Civilizing Society and Humanity with Cicero


Marcus Tullius Cicero  [also known as Tully], On the Good Life, translation and notes by Michael Grant; Preface by A C Grayling, London, The Folio Society, 2003.

Cicero (106-43 BC) was a Roman orator, statesman and man of letters. He studied law, oratory, philosophy, and literature and his political career reached its height when he became Consul (one of two military and civil leaders of the Republic) in 63 BC. Thereafter his political fortunes declined in spite of his great favour with the people, because of his opposition to the dictatorship of Sulla, both Caesars and Pompey’s faction as well as the two triumvirates. After several speeches in the Senate in which he criticized Mark Antony (the “Philippics”) he was murdered by Antony’s soldiers as he tried to escape after the formation of the second triumvirate of Mark Antony, Lepidus and Octavian

Most of Cicero’s writing was completed while in exile in one of his seven country villas, perhaps at Latium. Prolific translator and author, the late Michael Grant (Cambridge don and author of over 50 books on the Greeks, Romans and early Christianity) praises Cicero’s fame in this way: “The influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language.”  (Cicero: Selected Works, London, Penguin,1960, p24). Grant proceeds to list the following writers as deeply influenced by Cicero: They include Quintilian, Juvenal, Lactantius (‘the Christian Cicero’), Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine (who wrote that Cicero’s Hortensius..”quite altered my affections, turned my prayers to thyself, O Lord”),  Guido of Pisa, Thomas Aquinas (who quoted Cicero more frequently than any other Latin writer), Boethius, Dante (who compares Cicero to Orpheus, and declares that the chief philosophical influence operating upon his own thought had been the essay “On Friendship”..) , Chaucer, Petrarch…(“led by Petrarch,then, the Renaissance became, above all else, a revival of Cicero, and only after him and through him of the rest of classical antiquity), Leonardo Bruni, Poggio Bracciolini, Guarino, Vittorino Da Feltre, William Grey, John Frey of Balliol, Robert Flemmyng, John Tiptoft, Thomas Chandler, Erasmus, Luther, Melanchthon, Elizabeth 1, Roger Ascham, Richard Hooker, Montaigne, Milton, Edward Herbert, Locke, Basset, Montesquieu, Hume, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Voltaire, Samuel Johnson,William Robertson, Edward Gibbon, Burke, Chatham, Sheridan, Fox, Pitt, Kant, Schiller, Herbart, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Camille Desmoulins, Mirabeau, Girondin Louvet, Robespierre, Macaulay, Trevelyan, Gladstone, Lincoln, Newman … Yet the nineteenth century witnessed an eclipse of Cicero’s reputation especially as regards his philosophical writings. His lack of ‘originality”’was now for the first time held against him, with the results that his true merits were neglected. Furthermore the originals had been Greek, and this was such a philhellenic age that a Latin interpreter and adapter of the Greeks stood no chance….(Grant, Introduction, p.xl).

“Society has subsequently shown that it has not learnt Cicero’s principal messages. In England, particularly, the neglect of his treatises has continued.  Perhaps they are too relevant: they strike near the bone, since few people have the time or inclination to reflect about the practical principles that ought to be governing their lives.”  (Ibiid, p. xl). Interestingly Petrarch quoted Cicero so much because he thought that Cicero was the greatest illustration of the ideal aim of “glorious scholarly solitude. In Petrarch’s On the Solitary Life, he quoted Cicero …to show that highest aim of leisure was to be busy. (Grant:Introduction, p.xxxv). Petrarch was later shocked to learn that, apart from enforced exiles, most of Cicero’s works were written in the midst of a fiercely busy political life.

The Folio edition contains the following works by Cicero all in the form of imagined conversations between Roman scholars, lawyers, oraters and political figures from previous ages.


Discussions at Tusculum: Book V.

On Duties: Book 11: Service.

Cato the Elder: On Old Age.

Laelius: On Friendship.

On the Orator: Book 1: Speech and SocietOn the State: Book 111: The Ideal Form of Government and a fragment of Book V1: The Dream of Scipio.

The following quotations come from the above works in Grant’s translation.

From Discussions at Tusculum (V): On the Good Life:  Grant notes: If we can overcome a modern distaste for being edified, it is one of the most entertaining, in addition to being highly characteristic of its author.

p8 …it would be over-optimistic to suppose that philosophy get the praise its service to mankind deserves. On the contrary, most people pay no attention to it at all; and some actually subject it to abuse. ..the reason, I suppose, why uneducated people have fallen into this darkest of errors is because they are incapable of looking far enough back into the past; this is what makes them fail to realise that the people who first created civilisation were the philosophers. This section continues with a brief “history” of philosophy to Cicero’s day including the ancient “gods”, Ulysses, Nestor,  Lycurgus, Homer, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Heraclides, Anaxagoras, Archelaus, Carneades, Zeno, Peripatetics, Cato, Aristotle, Theophrastus (pupil of Aristotle), Brutus, Aristus, Antiochus, Epicurus,Speusippus, Xenocrates, Polemo, Stoics [pp8-23]

p21 Philosophers should be judged by their consistency and coherence, not individual statements, however clear.

p24 …the law of nature, which has given to each kind its special distinguishing feature to retain permanently as its own peculiar possession..Man, however, has been endowed with something more outstanding. Yet it would be better, perhaps, to reserve the term ‘outstanding’ for things which admit of some comparison: whereas the human soul admits of none, since, being derived from the divine mind [the Stoic view], it can only be compared —if such suggestion is permissible —with God himself.

p24 Once, therefore, this human soul has received the appropriate training, once its vision has been seen to—so as to make sure it is blinded by no errors—the result will be perfect mind, flawless reason: which is the same thing as moral goodness…if those are also precisely the characteristics of moral goodness, then all good men are happy. [so also Aristotle, Xenocrates, Speusippus and Polemo]

But hereafter I part from them, because I next have to assert that good men are not only happy, but supremely happy.

p25 For the happy man, as I see him, has to be safe, secure, unconquerable, impregnable, a man whose fears are not just insignificant but non-existent.

p28 [According to Socrates]…a man’s soul indicates the man; the man indicates his speech; his speech indicates his actions; his actions indicate his life. Since, then, the disposition of a man’s good soul is laudable, the same applies to his life. His life therefore is morally good. And so, once again, we come to the conclusion that the good people are happy.

p29 …the wise man is free from all those disturbances of the soul which I describe as passions; his  heart is full of tranquil calm for ever. And anyone who is self-controlled, unwavering, fearless, undistressed, the victim of no cravings or desires, must inevitably be happy…..If therefore, happiness and moral goodness are not identical, it would be necessary ago suppose that there is something morally better than the happy life—which would be an utterly nonsensical conclusion.

p36 For since the best part of a man is his mind, that, surely, must be where the ‘best’ , the supreme good you are looking for, is located.

p37 ..And then again he must have a passionate enthusiasm for trying to discover the truth. And this leads to that famous threefold division of intellectual study. [Stoicism..physics, ethics and dialectics]

p38  ..To men immersed day and night in these meditations comes the understanding of the truth pronounced by the god at Delphi, that the mind should know itself; and there comes also the perception of its union with the divine mind, the source of its inexhaustible joy. 

p41 ..the most formidable obstacle to adopting a moral standard seems to be pain. When its fiery torches intimidate us they threaten the complete destruction of all the courage, character, and endurance that we can muster. So does this mean that moral goodness is forced to succumb to pain? When pain comes, does the wise and steadfast man ’s happiness just have to bow down before it? God, what a shameful suggestion! 

p43  ..Happiness, I say again, will not tremble, however much it is tortured. Clinging steadfastly to its integrity, its self-control and above all its courage, with all the strength of character and endurance that the word implies, happiness will not flinch even when the countenance of the executioner himself is revealed..

..[a truly wise man]…will never do anything he might regret—or anything he does not want to do. Every action he performs will always be dignified, consistent, serious, upright. He will not succumb to the belief that this or that future event is predestined to happen.  [against determinism].

p45…[about the ultimate good]..there are four simple points of view:

…the Stoic contention that nothing is good except what is morally right

…the attitude of Epicurus that nothing is good except pleasure

…the idea of Hieronymus that the only thing which is good is the absence of pain

…the opinion of Carneades against the Stoics that nothing can be good except the enjoyment of “the first fruits of nature” (one’s bodily and mental gifts)

p50 …Epicurus and the others belittle expensive and sumptuous banquets, on the grounds that nature’s needs are modest…[contrast the modern definition of an “epicure’.]

p51…the true satisfaction to be derived from food comes not from repletion but from appetite—the people who run after pleasure are the least likely to catch what they are after.

p52…we ought to ask ourselves whether the popular affection and glory we so greatly long to win are not more of a burden than a pleasure….For it is imperative to understand that popular glory isn not worth coveting for its own sake; and there is nothing very frightening about obscurity.’I came to Athens,’ said Democritus, ‘and no one there took any notice of me.’

p53  The truly wise thing is to despise all our trivial ambitions, all our honours bestowed by the crowd…to have no job, to devote one’s time to literature, is the most wonderful thing in the world. And by literature, I mean the works which give us an opportunity to understand the universe and nature in all its infinity, and the world in which we ourselves live, its sky, land and sea.

p55…the wise man …never has any lack of pleasures..

From On Duties (1): Service.

p70  …[moral goodness] …may be held to fall into three subdivisions…

– the ability to distinguish truth from falsity…

– the ability to restrain the passions [παθη] and to make the appetites [ὁρμαι] amenable to reason…

– the capacity to behave considerately and understandingly in our associations with other people.

p73 is better to win affection than fear..

p76…how can we win affection—based on loyalty and honour….the truest, loftiest sort of reputation can be obtained by inspiring three feelings in the public: (i)good will, (ii) confidence, (iii) respect…

p77  …there are two requirements for winning confidence…A man must be considered intelligent; and he must be regarded as just.

p77..To sum up, then, a combination of justice and intelligence is best of all —and capable of winning all the confidence that could be desired.

p79 No one at all, whatever his way and manner of life, can in my opinion dispense with the help of his fellow men.

p87…whereas one’s purse must not be tightly closed against every generous inclination, it must also not be opened so wide that its contents are available to everybody and anybody.

p98… Themistocles: “personally, I like a man without money better than money with a man.”

From On Duties (111): A Practical Code of Behaviour 

p108  …one must not only choose the least among evils, one must also extract from them any good that they may contain.

….To everyone who proposes to have a good career, moral philosophy is indispensable.

p109:  Panaetius on moral obligations:

Is a thing morally right or wrong?

– Is it advantageous or disadvantageous?

– If apparent right and apparent advantage clash, what is the basis for our choice between them?

p111: Nobody who falls short  of this perfect wisdom  can possibly claim perfect goodness….

p115 the finest and noblest characters prefer a life of dedication to a life of self-indulgence.

p119  ..if we have learnt any philosophy at all, this at lease we ought to appreciate: all the secrets we may be able to keep from any and every god and human being do not in the least absolve us from the obligation to refrain from whatever actions are greedy, unjust, sensual or otherwise immoderate.

p132 what forbids [shonky business deals] is the moral law which nature itself has ordained …there is a bond of community that links every man in the world with every other..

p133 ..In this section Cicero tolerates slavey provided slaves are dealt with fairly and humanely.

p134  Nature is the source of law.

p135 …what must be thought of the man who not only fails to avert wrong but actually promotes its commitment?

p138  Will a good man lie for his own profit, will he slander, will he grab, will he deceive? He will do nothing of the kind.

p145  The four cardinal virtues: (adapted from the Stoics)…wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance.

From Cato the Elder: On Old Age

p157 A person who lacks the means within himself, to live a good and happy life will find any period of his existence wearisome.

Everyone hopes to attain an advanced age; yet when it comes they all complain!

p158  If a man controls himself and avoids bad temper and churlishness, then he can endure being old. But if he is irritable and churlish, then any period of his life will seem to him tiresome.

Old age has its own appropriate weapons; namely the study, and the practice, of decent, enlightened living.

p166 True, not everyone can be a Scipio or a Maximus and remember the cities he has captured,  the battles he has fought on land and sea, the triumphs he has won. But there is another sort of old age too: the tranquil and serene evening of a life spent in peaceful, blameless and enlightened pursuits.

p167 Great deeds are not done by strength or speed or physique: they are the products of thought, and character, and judgment. And far from diminishing, such qualities actually increase with age.

p169 An old man is well advised to favour the society of promising young people. If the young cultivate and like him, he will find age more tolerable — and youths welcome an old man’s advice, which helps them to work at living good lives.

p170 Some people never stop learning, however old they are. You can see Solon, for example, boasting in his poems that while he grows old he continues to learn something new every day.

p173  Age has to be fought against; its faults need vigilant resistance. We must combat them as we should fight disease—following a fixed regime, taking exercise in moderation, and enough food and drink to strengthen yet not enough to overburden. However the mind and spirit need even more attention than the body, for old age easily extinguishes them.

p174  Age will only be respected if it fights for itself, maintains its own rights, avoid dependence, and asserts control over its own sphere as long as life lasts.

p.180 …surely the satisfactions of the mind are greater than all the rest!

p185  …old age must have its foundations well laid in early life

p186…old people are complained about as morose, and petulant, and ill-tempered, and hard to please; and on enquiry some of them prove to be avaricious as well. But these are faults of character, not of age.

p186 I cannot see the point of old men being miserly. Is it not the height of absurdity for a traveller to think he needs more funds for his journey when it is nearly over?

p 186 When a man is old, there can obviously be no doubt that death is near.  Yet if, during his long life, he has failed to grasp that death is of no account  he is unfortunate indeed. There are two alternatives: either death completely destroys human souls, in which case it is negligible; or it removes the soul to some place of eternal life—in which case its coming is greatly to be desired.

p187 [An old man] is better of than his juniors, since what they are hoping for he has actually achieved; they want long lives, and he has had one.

p188  …the later seasons are those that reap the harvests and gather them in. And the particular harvest of old age, I repeat, is its abundant recollection of blessings acquired in earlier years.

p189 Pythagoras forbids us to desert life’s sentry-post till God, our commander, has given the word.

From Laelius: On Friendship

Cicero’s discussion here is limited to male friendships especially how to maintain the friendship in the face of political disagreement. He was not a homosexual but his two marriages were failures. We lack Cicero’s view on the ideal marriage!

p206 Friendship is only possible between good men..

p207 …so let us take some individual whose life and behaviour have displayed proven loyalty, honesty, fairness and generosity — a man of unflinching integrity….whose character does not contain  a trace of covetousness or violence or unscrupulousness. For such are the men who are generally described as ‘good’.

p208  Friendship may be defined as a complete identity of feeling about all things in heaven and on earth: an identity which is strengthened by good will and affection. With the single exception of wisdom, I am inclined to regard it as the greatest of all gifts the gods have bestowed upon mankind. Some people, I know, give preference to riches, or good health, or power, or public honours. And many rank sensuous pleasures highest of all. But feelings of that kind are something which any animal can experience; and the other items in that list, too, are thoroughly transient and uncertain….Another school of thought believes that the supreme blessing is moral goodness; and this is the right view. Moreover, this is the quality to which friendship owes its entire origin and character. Without goodness, it cannot even exist.

p209  Even when a friend is absent, he is present all the same. However poor he is, he is rich. however weak, he is strong….Even when he is dead, he is still alive. He is alive because his friends still cherish him, and remember him, and long for him. This means there is happiness even in his death —he ennobles the existences of those who are left behind.

p209f  Take away the bond of kindly feeling from the world, and no house or city can stand…When there is internal hatred and division, no home or country in the world is strong enough to avoid destruction.

p211  For good will is established by love, quite independently of any calculation of profit; and it is from love, amor,  that the word for friendship, amicitia, is derived.

p212f Another source of friendly feeling is to see a lot of someone in one’s daily life.

p214f [Scipio] maintained that it was the most difficult thing in the world for a friendship to last until the very end of life. Either it ceases to be mutually advantageous, or people’s political views change and affect their relations with one another. And another thing that changes, he added, is a person’s character; it gets altered, by the blows of misfortune or the increasing burdens of age….Among the majority of the population ..friendship’s worst destroyer is greed for money. But in men the top competitive ambition for jobs and distinctions is what causes the deadliest enmities…

p214 [Scipio also said that] friendships are violated, and often quite rightly, broken when one party has asked the other to do something that is wrong…

p220 Cicero opposed the Epicurean view that friendships should be cultivated not for the sake of kindly and affectionate feeling at all, but solely for the purposes of mutual utility. [By this philosophy they are] depriving life of friendship, which is the noblest and most delightful of all the gifts the gods have given mankind.

p221 …to remove friendship from our lives, just because it might bring us worries, would be the biggest possible mistake. For if we eliminate all human emotions, there is no difference left…between man and tree-trunks, or stones, or any other inanimate object you like to mention.

p222…the greatest of all possible incentives to friendshipis congeniality of temperament. This means that a good man is attracted by other good men.

p223  Cicero writes against self-indulgence….there is not a man upon the whole earth who would want to live surrounded by unlimited wealth and affluence if the price he had to pay was to renounce both loving and being loved. That is how a tyrant lives —without mutual trust, without affection, without any assurance of enduring good will. In such a life suspicion and anxiety reign everywhere, and friendship has no place. For no one can love the person he fears —or the person he believes himself to be feared by…..You can see how military command and power and success transform people who had been decent enough before, and cause them to discard their old friendships in favour of new ones.

p224f We do a great many things for our friends that we should never dream of doing for ourselves… Friendship, to me, is something altogether richer and more abundant; it is not going to keep a close watch on whether it pays out more than it receives…

p228  ..A true friend will not enjoy criticising you; and, what is more, when other people criticise you, he will refuse to listen.

p228 …a friend should be pleasant in conversation and manner, since these are things which add spice to any relationship.To be solemn and austere on all occasions may be impressive, but friendship ought to be something freer and more relaxed, and more agreeable..

p229  There is truth in the saying that men must eat many a peck of salt together before they can know what friendship really means…

p233 …do not be too quick to form an attachment…

p236 …If you are lonely, every pleasure loses its savour..

p237-8 …Terence said in his Woman of Andros: “flattery gets us friends, but truth earns ill will.”…[but]  most culpable of all is the friend who spurns the truth and allows flattery to seduce him into doing wrong..a man whose ears are so completely closed to the truth  that he cannot hear it from a friend is a hopeless case..

p240 … a lot of people are less concerned to be virtuous that to look it..

p242  …without affection and kindly feeling life can hold no joys…

p243 …next to goodness itself, I entreat you to regard friendship as the finest thing in all the world.

From On the Orator (1): Speech and Society

p255f …first, one has to acquire knowledge about a formidable quantity of different matters. To hold forth without this information will just mean a silly flow of windy verbiage….it is also essential to have an intimate understanding of every emotion which nature has given to mankind..other requirements include a certain sparkle and wit, and the culture appropriate to an educated man, and a terse promptitude both in repartee and attack. A civilised lightness of touch is also desirable. As regards delivery…the principal relevant factors included physical deportment, gesture of the arms, facial expression, voice production, and the avoidance of monotony.

p257 …whatever subject he is called upon to deal with, both the form and substance of his performance will attain an impressive high quality.

p265  …an extensive experience in public affairs, and a mastery of our ordinances and customs and law, and a mastery of human nature and character.

p266  …the distinction, evidently, is a stylistic one; the particular circumstance of a good speaker is a harmonious, attractive manner, marked by a certain artistry and polish.

p267….it is widely appreciated that an orator’s special strength lies in his capacity to rouse men’s hearts to anger, hatred and indignation, or to soothe these violent emotions and transform them into gentleness and compassion……all this learning continues to be of no value whatever until he, the orator, has put it into words.

p268  …an orator will have occasion to make some general reflection about the immortal gods, piety, concord, friendship; about the rights shared in common among citizens  or all human beings or nations; about equity, moderation, generosity or other virtues.

p271 …philosophy…has three branches, relating to the mysteries of nature, the subtleties of logic, and the life and behaviour of human beings. ..the third has always been the orator’s special sphere.

p272…no one should be counted as an orator unless he has a thorough acquaintance with the subjects an educated man ought to know. It is not so much that one actually needs to draw upon these themes while one is making his speech. The trouble is that if we are ignorant of such topics it very soon becomes painfully evident!

p283 In the invented dialogue one of the questioners asks the orator Crassus whether there is indeed such a thing as the art of speaking.

p284f…  Crassus’ reply is cryptic: ….any sort of talking, except when absolutely necessary, is a silly activity; talking about talking must surely be the most imbecile procedure in the world….then more seriously..what a good speaker needs most of all is natural ability….certain active intellectual gifts and talents are absolutely essential: swiftness of invention, fluency of exposition and elaboration, and a strong and retentive memory.  People who think these are assets that can be picked up by theoretical study are quite mistaken…they all have to be implanted by nature…other characteristics which are quite obviously inborn, such as a ready tongue, a loud voice, powerful lungs, physical strength, and the shape and build of a man’s face and body.

p285…the speaker …worth hearing on some issue of major accepting a truly enormous burden and responsibility. 

p288…in an orator…we demand the acuteness of a logician, the profundity of a philosopher, diction virtually of a poet, the memory of a lawyer, the voice of a performer in tragic drama…of an actor at the top of his profession.

p289 …who on earth is every going to attain the sublime total perfection you are insisting upon?

p290…the essence of art is taste…

p294f….the most important education of all is something which, to tell the truth, we go in for much too rarely; because it requires a great deal of labour, which most of us shirk. What I mean is writing. Far and away the best creator and professor of eloquence is the pen…..however strenuously  one may have practised extempore speech-making, the only way to achieve this acclamation is by writing and by continuing to write.

p296  …to return to the question of training, a speaker also ought to read the poets and the historians. Indeed he must peruse and scrutinise the writers and experts on every liberal art….and finally he must be able to sprinkle a little salt on his speech, in the form of a civilised, wel-varied supply of humorous and entertaining touches.

pp298-311 list some of the complex legal issues and disputations of Roman law and public disputation.

p312 The great Socrates, we are told, used t describe his work as completed as soon as his exhortations had stimulated someone to tackle the study of ethics; once people had become convinced that they really wanted to lead good lives, and wanted this more than they wanted anything else, everything else that had to be learned was easy.

p318  …as for ourselves  who have to go down into the Forum and deal with the people of Rome, let us learn, and teach others, just as much about human nature as a human being can reasonably master; and we shall be entitled to feel content.

p319 ….[the orator] does not need all the definitions of the philosophers at all. it is not for him to worry whether the supreme good lies in the soul or the body or whether it consists of moral right or pleasure, or whether there is some way of uniting and blending morality and pleasure, or even whether, as some have maintained, nothing at all can be known or understood or apprehended with any certainty….his philosophical books, on the other hand, he should keep for a leisurely holiday at a Tuscan villa….if he ever has to talk about justice and loyalty, for example, he would be well advised not to let the idea of borrowing from Plato enter his head. For when Plato had to write down his views on such matters, the republic he depicted was an unfamilar bookish affair in which the concept of justice, as he interpreted it, was totally divorced from the actual everyday lives and customs of human societies.

p322…Socrates valued courage ahead of oratory. Evaluating an elegant speech by the eloquent Lysias he commented: …this speech of yours; it seems to me eloquent oratory, but deficient in the courage a man ought to show.

pp323-332 provide further argument about how deep a knowledge of the law is required for an effective orator.

p333 …the solitude you find so alarming seems to me  a haven to look forward to. For in my opinion the most splendid asset of old age is spare time!

From On The State (111) :

p341  …to establish a state that is going to be durable demands the greatest intelligence that nature can provide….we are looking for justice, which is more valuable than all the gold in the world.

pp342 -344 demonstrate that different nations and societies have very different views about justice e.g. examples of human sacrifice, banditry, against manual labour etc.

p345 Cicero argues against government by the people…if the people gain the supremacy, and the whole government is conducted according to their wishes, a state of affairs has arisen which is hailed as liberty, but is, in fact, chaos. Cicero moves on to defend the oligarchy of the Roman Senate …rule by titled and elected leaders; he lost his life opposing the dictatorships of the Caesars and the triumverates.

p345f Cicero criticizes the false wisdom that we should rule over as many subjects as possible, indulge in pleasures, hold on to power, be rulers and masters. But justice, on the other hand, demands that we should be merciful to all men, act in the interests of the whole human race, give everyone what they are entitled to, and never tamper with religious property, or what belongs to the community or to private persons.

p348 True law is in keeping with the dictates of both reason and of nature. It applies universally to everyone. It is unchanging and eternal. Its commands are summons to duty, and its prohibitions declare that nothing wrongful must be done….the maker, and umpire, and proposer of this law will be God, the single master and ruler of us all. If a man fails to obey God, then he will be in flight from his own self.for a state ought to be so firmly established that it will last for ever.

p350 for the word…that defines a state is res public, the property of the people.

p352  …an aristocratic, oligarchic government is better than a monarchy…

From The Dream of Scipio:

This famous passage is a fragment from Book V1 of On The State, now largely lost. In a vision of some sort of “astral theology” [Michael Grant: Introduction] the younger Africanus Scipio has a vision of the heavenly habitation and the nature and structure of the universe with a  particular emphasis on the sun and the music of the spheres, influencing many European writers including Milton and Thomas Browne.

p359 Africanus’ dream places particular emphasis on defending one’s homeland since every man who has preserved or helped his country, or has made its greatness even greater, is reserved a special place in heaven.

p359 Africanus is more concerned about seeing his father Paullus again and is deeply moved in the dream to speak with him.

p360  …it is destined that you, Publius, and all other righteous men, shall suffer your souls to stay in the custody of the body. You must not abandon human life except at the command of him who gave it to you. For otherwise you would have failed in the duty which you, like the rest of humanity, have to fulfil.  [Michael Grant notes that Plato had compared men who commit suicide to soldiers who desert their posts. Cicero, on the other hand, supports suicide/euthanasia under some circumstances….suppose [illnesses] are greatly prolonged, and inflict agonies more severe than he can be expected to endure. In that case, why, for God’s sake , should we continue to suffer? After all, there is a haven close at hand. I refer to the eternal refuge of death — where nothing is felt any longer. [Discussions at Tusculum, p59]

p362 fThe emphasis in the dream is on the vastness of the heavenly empyrean and how insignificant everything earthly becomes….can you not understand that the earth is totally insignificant? Contemplate these heavenly regions instead. Scorn what is mortal! ….and I must disabuse you of any idea that your own fame, or the fame of any of us, could ever be great enough to extend beyond these known and settled lands….you will have to conclude that the area over which your glory is so eager to extend itself is really of the most trifling dimensions.

p365: This glorious musical universe is promised after death to those who …let virtue herself, by her own unaided allurements, summon you to a glory  that is genuine and real. Feel no concern about what other people may say about you….no utterance of man about his fellow man has ever been lasting. When a person dies his words die with him….strive on! it is only your body that is mortal. your true self is nothing of the kind. ,,,your real self is not that corporeal, palpable shape, but the spirit inside. Understand that you are God. You have a god’s capacity of aliveness and sensation and memory and foresight; a god’s power to rule and govern and direct the body that is your servant, in the same way as God himself, who reigns over us, directs the entire universe. And this rule exercised by eternal God is mirrored in the dominance of your frail body by your immortal soul.

p366 The beginning of all movement, then, comes from that which has set itself in motion: which can neither be born nor die….Since, therefore, it is plain that the self-moving principle is eternal, the same must evidently apply to the human soul….Use this eternal force, therefore, for the most splendid deeds it is in you to achieve. And the very best deeds are those which serve your country.

p368 When, on the other hand, a man has failed to do this, and has abandoned himself instead to bodily indulgence and become its slave, letting the passions which serve pleasure impel him to flout the laws both of gods and men, his soul, after departing from his body, hovers about close to the earth. Nor does it return to this place until many ages of torment have been undergone…..

Books read October 2017


Jim Reiher:Women, Leadership and the Church, Brunswick East, Acorn Press, 2006

Jim Reiher lectured at Tabor College in Victoria for many years in New Testament and Church History and has also dabbled in Greens politics and continues to write on-line across a variety of areas.  This book was written at the height of the Women’s ordination debate in Australia and is an unashamed defence of the Biblical equality position against both complementarianism as well as those who would not accept any female leadership of men in churches.

This book is clear, well researched and I think does fairly represent opposing positions although  since I agree with Reiher’s position I am probably not in a good position to judge this. His main opponents are Wayne Grudem, Douglas Moo, David Pawson, John Piper and Thomas Schreiner…quite a formidable team!

A useful strength of this book is that in sections of the Biblical text where there is an extended series of difficult verses (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:2-17 and 1 Timothy 2:8-13) Reiher provides his own paraphrase which sums up the analysis of each difficult concept in the text and enables us to read the whole argument for meaning and logic. In both of these cases I think it can be legitimately said that the precise meaning of some of the New Testament phrases is at least contestable not to say in places perhaps beyond certain knowledge today without further background unavailable to us.

The book also contains a useful “whereto from here” chapter, clear references and footnotes and an extensive further reading guide.   4 stars.

Marcus L Loane: Hewn From the Rock:Origins and Traditions of the Church in Sydney. (The Moorhouse Lectures 1976,  Sydney, Anglican Information Office, 2000 (1976)

Marcus Loane was a much-loved and effective Anglican Archbishop of Sydney and a most able historian especially in the area of the Reformation and the history of Protestantism and Anglican evangelicalism.  This book is a relatively short account of the origins of the Anglican Church in Australia and the Pacific. The  focus is on New South Wales but it contains useful and interesting digressions regarding the formation of Christian mission in Melbourne under Bishop Charles Perry as well as foundational Christian missions in New Zealand and Tahiti.

The text contains a record of clergy in Victoria and New South Wales up to the early 1880s and much of historical interest in the development of the earliest settlement in Sydney and surrounding areas.  Marcus Loane has a particular skill in identifying the unique gifts and personality traits of individuals and his pen pictures in this book are no exception. The lives of Richard Johnson and Samuel Marsden, the first two chaplains in Botany Bay are analysed in some detail particularly in relation to their formative influences from Britain during the era of the Clapham group…Venn, Wilberforce, the Earl of Shaftesbury et al. The text highlights the extraordinary challenges facing the early proclamation of Christianity in a relatively lawless society made up of both good and bad leadership from England, soldiery (often intoxicated), convicts, struggling settlers, bushrangers, aboriginal wars and extremely limited communication with the outside world. The hardships faced by Johnson in particular make for tortuous reading.

Marcus Loane also traces the appointment and ministry of William Broughton, the colony’s first Bishop and Archbishop and his early successors Frederick Barker, Alfred Barry, William Saumarez Smith, John Charles Wright and Howard Mowll. Marcus Loane charts fairly the tensions between evangelical and Tractarian leaders and also highlights key faithful clergy and their wives whose names and stories deserve a wider audience. These are folk who, against every hardship, travelled vast distances in primitive conditions with little back up to spread the Gospel in a harsh and at times unresponsive and dangerous environment. Many gave their lives literally to establish the Anglican church in New South Wales. References to the establishment of Moore College, the Sydney Anglican Cathedral, the Grammar schools and some early and still existing Anglican churches also make interesting reading. Australia has from the start been a hard-bitten, secular and independent society with a built in distrust of privilege, cant and imposed traditions. The Christian Gospel has needed courageous, determined, spiritual and far-sighted communicators and making headway has never been easy,  It is much the same today in 2017 and this book is a reminder of how brief our cultural history has been. This is a clearly written and sobering read which also inspires.   4 stars.

David Malouf: Ransom, North Sydney, Vintage Books, 2009.

Australian David Malouf writes in a deceptively simple manner, beguiling the reader into gliding through the novel whilst at the same time gently implanting statements and ideas that stay fixed in your mind revolving around, and somehow forcing you to think very deeply about,  your own emotional and thinking life.

This story is an imaginative recreation of the final book 24 of Homer’s c700 BC epic, The Iliad.  The epic recounts the Achean hero Achilles’ exploits in the legendary Trojan War between the Greeks (Acheans) and the city of Troy which culminates in Achilles’ victory in single combat over the Trojan hero Hector, son of the ageing King Priam of Troy.  In his anger and remorse at Hector’s previous killing of his friend Patroclus Achilles had insulted the Trojans by dragging the dead body of Hector through the dust around the city wall behind his chariot and leaving it to rot unburied for eleven days. Book 24 describes Priam’s courageous decision to take an unarmed journey with a rich ransom  to Achilles’ tent  to negotiate the return of the body of his son Hector and enough truce time to enable an honourable burial for Hector.

Malouf creates an imaginary story within Homer’s story by taking one phrase from Book 24 about the cart driver (“driven by the wise Idaeus) into a moving conversation between two old men as they make the perilous journey to Achilles. This journey, protected by the god Hermes is, in Malouf’s hands,  an almost dreamlike reflection on father/child relationships, regret for past actions, and the joy and futility of life. So in answer to his counsellor Polydamas who tries to dissuade Priam from making such a foolhardy journey Malouf has Priam say: It is true that the gods made me a king, but they also made me a man, and mortal. Gave me life and all that comes with it. All that is sweet. All that is terrible too, since only what we know we must lose is truly sweet to us. The gods themselves, being eternal,  know nothing of this, and in this respect, perhaps, may envy us.  [a curious re-run of Jung’s notion in Answer to Job that God, after hearing the quality of Job’s argument about suffering, desires to become a man himself! ] With such thought provoking writing Malouf transports us into another world of our own reflection about how and why we live.  5 stars.

Helmut Thielicke: How Modern Should Theology Be?  translated by H George Anderson, London, Collins/Fontana,1970 [1967 German]

I read this little book of four sermons many years ago early in my theological studies and found it particularly clear and helpful.  Reading it again in 2017 it is still clear and helpful. Thielicke is best known for his three volumes of Ethics and his sensational collections of sermons from his many years of Sunday afternoon preaching to thousands at St Michael’s Church in Hamburg. Thielicke strikes a wonderful balance between academic theology and a simplistic reading of Scripture and throws a real challenge to thinking seekers. He faces full frontally the secularity of the likes of Albert Camus and European lostness following the Second World War including Lessing’s cry that his heart was Christian but his head was heathen. Thielicke’s famous line that the gospel must constantly be forwarded to a new address has been used over and over but remains central to apologetics in our own day. Each sermon is based on two Gospel passages, one a straight reading and the other an effective and telling paraphrase. Chapter 4 on “the end of all things” is a prescient challenge and warning to Christians in the West of the persecution that will shortly come… a persecution that is now being experienced on a regular basis in 2017. On my first visit to Hamburg during a sister school interaction the Principal of the German school, knowing my interest in Thielicke took be by surprise to his grave in a beautifully kept German flowering garden cemetery. It meant a great deal to me and I often think of this man’s courage and faithfulness and his refusal to give way to any form of shoddy thinking or argument.  This is a book which can be read in ninety minutes but will repay the reader many useful hours of thinking and praying and recommitment to clear Biblical exegesis based on both prayer and scholarship. 5 stars.

Wislawa Szymborska: Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: Seventy Poems by Wislawa Szymborska,  [Translation and Introduction by Magnus J. Krynski & Robert A Maguire], Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1981.

Reading poetry in translation is always a difficult thing. This Lockert Library edition comes with the Polish on one side and English on the other and with some very helpful notes about the meaning of particular Polish words, rhyming issues and literary references. Nevertheless reading her work, like all good poetry, requires close attention. Szymborska lived through the Nazi  terror as well as the long winter of Soviet domination in Poland and in particular, for many years, was restricted to the official Stalinist line of anti-Western socialist propaganda speech.  None of these poems are represented in this collection which contains poems written after 1957.

Several of Szymborska’s poems are preoccupied with the natural world and its amazing animal inventiveness culminating in the rather more doubtful and problematic  contribution of homo sapiens at the end of a long chain of existence with a nod to Kant ..the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me …and Pascal …Man is but a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed.. [from The skeleton of a Dinosaur, p131] This evolutionary poem finishes with: What a responsibility in place of a tail… In another evolutionary tale she compares the loss of claws and flippers to the extent that ..I myself am amazed at myself, how little of me remains…and closes with individual human being, for the moment of human kind,

who yesterday merely lost an umbrella in a streetcar..!

The most memorable poem for me is A Million Laughs, A Bright Hope, another poem on the evolutionary theme which begins this way:

So he wants happiness,

so he wants truth, 

so he wants eternity,

just where does he get off!

and climaxes with…

Because it seems he does exist,

and really came to be

under one of the provincial stars.

In his own way, he’s vital, quite dynamic.

Considering he’s a crystal’s sorry spawn—

he’s rather solemnly astonished.

Considering his childhood in the herd,

he’s now fairly well differentiated.

Just where does he get off!

Other wonderful poems include reflections on topics as varied as womanhood  (Born of Woman), terrorism (The Terrorist, He Watches ), travel, art, love, death, history and myth.

Reading poetry changes us and the world cannot do without poets. Here is a voice not heard very often until the publication of this translated collection and well worth the wait!  5 stars.

Alex Miller: The Passage of Love,  Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 2017.

Just two years after a media interview in which Miller said he was not inclined to write another novel,  Miller, now almost 80 has found his mojo again in this deeply rewarding and thoughtful study of his own internal battle to become a writer….indeed not just a writer but, arguably in my view, Australia’s, (he was born in England but came to Australia at age 16),  most significant novelist to date including Patrick White, Geraldine Brooks, Tim Winton and Nicholas Shakespeare.

The former uneducated English farm boy, Australian jackeroo. bottle cleaner, public servant, school teacher and cattle producer was largely self taught through a vast hunger for literature, eventually putting himself through a University Arts degree. This book, with searing honesty, unerring insight, humour and deft clarity charts his struggles to achieve in writing his personal depths of human intuition, love of justice and deep yearning for loving passion, and the small number of key inspirational lovers and significant friends who inspired him to keep going.

Set in and around inner Melbourne initially but then with forays to Italy, London, Sydney, Canberra and Paris, this novel once again highlights Miller’s exceptional ability to paint a picture in words of the haunting Australian landscape, whether a run-down house in a tired part of Melbourne or the scrubby  bush of the Araluen range just out of Canberra. For any Australian who truly loves and understands the terrible and ancient beauty of Australia’s lonely and hidden outback starkness and desultory country towns Miller is the one who plumbs the meaning in that love. He is equally at home, however,  in pinpointing the joys and horrors of everyday crowded Australia”s somewhat defeated suburban and city life.

Nevertheless it is in the journey into the inner person that Miller is particularly triumphant leading the reader inevitably to ponder the depths of their own intimate thought life and psyche and to celebrate the depth and wonder of being alive against all the odds. Miller won the Miles Franklin award for The Ancestor Game (1993)  and  Journey to the Stone Country (2003)  and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for the amazing Autumn Laing, (2011).  This latest novel confirms his rightful place at the head of the leader board.  5 stars and counting.

Quotations from Robertson Davies

Robertson Davies was a Canadian novelist, playwright, critic, journalist and man of letters who studied at Oxford and worked in theatre in London before returning to Canada to write. His most well known novels include the The Deptford Trilogy and The Cornish Trilogy. Below are some of his observations.

Do not suppose, however, that I intend to urge a diet of classics on anybody. I have seen such diets at work. I have known people who have actually read all the guaranteed hundred best books. God save us from reading nothing but the best.

When irony first makes itself known in a young man’s life, it can be like his first experience of getting drunk; he has met with a powerful thing which he does not know how to handle

Fanaticism is overcompensation for doubt

A truly great book should be read in youth, in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight

The world is burdened with young bogies. Old men with ossified minds are easily dealt with. But men who look young, act young and everlastingly harp on the fact that they are young, but who nevertheless act with a degree of caution that would be excessive in their grandfathers, are the curse of the world. Their conservatism is second hand, and they don’t know what they are conserving.

Authors like cats because they are such quiet, loveable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reasons.

Perhaps God made cats so that man might have the pleasure of fondling the tiger.

Marriage is a framework to preserve friendship. It is valuable because it gives much more room to develop than just living together. It provides a base from a person can work at understanding himself and another person

Few people can see genius in someone who has offended them

Happiness is a by-product. It is a matter of temperament. For anything I know it may be glandular;   but is is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are unhappy you had better do something about and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.

The love that will not speak its name has become the love that will not shut up.

I do not really like vacations. I much prefer an occasional day off when I do not feel like working. When I am confronted with a whole week in which I have nothing to but enjoy myself I do not know where to begin. To me enjoyment comes fleetingly and unheralded; I cannot determinedly enjoy myself for a whole week at a time.

But what I knew then was that nobody—not even mother—was to be trusted in a strange world that showed very little on the surface.

Too much traffic with a quotation book begets a conviction of ignorance in a sensitive reader. Not only is there a mass of quotable stuff he never quotes, but an even vaster realm of which he has never heard.

Aristocrats need not be rich, but they must be free, and in the modern world freedom grows rarer the more we prate about it.

Noone has a corner on depression but housewives are working on it,

The eye sees only what the the mind is prepared to comprehend

There is absolutely no point in sitting down to write a book unless you feel that you must write that book, or else go mad, or die.

A happy childhood has spoiled many a promising life

Some countries you love. Some countries you hate. Canada is a country you worry about.

Attwood: “Anything you can writer I can writer better”

Davies: “I can write anything better than you.”

Canada is not really a place where you are encouraged to have large spiritual adventures.

If we seek the pleasures of love, passion should be occasional, and common sense continual.

I was not sure I wanted to issue orders to life; I rather liked the Greek notion of allowing chance to take a formative hand in my affairs.

Extraordinary people survive under the most terrible circumstances and they become more extraordinary because of it.

The love of truth lies at the foot of much humour.

The result of a single action may spread like the circles that expand when a stone is thrown into a pond, until they touch people and places unguessed at by the people who threw the stone.

As an admirer of moonlight I resent the bossy insistence of those who want to reduce my time enjoying it,

Canada has one of the highest rates of insanity in any civilised country and one reason might be that in many places it is so desperately dull.

One can always tell it’s summer when one sees school teachers hanging about the streets like cannibals during a shortage of missionaries.

I don’t suppose God laughs at the people who think he doesn’t exist. He’s above jokes. But the devil isn’t. That’s one of his most endearing qualities.

Books read September 2017


  1. George MacDonald, Phantastes, Annotated edition and notes by Nick Page, London, Paternoster, 2008 (1858).

Before Alice in Wonderland, The Narnia Chronicles and Lord of the Rings there was George MacDonald. Writing in the mid-C19th MacDonald wrote a collection of of over fifty  adult and children’s faery stories and fantasy literature which has spawned several generations of followers but equalled by few, if any. MacDonald was a graduate of King’s College London and was deeply influenced by Celtic mythology, C19th  German Romantic authors, Novalis, Heine and Hoffman as well as Fouque’s Undine. An awkward man socially, and deeply religious,  he became for a time an unorthodox Congregationalist minister but primarily due to uneasiness about rigid Church doctrine especially about eternal damnation for some, he parted company from his congregation. MacDonald eventually sought  to support his family by writing. Married with eleven children, very poor health and limited literary success MacDonald was eventually ‘saved’ by the financial support of Lady Byron, the wife of the poet and the later encouragement and influence of Lewis Caroll, whose own writing owes a significant debt to MacDonald.

Phantastes was the book which C S Lewis happened to pick up at a railway station on the way to London which transformed his view of fantasy literature. Lewis later wrote about MacDonald: I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him. But it has not seemed to me that those who received my books kindly take even now sufficient notice of the affiliation. Honesty drives me to emphasize it. [quoted by Caroline Ann Duffy in her Introduction to George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind, London, The Folio Society, 2008].Duffy further comments: C S Lewis is not referring here to MacDonald’s literary influence on him, but to enormous spiritual influence.

Phantastes appears in Spencer’s The Faerie Queen, (1590) as a spinner of fancies and reappears in Phinehas Fletcher’s 1633 poetic fantasy The Purple Island as a counsellor of the mind. In MacDonald’s Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women, the account is a first person story of a 21 year old man, “Anodos” who has just earned the legal right to the key to his father’s secretaire, from which after close examination, emerged a very beautiful but just  six inch female fairy figure who promised Anodos a journey through fairy land when he awoke the following morning.

The narrative follows Anodos’s varied adventures through a fairy world filled with both good and evil fairies, goblins, talking trees both good and evil, a gorgeous fairy palace, a major appearance by an Arthurian knight Sir Percivale and other transworldly images. The images may be the stuff of children’s stories but the themes are adult and theologically complex. Once in fairy land, there is no going back. They must go on, and go through it  (p.105). The result is that Anodos deals with many issues familiar to adults rather than children. Examples include: I found cheerfulness to be like life itself,—not to be created by any argument. Afterwards I learned, that the best way to manage some painful thoughts, is to dare them to do their worst…(p108).  Art rescues nature from the weary and sated regards of our senses (p185).  Passion is never content! (p162).  Past tears are a present strength.(p225). Self will come to life even in the denying of self. (p247). We seek not death, but still we climb the stairs where death is one wide landing to the rooms above. (p272) Beauty is the only stuff in which truth can be clothed. (p.277) The best thing you can do for your fellow next to rousing his conscience is, not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him, or say, to make him think for himself.  (p.279). This edition contains very helpful explanatory notes by the Editor Nick Page, a writer of over 60 books on theology, church history and C17th poetry.

This addition also contains two appendices. The first is four quotations from Novalis which originally prefaced Phantases.  The main problem here is that the quotations are in German!

The second appendix is far more it for his American readers in 1893  MacDonald defends his use of fairy land to make serious moral and spiritual comment. I suspect today such writing needs no defence given the popularity of fantasy literature but at the end of the nineteenth century MacDonald laid the theoretical groundwork for a literary genre, which from my work as a secondary school librarian in 2015, is the most popular reading genre for Years 5 -10 students, and many much older folk,  bar none.

MacDonald is at times a tedious read and needs perseverance, especially his tendency, (like Tolkien), to introduce poems of varying quality and interest thoughout his story. On the other hand those who value the moral and imaginative truth which can be uniquely described in myth, this novel will, I suspect, be read more than once. It has, as with C S Lewis, the capacity to re-order the way we think about ordinary life and things. As I write this review I still feel personally challenged by ideas from this significant piece of writing.  4 stars.

2. Andrew Moody, In Light of the Son, Sydney, Matthias Press, 2015.

Andrew Moody is an Australian theologian, lecturer, graphic designer and Christian communicator who also writes on line for the Christian Gospel Coalition. His major doctoral thesis concerns the doctrine of the Trinity and In Light of the Son is in part a more popular presentation of some key ideas in his thesis.

In his Introduction Moody indicates that the motivating force behind his own adult Christian life and the reason for writing this book was his reading and thinking about John 15:10 at Melbourne University..the issue of why does Jesus need to obey God when he is God?  i.e. the complexity of the Christian doctrine of the trinity and how should we understand it.  The centre of his argument is the love that the Father has for the Son and wants others to love and glorify him too.

A challenging highlight in chapter 1 is an account of a Speaker’s Corner conversation between a theologically articulate Muslim and a Christian who is attempting  (somewhat unsuccessfully) to explain the validity or value of the Christian trinitarian doctrine. Later in the chapter Moody provides an alternative direction the conversation could have been taken indicating that we need to listen to God’s messengers, one of whom is Jesus the Son of God, a phrase which is developed for two possible meanings in chapter 2.

For me a highlight of this book is chapter 3, the question of the meaning and existence of the universe. Moody gives full scope for the atheist who still maintains the wonder and extraordinary power and beauty of the universe but also argues for “traces of God” to be found within creation and more particularly within God’s plan for the future of the world bound up in Jesus and his revelation of God’s love.

This plan is unpacked in chapters 4 – 6 which also  includes a chapter on the role of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament material is unpacked largely through the Letter to the Hebrews which makes a change from the Pauline theology mode which has predominated through the massive recent work of N T Wright and his supporters and opponents. The book is completed with a very effective set of study guide questions for each chapter and occasional useful footnotes for further explanation but no index. A thought provoking and fresh read.  4 stars.

3. Fergus Hume, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab,  Melbourne, The Text Publishing Company, 1999 (1886)

This pre Conan Doyle style crime mystery first novel by trained lawyer Fergus Hume was an instant best seller when first published in 1886 and has seldom been out of print since. Hume was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, spent two years in Melbourne researching and writing this novel, and the rest of his life back in England paid for by the phenomenal success of this novel and the 130 + less successful crime novels that followed. Hume was clearly a well read classical scholar, comfortable in Latin and his writing is peppered with literary references of all kinds. It is a true mystery in the Agatha Christie, Midsomer Murders, Conan Doyle style and the dénouement is saved until very close to the end and still surprising. Part of the wonder of the novel is the description of late C19th Melbourne’s streets and lanes and the life both high and low brow that went with it. A very light and enjoyable read still today 131 years on!  4 stars.

4.  Carl Gustav Jung, Answer to Job, London, Ark Paperbacks, 1984 (1954)

An epic text which was written when this eminent psychiatrist was 72. He was influenced by the upheaval of the development of the Hydrogen Bomb and the potential for limitless human evil and destruction alongside the Protestant furore following the 1950 Papal promulgation of the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This unlikely combination resulted in a complex extended essay, breathtaking in its scope and reach.

Unlike his predecessor Freud, Jung was comfortable with the use of terms such as ‘soul’, “God’ ,  ‘the sacred’  and ‘evil’ as valid subjects for psychological and psychiatric study whether or not they are “true” in any ontologically meaningful sense. Superficially, based on ‘chapter content’,  it could be argued that a  better title might be “Jung’s take on Job, the Book of Enoch and John’s Revelation’ but this is to miss the central theme of this work.

Jung contends that Job’s faithful, searingly honest, articulate and spiritually consistent plea for justice actually forces God into an embarrassing defeat in argument and corners God into a force majeure response that in no way answers Job’s heartfelt pleas. Jung then proceeds, somewhat Borges like,  through a unique tour of the history of religions including Egyptian, Indian, Zoroastrian, Greek, Buddhist, Jewish, Gnostic and Biblical sources, to argue that Job, with a little help from the primeval female Psyche (Wisdom)  has proven to  God that He, God, desires to become human himself in order to defeat once and for all the antics of Satan and thus save humanity. According to Jung’s analysis Satan is the out of control first “Son” of Adam and his first wife Lilith, a temptress who can be found in Jewish mysticism with roots going back to ancient Mesopotamian religion. It was Satan who led God to defeat in his dealings with Job. There is an assumption throughout Jung’s analysis that there has been evil in the cosmos from the beginning (which is hinted at in Genesis 6:1-4 and in Ephesians 6:12) and Jung consistently suggests that “God does not refer to his own omniscience” in many of his actions thus leading to events to do with man which need to be repaired.

Although in many respects Jung’s study of the “psychology of God” is a long way indeed from any form of Christian orthodoxy, there is nevertheless plenty of food for thought in some of his Biblical analysis and indeed his tracing of connected ideas that emerge from the history of religions. His attempt to untangle the mysteries of the imagery in  the Book of Revelation is particularly thought provoking and at times helpful.  The final chapters seem almost like an appendix as Jung grapples with the disjunction between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism following the promulgation of the Papal promulgation of the doctrine of the bodily assumption of the BVM. It is as if Jung is appealing to the Protestant church to come to terms with the idea of (re?)installing the feminine as a central power in the unity of the Godhead which will perhaps make an impact on warlike humans bent on destruction with their new nuclear powers.

Jung’s work is a radical and unique exercise in Biblical and religious exploration which reaches out towards some traditionally orthodox Christian doctrines such as the doctrine of the permanent manhood of Christ. cf Newman: though man, Christ was strictly not “a man.”   John Baillie in his classic argument God Was in Christ  (London, Faber & Faber 1973 [1956], p97) writes about …the traditional catholic doctrine of the permanence of the manhood of Christ, ‘who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures , and one person for ever.  While not coming anywhere near such formal doctrines Jung’s work opens up some of the surface difficulties in the Biblical text of Job and Revelation and seeks to pilot a way through for the Christian faith, although at the expense of what can only be described as the gradual ‘evolution and education of God.’  (4 stars).

Books read August 2017


Marva J Dawn, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time, Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 1995.

Marva Dawn (Gersmehl…the surname Dawn is a pseudonym) is a Lutheran evangelical theologian, musician, teacher (formerly at Regent College Vancouver) and world renowned speaker, now retired. She has written many works across a range of practical and theological issues. This book is the theological foundation for her shorter and more concise 2003 book How Shall We Worship: Biblical Guidelines for the Worship Wars. (reviewed in this blog under “Books read February – April 2017”.  Dawn’s remarkable academic output and public career is the more impressive given her massive medical difficulties which include nerve damage, cancer and near blindness at times. (summarised on p93 of this book).

This book was written in response to the late C20th rise of the megachurch in the USA and around the evangelical world based largely on “contemporary” (a disputed term in this text) music, non-liturgical worship, and often with a “star preacher” headlining.

Parts 1 and 11 consist of a cultural and sociological analysis of the American baby boomers from the revolution of the 1960s, through modernism,  to the late C20th development of the postmodernism ‘revolution’. The analysis owes a considerable debt to Jacques Ellul’s critique of technology (the subject of Dawn’s doctoral thesis), Neil Postman’s influential Amusing Ourselves to Death, Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism and the theological critique of evangelicalism by David Wells entitled, No Place for Truth; or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?, a conversation which has perhaps since been overtaken by Mark Noll and Andreas Köstenberger. Read today twenty years later this section with its heavy emphasis on the evils of television (Dawn has never owned one) reads a little datedly in our current world of Facebook, instagram,twitter, podcasts, powerful video recording systems, streaming devices and digital photography and short film making to name just a few current obsessions.

Parts 111, IV.8 are a sustained analysis of the culture of and in much contemporary worship and music. Dawn works hard at neutrality and freely admits her own biases towards liturgical worship nevertheless these sections are a celebration of the whole history of good church music ancient and modern. Enthusiasts for contemporary worship are right in seeking to reach out to persons in the culture around us and in rejecting tradition that has grown stale. Those who value the Church’s worship heritage are right to question the faithfulness and integrity of many contemporary worship forms and to seek a noticeable difference in worship that underscores the Church’s countercultural emphasis. (p93).

A key element in her analysis is the place of emotion in worship.  She writes helpfully..Since feelings are so easily swayed by the circumstances of the moment, they cannot be a reliable guide for knowing God. Yet they are important for our response to God and cannot be repressed, ignored or forced. (p70). On the same page Dawn admits to overemphasizing “the thought side of the dialectic… For someone like me, dramatically influenced by key emotional moments in my spiritual journey [ e.g. standing up, at age 8, for Christ on the MCG in 1956 following a call from Billy Graham; mass corporate singing at Belgrave Heights Convention at age 15, campfire singing on the Seaspray beach at beach mission team meetings at age 17; evangelical worship at Evangelical Union national conferences during Melbourne University days; deeply moving Hillsong type music at Berwick Anglican Church today ], Dawn’s continuing critique of “dumbing down” and “narcissism” on the issue of emotion becomes somewhat repetitive. I cannot imagine my religious life without a deep and ongoing expression of my love for God in song. Having said this I often wonder how such an emphasis on music in much evangelical worship today goes down with folk who are tone deaf or for other reasons don’t like singing out loud. So much of worship is inevitably personal especially when it comes to music! And this personal attachment to certain forms of music is the cause of substantial heated discussion in many church congregations today.

One area I felt was missing from this discussion is the extent to which much high end orchestral and choral music is valued in worship e.g. cathedral worship, for its cultural worth rather than its spiritual value for the congregation. One particular example is that much choral work in, for example Australian Anglican cathedral worship services is so complex that the congregation is unable to participate in the responses.

Part IV.9,10 and Part V deals in some detail with the non-musical components of worship including the Bible and how it is used, liturgy, ritual and art as well as a detailed analysis of the  components of the sermon including children’s talks.  There is much here for both pastors and congregations to think through.

The Bibliography is helpful but I think the book would be stronger with a detailed index of topics as a vast amount of material is covered.  This is a very useful debate about worship today.  4 stars.

Colson Whitehead,  The Underground Railroad, London, Fleet, 2017

One of the most disturbing and uneasy novels I have read in a long-time. Reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road  but instead of a dystopic future this novel reveals the terror and sadness of a recent past reaching into the present…it shines a light on white supremacists wherever they may be found in the US, Australia or central Europe. A fiction but based on newspaper advertisements and records of genuine Southern US slavery victims and runaways the novel leaves one with a sense of desperation that human values and behaviour will never amount to very much. One reviewer suggests the novel doesn’t send a message but it does to me. We can cover up humanity with glossy superficiality and first world luxury but deep down the human condition is broken from within and the brokenness needs a power and spirit beyond the human to transform it. Great literature challenges and humanises. This new novel is moving in that direction and I hope it commands a wide audience.  Five stars.

Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, translated (brilliantly) by Willard R Trask, Introduction by ( equally brilliant cultural theorist) Edward, W Said,  Princeton and Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2013 (written during WW11 in Istanbul and first published in Switzerland, 1946).

For a literature buff, this is a towering and mesmerising 574 pages of brilliant literary analysis of the European canon from Homer to Virginia Woolf! Auerbach was a German Jewish academic expelled from Germany by the Nazis in 1935. He taught Romance languages in Istanbul until the late 1940s before emigrating to the United States and teaching in Princeton and Pennsylvania State University before finishing his career as Sterling Professor of Romance Philology at Yale. Auerbach fought for Germany in World War 1, had qualifications in both Law and Romance languages at doctoral level and demonstrates a deep knowledge down to philological level of Greek, Latin, Provençal, German, French, English, Italian and Spanish languages and literature. In addition he evidences a thorough knowledge and understanding of both the Jewish and Christian scriptures and is comfortable dealing in depth with the Western philosophical canon. At one point Auerbach came particularly under the spell of the Persian poet Hafiz and wrote verses in his style. In particular he had a lifelong interest in the C18th Neapolitan philosopher, rhetorician, historian and Professor of Latin eloquence and jurisprudence, Giambattista Vico. Vico’s influence is clearly seen in Auerbach’s interest in what came to be called “historism”. Historism approaches all ideas and arguments in literature, religion, the law and the arts based on their historical context and not on any predetermined laws or theories.

Auerbach is a polymath to be reckoned with and, even more delightfully, he analyses literary texts with a deep historical and philosophic concern certainly, but without the paralyzing late C20th straightjacket of feminist, race, structuralist, post-modern or queer theory rule books! Each text to be analyzed commences with a healthy chunk of the original in its original language followed by an excellent translation (sometimes aided by other scholars).  One challenge for the reader is that in each chapter, while large paragraphs of material are translated,  single sentences and phrases in Latin, French and German are not always translated which takes additional time for the less multilingual reader!

“Mimesis” (μιμησις ) is a classical Greek term meaning representation, imitation or mimicry.  Auerbach uses the term in this text to mean “representation’ and one of his key judgments about the literature analysed is the extent to which the literature represents normal human reality..especially that of the “average” person rather than the literary preoccupation with leaders, the highest level of society, royalty, rulers, heroes, statesmen etc. [Luckily for Auerbach he did not have to deal too much with the current passion for fantasy literature, let alone magic realism!]  Interestingly Auerbach struggles to find the reality of the “ordinary man” much before the late C19th and C20th.

Mimesis looks in detail at texts by Homer, The Old and New Testament, Petronius, Tacitus, C4th historian Ammianus Marcellinus, Apuleius, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory of Tours,  The Song of Roland, Chréttien de Troyes’ (Yvain), C12th Mediaeval Mystery play ( Mystère d’Adam), Bernard of Clairveaux St Francis of Assisi (letters), Dante [and mediaeval commentators Pietro Alighieri and Jacobo della Lana), Boccaccio, Antoine De La Salle (C15th knight, soldier, tutor of Princes (Le Réconfort de Madame du Fresne), Rabelais, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Molière, La Bruyère, Racine, Basset, Victor Hugo, Corneille, Abbé Prévost (Manon Lescaut); Voltaire; Montesqieu; Diderot; Rousseau; Voltaire; Louis, duc de Saint-Simon, Schiller, Goethe, Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Dickens, Thackeray, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt (Germinie Lacerteux), Beaudelaire, Zola, Burckhardt, Fontane, NIetzsche, Ibsen, Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Doestoevski, Virginia Woolf, Proust, Huysman, Joyce, Thomas Mann, Gide, knut Hamsun.

Of course there are gaps, inevitably so. Many will regard the British writers as poorly done by, certainly Said thinks so.  We look in vain for Trollope, the Brontes,  George Eliot, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy or D H Lawrence; Conrad also is missing. On the other hand we are introduced to texts that most of us have rarely looked at let alone carefully analysed.

In the final analysis this is a deeply moral and religious book.  Auerbach has a deep knowledge of the Bible, Christian theology and Church History. But, as with C S Lewis’s criticism of English Literature, Auerbach does not let his Jewish and Christian background and reading vitiate his explication and appraisal of the Western literary canon. Auerbach  concludes that it was the story of Christ, with its ruthless mixture of everyday reality and the highest and most sublime tragedy, which conquered the classical ‘rule of styles’ in the Middle Ages, and contrasts this with the achievements of modern Realism. [in M Drabble, Ed., “Auerbach, Erich” in The Oxford Companion to English Literature, Oxford, OUP, 1997.] 5 stars and rising!

There are many gems in Auerbach as well as  Said’s introduction. Some examples: [Auerbach’s recognition and] stern condemnation of Goethe’s dislike of upheaval and even of change itself, his interest in aristocratic culture, his deep-seated wish to be rid of the “revolutionary occurrences” taking place all over Europe, and his inability to understand the flow of popular history. Auerbach was discussing no mere failure of perception but a profound wrong turn in German culture as a whole that led to the horrors of the present.[ie Nazism] Said: Introduction p. xxxix.

Auerbach: p15. The Bible stories seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels….doctrine and the search for enlightenment are inextricably connected with the physical side of the [Biblical] narrative.

 p89. An amazing description of the style, aim and purpose of classical Latin. On p119 Auerbach tracks the development of Christian narrative into dogma. P120. the decline of the culture of antiquity…Christianity was drawn into this rigidification.. p121 the literature only deals with the top strata of society….in the late antique world the heroic epic is history. p134 Coutesie became a personal and absolute ideal.  [in the work of Chrétien de Troyes]…in the Arthurian Cycle ..courtly life and adventure developed the doctrine of personal perfection. At the same time came the influence of Victorine and Cistercian mysticism.

p151..the simple reality in the mediaeval morality play. P167: the contents of the letters of St Francis is the doctrine. p190ff brilliant analysis of Dante’s Divine Comedy. [With Shakespeare]…the drama of Christ is no longer the central drama—-the way is open for an autonomously human tragedy. p.72 Re Augustine..Equally at home in the world of classical rhetoric and in that of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, he may well have been the first to become conscious of the problem of the stylistic contrast between the two worlds…p75 Almost everything which Augustine himself adds to the Biblical account [in The City of God] serves to explain the historical situation in rational terms and to reconcile the figural interpretation with the conception of an uninterrupted historical sequence of events.

 p.89 re Gregory of Tours: Undoubtedly the rhythm and the atmosphere of the Bible, especially of the New Testament, are always present in Gregory’s mind and help to determine his style…p92 re Gregory of Tours:  A churchman, practically concerned with the life of men, cannot separate these realms. He encounters human tragedy every day in the mixed, random material of life. p93 Gregory of Tours again: But why should I be ashamed of my lack of culture, if our Lord and Redeemer, to destroy the vanity of worldly wisdom, chose not orators but fishermen, not philosophers but peasants?

p111-2..Re the Chanson de Roland and the Chanson d’Alexis… the subject…is narrow…all the categories of this life and the next are unambiguous, immutable, fixed in rigid formulations. This rigid style is contrasted with …The mere fact that the most famous German epics, from the Hildebrandislied to the Nibelungenlied, derive their historical setting from the wild and spacious epoch of the tribal migrations rather than from the solidly established structure of the age of feudalism, gives them greater breadth and freedom. The Germanic themes of the age of the migrations did not reach Gallo-Roman territory, or at least they could not strike root there. And Christianity has almost no significance at all for the Germanic heroic epic.

p154f…The mediaeval mystery plays, like the spiritual teachings of Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux …describe the type of comprehension [of the Biblical story, especially meditation on Christ’s life and passion] which is open to the humble and simple…and the complete transformation into mysticism is to be found in Bernard….Auerbach comments on a passage [in Latin] from Bernard: Several thoughts in complex interdependence are expressed in these passages: that Holy Scripture favours those whose hearts are simple and filled with faith; that such a heart is a prerequisite to “sharing” in it, for sharing and not a purely rational understanding is what it seeks to offer…not couched in an “elevated style, but in simple words, so that anyone can ascend  quasi gradatim, from the simple to the sublime and divine…the mediaeval Christian drama falls perfectly within this tradition…it opens its arms invitingly to receive the simple and untutored and to lead them from the concrete, the everyday, to the hidden and the true—precisely as did that great plastic art of the mediaeval churches…

p194: Dante’s elevated style consists precisely in integrating what is characteristically individual and at times horrible, ugly, grotesque, and vulgar with the dignity of God’s judgment— a dignity which transcends the ultimate limits of our earthly conception of the sublime….For all of creation is a constant reduplication and emanation of the active love of God….the goal of the process of salvation, the white rose in the Empyrean, the community of the elect in God’s no longer veiled presence, is not only a certain hope for the future but is from all eternity perfect in God and prefigured for men, as Christ is in Adam.

p195 …the universal Roman monarchy….is in Dante’s view the concrete, earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of God….Just as the Judaeo-Christian method of interpretation referred to in the Old Testament by Paul and the Church Fathers, conceives of Adam as a figure of Christ, of Eve as a figure of the Church, just as generally speaking every event and every phenomenon referred to in the Old Testament is conceived  as a figure which only the phenomena and events of Christ’s Incarnation can completely realise or “fulfill’ (to use the conventional expression), so the universal Roman Empire here appears as an earthly figure of heavenly fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.

p196 The Church Fathers, especially Tertullian, Jerome and Augustine, had successfully defended figural realism, that is, the maintenance of the basic historical reality of figures, against all attempts at spiritually allegorical interpretation…This figural realism dominates Dante’s view.

p197 …the particular way in which [Dante’s] realistic genius achieved form, we explain through the figural point of view. This enables us to understand that the beyond is eternal yet phenomenal; that it is changeless and of all time and yet full of history. It also enables us to show in what way this realism in the beyond is distinguished from every type of purely earthly realism.

p198 Dante acknowledges a debt to Virgil: “Thou alone art he to whom I owe the beautiful style which has done me honour.”

p199 never before…has so much art and so much expressive power been employed to produce an almost painfully immediate expression of the earthly reality of human beings. It was precisely the Christian idea of the indestructibility of the entire human individual which made this possible for Dante.

p200 producing this effect with such power and so much realism..[Dante] opened the way for that aspiration toward autonomy which possesses all earthly existence. In the very heart of the other world, he created a world of earthly beings and passions so powerful that it breaks bounds and proclaims its independence…a doctrine of salvation in which the eternal destiny depends upon grace and repentance can no more dispense with such figures in Hell that it can with virtuous pagans in Limbo.

p217 Re Boccaccio: …the more mature he grows, the stronger become the competing bourgeois and humanist factors and especially his mastery of what is robust and popular…despite his occasional attempts to reach out for something more, he remains within the limits of the intermediate style…which…is designated for the representation of sensual love. cf p224 …of the figural-Christian conception which pervaded Dante’s imitation of the earthly and human world and which gave it power and depth, no trace is to be found in Boccaccio’s book. Boccaccio’s characters live on earth and only on earth. cf p225 ..considering that the preachments made of friars, to rebuke men of their sins, are nowadays for the most part seen full of quips and cranks and jibes, I consider that these latter would not sit amiss in my stories written to ease women of melancholy. p226 [Boccaccio’s] ethics of love is a recasting of courtly love, tuned several degrees lower in the scale of style, and concerned exclusively with the sensual and the real. p227 “The Decameron” develops a distinct, thoroughly practical and secular ethical code rooted in the right to love, an ethics which in its very essence is anti-Christian. It is presented with much grace and without any strong claim to doctrinal validity. The book rarely abandons the stylistic level of light entertainment.

p242 re Antoine De La Salle…his language is a class language; and everything determined by class is non-humanist. cf p243 ..The mixture of heavily pompous language with the naïveté of enumeration in composition produces an impression of dragging and ponderous monotony in tempo which is not without its peculiar magnificence. It is a variety of the elevated style; but it is class-determined, it is non-humanist, nonclassical, and entirely mediaeval

p249 …of essential importance for late mediaeval realism—the very point which induced me to to employ in this chapter the new term “creatural.” It is characteristic of Christian anthropology from its beginnings that it emphasises man’s subjection to suffering and transitoriness. This was a necessary concomitant of the idea of Christ’s Passion as part of the story of salvation. Yet during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the corresponding devaluation and denigration of earthly existence had not reached the extreme which characterizes the era here under discussion…Dante is an example of a man for whom (as for many of his contemporaries) secular planning and political endeavour on the part of individuals and human society at large was highly significant, ethically relevant, and decisive for eternal salvation. cf p250 [By the end of the Middle Ages]…the more prevailing attitude is that which, in the creatural character of man, reads only the fruitlessness and vanity of all earthly endeavour. For many in the countries north of the Alps, consciousness of their own predestined decay with that of all their works has a paralyzing effect upon intellectual endeavour insofar as its purpose is to make practical plans concerned with the future of life in this world…[such action] seems to them without value and without dignity…  a mere play of instincts and passions. cf. p260 The realism of the Franco-Burgundian of the fifteenth century is then, narrow and mediaeval. It has no new attitudes which might reshape the world of earthly realities and it is hardly aware that the mediaeval categories are losing their power….in breadth of vision, refinement of language and formative power it is far inferior to what the Italian late mediaeval and early humanist flowering had produced a full century earlier in Dante and Boccaccio.

p269 Re Rabelais’ fantastical tales of whole countries being explored inside the mouth of the giants Gargantua and Pantagruel lies… an entirely different theme—the theme of the discovery of a new world, with all the astonishment, the widening horizons and change in the world picture, which follow upon such a discovery…This is one of the great motifs of the Renaissance and of the two following centuries, one of the themes which served as levers toward political, religious, economic, and philsophic revolution. cf p270 …we must not forget that Rabelais first called the country of his giants Utopia, a name which he borrowed from Thomas More’s book, which had appeared sixteen years earlier, and that More—to whom, of all his contemporaries, Rabelais perhaps owed the most.. p271 [In the midst of Rabelais’ grotesque-comic and popular style …there is matter-of-fact narrative, philosophic ideas flash out, and amid all the grotesque machinery rises the terrible creatural picture of the plague, when the dead are taken from the city by cartloads. This sort of mixture of styles was not invented by Rabelais. He of course adapted it to his temperament and his purposes, but, paradoxically, it stems from late mediaeval preaching, in which the Christian tradition exaggerated the mixture of styles to the utmost. These sermons are at once popular in the crudest way, creaturely realistic, and learned and edifying in their figural Biblical interpretation. From the spirit of late mediaeval preaching and above all from the atmosphere which surrounded the popular (in both the good and bad senses) mendicant orders, the humanists adopted this mixture of styles, especially for their anti-ecclesiasticals, polemical and satiric writings. cf p273 Rabelais’ multiplicity of images and examples include a superabundance of medical and humanistic erudition. cf p274 [Many of Rabelais’ characters are] are endowed with the crafty, idiomatic, and subtlee wit which is natural to almost all of Rabelais’ personages. p275 Rabelais’ jokes are as usual, stuffed with the most various and grotesque erudition.

p276 In my opinion, many critics miss the essential point when they make Rabelais’ divorce from Christian dogma the decisive factor in interpreting him. True, he is no longer a believer, in the ecclesiastical sense; but he is very far from taking a stance upon some form of disbelief, like a rationalist of later times. Nor is it permissible to draw any too far-reaching conclusions from his satire on Christian subjects, for the Middle Ages already offers examples of this which are not essentially different from Rabelais’ blasphemous joking. [eg even in the Mystery plays]. The revolution in his way of thinking is not his opposition to Christianity, but the freedom of vision, feeling and thought which his perpetual playing with things produces, and which invites the reader to deal directly with the world and its wealth of phenomena. …For him, the man who follows his nature is good, and natural life, be it of men or things is good. [Auerbach suggests this approach, contrary to the above paragraph, is anti-Christian, but I don’t agree with him …surely God created human nature and natural life to be good and in many ways it is good…It is triumphant earthly life which calls forth his realistic and super-realistic mimesis. And that is completely anti-Christian….I don’t agree that it is anti-Christian.

p277 [Rabelais] mingles complacent cunning, wit, and humanism, with an elementally pitiless cruelty which is perpetually flickering in the background…..the Christian unity of the cosmos, and the figural preservation of the earthly personality in the divine judgment, led to a very strong concept of the indestructible  permanence of the individual (most strongly evident in Dante…)..and this was first endangered when Christian unity and Christian immortality no longer dominated the European concept of the universe.  This is fair…without a sense of eternal existence and an ongoing human story, man does flounder..and nihilism is never very far away when God, purpose and spiritual formation is ignored.

p278 In Rabelais there is no aesthetic standard. Everything goes with everything. Ordinary reality is set within the most improbable fantasy, the coarsest jokes are filled with erudition, moral and philosophical enlightenment flows out of obscene expressions and stories.

p280 …for Rabelais, something close to buffoonery…in which, at the same time divine wisdom and perfect virtue are concealed. It is as much a style of life as a literary style; it is, as in Socrates, (and in Montaigne too), the expression of the man….a fruitful irony which confuses the customary aspects and proportions of things, which makes the real appear in the super-real, wisdom in folly, rebellion in a cheerful and flavourful acceptance of life; which, through the play of possibilities, casts a dawning light on the possibility of freedom. I consider it a mistake to probe Rabelais’ hidden meaning..for some definite and clearly outlined doctrine;  the thing which lies concealed in his work, yet which is conveyed in a thousand ways, is an intellectual attitude, which he himself calls Pantagruelism; a grasp of life, which allows none of life’s possibilities to escape. To describe it in more detail is not a wise undertaking—for one would immediately find oneself forced into competition with Rabelais. He himself is constantly describing it, and he can do it better than we can….wildly as the storm sometimes rages in his book, every line, every word, is strictly under control.

p284 In summary the style of Rabelais’ style expresses ces beaux livres de haulte grease. [“well-fattened books!]

p291 Re Montaigne, a man..who is alone with himself, finds enough life and as it were bodily warmth in his ideas to be able to write as though he were speaking….a faint note of proudly aristocratic contempt for the writer’s craft (si j’était fairer de livres);,,,an inclination to belittle his own particular approach.

p300 Montaigne’s intention to put himself as the primary centre of his writing and his claim that no one else has ever done this seems to imply that he was unaware of Augustine’s Confessions. Auerbach comments: is not possible that he should not have been aware at least of the existence and the character of this famous book. Perhaps he rather shrank from the comparison; perhaps it is a perfectly genuine and un-ironical modesty that prevents him from establishing a relationship between himself and his method and the most important of the Fathers….and yet there is no other earlier author from whom anything so basically important is preserved in Montaigne’s method as the consistent and unreserved self-investigation of Augustine.

p300  The full consciousness of one’s own life implies for Montaigne also full consciousness of one’s own death.

p301 …in his study of his own random life Montaigne’s sole aim is an investigation of the “humane condition” in general.

p302 …our knowledge of men and of his history depends upon the depth of our self-knowledge and the extent of our moral horizon….he cannot rid himself of a certain distrust of historians. He feels that they present human beings too exclusively in extraordinary and heroic situations  and that they are only too ready to give fixed and consistent portraits of character.

p303 [Montaigne] speaks about himself a great deal, and the reader becomes acquainted with all the details not only of his intellectual and spiritual life but also of his physical existence. A great deal of information about his most personal characteristics and habits, his illnesses, his food, and his sexual peculiarities, is scattered through the Essays.There is, to be sure, a certain self-satisfaction in all this. Montaigne is pleased with himself; he knows that he is in all respects a free, a richly gifted, a full, a remarkably well-rounded human being, and despite all his self-irony he cannot completely conceal this delight in his his own person. But it is a calm and self-rooted consciousness  of his individual self, free from pettiness, arrogance, insecurity, and coquetry.

p304 [Montaigne dislikes] formal systems of moral philosophy….their abstraction, the tendency of their methodology to disguise the reality of life, and the turgidity of their terminology…[above all]..their separation of mind and body and do not give the latter a chance to have its say….They all..have too high an opinion of man; they speak of him as if he were only mind and spirit…..the most important passages on this point are those which reveal the Christian creatural sources of his view….ils sçavent que la justice divine embrace sette société et joincture du corps et de l’âme, jusques à rendre le corps capable des recompenses eternalise…the question of his religious profession—which, by the way, I consider an idle question—has nothing to do with the observation that the roots of his realistic conception of man are to be found in the Christian-creatural tradition.

p304 [Montaigne’s] ..malice against the erudite expert and against specialisation requires some comment, …derived from the general Renaissance Humanist generally educated nobility class and the new found educated bourgeoisie which … soon resulted a sort of contempt for professional specialization. The scholar committed to a particular discipline…was considered comic, inferior, and plebeian.

p310 [For Montaigne] …Life on earth is no longer the figure of the life beyond; he can no longer permit himself to scorn and neglect the here for the sake of a there. Life on earth is the only one he has. He wants to savour it to the last drop:…it entails first of all emancipating oneself from everything that might waste or hinder the enjoyment of life, that might divert the living man’s attention from himself.

p311 …His irony, his dislike of big words, his calm way of being profoundly at ease with himself, prevent him from pushing on beyond the limits of the problematic and into the realm of the tragic, which is already unmistakeably apparent in let us say the work of Michelangelo, and which, during the generation following Montaigne’s, is to break through in literary form in several places in Europe.

p313  …Shakespeare’s work became the ideal and the example for all movements of revolt against the strict separation of styles in French classicism.

p317  …the Christian figural view of human life was opposed to a development of the tragic. However serious the events of earthly existence might be, high above them stood the towering and all-embracing dignity of a single event, the appearance of Christ, and everything tragic was but figure or reflection of a single complex of events, into which it necessarily flowed at last…this implies a transposition of the centre of gravity from life on earth into a life beyond, with the result that no tragedy ever reached its conclusion here below.

p318 …in the course of the sixteenth century, the Christian-figural schema lost its hold in almost all parts of Europe. The issue into the beyond, although it was totally abandoned only in rare instances, lost in certainty and unmistakability….In Elizabethan tragedy on the other hand—the first specifically modern form of the tragedy—the hero’s individual character plays a much greater part in shaping his destiny.

p319 …in Elizabethan tragedy and specifically in Shakespeare, the hero’s character is depicted in greater and more varied detail than in antique tragedy, and participated more actively in shaping the individual’s fate.

p320 …In Elizabethan tragedy we are in most cases confronted with not with purely natural character but with character already formed by birth, situation in life, and prehistory (that is, by fate)… 

p320 …the sixteenth century had attained a comparatively high level of historical consciousness and  historical perspective…

p321-2…In addition there is in the sixteenth century the effect of the great discoveries which abruptly widened the cultural and geographic horizon and hence also men’s conception of possible forms of human life….The world of realities in which men live is changed; it grows broader, richer in possibilities, limitless….a freer consciousness embracing an unlimited world.

p323 Shakespeare’s dramatic economy is prodigally lavish; it bears witness to his delight in rendering the most varied phenomena of life, and this delight in turn is inspired by the concept that the cosmos is everywhere interdependent so that every chord of human destiny arouses a multitude of voices to parallel or contrary motion….the drama of Christ is no longer the general drama…the new dramatized history has a specific human action at its centre….the road has been opened for an autonomously human tragedy..

p324 …The dissolution of mediaeval Christianity…brings out a dynamic need for self-orientation, a will to trace the secret forces of life….an immense system of sympathy seems to pervade the universe….In Shakespeare’s work the liberated forces show themselves as fully developed yet still permeated with the entire ethical wealth of the past. Not much later the restrictive countermovements gained the upper hand. Protestantism and the Counter Reformation, absolutistic ordering of society, and intellectual life, academic and puristic imitation of antiquity, rationalism an scientific empiricism, all operated together to prevent Shakespeare’s freedom in the tragic from continuing to develop after him.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing…  [Macbeth]

…we are such stuff

As dreams are made of, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.

[The Tempest]

p346.  [Cervantes: Don Quijote]  In his tragic/comic novel [Cervantes] ..has no idea of making a basic attack on the established legal order. He is neither an anarchist nor a prophet of the Kingdom of God……I think it wholly erroneous to look for a matter of principle here, for anything like a conflict between natural Christian and positive law. For such a conflict, moreover, an opponent would have to appear, someone like the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevski…

p347  Don Quijote preserves a natural dignity and superiority which for his many miserable failures cannot harm…do we hear wisdom speak through madness in his case as we do with Shakespeare’s fools or with Charlie Chaplin? No, that is not it either….He is wise and kind independently of his madness…

p355…It is not a philosophy; it is no didactic purpose; it is not even a being stirred by the uncertainty of human existence or by the power of destiny, as in the case of Montaigne and Shakespeare. It is an attitude—an attitude toward the world, and hence also toward the subject matter of his art—-in which bravery and equaninimity play a major part. Together with the delight he takes in the multirfariousness of his sensory play there is in him a certain Southern reticence and pride. This prevents him from taking the play very seriously. He looks at it; he shapes it; he finds it diverting; it is also intended to afford the reader refined intellectual diversion.

p358  [Cervantes] …This is the function of Quijote’s madness.…[in] Cervantes’ imagination, he also perceived a vision of how, confronted with such madness, contemporary reality might be portrayed…that it is a heroic and idealised form of madness, that it leaves room for wisdom and humanity, was no doubt equally pleasing to him…So universal and multilayered, so noncritical and nonprobematic a gaiety the portrayal of everyday reality has not been attempted again in European letters. I cannot imagine where or when it might have been attempted.

p386 C17th French classical theatrical tragedy (Racine/Molière/Corneille) withdraws the physical aspects of courtly love present in Greek and Roman tragedy and took over the sublime conception of love which the Middle Ages had developed in courtly culture, not without the culture of mysticism, and which Petrarchism had carried still further. Already in Corneille it is a tragic and sublime motif..and Racine gives it the overwhelming power which precipitates men from their courses and annihilates them. But in all this there is hardly a trace of the physical and the sexual, which the taste of the time considered base and improper.

p393  [In classical C17th tragic drama] the antique model is transcended, and the result is a sharp break with the millennial popular and Christian tradition of mixed styles. The exaggerated tragic character  (ma gloire) and the extreme cult of the passions are actually anti-Christian.This is a point which the theologians of the age who condemned the theatre had understood very clearly, especially Nicole and Bossuet.  Eg Bosuett: Maximes et Réflexions sur La Comédie: “Thus a poet’s entire design, the entire aim of his labours, is that we, like his hero, should be in love with beautiful women, that we should serve them as if they were divinities; in a word, that we should sacrifice all to them, unless perhaps it be honour, the love of which is even more dangerous that love of beauty.”

p398 Re C18th French literature: e.g. the Abbé Prévost (the story of Manon Lescaut). The intimately erotic in descriptions and allusions becomes very much the fashion from the Regency on. All through the century we find motifs of this kind in literature (and not only in erotic literature in the strict sense).

p399 During the classical epoch, in the days of Louis XIV, this form of eroticism does not even exist in comedy. Molière is never lewd. Now erotic and sentimental intimacy are fused and the erotic element appears even in the anecdotes produced by the philosophic and scientific Enlightenment.

p401-2 Quite different is the stylistic level of the realistic texts which serve the propaganda purposes of the Enlightenment…in the course of the [18th] century they become more frequent and increasingly aggressive polemically. e.g. the Philosophic Letters of Voltaire…it is the unexpected contrast of religion and business, in which business is placed higher, practically and morally, than religion.

p407-8 A specifically Voltairian feature is the swift tempo, which never becomes unaesthetic despite the author’s boldness, not to say unscrupulousness, in moral matters and his technique of sophistic surprise attacks. He is completely free from the half-erotic and hence somewhat hazy sentimentality which we have tried to demonstrate in our analysis of the text from ‘Manon Lescaut’. His unmasking in the spirit of the Enlightenment are never crude and clumsy; on the contrary they are light, agile, and as it were appetising. And above all, he is free from the cloudy, contour-blurring, overemotional rhetoric, equally destructive of clear thinking and pure feeling, which came to the fore in the authors of the Enlightenment during the second half of the century and in the literature of the Revolution, which had a still more luxuriant growth in the nineteenth century through the influence of romanticism, and which has continued its loathsome flowers down to our day. 

p408  …that Voltaire [in Candide] in no way does justice to Leibniz’s argument and in general to the idea of a metaphysical harmony of the universe, especially since so entertaining a piece as Voltaire’s novel finds many more readers than the difficult essays of his philosophical opponents, which cannot be understood without serious study. Indeed, even the observation that the supposed reality of experience which Voltaire builds up does not correspond to experience at all, that it has been artfully adjusted to his polemic purpose, must have escaped most contemporary readers, of if not, they would not have made much of it.

p410-11 ..Basically [Voltaire] is a moralist; and, especially in his historical writings, there are human portraits in which the individuality comes out clearly. But he is always inclined to simplify…the role of sole standard of judgment is assigned to sound, practical common sense…everything historical and spiritual he despises and neglects. This has to do with the active and courageous spirit with which the protagonists of Enlightenment were filled. They set out to rid human society of everything that impeded the progress of reason. Such impediments were obviously to be seen in the religious, political, and economic actualities  which had grown up historically, irrationally, in contradiction to common sense and had finally become an inextricable maze. What seemed required was not to understand and justify them but to discredit them.

p411 Tragedy itself becomes more colourful and clever with Voltaire, but it loses weight. But in its stead the intermediate genres, such as the novel and the narrative in verse, begin to flourish, and between tragedy and comedy we now have the intermediate ‘comédie larmoyante’. [“weeping”, tearful”]

p413 [Even writing about his own impending death, Voltaire]..refuses to let one’s own sombre emotions become a burden to anyone else; there is the didactic ethos which characterised the great men of the Enlightenment and which made them able to use their last breath to formulate some new idea wittily and pleasingly.

p433 Of a basic historical theory of the kind postulated by Historism, whose first manifestation began to be perceptible just at Louis, Duc de Saint-Simon was writing his memoirs, there is yet no trace in him. The individualism of his representation is limited to individual human beings; historical forces in a super individual and yet personalised sense are not within his range of vision….The purpose of the historian as he formulates it, is entirely moralising and didactic in the pre-historistic sense. But the multifariousness of the reality in which he lived and which inspired his genius made him go far beyond it.

p437 C18th German literature eg Schiller (Luise Millrun,  1782-3) and Goethe have nothing about them to remind us of the heroic exaltation, the aloofness from the everyday, which characterised French tragedy of the great period…the sentimental middle-class novel and the middle-class tragedy (comédie larmoyante) had evolved long before in England and France….In Germany …the evolution of middle-class realism assumed exceptionally vigorous forms. The influence of Shakespeare joined forces with that of Diderot and Rousseau; the narrow and disrupted domestic conditions furnished arresting subjects; works were produced which were at once sentimental, narrowly middle-class, realistic and revolutionary.  Eg Lessing: Miss Sara Sampson; Minna von Barnhelm; Emilia Galotti.

p438  The final connection of sentimental middle-class realism with idealistic politics an concern for human rights was not established until the Sturm and Drang period. Traces of it are to be found in almost all the authors of this latter generation: in Goethe, Heinrich Leopold Wagner,  Lenz, Leisewitz, Klinger, even in Heinrich Voss.

p441 the Western European beginnings of the novel of manners and of the comédie larmoyante, love reestablished contact with the ordinary reality of life, but lost some of his dignity in the process. It became clearly erotic and at the same time touching and sentimental. It was in this form that the revolutionaries of the Sturm and Drang seized upon it, and following Rousseau’s footsteps, again gave it the highest tragic dignity, without abandoning any of its bourgeois , realistic, and sentimental elements.

p442 Schiller presents his characters with hair-raising rhetorical pathos…this is not realism, it is melodrama…

p445 Contemporary conditions in Germany did not easily lend themselves to broad realistic treatment. The social picture was heterogeneous; the general life was conducted in the confused setting of a host of “historical territories,” units which had come into existence through dynastic and political contingencies.

p446 [The French Revolution ] aroused horror and revulsion in the majority of outstanding Germans, [and] …encountered a passive,defensive, and irresponsive Germany. And it was not only the imperilled powers of the past which met the Revolution in a hostile spirit, it was also the youthful German intellectual movement. And here we find Goethe….Goethe turns to generalities and ethical principles, sometimes in a disgruntled mood, sometimes in a spirit of cheerfully pessimistic worldly and political wisdom.  

p447 Goethe adopted a selective approach to history e.g. commenting on the history of Florence under Lorenzo the Magnificent.: Had Lorenzo lived longer, and could a progressive, gradual development of the situation as laid down have taken place, the history of Florence would represent one of the most beautiful of phenomena; but it would seem that in the course of earthly things we shall but seldom experience the fulfilment of beautiful possibilities….For [Goethe], the fulfilment of beautiful possibilities” lies entirely in the flowering of aristocratic cultures in which significant individuals can develop unimpeded, and the principle of order which is present to his mind in such connections is comparatively eudaemonistic. 

p450  ….[the bourgeois]…must develop specific skills  to make himself useful, and it is taken for granted beforehand that his nature is not and should not possess harmony, because in order to make himself useful in one way, he must neglect everything else


p456  Early C19th French novelists e.g. Stendhal lived through the French Revolution, the relative “stability” of Napoleon, the three day reign of the Bourbons and the July Revolution, after which the aristocracy by and large needed to find a job. It is not too easy to describe Stendhal’s inner attitude toward social phenomena. It is his aim to seize their every nuance; he most accurately represents the particular structure of any given milieu, he has no preconceived rationalistic system concerning the general factors which determine social life, nor any particular concept of how the ideal society ought to look.

p467  Romanticism, which had taken shape much earlier in Germany and England, and whose historical and individualistic trends had been long in preparation in France, reached its full development after 1820; and, as we know, it was precisely the principle of a mixture  of styles  which Victor Hugo  and his friends made the slogan of their movement…Another writer of the romantic generation, Balzac, who had as great a creative gift and far more closeness to reality, seized upon the representation of contemporary life  as his own particular task and, together with Stendhal, can be regarded as the creator of modern realism.  

p486  In Stendhal and Balzac we frequently and indeed almost constantly hear what the writer thinks of his characters and events…Both these things are absent from Flaubert’s work….upon a profound faith in the truth of language responsibly, candidly, and carefully employed—Flaubert’s artistic practice rests.

p491 Auerbach suggests that throughout the C19th France played the most important part in the rise and development of modern realism. Germany was held back by the lack of unification.In England the development came about more quietly and gradually…more moralistically [eg Fielding’s Tom Jones]; ..even in Dickens, whose work began to appear in the thirties of the C19th, there is, despite the strong social feeling and suggestive density of his milieux, almost no trace of the fluidity of the political and historical background. Meanwhile Thackeray, who places the events of “Vanity Fair” (1847-48) most concretely in contemporary history (the years before and after Waterloo), on the whole preserves the moralistic, half-satirical, half-sentimental viewpoint very much as it was handed down by the C18th. We must, unfortunately, forego discussing the rise of modern Russian realism (Gogol’s “Dead Souls” appeared in 1842)..even in the most general way.; for our purpose, this impossible when one cannot read the works in their original language.

p500 Re the work of Edmond and Jules de Goncourt (e.g. Germanie Lacerteux, 1864)…the worst danger which threatened a work of art was indifference!…The Goncourts charge the public with corrupt and perverted taste, with preferring false values, pseudo-refinement,  pruriency, reading as a comfortable and soporific pastime, books which end happily,  and make no serious demands on the reader…..the polemic of this preface is a symptom; it is characteristic of the relationship which had developed in the course of the C19th between the public and almost all important poets and writers, as well as painters, sculptors and musicians—-and not only in France…

p501  By way of explanation the first point that comes to mind is the tremendous and ever increasing expansion of the reading public since the beginning of the C19th, and the concomitant coarsening of taste. Intelligence, choiceness of feeling, concern for the forms of life and expression deteriorated….the lowering of standards was further accelerated by the commercial exploitation of the tremendous demand for reading matter on the part of publishers of books and periodicals, the majority of whom..followed the path of least resistance and easy profits, supplying the public with what it wanted and possible even worse that it would have demanded if left to its own devices….But who was the reading public? It consisted largely of the urban middle class, which had greatly increased in numbers and, in consequence of the spread of education, had become able and willing to read. Here we have the “bourgeois,” the creature whose stupidity, intellectual inertia, conceit, hypocrisy, and cowardice were attacked and ridiculed by poets, writers, artists, and critics from the romantic period on. Can we simply subscribe to their verdict? Are not these the same people who undertook the tremendous task, the bold adventure, of the economic, scientific, and technological civilization of the C19th, and who also produced the leadership of the revolutionary movements which were the first to recognise the crises, dangers, and foci of corruption inherent in that civilisation. 

p502  But there is something else. In France, the influence of religion had been more profoundly shaken than elsewhere….to be sure, justice had never ruled supreme in this world. But now it was no longer seriously possible, as it had been in earlier times, to interpret and accept injustice as decreed by God. A strong feeling of moral discomfort very soon arose.

p503-4 There now arose [after the 1850s] the conception and ideal of a literary art which in no way intrudes into the practical events of the present, which avoids every tendency to affect the lives of men morally, politically, or otherwise practically, and whose whole duty is to fulfil the requirements of style….the reaction was an absolute denial of every kind of useful function for literature because usefulness immediately suggested practical usefulness or dreary didacticism.  cf Malherbe…who is alleged to have said that a good poet is no more useful than a good bowler. It is to ascribe to literature and art in general the most absolute value, to make them the object of a cult, almost a religion. And thus so high a rank was assigned to pleasure—which was primarily a sensory enjoyment of expression…the attitude here described…became prevalent in the generation born about 1820: Leconte de Lisle, Baudelaire, Flaubert, the Goncourts.

p505-6 When we compare Stendhal’s or even Balzac’s world with the world of Flaubert or the two Goncourts, the latter seems strangely narrow and petty despite its wealth of impressions….today we read…something narrow, something oppressively close in these books.They are full of reality and intellect but poor in humour and inner poise….what finally emerges, despite all their intellectual culture and artistic incorruptibility, is a strangely petty total impression: that of an “upper bourgeois” egocentrically concerned over his aesthetic comfort, plagued by a thousand small vexations, nervous, obsessed by mania—only in this case the mania is called “literature”.

p510  Enter Emile Zola! …Among his enemies, who worked themselves into a fury over what they called the repulsiveness, the filth, and the obscenity of his art, there were doubtless many who accepted the grotesque or comic realism of earlier epochs, even in its crudest  or most indecent representations, with equanimity or even with delight. What excited them so was rather the fact that Zola by no means put forth his art as “of the low style,” still less as comic. Almost every line he wrote showed that all this was meant in the highest degree seriously and morally; that the sum total of it was not a pastime or an artistic parlour game but the true portrait of contemporary society as he—Zola—saw it and as the public was being urged in his works to see it.

p512  The art of style has wholly renounced producing pleasing effects in the conventional sense of the term. Instead it serves unpleasant, depressing, desolate truth.

p515  Zola has many successors…but Zola was the first [genuine researcher of the facts behind the content of his novels].

p516-17In its grasp of contemporary reality French literature is far ahead of the literature of other European countries in the nineteenth century….it is true that the best German works of this period had no world-wide importance…

p520-1   More lasting and important is the effect of the Russians. Gogol, it is true, had scarcely any influence in Europe, and Turgenev, who was on friendly terms with Flaubert and Edmond de Goncourt, would seem on the whole to have received more than he gave. From the eighties on, Tolstoy and Dostoevski begin to come into the picture… seems that the Russians were naturally endowed with the possibility of conceiving of everyday things in a serious vein; that a classicistic aesthetics which excludes a literary category of “the low” from aneroid treatment could never gain a firm foothold in Russia.

p524  Russian coming to terms with European civilisation during the nineteenth century was significant not only for Russia.. In this respect too the effect of Tolstoy and still more of Dostoevski in Europe was very great, and if, in many domains, among them that of realistic literature, the moral crisis became increasingly keen from the last decade before the first World War, and something like a premonition of the impending catastrophe was observable, the influence of the Russian realists was an essential contributing factor.

p531-2  [re Virginia Woolf: To The LIghthouse..] Virginia Woolf wrote this paragraph. She did not identify it through grammatical an typographical devices as the speech or thought of a third person. One is obliged to assume that it contains direct statements of her own. But she does not seem to bear in mind that she is the author and hence ought to know how matters stand with her characters. The person speaking here, whoever it is, acts the part of one who has only an impression of Mrs Ramsay….no-one is certain of anything here…

p534 The writer as narrator of objective facts has almost completely vanished; almost everything stated appears by way of reflections the consciousness of the dramatic personae.

p537  That there is something peculiar about the treatment of time in modern narrative literature is nothing new;  [Amen to that! do we need all this chopping and changing between three or four or more historical settings that we have to work out for ourselves by reference to a family tree? (which at least is given in Marquez: A Hundred  Years of Solitude!]

p541 …Virginia Woolf’s peculiar technique, as exemplified in [To The Lighthouse] ..consists in the fact that the exterior objective reality of the momentary present which the author directly reports and which appears as established fact—in our instance the measuring of the stocking—is nothing but an occasion …the stress is placed entirely on what the occasion releases, things which are not seen directly but by reflection..

…Here it is only natural that we should recall Proust’s work . He was the first to carry this sort of thing through consistently, and his entire technique is bound up with a recovery of lost realities in remembrance, a recovery released by some externally insignificant and apparently accidental occurrence….Proust describes the procedure more than once. We have to wait until volume 2 of “Le Temps retrievé  for a full description embracing the corresponding theory of art; 

p544  Re James Joyce: Ulysses…All the great motifs of the cultural history of Europe are contained in it, although its point of departure is very specific individuals  and a clearly establlished present  (Dublin, June 16, 1904). On sensitive readers it can produce a very strong immediate impression. Really to understand it, however, is not an easy matter, for it makes severe demands on the reader’s patience and learning by it s dizzying whirl of motifs, wealth of words and concepts, perpetual playing upon their countless associations, and the ever rearoused but never satisfied doubt as to what order is ultimately hidden behind so much arbitrariness.   [In my view the best way (the only way?] to read Ulysses is to read it in an edition with detailed explanatory notes e.g. James Joyce, Ulysses :The 1922 Text, Edited with an Introduction and notes by Jeri Johnson Oxford, OUP, 1993]

p545 the influence the procedure and traces of it [ie Proust and Joyce’s manipulation of time] ..can be found almost everywhere…Thomas Mann is an example, who, ever since his “Magic Mountain”, without in any way abandoning his level of tone (in which the narrating, commenting , objectivizing author addressing the reader is always present) has been more and more concerned with time perspectives and the symbolic omnitemporality of events. Another very different instance is André Gide, in whose “Faux-Monnayeurs” there is a constant shifting of the viewpoint from which the events (themselves multilayered) are surveyed, and who carries this procedure to such an extreme that the novel,  and the account of the genesis of the novella are interwoven in the ironic vein of the romanticists.

p549  For there is always going on within us a process of formulation and interpretation who’s subject matter is our own self. We are constantly endeavouring to give meaning and order to our lives in the past, the present, and the future, to our surroundings, the world in which we live, with the result that our lives appear in our own self. 

p550 This literary survey of the Western canon was written on the eve of World War 11 by a Jewish German national forced to live in Turkey. The final three pages are gripping reading. The spread of  publicity and the crowding of mankind on a shrinking globe sharpened awareness of the differences in ways of life and attitudes, and mobilised the interests and forms of existence which the new changes either furthered or threatened. In all parts of the world crises of adjustment arose; they increased in number and coalesced. They led to the upheavals which we have not weathered yet….these forces threatened to split up and disintegrate..fascism hardly had to employ force when the time came for it spread through the countries of old European culture, absorbing the smaller sects.

p551 Re the first half of  C20th literature,  there is in all these works a certain atmosphere of universal doom: especially in “Ulysses, with its mocking “odi-et-amo” hodgepodge of European tradition, with its blatant and painful cynicism, and its uninterpretable symbolism— for even the most painstaking analysis can hardly emerge with anything more than an appreciation of the multiple enmeshment of the motifs but with nothing of the purpose and meaning of the work itself.

p553 The concluding paragraph! Perhaps it will be too simple to please those who, despite all its dangers and catastrophes, admire and love our epoch for the sake of its abundance of life and the incomparable historical vantage point which it affords. But they are few in number, and probably they will not live to see much more than the first forewarnings of the approaching unification and simplification.

p557 From the Epilogue: … Nothing remains but to find him, to find the reader, that is.  I hope that my study will reach its readers—both my friends of former years, if they are still alive, as well as all the others for whom it was intended. And may it contribute to bringing together again those whose love for our western history has serenely persevered.

This edition contains an Appendix: “Epilogue to Mimesis” by Erich Auerbach and translated by Jan M. Ziolkowski, in which Auerbach responds to criticisms of his literary analysis especially by  fellow philologist Robert Curtius.  (1886-1956). It is fairly technical and includes his defence of not responding to some of the works of theologian Rudolph Bultmann on New Testament typology. Bultmann was  a personal friend of Auerbach, whose more current works were not available to him in Turkey but having now read them he was not disposed to make any changes to his major theses in Mimesis.

More wrangling with Wright: this time his commentary on Romans in the New Interpreters Bible Volume X (Nashville, Abingdon, 2002) chapters 1 -8

For many years I have seen Paul’s Letter to the Romans as central to understanding the Biblical basis of Christianity …so many powerful verses that over the years have been significant for me in my Christian life and growth. But Romans is also full of difficult and complex concepts. For the past 12 years each morning amongst other things I have read a passage from Romans, thinking about the Greek text and working twice now through Wright’s Commentary. (His commentary also provides helpful reference to many others including Luther, Calvin, Cranfield, Kasemann, Moo, Dunn, Fitzmyer, Bryan, Byrne, Donfried, Hays, Hay & Johnson, Wagner and since Wright, we now have Jewett, Schlatter in English, Bird, Longenecker, Schreiner, Witherington and many others besides).

I keep coming back to Wright because he insists on simply reading and working on the text as it stands and because he sees the whole book as a total unity, constantly demonstrating how Paul repeats and deepens concepts from previous chapters into a consistent and powerfully built up single argument. He has chapters 9-11 as the centre of the book and he constantly refers to whole Biblical story as uniquely reflected in Romans.  That is (i) the Genesis 12 story of God’s covenant with Abraham that through his seed, Israel, all the families of the world will be blessed; and (ii) the Isaiah 49 and 53  story that Israel is called to be a light to the nations and that their promised suffering servant is the Messiah who is God enfleshed in humanity for the purpose of the salvation of humanity.

Another helpful addition to Wright’s commentary is a series of far-reaching reflections  after each section of the text is dealt with. In typical fashion Wright seeks to relate Romans to  the C21st and, as ever, I have found his reflections to be thought provoking and powerful for my Christian life and thinking.  The following is a summary of the reflections from Chapters 1 – 8 of Wright’s Commentary with some comments of my own interspersed. (but it is mainly Wright!)


REFLECTIONS ON ROMANS  (Based on N T Wright: The Letter to the Romans: Introduction, Commentary , and Reflections, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume !X, Nashville, Abingdon Press,2002 pp393-770)


  1. The question of the righteousness of God (ie the justice of God – theodicy) looms large today because of the horrors and evident evil of the C20th (Armenia/Turkey/Greece ethnic cleansing, WW1, WW2, Holocaust, Hiroshima/Nagasaki, Korea, Viet-Nam, Cambodia killing fields, Mao Tse Tung and Chinese cultural revolution, Stalinist purges in Russia (30 million dead), Chile (Pinochet), Rwandan genocide, September 11 2001,  Balkans ethnic cleansing (Bosnia/Serbia/Croatia), Syria.  Where is God in all this when he has promised to bring all things into justice, peace and harmony including in the cosmos as a whole? The church’s ministry is to unveil God’s righteousness once more through the Gospel of Jesus, unleashing God’s power for salvation.
  1. The Gospel” in Paul’s letter to the Romans is not primarily about sinful human beings and how they attain justification and salvation for eternal life…this message was not simply the offer of a new reordering of one’s private spiritual interiority, a new clearing up of a morally dysfunctional life via forgiveness for the past and a new moral energy for the present. It was not simply a new vocation to live for God and for others in the world….it was rather good news about God and Jesus…that principalities and powers of darkness, sin and death had been defeated and were now summoned to was a command requiring obedience much more than an invitation seeking a response…..this command comes out of the blue, is unexpected and unwelcome and is never trendy. Our contemporaries are not interested in a Jewish Messiah from the C1st being proclaimed as the centre of history.  They say:

“surely the world has not in fact improved” (did Paul say it would?)

“Christianity has been responsible for great evils” (yes though demonstrably when in         rebellion against itself)

“surely we know Christianity is untrue?” (Well, no, we don’t)

Yes these objections must be  taken seriously but modernism’s and atheism’s  replacement is looking decidely threadbare.  When the Gospel is proclaimed and God’s justice is proclaimed by the Holy Spirit in God’s faithful people it is impossible to remain a mere spectator.

  1. In spite of the powerful message we bear we are not to be tyrannically overbearing…we are to be humble slaves of the living God dealing sensitively, in season, with those within our sphere. (see Paul’s humble prayer in Romans 1)
  1. The Gospel Paul proclaims is for both Jews and non-Jews in spite of the political incorrectness and anger this idea generates today. How can Christians have a message for Jews in an age of the Crusades and the Holocaust? Good question, difficult to answer, but how also can the Gospel be kept from the Jews …what right do we have to do this? The reality is that Jews are still called to recognise their Messiah.
  1. Christian proclamation cannot ignore human wickedness and the wrath of God which expresses his justice/righteousness. “Embrace” must be counterbalanced by “exclusion”. (Volf) The world says:”there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the human  race. It is unhealthy or morbid to dwell on sin always or to be drawing attention to it. It is pathological to approve of punishment, let alone retribution. It is bordering on blasphemy to suppose that God would ever be wrathful.”  But on the contrary we cannot ignore Paul’s stern warnings in Romans 1.
  2. Paganism and idolatry are both on the march today  eg worship of blood and soil (Nazism); worship of Mammon (materialism/greed esp Western economic greed); worship of Eros (dehumanising and dangerous pursuit of every erotic titillation); worship of Mars (War); worship of Nature (Pantheism).  All lead either to dehumanisation, human poverty, human slavery, human exploitation.
  1. Paul’s controversial comments about homosexuality relate to his view that the practice is a dangerous distortion of God’s intention of a male/female order in creation…as above human culture as a whole tends towards idolatry in this case erotic idolatry. It is a logical thing to argue that with greater knowledge of human psychology we should reassess the explanation of same-sex desires and orientation nor is he making a case by case analysis. Rather he is using rampant homosexual practice and public displays of homoeroticism as a symbol of cultural fracturing and idolatry. We cannot sideline this argument, but neither can we sideline his warning in chapter 2 that a moral superiority complex is equally evil. Christians have a basic vocation to be a light to the world in their own moral lives and their dealings with others of all beliefs and practices.
  1. Paul’s concern for truth achieved through the “renewal of the mind by the Spirit” clashes  with both Enlightenment foundationalism (cui bono…”who stands to gain?…claims to truth are often covert claims to power) and also Post-modern relativism. (Newbigin’s “wandering in a twilight where all cats are grey”…How can we know that Post-modernism’s claim about the relativism of truth is itself true?) (cf verification principle in logical positivism).


  1. Moralism itself is not wrong although the context of Paul’s moralism is different from pagan, Jewish or post-modern moralism; in any case  we do not need:

i) laissez-faire tolerance

ii) street-level existential ‘do what you please as long as it does not hurt anyone’

iii) those who do not practise what they teach eg Seneca; Johnson:The Intellectuals… but none avoids this e.g. sermon on the mount …secretly no-one is righteous.

iv) those who are hypocrites – denouncing the faults of others whilst secretly practising them themselves.


10.  The problem in our society is the projecting of our own vices on others and then angrily blaming them for the very same things. e.g. between parents and children; and also when journalists (the main source of moralising in our society ), whose own lives might not always bear public scrutiny , take delight in exposing, in the rich and famous, failings of which they themselves may be privately guilty.The Christian’s life should be open to the searchlight of the Holy Spirit, only then will one be able to gently and firmly articulate a standard and denounce evil.

11.   The final hope of a just judgment of God demands the challenge of realising God’s judgment in the present. We do not need:

– a vague hope for a better life hereafter  cf Marx ‘religion as the opiate of the people’. this is a parody of Paul’s teaching ..if we teach this we are agents of oppression!

– vague warnings about possible unpleasant consequences of wrongdoing.

– artificially pumped up shrill hellfire denunciations of sins and casual self-satisfied salvation assurance in Jesus. Rather we should be agents for realising God’s justice in the present time in all ways possible.

The Messianic hope has come forward into the present.

12.  It still needs saying…that the creator of the world has no ‘favoured nations clause’.  Noone, no culture, no nation, no ethnic group, can say, ‘because we are x. y or z, God will be gracious to us come what may.  [cf Volf: Exclusion and Embrace] This is of course particularly includes those who promote a particular Christian affiliation.What happens when God’s impartiality conflicts with the covenant made with Israel?….The Messiah promised to Israel, becomes the Messiah for all people! The failure of Israel to be God’s light to the Gentile world is the key to the interpretation of Romans. Israel’s prophesied redemption did not occur with the return from exile. It is not a geographic promise…..the so-called “personal relationship” with God is not the message of evangelism (Romans 2:17..we cannot brag about our relationship with God. The point throughout the Hebrew scriptures is that the creator of the world is Israel’s God and vice versa…the God of Israel is the creator of the world not just the creator of Israel.

13. Romans 2 bears a special message for professing Christians.  We cannot presume upon God’s kindness and forbearance.  There is a day when “…God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.”  We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of things done in the body.  To name the name of Jesus is, as Romans 2:16 makes clear, to invoke the one to whom all, especially his own, will give account.


14. Who is the teacher to the foolish and the guide to the blind? In our generation it is politicians, journalists, intellectuals, police, union leaders and the chattering classes but they all routinely show by their behaviour that they are blind guides. Idealistic Jews claim that the Zionist State of Israel is the light to the nations but poverty stricken Palestinians would beg to differ; Christians now consider themselves to be the light to the world and indeed there are many churches where the gospel is lived out in its full transforming reality but,  particularly at the point of unity many churches fail. Paul in Romans fights against the church splitting along cultural or ethnic lines using dogmatic differences as a cloak for continuing tribal identity. Sadly this still occurs today whether catholic/protestant warfare in Northern Ireland, Maronite Christianity in Lebanon, Orthodox/Catholic warfare in the Balkans. As long as those who name the name of Jesus Christ cannot at least share the Eucharist, cannot in some cases even pray together, the name of God will continue to be blasphemed among pagans.

15.  Paul’s claim in Romans 2 (even though ‘in tears’) that Christians are the people of the renewed covenant (‘true Jews’) is deeply offensive to:

– Modern Jews scarred by Nazism for whom the claim is anti-Judaism (ie a rejection of Judaism as a way of life) and anti-Semitic (a rejection of a particular race with overtones of C19th racial theories).

– Many modern Christians who were also scarred by the offence of the Nazi ‘final solution’ against the Jews as the effect of claims made by Paul in passages like Romans  chapter 2. The moral they think is that the Church must back off from such claims and should express faith in terms of spirituality, based on the Jew Jesus of Nazareth, which many Jews have found life-giving (part of the third quest?). Maccoby..Paul is to be rejected as the paganizer of the Jewish message of Jesus.

– Those ‘modernists’ (actually those rooted in C18th Enlightenment views) who think that all religions are inadequate approximations to truth and none has exclusive rights to it. This is a covert way of saying that the “religions of the book” (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are all misleading since all of them make claims that the other must deny if they are not to lose their identity. This is combined with a secular agenda coupled with a laudable desire for humility and mutual respect, but sometimes using a highly arrogant liberalism that challenges all truth claims while pressing its own with remarkable intolerance. (how does the modern secularist know his/her truth claim is true?)

There are two responses:  i) Paul was in fact a Christian Jew who proclaimed to the world the Jewish gospel message (the one God of the whole created world , the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who gave the Torah, had now unveiled in Jesus the Messiah the final plan to bring justice and healing to the world.  Paul knew that this Gospel was ‘to the Jew first,’ but also and equally ‘to the Greek’.  Paul would never have countenanced a split twin-track salvation history (against Gaston and Gager).

ii) There is a curious anomaly in this ‘modernist’ Christian position which urges us to reject non-Jewish styles of Christianity and encourages the recovery of Jewish roots  and rituals including Christianised seder meals etc.  On the other hand we must reject all claims to be ‘the Jew’, ‘The circumcision’. The demon word is Supersession. In such a view the church has taken Israel’s place in God’s plan leaving no room any longer for non-Christian Israel.        This double position is grossly inconsistent. The Jewish roots of Christianity show us that all the early Christians rejoiced in their in their Jewishness, seeking earnestly to share the blessings of the Messianic age prophesied in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Deuteronomy and including figures like John the Baptist and the Essenes. It was the Jewish prophets who threw the membership of the renewed covenant open far and wide and it was unpopular then just as when Paul did the same. There is no easy solution to this massive problem which is why Paul mounted his large and complex argument in chapters 9 -11.


16.  Before we “apply” or “translate” the severe and dense verses of Romans 2 and 3 to our own day we must consider their relevance in Paul’s own time.  (their own unique meaning).  It is that God, always active within the world in various ways, acted uniquely and decisively at one moment in history. God will be just and faithful. Preachers cannot avoid being ancient historians if they are to avoid shallow anachronism. 

Since the enlightenment religious rhetoric has been in favour of broad general truths, timeless and abstract religious or ethical norms or guidelines. Modernity insists Biblical particularity is unjust. Projecting our hard won (and often deeply ambiguous) democracy on to the heavens we demand that all humans should have the same vote and voice. How, we ask, can a unique act of God be fair? cf the Barthian discussion whether Christianity is a ‘religion’ or a ‘revelation’. But we should not assume pace Kasemann that the Jews were following a religion only…they were clearly looking for a revelation.

Our confusion re God’s particular and decisive action is that we misunderstand its meaning..

  • it was not to convey information to humans
  • or to provide a set of rules to live by…that would be arbitrary and unfair
  • nor to straighten out a few kinks in creation (miracles).   Why would not God act in our day to straighten our genocide and mass destruction.

We must seek for another model of divine unique that of an architect who must design a blueprint at one time and place for the benefit of all. We have the glory of the ‘gospel’ …a god with muddy boots and dirty hands, busy at the centre of the mess so that all may be cleaned up and sorted out.

17. The point (or advantage) of being Jewish broadens out to the point of being human. Philosophy and theology, writers and artists ponder why ‘civilisation’ cannot build peace. The Jewish vocation was to bring light to the Gentiles. The human vocation is to reflect God’s image into the world. We could reject all of Judaism (Marcion); and all human vocation (New Age humans are part of the world’s problems and are only animals with highly developed brains ..Singer). But Paul argues that God has called and created humans to reflect God’s image in the world. The righteousness of God has been revealed in an obedient human (Jesus) to fulfil God’s purpose in creation. See especially 1 Corinthians 15: 20-28; Philippians 3:20-21; see also Hebrews 2:5-10.

17.Sin is controversial today. To deny human sinfulness (as many, including many Christians) do today is to deny the reality of evil and the heart of the “good news” …it is not good news if there is no evil to defeat. Much modern psychology just sees varieties of human behaviour but such rationalism leads to relativism. Tragically, just as those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat it, so those who turn a blind eye to wickedness are always in danger of perpetrating it. (if there is no danger of disease why take precautions; if the human race is basically ok let’s eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we shall live!) At the same time post-modernity is is urging us to have a hermeneutic of suspicion ..of every word, action and motive and commands everyone to be true to themselves but such a command is deeply suspect.  It allows the bully, the tyrant, the murderer and the adulterer to be true to themselves and persuades us to thank God “we are not like other men” because we neglect to look into our own hearts and see our need for God’s salvation.

18.  Paul’s robust catalogue of evil always looks to the hope of God’s righteousness. He does not (like many preachers today) preach a denouncing dualism or a dismissive ignoring of sin because it is too depressing.

19. The dismissal of ‘works of the law” as a means of justification has many overtones which should not be mistaken for the fundamental meaning of Paul’s argument. It is Israel specific explaining that the Torah cannot define them as the eschatological people of God..Torah cannot perform this function. This warning sends signals in other spheres as well:

– Roman moralists of Paul’s day show that thought and noble intention are not enough

– Luther’s anxious fretting of ‘Christian duties’ was not enough

– Despite the Reformation the devout John Wesley had not heard the message of grace until he read Luther’s Commentary on  Galatians.

– The Enlightenment post-Kantian moral imperative preached as law to people to encourage them to recognise their inner guilt so they can preach the Gospel to them will not do …transformation is required.

–  C21st century “for me” Gospel screens out the other half of Romans and reduces the story of Israel to “the wrong way of approaching God or ‘religion’. The unique story of Israel and Jesus is the fundamental truth of the Gospel. Only thus can we retain the heart of Reformation theology with its defence of God’s righteousness, not ours.

20. Romans 3:21-26, so often quoted, states that the “righteousness” (ie saving justice, covenantal faithfulness) of the creator God has been revealed once for all in the death of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. This claim appears counter-intuitive in the contemporary world because his death, in fact, does not seem to have made much of a difference in the world. Two ‘Christian’ responses to this have been:

i) to reduce Jesus’ death as an example, albeit the supreme example of God’s love as a  ‘general’ truth rather than an event through which the world became a different place or

ii) a particular kind of ‘atonement theology’ that rescues souls out of the world leaving this worldly injustice unaffected  e.g. the “left behind” film series.( a retreat from Paul’s vision of God’s justice as well as that of the Jewish prophets and indeed Jesus’ own teaching)

Since the C1st other massive Western agendas have attempted to impress themselves on the contemporary world including, amongst others,

– The Renaissance world claim that by the rediscovery of classical virtues and art and their own unique understand the real significant change in history did not happen in the “Middle Ages” but in the C15th

– The Western Europe enlightenment view that C18th scientific and philosophical advances provided the real basis for a rival eschatology, not the C1st death of a Jew in Palestine.

[Wright could have added: The C7th Islamic revolution of Mohammed with its extreme view that followers of the Qu’ran have the only truth that matters..also the might and depth of Chinese philosophy/Buddhist teaching with its numbers and entrepreneurial strength has sights on world domination]

21.  This amazing theme of God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel, as an unbreakable commitment, even though Israel was unfaithful, demands further exploration…it is a theme not sufficiently remarked on or thought through. …in these verses Paul points to the promise beyond Israel to the promises and commands given by God to all humankind. The challenge is then to work out how the cross of Jesus unveils, in a decisive action , those promises as well; and how to live on the basis that it does so.

22. These verses state in sharp and concise form the extraordinary and earth-shattering proposition that the creator God has acted to provide the deeply costly remedy for the plight that hangs over all humankind. Not to be deeply moved by this is to fail to listen. ….Verses 21-26 could stand as a heading over one gospel passage after another, as though to say, “this is what the story is all about.”

23. This passage also highlights one aspect of Paul’s complex portrait of Jesus.His faithfulness.  Given a vocation, He was true to it, though it cost Him everything. It is a matter not for guilt on our part (although this might be a helpful side effect, but for awe and gratitude. This faithfulness impinges on each of us personally…cf Galatians 2:20  The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.  This faithfulness of Jesus sustains the whole argument of the rest of Romans and it can also sustain the believer and the Christian community through all the trials that beset them (in being light and salt to the world). Paul emphasises in Romans 8:35 that this grace and redemption comes through the love of “the Messiah” (tou Christou).  It is that kind of subtle change that tells us where his heart really is.

24. Following the hateful Christian history of persecution of the Jews we should always remember that for Paul, the Gospel was “to the Jew first and also to the Greek”. The Jews are still the object of God’s love and grace (as they were “entrusted with the oracles of God”. We must not despise or reject/ignore them, that is offensive. But the Gospel is offensive to Jews (a crucified Messiah who died for love of the whole world …not just Jews and not just Christians! The Gospel is also offensive to the post-enlightenment West for whom inoffensiveness  is a supreme virtue. Current single race or single culture Christian churches are understandable but are just as dangerous and indeed sad as the division between Gentile and Jewish Christian churches in the first century. There is no ‘favoured nations’ clause in Christianity.  cf Tutu: God is not a Christian!

 25. No favoured nations clause applies also to communities and nations not just churches. There is no room for African tribalism (Rwanda); Ethno-centric nationalism and  cleansing (Balkans); Republican or Unionist Christianity (Northern Ireland) or militant Christianity of any sort, Lebanese or white Australian.  All dishonour God (“with their sharp feet they spew out blood, poison is on their lips”). We should hang our heads in sorrow (Miroslav Volf).

26. For more than half a millenium Protestant Christians have been fighting a war against Catholicism but sometimes the targets have been very confused. Romans addresses two fronts: (i) Justification and salvation cannot be earned..both are the free gift and grace of God  (Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling). (ii) The heart of the Torah is still significant  but for daily living and an awareness of sinfulness, not for justification. Where the church has gathered accretions to the doctrine of justification by faith alone including embracing the enlightenment dualism of reason and contingent historical reality, introducing to Protestantism the sense that anything to do with physical objects or behaviour was somehow “worldly” as opposed to”godly”, creating a subtly different protest not against “works righteousness” but against having anything to do with the present world. This leads to a disdain for creation and a disdain for political and social action for which liberation theology was a natural correction. In worship it led to a “low church mentality” of disdaining against any liturgical practice or tradition (including movement, gestures, objects, robes, even the liturgy itself) as a form of “legalism” and a compromise of the Gospel. While it is true that worship activities can come to be regarded as “things we do to earn God’s favour” such a conclusion can also come from an adherence to Quaker silence or a charismatic prayer meeting. Such debates, while important, are not what Paul is arguing in Romans 3.

A similar disdain for formality came with the Romantic poets’ sense of awe and wonder in the natural world and the idea that the only ‘authentic’ way for humans to do anything was to act as if it were spontaneous and did not have to be carefully worked out…the impact was a common Protestant desire for spontaneity and freedom from rules.  But this ignores the value of carefully thought out prayers, the drama of the eucharistic liturgy, and the sense of worship that quiet liturgical process can create. Reducing liturgy to only the words of Paul himself or Jesus filtered through translation, reformation and enlightenment has everything to do with personal, social and cultural preferences and prejudices and nothing to do with Paul.   A good deal of polemic that disguises itself with theological language is in fact a determination to preserve one particular cultural heritage and way of doing things which is the very thing Paul opposed in Romans. The great final climax of his letter in chapters 14 and 15 demonstrates that “justification by faith”  is designed to result in “fellowship in faith” in which different cultures and different ways of doing things respect and celebrate one another’s practices.  It remains a difficult problem for the church to determine what is the essence of the Gospel that should be preserved at all costs and what is a matter of theological indifference. The main challenge of the Western church in the C21st is how to preserve the celebration of different cultures from degeneration into  a mere postmodern smorgasbord of options in which everything including morality and theology , are up for negotiation.   Yet the challenge of Romans is that Jews and Greeks belong together in God’s family and should learn to work that out in practice. This must be the guide for solving all our divisions today.


26b (p505)  There is a non-negotiable task of persuading those who believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord to see themselves as the children of Abraham.  The Pauline picture of the people of God is inescapably rooted in the history of Israel from Genesis 11 (and in a metaphorical way from Genesis 3) onward. Therefore we must have a non-Marcionite view of Scripture. The fulfilment of God’s promise is central. But this family is NOT defined by Jewish law but by the faithfulness of Abraham in the faithfulness of God.  The Christian church is not therefore “ a new group” it is the same God and the same promise as Israel’s God.  Like Israel our task is to be a light to the world, bearing witness to the Jesus’ resurrection as the ultimate revelation of God’s love for the world and its people and God’s supreme action in dealing with human sinfulness with justice once and for all, for ever and since creation.

27. Within the ‘belief in the resurrection’ family of Christianity, there is no room for sub-definitions. Christianity should not be defined by culture, especially not our own culture. Christians naturally gravitate toward communities of similar background, personality, speech, social position, bank balance, theology esp.  in Western urban areas. Our reasons would be regarded by Paul as irrelevant, even damaging. It is a world -wide community based on God’s promise to Abraham [and it is or will be a universal community based on Jesus death on the cross for all who seek a meaning in God beyond themselves and live accordingly].

28. Christians must embody in their church life the faith articulated in Romans 4:4 – 8 (a forgiven community because there is none who is righteous. God in Christ has enabled all people to return to him who are prepared to walk in faithfulness illustrated by Abraham who have received a right standing with God based on the faithfulness of Jesus in the Cross. As Christians we are to shine as lights in the world witnessing to others of the light of Christ which can transform human life into eternal life, beginning now and also begin to redeem the earth and its peoples.Through this life we can overcome any evil. This acceptance by God does not give us the right to be snobbish about those who use religious practice to come close to God. Piety does not earn God’s favour but neither does impiety. Neither religion or irreligion will do; neither moralism or immoralism but rather seeking to walk in the way of God, not men. The tree is known by its fruit especially the corporate life of a group of Christians. We have this astonishing gift but we have not earned it by anything we have done or are..we are to be light and salt in the world (not death, darkness, judgment, or easy approval).  cf Kasemann’s repeated talk of homo religiososus.

29. Truth faith should reflect and feed on the character of God.  Humanity represents the image-bearers of God. Redeemed humanity responds to the death and decay in the world steadfastly acknowledging the God who raises the dead and creates out of nothing. Such faithfulness brings new life that reverses and undoes the idolatry of Romans 1 and  holds out the hope of a new remade humanity (as in Romans 12) ,transforming mind, character and behaviour including our behaviour toward the world.

30. It is not primitive thinking to base a theology on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. This was as ridiculous in the C1st as it is to many today. It did not become ridiculous in the Enlightenment. The foolishness of the Cross (and the empty tomb) fly in the face of human logic just as Abraham’s “dead” body and Sarah’s “dead” (as good as dead in both cases) womb opposes human wisdom. We might discuss the best way to speak of the resurrection in the C21st but “there is no room, as far as Paul is concerned, for that impossible hybrid, a Christian who does not in any sense believe in the resurrection of Jesus.



31  [Romans 5:1-5] God’s love of and  reconciliation with humanity demonstrated in and through Jesus the Messiah and his death is deeply personal and sits at the heart of Christian faith. If our hearts are not ‘strangely warmed’ when we read this and we see only theological derivations we have missed Paul’s point.  It is vital to keep Jesus, and the cross and resurrection, at the centre of the picture, and to invoke the Holy Spirit through whom God’s love floods our hearts.  We need to check regularly that we are not worshiping, and deriving spurious comfort from, an idol of our own imagining. Meditating on the death of Jesus is not of course just morbid fixation on the details of Christ’s suffering.

32 Romans 5:1-5 stresses God’s love leading to assurance (hope). When many Western Christians are flirting with universalism, there is simultaneously an underemphasis on the eternal security of Christian believers. It is almost as though we are trying to say that everyone else may well be saved but that we cannot be too sure about ourselves. The fact that the lives of some Christians make a mockery of their faith is beside the point  here (Paul deals with this over and over in 1 Corinthians). Those whom God justified, he also glorified..we need to grasp this.

33. Celebrating our sufferings is not morbid….it builds patience, endurance and tried and tested character. We need to model these traits in society. The post-modern West does not value these things wanting everything at once and the freedom to change character at the mood of the moment….it is in many ways a community without hope.  [cf Sondheim: Into the Woods ]

34 There is a political challenge in Christ’s loving sacrificial death for humanity. Jesus achieved justice through his own death not the death of those who stood in his way [contrast Roman justitia]  How might God’s reconciling action in Christ become the ground and model for the reconciliation of human enemies? Conservative Christians have focussed only on Jesus’ death for them and their spiritual growth.  Christian political activists have ignored Paul’s theology of Jesus’ death. We need both/and in real life.

35. We live in a world of the superabundance of God’s grace (Romans 5) if we have eyes to see it. Surrounded by sin, death and suffering  the vibrant plant of the Spirit’s life is planted side by side with all wickedness when we act in faith…the free gift following many trespasses….results in mission and prayer and a life-giving harvest. But our society has reinvented a secularised version of Original Sin under the guise of a hermeneutic of suspicion describing all life as hard, cruel and unfair. If there are signs of life and hope , they tend to be those we make for ourselves. Our culture oscillates between despair and self-salvation. 

36. The achievement of Jesus himself is always worth further explanation and meditation. In Romans we should limit the theology of the cross to Romans 3:21 -26 but add 4:25, 5:6-10, 6:3-11, 7:4, 8:3-4 and 8:31-39. For those who want to remain independent, being ruled by grace appears almost as much a threat as being ruled by sin and death….this is of course, absurd. Love seeks the well-being, the flourishing of the beloved, not their extinction or dimunition. To look love in the face and see only a threat is the self-imposed nemesis of the hermeneutic of suspicion.  (Nemesis = classically, the divine punishment for presumption and hubris). The free gift is offered through the obedience, the faithfulness of Jesus himself. Paul sees the voluntary death of Jesus as the  Messianic act par excellence, the triumphant accomplishment of that covenant plan for which Israel was called in the first place, the completion of the purpose for which God called Abraham. Paul’s allusions to the fourth servant song can be found in this passage (Romans 5).

37.  Paul’s personification of sin and death is not popular today where sin is seen as an outdated neurosis and death an unfortunate problem yet to be solved. In spite of the evil and violent terror of our age the world fears a true diagnosis not least because in the West the treatment may be humiliating. Fancy having to admit that those boring and out of touch Christians had the answers.  No, we will die as we have lived, in ironic agnosticism, worshipping Heisenberg’s uncertainty prinicple. Part of the problem is that traditional Christianity has operated on a truncated view of sin, majoring on personal, especially sexual immorality.  Political structural evil has been untouched by the church and when it is addressed the preachers who do so tend to leave the home base of Pauline theology in order to do so, not using the very resources which will provide the critique.  Romans 5 invites us to explore a reintegrated view of sin and death, rebellion and consequent dehumanisation, as the major problem of mankind.

38. The hermeneutic of suspicion interrogates every text, artefact, every piece of popular culture asking ‘whose perspective does it represent? who is it oppressing? who is implicitly marginalised by it?. Gaining huge breakthroughs by liberation movements for women and blacks it becomes a mind-set in itself …a doctrine of original sin without the free grace resulting in people having to feel guilty for what they inalienably are and apologising for innocent actions. It also produces a reflex “victim culture” in which those who feel “oppressed” or “marginalised” become blameless and any criticism of them is categorised as further oppression.   It is an attempt to erect a new ethical framework in the wake of the perceived failure of secularism’s failed morality. A true analysis of sin, structural and personal, would mean rediscovering that beyond proper and necessary suspicion, there is such a thing as trust, and that healthy societies, as well as individuals, thrive on it.


39. In Romans 6 and 12 Paul writes a “theology of the Christian life”. Being a Christian means living from within a particular story – the subversive story of God’s love for the world and Israel, and especially the Messiah, reaching to a climax at his death and resurrection. It is prefigured in the Exodus/Red Sea narrative and taken on by us at our baptism. Learning about the Christian life and learning about the God revealed in Jesus are two sides of the same coin. This story shaped our lives in baptism and must continue to shape thought, life, and prayer thereafter. Otherwise one will be living a lie, allowing sin to continue exercising a sovereignty to which it has no more right.

40.  This narrative has been woven deeply into the consciousness of Western culture and many movements, national, political, social and cultural, including some that are opposed to each other! have told their own stories as liberation narratives.  But the Exodus/Christian story cannot simply be one “little story” among others, just a part of the cultural smorgasbord, alongside other ‘religious experiences’ that effectively enslaved humans and led them off to die.  Even the postmodern critique that insists that all large metanarratives are instruments of slavery appeals to, and gets its power from, one story that, it assumes, is not: and that story is precisely its own version, filtered through many layers of cultural accretions, of the exodus narrative, the freeing of slaves from Pharaoh’s yoke. The Christian Gospel is, at this level, telling the story that all humans know in their bones they want to hear. It is true that in appealing to this story all kinds of things are said and done that in some way or other distort it, or even threaten to destroy it outright. e.g. international politics where one overthrow of power for “freedom” simply and quickly results in a new “enslavement” [eg the Arab Spring]. Cf business “freedom” in a take-over resulting in the destruction of other businesses; the freedom of people to express their sexual potential regularly results both in the dimunition of the freedom of others and also in their own enslavement  to destructive and dehumanizing habits of mind and body. With freedom comes new responsibilities.

41.  Romans 6 throws a bright spotlight on the dangerous half-truth, currently fashionable, that “God accepts us as we are”. True justification is by faith alone through grace alone but grace is alway  transformative. God accepts us where we are but God does not intend to leave us where we are.  The idea that Christian holiness is to be attained by very person simply doing what comes naturally would actually be funny were it not so prevalent. True freedom is not simply the random, directionless life, but the genuine humanness which reflects the image of God…found under the lordship of Christ

42. Baptism reminds us that without the Holy Spirit we cannot live up to Christ’s ideal in our own strength. We are all too aware that thousands, perhaps millions, of the baptised seem to have abandoned the practice of Christian faith and life; but we are nevertheless called to allow the dying and rising of Christ in which we have shared to have its force and way in our own lives. Through the Holy Spirit we will indeed be able to make our own the victory of grace, to present our members, and our whole selves, as instruments of God’s ongoing purposes.  Who seriously thinks they can live up to that ideal in their own strength? 44


43.  Romans 7:1 – 8:11 is a whole story, not to be cherry-picked. It is the story of God’s covenant love towards Israel whose family story goes back to Abraham—and Paul would insist that this is a non-negotiable part of being God’s people. It is the story that, following the Exodus from Egypt, Torah informs Israel in no uncertain terms that it is simply a subset of the people of “Adam” …of humanity, in slavery to sin and facing death…not just a story of ethnic Israel (which would have increasingly remote to later Christian living in any subsequent century.) It is the story of how God’s chosen people, with a vocation to be a light to the world, the church’s forbears, had to pass through the anguished realisation that the Torah alone could not deal with human sin so that, through the Messiah and the Spirit, new hope might be born.

44.  The Torah is holy, just and good. It is not responsible for sin or death, but is “used” by sin (human sin) to produce death. We must not  be Marcionites and semi, crypto-, and unwitting Marcionites [Cranfield: Romans Comm.] The Torah is God-given.  Any suggestion that law in general, or the law in particular, were or are shabby, second-rate, primitive, destructive of true religion, and therefore to be abolished, set aside, ore treated as irrelevant in the bright new day of a law-free faith, must be ruled out. 

45.  The Torah by itself is weak ..either in the Church or modern Israeli society…against those who would use it to reintroduce the death penalty, or believe God wills the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple or who want to see Jewish law as normative for Christians…this is to make the mistake of treating revelation in a flat, dehistoricized fashion.The Torah cannot give the life to which it points and accentuates the Adamic i.e. human condition. The whole Bible is the Word of God but it is a narrative rather than a law; a narrative reaching its climax in the life, death, resurrection and second coming of Jesus the Messiah.

46.   Romans 7-9 might reflect Paul’s sense of standing vis-à-vis his kinsfolk according to the flesh much as Moses had stood in Exodus 33, seeing Israel as a whole in rebellion against God and agonising over what could be done. Was Paul in Romans 7 when he describes “another law bringing death..” that the zeal he and others had for torah in his pre-Christian days was not only bringing death to those they opposed e.g. Stephen but also bringing down death on themselves, driving them closer to the brink of a war with Rome they could not possibly win? Perhaps this applies to many areas of conflict around the world, not just in Middle Eastern politics but wherever zeal for ancestral traditions, which may or may not have been good in their way and place, leads to idolatrous behaviour that is as destructive for the perpetrators as for the victims.

47.   Romans 7 can also be shown to refer to all humanity cf Romans 2:1-16, that even when the human race embraces and affirms some moral code, or even some moral principle, living up to it proves impossible. This does not mean that the code or the principle was wrong or misleading; just that there is a twist with the human race…which distorts the best intentions, and exposes self-interest at the heart of apparent altruism. Folk can easily say that the same is true of Christians also; so is the whole message of Romans invalid? No! The Christian is not “under law”, and is not “sold under sin”. There is an irony here in that in the 1960’s many folk trumpeted that that the old moral codes were no longer relevant (all we need is love!) and many in mainline churches bought this message and the moral chaos has been pitiful to behold. But it is somewhat unfair to hold up as prime evidence that Christians are “as bad as the rest’ those parts of the church that have exhibited major disloyalty to traditional Christian teaching over many years…why not look to the worldwide church where in places Christians can still be spoken of as folk who model a different way of holiness and self-sacrificial love..even accepting that the greatest  saints are still tempted and fail until Christ comes.

48. The C20th downplaying of sin and Sin (including within much theology) has damaged church and society. Politicians and media have pretended that a little more Western style democracy will solve the world’s remaining ills but the Western powers are just as riddled with corruption, selfishness and sexual and financial scandals as Africa or the East. There is such a thing as Sin [Paul uses the term 19 times between Romans 7:1 and 8:11; he can speak of Satan, but does so sparingly ..only once in Romans, 16:20 and only 10 times in the entire Pauline corpus]. Sin is more than the sum total of human wrongdoing. It is powerful and its power infects even those with the best intentions.

49.  The remedy for Sin is the Cross and the Spirit. It is a mystery that God “condemned Sin in the flesh of the Messiah” but this is the heart of Christianity. The world thinks this teaching will produce a human existence dogged by guilt, paranoia and self-hatred and liberal theology spent half the C20th seeking to get around the Pauline remedy. This makes nonsense of N T teaching which, with the diagnosis, provides the remedy..the great shout of ‘no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus..the liberating bracing Spirit of God in our lives of Christian freedom. Is it too much to ask that this dynamic can transform human government, law, individuals and the cosmos?

50.  Christian assurance is not self-assurance or formulaic and of course can be easily satirised. But distortions do not invalidate the reality…humility in some traditions demands questioning certainty of salvation and in other traditions certainty should be proclaimed on every occasion..the reality is that assurance in Scripture and Christian experience comes from the deepest wrestling and struggling. Still there should be no doubt of the outcome for the baptised (the symbol) , faithful (the sign) , Spirit-filled (the guarantee) follower of the Messiah.

51. There can be no split-level Christianity. Christians must be Spirit-filled but the work of the Holy Spirit cannot be narrowly defined or always obvious as some teachings have made out.  Unwitting passengers in the church, who think of themselves as Christians  but in whose heart and life the Spirit has not taken up residence, and who are still living “according to the flesh” whatever form that may take need to heed warnings against complacency as also super-spirituals need to heed warnings of superiority. The Spirit will (must) make a difference not just to how someone feels, but to how they live.

52.  The purposes of God, including the Torah, are mysterious as all true speech about God must acknowledge. The purposes of God, including the Torah, are darker and more unexpected than devout Judaism and serious Paganism will allow and call for intellectual recognition so much as for worship and love. Only a truly incarnational and trinitarian theology will meet the world’s need.  A purely covenantal private national story will remain inscrutable to the outside world, which will continue to believe that might and money are the things that matter; that sex is the greatest human pleasure and good and that killing people is the only way to get things done. Alas, in much of the world, even in much of the would-be Christian world, these things are still impicitly believed. It is time for a genuinely incarnational theology to be let loose again upon the world…a fully Trinitarian theology, calling forth worship, love and service, is the only possible basis for genuine gospel work that will bring life and hope to the world.


 53.  Christians live in a state of permanent indebtedness to God’s grace (like a drowning man being thrown a a life-belt.) This theology is sometimes vilified as perpetrating a bullying or dominating God. but this condition of permanent indebtedness to God is not diminution,  but rather an enhancement, of full human dignity. There can be no higher dignity than that of being remade in the image of God’s Son.  The alternative is to be remade in the image of that which is enslaved to decay and death. Being finally overwhelmed by love we discover a fulfilment, a self-realization, through self-giving and self-abandonment, so the story of grace is one in which humans find themselves by losing themselves. This is not immature dependence. It is like the mutual giving of those who live in love to another person.

54.  Christians are called to work to bring about God’s new creation, not to with passively for Armageddon. We must work in the areas of ecology, restorative justice, politics and aesthetics to bring full healing to the created order. We must not allow the world to be manipulated by science or exploited by technology. It will not do to concentrate on individual justification while allowing wider issues of justice to go unaddressed.  A world full of corruption, injustice, oppression, division, suspicion and war  needs Christians to be in the forefront of bringing, in the present time, signs and foretastes of God’s fresh beauty to birth within the world, signs of hope for what the Spirit will do.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And, though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs—-

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings

Gerard Manley Hopkins,  God’s Grandeur.

55.  In Christian experience there is both the assured child-parent love relationship that enables us to call God “Abba” and also the inarticulate groaning which is all that is possible when confronting the absolute horror and trauma of evil in the world. We live in this period between the first and final full revelation of Christ the King. Prayer itself is a matter of both knowing and not knowing, of security and insecurity,  of “having nothing but possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:10). The call to this kind of inarticulate prayer is not exactly the same thing as the discipline of silence is not simply contemplation or stream of is rather an agony that would come into speech if it could. Inaugurated eschatology does not mean that all problems are solved..laid out for us to put into practice…but we can indeed count on the victory of the Messiah on the cross and the gift of the Spirit. The two go together in Paul and in Christian experience.

56. Intercession for the world is not an optional extra and this includes intercession for ourselves as long as we do not become self-centred. If we are God’s beloved children, our small as well as our great concerns matter.

57. Suffering is a mystery, indeed.  It is to be rejected as a final good…Christians do not embrace some kind of masochism. Yet suffering is embraced as a sign of the time at which we live and even as a part of the means by which redemption comes into the world. But the redemptive value of suffering cannot be preached by the comfortable to the uncomfortable…by the elderly to youth going off to war, by masters to slaves, by men to women. Yet the abuse of suffering does not invalidate the lessons and personal growth which come from suffering.  Nevertheless we must beware of the danger…“the corrupting of the best is the worst of all”… There is also a component of suffering which, for the Christian, is messianic and redemptive. Suffering can be transforming and transformative. When, in 1998, Westminster Abbey decided to fill the ten vacant niches on the West Front with statues of C20th Christian martyrs, there was no shortage of candidates. The choices were revealing and powerfully evocative of the worldwide spread of the faith and of the challenge still posed by the Gospel to the power of the world, and vice versa: Maximilian Kolbe, Poland (1941); Manche Masemola, South Africa (1928); Janani Lowum, Uganda (1977); Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia (1918); Martin Luther King Jr, USA (1669); Oscar Romero, (El Salvador (1980); Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Germany (1945); Esther John, Pakistan (1960); Lucian Taped, Papua New Guinea (1942); Wang Zhiming, China (1972).

58.   In a way that is characteristic of Romans 5-8 as a whole, Jesus is seldom mentioned yet everywhere present. “Fellow heirs with the Messiah” (8:17) means being “conformed to the image of God’s Son.” (8:29)…It would not be fanciful to see Gethsemane standing behind 8:18-27, if not in Paul’s conscious mind, nevertheless in the strong tradition of the earth church reading these words (see Hebrews 5:7-9) [In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able  to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.]

59. The rootedness of the entire discussion of Romans 5-8 in the narrative theology of the exodus enables one to suggest a pattern of Christian reading of the Old Testament that is neither simply historical nor simply typological. On the one hand it is important that the original events are seen in their own right, as the formative events of the people of Israel. On the other hand, as many different strands within Second Temple Judaism bear witness, the exodus story was used as a template for the great expectations which were cherished in the time of Jesus. God would, many believed, accomplish something for which the original exodus would be both a historical starting-point and the pattern. Paul, in company with many other early Christians, believed that this had happened in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and in the sending of the Spirit by which the church was enabled to go forward to the promised land of the new creation in the kingdom of God on a renewed earth. This reflects part of what Paul meant by saying that Jesus’ death and resurrection had happened “according to the scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

60.  Christian security is based, in Paul in Romans 8:31-39, on a specific trinitarian revelation of God In Paul’s theology, spirituality, faith and hope are all focussed on this very specific God. Not the vague dream of God or God through a thick cloud; not a vague Deism; not a God to whom there could be many routes or of whom there could be many revelations. In the post-Christian West this belief has been misunderstood, scorned as incomprehensible, arrogant, cocky and set aside in favour of pantheism or panentheism. It is true that God will eventually be “all in all” but this eschatology is only inaugurated in Christ. It is not complete. Although, in principle, the creator is knowable through creation, to search for a divinity within the created order is out of the question. Christian assurance, not found in the New Age, or any other religion, must, however, face the challenges of suffering with Christ or it will remain at best, immature. 


61.  Christian assurance is kept in place in the Bible. Paul’s use of Scripture is not, as some commentators have suggested, unprincipled or peculiar. It speaks of the pattern of the covenant God redeeming his people through Israel and Israel’s suffering and triumphant servant Messiah. Paul brings together law, prophets and writings in a web of allusion and echo to which (it seems to me) only the most pedantic of scholars can remain deaf. Paul brings these themes together in order to say in practice what he says explicitly in Romans 15:4: these things were written for our encouragement, “so that through patience and the comfort of the scriptures we might have hope.”   The people of God in the present are not simply a creation out of nothing; they are, however unexpectedly, the family promised to Abraham. The problems faced by Abraham’s family before the Messiah’s coming, notably the fulfilment of the covenant,  were problems Paul believed had been answered in Christ. The resurgence of apparently similar problems in the church was to be answered in terms of life in Christ and the victory of the Spirit. The church’s task, in its own use of the Scriptures, is to hear both the earlier stages of its own story and the continual resonances in the echo chamber of the messianic events concerning Jesus which will inform and guide its own journey through the wilderness. Learning to hear these multiple resonances with the proper blend of imaginative attention and discipline is a major part of Christian teaching and discipleship.

62. In Romans 8:31-39 Paul describes the suffering Christians will inevitably face because of their faithfulness to the Gospel in more detail than anywhere else in his letters save 2 Corinthians  6 and 11. This suffering is real—both physical and the opposition of supernatural powers/cosmic forces. It is not the gaining of a higher consciousness that overcomes pain, or the attainment of personal self-advancement or fulfilment. There are many forms of Christianity on offer today that pose no threat to any principalities and powers, and indeed make a virtue of not confronting anyone with anything. What kind of authenticity can they claim? This is not to defend or be confused with some would-be preachers and evangelists, who are often enough propagating not the gospel itself but a particularly brittle parody of it, which can only be defended by shouting louder! But for Paul the message of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus never failed to arouse the wrath of the powers in one way or another. If this message were to catch on, the world would be turned upside down, and a lot of vested interests with it.  [eg the world’s arms industries??] The Western church is in danger of selling a spiritual version of the good life…”life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

63. The theme of Romans 8:31-39 is the love of God, the ultimate human fulfilment, among the most basic and vital Christian disciplines, matched by opening one’s heart and life to the tidal wave of love, displacing all rivals, a vast sea that we must swim in or sail on. Amor ergo sum, I am loved, therefore I am! God’s love is beyond all human government and the hermeneutic of suspicion, (which speaks of original separation from God and by cosmic human pride), seeking justice, opposing exploitation.  Being loved by the true God, we are to become truly human beings in sharing that love. The love of God proposes a hermeneutic of trust..not a casual or shallow trust of any person or proposition that comes along, but a deep and hard won trust, a knowing that is born of being loved and of loving in return. We have in Romans the greatest exposition of the victory of the God of love over sin and its consequences. And this is the love, seen supremely in the death of the Messiah, which reaches out to the whole world with the exodus message, the freedom message, the word of joy and justice, the word of the Gospel of Jesus.




Books read July 2017


(Ed.) John Elsner and Roger Cardinal,  The Cultures of Collecting: From Elvis to Antiques—Why do we Collect Things? Melbourne University Press, 1994.

An exceptional collection! of articles about collecting from many perspectives including psychoanalytical, economic and historic approaches and a scarifying analysis by post-modern French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. In most cases the picture painted of collectors is not pretty so genuine collectors should approach  this book with care! Effectively illustrated with impressive academic reference resources. For a collector who wishes to delve into his or her own psyche this is the book!

John Eisner, one of the editors, in his Introduction notes, amongst other things, the following assertions:

Noah was the first collector! (p1)

– The supreme pioneer is the totalling collector, the ‘completist’ …perhaps a fetishist! (p3)

– collect up to a final limit is to exercise control over existence God. (p3)

In the West…the great canonical collections…testify to the paradigm of Beauty as the exclusion of all ugliness, to the triumph of remembrance over oblivion, to the permanence of Being over Nothingness. Absurdly and dementedly eternalistic as they are, they carry such weight as to seem incontrovertible…one of the ambitions of this book is to challenge such self-assurance… (p4)

[collectors] rivalling God and teetering between mastery and madness (p6)

[for some]…building a collection of things is inseparable form building up wealth and prestige e.g. Henry Clay Frick, J.Paul Getty or Charles Saatchi.  (p6)

– ….less perfective collectors whose vocation sends them across the confines of the reasonable and the acceptable. These last — people like John Soane, Charles Wilson Peale, Kurt Schwitters, Sigmund Freud and Robert Opie — exemplify a genuine exposure to existence: indeed their project, at times melancholy, even morbid, and perhaps ultimately tragic, often carries with it an intimation of the failure that is always on the cards once mortal desire reaches the limits of what can and cannot be done.  (p6)

This is a complex, academic and in places quite difficult book and I suspect only a committed collector would stay the distance and even then would have to put up with a fair amount of criticism directed at the character of collectors and/or their motives. Nevertheless, as a collector, I could not put this down and for a look into my own psyche I know of no better book.  4 stars.

Alex Miller, Landscape of Farewell, Crows Nest NSW, Allen & Unwin, 2007

Another stunning novel from the pen of Alex Miller. Set in Hamburg, Germany and in the Central Highlands region of Queensland this novel forces us to become interested in the lives of a recently widowed septuagenarian German History professor Max Otto, haunted by the unknown career of his father in World War 11 and its potential horror and the hopes and dreams of a forty something single female indigenous Australian History professor, Vita, an indigenous activist. They meet at a History Conference in Hamburg and Vita manages to persuade Max to come to Australia to speak at a conference and meet her ageing uncle Dougald, child of a Scottish mother and an indigenous father who has his own ancestral demons to come to terms with. The result is another Millerenian journey of self-exploration and physical exploration of the dangerously enchanting but also forbidding  Australian landscape. Underneath these very human people stories is a deeper and more chilling motif of massacre, the continuing human tendency to seek to annihilate others and this story comes with a well-researched and surprising twist from early Australian history. Whenever I read an Alex Miller novel I think “who else has written so many soul-searching novels that are impossible to put down?”. I can’t think of anyone! 5 stars.

Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope, London, SPCK, 2007

This is possibly the most controversial of N T Wright’s vast theological output and includes his famous assault on a type of Christianity that majors on the question “how do I get to heaven when I die?”  Wright answers this question by his full blooded defence of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the future bodily resurrection of believers and probably all people for a judgment “in the body”. Whilst, like John Packer, he stresses that this judgment will be by works he nevertheless reminds his readers that there will be no condemnation for those who are found in Christ and stresses that the vocation of those who respond to God’s call is to be an ambassador for Christ on earth.   He articulates a strongly inaugurated theology of the kingdom of God on a renewed earth which will be consummated at the appearance rather than the “second coming” of Christ. I note in passing that the term ‘second coming’ does not seem to appear in Cruden’s Concordance of the Bible.

Wright’s account of “heaven” is that it is a first stage ‘paradise’ of sleep/rest/beatific vision rather than a “disembodied eternal existence” which is  followed by his account of a second state recreation of the kingdom of God on a renewed earth. His argument is consistently, carefully, energetically and Biblically defended. His discussion of the replacement of our decaying bodies with undecaying bodies instead of the normal contrast between ‘natural/physical’ bodies and ‘spiritual’ bodies is unique. His robust treatment of how Christians should be busy about caring for the world ecology, people in crisis, beauty and spiritual health is a powerful antidote not only to C21st materialism and selfish self-fulfilment but also to American fundamentalism and much tepid modernist theology.

A useful reminder throughout the book is that Jesus’ resurrection occurred, according to the Biblical text, in this material world. The implication of this is that Jesus at his appearing and our own resurrection will be equally human (a strong defence of the permanent incarnation of Christ) and material even if it is to be some sort of transformed and perfected materiality.This is an area that John Polkinghorne took on regularly in his many writings ..the interface between two tangential worlds and ways of thinking and expression.

All of this runs counter to much of the daily thinking of the average western European or American or Aussie,  let alone the thinking of the “average” Christian and to much of “modern” theology. For example the thrust of this book is brought into sharp relief when compared with the “cosmic Christ” which appears so elegantly in the meditations of Richard Rohr for example.  It can even be said, I believe,  that few evangelicals bother to come to grips with the sort of problems that logically emerge from a thorough going belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Thus one of the effects of reading this book carefully is the challenge to the imagination to conceive of the “material” reality proposed by these central Biblical themes so vigorously defended here.

I found the last few chapters on the functioning church somewhat uneven. Wright’s criticisms of many Anglican churches doing away with formal liturgy and clerical dress need more nuancing. There are ways and ways of making this happen, some more successful than others but the reality is that today’s 30 – 40 somethings haven’t got much energy for Anglican liturgical pomp and dress let alone younger generations…they have too much going on with in their lives. It is enough for them to grapple with the essentials of the faith and how to live it in a post-Christian age without having to worry about the niceties of 500 year old ceremonial or even 1950s ceremonial.  I see the UK synod has given the ok for casual dress for clergy at appropriate services and for me, this is the way forward.

A challenging and demanding read.  4 stars.

C S Lewis, The Great Divorce, London, Fount/HarperCollins, 1977 (1946) A brief, curious and, as to be expected, brilliantly clever allegory of heaven and hell. Lewis takes a purgatorial view of hell in which many folk find themselves as thin “ghosts” in an afterlife of their own making but with some “solid people” present to help them re-think, a process better achieved by some than others!  An interesting addition is that Lewis’ long time inspiration George MacDonald appears as one of the “solid people” who assists the unnamed seeker after truth. Other famous folk from the past appear from time to time in Danteesque fashion. In the end The Great Divorce leads the reader to the realisation that it is our present life and the actions, motivations, drives and decisions those of us who have any real choice make, which provide the clue to how we will travel in the life to come if there is one (and which direct us to live as positively and humanely and thoughtfully as we can in this life!)

Disturbing and thoughtful! 4 stars.

Rob Bell, What is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything, London, WilliamCollins, 2017

Accessible, thought provoking and well researched analysis of the Bible’s meaning and relevance for today. Written in Bell’s unique dot-point and jaunty style which will either inspire or repel depending on your state of mind. Bell’s strong minded and fresh approach to the many questions which in the past have turned so many people off church and Bible is desperately needed by jaded Westerners, anxious about their own future and thinking the Bible is outmoded. Bell manages to cut through much of the ink wasted in the inerrancy debate using up to date scholarly and Spirit-filled material in a breezy, humorous and hard to put down style. For a defence of the detail of these arguments there is always the wealth of Bell’s online podcasts but for starters and a very helpful bibliography I cannot think of a better gift for someone who has never read the Bible since childhood but needs to.  5 stars and then some!

Wrangling with N T Wright: Surprised by Hope 2007

Wrangling with N T Wright:  Surprised By Hope, London, SPCK, 2007

  1. Preface p,xii  [In a 1995 British survey,] only a tiny minority, even among church goers, believed in the classic Christian position, that of a future bodily resurrection.  Should we then give up on the idea and take it out of our creed?

2. – What is the ultimate Christian hope?

–  What hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities with the world in the present?

3   What words would we like at our own funeral? Do we agree with Wright’s criticism of common forms of words in chapters 1 and 2 especially p20.

4.  pp25-6…there is very little in the Bible about ‘going to heaven when you die’, and not a lot about post-mortem hell either….the language of heaven in the New Testament doesn’t work that way.  ‘God’s kingdom’ in the preaching of Jesus refers, not to post-mortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but about God’s sovereign rule coming on earth as it is in heaven……Heaven in the Bible , is regularly not a future destiny, but the other, hidden dimension of our ordinary life.  I think this is the key idea and distinctive in this book.  The idea of Heaven and Hell referring to this life syncs with John Milton in Paradise Lost  Book 1….a man’s mind is its own place and of itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.  See also the paragraph at the bottom of p209. As long as we see ‘salvation’ in terms of ‘going to heaven when we die’, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for the future…

5.  p27 Many have embraced a universalism in which God will endlessly offer to the unrepentant the choice of faith, until all at last succumb to the wooing of divine love. fn14 refers to John Hick: Evil and the God of Love

5A p32 Wright seems to be iffy about cremation..Of course there were reasons of hygiene and overcrowding which led reformers towards the end of the last century to propose this step—which, as not all western Christians know, is still firmly opposed by the Eastern Orthodox…as well as Jews and Muslims…cremation has tended, classically, to belong more with a Hindu or Buddhist theology..when people ask for their ashes to be scattered in a favourite place..the underlying implication, of a desire simply to be merged back into the created world, without any affirmation of a future life of new embodiment, flies in the face of classic Christian theology. …I am not of course saying that cremation is heretical…I am merely noting that the huge swing towards it in the last century reflects at least in part some of the confusions, both in the church and in the world, which we have observed.

6.  p44  Is the problem with the Wittgenstein/Popper argument analogy that although people disagree re important details, nothing in either argument was “supernatural”?

7.  p49 The commonly held belief (when I was growing up) that when we die we shall become angels.

7r p53 ..within early Christianity there is virtually no spectrum of belief about life beyond death.   i.e.. unlike Judaism (different views from Essenes (a little holy group will rise); Sadducees (no resurrection); Pharisees (resurrection of the pious) or Stoicism (no resurrection) Mystery religions (spiritual resurrection). But in early Christianity all writers speak with one voice re the bodily resurrection of Jesus and in time all believers..all people.

8.  p55  I Corinthians 15:44 How should we translate  ψυχικον (psychikon) and πνευματικον (pneumatikon):

RSV/NRSV/GNB a physical body …………….a spiritual body

ESV/AV/RV/NIV/Phillips         a natural body………..…….a spiritual body

NEB an animal body…. .……….. a spiritual body

NLT as natural human bodies….as spiritual bodies

JB it embodies the soul……… embodies the spirit

LB human bodies………………superhuman bodies

The Message Remix  natural……………………….supernatural

Moffatt an animate body……………a spiritual body

The NT for everyone (Wright) a decaying body……………an undecaying body

In either case what could a ‘spiritual body’  actually look like? Wright: It can be demonstrated in great detail, philologically and exegetically, that this is precisely not what Paul meant.  See also p 168 When Paul declares that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom’..he doesn’t mean that physicality will be abolished.  ‘Flesh and blood ‘  is a technical term for that which is corruptible, transient, heading for death.

9. p59   Two key mutations from Jewish views of resurrection. 1. That resurrection signalled not just the renewal of Israel but renewal of human beings in general.  2. That the Messiah would die and be resurrected.

10. p60  …how impossible it is to account for the early Christian belief in Jesus as Messiah without the resurrection.   (There were many claimants to Messiahship in the early N T period. They were all killed off by the Romans and left little trace. With Jesus the history is entirely different….this means we can already rule out the revisionist positions on Jesus’ resurrection that have been offered by so many writers in recent years.

11. p67  Despite a thousand Easter hymns and a million Easter sermons, the resurrection narratives in the gospels never, ever say anything like ‘Jesus is raised, therefore there is a life after death,’ let alone ‘Jesus is raised, therefore we shall go to heaven when we die.’… Jesus is raised, so we must act as his heralds, announcing his lordship to the entire world, making his kingdom come on earth as in heaven.  [cf 2 Corinthians 5: 15ff  If anyone in Christ he is a new creature. The old has passed away, behold the new has come. All this is from God , who through Christ reconciled us to himself  and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. That is God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal to us. We beseech you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.]

11r  p81 Wright considers Thomas’ doubt to be almost scientific (Thomas, like a good historian wants to see and touch…Jesus presents himself but Thomas doesn’t . He transcends the type of knowing he had intended to use, and passes into a higher, richer one..) Is this a new way of reading the ‘doubting Thomas’  story? Is it a good way of reading it?

12.  p82 The epistemological weight is borne, not simply by the promise of ultimate resurrection and new creation alone,  but by the narrative of God’s mighty action in the past.  [The resurrection makes sense of the O T as well as the N T]

13.  p83 We are to be the stewards of the new creation IN THIS LIFE… in Jesus risen from the dead transcends but includes what we call history and what we call science….God …has raised Jesus from the dead within history, leaving evidence which demands an explanation from the scientist as well as anybody else. [So also Polkinghorne, Berry, Collins, Barbour, Miller, Eagleton, Ruse, et al]

14.  p86  Against…. the intellectual coup d’état by which the Enlightenment convinced so many that ‘we now know that dead people don’t rise. as though this was a modern discovery rather than simply the reaffirmation of what Homer and Aeschylus had taken for granted. [which is why the Athenians scoffed at Paul when he spoke about the resurrection in Athens. (Acts 17)]

15  p87 Oscar Wilde’s play Salome in which Herod Antipas, on hearing of reports of Jesus rising from the dead says: “I do not wish him to do that…I forbid him to do that…I allow no man to rise from the dead. This man must be found and told that I forbid him to raise the dead.”

16.  p93  Against the progress myth.   Are we making progress or not? Give examples. (p94 particular impact of evolutionary optimism and the philosopher Hegel and in the Christian world (p97 Teilhard de Chardin.

17, pp100-103 The impact of Platonism, Buddhism, Gnosticism on Christianity…a purely spiritual future existence…’Modern’  Gnostics include Blake, Goethe, Melville, Yeats, Jung  and I would add Harold Bloom ..hugely influential literary critic. Followers of such a view in the end do not care about the material future of the world…similar to Fundamentalist Christians of the “left behind” variety.

18.  p105-6 evil is real and powerful …but physical matter is not evil…nor, does evil consist in being transient, made to decay…rather the transience of the good creation that serves as a pointer to its larger purpose …Transience acts as a God-given signpost, pointing not from the material world to a non-material world, but from the world as it is to the world as it is meant to be one day to be; pointing, in other words, from the present to the future which God has in store. 

p106 What matters is eschatological duality (the present age and the age to come), not ontological dualism (an evil ‘earth’ and a good ‘heaven’)….Evil then consists, not in being created, but in the rebellious idolatry by which humans worship and honour elements of the natural world rather than the God who made them.  Evil is a world out of joint with its intended purpose. 

 BUT SURELY, ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE, EVIL WAS IN THE WORLD BEFORE HUMANS….EG THE BENT SNAKE AND FALLEN ANGELS. What  about the origins of evil from the Biblical perspective. Is it all the fault of humans as Wright here implies? What is truly Biblical is that death of humans spread to all, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)

19.  p111 if after his death [Jesus] had gone into some kind of non-bodily existence, death would not be defeated.  This discussion comes back to the doctrine of “the permanent manhood of Christ.”  cf Wright p126: It’s quite another to be able to envisage or imagine it, to know what it is we’re really talking about  when we speak of Jesus being still human, still in fact, an embodied human —actually, a more solidly embodied human being that we are—but absent from the present world . We need, in fact, a new and better cosmology, a new and better way of thinking about the world, that the one which our culture, not least post-Enlightenment culture, has bequeathed us.

20.  p113 …if creation was a work of love, it must have involved the creation of something other than God. That same love then allows creation to be itself, sustaining it in providence and wisdom but not overpowering it. Logic cannot comprehend love; so much the worse for logic.

20r p119..and a new creation born to which the present one will stand as mother to child. Wright talks a lot about redeeming the earth. How can that happen if we’ve destroyed it?

21.  p121 the question of the failure of the Church to explain clearly the meaning of the Ascension. Wright quotes Douglas Farrow:…where the ascension has been ignored or misunderstood one can trace a slide into muddled and even dangerous ideas and practices.

22.  p122  Basically, heaven and earth, in biblical cosmology, are not two different locations within the same continuum of space and matter. They are two different dimensions of God’s good creation..

23.  p128  …today’s muddled world view …the whole point of the Christian faith is to follow Jesus away from earth to heaven and stay there forever.  So Away in the Manger …and lead us to heaven to live with thee there…

24.  p 132  ….the idea of judgment makes many people think of a vengeful, wrathful deity, determined to throw as many people as possible into hell. We have learnt to distrust people who love accusing and punishing others.  [so Rob Bell: Love Wins.]

25. p134 ‘Eschatology’, which literally means ‘the study of the last things doesn’t just refer to death, judgment, heaven and hell …it refers to the strongly held belief of most first-century Jews, and virtually all early Christians, that history was going somewhere under the guidance of God; and that where it was going was a new world of justice, healing and hope…a matter not of the destruction of the present space-time universe, but of its radical healing.

26.  p137 …despite widespread opinion to the contrary, during his earthly ministry Jesus said nothing about his return.  [I think i am correct in saying that the term “second coming” does not appear in Cruden’s Complete Concordance of every word in the Bible].  …when Jesus speaks of ‘the son of man coming on the clouds’  he is not talking about the second coming , but, in line with the Daniel 7:13  text he is quoting, about his vindication after suffering.  Similarly Jesus’ parables about the departing and returning King and his subjects refer to Jewish beliefs about  God leaving the temple during the exile and returning again to judge and make good.

27  p138 The fact that Jesus didn’t teach it  [the second coming] doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

28.  p140 …if the gospel accounts of Jesus’ teaching do not refer to the second coming , where does the idea come from? Quite simply from the rest of the New Testament. …’This same Jesus who’s has gone from you in heaven…will return in the same way that you saw him go into heaven… The Greek word  παρουσια (parousia) is usually translated “coming”; but literally it means “presence.”


29.  p145  Against the “rapture” and the “Left Behind” films. 1 Thessalonians 4 “meeting Christ in the air” refers to Christians being drawn to Christ at his appearing to celebrate his coming just as folk thronged out to meet a conquering hero or a bike rider as they near the city.

30.  p152-3  Wright, like John Packer before him, reiterates that the final judgment will be by works….the future judgment according to deeds, a judgment exercised by Jesus at his ‘judgment seat’, is clearly taught in, for instance, Romans 14:9-10, 2 Corinthians 5:10 and elsewhere….the picture of future judgment according to works is actually the basis of Paul’s theology of justification…..justification by faith is what happens in the present time, anticipating the verdict of the future day when God judges the world….it is common early Christian belief. [fn6 cites as refs:2 Tim.4:1; 1 Peter 4:5]

30.  p155 -6…Jesus remains other than the church, other than the world, even while being present to both by the Spirit…..And, precisely because Jesus is not collapsed into the church, or indeed the world, we can renounce on the one hand the triumphalism that conveniently makes his sovereign lordship  and excuse for its own, and on the other hand the despair that comes  when we see such hopes dashed, as they always will be, in the follies and failings of even the best and greatest Christian organisations, structures, leaders and followers.

31. p167 Wright quotes Paul: We must all appear before the judgment seat of the Messiah; and for that we shall need bodies….it may be at this point that Paul hints after all at a re-surrection of the wicked (in order to be judged in the body) as well as the righteous.  In my view it is much more than a hint…it is crystal clear.  Why would Christ judge some and not others when all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and he who is guilty of one sin is guilty of all.?

32.  p169 ..the early fathers at least as far as Origen insisted on [the bodily resurrection], though the pressures on them to abandon it must have been very great. Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Irenaeus, Tertullian—all of them stress the bodily resurrection.  The doctrine of bodily resurrection is linked very closely to the doctrines of creation and judgment…As in Judaism, resurrection is the point where creation and judgment meet. Where one is abandoned, for whatever reason, the others soon follow.

33. p170 What we today call atoms and molecules pass through us with continuity of form but transcience of matter….it’s a good argument: as we now know, we change our entire physical kit, every atom and molecule, over a period of, at most, every seven years or so. I am physically a totally different person now from the person I was ten years ago. And yet I am still me. 

34 p170-1 A brief history of the doctrine of bodily resurrection.   Many of the leading theologians in the Patristic and mediaeval periods were quite clear about the two-stage post-mortem future [ie first sleep/“the rest”/paradise/“the beatific vision”  and  second the resurrection in the kingdom of God.  e.g. Gregory the Great,  Anselm,  Hugh of St Victor, Thomas Aquinas, Bernard of Clairveaux. But a good deal of western mediaeval piety then took a very different turn, in which the twin destinations of heaven and hell, and the possible intermediate destination of purgatory, became far more important.  [esp. the influence of Dante (The Divine Comedy) …and later Milton (Paradise Lost); later still Newman: Dream of Gerontius]

35.  p171 …for Paul at least there is a special sense of resurrection which clearly applies to those who are in Christ and indwell by the Spirit ….that of ruling in the kingdom of God…even judging angels! ….Christians will still be busy….. forget those images about lounging around playing harps!   (p173)

36. p172  Wright commends C S Lewis as one of the few modern writers who has tried to help us with the task of imagining what the risen body might look like.  e.g. the Narnia stories and The Great Divorce.  [although on p 173 he criticises Lewis for promoting the idea of the immortality of the soul.]

37. p172 The ancient world did ask questions about which of our present characteristics and indeed present blemishes, will remain in the transformed physicality?  e.g. Jesus’ wounds were still visible after his resurrection…not now as sources of pain and death but as signs of his victory, so the Christian’s risen body will bear such marks of his or her loyalty to God’s particular calling as appropriate, not least where suffering is involved.  what of those who were burned at the stake for Christ, or eaten by sharks, or disembowelled? and what about cremation?

38.  p174.  The problem of rewards in heaven  (1 Cor 3.10-15) and p 181

39.  p179-180- 183  …the tendency towards universalism so evident in the last hundred years of Protestant thinking has produced a new situation, where not only professed Christians, but the mass of professed non-Christians, are going to have to be got ready for salvation in a the time after death. Like a badly sprung double bed, this has propelled the people who used to be positioned at either side, in either heaven or hell, into an uneasy huddle in the middle….we thus have a sort of purgatory for all…but Paul makes it clear here and elsewhere  [e.g.  in Romans 8] that it’s ithe present life that is meant to function as a purgatory. (p183)

40. p184   Prayers for the dead…Love passes into prayer; we still love them; why not hold them, in that love, before God? 

41. p185  Against the departed saints  including the Virgin Mary as ‘friends at court”  working on our behalf.

42.  p188-9  Re hell…when Jesus was warning his hearers about γε’εννα (Gehenna)- the C1st Jerusalem rubbish tip)  he was not, as a general rule, telling them that unless they repented in this life they would burn in the next one. As with God’s kingdom, so with its opposite: it is on earth that things matter, not somewhere else….We cannot therefore look to Jesus’ teaching for any fresh detail on whether there really are some who finally reject God, and who as it were have that rejection ratified.   p190 All this should warn us against the cheerful double dogmatism which has bedevilled discussion of these topics – the dogmatism, that is, both of the person who knows exactly who is and who isn’t ‘going to hell ‘, and that of the universalist who is absolutely certain there is no such place. or that if there is it will, at the last, be empty.

43.  p191  The problem is that much theology…has become depressingly flabby, unable to climb even the lower slopes of social and cultural judgment, let alone the steep reaches of that judgment of which the early Christians spoke and wrote….

44.  p193 …the massive denial of reality [Hiroshima/Darfur/Auschwitz/Pol Pot/Stalin/Mao/Rwanda/Armenia/Syria/etc etc] by the cheap and cheerful universalism of western liberalism has a lot to answer for. 

45.  p195 Re the problem of a place of eternal torment in the kingdom of God Wright rejects “annihilatiionism’ because it seems like active destruction (p194) and comes to a scenario that includes beings that once were human but now are not, creatures that have ceased to bear the divine image at all…these creatures [will] still exist in an ex-human state, no longer reflecting their maker in any meaningful sense…..hmmm […very speculative…]  Wright adds:  The last thing I want is for anyone to suppose that I (or anyone else) know very much about all this. Nor do I want anyone to suppose I enjoy speculating in this manner…in my view pp196-198, Wright’s summary,  demonstrates the best resolution of these complex issues. ( e.g. p196 [In Paul’s Letter to the Romans ] his great emphasis is that God has shut up all people in the prison-house of disobedience in order that he may have mercy on all .. (p197)..God is always the God of surprises…)  These pages deserve a second read!

46. p203 Precisely because the resurrection has happened as an event within our own world, its implications and effects are to be felt within our own world, here and now.  

47. p204 Wright majors on 1 Corinthians 15:58 (always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain). ….the surprising hope that comes forward from God’s ultimate future into God’s urgent present, is not a distraction from the task of ‘mission’ and ‘evangelism’  in the present. It is a central, essential, vital and life-giving part of it….not about saving souls for a disembodied eternity, but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so that they could enjoy, already in the present,  that renewal of creation which is God’s ultimate purpose.

48. p211 We are saved not as souls, but as wholes. (All sorts of things follow from this. We might notice, for example, that theories of ‘atonement’ , of the meaning of the cross, are not simply a set of alternative answers to the same question. They give the answers they give because of the questions they ask. If the question is ‘how can I get to heaven when I die despite the sin because of which I deserve to be punished?’, the answer may well be ‘because Jesus has been punished in your place.’ But if the question is ‘how can God’s plan to rescue and renew the entire world go ahead despite the corruption and decay which has come about because of  human [and angelic] rebellion?’, the answer may well be ‘because on the cross Jesus defeated the powers of evil which have enslaved rebel humans an so ensured continuing corruption. Please note, these and other possible questions and answers are not mutually exclusive.)

49. p212-3 [We should not suppose] that we are saved, as it were, for our own private benefit, for the restoration of our own relationship with God (vital though that is!) and for our eventual homecoming and peace in heaven (misleading though that is!)…[We are saved] …designed-it isn’t too strong a word- to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to door the entire cosmos [and]…part of the means by which God makes this happen.]

50. p213-14 …Paul makes it quite clear that those who believe in Jesus Christ, who are incorporated into him through baptism, are already God’s children, are already themselves, ‘saved’; this stewardship cannot be something to be postponed for the ultimate future.  [note: we are saved for stewardship; cf Clarke  Pinnock’s view  that predestination is for vocation not for salvation. God’s desire is for Israel and the Church to be a light to the nations and a steward of the earth’s bounty.

50r  p223 …idolatry is always the perversion of something good…the proper response to idolatry, therefore, is not dualism…but the renewed worship of the Creator-God.  

51. p224 We cannot get off the hook of present responsibility, as many Christians try to do….by declaring that the world is currently in such a mess and there’s nothing that can be done about it until the Lord returns.

52.  p227-8 [on the other hand] we must ..avoid the arrogance or triumphalism of…imagining that we can build the kingdom of God by our own efforts without the need for a further divine act of new creation….But we must ….reject the defeatism…that says there’s no point in even trying.

53.  p230  The heirs of…liberal theology today are keen to marginalise the Bible, declaring that it supports slavery and other wicked things, because they don’t like what it says on other topics such as sexual ethics. But if you push the Bible off the table you are merely colluding with pagan empire, denying yourself the sourcebook for your kingdom-critique of oppression.

54.  p231 Many conservative churches ..[in America] still live by the belief that what’s good for America is good for God….the irony is that those American churches that protest most vocally against the teaching of Darwinism in their schools are often, in their public policies, supporting a kind of economic Darwinism, the survival of the fittest in world markets and military power….any attempt to work for God’s justice on earth as in heaven is condemned as the sort of thing those wicked anti-supernaturalists try to do. 

Wright has been accused of producing a ‘baptised neo-socialism’  by some conservative American commentators.

55.  p232-3 If people tell you that after all there isn’t very much they can do…press for some form of inaugurated eschatology. You would insist that the new life of the Spirit, in obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ, should produce radical transformation of behaviour in the present life, anticipating the life to come even though we know we shall never be complete and whole until then.  Love this! This is real hope for the rest of our lives!

56. p234  A much needed theology of beauty!

57. p237 An amazing paragraph of honest self-analysis  by N T Wright! He finishes the para every generation has known, it isn’t the quality of the preaching that counts, but the faithfulness of God. Here Wright is channelling Barth who was channelling Luther!

58. p243 ..when people cease to be surrounded by beauty, they cease to hope…

58r p244 The church, because it is the family that believes in hope for new creation, should stand out in every town and village as the place  where new creativity  bursts forth for the whole community, pointing to the hope which, like all beauty, always comes as a surprise. It seems to me that churches should be at the forefront of charitable works, art, evangelism etc.

59. p245 re re-shaping the church:  …without a hope-shaped mission, there is always the danger of mere pragmatism. And with pragmatism there often comes opportunism — for the advancing of agendas which are driven, not by the imperative to mission, but by one or other of the old models of church life which are now running out of steam.

60. p246 The resurrection is not an isolated supernatural oddity proving how powerful, if apparently arbitrary, God can be when he wants to…it is the decisive event which means that God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven.

61. p247 If the resurrection is an event that actually occurred (in some sense) in time and space, as well as in the materiality of Jesus’ body…his Kingdom has been established. And this kingdom is to be put into practice by his followers summoning all nations to obedient allegiance to him, marking them out in baptism.

62. p252 Wittgenstein’s famous Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus….tellingly, section 7 consists of a single sentence: ‘What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence….Some things, Wittgenstein indicates, go beyond speech and philosophy, and about them one can and must remain silent. What I want to suggest, with great temerity, is that in the resurrection one is given the beginning of a new knowing, a new epistemology, a new coming-to-speech, the Word born afresh after the death of all human knowing and speech, all human hope and love, after the silent rest of the seventh-day sabbatical in the tomb.

63. p253 In John 20:19-23 Jesus called Peter to be a shepherd rather than a fisherman…the challenge to a new way of life, a new forgiveness, a new fruitfulness,  a new following of Jesus which will be wider and more dangerous that what has gone before. [We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us…2 Cor 5]

64. p255 There could not be a clearer statement of intent; the kingdoms of the world are now claimed as the kingdom of Israel’s God, and of his Messiah.

65. p270 Tom Wright here argues for a ‘mixed economy’ in worship …it would be silly to suppose that any one size or shape will ‘fit’ all worshippers…not to dampen the enthusiasm of new expressions of Christian life, but…they must not throw the banana away with the skin. [when you peel the skin and throw the bone away there’s nothing left to eat in a banana!]

66. p277 …the split between ‘saving souls’ and ‘doing good in the world’ is a product, not of the Bible or the gospel, but of the cultural captivity of both within the western world. We return to the themes of justice, beauty and evangelism.

67. p283 If the gospel isn’t transforming you, how do you know that it will transform anything else?

68 p284ff Evangelicalism has been faithful in preaching new birth as a vital spiritual experience…what has proved  much harder to do is to articulate a theology of baptism  [and sacramental theology] to go with it.

69. p294 [the Book of Revelation] …is a vision of present reality, seen in tis heavenly dimension.

70. p299 I’d rather have a live church with problems than a dead church offering the spurious peace of the tombstone…

Why do Collectors collect what they collect?


I have been making lists and been a collector of various bits and pieces since I was seven years old. This collection of essays has helped me to understand a little about who I am. 

(Ed.) John Elsner and Roger Cardinal,  The Cultures of Collecting: From Elvis to Antiques—Why do we Collect Things? Melbourne University Press, 1994.

An exceptional collection! of articles about collecting from many perspectives including psychoanalytical, economic and historic approaches and a scarifying analysis by post-modern French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. In most cases the picture painted of collectors is not pretty so genuine collectors should approach  this book with care! Effectively illustrated with impressive academic reference resources. For a collector who wishes to delve into his or her own psyche this is the book!

John Eisner, one of the editors, in his Introduction notes, amongst other things, the following assertions:

Noah was the first collector! (p1)

– The supreme pioneer is the totalling collector, the ‘completist’ …perhaps a fetishist! (p3)

– collect up to a final limit is to exercise control over existence God. (p3)

In the West…the great canonical collections…testify to the paradigm of Beauty as the exclusion of all ugliness, to the triumph of remembrance over oblivion, to the permanence of Being over Nothingness. Absurdly and dementedly eternalistic as they are, they carry such weight as to seem incontrovertible…one of the ambitions of this book is to challenge such self-assurance… (p4)

[collectors] rivalling God and teetering between mastery and madness (p6)

[for some]…building a collection of things is inseparable form building up wealth and prestige e.g. Henry Clay Frick, J.Paul Getty or Charles Saatchi.  (p6)

– ….less perfective collectors whose vocation sends them across the confines of the reasonable and the acceptable. These last — people like John Soane, Charles Wilson Peale, Kurt Schwitters, Sigmund Freud and Robert Opie — exemplify a genuine exposure to existence: indeed their project, at times melancholy, even morbid, and perhaps ultimately tragic, often carries with it an intimation of the failure that is always on the cards once mortal desire reaches the limits of what can and cannot be done.  (p6)

French philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote Le Système des objets (Paris, 1968), which has never been translated in full but some sections are contained in chapter 1 of this collection entitled The System of Collecting. Baudrillard is scathing about collectors as a “class” and his criticisms sound very harsh and yet most collectors would own the truthfulness of many of his criticisms of collectors.  Some points he makes are as follows:

For the child, collecting represents the most rudimentary way to exercise control over the outer world. (p.9)

…one invests in objects all that one finds impossible to invest in human relationships. That is why man so quickly seeks out the company of objects when he needs to recuperate…..this sort of passion is an escapist one….all kinds of neuroses are neutralized, all kinds of tensions and frustrated energies are grounded and calmed. Indeed, this is what lends them their ‘spiritual’ quality; (p11)

– ….the ridiculous facility with which they afford us a glorious, if illusory, gratification….the singular object never impedes the process of narcissistic projection. (p12)

Here, indeed, lies the whole miracle of collecting. For it is inevitably oneself that one collects. (p12) …he plays the game of constituting himself as a serial progression, at the same time as he constitutes himself as a serial progression, also at the same time as he constitutes himself as the ultimate term of the series —the one that wins. Here we find an explanation of the psychology of the collector: in collecting privileged objects, he constantly confirms himself as the one who wins. (fn 5 p175)

– …the collection is never really initiated in order to be completed (p13)

The man who collects things may already be dead, yet he manages literally to outlive himself through his collection…

– …possession derives its fullest satisfaction from the prestige the object enjoys in the eyes of other people, and the fact that they cannot have it ..…The jealousy complex, symptomatic of the passion of collecting at its most fanatical… What now comes into play is a powerful anal-sadistic impulse that tends to confine beauty in order to savour it in isolation….(p18)

One is always jealous of oneself. It is always oneself that one watches over like a hawk. And it is always in oneself that one takes pleasure.  (p18)

…the reader who cannot settle down to read unless he is surrounded by his entire library of books…it is not the book that matters so much as the moment when it is safely returned to its proper place on the library shelf.(p23)

– ….can objects ever institute themselves as a viable language? Can they ever be fashioned into a discourse oriented otherwise than toward oneself?…By the same token, the discourse voiced through his collection can never rise above a certain level of indigence and infantilism. 

Chapter 2 of the book is a remarkable interview and defence of the value of collecting with collector Robert Opie who has spent a lifetime amassing over 3 million examples of marketing, packaging and advertising materials.  He founded the Museum of Advertising and Packaging in the UK.

John Windsor is a teacher of transcendental meditation and spent two years with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who introduced TM to the West. His contribution in chapter 3 of this collection of essays is entitled Identity Parades and deals with the Hindu texts of the Vedas (and the Pali texts  of Theravada Buddhism)the fulfilment of the individual becomes pitifully dependent on the objects and circumstances of the outside world….Object-referral instead of self-referral. Its symptoms are tiredness and frustration…. (p49).  This is in line with the tradition of Indian, Sri-Lankan, Tibetan and South East Asian Hindu and Buddhist holy men and women for whom possessions are not sought and who rely on the gifts of others (who earn good karma for generosity) for their survival. When Ghandi was murdered (by a devout Hindu!) his possessions numbered his scuffs, staff, very thin garment and I think one or two pieces of written material. Clearly collecting objects was very low indeed on the list of priorities in Eastern religious thinking!

Roger Cardinal’s essay in chapter 4 is entitled Collecting and Collage-making: The Case of Kurt Schwitters.  Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) was an amazing multi-media artist in Germany who escaped to Norway to avoid Nazi imprisonment  for producing “degenerate art” in Goebbels’ definition. After the German invasion of Norway Schwitters fled to Scotland and was interned in England.  Cardinal’s essay focuses on the extent to which Schwitter’s famous collages called Merz art  [from comm-merce?] pictures could be called collections. This was because Schwitters built his collages basically from bits of flotsam picked up from the street- paper scraps, fragments of newspapers, billboards, transport tickets and anything else left lying around on the street.  Nevertheless close analysis of many of his Merz art reveals that certain clear messages are being sent from words that can be read within the collages and from the arrangement of seemingly totally abstract and haphazard bits and pieces. Amongst many other artistic endeavours Schwitters produced over 2000 collages throughout his career from his earliest days experimenting with Dadaism in Germany to his final exile in Britain.  Cardinal writes:

– ….Inexorably categorised as we are under the category of mortals we may envisage collecting as an existential project that seeks to lend shape to hapless circumstance. To collate and arrange any objects, culturally marked or otherwise, is to invent a space of privileged equilibrium offering at least some respite from the pressures of life. What is curious to behold is that, for many collectors, existential tensions tend to derive not just from the plain business of living, but also from the collecting activity itself, by means of which they had hoped not to repeat life but to transcend it. I see the collector as one caught in a constant vacillation, between the hankering for perfection and the need to tolerate imperfection, between an ideal of wholeness and the anxiety of incompleteness, between mature composure and the immature thrills of hunting and scrounging. (p70)

– …The final element that, I believe, clinches,my comparison [between a collection and a collage] is that there is almost always an intention eventually to place the collage or the collection on display. Both ultimately exist to be shown, and implicitly to be shown to impress. We can say that both aspire to be noticed, inspected, admired, even envied? (p71)

–  [Schwitters] routinely labels the completed set with a number and a title….the practice is symptomatic of a collector’s scrupulous devotion to itemising and listing…(p78).

– [Merz art was] …a diary in which the individual subject records his struggle to hold together a few meagre certainties in a world that is being torn apart.

Cardinal quotes Susan Stewart, writer of several books on aesthetic theory; …’the possession of the metonymic object is a kind of dispossession in that the presence of the object all the more radically speaks to its status as a mere substitution and to its subsequent distance from the self.’ (p93)

– Cardinal writes  …while it may be true that Schwitters was conscious of handling the myths and mirages that help soothe the collective libido, documenting the little gratifications of contemporary Londoners in an epoch of austerity, his compilations of cigarette wrappers, food ads and jam labels can equally be read as a sublimation of private longings and grieving. (p95)

….the aroma of nostalgia the collages insinuate to us has to be measured against our own proclivity to romanticise the text of the past.. (p95)

Chapter 5 of this collection is written by Mieke Bal, a tertiary teacher in the Theory of Literature and lecturer in Visual and Cultural studies.Theories of literature regularly ask the question what is the true nature of narrative?

– Bal writes: Objectively narratives exist as texts, printed and made accessible; at the same time, they are subjectively produced by writer and reader. (p98)

– ….it is also obvious that verbal texts are not the only objects capable of conveying a narrative. Language is just one medium, perhaps the most conspicuous one, in which narrative can be constructed. Images, as the tradition of history painting demonstrates, can do so as well ….[cf the use of stained glass window images in Gothic cathedrals in the C13th and C14th when many worshippers could not read.] …not to speak of mixed media like film, opera and comic strips….What if the medium consists of real, hard material objects?…In other words, can things be, or tell stories? (p98f)  [eg a stamp collection teaching history such as the gradual change in images of Hitler on German stamps of the 1930s.]

– Bal quotes cultural and museum historian S M Pearce as follows: …the emotional relationship of projection and internalisation which we have with objects seems to belong with our very earliest experience and (probably therefore) remains important to us all our lives. (p102 and ref. fn7)

– Bal continues: From motivation in childhood Pearce moves to phenomenologically defined essential humanness — and storytelling is again an indispensable ingredient.  [Pearce’s work shows that ] collecting is an essential human feature that originates in the need to tell stories..(p103).

Hence, collecting is a story, and everyone needs to tell it. (p103)

– Bal notes that Pearce identifies 16 different possible motivations for folk commencing collections. They are as follows: leisure, aesthetics, competition, risk, fantasy, a sense of community, prestige, domination, sensual gratification, sexual foreplay, desire to reframe objects, the pleasing rhythm of sameness and difference, ambition to achieve perfection, extending the self, reaffirming the body, producing gender-identity, achieving immortality! (p102)

-Bal notes that some of these motivations require wealth e.g. aesthetics…can only be constituted within an experience of the world freed from urgency…[Pierre Bourdieu, fn13] (p103)

– Bal quotes W. Durose: If the predominant value is aesthetically pleasing it is not a collection. But, if it bears a relation to some other object e.g. one of a series, it is a collection. (p111)

– replotting an existing collection….the objects as signs become radically different. (p112) [eg changing a book collection from alphabetical by author to arrangement by content; or a stamp collection from by country to by theme e.g. animals].

If completion is possible, perfection is dangerous. (p113)

Perfection, the equivalent of death in the sense that it can only be closely approximated, not achieved ‘during the life time’ of the subject, is one of those typically elusive objects of desire like happiness….

In chapter 6 Nicholas Thomas, senior research fellow in anthropology at ANU writes about the nature of traditional museum methods of displaying collections.  He writes about the fetishism, the lack of context and dehumanising factors involved in the collection of native items during early European exploratory voyages to Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Pacific including Cook’s journeys.  He is equally critical of the clinical display of such objects without context in C19th European museums and presentation documents.

Challenging the almost sacred vision of James Cook’s work and that of Robert Banks, his naturalist on his first journey, in the annals of Australian history, Thomas is quite critical of Cook’s voyages. He describes them as dedicated to the disclosure of the novel, and shifted restlessly from one discovery to the next, in a fashion reminiscent of Burke’s giddy curiosity, but affected a “great command’ through its assertiveness with respect to novelties, expressed graphically in charts and coastal profiles… (p128).  Thomas draws attention even more strongly to the failings of Robert Banks to adopt an appropriate scientific discipline….The editor of Cook’s account, John Hawkesworth,  was less circumspect than he might have been in alluding to the sexual contacts between the sailors and Tahitian women, and the prominence of Banks in his account suggested to many readers that Bank’s botany was fraudulent, ‘that he was more interested in exotic women than exotic plants.’  Banks’ doubtful behaviour was satirised on his return for example in the satirical verses entitled Transmigration, which read in part:

Ye who o’er Southern Oceans wander

With simpling B——ks or S——r;

Who so familiarly describe

The frolicks of the wanton Tribe,

And think that simple Fornication

Requires no form of palliation…  (p129)

Thomas further notes the  presentation of dislocated and out of context Chinese and Iranian artefacts in the early drawings by John and Andrew van Rymsdyk as presented in the British Museum….The giddy and random vision that this eclecticism prompted is distinctly Borgesian. (p134).

Thomas further draws attention to the fact that in addition to the scientific work of “scientific” men like Robert Banks many ordinary sailors were busy collecting their own supply of native curiosities …it is clear …that many common sailors acquired substantial collections, often with a view to sale at home.  [p135]; The availability of these on-sold objects appearing on the open market would again be presumably without geographic or scientific context. The whole article draws attention to the different motives behind collections…especially formal museum collections …the curious, the scientist, the true connnoisseur, the commercial, the licentious….Even the triumph of capitalism did not enable this shadow of commerce to transcend the ambiguous licence of an endless, rapacious, unstable and competitive pursuit of novel objects.

In chapter 7 Thomas Dacosta Kaufmann, Princeton Professor in the Dept of Art and Archaeology writes about the treasuries and collections of the Hapsburgs as a precursor to Museum collections.

The Hapsburg treasury goes back at least to the rule of Duke Rudolf 1V of Hapsburg in the C14th whose records refer to keeping family property together, undivided by bequests; we also have information about the second Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Albrecht 11 whose historical records refer to a jewellery collection and in addition references to ornaments, silver plate, documents, insignia, royal regalia, crowns, sceptres, orbs and sacramental relics, books, reliquaries, as well as works of art. These collections were reorganised by Frederick 111 Hapsburg (ruled1440-93) and his successor Maximilian 1 (1493-1519) through new impulses transmitted from Burgundy and Italy. Justifications for a doctrine of magnificence were able to be found in Aristotle’s Ethics! and the hapsburgs were influenced by the example of the rulers of Medicean Florence and Aragonese Naples who justified the notion of expenditure on objects not just for their use but for their splendour, rarity or expense, thereby expanding the reputation of a prince. Jacobo Pontano of Naples thought that magnificence could be demonstrated by collecting objects such as bronzes, tapestries, furniture, carpets, carved ivory, precious boxes, books, vessels made of rock crystal, gold, onyx and other precious stones.

The Hapsburg collections were further refined by Ferdinand 1 and his brother Charles V, Holy Roman Emperors of the C16th where the term kunstkammer referring to a work of art (kunst) began to take over from schatzkammer (treasury). Ferdinand 11 maintained and added to the collection including a library and a collection of arms and armour. (a rustkammer). The collection was continued under the reign of Maximilian 11 and reached a peak in the reign of his son Rudolf 11 (reigned 1576-1612) developed at the Hradčany Palace in Prague which included formal gardens, wild animals, tamed deer and aviaries.

Kaufmann notes that Rudolf’s possession of a universal collection could symbolically represent his claims to mastery of the macrocosm of the greater world, and over the body politic of which he was sovereign. There was also an occult element to this collection….the sort of Hermetic project encouraged by Francis Bacon and reflected in some of Newton’s studies. The Hapsburg collection was diminished by the Thirty Years War but continued in the C17th under the Ferdinand 111 who ruled to 1657 and by now included a coin collection. During the reign of Emperor Leopold 1 (1658-1705) another collection was established in Vienna with an emphasis on northern European paintings and sculptures. Kaufmann notes that these tendencies came to fruition in the C18th  with Johann  Bernhard Fischer von Erlach [who] adumbrated an independent history of architecture….Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten [who] developed a philosophical aesthetics, …Gotthold Ephraim Lessing [who] laid the ground for an independent criticism of the visual arts …and Johann Joachim Winckelmann [who] established an independent history of art. (p147)

During the reign of Charles VI (died 1740), [the impact of the Enlightenment (Aufklärung) ], ..a rationalized and orderly approach continued to be applied to the collections….some of the collections were even made accessible to the public…Fundamental transformation in the organisation of the collection had to wait until the reigns of Maria Theresa (d.1780) and Joseph 11 (d.1790) with new positions including a “Schatzmeistev”, a gallery inspector and other curators. In Maria Theresa’s reign and independent public picture gallery was established and the collections  were organised with new goals resulting from the imposition of what could be called modern rational principles of organisation. Educational or didactic goals, rather than a quest for rarity or a desire for splendour became the norm. (p148f)

Before the Musée Napoleon, the British Museum or the Altes Museum in Berlin, a public museum was created in Vienna that was devoted to the presentation a separate category of visual art….The importance of these innovations may be insufficiently appreciated, perhaps because their further consequences for both the museum and academic milieux were somewhat slow to be realised due to the Napoleonic wars  and the era of reaction that set in after Prince Metternic’s direction after 1815. (p151). It remains clear that the succesion of Hapsburg rulers who maintained the royal collections from the C14th can be genuinely regarded as the forerunners of the modern museum culture.

John Elsner, an editor of the whole book and Lecturer in classical art at the amazing Courtauld Institute (study centre and art gallery) in London wrote chapter 8 called  A Collector’s Model of Desire: the House and Museum of Sir John Soane. 

Sir John Soane, (1753-1837) was a major British architect and artist who designed many of the C18th and early C19th civic buildings of London. He was also an avid collector of art (amazing Canaletto and Hogarth and much more)  and European historical artifacts and books especially the sculpture and artifacts of classical history. His collection was donated to the nation on condition that it remained in his house in Lincoln’s Inn and that it be kept in its original state and order that he left it.  I have been several times to this house museum and it is a truly wondrous place of joy, delight and awe for collectors. Eisner’s rather jaundiced view is that Soane wanted this memorial to himself to stand egotistically as evidence that he himself was the C19th successor to the classical architects of old and his British forerunners like Wren and that the arrangement of his three storied collection is designed to prove this case. Whilst I am sure that Soane had his normal share of egotism which belongs naturally to “the great” my own view is that this collection has a unique charm and power in its original setting and it is a wonderful privilege to have a glimpse into Soane’s passions, gifts and interests displayed just as he himself wanted. Soane is the collector’s collector and in my view one of the greats and a must see for anyone interested in history and art who gets to London.

Anthony Alan Shelton wrote Chapter 9 in this collection of collections. His topic is Cabinets of Transgression: Renaissance Collections and the Incorporation of the New World. Shelton notes that some scholars thought of mediaeval attitudes and modes of persisting through the ‘Middle Ages’ from the third century A D to the mid-nineteenth century. Nevertheless all sides agree that the discovery of the “new world” made a significant impact on Renaissance thinking.  Shelton comments that cosmological uncertainty shadows the difference behind, and organisation of, Renaissance collections that attempted to incorporate representations of the fourth continent. (p177)

Shelton comments that the Mediaevals traditionally attributed marvellous and exceptional craftsmanship to communion with the divinely sanctioned order or the world (p180). On the other hand the mediaeval world also saw the marvellous as including contingent and altogether exceptional events. (p180).  In particular William of Ockham, who denied the existence of any cosmic order or chain of being that linked phenomena or events. According to Ockham, objects had only a nominal existence, and were unregulated by the mind of God. (p180)

For collectors of a nominalist persuasion, what was important were curiosities, rare or near-unique phenomena that were thought to have resulted from some exceptional condition or circumstance….collections of this kind flourished from c.1550, began to wane in the seventeenth century, and by 1750 were very rare indeed.  (p180). Renowned collections included those of Ulisse Aldrovandi at Bologna who used his collection for teaching and research, (p185); Antonia Giganti and the University of Leiden. Other collections included those of the Copenhagen Museum and the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the Museum of Ferdinando Cospi in Bologna.

The perfection of the secularised model of the encyclopaedic ideal was achieved by the Medici when Francisco 1 became Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1574..[who] put his collections on public display in the newly bullt Uffizi Palace in Florence….a representation of creation that allowed each princely ruler symbolically to claim his dominion over the world as a means of glorifying and celebrating a family’s influence, and legitimating its titles and position (p186)….This transfer to the public gallery of sumptuous private property, paralleling a change in its perception from souvenirs to the ‘great world’ metaphor, consecrating collection as an expression of the worthiness of an individual life. (p187).

This highly academic article proceeds to demonstrate with how much difficulty  European collectors and the public struggled to cope with New World artifacts and works of art that were not modelled in gold or precious stones but were in fact uniques and highly creative works of heart requiring enormous artistic skill and merit.  A particular example is that of feather costumes and other exceptional items made of feathers which the “old world” did not value and managed to lose or destroy. On the other hand exceptional articles made of gold and precious metals from the new world were often sent back in vast quantities  to Europe as “tribute” to European overlords seeking to avoid annihilation.

Much of this work was melted down and re-made in a European tradition and the protection of the new world was most usually not completed. In particular Motecuhzoma 11 sent to the Spanish explorer and overlord over 13 massive collections of gold and precious items in a vain bid to save his civilisation from rapacious Spanish acquisition. In addition to the treasures from Mexico the conquest of Peru in 1533 yielded further quantities of Indian bounty. The objects obtained by Pizarro from the ransom of Atahualpa alone were said to be sufficient to fill a room 25 feet long and 15 feet wide even when piled higher than the upraised arms of a tall man. P195)….none of the Peruvian artefacts from this period are thought to have survived. Much of the state treasure formerly belonging to Axayacatl was melted down and cast into ingots, while the jewellery was ‘undone and taken to pieces.’ (p197)

Shelton’s article moves forward to demonstrate that individual items of “paganism” from the New World were collected and analysed in Europe consciously substitute the terms of the indigenous discourse to those commensurate with sixteenth-century Europe.  (p202)…The subordination of accurate cultural data to the vastly more important need to demonstrate the inclusiveness of paganism created an apparent homogeneity between the different high civilizations of the Americas, as well as blurring the their distinctions from other ‘pagan’ cultures. (p202)

Whether they mirrored the God-centred universe inherited by the Renaissance, or the emergent man-centred, pragmatic world manipulated by merchant princes and aristocrats, cabinets expressed a visual image of the inclusiveness of the European view of the world and its facile ability to incorporate and domesticate potentially transgressive worlds and customs. The truly marvellous and extraordinary accomplishment of mediaeval thought was that it made marvellousness itself a category of the mundane. (p203)

This article I found perhaps the most depressing of the analyses in this collection by reminding me of my own love of European culture and the danger of thinking of European hegemony over thought and art as the only way to look at this world of wonder and delight.

Chapter 10 in this collection is written by Susan Stewart, Professor of English at Temple University in Philadelphia who writes on literary and aesthetic theory. Her particular interest here is the extraordinary life of the multi-talented revolutionary soldier, propagandist, civic official, engraver, museum keeper, zoologist, botanist, inventor, painter and founder of the first American museum…Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)  (p205)

Charles Willson Peale  is probably the most amazing single life described in this collection of essays which has already dealt with some very amazing folk. It is difficult to imagine anyone with the multifarious talents and courage and self-belief of Charles Willson Peale. Perhaps William Morris or Benjamin Franklin are the only other individuals that immediately spring to mind as bearing comparison.

Stewart notes that there is a passage underlined in a copy of Rouseau’s Emile that was once owned by Peale, which urges teachers never to substitute representation for reality, or shadow for substance, but to teach only from actual objects and the underlining is probably in Peale’s hand. (p209).

Peale’s Discourse Introductory to a Course of Lectures of 1800 is perhaps the fullest statement of his philosophy of collecting. He links himself in a great chain of largely unrecognised founders of national museums, from the Alexandrian library and repository of Ptolemy Philadephus (a kind of historical pun on his own name and location) to contemporary British and Continental museums. (p217).

Stewart notes in conclusion of this essay…Peale develops his museum as an antidote to war’s losses and as a gesture against disorder and the extinction of knowledge. In this nexus of motion and emotion, arrested life and animation, loss and memory, that Peale has bequeathed to us we can begin to recollect, with both a sense of difference and sense of urgency, a central issue regarding representation. (p223) I felt impelled to add, after reading of Peale’s life (he was a Deist)…a sense of a deeper pool, a wider vision, a longing for eternity,  a sure and certain hope of resurrection life in the eternal kingdom of God.  This is a man we need to know more about!

Chapter 11 in this collection is written by John Forrester, Cambridge Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science and discusses Sigmund Freud and his collection of Egyptian artifacts.

 Sigmund Freud, arch demystifier of religion and darling of the liberal left surprised many to learn that throughout his life he amassed a substantial collection of over 3000 Renaissance, ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Chinese sculptures and other figures. Freud criticised one of his biographers, Austrian Stefan Zweig, for the emphasis he placed ‘on the element of petit-bourgeois correctness in my person’ (p228) and responded by saying, amongst other things I have actually read more archaeology than psychology…(p229).  Forrester notes that his daughter Anna fostered the transformation from living collection into dead museum by preserving Freud’s study, with his collection intact and untouched over four decades. (p229).

Timms and Segal, who edited a collection of studies of Freud in exile in London (1988) noted that when Freud parted with most of his professional library when forced to leave Germany, very few books on archaeology or editions of the classics were sold—an indication of what lay closest to his heart. (noted in Forrester p296 fn6)

The majority of historians agree that the death of Freud’s father was a major turning-point in his life and work, precipitating him into a neurotic crisis of self-doubt and obliging him to undertake his self-analysis. (p232)….Beginning with the father’s death …Freud’s collection of antiquities elegantly demonstrates how a collection can symbolise the battle of life within death, of life being infiltrated by death, of a space cleared for the expression of this battle by the objects the collector has chosen as his personal representatives. (p232)

Freud himself wrote about the collector who directs his surplus libido onto the inanimate objective love of things. (p236) and that some collectors talk to their collections, just as dog-owners talk to their dogs. Forrester notes that Freud is a collector of farts and grimaces, an archeologist of rubbish avant la letter, as well as a collector of the fading, yet precious detritus of Western civilisation. The public Freud, with his reputation for shocking, distasteful and immoral claims about all human beings; the private Freud, with his well-ordered life and his bourgeois collection of culturally respectable art objects….how could the founder of the quintessentially modernist movement that is psychoanalysis have had such unimpeachably conservative taste in art?….this criticism has often been illustrated by referring to Freud’s own confessions of his inability to appreciate beauty in art in any other way than by analysing and understanding it. (p239)

Forrester notes that collections of jokes and dream texts must, without the benefit of hindsight, rank with stamp collecting and bottle-top collecting as narrowly conceived and single-mindedly eccentric. (p241). In Freud’s defence against eccentricity, Forrester notes that collected antiquities represent the first appearance of Freud’s vision of his work as embodying essential elements of the cultural traditions to which he was selfconsciously heir. Winckelmann the archaeologist; Goethethe worshipper of Italy; Akhenaten the founder of monotheism; Moses the Egyptian; Aeschylus the teller of ancient family tragedies; and Athena, representative of justice, mercy and wisdom: all these are embodied in the collection of objects, and it is their possession that realises Freud’s desire to be a universal and public citizen of this world, walking through the Museum of history and culture. (p241)

all of Freud’s collections were permeated by a public and enlightenment ideal….like all other ideals, it was revealed  as an illusion by the First World War.

The remainder of Forrester’s analysis of Freud’s collections is an attempt to demonstrate the value of his collections to illustrate his psycho-analytical techniques. The degree to which the reader will find this analysis persuasive will depend on the value placed by the reader on Freudian psycho-analysis. I personally find Forrester’s argument unconvincing..but then I would, wouldn’t I!

The final essay in this collection of essays on collecting is written by Duke University Romance Studies and Literature Professor Naomi Schor and is called Collecting Paris. It focusses on her personal collection of magnificent black and white Paris postcards of the belle epoch.

Schor’s essay is a useful summary of the whole collection. She begins with a very helpful analysis of the ideas of German/Jewish philosopher and literary critic Walter Benjamin who channelled Proust in arguing that most closely approximates that of the author in that collecting  and especially (though not exclusively) book-collecting involves the retrieval and ordering of things past; (p252) Schor quotes a  Benjamin lecture: ‘every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.’ (p252)

Schor notes that ..collecting, is for Benjamin a form of psychotherapy, a healing anamnesis, a means of re-membering his fragmented past (p253) ..and that act is figured as profoundly magical. (p254)

Schor usefully re-summarises the  “phallo-centric” view of collectors demonstrated by Jean Beaudrillard and Susan Stewart’s distinction between souvenir and collection.

Schor’s belle epoch postcard collection beautifully illustrated in this book demonstrates the recording of a place in time, in this case Paris, arguable the world’s most visited city. Schor notes that being and collecting are intimately related  (p259) The poignant part of this collection is her ambivalent relationship with Paris having Jewish parents who fled Poland to Paris and then fled Paris successfully to Spain (sadly unlike Walter Benjamin who was caught at the Spanish border). The anti-semitism rife in Paris leading up to and during World War 11 conflicts deeply with her architectural and lifestyle love affair with Paris as demonstrated in belle epoch post-cards. The essay doubles as a useful history of post-cards…a major collection area for many. Along the way Schor notes that post-card collecting is largely a feminine affair…men do not write post-cards to each other. (p262).

In a way Schor’s essay is a fitting conclusion to this collection of collections because it demonstrates that collecting fulfils many important functions central to human existence, eccentric and at times chaotic though many collectors may be.

Books read June 2017

June 2017:

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night,

Amazingly contemporary play with its gender twisting characters (Viola …in Shakespeare’s time a boy playing a woman pretending to be a man!) and speaking into current gender theory and queer theory semiotics.  Seen in conjunction with the British National Theatre production featuring a female “Malvolia” (showing at the Nova in June 2017) the impact is powerful indeed.  Called a comedy by Shakespeare and elsewhere called As You Will, the “comedy” has some dark moments indeed, not least because of the haunting songs of longing, love and life delivered by the eloquent and highly sophisticated “fool” Feste. I think indeed it is a tragicomedy produced as it was, near the end of the reign of Elizabeth 1. The tragic figure is indeed Malvolio betrayed not by hubris perhaps but by an over-whelming vanity and lack of self-perception. Nevertheless he does not deserve his cruel and over the top treatment by his tormentors whose quest for personal pleasure and revelry leaves no room for reasonable boundaries…a message for our time methinks.   The fraught love affairs Viola/Cesario and Orsino and Cesario/Olivia/“Cesario” disturbed and disrupted by mistaken identities is indeed a comedic masterpiece and the total impact simply underscores the absolute and never equalled genius of a playwright who, after 500+ years still somehow transcends time and philosophy to transfix us in the C21st.    5 stars

Mariilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self,  New Haven/London, Yale University Press, 2010

HIghly acclaimed as the author of a prize-winning quartet of novels about family life in mid-West America (Housekeeping, Gilead, Home and Lila ) Robinson has also demonstrated an impressively  comprehensive understanding of philosophical and scientific thought and writing from the Greeks to the Reformation to Post-modernism. The majority of writers who delve into the science vs religion debate and write populist books with the victor being one or the other often cite earlier writers by the briefest of references only.  Robinson has not only read them in detail but is able to interact with them with an understanding and philosophical perspicuity which is breathtaking. I refer to writers like Russell, Freud, Descartes,  Fichte, Comte, Grotius, Darwin, Nietzche, Emerson and Leibniz.

Robinson’s insights are powerful and important. Some key ideas are:

  • the distinction between genuine science and parascience.
  • the irreconcilability between the conclusions of the “fathers” of modernism i.e. The Freudian neurasthenic is not the Darwinian primate, who is not the Marxist proletarian, who is not the behaviourist’s organism available to to being molded by a regime of positive and negative sensory experience. To acknowledge an element of truth in each of these models is to reject the claims of descriptive sufficiency made by all of them. (pxvi)
  • the rejection with inadequate rationale of the testimonies to human inwardness of history and culture.
  • the meaning of the great paradox and privilege of human selfhood, a privilege foreclosed when the mind is trivialised or thought to be discredited. (pxviii)
  • the first premise of modern and contemporary thought …the notion that we as a culture have crossed one or another threshold or realisation that gives the thought that follows it a special claim to the status of truth….that the world of thought , recently or in an identifiable moment in the near past, had undergone epochal change. Some realisation has intervened in history with miraculous abruptness and efficacy, and everything is transformed. (pp1-3) Robinson questions this assumption that “enlightenment changes everything!”
  • the commonly expressed statement that everything must be subject to materialist explanations”  could be usefully rephrased as available to tentative description in terms science finds meaningful….the strangeness of reality consistently exceeds the expectations of science, and that the assumptions of science, however tried and rational, are very inclined to encourage false expectations.
  • ..granting the plausibility of the idea [of multiverses] what does it imply? Its power, when used polemically, is based on the fact that, in a multiverse, absolutely anything is possible…

These are just a few of the breakthrough moments in this demanding and unsettlingly thoughtful book about the inwardness of the mind. Robinson focuses in detail on altruism and on the “Freudian self” and along the way also deals directly and honestly with the influential writings in these areas  of Bertrand Russell, Stephen Pinker, Daniel Dennet, Jung, William James, Richard Rorty, E O Wilson and John Searle. The end result of this exploration is a penetrating if quite gentle undercutting of the noisy and unfounded confidence of many ardent and determined defenders of both modernism and post-modernism against the possibility of any valid form of spirituality or meaningful or coherent “inwardness” involving the human mind. Robinson in this book nowhere offers a defence of transcendance but clears a path in such a remarkably lucid way that if there is no transcendence we must just have to invent it to explain so much of the meaning of humanity and  human culture.

Not for the faint-hearted this book encourages careful re-reading and further explanation.    5 stars

Richard Attenborough, In Search of Ghandi, London, The Bodley Head, 1982   Having just enjoyed viewing the film The Viceroy’s House about the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 my longstanding interest in Mohandas K Ghandi (Mahatma) was revived and I was delighted to read this exceptional account of the eighteen year journey of the production of the film Ghandi which was directed by Richard Attenborough. Attenborough himself acted in many British and Hollywood movies, was Chairman of the British Film Institute, the Royal Academy of Film and Television Artsa trustee of the Tate Gallery and Sussex University of Sussex Pro-Vice-Chancellor. His brother David is still famously making extraordinary environmental and bio-geographical television productions including Lite of Earth. 

The grinding account of the failed promises and commitments of film company directors, financiers and politicians combined with the cultural, spiritual. political and religious sensitivities involved with a figure as god-like in India as Ghandi make this an enthralling story. in addition the overwhelming complexity of the elements of modern movie making is an enthralling story in itself. Taking so long to actually bring to the screen the book’s narrative is in part inevitably a biography of Attenborough himself as the journey inevitably involved his whole family and work as well as almost bankrupting him. The book contains many historic photographs of Ghandi as well as exceptional still from the movie.  Hard to put down.   4 stars.

D H Lawrence, The Virgin and the Gypsy, Harmondsworth, UK, Penguin, 1986 (1930).  Pulsating, sensual novella of the coming of age of a young thoughtful but flighty Middle Class north country girl and her meeting with a strong-minded, winsome and somewhat mystical  Romany gypsy. Vintage Lawrence with his full-bodied, almost violent language and his exceptional ability  to capture the north country landscape, the apparent shallowness and double-mindedness of Middle Class morality and the yearning of the thoughtful for meaningful love. An almost perfect novella of 84 pages.  5 stars.