind in this context). This, too, is testimony to why and how so many are deeply moved in worship by such singing.While this can slide into an emotionalism and a certain kind of domestication of God’s transcendance, there remains a kernel of “fittingness” about such worship. 

p79      Smith further channels the work of Catholic novelists such as Graham Greene (especially in “The Heart of the Matter”, Walker Percy, Evelyn Waugh, Anne Sexton, Flannery O’Connor…the thin fulcrum that tips from sexual desire to desire for God…The quasi- rationalism that sneers at such erotic elements in worship and is concerned to keep worship “safe” from such threats is the same rationalism that has consistently marginalised  the religious experience of women— and women mystics in particular.

p.80-88    Smith investigates cognitive psychological studies based routines and rituals that create important habits and pre-cognitive dispositions in our lives and demonstrates links and similarities between habits (“thick” and “thin”), practices, rituals (including rituals of ultimate concern) and liturgies and channelling Tillich as well as George Lindbeck’s cultural linguistic model of religion.  Secular liturgies capture our hearts by capturing our imaginations and drawing us into ritual practices that “teach” us to love something very different from the kingdom of God.

p.90-1 By describing secular/cultural liturgies are religious, I mean that they are institutions that command our allegiance, that vie for our passion, and that aim to capture our heart with a particular vision of the good life….intentionally loaded to form us into certain kinds of people—to unwittingly make us disciples of rival kings and patriotic citizens of rival kingdoms.  Smith channels the film version of Spiderman 2 as a symbol of a human construction that got out of control and destroyed the humans which created it. It is form of apocalyptic literature. The question is when does our attachment to cultural practices become assimilation to culture.

p92.   We need a kind of contemporary apocalyptic…a genre that sees through the spin and unveils for us the religious and idolatrous character of the contemporary institutions that constitute our own milieu.

p93 Liturgies both secular and religious grab hold of our καρδια (kardia) [our heart] and want nothing less than our love….

p94 …secular liturgies function as pedagogies of desire

p95 ..the rituals associated with secular liturgies constitute a pedagogy, a training of our hearts and loves….its own education of desire…we are being trained to be a people who desire the earthly city in all sorts of guises….keep in mind that what’s happening between the commercials is very much part of this commercial outreach. Television was invented to create audiences for advertising, not the other way around. [fn9]..the hip, happy people that populate television commercials are the moving icons of the consumer gospel, illustrations of what the good life looks like: carefree and independent, clean and sexy, perky and perfect.  The mall creates a sense of “lack” which quickly translates to “need”. (p97)

pp96-101   …the mall’s version of the “kingdom”:

i) an implicit notion of brokenness akin to “sin”….the beautiful people are not like us, we’re not like them… if I consume I will be like them

ii) a strange configuration of sociality  …I shop with others.

iii) the hope of redemption in consumption….I shop therefore I am…but the dazzle fades rather quickly..

iv) a vision of human flourishing (quality of life) that is unsustainable….don’t ask don’t tell…though the US comprises only 5 per cent of the world’s population, we consume somewhere between 23 and 26 per cent of the world’s energy….a way of life we cannot feasibly extend to others…the privilege of exploitation…Smith uses Orwell’s novel The Road to Wigan Pier to highlight the exploitation of the industrial revolution.

p102  Smith illustrates the methodology of marketing  by channeling  the Frontline documentary “the Persuaders.”

pp103 -112 Smith discusses the cultural liturgy of the military -entertainment complex in society. Cf May Day in Socialist societies, the daily pledge of allegiance in the classroom, the national anthem at major sporting fixtures, July 4th parades, American nationalism in general  (p107)the gospel according to America compared with the Gospel of Christ; p108 in the American military a smooth fit between discipleship and killing..”a loyal American”..the loyalty oath..a  “matter of ultimate allegiance.  Smith channels the liturgy of American nationalism as shown in film..the masterful cinema of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”, the edgy drama of “Rescue” or predictable drama of The Patriot”…the entertainment industry churns out remarkable amounts of material that solidify the myths of the national ideal; also (p110) the more prolific examples of this genre ..found in the works of Jerry Bruckheimer…”Pearl Harbour”; “Black Hawk Down”; ..and sports mythologies like “Remember the Titans” and “Glory Road”; or the new “National Treasure” franchise (which plays on the sacralization of American founding documents.) This section concludes with a detailed excursus on Patriotism as a cultural liturgy..he quotes Augustine: Christ is the true patria [country – Confessions  7.21.27].

pp112 -121 Cathedrals of Learning: Liturgies of the University….a further pedagogy of desire….the university is not only, and maybe not even primarily, about knowledge. It is, I suggest, after our imagination, our heart, our desire. It wasn’t to make us into certain kinds of people who desire a certain τελος  [telos], who are primed to pursue a particular vision of the good life….while on the one hand it seeks to shut out reference to the divine, it nonetheless lives off the borrowed capital of religious aspiration.(p113)

 [as does the media and political world in the West …denying Christian morality and the achievements of Western Civilisation, it nevertheless is regularly outraged over “correct ” issues of gender/racial diversity/sexual assault whilst applauding the freedom of adults to indulge in complete sexual freedom/base pornography/sexually oriented daily sitcoms/licentious literature etc etc.  nb cf Hauerwas: A focus on the virtues means you cannot easily separate what you come to know from how you come to know. Any knowledge worth having cannot help but shape who we are and accordingly our understanding of the world. Thus I use the description, ‘moral formation,’ rather than education, because I think all education, whether acknowledged or not, is moral formation.” [“How Risky is The Risk of Education?”  in The State of the University : Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God, Oxford, Blackwell, 2007] (p113fn37).

p118-121 Smith channels Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons to underline his critique of university cultural liturgies…a sad story indeed although Smith notes (fn 46 p121 ) that Wolfe omits any reference to Charlotte Simmons’ religious belief, which, demographically, one would have expected to be a more significant part of her home formation and perhaps would have continued into her university habits.

p121-2  The Persisting Witness of Idolatry….secular cultural liturgies are visions of human flourishing..that are antithetical to the biblical vision of shalom..we need to see not only what vision of the kingdom is implicit in the practices of Christian worship but also the way in which Christian practices need to function as counter-formation.

p122-3   Smith quotes Calvin’s victim of the sensus divinitatis … “there is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an “awareness of divinity”….sin and the Fall cannot eradicate this seed of religion, this impulsion to worship. He quotes Calvin: …[man] prefers to worship wood and stone rather than be thought of as having no God…. Here Smith disagrees with Alvin Plantinga’s reading of the sensus divinitatis …as a “basic” knowledge of God, a natural disposition to form theistic beliefs,”  [Warranted Christian Belief, Oxford, OUP, 2000, PP170-75]whereas I think Calvin is asserting a natural instinct for worship.

pp123-5  Smith channels again the “romantic theology” of Charles Williams to underline his Calvin’s point about man’s natural instinct to worship…He who, not in any sense for himself or to himself, is surrendered to an entire ardour cannot be said to be far from the Kingdom which will manifest Itself at Its chosen time; the sooner if, as has been insisted throughout, this ardour is directed and controlled by the doctrines of the Christian Religion. [Charles Williams: Outlines of Romantic Theology, ed. Alice M Hadfield, Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 1990 p.72]. Smith further challenges “romantic” literature including Dante’s Vita Nuova, Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins and  Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

pp126-`29  Smith channels Orwell’s 1984 to demonstrate that sometimes Christians fail to articulate strategies of resistance [to the power of cultural liturgies] because they fail to see a threat…or misdiagnose the threat.  Smith argues that Christians misdiagnose the threat because of a flawed, stunted philosophical anthropology…while secular cultural liturgies are grabbing hold of our gut (kardia) by means of our body and its senses —in stories, images, sights and sound…the church’s response is oddly rationalist …still seeing us as Cartesian minds….while secular liturgies are after our hearts through our bodies , the church thing it only has to get into our heads…In 1984 Winston is private resister to the system at home and failed to register the potential power of the “system” to control him once he was betrayed. Winston assumed he was insulated and isolated and unaffected by the system but he misdiagnosed its power to control him..in 1984’s case by unadulterated fear (which sort of destroys Smith’s argument that in the end it is ‘desire” that wins us over but never mind].

PART 2 Desiring the Kingdom: The Practiced Shape of the Christian Life. (p131)

It is at this point in Smith’s argument that this book managed to lose some interest for me because his basic argument (in simplistic terms) is as follows: 1. Current American reformed Presbyterian church worship is based on a series of praise hymns, fairly intellectualised free spoken prayers and a lengthy analytical sermon about central Christian ideas.

2. Smith’s solution to this “mind centred” approach is to appeal to our heart and our desire by  introducing liturgy/sacramentalism into church worship which, in summary, looks basically like the modern Anglican Australian Prayer Book Eucharist and Baptismal services and special services such as tenebrae!  On the other hand,  my current worship experience could do with a bit (a lot?)  less formal liturgical process, ancient hymns, moral preaching only loosely based on a biblical text and formal prayer book prayers.  This new emphasis on early church liturgical practice and music has undergone a significant revival in the US as writers like Robert Webber and Marva Dawn attempt to put some “liturgical strength and culture” into Fundamentalist American church worship. I can understand their motivation but Australian Anglicanism tends to have the opposite problem…we could do with a lot more mind and energy in many of our Anglican worship centres especially in rural areas.

I have been an Anglican all my life and I can indeed enjoy high end cathedral worship. I have visited and worshipped in many of the world’s most amazing Romanesque and Gothic Cathedrals and even lowered myself to enter some Baroque cathedrals.  Nevertheless I have  to say that over 60 years I have never seen standard liturgical Anglicanism grow a church. The Holy Spirit grows the church and the Holy Spirit is unpredictable..worship needs to be flexible, up to date, accessible, friendly, challenging, Biblical, emotional, clear, loving and personal amongst other things.  Beautiful liturgy can be breathtakingly passionate  in the sense of a Bach Mass in B Minor but in the end the Gospel must be preached, the bugle must be heard clearly. I suspect African Anglican churches I have worshipped in could teach us more about how worship can become a liturgy of desire more so than a standard repetitive Anglican Communion service, no matter how beautifully read and/or sung.

There is a further problem with Smith’s material in this second section and this is the increasingly prolix nature of his prose: Consider this paragraph from p140: There is a performative sanctioning of embodiment that is implicit in Christian worship, invoking the ultimate performative sanctioning of the body in the incarnation —which itself recalls the love of God that gave birth to the material creation—its reaffimation in the resurrection of Jesus, and looks forward to the resurrection of the body as an eschatological and eternal affirmation of the goodness of creation.  By the way I fully agree with his defence of the importance of the permanent

materiality of creation but it is a little surprising to find a paragraph of this multisyllabic complexity in a book about how Christians have lost ground because of their overly mind-centred approach to Christian communication.

Nevertheless Part 2  of Desiring the Kingdom is a very detailed and helpful analysis of the purpose and justification  of the various elements of traditional Christian liturgical practice including its sacramentalism . I will not summarise this material but note various issues which interested me in particular.

  1. Too often we try to define the essence of Christianity by a summer of doctrines.   (p134)
  1. we begin with the Bible as the source of our doctrines and beliefs and then “apply” it to come up with worship practices that are consistent with, and expressive of, what the Bible teaches. (p135). The essence of Christian faith cannot simply be a summary of Christian doctrines.
  1. Channelling Catholic and Orthodox traditions Smith suggests that …human knowing of God is mediated through formation, imitation, affectivity, intuition, imagination, interiorization, and symbolic engagement. (p138). In  In fn10 on this page Smith suggests that “practical theology” should be at the centre of the theological curriculum, displacing the privileged place of “systematic” theology.  In good evangelical worship all of these nouns can and should be present in my view.

iv.  Smith suggests that it is crucial that we recall the priority of liturgy to doctrine. (p138)  I doubt that he has established this statement in his brief discussion on pp 138-9. Yes liturgy well and truly pre-dated the earliest formal creeds but 1 Corinthians 15 tells me that the basis around which the earliest Christians met for worship and “liturgy” were the central tenets of the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Messiah, of which the eucharist was indeed an evocative symbol.

v.   Smith again channels Walker Percy’s novel Love in the Ruins in his defence of sacramentalism and the celebration of the natural world. (p142) On p143 he channels for the same purpose Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem God’s Grandeur, and on pp144 -147 he channels Graham Greene’s novels and Anne Sexton’s poetry to illustrate the fundamentally aesthetic, not didactic  nature of Christian worship. Of course as a former teacher of English Literature no-one is more fond than me of including poetry in a sermon. But I have to say that my enthusiasm for such poetic injections is frequently not appreciated by my hearers, especially my wife! Perhaps I choose the wrong poets but one of my special favourites is Hopkins!   I must note that in footnote 27 p144  Smith does note: This is not to suggest that worship is merely aesthetic, nor am i suggesting that there is not a didactic moment to worship.  

vi.  Smith quotes N T Wright: Jesus determined that it was his task and role, his vocation as Israel’s representative, to lose the battle on Israel’s behalf. This would be the means of Israel’s becoming the light, not just of herself …but of the whole world. [The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was  and Is, Downer’s Grove,IL, Intervarsity, 1999.]

vii.  p166 and fn29p167: Christian worship practices carry their own understanding that is implicit within them (pace Charles Taylor), and that understanding can be absorbed and imbibed in our imaginations without having to kick into a mode of cerebral reflection.  I recognise that some might be uncomfortable with this claim, since it seems to suggest that there can be some sort of virtue in “going through the motions.” On this point I’m afraid I have to confess that I do indeed think this is true. While it is not ideal, I do think there can be a sort of implanting of the gospel that happens simply by virtue of participating in liturgical practices. (this is the ballpark of the principle of ex opera operate). 

[I do recall C S Lewis writing somewhere that the beauty of knowing the liturgy off by heart is that your heart and mind are left free to hear God speaking and to meditate in your own way..or words to that effect.]

viii. Regarding the greeting and sharing of the Peace, Smith comments: We are immediately reminded that worship is not a private affair… p169.

ix. p175. Regarding the reading of the ten commandments or a summary thereof, Smith comments: The secular liturgies of late modern culture are bent on forming in us a notion of autonomy — a sense that we are a law unto ourselves and that we are only properly “free” when we can choose our own ends, determine our own telos. Since its early beginnings, Charles Taylor notes, modernity has been marked by a rejection of teleology, a rejection of the notion that there is a specified, normative end (telos) to which humanity ought to be directed in order to enjoy the good life. And this rejection was driven by a new notion of “libertarian” freedom, which identified freedom with freedom of choice…The announcement of “the law”  is a scandal to those who are primarily formed by modern secular liturgies. The notion of “the law” of God is completely counter-cultural today.

x. p176 and fn.51. The announcement of the law reminds us that we inhabit not “nature” but creation, fashioned by a Creator, and that there is a certain grain to the universe—grooves and tracks and norms that are part of the fabric of the world. I’m alluding here to Stanley Hauerwas’s adoption of John Howard Yoder’s claim that “people who bear crosses” are “working with the grain of the universe.” See Hauerwas: With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI, Brazos, 2001 p17).

xi. p176 and fn 52.  Indeed the biblical vision of human flourishing implicit in worship that we are only properly free when our desires are rightly ordered, when they are bounded and directed to the end that constitutes our good. Thus Augustine considered the situation of libertarian freedom—having no defined telos and thus being “free” to do whatever I want (so valorised in modernity)— as actually the situation of fallen, sinful freedom.

xii. p180-1 excursus on confession as liberation. Smith uses Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American to underscore the liberating power of confession in people’s lives.

xiii)  p180 ..in confession and and assurance of pardon, we meet a moment where Christian worship runs counter to the formation of secular liturgies that either tend to nullify talk of guilt and responsibility or tend to point out failures without extending assurance of pardon. On the one hand, Oprah-fied liturgies tend to foster an illusory self-confidence (“Believe in yourself!” that refuses to recognise failure, guilt or transgression, castigating such things as “negative energy’” that compromises self-esteem.

xiv)  p182 fn60 Richard Hays emphasizes that for Paul, “the goal of God’s redemptive action” isn not the rescuing of individual souls but rather “to raise up a people to declare his praise”  (Hays: The Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989, p84] Or as he summaries elsewhere, “granted that Scripture tells the story of God’s activity, we must say in the same breath that God’s activity is directed towards the formation of a people “ (Hays: The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture, [Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 2005, p171] Consequently Hays admonishes that if we want to adopt a Pauline hermeutic—if we want to read the Scriptures as Paul did—then we need to adopt and “ecclesiocentric” (Echoes, 86, 183-94) or “ecclesiotelic” hermeneutic that sees this social focus of God’s creational and redemptive work as directed toward re-creating a people rather than saving individual people—“a people of his own” (Titus: 2:14).  [but, not to deny the strengtht of this Hay’s ecclesial approach,  how can you re-create “people” without saving individuals???]

xv) p185 Using 1 Corinthians chapter 1:27- 28 Smith reminds us that the church in Corinth at least was not made up of the flourishing “beautiful people” but the down-trodden…not just the have-nots; they’re also the are-nots”!

xvi) p185 and fn 72.  Smith comments on the idolisation of “the family”  in many evangelical churches. Thus Schmemann admonishes, “A marriage which does not constantly crucify its own selfishness and self-sufficiency, which does not ‘die to itself’ that it may point beyond itself, is not a Christian marriage. The real sin of marriage is not adultery or lack of ‘adjustment’ or ‘mental cruelty.’ It is the idolisation of the family itself, the refusal to understand marriage as directed towards the Kingdom of God”. (For the Life of the World : Sacraments and Orthodoxy, 2nd ed. [Crestwood NY, St. Vladimir’s, 1973, p90]

[this is a strongly made point and a very important corrective in relation to the failure of many churches to minister effectively to adult singles. Nevertheless I believe he goes way too far….Adultery is a real sin and so is mental cruelty …both are alive and well in evangelical and, I am sure, Orthodox marriages.] 

xvii) p186 Our baptismal promises attest to the fact that “the church is our first family”.

xix) p 189 Re Contemporary Concrete Renunciations in the Baptismal service.  The baptismal promises are very general. The sins of the modern age are perhaps more subtle…Think about the particular configurations of cultural institutions and practices the need to be (daily) renounced in order to truly foster human flourishing…[but who today (2018) decides what is a sin? Is it Facebook outrage? unelected & unaccountable media spokespersons and journalists? Politicians? University sociologists and psychologists? School teachers? This is not simple…]

xx) p191In contrast to secular liturgies that are fixated on the novel and the new (including the liturgies of the university) , which are trying their best to forget what happened five minutes ago, Christian worship constitutes us as people of memory. It cuts against the grain of myths of progress and chronological snobbery that assume “we” (late moderns) must know more and thus must know better. The communal recitation of the Creed conditions us to recognise the role of tradition in our contstrual of the world. It forms in us salutary habits of deference and dependence (anathema in liberal democracy) in what we think and believe, recognising and celebrating our debts and dependencies. In fn88 Smith recognises that the form of the creeds needs to be modified in relation to the liturgical and other situations of their use e.g. the discussion of the tenets of the creed being discussed in a theological lecture ideally should be worded differently from a creed being used in outreach worship.]

xxi) p192  What we believe is not a matter of intellectualising salvation but rather a matter of knowing what to love, knowing to whom we pledge allegiance, and knowing what is at stake for us as people of the “baptismal city”.’…rival cadences, sometimes doing battle in our imagination with the cadences of other pledges that would ask for our allegiance and loyalty.

xxii) p192 -3 The was we pray also will be nuanced by the situation in which we are placed. Eg we should perhaps try to appreciate how strange [public prayer] might look to Martian anthropologists, for here is a group of what appear to be otherwise (relatively) normal people engaged in a conversation with someone who seems to be absent…like having a conversation with ourselves…or in a kind of enchantment…but in fact ..we are called, even chosen, as a people not for our own sake but for the sake of the world…as Israel was chosen in order to be a light unto the nations.

xxiii) p195 Re the public reading of Scripture: We have emphasised that humans are liturgical animals, whose desire is shaped by rituals of ultimacy  that we described as liturgies. Implicit in such liturgies is a story; thus the claim that we are liturgical animals is a correlate of Alasdair MacIntyre’s claim that “man [sic] is in his actions and practice, as well as in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal. cf Hauerwas: We are a storied formed community…[ in The Hauerwas Reader: ed. John Berkman and Michael Cartwright, (Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2001, p171-99]

xxiv) p200 The eucharist is an eschatological supper awaiting the renewed kingdom of God.

xxv) Re forgiveness; As a school for learning to love our neighbour, and thus becoming reconciled, it is also a school for learning to love our enemies—the most scandalous element of renewed community in the kingdom come. [Of course both Corrie Ten Boom and the aftermath of the Rwandan tragedy remind us that after very deep and titanic hurt, true reconciliation cannot come before there is some sense of contrition on the part of the perpetrator (unless they are mentally unable to express contrition)]

xxvi) p205 re church financial practices: The reconciled and redeemed body of Christ is marked by cruciform practices that counter the liturgies of consumption, hoarding, and greed that characterise so much of our late modern culture. 

xxvii) p206 & fn.115  re the church reaching out:  Smith channels the Patty Griffin song No Bad News to highlight the line: Singing the End of Strangers…And we’ll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us, till there are no strangers any more. 

xxvii) p208 The question is how are Western Christians any different from our secular neighbours? Isn’t it the case that…we don’t seem to look  very peculiar? That is, we don’t seem to be a people that looks very different from our neighbour, except that we go to church on Sunday mornings while they’re home reading the paper…we will need a a more nuanced account of how some liturgies trump  others; in this case, we could suggest that though these parishioners participate in Christian worship, their participation in other secular liturgies effectively trumps the practices of Christian worship.

xxviii) p210  Smith defends some forms of modern monasticism…it is not a matter of seclusion. But neither does it see itself engaged in a triumphalist project of changing the world.

xxix) p218 The danger of an intellectualised “Christian world view” approach to Christian university process. …what if a Christian perspective turns out to be a way o domesticating the radicality of the gospel? What is the rather abstract formulas of a Christian worldview turn out to be a way to tame and blunt the radical call to be a disciple of the coming kingdom?

xxx) p219-20 Smith channels Hauerwas: When the Christianity of “Christian Education” is reduced to the intellectual elements of a Christian worldview or a Christian perspective, the result is that Christianity is turned “into a belief system available to the individual with mediation by the church.” [Hauerwas: How Risky? p51] Christianity “is not beliefs about God plus behaviour. We are Christians not because of what we believe but because we have been called to be disciples of Jesus. Becoming a disciple is not a matter of a new or changed self-understanding but of becoming part of a different community with a different set of practices.  [Stanley Hauerwas: After Christendom? How the Church Is to Behave If Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation Are Bad Ideas, [Nashville, Abingdon, 1991 p107.

More Cavorting with Coleridge: Aids to Reflection. This time on Moral and Religious Aphorisms

MORAL AND RELIGIOUS APHORISMS.

38.   …all teachers of Moral Truth, who aim to prepare for its reception by calling the attention of men to the law in their own hearts, may, without presumption consider themselves to be Apostles …namely Ambassadors for the Greatest of Kings..and the great Treaty of Peace and reconcilement betwixt him and Mankind.

39. On the feelings natural to ingenuous minds towards those who have first led them to reflect: Though divine truths are to be received equally from every Minister alike, yet it must be acknowledged that there is something (we know not what to call it) of a more acceptable reception of those which at first were the means of bringing men to God, than of others; like the opinion some have of physicians whom they love. The truths of the Gospel are applicable to all; but as remedies produce not always equal effects, so to different individuals different portions of the Word appear peculiarly applicable…And as it is with Scriptural truths so it is with those who preach them, some progress in one direction, and some in another; Labourers do not all work in the same spot, though they reap the same harvest.

40.  The worth and value of Knowledge is in proportion to the worth and value of its object. What then is the best knowledge? The exactest knowledge of things, is to know them in their causes; it is  then an excellent thing, and worthy of their endeavours who are most desirous of knowledge, to know the best things in their highest causes; and the happiest way of attaining to this knowledge, is to possess those things, and to know them in experience.    [what things does Coleridge mean? The love and salvation of God? The love and commitment between a man and his wife? being present at the safe birth of your own child?The extraordinary beauty of creation ..the sea in the morning air? snow on the highest mountains? the South Gippsland hills? birdsong in the morning? The singing garden of C J Dennis at Toolangi? Simpson’s Gap at dawn? a Spring garden on the Bell’s Line of Road in the Blue Mountains? Tuscany in late summer?  being lost in Venice? sitting quietly  overlooking the view from the oracle at Delphi? fireflies on a summer’s evening in Champagne Illinois: the power of Niagara Falls? Giraffe grazing in the Akagera Game Park in Rwanda? Gazing for an hour at a huge Constable landscape in London or Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal in St Petersburgh? standing still at the  overgrown graves of William and Jane Morris at Kelmscott or the view of the Thames near their house? Stourhead Garden in late afternoon in Autumn,? standing in the middle of Sherbrooke Forest at daybreak? reading Tolstoy, D H Lawrence, Milton, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Eliot  or Alex Miller? pondering the immensity and deep beauty and wonder of the universe with modern photography? a faithful and loving dog? listening to Bach’s St John Passion?  Lying in the middle of the Eyre Highway on the Nullabor Plain at midnight? watching the moon rise over Mont St Michel in Summer? assimilating the view beside St Biago in Montepulciano in Summer? walking quietly in a temple garden in Kyoto? sitting quietly in a boat on the Gordon River surrounded by 3000 year old rainforest in Tasmania? standing quietly in Bourges Cathedral (or Chartres, or Durham, or St David’s in Wales, or the Hagia Sophia or a mountain peak in Switzerland or on top of the Great Wall of China? a true and lasting friendship? sitting in a library of personally selected books and thinking? being still and knowing that God is God? singing hymns of faith with a huge crowd at Belgrave Heights Keswick Convention? the privilege of being alive? the joy of teaching receptive students?]

41. It is one main point of happiness that he that is happy doth know and judge himself to be so. This being the peculiar good of a reasonable creature, it is to be enjoyed in a reasonable way. It is not as the dull resting of a stone, or any other natural body in its natural place; but the knowledge and consideration of it is the fruition of it, the very relishing and tasting of its sweetness. [Coleridge appends a “Remark” after this aphorism, defending the Doctrines of Revealed Religion from prejudices widely spread, in part through the abuse, but far more from ignorance, of the true meaning of doctrinal Terms, which, however they may have been perverted to the purposes of Fanaticism, are not only scriptural, but of too frequent occurrence in Scripture to be overlooked or passed by in silence.  He goes on to refer, in particular, to comments by Archbishop Leighton regarding the doctrine of Salvation, in connexion with the divine Foreknowledge  [election],  which he entitles effectual calling, the morality of which was being called into question in his day.]

42.  Two Links of the Chain (viz. Election and Salvation) are up in heaven in God’s own hand; but this middle one (i.e. Effectual Calling) is let down to earth, into the hearts of his children, and they laying hold on it have sure hold on the other two: for no power can sever them. If, therefore, they can read the character of God’s image in their own souls, those are the counterpart of the golden characters of His love, in which their names are written in the book of life….So that finding the stream of grace in their hearts, though they may not see the fountain whence it flows, nor the ocean to which it returns, yet they know that it hath its source in their eternal election, and shall empty itself into the ocean of their eternal salvation…Therefore make your calling sure, and by that, your election….We are not to pry immediately into the decree, but to read it in the performance. Though the mariner sees not the pole-star, yet the needle of the compass which points to it, tells him which way he sails; thus the heart that is touched with the loadstone of divine love, trembling with godly fear, and yet still looking towards God by fixed believing, interprets the fear by the love in the fear, and tells the soul that its course is heavenward, towards the haven of eternal rest.  He that loves may be sure that he was loved first…..although from present unsanctification, a man cannot infer that he is not elected; for the decree may, for part of a man’s life, run (as it were) underground… a man hath no portion amongst the children of God, nor can read one word of comfort in all the promises that belong to them, while he remains unholy. Note: Coleridge adds to this aphorism a note again quoting Archbishop Leighton against the sneers of the Sciolists [superficial pretenders to knowledge] on the one hand and Fanatics  on the other in which Leighton states: In Scripture the term Spirit, as a power or property seated in the human soul, never stands singly, but is always specified by a genitive case following ; this being a Hebraism instead of an adjective which the Writer would have used if he had thought, as well as written in Greek. It is “the Spirit of Meekness” (a meek Spirit), or “the Spirit of Chastity”, and the like. The moral Result, the specific Form and Character in which the Spirit manifests its presence, is the only sure pledge and token of its presence; which is to be, and which safely may be, inferred from its practical effects, but of which an immediate knowledge or consciousness is impossible; and every pretence to such knowledge is either hypocrisy or fanatical delusion.

43.  If any pretend that they have the Spirit, and so turn away from the straight rule of the Holy Scriptures, they have a spirit indeed, but it is a fanatical spirit, the spirit of delusion and giddiness; but the Spirit of God, that leads his children in the way of truth, and is for that purpose sent them from Heaven to guide them thither, squares their thoughts and ways to that rule whereof it is author, and that word which was inspired by it, and sanctifies them to obedience. He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4) 

 [Coleridge appends to this aphorism a lengthy essay with 19 paragraphs in which he attacks both atheism and those who build their lives on some sort of spiritual experience alone without reference to the clear Word of God in Scripture; in addition he responds to his critics especially Jonathan Swift and Joseph Butler who accuse him of “enthusiasm” or pretending to have spiritual gifts; in addition he argues that Deism is effectively Atheism.]

(i)..serious and sincere Christians ..can be helped when reading theology if they will accustom themselves to translate the theological terms into moral equivalents; saying to themselves—this may not be all that is meant, but this is meant, and it is that portion of the meaning, which belongs to me in the present stage of my progress. For example: render the words, sanctification of the Spirit…by Purity in Life and Action from a Pure Principle.

(ii)[A man] needs only to reflect on his own experience to be convinced that the Man makes the motive, and not the motive the man. What is a strong motive to one man, is no motive at all to another. If, then, the man deternines the motive, who determines the Man—to a good and worthy act, we will say, or a virtuous course of conduct? The intelligent Will, or the self-determining Power? True, in part, it is; and therefore the Will is pre-eminently the spiritual Constituent in our being. But will any reflecting man admit, that his own Will is the only sufficient determinant of all he is, and all he does?  [Coleridge goes on to suggest that Agents, known and unknown act on a man’s will as well as the Air he breathes (environment) and his health.]

(iii)..in the World we see everywhere evidences of a Unity, which the component parts are so far from explaining, that they necessarily pre-suppose it as the cause and condition of their existing as those parts: or even of their existing at all…..it is highly reasonable to believe a Universal Power, as the cause and pre-condition of the harmony of all particular Wholes…and yet unreasonable and even superstitious or enthusiastic to entertain a similar Belief in relation to the  System of intelligent and self-conscious Beings to the moral and personal World? But if in this, too, in the great community of Persons, it is rational to infer One universal Presence,  a One present to all and in all, is it not most irrational to suppose that a finite Will can exclude it?

(iv)Whenever, therefore, the Man is determined (that is, impelled and directed) to act in harmony of intercommunion, must not something be attributed to this all-present power as acting in the Will? and by what fitter names can we call this than THE LAW, as empowering; THE WORD as informing; and THE SPIRIT as actuating? 

(v)What has been said here amounts (I am aware) only to a negative Conception; but this is all that is required for a Mind at that period of its growth which we are now supposing, and as longs as Religion is contemplated under the form of Morality. A positive insight belongs to a more advanced stage; for spiritual truths can only be spiritually discerned. This we know from Revelation, and the existence of spiritual truths being granted) Philosophy is compelled to draw the same conclusion. But though merely negative, it is sufficient to render the union of Religion and Morality conceivable; sufficient to satisfy an unprejudiced Inquirer that the spiritual Doctrines of the Christian religion are not at war with the Reasoning Faculty, and that if they do not run on the same Line (or Radius) with the Understanding,  Yet neither do they cut  or cross it. It is sufficient, in short, to prove, that some distinct and consistent meaning may be attached to the assertion of the learned and philosophic apostle that “the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit” [Rom.8:16], that is, with the Will, as the supernatural in Man and the Principle of our Personality—of that, I mean, by which we are responsible Agents: Persons, and not merely living Things. [Coleridge attaches a philosophic addendum to point 5 in which he defends Free-will from being natural to man because man is originated with Free-will. Coleridge therefore argues that throughout the New Testament, Spiritual and Supernatural are synonymous.

(vi)It will suffice to satisfy a reflecting mind, that even at the porch and threshold of Revealed Truth there is a great and worthy sense in which we believe the Apostle’s assurance, that not only doth “the Spirit aid our infirmities” (Rom.8:20); that is, act on the Will by a predisposing influence from without, as it were, though in a spiritual manner, and without suspending or destroying its freedom (the possibility of which is proved to us in the influences of Education, or providential Occurrences, and above all of Example), but that in regenerate souls it may act in will and spirit, it may “make intercession for us” (Rom.8:26) “with groanings that cannot be uttered” (Rom.8:26). Nor is there any danger of Fanaticism or Enthusiasm as the consequence of such a belief, if only the attention be carefully and earnestly drawn to the concluding words of the sentence; if only due force and full import be given to the term unutterable or Incommunicable, in St Paul’s use of it. In this….it  signifies that the subject…is something which cannot, which from the nature of the thing is impossible that I should, communicate to any human mind…It cannot be the object of my own direct and immediate Consciousness; it must be inferred….[Coleridge attaches to this note some references on the subject of consciousness, its general phenomena, and to psychological researches.  He notes Sir William Hamilton: Lectures on Metaphysics; Locke’s Essay..where consciousness is considered as connected with personality;  and Butler: On Personal Identity, for some critical remarks on Locke’s views. A madman is frequently not conscious of his own identity and that identity must be referred to the consciousness of others. But since sane self-consciousness is the most reliable testimony to the mind in which it inheres, so the same evidence is here appealed to, to establish a spiritual truth which enthusiasm or fanaticism is apt to distort.]

(vii)If any reflecting mind be surprised that the aids of the Divine Spirit should be deeper than our Consciousness can reach, it must arise from the not having attended sufficiently to the nature and necessary limits of human Consciousness. For the same impossibility exists  as to the first acts and movements of our own will —the farthest back our recollection can follow the traces, never leads us to the first footmark —the lowest depth that the light of our Consciousness can visit even with a doubtful Glimmering, is still at an unknown distance from the Ground: and so, indeed, must it be with all Truths, and all modes of Being that can neither be counted, coloured or delineated. Before and After, when applied to such Subjects, are but allegories, which the Sense or Imagination supplies to the Understanding. The position of the Aristotelians, Nihil in intellectu quod non prius in sensu [“there is nothing in mind which was not previously in the senses] on which Mr. Locke’s Essay is grounded, is irrefragable; Locke erred only in taking half  the Truth for a whole Truth. Conception is consequent on Perception. What we cannot imagine, we cannot, in the proper sense, conceive. [ so also, I think, Anselm: God is that than which no greater thing can be conceived.]

(viii)..whatever is representable in the forms of Time and Space, is Nature. But whatever is comprehended in Time and space, is included in the mechanism of Cause and Effect. And conversely, whatever, by whatever means, has its principle in itself so far as to originate its actions, cannot be contemplated in any of the forms of Space and Time —it must, therefore, be considered as Spirit or Spiritual by a mind in that stage of its Development which is here supposed, and which we have agreed to understand under the name of Morality, or the Moral State: for in this stage we are concerned only with the forming of negative conceptions, negative convictions; and by spiritual I do not pretend to determine what the Will is, but what it is not — namely, that it is not Nature. And as no man who admits a Will at all (for we may safely assume that no man not meaning to speak figurately would call the shifting current of a stream the WILL of the River [cf “The River windeth at his own sweet will” — Wordsworth’s exquisite “Sonnet on Westminster-bridge at Sunrise,] will suppose it below Nature, we may safely add, that it is supernatural; and this without the least pretence to any Notion or Insight.

(ix)Now Morality accompanied with Convictions like these, I have ventured to call Religious. Morality. Of the importance I attach to the state of mind implied in these convictions, for its own sake, and as the natural preparation for a yet higher state and a more substantive knowledge, proof more than sufficient, perhaps, has been given in the length and minuteness of this introductory Discussion, and in the foreseen risk which I run of exposing the volume at large to the censure which every work, or rather which every writer, must be prepared to undergo, who, treating of subjects that cannot be seen, touched, or in any other way made matters of outward sense, is yet anxious both to attach to, and to convey a distinct meaning by, the words he makes use of —the censure of being dry, abstract, and (of all qualities most scaring and opprobrious to the ears of the present generation) metaphysical; though how is it possible that a work not physical , that is, employed on Objects known or believed on the evidence of the senses, should be other than metaphysical, that is: treating of Subjects, the evidence of which is not derived from the Senses, is a problem which Critics of this order find it convenient to leave unsolved.

(x)The author of the present Volume, will, indeed, have reason to think himself fortunate, if this be all the Charge! How many smart quotations, which (duly cemented by personal allusions to the Author’s supposed Pursuits, Attachments, and Infirmities) would of themselves make up “a review” of the volume, might be supplied from the works of Butler, Swift, and [William] Warburton [literary critic and Bishop of Gloucester]. For instance, [now quoting Dean Swift]        “ It may not be amiss to inform the Public, that the compiler of the aids to Reflection, and Commenter on a Scotch Bishop’s platonico-calvinistic commentary on St Peter, belongs to the sect of the Aeolists [pretenders to inspiration], whose fruitful imaginations lead them into certain notions, which although in appearance very unaccountable, are not without their mysteries and their meanings; furnishing plenty of Matter for such, whose converting Imaginations dispose them to reduce all things into TYPES: who can make SHADOWS, no thanks to the Sun; and then mould them into SUBSTANCES, no thanks to Philosophy: whose peculiar Talent lies in fixing TROPES and ALLEGORIES to the LETTER. and refining what is LITERAL into FIGURE and MYSTERY” . —Tale of the Tub, Section xi [Swift].

(xi)And would it were my lot to meet with a  Critic, who in the might of his own Convictions, and with arms of equal Point and Efficiency, from his own Forge, would come forth as my Assailant; or who, as a friend to my purpose, would set forth the objections to the matter and pervading Spirit of these Aphorisms, and the accompanying elucications. Were it my task to form the mind of a young man of Talent, desirous to establish his opinions and beliefs on solid principles, and in the light of distinct understanding,— I would commence his theological studies, or, at least, that most important part of them respecting the aids which Religion promises in our attempts to realise the idea of Morality, by bringing together all the passages scattered throughout the writings of Swift and Butler, that bear on Enthusiasm, Spiritual Operations, and pretences to the Gifts of the Spirit, with the whole train of New Lights, Raptures, Experiences, and the like. For all that the richest wit, in intimate union with profound Sense and steady Observation, can supply on these topics, is to be found in the works of these Satirists; though unhappily alloyed with much that can only tend to pollute the imagination.

(xii)Without stopping to estimate the degree of caricature in the Portraits sketched by these bold Masters….I would direct my Pupil’s attention to one feature common to the whole Group —the pretence, namely, of possessing or a Belief and expectation of possessing, an immediate Consciousness, a sensible Experience, of the Spirit in and during its operation on the soul. It is not enough that you grant them a consciousness of the Gifts and Graces infused, or an assurance of the Spiritual Origin of the same, grounded on their correspondence with the Scripture Promises, and their conformity with the Idea of the Divine Giver. No! They all alike, it will be found, lay claim (or at least look forward) to an inward perception of the Spirit itself and of its operation.            [At first glance Coleridge seems in this aphorism to deny the possibility of any Christian’s sense of “knowing” or ‘having” the Spirit of God in their lives, along the lines of typical C18th deistic Enlightenment disapproval of “enthusiasm”. But in paragraph vi in this extended essay Coleridge makes it clear from Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit is “infused” into our lives and indeed takes possession of us when our own thoughts and Spirit cannot speak or pray. What Coleridge opposes here is the human claim that a person can take control of God’s Spirit at will and use the power of God at will.  Whereas the opposite is the case. We cannot control God and we cannot always rely on our feelings about God’s love and power. Sometimes God “feels” very far away indeed, even in the life of the most devout and “spiritual” disciple. Sometimes also Satan can masquerade as an angel of light and deceive “even the elect”. We need to rest on the assurances of God’s love and protection in his Word and not trust in our own resources for we are frail and weak without the strength and power of God infusing us. Indeed as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10..for when I am weak then I am strong  and we have this power in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Cor.4:7]] 

(xiii)Whatever must be misrepresented in order to be ridiculed, is in fact not ridiculed; but the thing substituted for it.  It is a Satire on something else, coupled with a Lie on the part of the Satirist, who knowing, or having the means of knowing the truth, chooses to call one thing by the name of another. The Pretensions to the Supernatural, pilloried by Butler, sent to Bedlam by Swift, and (on their re-appearance in public)  gibbeted by Warburton, and anatomised by Bishop Lavington, one and all have this for their character, that the Spirit is made the immediate object of Sense or Sensation….[Coleridge’s complaint against the superficially clever but false satire of Jonathan Swift etc  in this paragraph stands up well today (in the C21st) as a description of the cheap comedy/“satire” routines of the vast majority of stand up comics and political comedy tv shows of the loony left. With their single minded unaccountable and unelected journalists and pundits  they ply their well worn trade knowing that they will always get a laugh by bagging anything that challenges whatever is the trendy “spirit” of the popular secular culture/zeitgeist today. Woe betide any clear Christian thinker such as Jordan Peterson who dares to challenge the shallow all pervading tide of acceptable left thinking today. Of course they will never oppose any other religious point of view because it is trendy to accept the ideas of any faith other than the Christian heritage of Western culture. Often they forgo such criticism of other faiths  for fear of their own lives and safety which is understandable, but their inconsistency is not commendable and demonstrates their lack of conviction. Nothing much has changed it would seem in the last 300 years since Coleridge. At least Jonathan Swift was aware that his views would not land him a good position in the church and yet pursued his satire which was, as satire goes, brilliant ..unlike the cowardly media faff we have today whose soul aim it would appear is to get a cheap laugh.]

(iv)Well then! —for let me be allowed still to suppose the Reader present to me, and that I am addressing him in the character of Companion and Guide —the positions recommended for your examination not only do not involve, but they exclude, this inconsistency. And for aught that hitherto appears, we may see with complacency the Arrows of Satire feathered with Wit, weighted with sense, and discharged by a strong Arm, fly home to their mark. Our conceptions of a possible Spiritual Communion, though they are but negative, and only preparatory to a faith in its actual existence, stand neither in the Level or in the Direction of the Shafts.

(xv)If it be objected, that Swift and Warburton did not choose openly to set up interpretations of later and more rational Divines against the decisions of their own Church, and from prudential considerations did not attack the doctrine in toto altogether, that is their concern ( I would answer), and it is more charitable to think otherwise. But we are in the silent school of Thought. Should we ‘lie for God,’ and that to our own Thoughts? They indeed, who dare do the one, will soon be able to do the other. So did the Comforters of Job: and to the Divines, who resemble Job’s Comforters, we will leave both attempts.

(xvi)But (it may be said) a possible Conception is not necessarily a true one; nor even a probable one, where the facts can be otherwise explained. In the name of the supposed Pupil I would reply —that is the very question I am preparing myself to examine; and am now seeking the Vantage-ground where I may best command the Facts. In my own person, I would ask this Objector, whether he counted the Declarations of Scripture among the Facts to be explained. But both for myself and my Pupil, and in behalf of all rational Inquiry, I would demand that the Decision should not be such, in itself or in its effects, as would prevent one becoming acquainted with the most important of these Facts; nay, such as would, for the mind of the Decider, preclude their very existence. Unless ye believe, says the Prophet, ye cannot understand. Suppose (what is at least possible) that the facts should be consequent on belief, it is clear that without the belief the materials, on which the understanding is to exert itself, would be wanting.

(xvii)The reflections that naturally arise out of this last remark, are those that best suit the stage at which we last halted (section viii), and from which we now recommence our progress — the state of a Moral Man, who has already welcomed certain truths of Religion, and who is enquiring after other and more special Doctrines; still however as a Moralist, and desirous indeed to receive them into combination with Morality, but to receive them as its Aid, not as its Substitute. Now, to such a man I say, Before you reject the Opinions and Doctrines asserted and enforced in the following Extracts from Leighton [Archbishop], and before you give way to the Emotions of Distaste or Ridicule, which the prejudices of the Circle in which you move, or your own familiarity with the mad perversions of the doctrine by the Fanatics in all ages, have connected with the very words, Spirit, Grace, Gifts, Operations &c., re-examine the arguments advanced in the first pages of this Introductory Comment (sections iii-xviii), and the simple and sober View of the Doctrine, contemplated in the first instance as a mere idea of Reason, flowing naturally from the admission an infinite omnipresent Mind as the Ground of the Universe. Reflect again and again, and be sure that you understand the doctrine before you determine on rejecting it. That no false judgments, no extravagant conceits,no practical ill-consequences need arise out of the right Belief of the Spirit, and its possible communion with the Spiritual Principle in Man , can arise out of the right Belief, or are compatible with the Doctrine, truly and scripturally explained.

(xviii).  On the other hand, reflect on the consequences of rejecting it. For surely it is not the act of a reflecting mind, nor the part of a Man of Sense to disown and cast out one Tenet, and yet persevere in admitting and clinging to another that has neither sense nor purpose, that does not suppose and rest on the truth and reality of the former! If you have resolved that all belief of a divine Comforter present to our inmost Being and aiding our infirmities, is fond and fanatical — if the Scriptures promising and asserting such communion are to be explained away to the actions of circumstances, and the necessary movements of the vast machine, in one of the circulating chains of which the human Will is a petty Link — in what light can Prayer appear to you, than the groans of a wounded Lion in his solitary Den, or the howl of a Dog with his eyes on the moon? At the best, you can regard it only as a transient bewilderment of the Social Instinct, as a social Habit misapplied. Unless indeed you should adopt the theory which I remember to have read in the writings of the late Dr Jebb, and, for some supposed beneficial re-action of Praying on the Prayer’s own Mind, should practice it as a species of Animal-magnetism to be brought about by a wilful eclipse of the Reason, and a temporary make-believe on the part of the Self-magnetizer!

(xix)At all events, do not pre-judge a Doctrine, the utter rejection of which must oppose a formidable obstacle to your acceptance of Christianity itself, when the Books, from which alone we can learn what Christianity is and what it teaches, are so strangely written, that in a series of the most concerning points, including (historical facts excepted) all the peculiar Tenets of Religion, the plain and obvious meaning of the words, that in which they were understood by Learned and Simple for at least sixteen centuries, during the far larger part of which the language was a living language, is no sufficient guide to their actual sense to to the Writer’s own meaning! And this too, where the literal and received Sense involves nothing impossible or immoral, or contrary to reason. With such a persuasion, Deism would be a more consistent Creed. But, alas, even this will fail you.  The utter rejection of all present and living communion with the Universal Spirit impoverishes Deism itself, and renders it as cheerless as Atheism, from which it would differ only by an obscure impersonation of what the Atheist receives unpersonified,  under the name of Fate or Nature. 

44. The proper and natural Effect, and in the absence of all disturbing or intercepting forces, the certain and sensible accompaniment of Peace, (or Reconcilement) with God, is our own inward Peace, a quiet and calm temper of mind. And where there is a consciousness of earnestly desiring, and of having sincerely striven after the former, the latter may be considered as a Sense of its presence. In this case, I say, and for a soul watchful, and under the discipline of the Gospel, the Peace with a man’s self may be the medium or organ through which the assurance of his Peace with God is conveyed. We will not therefore condemn this mode of speaking, though we dare not greatly recommend it. Be it, that there is, truly and in sobriety of speech, enough of just Analogy in the subjects meant, to make use of the words, if less than proper, yet something more than metaphorical; still we must be cautious not to transfer to the Object the defects or the deficiency of the Organ, which must needs partake of the imperfections of the imperfect Beings to whom it belongs….but with yet greater caution, ought we to think respecting a tranquil habit of inward life, considered as a spiritual Sense, as the Medial Organ in and by which our Peace with God, and the lively Working of his Grace on our Spirit, are perceived by us. 

 This Peace which we have with God in Christ, is inviolable; but because the sense and persuasion of it may be interrupted, the soul that is truly at peace with God may for a time be disquieted itself, through weakness of faith, or the strength of temptation, or the darkness of desertion, losing sight of that grace, that love and light of God’s countenance, on which its tranquillity and joy depend.  Thou didst hide thy face, saith David, and I was troubled. (Psalm 30:7). But when these eclipses are over, the soul is revived with new consolation, as the the face of the earth is renewed and made to smile with the return of the sun in spring; and this ought always to uphold Christians in the saddest times, viz., that the grace and love of God towards them depends not on their sense, nor upon anything in them, but is still in itself, incapable of the smallest alteration. 

A holy heart that gladly entertains grace, shall find that it and peace cannot dwell asunder; while an ungodly man may sleep to death in the lethargy of carnal presumption and impenitency! but a true, lively, solid peace he cannot have. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. (Isaiah 42:21)

45.  Worldly hopes. Worldly hopes are not living, but lying hopes; they die often before us, and we live to bury them, and see our own folly and infelicity in trusting to them; but at the utmost, they die with us when we die, and can accompany us no further. But the lively Hope, which is the Christian’s Portion, answers expectation to the full, and much beyond it, and deceives no way but in that happy way of far exceeding it.         A living hope, living in death itself! The world dares say no more for its device, than Dum spiro spero [while I breathe I hope]; but the children of God can add, by virtue of this living hope, Dum expiro spero [while I die I hope].

46.  The Worldling’s Fear. It is a fearful thing when a man and all his hopes die together. Thus saith Solomon of the wicked, Proverbs 11:7 [When the wicked dies, his hope perishes, and the expectation of the godless comes to nought.When he dieth, then die his hopes (many of them before, but at the utmost then, all of them. but the righteous man hath hope in his death, Proverbs 14:32.  [ Coleridge appends a note here: One of the numerous proofs against those who, with a strange inconsistency, hold the Old Testament to have been inspired throughout, and yet deny that the doctrine of a future state is not taught.]

47. Worldly Mirth. As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is the that singeth songs to a heavy heart, Proverbs 25:20. Worldly mirth is so far from curing spiritual grief, that even worldly grief, where it is great and takes deep root, is not allayed but increased by it. A man who is full of inward heaviness, the more he is encompassed about with mirth, it exasperates and enrages his grief the more; like ineffectual weak physic, which removes not the humour, but stirs it and makes it more unquiet. The spiritually benighted may partake largely of worldly pleasures in vain, for the light of divine comfort alone can disperse the Egyptian darkness of the soul.

 

But spiritual joy is seasonable for all estates; in prosperity, it is pertinent to crown and sanctify all other enjoyments, with this which so far surpasses them; and in distress, it is the only Nepenthe  [Egyptian herbal drink that banishes sorrow], the cordial of fainting spirits; so, Psalm 4:7 He hath put joy into my heart. This mirth makes way for itself, which other mirth cannot do. These songs are the sweetest in the night of distress.

48. Plotinus thanked God that his Soul was not tied to an immortal Body.  The wonderfully imaginative Hellenic writers clothed much of their acute philosophy in fable, the mythic with them symbolises the real. So, Tithonus is represented as possessed of immortality, which, inhering in a body that sinks into decrepitude, at last becomes burdensome, a perpetual weariness, because too strongly contrasting his decay with the perpetual beauty of his bride. Tennyson, his readers will remember, has this as the subject of one of his poems.

Tithonus

BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,

The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,

Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,

And after many a summer dies the swan.

Me only cruel immortality

Consumes: I wither slowly in thine arms,

Here at the quiet limit of the world,

A white-hair’d shadow roaming like a dream

The ever-silent spaces of the East,

Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.

Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man—

So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,

Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem’d

To his great heart none other than a God!

I ask’d thee, ‘Give me immortality.’

Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,

Like wealthy men, who care not how they give.

But thy strong Hours indignant work’d their wills,

And beat me down and marr’d and wasted me,

And tho’ they could not end me, left me maim’d

To dwell in presence of immortal youth,

Immortal age beside immortal youth,

And all I was, in ashes. Can thy love,

Thy beauty, make amends, tho’ even now,

Close over us, the silver star, thy guide,

Shines in those tremulous eyes that fill with tears

To hear me? Let me go: take back thy gift:

Why should a man desire in any way

To vary from the kindly race of men

Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance

Where all should pause, as is most meet for all?

A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes

A glimpse of that dark world where I was born.

Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals

From thy pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure,

And bosom beating with a heart renew’d.

Thy cheek begins to redden thro’ the gloom,

Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,

Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team

Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,

And shake the darkness from their loosen’d manes,

And beat the twilight into flakes of fire.

Lo! ever thus thou growest beautiful

In silence, then before thine answer given

Departest, and thy tears are on my cheek.

Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears,

And make me tremble lest a saying learnt,

In days far-off, on that dark earth, be true?

‘The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts.’

Ay me! ay me! with what another heart

In days far-off, and with what other eyes

I used to watch—if I be he that watch’d—

The lucid outline forming round thee; saw

The dim curls kindle into sunny rings;

Changed with thy mystic change, and felt my blood

Glow with the glow that slowly crimson’d all

Thy presence and thy portals, while I lay,

Mouth, forehead, eyelids, growing dewy-warm

With kisses balmier than half-opening buds

Of April, and could hear the lips that kiss’d

Whispering I knew not what of wild and sweet,

Like that strange song I heard Apollo sing,

While Ilion like a mist rose into towers.

Yet hold me not for ever in thine East:

How can my nature longer mix with thine?

Coldly thy rosy shadows bathe me, cold

Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet

Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam

Floats up from those dim fields about the homes

Of happy men that have the power to die,

And grassy barrows of the happier dead.

Release me, and restore me to the ground;

Thou seëst all things, thou wilt see my grave:

Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;

I earth in earth forget these empty courts,

And thee returning on thy silver wheels.

49.  What a full Confession do we make of our dissatisfaction with the Objects of our bodily senses, that in our attempts to express what we conceive the Best of Beings, and the Greatest of all Felicities to be, we describe by the exact Contraries of all, that we experience here —the one as Infinite, Incomprehensible, Immutable, &c., the other as incorruptible, undefiled, and that passeth not away. At all events, this Coincidence, say rather, Identity of Attributes, is sufficient to apprize us, that to be the inheritors of bliss we must become the children of God.

The remark of Leighton’s is ingenious and startling. Another, and more fruitful, perhaps more solid inference from the fact would be, that there is something in the human mind which makes it know (as soon as it is sufficiently awakened to reflect on its own thoughts and notices), that in all finite Quantity there is an Infinite, in all measures of Time and Eternal; that the latter are the basis, the substance, the true and abiding reality of the former; and that as we truly are. only as far as God is with us, so neither can we truly possess (i.e. enjoy) our Being or any other real Good, but by living in the sense of his holy presence.    A Life of wickednesss is a Life of lies; and an Evil Being or the Being of Evil, the last and darkest mystery.

50.  The Wisest Use of the Imagination.  It is not altogether unprofitable; yet it is great wisdom in Christians to be arming themselves against such temptations as may befall them hereafter, though they have not as yet met with them; to labour to overcome them beforehand, to suppose the hardest things that may be incident to them, and to put on the strongest resolutions they can attain unto. Yet all that is but an imaginary effort; and therefore there is no assurance that the victory is more than imaginary too, till it come to action, and then, may prove but (as one said of the Athenians) fortes in tabula, patient and courageous in picture or fancy: notwithstanding all their arms, and dexterity in handling them by way of exercise, may be foully defeated when they are t fight in earnest.

51.  The Language of Scripture.  [In this long “aphorism” Coleridge particularly engages with Biblical commentators who seek to evade scriptural passages whose literal meaning is difficult e.g. the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. He believes the literal interpretation is usually the most honest and should not be evaded if possible reasonably]

The Word of God speaks to men, and therefore it speaks in the language of the Children of Men. This just and pregnant thought was suggested to [Archbishop] Leighton by Genesis 22:12 [{God] said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me”.] …On moral subjects, the Scriptures speak in the language of the Affections which they excite in us: on sensible objects, neither metaphysically, as they are known by superior intelligences; nor theoretically, as they would be seen by us were we placed in the Sun; but as they are presented by our human senses in our present relative position.  Lastly, from no vain, or worse than vain, Ambition of seeming “to walk on the Sea” of Mystery in my way to Truth, but in the hope of removing a difficulty that presses heavily on the minds of many who in Heart and Desire are Believers, and which long pressed on my mind, I venture to add : that on spiritual things, and allusively, to the mysterious union or conspiration of the Divine with the Human in the Spirits of the Just, spoken of in Romans 7:27 [ “And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God], the Word of God attributes the language of the Spirit sanctified to the Holy One, the Sanctifier.

Now the Spirit in Man  (that is, the Will) knows its own State in and by its Acts alone. [Coleridge adds a complex mathematical analogy here which I omit]. Let the Reader join these two positions: first, that as one with the Will so filled and actuated: secondly, that our actions are the means by which alone the Will becomes assured of its own state: and he will understand, though he may not perhaps adopt my suggestion, that the Verse, in which God speaking of himself,  says to Abraham, Now I know that thou dearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld they Son, they only Son, from me — may be more than merely figurative.  An accommodation I grant;  but in the thing expressed, and not altogether in the Expressions. In arguing with infidels, or with the weak in faith, it is part of religious Prudence, no less than of religious Morality, to avoid whatever looks like an evasion. The retain the literal sense, wherever the harmony of Scripture permits, and reason does not forbid, is ever the honester, and nine times in ten, the more rational and pregnant interpretation. The contrary plan is an easy and approved way of getting rid of a difficulty; but nine times in ten a bad way of solving it.  But alas! there have been too many Commentators who are content not to understand a text themselves, if only they can make the reader believe that they do.

Of the Figures of Speech in the Sacred Volume, that are only Figures of Speech, the one of most frequent occurrence is that which describes an effect by the name of its most usual and best known cause: the passage, for instance, in which Grief, Fury, Repentance, &., are attributed to the Deity. But these are far enough from justifying the (I had almost said dishonest) fashion of metaphorical Glosses, in as well as out of the Church; and which our fashionable Divines have carried to such an extent as, in the doctrinal part of their Creed, to leave little else but Metaphors. [Coleridge concludes with some further references to other works to help folk look at this matter further].

52. The Christian no Stoic.  Seek not altogether to dry up the stream of Sorrow, but to bound it, and keep it within its banks. Religion doth not destroy the life of nature, but adds to it a life more excellent; yea, it doth not only permit, but requires some feeling of afflictions. Instead of patience, there is in some men an affected spirit of pride suitable only to the doctrine of the Stoics as it is unusually taken. They strive not to feel at all the afflictions that are on them; but where there is no feeling at all, there can be no patience.

Of the sects of ancient philosophy the Stoic is, perhaps, the nearest to Christianity.  Yet even to this sect Christianity is fundamentally opposite. For the Stoic attaches the highest honour  (or rather, attaches honour solely) to the person that acts virtuously in spite of feelings, or who has raised himself above the conflict by their extinction; while Christianity instructs us to place small reliance on a Virtue that does not begin by bringing the Feelings to a conformity with the Commands of the Conscience. Its especial aim, its characteristic operation, is to moralise the affections. The feelings that oppose a right act must be wrong feelings. The act, indeed, whatever the Agent’s feelings might be, Christianity would command: and under certain circumstances would both command and commend it— as a healthful symptom in a sick Patient; and command it, as one of the ways and means of changing the feelings, or displacing them by calling up the opposite.

Corollaries to 52c. (1) The more consciousness in our Thoughts and Words, and the less in our Impulses and general Actions, the better and more healthful the state of both head and heart. As the Flowers from an Orange Tree in its time of blossoming, that burgeon forth, expand, fall, and are momently replaced, such is the sequence of hourly and momently Charities in a pure and gracious soul. The modern Fiction which depictures the son of Cytherea with a bandage around his eyes, is not without a spiritual meaning. There is a sweet and holy Blindness in Christian  LOVE, even as there is a blindness of Life,  yea, and of Genius too, in the moment of productive energy.  *Cytherea is another name for Aphrodite who was said to have come from the island of Cythera and later Cyprus. The son of Cytheria/Aphrodite is Aeneas by Anchises. Bandages around his eyes  represents the saying that “love is blind”.

(2) [NB. in this passage Coleridge demonstrates how clearly the general theory of  the related evolutionary growth of living things leading to homo sapiens was known and understood at least fifty years before Darwin wrote the The Origin of Species, which partially shows why the response of the general community was not as great as might have been thought from the American Fundamentalist debate today.]

Motives are symptoms of weakness, and supplements for the deficient Energy of the living PRINCIPLE, the LAW within us. Let them be reserved for those momentous Acts and Duties in which the strongest and best balanced natures must feel themselves deficient, and where Humility, no less than Prudence, proscribes Deliberation. The lowest class of Animals or Protozoa, the Polypi for instance, have neither brain nor nerves. Their motive powers are all from without. The Sun, the Light, the Warmth, the Air, are their Nerves and Brain. As life ascends, nerves appear; but still only as the conductors of an external Influence; next are seen the knots or Ganglions, as so many Foci of instinctive Agency, that imperfectly imitate the yet wanting Centre.  And now the Promise and Token of a true Individuality are disclosed; both the Reservoir of Sensibility and the imitative power that actuates the Organs of Motion (the Muscles) with the net-work of conductors, are all taken inward and appropriated; the Spontaneous rises into the Voluntary, and finally, after various steps and a long Ascent, the Material and Animal Means and Conditions are prepared for the manifestation of a Free Will, having its Law within itself and its motive in the Law—and thus bound to originate its own Acts, not only without, but even against alien stimulants. That in our present state we have only the Dawning of this inward Sun (the perfect Law of Liberty) will sufficiently limit and qualify the preceding Position if only it have been allowed to produce its twofold consequencw—the excitement of Hope and the repression of Vanity.

53.  An excessive eating or drinking both makes the body sickly and lazy, fit for nothing but sleep, and besots the mind, as it clogs up with crudities the way through which the spirits should pass, besmirching them, and making them move heavily, as a coach in a deep way;  thus doth all immoderate use of the world and its delights wrong the soul in its spiritual condition, makes it sickly and feeble, full of spiritual distempers and inactivity, benumbs the graces of the Spirit, and fills the soul with sleepy vapours, makes it grow secure with and heavy in spiritual exercises, and obstructs the way and motion of the Spirit of God in the soul. Therefore, if you would be spiritual, healthful, and vigorous, and enjoy much of the consolations of Heaven, be sparing and sober in those of the earth, and what you abate of the one, shall be certainly made up in the other.

54.Inconsistency. It is a most unseemly and unpleasant thing to see a man’s life full of ups and downs, one step like a Christian, and another like a worldling;  it cannot choose but both pain himself and the edification of others.

The same sentiment, only with a special application to the maxims and measures of our Cabinet and Statesmen, had bee fully expressed by a sage Poet of the preceding Generation, in lines which no Generation will find inapplicable or superannuated:

God and the world we worship both together,

Draw not our laws to Him, but His to ours;

Untrue to both, so prosperous in neither, 

The imperfect Will brings forth but barren Flowers.

Unwise as all distracted Interests be,

Strangers to God, Fools in Humanity:

Too good for great things, and too great for good,

While still “I dare not”  waits upon “I will”. [Faulke Greville, Lord Brooke]

55. continued: The Ordinary Motive to Inconsistency.  What though the polite man count thy fashion a little odd and too precise, it is because he knows nothing above that model of goodness which he hath set himself, and therefore approves of nothing beyond it; he knows not God, and therefore doth not discern and esteem what is most like Him. When couriers come down into the country, the common home-bred people possibly think their habit strange; but they care not for that: it is the fashion at Court. What need, then, that Christians should be so tender-hearted, as to be put out of countenance because the world looks on holiness as a singularity? It is the only fashion in the highest Court, of the King of Kings himself.

56.  Superficial Reconciliations, and the Self-Deceit in Forgiving. When, after variances, men are brought to an agreement, they are much subject to this, rather to cover their remaining malices with superficial verbal forgiveness, than to dislodge them, and free the heart of them. This is a poor self-deceit. As the philosopher said to him, who, being being ashamed that he was espied by him in a tavern in the outer room, withdrew himself to the inner, when he called after him, “That is not the way, you will be further in!” So when hatreds are upon admonition not thrown out, but retire inward to hide themselves, they grow deeper and stronger than before; and those constrained semblances of reconcilement are but a false healing, do but skin the wound over, and therefore it usually breaks forth worse again

57. Of the Worth and Duties of the Preacher. The stream of custom and our profession brings us to the preaching of the Word, and we sit out our hour under the sound; but how few consider and prize it as the great ordinance of God for the salvation of souls, the beginner and the sustainer of the Divine life of Grace within us! And certainly, until we have these thoughts of it and seek to feel it thus ourselves, although we hear it most frequently, and let slip no occasion, yea, hear it with attention and some present delight, yet still we miss the right use of it, and turn it from its true end, while we take it not as that ingrafted word which is able to save our souls (James 1:21).

Thus ought they to preach the word; to endeavour their utmost to accommodate it to this end, that sinners may be converted, begotten again, and believers nourished and strengthened in their spiritual life; to regard no lower end, but aim steadily at that mark. Their hearts and tongues ought to be set on fire with holy zeal for God and love to souls, kindled by the Holy Ghost, that came down on the apostles in the shape of fiery tongues.

And those that hear, should remember this as the end of their hearing, that they may receive spiritual healing, life and strength by the word.* For though it seems a poor despicable business, that a frail and sinful man like yourselves should speak a few words in your hearing, yet, look upon it as the way wherein God communicates happiness to those who believe, and works that believing  unto happiness, alters the whole frame of the soul, and makes a new creation, as it begets it again to the inheritance of glory. Consider it thus, which is its true notion; and then, what can be so precious?

[* The believer familiar with the word and doctrine of Scripture is,  by means of preaching, kept in remembrance of those spiritual truths which he already knows (1 Peter1:12, 13 …”it was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look) , but which without such preaching he is apt to forget. So the Holy Communion is repeated, not for its novelty, but as a remembrance of that death which gave eternal life to man.  Yet too many hearers view preaching as a means of intellectual entertainment alone; and commendable only in proportion to its rhetorical results. The sinfulness of man and the love of God are complained of as too familiar topics! Such hearers should pause to consider for a moment that they are the stumbling blocks and hindrances of the young, the delight of the infidel, and are impediment to the Gospel. To speak slightingly of means before the young believer is a grievous evil, not easily atoned for or remedied in after years. Self-examination is more befitting. (Psalm 19:13 Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins, let them not have dominion over me!) 

58. The difference is great in our natural life, in some persons especially; that they who in infancy were so feeble, and wrapped up as others in swaddling clothes, yet afterwards come to excel in wisdom and in the knowledge of the sciences, or to be commanders of great armies, or to be kings: but the distance is far greater and more admirable, betwixt the small beginnings of grace, and our after perfection, that fulness of knowledge that we look for, and that crown of immortality which all they are born to, who are born of God. 

But as in the faces or actions of some children, characters and presages of their after-greatness have appeared (as a singular beauty in Moses’s face, as they write of him, and as Cyrus was made king among the shepherd’s children with whom he was brought up, &c.), so also, certainly in these children of God, there be some characters and evidences that they are born for Heaven by their new birth. That holiness and meekness, that patience and faith which shine in the actions and sufferings of the saints, are characters of their Father’s image, and show their high original, and foretell their glory to come; such a glory as doth not only surpass the world’s thoughts, but the thoughts of the children of God themselves. (Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1John 3:2).

58c.  This Aphorism would, it may seem, have been placed more fitly in the Chapter following. In placing it here, I have been determined by the following Convictions: 1. Every State, and consequently that which we have described as the State of Religious Morality, which is not progressive, is dead or retrograde. 2. As a pledge of this progression, or, at least, as the form in which the propulsive tendency shows itself, there are certain Hopes, Aspirations, Yearnings, that, with more or less consciousness, rise and stir the in the Heart of true Morality as naturally as the Sap in the full-formed Stem of a Rose flows towards the Bud, within which the flower is maturing.3. No one, whose own experience authorises him to confirm the truth of this statement, can have been conversant with the Volumes of Religious Biography, can have pursued (for instance) the lives of Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Wishhart [Scottish reformer who worked with John Knox], Sir Thomas More, Bernard Gilpin [“apostle of the North”, Bishop of Durham, fighter against church abuse and preferments], Bishop Bedel [translated the Bible into Gaelic], Egede [Hans Egede, Lutheran missionary form Norway to Greenland], Swartz, and the missionaries of the Frozen World, without an occasional conviction, that these men lived under extraordinary influences, which in each instance and in all ages of the Christian era bear the same characters, and both in the accompaniments and the results evidently refer to a common origin. And what can this be is the Question that must needs force itself on the mind in the first moment of reflection on a phenomenon so interesting and apparently so anomalous. The answer is as necessarily contained in one or the other of the two assumptions. Those influences are either the Product of Delusion (Insania Amabilis, and the Re-Action of disordered Nerves), or they argue the existence of a Relation to some real Agency, distinct from what is experienced or acknowledged by the world at large, for which as not merely natural on the one hand, and yet not assumed to be miraculous on the other, we have no apter name than spiritual. Now if neither analogy justifies nor the moral feelings permit the former assumption, and we decide therefore in favour of the Reality of a State other and higher than the mere Moral Man, whose Religion* consists in Morality attained under these Convictions, can the existence of a transitional state appear other than probable, or that these very Convictions, when accompanied by correspondent dispositions and stirrings of the Heart, are among the Marks and Indications of such a State. And thinking it not unlikely that among the Readers of this Volume, there may be found some individuals, whose inward State, though disquieted by Doubts and oftener still perhaps by blank Misgivings, may, nevertheless , betoken the commencement of a Transition from a not irreligious Morality to a Spirtual Religion, with a view to their interests I placed this Aphorism under the present Head.

  • For let it not be forgotten, that Morality, as distinguished from Prudence, implying (it matters not under what name, whether of Honour, or Duty, or Conscience, still, I say, implying), and being grounded in an awe of the Invisible and a Confidence therein beyond (nay, occasionally in apparent contradiction to) the inductions of outward Experience, is essentially religious.

59.   The most approved teachers of wisdom, in a human way, have required of their scholars, that to the end their minds might be capable of it, and they should be purified from vice and wickedness. And it was Socrates’s custom, when any one asked him a question, seeking to be informed by him, before he would answer them, he asked them concerning their own qualities and course of life.

60. Knowledge not the Ultimate End of Religious Pursuits.  The Hearing and Reading of the Word, under which I comprize theological studies generally, are alike defective when pursued  without increase of Knowledge, and when pursued chiefly for increase of Knowledge. To seek no more than a present delight , that evanisheth with the sound of the words that die in the air, is not to desire the word as meat, but as music, as God tells the prophet Ezekiel of his people, Ezekiel 33:32. And lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hat a pleasant voice, and can play well upon an instrument; for they desire to hear thy words, and they do them not. To desire the word for the increase of knowledge, although this is necessary and commendable, and, being rightly qualified, is a part of spiritual accretion, yet, take it as going no further, it is not the true end of the word. Nor is the venting of that knowledge in speech and frequent discourse of the word and divine truths that are in it;  which, where it is governed with Christian prudence, is not to be despised, but commended; yet, certainly, the highest knowledge, and the most frequent and skilful speaking of the word, severed from the growth here mentioned, misses the true end of the word. It any one’s head or tongue should grow apace, and all the rest stand at a stay, it would certainly make him a monster; and they are no other, who are knowing and discoursing Christians, and grow daily in that respect, but not in holiness of heart and life, which is the proper growth of the children of God. Apposite to their case is Epictetus’s comparison of the sheep; they return not what they eat in grass, but in wool.

61. The Sum of Church History.  In times of peace, the Church may dilate more; and build as it were into breadth, but in times of trouble, it arises more in height; it is then built upwards; as in cities where men are straitened, they build usually higher than in the country.

62. Worthy to be Framed and Hung up in the Library of every Theological Student.  When there is a great deal of smoke, and no clear flame, it argues much moisture in the matter, yet it witnesseth certainly that there is fire there; and therefore dubious questioning is a much better evidence, than that senseless deadness which most take for believing.  Men that know nothing in the sciences, have no doubts. He never truly believed, who was not made first sensible and convinced of unbelief.

Never be afraid to doubt, if only you have the disposition to believe, and doubt in order that you may end in believing the Truth.  I will venture to add in my own name and from my own conviction the following:

63. He, who begins by loving Christianity better than Truth, will proceed by loving his own Sect or Church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all.

64. The Absence of Disputes, and a General Aversion to Religious Controversies, no Proof of True Unanimity. The boasted Peaceableness about questions of Faith too often proceeds from a superficial Temper, and not seldom from a supercilious Disdain of whatever has no marketable use or value, and from indifference to Religion itself. Toleration is a herb of spontaneous growth in the soil of Indifference; but the Weed has none of the virtues of the medicinal Plant, reared by Humility in the Garden of Zeal. Those who regard Religions as matters of Taste, may consistently include all religious differences in the old Adage, De gustibus non best disputandum  [There is no disputing about tastes]. And many there  be among those of Gallio’s temper, who care for none of these things, and who account all questions in religion, as he did, but matter of words and names. And by this all religions grow together. But that were not a natural union produced by the active heat of the spirit, not a knitting together, but a freezing together….

Much of our common union of minds, I fear, proceeds from no other than the afore-mentioned causes, want of knowledge, and want of affection to religion. You that boast you live conformably to the appointments of the Church, and that no one hears of your noise, we may thank the ignorance of your minds for that kind of quietness.

The preceding extract is particularly entitled to our serious reflections, as in a tenfold degree more applicable to the present times than to the age in which it was written. We all know, that Lovers are apt to take offence and wrangle on occasions that perhaps are but trifles, and which assuredly would appear such to those who regard Love itself as a Folly. These Quarrels may, indeed, be no proof of Wisdom; but still, in the imperfect state or our Nature, the entire absence of the same, and this too on far more serious provocations, would excite a strong suspicion of a comparative indifference in the Parties who can love so coolly where they profess to love so well. I shall believe our present religious Tolerance to proceed from the abundance of our charity and good sense, when I see proofs we are equally cool and forbearing as Litigants and Political Partizans.

65. The influence of Worldly Views (or what are called a Man’s Prospects in Life), the Bane of Christian Ministry.  It is a base, poor thing for a man to seek himself; far below that royal dignity that is here put upon Christians, and that priesthood joined with it. Under the Law, those who were squint-eyed were incapable of the priesthood; truly this squinting toward our own interest, the looking aside to that, in God’s affairs especially, so deforms the face of the soul, that it makes altogether unworthy the honour of the spiritual priesthood. Oh! this is a large task, an infinite task. The several creatures bear their part int this; the sun says somewhat, and moon and stars, yea, the lowest have some share in it; the very plants and herbs of the field speak of God; and yet, the very highest and best, yea of all of them together, the whole concert of Heaven, and earth, cannot show forth all His praise to the full. No, it is but a part, the smallest part of that glory, which they can match.

66. Despise None: Despair of None. The Jews would not willingly tread upon the smallest piece of paper in their way, but took it up; for possibly, said they, the name of God may be on it. Though there was a little superstition in this, yet truly there is nothing but good religion in it, if we apply it to men. Trample not on any; there may be some work of grace there, that thou knowest not of. The name of God way be written upon that soul thou treadest on; it may be a soul that Christ thought so much of, as to give His precious blood for it; therefore despise it not.

67. Men of Least Merit most Apt to be Contemptuous, because most Ignorant and most Overweening of Themselves.  Too many take the ready course to deceive themselves; for they look with both eyes on the failings and defects of others, and scarcely give their good qualities  half an eye, while on the contrary, in themselves, they study to the full their own advantages, and their weaknesses and defects (as one says) they skip over, as children do their hard words in their lesson, that are troublesome to read; and making this uneven parallel, what wonder if the result be a gross mistake of themselves.

68. Vanity may Strut in Rags, and Humility be Arrayed in Purple and Fine Linen. It is not impossible that there may be in some an affected pride in the meanness of apparel, and in others, under either neat or rich attire, a very humble unaffected mind; using it upon some of the afore mentioned engagements, or such like, and yet, the heart not at all upon it.  Magnus qui fictilibus utitur tanquam argento, nec ille minor qui argento tanquam fictilibus, says Seneca: Great is he who enjoys his earthenware as if it were plate, and not less great is the man to whom all his plate is no more than earthenware.

69. Of the Detraction among Religious Professors.  They who have attained to a self-pleasing pitch of civility or formal religion, have usually that point of presumption with it, that they make their own size the model and rule to examine all by. What is below it, they condemn indeed as profane; but what is beyond it, they account needless and affected preciseness; and therefore are as ready as others to let fly invectives or bitter taunts against it, which are the keen and poisoned shafts of the tongue, and a persecution that shall be called to strict account. 

The slanders, perchance, may not be altogether forged or untrue; they may be the implements, not the inventions, of Malice. But they do not on this account escape the guilt of Detraction. Rather, it is characteristic of the evil spirit in question, to work by the advantage of real faults, but those stretched and aggravated to the utmost; IT IS NOT EXPRESSIBLE HOW DEEP A WOUND A TONGUE SHARPENED TO THIS WORK WILL GIVE, WITH NO NOISE AND A VERY LITTLE WORD. This is the true white gunpowder, which the dreaming Projectors of silent Mischiefs and insensible Poisons sought for in the Laboratories of Art and Nature, in a World of Good; but which was to be found, in its most destructive form, in “ the World of Evil, the Tongue”  [James 3:6]

[So what to do when faced with a point of view theologically one does not agree with? better to say nothing perhaps? but does silence demonstrate agreement? In a one to one discussion you can disagree politely and carefully or perhaps ask a clarificatory question. In a seminar you can ask a polite question. In a discussion with a larger group it is tricky…whatever is said needs to be said without malice or desire to hurt;  one can affirm part of the argument and add to the conversation with a question which extends or turns a point in the direction you feel led to go…like a philosothon! In a proud pontificating or aggressive group where all are of like mind silence is probably better (not casting pearls before swine). Better to seek a  one on one conversation in quietness. Coleridge’s advice is very pertinent when going into print or in a sermon where there is no immediate right of reply…the written word also needs to be polite and without intent to hurt and the preached word should simply stick to clear proclamation, not confusing a congregation with theological disputations..]

70. The Remedy.  All true remedy must begin at the heart; otherwise it will be but a mountebank cure, a false imagined conquest. The weights and wheels are there, and the clock strikes according to their motion.  Even he that speaks contrary to what is within him, guilefully contrary to his inward conviction and knowledge, yet speaks conformably to what is within him in the temper and frame of his heart, which is double,  a heart and a heart, as the Psalmist hath it. Psalm 12:2. [Every one utters lies to his neighbour;

with flattering lips and a double heart they speak]  (RSV)

71.  It is an argument of a candid ingenious mind, to delight in the good name and commendation of others; to pass by their defects, and take notice of their virtues; and to speak and hear of those willingly, and not endure either to speak of or hear the other; for in this indeed you may be little less than guilty than the evil speaker, in taking pleasure in it, though you speak it not. He that willingly drinks in tales and calumnies, will from the delight he hath in evil hearing, slide insensibly into the humour of evil speaking. It is strange how most persons dispense with themselves in this point, and that in scarcely any societies shall we find hatred of this ill, but rather some tokens of taking pleasure in it; and until a Christian sets himself to an inward watchfulness over his heart, not suffering in it any thought that is uncharitable, or vain self-esteem upon the sight of others’ frailties, he will still be subject to somewhat of this, in the tongue or ear at least.  So, then, as for the evil of guile in the tongue, a sincere heart, truth in the inward parts, powerfully redresses it; therefore it is expressed, Psalm 15:2, That speaketh the truth from his heart. O sweet truth! excellent but rare sincerity! he that loves the truth within, and who is himself at once  THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE, He alone can work it there! Seek it of him.

It is characteristic of the Roman Dignity and Sobriety, that, in the Latin , to favour with the tongue  (favere lingua) means to be silent.  We say, Hold your tongue! as if it were an injunction, that could not be carried into effect but by manual force, or the pincers of the Forefinger and Thumb! And verily—I blush to say it—it is not Women and Frenchmen only that would rather have their tongues bitten than bitted, and feel their souls in a strait-waistcoat, when they are obliged to remain silent.

72.  On the Passion for New and Striking Thoughts.  In conversation seek not so much either to vent thy knowledge, or to increase it, as to know more spiritually and effectually what thou dost know. And in this way those mean despised truths, that every one thinks he is sufficiently seen in, will have a new sweetness and use in them, which thou didst not so well perceive before (for these flowers cannot be sucked dry), and in this humble sincere way thou shalt grow in grace and in knowledge too. 

73.  The Radical Difference between the Good Man and the Vicious Man. The godly man hates the evil he possibly by temptation hath been drawn to do, and loves the good he is frustrated of, and, having intended, hath not attained to do. The sinner, who hath his denomination from sin as his course, hates the good he is sometimes forced to, and loves that sin which many times he does not, either wanting occasion and means, so that he cannot do it, or through the check of an enlightened conscience possibly dares not do; and though so bound up from the act, as a dog in a chain, yet the habit, the natural inclination and desire in him, is still the same the strength of his affection, is carried to sin. So in the weakest sincere Christian, there is that predominant sincerity and desire of holy walking, according to which he is called a righteous person, the Lord is pleased to give that name, and account him so, being upright in heart, though often falling. 

*[Coleridge here adds an extended excursion on the doctrine of imputed righteousness, that “controverted Doctrine, so warmly asserted and so bitterly decried”,  held by Archbishop Leighton,  “and on this account principally, that by many of our leading Churchmen  his Orthodoxy has been more than questioned, and his name put in the list of proscribed Divines, as a Calvinist.”.  Coleridge agrees that Leighton holds this view and Coleridge defends it on the grounds that “the general Spirit of his Writings leads me to presume that it was compatible with the eternal distinction between Things and Persons, and therefore opposed to modern Calvinism. But what it was, I have not (I own) been able to discover.  The sense, however, in which I think he might have received this doctrine, and in which I avow myself a believer in it, I shall have an opportunity of showing in another place.”  Coleridge proceeds at this stage of his argument  to attack the “taking for granted, that the peculiar Tenets of the Christian Faith asserted in the Articles and Homilies of our National Church are in contradiction to the Common Sense of Mankind.”

 Coleridge then proceeds to a defence of at least of the doctrine in so far as it is neither irrational or immoral on the grounds that it provides a basis of common human morality.  “I here avow my conviction, that the doctrine of IMPUTED Righteousness, rightly and scripturally interpreted, is so far from being either irrational or immoral, that Reason itself prescribes the idea in order to give a meaning and an ultimate Object to Morality; and that the Moral Law in the Conscience demands its reception in order to give reality and substantive existence to the idea presented by Reason. ] I think he means that there is an imputed righteousness in the sense that God has planted a desire and thirst for Himself in every human heart (the “moral law in the heart”) which each person either admits to and seeks out or deliberately quells or ignores and pretends is not there.  

My own view is as follows: 

  1. righteousness” (δικαιοσυνη) in the context of Romans 3, 4 and 8 is best translated “acquittal”  or “covenant justice” or a “declaration of being in the right”. The term “righteousness” is also used elsewhere in the New Testament including by Paul,  to describe a holy or God-centred way of living. The ideas are linked ..the “righteous life” commended in the New and Old  Testament is indeed the “covenant justice” God has called us to.
  1. This declaration of aquittal in Romans 3, 4 and 8  is made by God to folk ‘while we were yet sinners”. i.e. God in Christ “justified/acquitted “the ungodly”.  This is the “good news”  (the Gospel).
  1. This acquittal is based on the faithfulness of Christ in becoming the “sin offering” (῾ιλαστηριον) for the sins of the world (including ours)  on the Cross and defeating evil and death by his resurrection in the power of God. nb it is not our faith in Christ that brings about our acquittal, it is the faithfulness of Jesus in his death and resurrection.
  1. Those who have been called and chosen by God to live a new life in the Holy Spirit will be lead increasingly to “holiness” (῾αγισομος ) of living as they are, bit by bit,  “sanctified” or brought to live more fully in the power of the Holy Spirit day by day.
  1. In spite of this deep experience of Christ’s love and forgiveness they still commit sinful acts but regularly and in sad and true remorse seek the continuing forgiveness and acceptance of God and renew their faithfulness through repentance, sacrament, prayer, fellowship, worship and carefully reflecting on God’s Word in the Scriptures.

(vi) Such folk have a huge, deep and pressing responsibility to be “little Christs” [Bonhoeffer] to everyone they meet and deal with. Those called and chosen by God to be his witnesses in the world share this heavy burden of completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. They need not be anxious about who is or is not “going to heaven when they die”…Salvation is God’s work.  Their task is simple ..to proclaim joyfully and with passion the love and power of God for every person, in season and out of season and to work ceaselessly for the care and redemption of God’s good created order.

 

74.Your blessedness is not,—no, believe it, it is not where most of you seek it, in things below you. How can that be? It must be a higher good to make you happy. 

74c Comment. Every rank of Creatures, as it ascends in the scale of Creation, leaves Death behind or under it. The Metal at its height of Being seems a mute prophecy of coming Vegetation, into a mimic semblance of which it  crystallizes. The Blossom and Flower, the acme of Vegetable Life, divides into correspondent Organs with reciprocal functions, and by instinctive motions and approximations seems impatient of that fixture, by which it is differenced in kind from the water-shaped Psyche, that flutters with free wing above it. And wonderfully in the insect realm doth the Irritability, the proper seat of Instinct, while yet the nascent Sensibility is subordinated thereto—most wonderfully, I say, doth the the muscular Life in the Insect, and the musculo-arterial in the Bird, imitate and typically rehearse the adaptive Understanding, yea, and the moral affections and chartities of man. Let us carry ourselves back, in spirit, to the mysterious Week, the teeming Word-days of the Creator; as they rose in vision before the eye of the inspired Historian “of the generations of the Heaven and the Earth, in the days the Lord God made the Earth and the Heavens” [Gen.2:4]. And who that hath watched their ways with an understanding heart, could, as the vision evolving, still advanced towards him, contemplate the filial and loyal Bee; the home-building, wedded and divorceless  Swallow; and above all the manifoldly  intelligent Ant tribes, with their Commonwealths and Confederacies, their Warriors and Miners, the Husbandfolk, that fold in their tiny flocks on the honeyed Leaf, and the Virgin Sisters, with the holy Instincts of Maternal Love, detached and in selfless parity—and not say to himself, Behold the Shadow of approaching Humanity, the Sun rising from behind, in the kindling Morn of Creation! Thus all lower Natures find their highest Good in semblances and seekings of that which is higher and better. All things strive to ascend, and ascend in their striving. And shall Man alone stoop? Shall his pursuits and desires, the reflections of his inward life, be like the reflected Image of a Tree on the edge of a Pool, that grows downwards, and seeks a mock heaven in the unstable element beneath it, in neighbourhood with the slim water-weeds and oozy bottom-grass that are yet better than itself and more noble, in as far as Substances that appear as Shadows are preferable to Shadows mistaken for Substance!  No! While you labour for any thing below your proper Humanity, you seek a happy Life in the region of Death. Well saith the Poet

Unless above himself he can

Erect himself, how mean a thing is man!      [Samuel Daniel: To the Lady Margaret, Countess of Cumberland ]

75. There is an imitation of men that is impious and wicked, which consists in taking a copy of their sins. Again, there is an imitation which though not so grossly evil, yet is poor and servile, being in mean things, yea, sometimes descending to imitate the very imperfections of others, as fancying some comeliness in them; as some of Basil’s scholars, who imitated his slow speaking, which he had a little in extreme, and could not help. But this is always laudable, and worthy of the best minds, to be imitators of that which is good, wheresoever they find it; for that stays not in any man’s person, as the ultimate pattern, but rises to the highest grace, being man’s nearest likeness to God, His image and resemblance, bearing his stamp and superscription, and belonging peculiarly to Him, in what hand soever it be found, as carrying the mark of no other owner than him.

76.  Those who think themselves high-spirited, and will bear least, as they speak, are often, even by that, forced to bow most, or to burst under it; while humility and meekness escape many a burden, and many a blow, always keeping peace within, and often without too.

77.  Our condition is universally exposed to fears and troubles, and no man is so stupid but he studies and projects for some fence against them, some bulwark to break the incursion of evils, and so to bring his mind to some ease, ridding it of the fear of them. Thus men seek safety in the greatness or multitude, or supposed faithfulness of friends; they seek by any means to be strongly underset this way; to have many, and powerful and trustworthy friends. But wiser men, perceiving the unsafety  and vanity of these and all external things, have cast about for some higher course. They see a necessity of withdrawing a man from externals, which do nothing but mock and deceive those most who trust most to them; but they cannot tell whither to direct him. The best of them bring him into himself, and think to quiet him so; but the truth is, he finds as little to support him there; there is nothing really strong enough within him, to hold out against the many sorrows and fears which still from without do assault him. So then, though it is well done, to call off a man from outward things, as moving sands, that he build not on them, yet, this is not enough. for his own spirit is as unsettled a piece as is in all the world, and must have some higher strength than its own, to fortify and fix it. This is the way that is here taught [Isaiah 8:12,13 ..Do not call conspiracy all that this people call conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread;  1 Peter 3:14,15…But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord.] Fear not their fear, but sanctify the Lord your God in your hearts; and if you can attain this latter, the former will follow of itself. [ie don’t get too excited or downhearted by the idiocy and apparent triumph and victory  of politicians, media pundits, comedians, philosophers, popular writers . No matter how bad the world seems God is greater and our calm trust in and faithfulness in Him is what is needed. Focus on the things that matter ..on His Word, on our faithfulness, on our relationships, on our work, on our walk with Christ and in His Spirit. on beauty, on good writing and thinking, on teachers of wisdom.  Let the world and its fretfulness have its day…world leaders and media hacks come and go. God is forever and before and after. ]

78. Worldly troubles, idols. The too ardent Love or self-willed Desire of Power, or Wealth, or Credit in the World, is (an Apostle has assured us) Idolatry. Now among the words or synonyms for idols, in the Hebrew Language, [there are many words] that signify Troubles and Terrors. And so it is certainly. All our idols prove so to us. They fill us with nothing but anguished Troubles, with cares and fears, that are good for nothing but to be fit punishments of the Folly, out of which they arise.

79. On the Right Treatment of Infidels. A regardless contempt of infidel writings is usually the fittest answer; Speta vilescerent. (What is despicable should become vile). But where the holy profession  of Christians is likely to receive either the main or the indirect blow, and a word of defence may do anything to ward it off, there we ought not to spare to do it.

Christian prudence goes a great way in the regulating of this. Some are not capable of receiving rational answers, especially in Divine things; they were not only lost upon them, but religion dishonoured by the contest. 

Of this sort are the vulgar Railers at Religion [eg Richard Dawkins], the foul-mouthed Beliers of the Christian Faith and History. Impudently false and slanderous Assertions can be met only by Assertions of their impudent and slanderous falsehood; and Christians will not, must not condescend to this.  How can mere Railing be answered by them who are forbidden to return a railing answer? Whether or on what provocations such offenders may be punished or coerced on the score of Incivility, and Ill-neighbourhood, and for abatement of a Nuisance, as is in the case of other Scolds and Endangers of the public Peace, must be trusted to the Discretion of the civil Magistrate. Even then, there is danger of giving them importance, and flattering their vanity, by attracting attention to their works, if the punishment be slight; and if severe, of spreading far and wide their reputation as Martyrs, as the smell of a dead dotage at a distance is said to change into that of Musk. Experience hitherto seems to favour the plan of treating these Betes puantes and Enfants de Diable, as their fourfooted brethren, the Skink [lizard] and Squash [racoon] are treated by the American Woodmen, who turn their backs upon the fetid Intruder, and make appear not to see him, even at the cost of suffering him to regale on the favourite viand of these animals, the brains of a stray goose or crested Thraso of the Dunghill. At all events it is degrading to the Majesty, and injurious to the character of Religion, to make its safety the plea for their punishment, or at all to connect the name of Christianity with the castigation of indecencies that properly belong to the Beadle, and the perpetrators of which would have equally deserved his Lash, though the religion of their fellow-citizens, thus assailed by them, had been that of Fo and Juggernaut. 

On the other hand, we are to answer every one that inquires a reason, or an account; which supposes something receptive of it. We ought to judge ourselves engaged to give it, be it an enemy, if he will hear; if it gain him not, it may in part convince and cool him; much more, should it be one who ingenuously inquires for satisfaction, and possibly inclines to receive the truth, but has been prejudiced by false misrepresentation of it. 

80. Passion no Friend to Truth. Truth needs not the service of passion; yea, nothing so disserves it, as passion when set to serve it. The Spirit of truth is withal the Spirit of meekness. The Dove that rested on the great Champion of truth, who is the Truth itself, is from Him derived to the lovers of truth, and they ought to seek the participation of it. Imprudence makes some kind of Christians lose much of their labour, in speaking for religion, and drive those further off, whom they would draw into it. “I have often thought it wisdom to decline disputes in religion when the cause of truth might suffer in the weakness of my patronage. Every man is not a proper champion for truth, nor fit to take up the gauntlet in the cause of verity.” [Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici]

The confidence that attends a Christian’s belief makes the believer not fear men, to whom he answers, but still he fears his God, for whom he answers, and whose interest is chief in those things he speaks of. The soul that hath the deepest sense of spiritual things, and the truest knowledge of God, is most afraid to miscarry in speaking of Him, most tender and wary how to acquit himself when engaged to speak of and for God. [Coleridge here appends a footnote: ] To the same purpose  are the two following sentences from Hilary: Etiam quæ pro Religione dicimus, cum grandi metu et disciplina dicere debemus . (“What we say on behalf of Religion, we ought to say with great awe and skill)”—Hilarius, De Trinitate, lib.7

Non relictus est hominum eloquiss de Dei rebus alius quam Dei sermo. (“No account has been left by the eloquence of men concerning the truths of God other than of God himself.”)—idem.  The latter, however, must be taken with certain Qualifications and Exceptions; as when two or more Texts are in apparent contradiction, and it is required to state a Truth that comprehends and reconciles both, and which, of course, cannot be expressed in the words of either. Eg. the filial subordination  (My Father is greater than I), in the equal Deity, (My Father and I are one).

81. On the Conscience: It is a fruitless verbal Debate, whether Conscience be a Faculty or a Habit. When all is examined, Conscience will be found to be no other than the mind of a man, under the notion of a particular reference to himself and his own actions.

Comment—81c.  What Conscience is, and that it is the ground and antecedent of human or (self-)consciousness, and not any modification of the latter, I have shown at large in a Work announced for the Press, and described in the Chapter following. I have selected the preceding Extract aa an Exercise for Reflection; and because I think that in too closely following Thomas à Kempis, the Archbishop [Leighton] has strayed from his own judgment. The Definition, for instance, seems to say all, and in fact says nothing; for if I asked, How do you define the human mind? the answer must at least contain, if not consist of, the words, “a mind capable of Conscience”. For Conscience is no synonym of Consciousness, nor any mere expression of the same as modified by the particular Object. On the contrary,  a Consciousness properly human  (i.e. Self-consciousness), with the sense of moral responsibility, presupposes the Conscience, as its antecedent Condition and Ground. Lastly, the sentence , “It is a fruitless verbal Debate “ , is an assertion of the same complexion with the contemptuous Sneers at Verbal Criticism by the contemporaries of Bentley. In questions of Philosophy or Divinity, that have occupied the Learned and been the subject of many successive Controversies, for one instance of mere Logomachy [an argument about words]  I could bring ten instances of Logodœdaly, or verbal Legerdemain, which have previously confirmed Prejudices, and withstood the advancement of Truth in consequence of the neglect of verbal debate, i.e. strict discussion of terms. In whatever sense, however, the term Conscience may be used, the following Aphorism is equally true and important. It is worth noticing , likewise, that Leighton himself in a following page  (vol ii.p.97) tells us that A good Conscience is the Root of a good Conversation; and then quotes from St Paul a text. Titus 1:15, in which the Mind and the Conscience are expressly distinguished. [To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure, their very minds and consciences are corrupted. ]

82. The Light of Knowledge a necessary Accompaniment of a Good Conscience. If you would have a good conscience, You must by all means have so much light, so much knowledge of the will of God, as may regulate you, and show you your way, may teach you how to do, and speak, and think as in His presence.

83. Yet the knowledge of the Rule, though accompanied by an Endeavour to accommodate our conduct to this Rule, will not of itself form a good Conscience.  To set the outward actions right, though with an honest intention, and not so to regard and find out the inward disorder of the heart, whence that in the action flows, is but to be still putting the index of a clock right with your finger, while it is foul, or out of order within, which is a continual business, and does no good. Oh! but a purified conscience, a soul renewed and refined in its temper and affections, will make things go right without, in all the duties and acts of our calling.

84. The Depth of the Conscience.  How deeply seated the conscience is in the human Soul is seen in the effect which sudden Calamities produce on guilty men, even when unaided by any determinate notion or fears of punishment after death.  t/he wretched Criminal, as one rudely awakened from a long sleep, bewildered with a new light, and half recollecting, half striving to recollect, a fearful something, he knows not what, but which he will recognize as soon as he hears the name, already interprets the calamities into judgments, Executions of a Sentence passed by an invisible Judge; as if the Pyre of the Last Judgment were already kindled in an unknown Distance, and some Flashes of it, darting forth at intervals beyond the rest, were flying and lighting upon the fact of his Soul. The calamity may consist in loss of Fortune, or Character, or Reputation; but you hear no regrets from him. Remorse extinguishes all Regret; and Remorse is the implicit Creed of the Guilty.

85. [In this very long aphorism Coleridge demonstrates his commitment to the ancient classical notion of the ‘great chain of being’ which ties all things on earth into a deep seated ordained relationship. This idea began to run out of steam in the C18th and is no longer held in any organic sense although it has tended to reappear in C20th evolutionary theories of progress. See Michael Ruse:Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology.  Nevertheless Coleridge’s idea that every person is capable of communion with God and capable of being indwelt by God’s Spirit is indeed a Biblical truth…Jeremiah 29:12-14 : You will seek me and you will find me if you seek me with all your heart… and Augustine: Confessions ..You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until we find ourselves in You] . 

  God hath suited every creature He hath made with a convenient good to which it tends, and in the obtainment of which it rests and is satisfied. Natural bodies have all their own place, whether, if not hindered, they move incessantly till they be in it; and they declare, by resting there, they they are (as I may say) where they would be. Sensitive creatures are carried to seek a sensitive good, as agreeable to their rank in being, and attaining that, and no further. Now, in this is the excellency of Man, that he is made capable of a communion with his Maker, and, because capable of it, is unsatisfied without it: the soul, being cut out (so to speak) to that largeness, cannot be filled with less. Though he is fallen from his right to that good, and from all right desire of it, yet, not from a capacity of it, no, nor from a necessity of it, for the answering and filling of his capacity.

   Though the heart once gone from God turns continually further away from Him, and moves not towards Him till it be renewed, yet, even in that wandering, it retains the natural relation to God, as its centre, that it hath no true rest elsewhere, nor can by any means find it. It is made for Him, and is therefore still restless till it meet with Him.

    It is true, the natural man takes much pain to quiet his heart by other things and digests many vexations with hopes of contentment in the end and accomplishment of some design he hath; but still the heart misgives. Many times he attains not the thing he seeks; but if he do, yet he never attains the satisfaction he seeks and expects in it, but only learns from that to desire something further, and still hunts on under a fancy, drives his own shadow before him, and never overtakes it; and if he did, yet it is but a shadow. [cf Psalm 39:6 Surely every man stands as a mere shadow.] And so, in running from God, besides the sad end, he carries an interwoven punishment with his sin, the natural disquiet and vexation of his spirit, fluttering to and fro, and finding no rest for the sole of his foot; the waters of inconstancy and vanity covering the whole face of the earth. 

   These things are too gross and heavy. The soul, the immortal soul, descended from heaven, must either be more happy, or remain miserable. The Highest, the Increated Spirit, is the proper good, the Father of Spirits, that pure and full good which raises the soul above itself; whereas all other things draw it down below itself. So, then, it is never well with the soul but when it is near unto God, yea, in its union with Him, married to Him; mismatching itself elsewhere, it hath never anything but shame and sorrow. All that forsake Thee shall be ashamed, says the Prophet, Jeremiah 17:13; and the Psalmist, They that are far off from thee shall perish. Psalm 73:27. And this is indeed our natural miserable condition, and it is often expressed this way, by strangeness and distance from God.

   The same sentiments are found in the works of the Pagan philosophers and Moralists. Well then may they be made a Subject of Reflection in our days. And well may the pious Deist, is such a character now exists, reflect that Christianity alone both teaches the way, and provides the means, of fulfilling the obscure promises of this great instinct for all men, which the Philosophy of boldest Pretensions confined to the sacred few.

86. A Contracted Sphere, or what is called Retiring from the business of the World, no security from the Spirit of the World.  The heart may be engaged in a little business, as much, if thou watch it not, as in many and great affairs. A may drown in a little brook or pool, as well as in a great river, if he be down and plunge himself into it,and put his head under the water. Some care thou must have, that thou mayst not care. Those things that are thorns indeed, thou must make a hedge of them, to keep out those temptations that accompany sloth, and extreme want that waits on it; but let them be the hedge; suffer them not to grow in the garden.

87.  On Church-going, as a part of Religious Morality, when not in reference to a Spiritual Religion. It is a strange folly in multitudes of us, to set ourselves no mark, to propound no end in the hearing of the Gospel. The merchant sails not merely that he may sail, but for traffic and traffics that he may be rich. The husbandman plows not merely to keep himself busy, with no further end, but plows that he may reap with advantage. And shall we do the most excellent and fruitful work fruitlessly—hear only to hear, and look no further? This is indeed a great vanity, and a great misery, to lose that labour, and gain nothing by it, which, duly used, would be of all others, most advantageous and gainful: and yet all meetings are full of this. *Coleridge adds a footnote to this aphorism quoting the Puritan Richard Baxter: Baxter censures carelessness in this respect also, on the part of the hearers, and adds, “How then are those ministers that are serious in their work? Do we, as Paul, tell them weeping of their fleshly and earthly disposition, and teach them publicly from house to house at all seasons and with many tears: do we entreat them as for their soul’s salvation? Or rather do we not study to gain the approbation of critical hearers, as if a minister’s business were of no more weight than to tell a smooth tale for an hour, and look no more after the people till the next sermon? In a word, our want of seriousness about the things of heaven charms the souls of men into formality, and brings them to this customary careless hearing, which undoes them. May the Lord pardon the great sin of the ministry in this thing, and in particular my own.”  Saints Rest chapter 7.

88. On the Hopes and Self-satisfaction of a Religious Moralist, Independent of a Spiritual Faith—On what are they grounded?   There have been great disputes one way or another, about the merit of good works; but I truly think they who have laboriously engaged in them have been very idly, though very eagerly, employed about nothing, since the more sober of the schoolmen themselves acknowledge there can be no such thing as meriting from the blessed God, in the human, or, to speak more accurately, in any created nature whatsoever: nay, so far from any possibility of merit, there can be no room for reward any otherwise than of sovereign pleasure and gracious kindness of God. [Luke 17:10  So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you say, ‘We are unworthy servants, we have only done what was our duty.’  Matthew 25:30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness, there men will weep and gnash their teeth]; and the more ancient writers, when they use the word merit, mean nothing by it but a certain correlate to that reward which God both promises and bestows of mere grace and benignity. Otherwise, in order to constitute what is called merit, many things must concur, which no man in his senses will presume to attribute to human works, though ever so excellent; particularly, that the thing donfmuc not previously be a matter of debt, and that it be entire, or our own act, unassisted by foreign aid; it must also be perfectly good, and it must bear an adequate proportion to the reward claimed in consequence of it. If all these things do not concur, the act cannot possibly amount to merit. Whereas I think no one will venture to assert, that any one of these can take place in any human action whatever. 

But why should I enlarge here, when one single circumstance overthrows all those titles; the most righteous of mankind would not be able to stand, if his works were weighed in the balance of strict justice; [Psalm 130:3 If Thou O LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? Psalm 143:2 Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for no man living is righteous before thee. 1 John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us]; how much less then could they deserve that immense glory which is now in question! Nor is this to be denied only concerning the unbeliever and the sinner, but concerning the righteous and pious believer, who is not only free from all the guilt of his former impenitence and rebellion, but endowed with the gift of the Spirit. “For the time is come that judgment must begin ad the house of God; and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?—(1 Peter 4:17,18 For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “if the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear). The Apostle’s interrogation expresses the most vehement negation, and signifies that no mortal, in whatever degree he is placed, if he be called to strict examination of Divine Justice, without daily and repeated forgiveness, could be able to keep his standing, and much less could he arise to that glorious height. That merit, says Bernard, ‘on which my hope relies, consists in these three things: the love of adoption, the truth of the promise, and the power of its performance’. This is the threefold cord which cannot be broken. [Ecclesiastes 4:12b A threefold cord is not easily broken.]

88c. Often have I heard it said by advocates for the Socinian scheme [ Italian Reformation era ideas that challenged trinitarian theology and moved towards the later Unitarian view of the abiding goodness of human nature.] —True! we are all sinners; but even in the Old Testament God has promised Forgiveness on Repentance. One of the Fathers ( I forget which) supplies the Retort—True! God has promised pardon on Penitence: but has he promised Penitence on Sin? —He that repenteth shall be forgiven: but where is it said, He that sinneth shall repent? [2 Timothy 2:b God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth. Hebrews 12:16,17  that no one be immoral or irreligious like Esau, who sold his birthright for a meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.] But Repentance, perhaps the Repentance required in Scripture, the Passing into a new mind, into a new and contrary Principle of Action, this METANOIA [μετανοια, The New Testament word which we render by Repentance, compounded of μετα, τρανς  and        νους, mens [the mind], the Spirit, or Practical Reason,] is in the Sinner’s own power? at his own liking? He has but to open his eyes to the sin, and the Tears are close at hand to wash it away!—Verily, the exploded tenet of Transubstantiation, is scarcely at greater variance with the common Sense of and Experience of Mankind, or borders more closely on on a contradiction in terms, than this volunteer transmentation, this Self-change, as the easy* means of Self-salvation! But the reflections of our evangelical Author on this subject will appropriately commence the Aphorisms relating to Spiritual Religion.

* May I, without offence, be permitted to record the very appropriate title, with which a stern Humorist lettered a collection of Unitarian tracts? Salvation made easy; or, Every man his own Redeemer.

Books Read August 2018

BOOKS READ August 2018

 

Desiring the KingdomJames K A Smith

James K A Smith: Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Volume 1 of Cultural Liturgies,  Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Academic 2009

Jamie Smith is associate professor of philosophy and adjunct professor of congregational and ministry studies at Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan and has written widely from a Liberal Reformed Presbyterian point of view about many aspects of twenty first century culture and Christian thinking including Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism, Who’s Afraid of Relativism,  The Fall of Interpretation, You Are What You Love and Thinking in Tongues just to name a few tempting titles.  Desiring the Kingdom is the first of three volumes in the Cultural Liturgies series, Volume 2 being Imagining the Kingdom and Volume 3 entitled Awaiting the King.  Smith’s dialogue partners are broad in the extreme and include Roman Catholic scholars and a consistent interplay with Stanley Hauerwas, Martin Heidegger, Alisdair MacIntyre, Nicholas Wolterstorff and N T Wright amongst many other authors ancient and modern. In addition his books contain regular attributions and references to films, novels, music and other cultural icons.

Reading Smith requires concentration because (i) he is working at a consistent graduate or post-graduate level although there is no particularly unique philosophical terminology except perhaps for his considerable use  of Charles Taylor’s term a social imaginary*; (ii) his stye is not so much complex as bordering on the prolix…when he makes an argument he really makes it! (iii) along the way in each section he picks up related ideas from a vast array of co-thought creators, many of whom are only vaguely connected with his argument and the reader has to spend some time thinking through how the latest author quoted gels with Smith’s argument as it proceeds. The result is not so much a tedious book but a tiring book (although at times I did find it in need of some editing!)

Fundamentally Desiring the Kingdom is a reflection with two key divisions. The first is a critique of American Christian education particularly at the level of the Christian University or Liberal Arts College. Smith argues that such Christian colleges major on an intellectualized “world view/ cognitive beliefs approach which is heavily “head/brain centred” resulting effectively in a secular university with a “Christian world view wash”.  He contrasts this with the ”heart/kardia centred “ cultural liturgies of the average American twenty something which centre on the emotion/desire/ happiness/fulfilment/ attain liturgy of the shopping mall and the military/nationalistic liturgy of the sporting arena with its hand on heart anthems. In this section Smith effectively demonstrates that most of the human race, including theological and Christian College students operate more from the heart than the head!

The second major section of Smith’s work is an out and out plea for Christian universities and colleges to revert to a heart based “you are what you love”  and practical and practised approach to Christian education at all levels but focussing on the Christian university. To achieve this goal he redirects us away from cognitive Christian intellectualism to a social imaginary that orients, guides and shapes our desires and actions..an understanding of the world that is precognitive and pre reflective ….’carried’ in images, stories, myths and related practices. To achieve this Smith writes at length about worship and in particular about the importance of liturgy in worship with a significant nod to the work of Martha Dawn and Robert Webber.

At this point Anglican, Lutheran and Catholic readers stop and blink in amazement as Smith carefully, fluently, eloquently and theologically writes powerfully about all the desirable elements of worship (stuff they do every Sunday and don’t even think about!) including the welcome, the materiality, the praise singing, the confession, the absolution, the readings, the intercessions, the creed, the proclamation, the giving of the peace, the baptism, the eucharist, the collection and the farewell. He calls his reformed presbyterian colleagues  to a new monastic approach which forces us to put into practice the service and servant-hood proclaimed in our academic learning.

As I say readers who are members  of sacramental churches will wonder what all the fuss is about although the analysis of worship is indeed thoughtful and helpful. The concluding brief chapter is a direct attempt to explore how the above liturgical approach to learning and studying could be actually carried out in a Christian university or college. I understand these issues are dealt with in more depth in volumes 2 and 3 of this series.  In the end I found the effort of reading this book stimulating and deeply thought provoking but, yes, quite hard work!

The book comes with a useful set of diagrams and “to think about”  squared off sections which are further thought-provoking and encourage wider reading. There is a subject and author index but one has to troll through the footnotes for a detailed author bibliography which is not helpful.

*Charles Taylor In his book Modern Social Imaginaries, [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004] describes a social imaginary as the unconscious way ordinary people ‘imagine’ their social surroundings with “thoughts that are much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality.”  Our behaviour and imagination and desire  when we are deeply in love, or at a grand final, or in a luscious shopping mall, or for that matter in powerful worship is “not expressed in theoretical terms, but is carried in emotion and deep feeling and in “ images, stories and legends.” The imaginary is more a kind of noncognitive understanding than a cognitive knowledge or set of beliefs.  [cf Heidegger’s distinction between “knowledge” (Wissen), which is objective and propositional, and “understanding” (Verstehen) which is “an inarticulate understanding of our whole situation.” ..more “know-how” than propositional knowledge..more imagination than intellect.” [Smith p65]   4 stars

Sylvia Plath: Ariel, London, Faber & Faber, 2015 [1965]

Unknown-1.jpegUnknownThis is my third attempt to read and feel positive about the poetry of Sylvia Plath. Ariel contains many accessible poems as well as a good collection of quite difficult material. As a young person Plath’s pre-occupations with death, horror, illness, Nazism and hurt overwhelmed me and made me angry.  Now in later life I still see these themes but they are interspersed with intense beauty and thoughtfulness..the power of moonlight, the brightness of a little child, the uncertainty about whether the bees should be kept or let freed, golden apples,  I am so stupidly happy and much more

As I approach the end of my sixth decade and much closer to the end than the beginning of my life I see a strength in Plath’s refusal to bend to the poetic prettying up of much of life’s brutality and horror including her own powerful and in the end undeniable drive to end her own life. I understand that she is “bored by eternity” and that she loves “the piston in motion”. I do not crave eternity either. I love the beauty, the passion and the joy of this life but I acknowledge also the tragedy in many lives, the vicious death of millions, the seeming meaningless suffering and death caused by random accident and illness.

So finally, I am glad to be reunited with Ariel and I am glad that she has written what she has written, even if it would take almost a lifetime to nut some of it out and a very good teacher, which I have had. [ ps I am still not persuaded that Plath should be inflicted on youthful and sheltered VCE students!]  4 stars.

Trevor Dudley – Smith (Elleston Trevor): By a Silver Stream, London, Gerald G Swann, 1947 (1944).

 

By A Silver StreamTrevor Dudley Smith

Beautifully written story for children about an English forest glade of talking animals and their activities based around the four seasons commencing with Winter. Sapiens the Owl leads a cast of Boggy-the-Frog, Smoky Barge-Rat, Little Push and Little Pull the field mice, Ted Hedgehog, Madge Magpie, Cyril and Towny Squirrel, Hector Woodpecker and Jackdaw. It is gentle and poetic writing with a romantic Wordsworthian air that is free from melodrama and quite enchanting. I must have read this book perhaps fifty or sixty times when a child and it made a deep impression on me. Reading it again today some sixty years later, it has lost none of its charm. Dudley-Smith wrote a whole series of “Glade” children’s stories but this is the only one I have read. Under many pseudonyms including commonly Elliston Trevor, he wrote a very large number of published works in a variety of genres.  This book for me will always be the book which began my reading career.  5 stars.

Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility, Camberwell, Penguin, 1995 (1811)

Jane Austen jpegSense and Sensibility

Jane Austen’s first novel describes the joys and sorrows of two sisters, Elinor (Sense) and Marianne  (Sensibility) Dashwood with a very minor role given to youngest sister Margaret.  The  two eldest and very charming ladies’ restricted financial circumstances and other complexities that unfold inevitably mean that the course of true love does not at all run smoothly but as could be expected it all comes right in the end. As with all Austen’s work the joy is not really in the story but in the rich and complex delineation of the chief characters and their relations and beaux, the intricacies and multiple levels of early C19th English class divisions, the extraordinary elegance and fine distinctions in language and style and the inevitable tensions caused by various upsetting events.  The novel was produced in two widely separated drafts and still shows some evidence of a lack of cohesion in places but is, as with all of Austen, engaging and intriguing.  This Penguin edition is assisted by excellent notes and further reading and not one but two introductions, a fairly academic effort by Ros Ballaster(1995) and the original and brilliant Penguin Classics introduction of 1969 by Tony Tanner.  An amazing and complex first novel and the commencement of a career and popularity which has not run out of steam over 200 years. 5 stars.

More wrangling with Tom Wright: this time on “What St Paul Really Said”!

I These notes, questions and comments are based on Tom Wright:What St Paul Really Said,  London, Lion, 1997

 I think the best summary of this book is that by Tom Wright himself in his opening paragraph of chapter 8 …(God’s renewed humanity).

  1. p13   Paul has often been accused of Hellenizing Christianity, taking it a long way from its Jewish origins in Jesus’s teaching.  Both Albert Schweitzer and N T Wright pour scorn on this idea. What do we think?
  1. p14  Do you find the differentiation between exegesis and eisegesis helpful?
  1. p22  Is Paul simply the legitimator of an old style ‘preaching the Gospel’  or is he also concerned with many wider categories and larger questions in the Christian tradition? (so Wright)
  1. p24 I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not according to knowledge. Romans 10:2. Is this a fair summation of Judaism?  [I guess in one respect it is in the Bible so we have to agree???]
  1. p26. Wright describes Saul the persecutor of Christians l as a Shammaite rather than a Hillelite. Do we agree?
  1. p27 For Saul the persecutor the issues were not just about ‘lenient’ or ‘strict’ interpretations of the law but about aims and agendas for Israel: for the people, the land, and the Temple. Much the same today??
  1. p27. On the other hand, Saul the persecutor and the Masada “dagger-men” were deeply pious Jews. [cf the murderer of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 (p28)]
  1. p30  A key part of Tom  Wright’s complete theology of Paul and the New Testament (and often contested) is that many C1st  Jews were still awaiting the full restoration of the Temple and they did not believe the exile had ended. The promises made by the prophets after the release from Babylon had not been fulfilled. This is a complex argument based on many extra Biblical texts including the Dead Sea Scrolls and pseudepigraphical works such as 4 Ezra. Nevertheless,  What do we think?  [see also p43]
  1. p32 E P Sanders has been very influential in describing Biblical Judaism as “covenantal nomism” rather than strict “salvation by works” i.e. early Pelagianism,in his massive book Paul and Palestinian Judaism. i.e. they trusted God’s covenant and in response tried to keep the law but knew that it was not possible completely, hence the need for regular sacrifices and the Day of Atonement.  Wright agrees with Sanders on this major revision of our understanding of early Judaism but thinks that Sanders under-estimated Jews like Saul of Tarsus who was just as determined politically to free Israel from occupation as he was concerned about “getting in and staying in ‘heaven’.
  1. p33.  Wright underlines the importance of the covenant as designed “to undo the sin of Adam” and provide a blessing for all of humanity. Within this scheme “justification” becomes very important.  He believes it is a law-court theme meaning acquittal. God will judge the the nations and find in favour of his people.  The ‘righteous’ are the vindicated/acquitted..not the necessarily the “morally right”.  [Abraham believed God and it was “reckoned” to him as righteousness.]
  1. p34  Here Wright stresses that this final acquittal or justification will be eschatological meaning  major and cataclysmic events within history…not outside history. This is another standard theme of Wright’s…the transformed kingdom of God on earth. Do we agree?
  2. p35-6 Wright notes that Paul’s vision of the resurrected Christ was at a time when others had ceased to see Jesus…even after the ascension….it is not the language of mystical vision…it will not do to spiritualize or psychologize the event.   Do we agree? (eg in the Gospel stories of the resurrection, apart from Mary Magdalene the appearances were seen by several folk at once but in Saul’s case, the accompanying soldiers either saw or heard nothing (depending on which of three versions of Acts you read).
  1. p 37 This event forced Saul now Paul to redraw his view of Jesus…Jesus was no longer a failed would be Messiah; now he WAS the Messiah, God over all, blessed for ever Amen [Romans 10:5 …a verse fought over by scholars because if this is what the text says it is the earliest written Christian statement that Jesus was God!] In any case what an amazing turn around for Paul the Apostle…For Paul the eschatological event was no longer for some distant future; it had already begun with the resurrection.  [ I note that this is also what the  Gospels clearly say.  The kingdom of Heaven is among/within you. ]
  1. p39.  In spite of all claims to the contrary in various theological treatments of Paul’s theology the reality is that throughout his letters and his activities he remains stoutly and determinedly within the framework of Jewish covenantal and messianic theology with the exception that his view of God has become incarnational and radically different from strict Jewish monotheism.
  1. p40. Paul’s calling was to tell this new Jewish-Christian story to the world. He was to become “the herald of the King.”

16. p44 The more Jewish we make Paul’s ‘gospel’, the more it confronts directly the pretensions of the imperial cult, and indeed all other paganisms whether ‘religious’ or ‘secular’.

17.  p45-6 It is not, then, a system of how people get saved. The announcement of the gospel results in people being saved.  …’the gospel’ itself, strictly speaking, is the narrative proclamation of King Jesus….this proclamation is an authoritative summons to obedience…”the obedience of faith”….His announcement was that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead; that he was thereby proved to be Israel’s Messiah; that he was thereby installed as Lord of the world. Or, to put it yet more compactly: Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is Lord. See p49 lots of Jews were crucified; only one was resurrected….if Jesus had defeated sin, death could not hold him. If (conversely) he rose again from the dead, it meant he had indeed dealt with sin on the cross.

18. p47 In the crucified and risen Christ, God has reversed this world’s values. 

19. p50  Paul wasn’t just living in the last days. He was living in the first days. cf.p51 the end has already happened (in Jesus’ resurrection) and the end is still to happen  (when all Jesus’ people are raised to life.

20. p50.  In speaking of the resurrection body, Paul was talking about a  a new physical existence. 

21. p51-2 For Paul, ‘Christ ‘ is not a name. It is a title….Paul thought Jesus was divine; but the word ‘Christ’ , for Paul means ‘Messiah’…anointed one….its major referent in first-century Judaism was the coming king….[Paul] believed that Jesus was the true king. An unexpected king, yes. A king who turned everything, including expectations of what the coming king would do and be, upside down, …but the true king nevertheless. The resurrection proved it. To remind ourselves of this it would do no harm form time to time to translate ᾿Ιησους Χριστος not as ‘Jesus Christ’ , nor even as Jesus the Messiah, but as ‘King Jesus’.  Do you like this title?

22. p56-7 Paul uses the title ‘Lord’  [Κυριος ] for Jesus so frequently that the uses take up several columns in a small-print concordance. In Jewish context ‘Kyrios’ means God; in the Greco-Roman world it means Emperor. Either way it is amazing that he used it for Jesus almost automatically…don’t be lulled into thinking that you can serve two masters, that there are two lords of the world. [see also the discussion of Paul’s use of “kurios” for Jesus on p71).

23. p59 The ‘gospel’ is for Paul, at its very heart, an announcement about the true God as opposed to false gods. This announcement was, and Paul expected it to be, controversial.

24. p61 The word ‘grace’ is a shorthand way of speaking about God himself, the God who loves totally and unconditionally, whose love overflows in self-giving in creation, in redemption, in rooting out evil and sin and death from his world, in bringing to life that which was dead. Paul’s gospel reveals this God in all his grace, all his love.

25. p64-5First century Jews use five language-sets to speak about God…Wisdom, Torah, Spirit, Word and Shekinah (..the presence of the true God ‘tabernacling’ with his people.)…Paul took precisely this Jewish doctrine and redefined it —with Jesus , and the Spirit, within it.

26.  p65 -66…at the very moment when [Paul] is giving Jesus the highest titles and honours, he is also emphasizing that he, Paul, is a good Jewish-style monotheist….he was clearly not intending to add a second god to the pantheon…cf Galatians 4: 8 -11 Paul takes the Jewish Shema and manages to include Jesus.

27. p67 Paul has spied a new meaning of the word ‘God’, because the person he has firmly in views Jesus of Nazareth…Paul has taken the word ‘God’ itself and has filled it with a new content. [cf Philippians 2:9-11]

28. p68 Why has Paul developed a new content for ‘God’? Because, quite simply, [Jesus] has done what only the true God can do. The truth about God is revealed for Paul, supremely, on the cross….God commends his love for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us….that sentence, we should note, only makes sense, if, somehow, God is fully and personally involved in the death of Jesus Christ.

29. p71-2 There is no tension, for [Paul] , between Jesus being the totally human Messiah, the representative of Israel, and the one who is sent as it were from God’s side, to do and be what only God can do and be. Paul, in short, seems to have held what generations of exegetes have imagined to be an impossibility; a thoroughly incarnation theology,  grounded in a thoroughly Jewish worldview….this, of course, strained at the borders of  human language, even the God-given language of scripture; but one could clearly recognize ‘the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ [2 Corinthians 4:6]

30. p73 Paul strains the limits and borders of language a second time in speaking of the Spirit also as in some sense God and thus in several passages uses language that can only reasonably be described as “trinitarian”. e.g. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

.

31.. p75 The one God, the creator, had now been made known in and as Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and risen Messiah, the Lord of the world. The face that called the world into existence was turned at last toward the world in self-revelation, in rescue, and love. 

32 p78-9 .We have learnt that there is no such thing as ‘first-century Judaism,’only first century Judaismsthe word ‘pagan’  is a convenient Christian label to cover, as they might have said, a multitude of sins….we have little detail about many C1st non-Jewish beliefs. …we have to extrapolate from Paul’s letters as we have them.

33.p80 Many scholars, seeing that Paul is critical of Judaism, have assumed that he must therefore have a non-Jewish theology. Many others, seeing that his theology was thorougly Jewish, have found it puzzling to explain how he came to hold a critique of Judaism.  History of Religions methodology …is bad at separating polemical engagement and critique from within.

34. p81. The underlying reason for Paul’s polemical engagement with pagan culture is not, I suggest, far to seek. But it is so frequently ignored that I should like to stress it here as of first importance. It is found in the Jewish expectations about how the purposes of the one God would eventually include the whole world.Abraham (Genesis 12,15); isaiah 49. etc

35. p85. People have often attempted to explain the rapid growth of Christianity by arguing that the first-century pagan world was, so to speak, ‘ready for Christianity’. I am not so sure. The Athenians were not ready to hear about Jesus and the resurrection.  [Acts 17] I think this is equally very true of the Western world today. What do you think?

36 pp96-92 Wright suggests Paul challenged the pagan world in six major areas, all very present in today’s post-modern world .(i) the divination of creation (pantheism); (ii) the cult with its multiplicity of gods of all sorts (iii) power and empire (cf current pretensions of nation states to have the power to rule or hurt the world. (iv) True humanness  (cf modern challenges to the nature of humanness); (v) the true story of the world (cf modern myths about origins); (vi) philosophy and metaphysics (C1st Stoicism, Epicureanism and the Cult) cf modern existentialism, modernism, post-modernism, moral neutrality etc…Paul, in fact,  (p93) summons the whole world to repentance. Wright has written often about the new forms of paganism alive and well today…the gods of mammon, eros and power. (Marx, Freud and Nietzsche)

37. p95-6  Terminology problems. p96 Paul is writing in Greek, but aware of the Hebrew scriptures that stand behind what he wants to say; we are writing [and reading] in English, vainly attempting to find words and phrases which catch the flavour and emphasis of what was already a subtle and intricate train of thought.

38. pp96 -111. Detailed analysis of the meaning of the righteousness of God and Justification.  Chapters 6 and 7 have some complex and hard core theological analysis and is currently a hugely contested area  in scholarship. Basically Wright argues, correctly in my view, for a covenantal and law-court background for the meaning of these two terms and in particular (p98) against any sense that God ’s righteousness can be “imputed” or handed over to humans who have faith so that they can be saved. Wright argues that it is through the faithfulness of Jesus in his sacrifice on the cross that salvation comes to humanity. Jesus the suffering Messiah was the faithful Israelite who totally fulfilled the covenant God made with humanity and his death dealt with the results of wrath, God’s reaction to human sinfulness, defeating the power of sin and overcoming death. On the chart on p101 therefore Wright is pumping for A1 in the first column and A1b in the second column.  So Wright states on p108: The covenant always envisaged a worldwide family ..and on p110 Romans is often regarded as an exposition of judicial, or law-court, theology….but at the heart of Romans we find a theology of love.

39. p114 Wright argues that the doctrine of justification cannot be put right at the centre of Paul’s thought, since that place is already taken by the person of Jesus himself, and the gospel announcement of his sovereign kingship. 

40.  p116-117 There is simply no way that human beings can make themselves fit for the presence or salvation of God…When [Paul] describes how persons, finding themselves confronted with the act of God in Christ, come to appropriate that act for themselves…God works by his Spirit upon their hearts; as a result, they come to believe the message; they join the Christian community through baptism, and begin to share its common life and its common way of life….Paul speaks of the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus, the work of the Spirit, and the entry in to the common life of the people of God.

41. p122 …God is now extending his salvation to all, irrespective of race…the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan of salvation is one of the centrally repeated themes of Romans.

42. Chapter 8. Wright writes about God’s renewed  humanity under the headings of :

  • turning from idols,
  • resurrection – the transformation into a renewed physicality in a new heaven and earth (against both pantheism and agnostic dualism)
  • holiness (transformed humanity)…p145 the church today looks for brilliant rhetoric and personal revelation, not for sharing the sufferings of Christ.
  • coherence of renewed humanity – love..p146   against the human habit of defining themselves against another.
  •   mission…p149 The Jewish hope, that Israel’s king would be king of the world, had come true in the Messiah.

43.  p151 The gospel’ itself is neither  a system of thought, nor a set of techniques for making people Christians ; it is the personal announcement of the person of Jesus. 

44. p152 The covenant was set up to deal with evil and death; it was never a matter of creating a smoothly progressing salvation-history and inviting people to get on board.

45. p154 Preaching the gospel means announcing Jesus as Lord of the world; and unless we are prepared to contradict ourselves with every breath we take, we cannot make that announcement without seeking to bring that lordship to bear over every aspect of the  world.  Wright argues that we cannot have a private system of piety which doesn’t impinge on the public world. 

46. p157-8 The gospel creates allegiance and experience per se…and now summons men and women everywhere to abandon the idols which hold them captive …there is no such thing as an individual Christian.  Do we agree?

47.  p159 Wright writes about folk in the past and present who are “justified by faith” without knowing it.    Do we think this is possible??

48. p163 The covenant…was never supposed to be the means whereby God would have a private little group of people who would be saved while the rest of the world went to hell…it makes nonsense of the Pauline gospel to imagine that the be-all and end-all of this operation is so that God can have another merely different, private little group who are saved while the world is consigned to the cosmic waste-paper basket.  How do we put this sentiment  positively without being universalist? What do you think?

49.  p164 Christians are to live in the present in the light of what God intends us to be in the future. 

50.  p167 Chapter 10 is a useful challenge to A N Wilson’s problematic, wildly skewed book on Paul the Apostle.  Wilson has since become a Christian and I doubt he would write the same book today!

Books read July 2018

BOOKS READ JULY 2018

Michael Meehan: Below the Styx,  Crows Nest Au, Allen & Unwin, 2010

Fourth book by Australian author Michael Meehan. Sardonic, learned and humorous  account of the story of Marten Frobisher, a publisher’s novel spotter, his marriage and the gradual breakdown of his marriage.  Entwined with his  story is a literary study of some depth.

In one of his  final quarrels with his wife Coralie, Martin Frobisher attacks her with an epergne* which features throughout the book!  Coralie dies from the attack but, as Frobisher flees from the house having called family and emergency help,  it appears a second person was also involved in Coralie’s death.

In prison awaiting trial Frobisher, a would be but unfulfilled and unpublished writer, uses his time to research the complex and tragic  life and early death of Marcus Clarke, author of For the Term of His Natural Life.  These chapters give a fascinating insight into the character of a man who appears to have worked hard to cover up his true nature and personality and about whom not a huge amount is known in spite of his importance in early Australian literature.

I cannot decide whether Meehan has successfully conjoined the two narratives. As a tract for our times about marriage and modern life in Melbourne it is insightful and entertaining. as a literary and historical study of Clarke it is mostly interesting. As one single novel it is just ok. I suspect if the average punter was not particularly interested in colonial Victorian history and literature the literary research about Clarke would be boring and annoying.  3 stars.

 

An *Epergne is a type of table centerpiece, usually made of silver, but may be made of any metal or glass or porcelain.

A B Facey: A Fortunate Life, Ringwood Au,  Penguin, 1981

Extraordinary story of Bert Facey, born 1894, one of seven children. He died in 1982 at 88 years old. His father left the family to go gold mining in Kalgoorlie and died of typhoid when Bert was 2. His mother took the two eldest children to Perth and basically walked away from the other four leaving them with his grandmother at Barker’s Creek near Castlemaine.  When his grandfather died the grandmother took the children to the West to force their mother to take of them but she had married again and was pregnant and could only take his sister Myra.  The young children eventually went to live in Kalgoorlie in  significant poverty with Aunt Alice, Grandma’s oldest daughter.

Bert never attended school and could not read or write. At eight years of age he went to work and never really returned to the family “home”. He eventually learned to read and write much later in life and kept notebooks of his exceptional life as farmhand, bushman, railway fettler, drover’s assistant, farm manager, well repairer, prize fighter, league footballer,  soldier at Gallipoli, tram driver, union organiser and many other roles. If only half this story were true it would be amazing.

To read this book is to have the highest regard for this exceptional man who survived so much,  got married and raised his own family.  Facey lived through the earliest years of the establishment of the West Australian wheat and farming industry, survived Gallipoli but with permanent injuries, maintained a family through the Depression years and lost one of his sons in the second world war. In later life he became a highly regarded union organiser for the tramways and an exceptional local government planning representative and highly regarded public figure.  This book is simply and factually written and more exciting than ten average fiction narratives put together. An ordinary man who really was a truly wonderful Australian.  5 stars.

Alex Miller: Prochownik’s Dream, Crows Nest Au, Allen & Unwin, 2005

I am an unashamed Alex Miller fan and have read the majority of his books so it is difficult for me to write objectively about a literary “idol”. The subject matter of this book, as with the magnificent Autumn Laing, is about art and artists. In this case the epicentre is modern Melbourne which is always particularly interesting for someone who has lived all their life within Melbourne and its outer reaches.  The action with one exception, all happens in the artist’s suburban studio and really zeros in on the inner life, thinking and motivation of Toni Powlett preparing to participate in a major show and “coming out” as an artist.  Towards the end of the novel he changes his name to Prochownik which was his migrant father’s name, forced to Anglicise it by his boss when he began work in Australia. Toni’s father, though dead for four years,  is a constant brooding presence in his painting and thinking. His father is the author of “Prochownik’s Dream”!

A secondary theme and completely intertwined with the inner mind of the artist is his marriage relationship which challenges and yet also completes Powlett’s (Prochownik’s) work as an artist. Miller writes with all his customary depth of human understanding, intimacy and the personal knowing of the thoughtful mind. Some of the most powerful statements of the novel come from the “words” of his now deceased father. Here are a few:

  • to dream is to have made sense of one’s life at the end, that is all.  (p44)
  • the priest’s irrational persistence, a faith that doesn’t ask why, just is (p47)
  •   for in art, and they all knew this, twas the perfect lie that was generative of the perfect meaning, not the literal truth. There was no place in art for the literal truth. (p114)
  • art makes life bearable and the other way around. (p126)
  • the purpose of art is to resist the world’s ugliness (p127)
  • the brutality of fact” [a quotation from the artist Francis Bacon)  (p154)
  • I should like to understand myself properly before it is too late.” (a quotation from Sartre: Nausea) (p223)
  • the artist, [or any one else in my view] is the only one ever to know how great his failure is. Other people see only what he achieves. Not what he has attempted. (p267).

The real power of Alex Miller is his ability, strangely, to force the reader (or this reader) into thinking very deeply about his own mind, life and motivations.

This is intense and engaging writing. I would not put it up there with The Ancestor Game, Autumn Laing, or Journey to the Stone Country, but it is a perceptive and powerful analysis of an artist and a marriage.  4 stars.

Alex Miller: The Tivington Nott, Crows Nest Au., Allen & Unwin, 2005 (1989).

This is Alex Miller’s second novel, first published in the UK in 1989. It is a an autobiographical account of Miller’s life as a labourer in Somerset on the borders of Exmore. Many of Miller’s future skills as a writer about relationships, about feelings, about hopes and dreams, about love and about life and its possibilities are on show here.  All the humour, emotion, attachment to environment,  deep descriptive power, exceptional ability to lock in the reader to the depth of writing are all present in this early novel.

The key story in this novel is the account af an amazing stag hunt. A nott is a deer (or a sheep or cattle) without antlers or horns.  There is an ancient nott  in Tivington whose lair is discovered by the author but the nott is not the hero of this story. Only “The Man from Snowy River” could match the account of the exceptional horse Kabara and the elongated day long hunt that involved the horse, the stag and the author. There is humour, tension, exhaustive drama and insightful character analysis. This is a hard to put down account of rural life in Somerset with all the tensions of the English class system in full swing. A powerful and insightful read.   4 stars.

Hilary Mantel: Giving Up the Ghost: A Memoir, London, Fourth Estate, 2010 [2003].

Hilary Mantel has mesmerised the world with her account of Tudor statesman Thomas Cromwell in her novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies as well as her latest book on the French Revolution, long in the making. This memoir is a book in two parts. The first is a capricious, highly personal and fiercely entertaining account of Mantel’s earliest memories and her childhood up to teenage years. It is difficult to put down with its winsome, funny, mysterious and always heartfelt story of growing up strangely in a house with two fathers!

The second half is a gruelling account of an appalling illness which was untreated and mistreated and misunderstood for the first twenty years of her life. This section is demanding and seemingly endless as doctor after doctor across three continents appears to be powerless to understand the cause of Mantel’s distress. At the same time Mantel manages to write publishable books which will eventually make her a household name. What comes across above all is her indomitable spirit of determination, joy in the darkness and sheer grit in her coming to terms with demons real and imagined. I am an undisputed Mantel fan but I cannot say I enjoyed this book. Part one I loved; Part two I suffered through with her. I am glad she did not give up the fight as she promises to write many more fantastic books and I for one, will read every one of them, God willing!  4 stars.

Tom Wright: What St Paul Really Said, Oxford, Lion, 1997.

One of N T (Tom) Wright’s earlier books,  this punchy summary of the theology of Paul the Apostle challenges many long held theological viewpoints on both liberal and conservative fronts. Along with Albert Schweitzer, Wright dismisses the long-held liberal scholastic view that Paul was a Hellenizing Greek who transformed the simple Jewish teaching of Jesus the carpenter into a complex philosophic and completely new religious faith accessible to the Roman world of his day.  For Wright,  Saul of Tarsus, the zealous hardline Shammaite Pharisee became Paul the Apostle..the equally zealous Jewish missionary teacher who was called personally by Jesus Christ to teach the Jews and especially the Gentiles of his own day that the covenant faith of Abraham was intended all along for the whole world and not just the Jewish nation. It was good news for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

Wright agrees with the epic work of E P Sanders in his magisterial Paul and Palestinian Judaism that Judaism was a faith of “covenant nomism” rather than the traditionally regarded works righteousness, but disagrees with Sanders’ idea that Judaism was preoccupied with “getting in and staying in” heaven.  Wright’s most controversial idea, consistently defended in this book and in all his much larger later works is that C1st Judaism was still looking for the fulfilment of God’s promise that their long exile was over. Yes the Jews were back in Israel, but they were held fast under cruel and tyrannical Roman occupation with their freedom to practise their ancient faith constantly under threat and their Temple besmirched with Roman symbols. Wright’s understanding of Paul is that through his road to Damascus vision of Christ’s victory over death in the resurrection God had indeed ended Israel’s exile …that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah promised in the Scriptures but also a radically different Messiah … a Messiah who also fulfilled the mission of the suffering servant of Isaiah’s prophecy (ch 52-3); a Messiah who came for the salvation of the whole world, “while we were yet sinners” not just for the Jews. It was a mission of peace not war; the future of the Temple and its sacrifices were no longer important for Paul because the final sacrifice had already been made by Jesus. There was a new and much more vital mission..to proclaim to the world their true king, KIng Jesus,  so that the love and compassion  of God could spread through the life and being of the whole creation, not just the Jewish nation in occupied Rome.

Controversially for conservative theologians Wright argues in this book that the proclamation of the kingship of Jesus is indeed the centre of Paul’s theology, not justification by faith as it was understood in particular by Luther.  This is argued carefully in chapters 6 and 7 which can still be somewhat dense for readers without a considerable background in New Testament theology.

Equally controversial for conservative readers is Wright’s insistence that the Pauline message of salvation is not about “going to heaven when you die” but rather a vision of a new creation here on earth, transformed by the power and love of God’s Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. This renewal is for the whole world not just the personal salvation of individuals. It is a renewal involving turning away from the idolatry of the gods of mammon, sex and power (Marx, Freud and Nietzsche); a turning towards a genuine resurrection and away from new age pantheism and gnostic dualism. A renewal involving holiness as opposed to simply giving in to the secular world order of the morally bankrupt West. A renewal which involves the coherence and wholeness of love against the selfish individualism which dominates today in many societies.  A renewal which involves zeal ..zeal for the proclamation of the love of God shown in the Messiah’s death and resurrection;  a powerful replacement for  the sadness and emptiness of so much modern life.

Wright’s final chapter is a rebuttal of A N Wilson’s controversially brilliant but fundamentally flawed book on Paul published also in 1997… a rebuttal which Wilson today would probably be sympathetic with having in recent years returned to his earlier Christian faith commitment.  What St Paul Really Said  is not a technical book in terms of being filled with references but there is a very useful list of further books to think about. Wright’s work is filled with dynamism and a breezy energetic argument but still takes a lot of thinking out. It is worth the effort because it brings hope for a new vision of Christian mission in our current world order. It could also spark, or at least encourage,  a new dynamic for static parish churches. 5 stars.

Albert Camus: The Outsider. Translated Joseph Laredo: L’ Étranger, Ringwood Au, Penguin, 1983 [1942]

Algerian born French Journalist,  Existentialist novelist and wartime resistance hero Albert Camus wrote this brief novel in the heat and carnage of World War 11. The central figure Meursalte appears on first reading as almost a shadow man, busy with his unidentified working life in Paris, living on his own in a small apartment with desultory friends and enjoying brief moments of pure and dreamy joy in the quietness of late afternoon Parisian sunshine as he sits on a balcony listening to the late tranquil sounds of a large city quietening down before the evening rush. His one real joy is his passion for his girlfriend, the beautiful Marie  Everything changes when his mother, in a nursing home in Algiers dies  and he travels to her funeral. His grief which is real is not expressed outwardly and his apparent calm and nonchalant behaviour scandalizes fellow mourners and is noted by the manager of the home.   On his return to Paris Meursalt foolishly gets involved in an escapade with one of his desultory friends Raymond which entanglement eventually results in his killing a man on a beach in self defence and his arrest and trial for murder, resulting in a sentence of execution.  The heart of the novel is Meursalt’s trial in which his  refusal to do anything other than supply simple monosyllabic responses to both his lawyer, the prosecutor and the judge condemn him as a cold-hearted killer with no soul. In a brief essay written in 1955 and included in this edition, Camus explains: Meursalt doesn’t want to make life simpler. He says what he is, he refuses to hide his feelings and society immediately feels threatened….for me, Meursalt is not a reject, but a poor and naked man, in love with the sun which leaves no shadows. [p118f].  A disturbing and thoughtful book. 5 stars.

Books read June 2018

Walt_Whitman_-_.jpgWalt Whitman

Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass: The First (1855) Edition, Camberwell, Penguin, 1959 [1855]

Walt Whitman (American poet, 1819-1892) may just be the true poet of the post-modern age.  His vast rambling poem Leaves of Grass went through many incantations and revisions throughout his life.  Most scholars seem to agree that he might have done better to leave well alone and that this 1855 first version of the poem is the best.

Leaves of Grass is a vast, rambling, wildly energetic and boisterous paean to America and to American life in the mid nineteenth century. It commences with a substantial prose essay which is equally rambunctious, opinionated and at times difficult to comprehend praise of the American poet. Why do I say the poet of the post-modern age?  Consider this passage from his opening essay (p22) [ Note: the series of ….’s are in the original]

There will soon be no more priests. Their work is done. They may wait awhile…perhaps a generation or two…dropping off by degrees. A superior breed shall take their place…the gangs of kosmos and prophets en masse shall take their place. A new order shall  arise and they shall be the priests of man, and every man shall be  his own priest. The churches built under their umbrage shall be the churches of men and women. Thought the divinity of themselves shall the kosmos and the new breed of poets be interpreters of men and women and of all events and things. They shall find their inspiration in real objects today, symptoms of the past and future…They shall not deign to defend immortality or God or the perfection of things or liberty or the exquisite beauty and reality of the soul. They shall arise in America and be responded to from the remainder of the earth. Hmmm!

Similarly on p 15 I note: Whatever would put God in a poem or system of philosophy as contending against some being or influence is also of no account. The great master has nothing to do with miracles. 

The poem Leaves of Grass, subtitled in later editions, Song of Myself, runs along similar lines and themes as it celebrates the sheer beauty of human life, man, woman, creation, work, sex, breathing, the outdoors, the cities,  every conceivable occupation including prostitution, the lunatic, music, art, sailors, lovers, fighters, martyrs, the dying, everyone and everything. So Whitman writes

I know perfectly well my own egotism,

And know my omnivorous words, and cannot say less, 

And would fetch you whoever you are flush with myself.   [lines 1079-81, p74]

The editor of this Penguin edition, longtime literary editor Malcolm Cowley, compares Whitman’s writing with Hindu philosophy especially as it is found in the Bhagavad-Gita and I agree there are many similarities. There is a strong sense of metempsychosis and what goes around comes around, there is a divination and spiritualization of absolutely everything, even what is evil and cruel, there is a genuine identity of the self  with a universal spirit.  Whitman was not familiar with Hindu or Buddhist philosophy when he wrote this first edition of Leaves of Grass but in later editions he began to use specific terms from Hindu philosophical writings. Cowley is not suggesting  that Whitman was a Hindu devotee ..there is nothing about the Hindu pantheon of gods or indeed of Atman or Brahman in Leaves of Grass but there is plenty of “world soul”.  Consider these lines which would be quite at home in the mouth of Krishna speaking in the Bhagavad-Gita.

Swiftly arose and spread around met the peace and joy and knowledge that will pass all the art and argument of the earth; 

And I know that the hand of God is the elder hand of my own,

And I know that the spirit of God is the eldest brother of my own,

And that all the men ever born are also my brothers…. and the 

women my sisters and lovers,

And that a kelson of the creation is love; 

And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,

And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,

And mossy scabs of the worm fence, and heaped stones, and elder 

and mullen and pokeweed.   [lines 82 – 98, p29]

Whitman also reminds us existentially that art and  poetry is only art and  poetry is only poetry when it is read, observed  and thought about.

All doctrines, all politics civilisation exurge from you,

All sculpture and monuments and anything inscribed anywhere

are tallied in you,

The gist of histories and statistics as far back as the records reach is

in you this hour — and myths and tales the same;

If you were not breathing and walking here where would they all be?

The most renowned poems would be ashes…orations and plays 

would be vacuums.   [lines 88-90, p92]

What is slightly less post-modern perhaps is Whitman’s trenchant determinism.

The law of the past cannot be eluded,

The law of the present and future cannot be eluded,

The law of the living cannot be eluded….it is eternal,

The law of promotion and transformation cannot be eluded,

The law of heroes and good-doers cannot be eluded,

The law of drunkards and informers and mean persons cannot be eluded.  

[lines 84 -89, p102]

Whitman had a huge impact on the poets of the beat generation and writers like Hart Crane. It may be that he will find  a vast new crop of readers in the post-modern and world-weary West.   For me there are scattered jewels of brilliant insight but the breath-taking relentless onrush of verbalisation becomes wearying.  He would have done well to be more succinct methinks.  I leave my Whitman analysis with this gem.

Why would I wish to see God better than this day?

I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four,

and each moment then,

In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face

in the glass; 

I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is 

signed by God’s name,

And I leave them where they are, for I know that others will

punctually come forever and forever.        [lines 1276 – 1280, p83]

Samuel Butler: The Way Of All Flesh, New York, Airmont, 1965  [1903]

 

Samuel Butler.jpegSamuel Butler was the son and grandson of Anglican clerics and this semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of Earnest Pontifex, child of a strict clerical father and grandfather who rebels against this family tradition at some cost to himself. After graduating impressively from Cambridge Butler  broke completely with his family and left England for New Zealand successfully running a sheep station for five years. Surprisingly successful Butler returned to England independently wealthy and spent his life alternating between painting, extensive travelling in Europe with various close male friends and writing novels, literary and artistic criticism, criticism of traditional Anglican theology and works critical of Darwinian evolution.

Strongly critical of Victorian religion and morality, The Way of All Flesh was published posthumously in 1903 to protect his family. The novel is by degrees funny, sad, clever, tedious, at times horrifying  but  always manages to hold the reader’s interest. Butler’s criticism of Victorian Anglicanism and his account of evangelical/high church divisions demonstrates a detailed knowledge of Biblical narrative and of mid-C19th theological debate especially around Evangelical and High Church Anglicanism as well as varied Christian responses to Darwinian evolution.  Butler also wrote the satirical novel Erewhon, based on his life in NewZealand and on his return to England he wrote works on Italian art, Homer, Shakespeare and music as well as anti Darwinian but not anti evolutionary semi scientific works which attempted to defend a neo-Lamarckian view of evolution going back to Buffon.    This lengthy novel has never been out of print and reflects an agile, multi-layered, well-travelled and intelligent mind. He was effectively a moral philosopher.   4 stars.

Nina Wilner: Forty Autumns, London, Little Brown Book Group 2016

Factual account of a family torn in two by the establishment of a totalitarian Communist State in East Germany following the overthrow of Nazi Germany at the end of World War 11. Germany was partitioned between the Soviets and the Allies. The Soviet Government installed a Communist Government in East Germany led by Walter Ulbricht and later Erich Honnecker. The German Democratic Republic became increasingly isolationist eventually completely closing all foreign borders and isolating Eastern Berlin from West Berlin by a vast concrete wall which became increasingly  protected by lights, barbed wire, inspection towers, guards,  weaponry, tanks and a substantial cleared no-go guarded area on the East German side. Over forty years of isolation, more than one sixth of the East German population fled to the West and some 170 would be “escapees” were shot trying to get into East Berlin. The East German secret service (The Stasi), became increasingly involved in mind control, terror, murder and victimisation, with significant rewards going to those who signed up to become party members and significant persecution and harassment of those who did not.

Hannah Wilner was the second oldest member of 9 children of Opa and Oma Willner and was of an independent mind and spirit. On her third attempt to flee into West Germany she was successful and eventually married a German Jewish Nazi survivor and settled down in the USA seeing her East German family in the flesh only once in those forty years. Hannah’s daughter Nina, also a strongly independent and spirited person grew up in the USA and eventually was accepted into the US Military, and became a spy for the Western powers in Berlin, leading sortées into East Germany on many occasions.

Following the American/Russian détente at the end of the Cold War, much due to the efforts of Gorbachev and Reagan,  Hanna and Nina were reunited with their extended family and a remarkable tale unfolded of forty years of survival of the Willner family who became teachers and office workers,  one an East German cycling olympian, others just quietly surviving and keeping their heads down. Nina Willner’s book is meticulously researched and documented and contains an excellent family photographic record and family tree. It is a heart-warming, at times tragic and always a very tense and exciting account of courage, determination, survival, honesty, idealism and commitment. An absolute page turner proving once again that historical truth is stranger by far than fiction.  5 stars.

Isabel Allende: The House of the Spirits, translated Magda Bogin, London, Black Swan,1986 [1985].

220px-Isabel_Allende_-_001.jpg

A prolific writer Isabel Allende, born 1942, is living an extraordinary life. Allende was  born in Peru, of Chilean parents. Her diplomat father, a cousin of Salvador Allende, mysteriously disappeared when she was three years old and her mother moved to Chile and married Ramón Huidobro, a Chilean diplomat serving in Bolivia, Lebanon, Argentina and Chile thus ensuring that Isabel had a truly international education.

 

Isabel Allende married engineering student Miguel Frias and worked in Europe, Chile and Venezuela for the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, and as a translator, TV personality, dramatist and journalist.   When Salvador Allende, Chile’s first Socialist President, was murdered in a CIA backed Military Coup in 1973 which installed Army Chief Augusto Pinochet as leader, Isabel, then living in Chile,  assisted her parents in providing safe  passage for opponents of the Coup to safely leave Chile. Eventually her own name was added to the hit list and she fled to Venezuela where she again worked as a journalist. In 1988 she married again , this time to American attorney Willie Gordon and eventually became an American citizen.

The House of Spirits was inspired by the imminent death of her 99 year old grandfather who had lived through a century of both inspiring and tragic Chilean history. In her own words Allende wanted “to exorcize the ghosts of Pinochet’s dictatorship” in Chile. Unable to find a publisher in the United States, the book was eventually published in Spain.

Spanning three generations but never straying far from the patriarch Esteban Trueba, The House of the Spirits is a complex, funny but always compelling tale of love, lust, political intrigue,  history, terror and courage. With much more than a nod to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude, Allende blends magic realism, historical insight, mystery and a remarkable cast of characters young and old to tell the savage political story of Chile in the second half of the twentieth century. The narrative centres around a rural estate and a classically designed urban mansion which accumulated many additional rooms and corridors over the years and provides a mysterious and fertile mystery house  from which many dramatic events emerge and in which many secrets are hidden. The moving spirit who upheld the spirit of opponents of the Pinochet Coup called simply “The Poet”, is clearly intended to be Pablo Neruda.

How much does a man live, after all?

Does he live a thousand days, or one only?

For a week, or for several centuries?

How long does a man spend dying?

What does it mean to say “for ever”?

Pablo Neruda

The first three quarters of the novel drift along in a somewhat dreamy and mysterious ‘magic realist’ mode which sometimes only barely holds the reader’s interest as the cast of characters mounts throughout the text.  The tension heightens significantly in chapter 12  (”The Conspiracy”)  and the novel assumes more realistic and tragic proportions. The complex politics of late C20th Chile with conservative, left-wing, Marxist, industrial and military factions interacting with sophisticated complexity is deftly described.  Allende’s novel achieves a  profoundly moving expose of the genuine terror of the Pinochet coup. The “disappearance” of many thousands of opponents of the regime has left a permanent mark on the Chilean psyche and joins with the Rwandan, Cambodian, East German, Korean, Balkan and now Afghan and Syrian tragic trajectory of post-world war 11 realpolitik.

Whilst I am not a great fan of magic realism the  brutal scope of the Chilean terror can perhaps only be countenanced and assimilated with a technique such as that mastered first by Marquez.I am surprising myself in giving this novel  5 stars!

Isabel Allende: Eva Luna, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, Ringwood Au, Penguin, 1989 [1987]

Chilean author, now American citizen, Isabel Allende has written prolifically about fictional characters set in and around political  events in the last half of the C20th in South America and Europe. The major location in this novel is an unknown South American country with elements that fit at times with both Chile and Venezuela in both of which countries Allende lived for many years.

Once again there is to a degree an element of magic realism style in this novel but far less than in The House of the Spirits reviewed above. All sides of the political spectrum are considered …the conservative élite, the Indians, the left, the new rich, the guerrillas and the military and political leaders. Unlike the significantly large cast in The House of the Spirits this novel follows closely the adventurous and at times chaotic life story of Eva Luna from her birth to her mysterious and luminous mother Consuela to her eventual marriage to news cameraman Rolf Carlé.

The themes are more contemporary in this novel including much more racy sexual encounters and a key transgender character as well as characters at home in a modern media world. In general it is fair to say there is a degree of amorality in Eva Luna which is stronger than in The House of the Spirits.  Thus while rape, prostitution and sexual encounters occur in both novels Eva Luna herself seems to manage to have a sexual encounter with just about every major male person that enters her life. In addition the Catholic Church takes a beating in this novel.

Eva Luna is more a “search for love and meaning” story with a political background rather than a coherently historical saga after the style of The House of the Spirits.  Even so, perhaps due to the translation factor, the character of Eva Luna is so multi-faceted that it is hard to close the novel with a total sense of one “mastering” the character of Eva.  Some of the relationships and renewed meetings after many years appear somewhat contrived. In the novel, Eva Luna herself becomes an accomplished and published writer after many struggles and as one reads this novel there is the thought that parts of the narrative may be somewhat autobiographical. 3 stars.

Voltaire  [François-Marie Alouet]: Candide or Optimism, translated by John Butt, Mitcham Au, Penguin Books, 1947 [1759].

Unknown.jpegTranslator John Butt tells us that French philosopher and wit Voltaire wrote Candide at the peak of his career whilst living in Ferney in eastern France near the border with Switzerland , having been twice imprisoned and found unwelcome in Paris. In Ferney, he also wrote his dialogues, various short tales and his Philosophic Dictionary. Voltaire eventually returned in triumph to Paris in 1788 not long before his death.

Candide is an outright philosophical rejection of C18th optimistic philosophy represented in particular by Leibniz, who is mentioned specifically at the end of chapter 28 as one who cannot be wrong (p136).  Optimistic philosophy was also championed in the C18th by German polymath philosopher Christian Wolff and extraordinary C18th English social reformer Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury.

The key characters in Candide are Candide himself, the luckless son of a German baron of Westphalia, his beloved and very beautiful Cunégonde, whom he tracks all over Europe and South America finally marrying her in her ugly old age, and the irrepressible Dr Pangloss, philosopher extraordinaire representing Leibniz’ eternally optimistic view of life. The long essay satirically describes the fatuousness and brutalising stupidity of internecine warfare, the corruption of European hegemony in South America, the violence and pointlessness of the Franco-Prussian war, the natural? greed and lustfulness of men given the opportunity and, in the perfect hidden community of Eldorado a biting satire on the folly of faith in riches and the impossibility of protecting them from theft and eventual destruction.

One would need to be expert in C18th political life and literature to catch the meaning of all of Voltaire’s satirical barbs but, even in translation, the humour and the clear vitality  of his writing is evident on every page. His attack is not so much directly on Christianity as on man’s innate ability to corrupt the good and the fragility of moral human intention in the face of sexual and monetary temptation. A thoughtful and humorous read even after 250+ years. 4 stars.

Ed Shaw: The Plausibility Problem: the church and same-sex attraction, Nottingham, IVP, 2015

Ed Shaw is an evangelical church leader who is same-sex attracted and celibate. This remarkably honest and carefully written book documents his deep desire to express his same-sex attraction in sexual union with another man which is in conflict with his Christian commitment to what he regards as clear-cut Biblical teaching on this issue.

Shaw writes with a full realisation that some significant evangelical writers have found a way to maintain their evangelical commitment to the authenticity of Scripture and also accept same-sex marriage. These writers include Rob Bell and Steve Chalke (p.30). As Vaughan Roberts writes in his Foreward (p 15) his sights are not set on the predictable target —compromising liberals— but on those who belong to his own evangelical tribe.

The book is called The Plausibility Problem because in the C21st it is so plausible to see same-sex  marriage as the natural outcome of a blossoming of love between two people independent of their gender and this is the way it is seen by an increasing number of church denominations, especially in the United States but increasingly elsewhere. Shaw notes that in the evangelical churches in the 1990s same-sex attraction was a no-go area whereas today many churches are simply arguing that love is what matters, not outmoded Biblical teaching.

The major thrust of Shaw’s argument is that the evangelical church has magnified the problems of same-sex attracted people by nine “missteps” all of which need to be taken very seriously but the church today.   These ‘missteps’ are carefully argued, well documented and provide a very strong critique of the standard evangelical rejection of same-sex attraction. The missteps are as follows:

(i)  ‘Your identity is your sexuality.’  For individuals to call themselves “gay” is to define their identity sexually whereas to call themselves “same-sex attracted” is no different in reality from saying they are attracted to  beautiful women, pyromania or cleptomania. The misstep is the danger that some evangelicals often fall into of more generally defining ourselves as sinners rather than saints; as those in rebellion against God rather than his permanently adopted children. (p40)

(ii) ‘A family is Mum, Dad and 2.4 children.’ Many successful evangelical churches play to families/teenagers/young adults/young marrieds and families. They often struggle with singles especially younger singles who often feel estranged from church programs and proclamation. (p45) The church should rather be a real family…fully embracing all of its members.

(iii) ‘If you’re born gay, it can’t be wrong to be gay.’ Shaw quotes Richard Hayes: the very nature of sin is that it is not freely chosen….we are in bondage to sin but still held accountable to God’s righteous judgment of our actions. ..it cannot be maintained that a homosexual orientation is morally neutral because it is involuntary. [in The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, New York, HarperOne, 1996, p390] quoted on p.60.  The misstep is not spelt out in this chapter but presumably the Evangelical church has started to give away the doctrine of judgment.

(iv) If it makes you happy, it must be right.’  The misstep here is that the priority of happiness has infiltrated the evangelical church. Whereas three generations ago divorce was unacceptable in the church apart from the extremes of serial adultery or spousal abuse today in many churches it has become routine. Similarly although evangelicals claim to oppose the prosperity gospel we’ve joined the world around us in believing that money buys happiness. So we’ll  give away what we can afford, but only after we’ve paid for what we no longer consider luxuries …the third pair of shoes, the latest phone, the foreign holiday, the private school fees, the safest pension etc. …in many church contexts, the main group who are still being asked to do something that makes them unhappy are the Christians who experience same-sex attraction.(p24)

(v) Sex is found where true intimacy is found’….intimate friendships and relationships do not have to be sexual relationships.

(vi) Men and women are equal and interchangeable’…Shaw argues that men and women are equal but not interchangeable. It is a massive challenge to articulate the equality of the two sexes at the same time as the differences, and then to explain the importance of these differences and why we need to preserve them.

(vii)  Godliness is heterosexuality’….the call to sexual purity is a sub-section of godliness, not “the” defininition…..True, Chriat-like sacrificial love means saying ‘No!’ to any sexual activity outside marriage (p99)….we need to to measure Christianity by Christ-likeness (p100) …a constant recognition that at heterosexual  sexuality does does not guarantee godliness….(p103).  .The evangelical  church largely discounts this idea but goes hard on same-sex attraction….homosexual sex outside marriage is perceive as a much greater sin in our churches that heterosexual sex outside marriage. (p104)

(viii) ‘Celibacy is bad for you.’  Shaw writes: Pastorally, I ‘ve actually discovered more loneliness in marriages than among single people. (p109) Genesis 2:4 is stressing [man and woman’s] permanent (and sexual) union rather than saying they were incomplete beforehand….If we don’t communicate that celibacy is a plausible way of living, we make it almost inevitable for same-sex attracted Christians  (and those who care for them) to embrace ‘gay marriage’). The good sermon we’ve never heard that promotes lifelong singleness is there in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul is the preacher and he manages to promote with the gifts of marriage and singleness at the same time…(p110)…Singleness is a gift you have, unless it is taken away by the gift of marriage. (p110)

(x) ‘Suffering is to be avoided’.  ..following Jesus is no longer about our sacrifice and suffering. Western Christians have, by and large, stopped denying ourselves—we now talk more about our right to be ourselves. (p118)  We should ask What did Jesus do? not what would Jesus do?  (p119) So what have you denied yourself  to follow Jesus? There must be something. If there’s nothing, then you are not really following the Jesus who speaks to you here. (p119)

Conclusion: instead of keeping very silent on the issue of homosexuality, hoping to avoid all of the controversy that it brings us, we should begin to see both the people who experience it and the controversy it brings as a gift to the church. A divine gift, because it’s just what we needed at this time in our history to help us to see the whole series of tragic missteps we have taken, to the detriment of us all, as well as to the detriment of the world we are trying to reach.

Shaw’s book has helpful appendices:

  1. A useful essay on the plausibility of the traditional interpretation of Scripture’s account of human relationships – effectively a very useful summary of the Scriptural story (pp 136-154…very useful for a study group. 

2.  An essay on the implausibility of the New interpretations of Scripture in regard to human relationships.  Shaw suggests these “interpretations” are based on emotion (p156); polarisation (p157) and doubt rather than rejection of traditional biblical interpretation. (p158) In this section he argues that biblical passages are not interpreted in their full biblical context (p160); they rely on extra-biblical sources e.g. suggesting that Romans 1 is a response to Caligula’s excesses (p 161); they pitch scripture against scripture (p162) ..”repugnant” according to Anglican article 20!

Shaw also includes a very useful collection of recommended readings as well as the readings of his opponents. This is a brave,practical and clear book. Evangelicals ignore it at their peril!  5 stars!

BOOKS READ MAY 2018

William Faulkner: As I Lay Dying, London, Vintage, 1996 (1930)

This is the first time I have read a novel by Faulkner, widely regarded as America’s finest novelist of the C20th in the tradition of Hawthorne, Twain, Melville and Henry James.  He is clearly an acquired taste because initially, for the unprepared reader, his writing is disturbing, often obscure, difficult to follow and with a vocabulary regularly made up and unique to the author. Thankfully a Faulkner “dictionary” is available online. The format of the novel is also unusual with some chapters made up of one simple and obscure sentence.

Set in the deep south of Mississippi around the created town of Jefferson the story line is simple. Stubborn, careful and stoic Farmer Anse Bundren’s wife Addie has died and her dying wish was to be buried in Jefferson, normally a three day wagon journey. Anse is a taciturn, ornery, skinflint, determined  and misogynistic old man who is determined that Addie’s dying wish be fulfilled. He sets out with his five children and his wife in a coffin made by one of his sons Cash.  But the gods are against him.  A wild storm has knocked out the only bridge at a major river crossing and in attempting to ford the swollen river the wagon is destroyed and one of the sons breaks his leg as they lose their mules, retrieve the coffin and their tools. One of his sons loses his mind on the journey and burns down a stranger’s barn.  The result is a ten day gruellingly agonising crawl to Jefferson in which the reader gleans a minute and often obscure insight into the inner elements of the lives of and thoughts of various members of the family, only two of whom are the children of Anse and Addie with the younger three being the secret offspring of Addie and the conflicted parson Whitfield.

A pervading sense of poverty, racial anger, sexual oppression, deceit and the iron will power of the very unlikeable Anse Bundren dominate this novel. Harold Bloom describes As I Lay Dying as Faulkner’s greatest novel. I cannot tell not having read any others.  I will need to recover a while before taking on another Faulkner.  To be fair to Harold Bloom, the only comparable impact of a first reading of a novel I can match to Faulkner is the memory of reading my first novels by Joyce and Lawrence, so perhaps  I will eventually become a Faulkner convert. But it is difficult indeed to find redemption in As I Lay Dying.    A preliminary 3 stars with the recognition that its true greatness may eventually reveal itself to me.

Louisa May Alcott: Little Women, Mineola, New York, Dover Publications,2000 (1868-69). [This  unabridged edition was published as a replica of the original, edited by Susan L Rattier and containing Part 1 Little Women, and Part 11, Good Wives.]

I wanted to read this book as background to reading March, by Geraldine Brooks. I was not particularly looking forward to reading a “girls” book published under the heading of Dover Juvenile Classics!   The truth is I found I could not put this book down and read its 548 pages in two days. Louisa May Alcott was the daughter of well connected American educationalist Bronson Alcott, a transcendentalist and friend of both Emerson and Thoreau. Louisa clearly grew up in a rich literary environment. This book apparently is modelled on Louisa May Alcott’s own childhood experiences.

The story of four girls, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy growing up in straitened circumstances in New England with an absent father away as a chaplain in the American Civil War is written with sensitivity, humour, elegance and insight even if the language and sentiment of some 140 years ago is at times too sententious and saccharine and the mother Marmee too saintly for 2018 readers to stomach.  The adventures of the family of five and their next door neighbour Laurie, also a teenager bring humorous insights and surprising plot lines which preserve the text from mawkish melodrama and although the style has a traditional “feel”, in many ways the novel reads more easily today than say Dickens’ Pickwick Papers from roughly the same period.  There is a direct Christian spirituality throughout the novel but it is not forced or preachy and there are moments of deep sadness in the story line which had a compelling effect on this reader. I cannot recall ever a book producing tears for me as this one did in two places.

What makes this book much more than a child’s story is the extension  into Part 11 ( Good Wives)  in which the young children are found as young adults involved variously in travel in Europe, romance, marriage and in one case facing up to the death of a loved one. In this section Mr March has returned from the war although still playing a completely minor role in the development of the story and about whose character we are, surprisingly perhaps, told virtually nothing. It is a remarkable achievement that Alcott manages to maintain our interest in all four of the girls as individuals as well as Laurie, the boy next door. This novel thoroughly deserves its “classic” status. 5 stars.

Geraldine Brooks: March, Sydney, Fourth Estate, imprint of HarperCollins, 2005.

Australian born Geraldine Brooks lives in the USA with her journalist/historian husband, Tony Horwitz, learned, amongst other things,  in the history of the American Civil War.  Brooks writes both fiction and non-fiction but her  novels are nevertheless meticulously researched with both understanding and passion. I have read People of the Book,  Caleb’s Crossing and The Secret Chord and all bring to the reader a vivid and at times merciless picture of the historical period described and any further research one chooses to explore demonstrates that Brooks has done her work very carefully indeed. An outline of the research for March is found in the Afterword which commences on page 339.

As the reader of Little Women will know, Louisa May Alcott tells us virtually nothing of the life and character of Mr March except that in an unexplained attempt to help a friend he lost the entirety of a considerable fortune, leaving his family in severe poverty. He was of course, the father of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy and wife of Marmee. In Part 1 he is absent  working as a chaplain in the Yankee army and in Part 11, Good Wives,  he is a warm hearted, somewhat reclusive and scholarly retired clergyman who plays only a very minor role in the family’s adventures.   Geraldine Brooks fills in this gap by creating a complex, and thoroughly human, non-conformist pastor whose self-doubt and overwrought conscience almost lead several times to his destruction.

Brooks based her portrait of March on an amalgam of two people. The first of these was Louisa May Alcot’s father,  A. Bronson Alcot,  an educator, idealist, Utopian radical  and philosopher and personal friend of both Thoreau and Emerson. Like March in Brooks’ novel Alcot began his life as a book peddler to the wealthy and fell in love with the leisured life of the mind. [p341] but he later in life became a passionate supporter of the anti-slavery movement. Alcot’s sixty one journals and his letters fill thirty severn manuscript volumes in the Harvard College Library,  [p340].   Secondly March’s character was based on the celebrated New England clergyman and Army Chaplain Arthur Buckminster Fuller. At the same time Brooks reveals to us a very different ‘Marmee” from Louisa May Alcot’s 1868 novel. Marmee’s fierce temper is just hinted at in Alcot’s Littlee Women. In March her temper is revealed in its full force.

March is revealed to us in Brooks’ imagination as an idealistic and well educated but diffident “progressive” Christian man who volunteers to fight in the Civil War without reference to his wife, who is unsuited either spiritually or physically to the rigours of a vicious and murderous conflict, who is vulnerable to beautiful women and who then idealistically seeks to solve the educational challenges of the Southern slaves who had been “freed” to work on the “contraband” cotton farms. These ventures were set up with limited capital after the abolition of slavery by idealistic and/or opportunistic northern speculators who had little idea how to work with slaves at all let alone recently “freed” slaves who were still vulnerable to occasional destructive waves of white supremacists who had yet to be persuaded that the war was lost. Apart from anything else this story removes any faint suggestion that the American Civil War was a fight between the good and right Yankee north and the evil and callous Southern slave owners. Brooks demonstrates that greed and self-serving opportunism were present on both sides and subsequent history has shown us that the “race problem” remains.

Somehow March does survive all this to be reunited with his family and yes Brooks allows us closure in her final sentence. But both Marmee and March have been through so much in the journey that one wonders for the future. 5 stars

Kevin J. Vanhoozer: Biblical Authority After Babel, Grand Rapids, Brazos, 2016

Vanhoozer is research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the USA.  He writes prolifically from a reformed position but with a broad sweep covering theologies, theologians and literature from many fields and approaches. His General Editorship of Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible is an impressive gift to theological scholarship.

Biblical Authority After Babel takes its title obviously from the Genesis 11 story of the Tower of Babel built by “mankind” to reach up to God. God was not pleased with their arrogance and “came down” and confused their languages so that they could not complete the tower.  Vanhoozer is responding particularly to Alister McGrath’s claim in his recent book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea that the Protestant Reformation’s emphasis on the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” led directly to the notion that every Christian has the right and authority in the Spirit to interpret the Bible for themselves. Thus according to one way of reading McGrath, the Reformation set loose interpretive anarchy upon the world,  a “Babel” of scepticism and schism which divides, confuses and continually multiplies into the many thousands of denominations and Protestant ideologies in the world today. At the same time Vanhoozer takes issue with other historians who argue that Protestantism, by its removal of any “magisterial” shared framework for the integration of knowledge, has been responsible for the gradual secularisation of the modern world See Brad Gregory:  The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularised Society.

Vanhoozer states early on that there is no merit in giving pat answers to complex questions, (p9) and this book is certainly no easy read due both to Vanhoozer’s carefully worded and detailed writing but also to the double layered layout of the book. Thus there are two over-arching themes of the book.

The first is Vanhoozer’s attempt to use “retrieval theology” to analyse again the fundamental theology and thinking of the C16th Reformation. “Retrieval theology” is the name for a mode or style of theological discernment that looks back in order to look forward. (p23). What Vanhoozer seeks to “retrieve” are the four classic Reformation “Solas” and explain their true intention and meaning.  Sola is the Latin for “alone” and Vanhoozer deals with Grace alone; Faith alone; Scripture alone; and In Christ alone.  He adds his own fifth sola ..For the Glory of God alone.  Vanhoozer has a final chapter in which he attempts to synchronise Protestantism with Evangelicalism and in a sense to retrieve Evangelicalism, a term which is increasingly confused and under fire.

The above would be meat enough for one book but on top of this significant retrieval  analysis Vanhoozer details and defends his version of the interpretative practice of “mere” Protestant Christians (p62) channelling C S Lewis at this point.  To do this, Vanhoozer  creates a total of twenty theses  throughout the book to delineate this Protestant interpretative practice sometimes using philosophical/theological terms such as material principle, formal principle, the triune economy of light and so on which are not always clearly enunciated.(to me anyway). The result of these two over-arching themes is that the reader is divided between sorting our the “five” solas at the same time as getting a handle on the “twenty” theses of Protestant interpretative practice and it takes care and patience to push through to the finish line.

In spite of these difficulties Biblical Authority after Babel is a far-reaching and worthwhile read and indeed it provides a program for Protestants and evangelicals to understand what they have in common and to direct their energies towards the unities of Protestant belief and practice rather than concentrating on the relatively minor issues that divide some Protestant believers.

In particular Vanhoozer argues strongly for the necessary existence of the church community as also an interpretive community, creating an essential guard against individual flights of fancy and heresy in personal Biblical interpretation. In other words the worshipping community itself is the  “interpreting community” for each individual Christian. The worshipping community including its eldership/leadership becomes the safeguard agains the “interpretive anarchy” so feared by the modern opponents of the Reformation’s impact. 

On the other hand Vanhoozer has stayed away from any actual issues in this lengthy discussion choosing rather to focus on a theoretical way forward. Much as I admire his attempt it seems to me that the book would have been stronger with at least a chapter on the hard issues. Aside from one indeterminate footnote he has avoided the same-sex attraction issue which, at least in the Anglican Church , has already caused substantial division and heart ache and won’t be going away any time soon. Equally the coherent and jaunty writing and podcasting output of Rob Bell’s influential body of work has a vast world wide following. Bell can still, I believe,  be considered “evangelical” while calling for a radically different approach to many conservative doctrines and earning the ire of hardliners like John Piper. Vanhoozer’s “model” may find a way to deal with issues like these two but it would have been useful to have a chapter with attempts at a practical way forward.

Vanhoozer’s very impressive reading guide alone is one major value of the book. There is enough food for thought here for a solid one year course in Biblical and Theological hermeneutics. An impressive and thoughtful book but only for those who are committed to theological analysis and prepared to stay the distance.   4 stars.