Books read January 2018


David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI,  London, Simon & Schuster, 2017

The “Flower Moon” people are in reality the Native American tribe of the Osage who, before the onslaught of European immigrants were semi-nomadic buffalo  herders on the vast Western plains of what is now Oklahoma. in the United States. Unlike other Native American tribes who were eventually corralled into smaller and smaller reservations with very little ability for them to maintain their normal hunting lifestyle and culture, the Osage had managed one legal manoeuvre which was to initially protect but eventually destroy them. This was a ruling that anything under the land to which they were allotted belonged to the Osage and not to immigrant buyers or settler. As it happened the unlikely land contained vast oil supplies in quantities which made the Osage the wealthiest native tribe anywhere in the world.

Wealth attracts criminality and political subterfuge. The Osage were required to have “guardians” who could supervise their accumulating wealth and assist them in the management of it. Such a guardian had “headlights” and these could be bought and sold and sometimes by arrangement inherited by white hustlers including through inter-marriage with the Osage.  The result was that many of the Osage were swindled out of their wealth. More seriously this book recounts a systematic and brutal murderous regime to wipe out whole Osage families and take their assets. Such activity was aided by the lawlessness of the wild west. States rights ruled and there was no Federal law machine hence “the law” was upheld by locally proclaimed “lawmen” and bounty hunters some of whom were of good repute (but did not last long) but most of whom were corrupt. There were also local “militia” such as the “Texas Rangers”. Many of the local courts were also subject to political and financial interference.

Thus the major sub-plot of this book is the gradual development of a Federal Department of Criminal investigation instigated by F D Roosevelt and led for over four decades by the remarkable and self promoting J Edgar Hoover. The investigation of the major criminal syndicate was a task of Sherlock Holmesian proportions led by former Texas Ranger Tom White, the ultimate Western hero and the account of the brutal syndicate and their eventual capture and conviction makes engaging reading. Many other Osage families were less fortunate and never obtained the justice and knowledge of lost family members.  An amazing insight into the early years of the white settlement of the American West. Complex and demanding but engaging to the end.   4 stars.

Hermeneutical hi-jinks with Peter Harrison

Hermeneutical hi-jinks with Peter Harrison.

Australian laureate and Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland has written a stunning book about the impact of the Christian Reformation on the development of Natural Science in Europe. His book is entitled The Bible, Protestantism and the Rise of Natural Science, Cambridge, CUP, 2002 pb (1998 hb). Before coming to U Q Harrison was the Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford, a post currently held by Alister McGrath.  His book demonstrates an extraordinary knowledge of Biblical interpretation from the earliest Fathers to the C17th and provides much food for thought in regard to the debate about the relevance of the Bible today as well as the role of natural theology, if any, in the plan of God’s communication with humanity.  In this analysis I will simply pull out some key elements of his argument with very limited comment.

In his introductory chapter Harrison summarises his book this way: It is commonly supposed that when in the early modern period individuals began to look at the world in a different way, they could no longer believe what they read in the Bible. In this book I shall suggest that the reverse is the case; when in the sixteenth century people began to read the Bible in a different way, [ i.e. in a more literal way] they found themselves forced to jettison traditional conceptions of the world. The Bible — its contents, the controversies it generated, its varying fortunes as an authority, and most importantly, the new way in which it was read by Protestants — played a central role in the emergence of natural science in the seventeenth century….The new conception of the order of nature was made possible, I shall argue, by the collapse of the allegorical interpretation of texts. [which had dominated European thinking from the Fathers to the C15th.] (p4)

Harrison has broadened the traditional thesis of Dorothy Stimson and R K Merton in the 1930s that the rise of modern science was due to the impact of Puritanism in Europe, especially the effect of the Calvinistic doctrine of election. Other historians have challenged the narrowness of the Merton analysis demonstrating that many C17th scientists were latitudinarians, or simply Anglicans, rather than Puritans and Harrison has taken up this position defending the role, not of Puritanism specifically but of Protestantism in general. In brief Harrison highlights a number of elements of Protestant ideology which may have provided important stimuli for the development of the new science. These elements include:

– the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers…all individuals have direct access to God and the Bible without the necessity of official priestly mediators or sanctioned interpreters. (p7)

a suspicion of scholastic philosophy which led to calls for educational reforms and for an end to Aristotle’s domination of the university curriculum  (p7)

–  the theological voluntarism which lay at the heart of Calvin’s doctrine of election….the operations of nature were regular and lawful, but these laws of nature, resting upon the divine will rather than the divine reason,  could only be discovered by research and experimentation. (p7)

Protestant demystication of the world also promoted the mechanical conception of nature. Scepticism about Catholic miracles, the denial of sacramental magic, the challenging of the special status of priests, saints and supernatural intermediaries…contributed to the emergence of the lawful and deterministic universe which is the prerequisite for scientific investigation. (p7)

– Christopher Hill’s thesis that what mattered for the development of science was not so much Protestant doctrine…as the breaking of clerical monopoly control. (p8)

Harrison’s book focusses on this last issue, specifically the Protestant approach to the interpretation of texts which he argues was the key factor in the rise of modern science. The key historic components of his analysis are firstly the symbolic view of the world and the allegorical approach to texts developed by the Fathers especially Origen and Augustine; secondly the C12th century renaissance and rediscovery of nature (including the impact of Islamic texts which reintroduced classical Greek writers to Europe) and finally the Protestant Reformation itself with its emphasis on the literal meaning of the Biblical text rather than the allegorical. The  three later chapters in the book focus on discussions regarding the beginning and end of the world and of resurrection,  the rise of physico-theology and the impact of a literal reading of Genesis 1 -3.  There is a final trenchant concluding chapter with many far-sighted and helpful suggestions. In case you get no further in this analysis, I note perhaps his most far-reaching conclusion.  While the Protestants’ insistence that passages of scripture be given a determinative meaning proceeded from the purest of religious motives, they were inadvertently setting in train a process which would ultimately result in the undermining of that biblical authority which they so adamantly promoted.

The following brief extracts contain some of the key ideas from Harrison’s book which gave me much food for thought.

  1. On the early and mediaeval method of interpreting the Scriptures:  Scripture, according to Origen, had three senses…the literal sense…or the obvious or historical sense….the moral sense…how life was to be lived….and the allegorical sense…the spirit of scripture..the highest sense , and contained timeless theological truths. (p18f)…Origen went so far to suggest that certain passages of scripture have no literal sense at all, and that others, when taken literally, could reasonably be dismissed as ‘absurd and impossible.” [On First Principles, IV,ii.5,9]  (p19)  See also p43 ..the quadriga which the Fathers bequeathed to the Middle Ages is nothing but a guide to reading, in which similitudes are categorised according to type…allegoria or ‘prefiguring’ relies upon resemblances between events separated in time e.g. Moses lifting the serpent to save Israel and Christ on the cross saving mankind; anagogia, on resemblances between physical things and theological truths e.g. phoenix and resurrection; tropologia, on resemblances between physical things and moral truths e.g. the ant and the virtue of industry; in addition to the literal.
  1. Augustine revised Alexandrian hermeneutics, in an attempt to control interpretation by forcing exegetes to occupy a middle ground between stark literalism and overimaginative  allegorisation. (p29) He was cautious about man’s quest for knowing things. In the City of God, says Harrison, he wrote that curiosity about the material world was merely another species of sensual temptation…there exists in the soul, a cupidity which does not take delight in carnal pleasure but in perceptions acquired through the flesh…[this is]..vain inquisitiveness…dignified with the title knowledge and science…when people study the operations of nature which lie beyond our grasp.. they merely give rise to…a diseased craving, a lust for experimenting and knowing. (p32) Augustine [died 430] and through Augustine, platonism, held sway in Europe for 800 years. Not until the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were the symbols which constituted the physical world invested with their own syntax. (p33)
  1. Key players in the C11th revival in interest in the physical and the uniting of the physical and spiritual body were Hildergard of Bergen(1098-1179); Allan of Lille (d.1203); Thomas Aquinas (1225 -1274); Anselm (1033-1109), Bernard of Clairveaux (1090-1153) and Hugh of St Victor (1096-1141)       Hildegard of Bergen wrote..the spirit without the bloody matter of the body is not the living person (p3)…we are strengthened and brought to our soul’s salvation by the five senses.. we can know the whole world through our sight, understand through our hearing, distinguish it by our sense of smell…dominate by our touch, and in this way come to know the true God. (p37).  Allan of Lille wrote that it was the nature of human being to be united with the material. The embodiment of human souls was not, as Plato had thought, the imprisonment of an essentially spiritual being in a corporeal body, but was rather part of God’s original design for humanity.(p37)  Hugh of St Victor wrote…Nothing in the universe fails to participate in the Highest Good.  Thomas Aquinas …reasserted the Aristotelian view, though not without qualification, that the human person is form and matter, soul and body. The individual was not to be identified with the incorporeal soul, but was a substantial union of spirit and matter…resurrection of the body for the first time became philosophically as well as theologically necessary. (p36) Anselm’s theory of atonement [in Cur Deus Homo, [1098 ]reasserted the centrality of Christ’s incarnation in which Deity puts on human flesh, and equally importantly, shifted the venue for human redemption into the sphere of the mundane. [ie atonement was no longer a transaction in the heavenly realm between God and Satan but an act of redemption by Jesus, fully man on earth]. (p36) Bernard of Clairveaux wrote there is no access open to us, except through the body, to those things whereby  we live in happiness…the spiritual creature, therefore,  which we are, must necessarily have a body, without which, indeed, it can by no means obtain that knowledge which is the only means of attaining to those things, to which constitutes blessedness. (p37)
  1. Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great 1200-1280, teacher of Aquinas) sounding rather like an eighteenth century British empiricist, announced that all universal knowledge arises out of sense experience. (p38).  Thomas Aquinas agreed that all our knowledge takes its rise from sensation. Augustine wrote: it is God who makes possible our knowledge of the world. Aquinas wrote: it is the world which makes possible our knowledge of God! [which is why Aquinas rejects Anselm’s  ontological proof for the existence of God]. (p38)
  1. Plato, of course, was not entirely defeated. The study of his dialogue the Timaeus at Chartres in the twelfth century was to have a dramatic impact on cosmological speculations  (p40) as was the translation by John Scotus Eriugena of The Celestial Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius and other Hermetic texts which described the world as a great and perfect living thing (p40) and included man as part of a unified physical/spiritual  “great chain of being” idea that was maintained throughout the early modern period until the Enlightenment. Put simplistically, Augustine’s modified platonism held sway in the monasteries and Aquinas’ newly formed synthesis of Christian faith and Aristotelianism held sway in the newly founded universities. Two ways of knowing God emerged….The Book of Nature and the Sacred text (although at this stage the ways in which the book of nature was to be read were shaped by methods of scriptural interpretation. Theologians studying both scripture and nature used scriptural interpretative models in looking at nature using the ancient idea of microcosm-macrocosm intimated in Plato’s Timmaeus.  Thus the priest/scientist Robert Grosseteste (1175-1253) could write: A speck of dust…is an image of the whole universe and a mirror of the creator. Man was seen as occupying a pivotal position in the cosmos…uniquely on the horizon of two worlds (William of Auvergne)  a microcosm of the whole world ..spirit and body. (p54). The link between the highest heavens and man maintained the power and interest of astrological readings of human destiny in spite of Augustine’s concerns 600 years earlier. (p54)
  1. Augustine, powerfully inspired and influenced by the neoplatonism of C3rd Plotinus had laid great stress on the Fall and original sin. Plotinus had written..We are become dwellers in the place of Unlikeness, where, fallen from all our resemblance to the Divine, we lie in gloom and mud. (Enneads) (p.58) But the twelfth century priest scientists believed the losses of the Fall could be regained by  human knowledge and thus the human conception of the world, of ‘nature’, would be that same conception which had been in the mind of the Creator. The study of nature was enjoined on mankind as an integral part of the process of human redemption. (p59) The idea  – that the accumulation of knowledge about the natural world would in some measure restore to man what had been lost at the Fall – is most commonly associated with Francis Bacon and the rise of modern science. Yet we can now see that the roots of this conception go back much further…to the C11th. (p61)
  1. The renewed influence of Aristotle’s writings, translated from Greek to Arabic and from Arabic to Latin had a profound influence on late mediaeval scholarship although while it is true to say that nature was discovered in the twelfth century, up until the end of the sixteenth century it was a nature which for the most part was interpreted according to written authorities….to a large extent ..the secular writers of antiquity came to share the privileged status accorded to scripture and the Fathers. As the hapless Galileo was to discover, these combined authorities were to delimit the range of legitimate ways of reading the book of God’s works, and together could present a formidable obstacle to novel interpretations of nature.  (p69)  …The greatest threat to this form of intellectual activity lay in the possiblilty of irreconcilable differences arising between written authorities, and in particular between those of pagan and those of Judaeo-Christian origin….earlier objections to Greek philosophy seemed to have been silenced for a time by the masterful synthesis of Thomas Aquinas …however…for various reasons.. the sixteenth century was  to witness the beginnings of an irrevocable breakdown of the concord. (P70)
  1. The factors causing this breakdown in the scholastic synthesis of scriptural interpretation and the methods of interpretation of nature were fivefold according to Harrison —a) the development of textual criticism, the movement to return to the earliest and most accurate available texts and to distinguish the work of original authors from subsequent interpreters..                         b) the actual methods which the ancient authorities had used to acquire their knowledge came gradually to take precedence over the mere rehearsal of their findings…                                                                                                                                                      c)                                                               c)voyages of discovery exposed enormous gaps in the ancients’ knowledge of the world —gaps which could only be filled by first-hand investigation of nature…  e.g. Augustine’s denial of the Antipodes had a lengthy authority until Columbus.               d                                                               d) the move towards a literal, rather than an allegorical, interpretation of sacred texts made it more difficult to gloss over inconsistencies between written sources…                                                                                    e                                                                e) the re-emergence of the view, latent in Augustinian thought and revived again in the nominalism of fourteenth century Oxonian William of Ockham, that Greek wisdom and biblical faith might be fundamentally opposed, was to drive a wedge between the classical authorities and scripture. (p70)
  1.   [NOTE:  William of Ockham asserted that the universal is not found at all in reality, but only in the human mind, for every substance is radically individual…universals are only ways of conceiving or knowing individual things…in its application to theology…Nominalism, which conceives God exclusively as omnipotence and mercy, denies the plurality of His attributes and the distinction between His Intellect and His Will. It simplifies  His Being to such a degree that the reality of the Three Persons which depends on formal distinctions  and real relations can be accepted only on the authority of faith. Nor can reason demonstrate that the First Cause of the existing universe is the One God. Thus nominalism in its theological consequences withdrew almost all the data of faith from the realm of reason and paved the way for the disintegration of Scholasticism. [from article “Nominalism” in Cross and Livingstone:Dictionary of the Christian Church, Peabody MA, Hendrikson, 1997, p1158f].
  1. Nevertheless, in spite of the tireless work of secular scholars in the Humanist revival the textual bias of this humanist vision of natural history is evident still in the seventeenth century.  (p74) Thus popular writers on nature wrote without any personal observation of real plants and animals so that descriptions could be quite bizarre  [cf with the bizarre carvings of “elephants” with horses hooves etc in the misericords of mediaeval English cathedrals]. In addition many popular “accounts” of nature happily included descriptions of such fantastic creatures as satyrs, unicorns, mermaids, manticores, dragons, lamias, and griffons. (p74) A notable exception was William Turner (periodically exiled to the continent for his radical views about religion). (fn,p78)
  1. The Protestant Reformation was the major force behind the new logocentric science of interpretation. If humanist scholarship had drawn attention to the importance of written texts and stressed the necessity of fidelity to original sources, the Protestant reformers were to apply this principle to the rectification of a religion which in their view was founded solely on the foundation of canonical texts. The reformation of religion..owed much to the textual criticism of humanist scholars .[especially Erasmus] On the foundations of the labours of the humanists the reformers constructed a new exegetical science which could find no place for the symbolic interpretation of the book of nature. (p92)
  1. The Bible which had served as the text book in the mediaeval schools was not the bare words of the writers of the Old and New Testaments, but was the Glossa Ordinary—an amplified Latin translation in which the original deposit of the scriptural writers was surrounded by the commentaries and notes of the Fathers. The text of scripture lay embedded in its own hermeneutical web in such a way that the words of the biblical authors were in practice not distinguished from the history of their interpretation…..By extricating the original biblical text from what had become its natural setting — a thousand-year old tradition of gloss and commentary —Luther not only made possible novel ways of reading scripture, but also took the first step in distinguishing the authority of scripture from the tradition of the Church. He was later to write: ‘Scripture without any glosses is the sun and the whole light from which all teachers receive their light, and not vice versa.’  It was his reading of this new text, and his insistence that it was the ultimate court of appeal on matters of Christian doctrine, which precipitated the Protestant Reformation.  (p93)


  1. For the first 1500 years of the Church’s history scripture did not exercise an authority which was independent of ecclesiastical tradition. Indeed, it was generally assumed that authority was vested in scripture by the Councils of the Church….the decisions of Church councils represented a tradition which had controlled (1) the text of Scripture, by declaring the ‘Vulgate’  (a late C4th Latin translation, for most part the work of Jerome) to be the only official version of the biblical text. (2) the canon of scripture, by declaring which which books were to be included in the Old and New Testaments  and which were to be regarded as apocryphal and (3)  the meanings of these canonical texts, by providing authoritative interpretations. This general position was reasserted at the fourth session of the Council of Trent, which convened on 8 April 1546….this stance accounts for the vigour with which the Roman authorities prosecuted those guilty of translating the Bible into the vernacular ,[eg Luther and Tyndale] for not only did such translations present a challenge to the supremacy of the Vulgate edition, but they gave licence to all individuals, on the condition of literacy, to come to their own understanding of the meaning of passages of scripture. (p94).


  1. Harrison quotes David Norton: The History of the Bible of the Bible as Literature, 2 vols., Cambridge University Press, 1993, p53 who writes that a major aspect of the Reformation is that it changed the basis of religion not only, to speak in extremes, from the accumulated tradition of the Church to private intercourse with the text of the Bible, but also from Biblical lore to the Bible text…This reforming spirit was still alive in the great Isaac Newton [1643-1727], who in an unpublished manuscript entitled ‘Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture’, made the heretical claim that the biblical doctrine of the Trinity rested chiefly upon Catholic corruptions. The author of the Vulgate, he charged, ‘did insert ye testimony of the three in heaven.’ Newton believed that disinterested textual criticism would bring to light such emendations, and vindicate his unitarian view of the Deity …ultimately, of course, the multiplicity of interpretations which this new freedom enabled was to undermine the authority of scripture, but this was to come later. (p99) ….All things considered, Cardinal Bellarmine had ample justification for his complaint against the reformers, that they made ‘individual persons the judges in matters of faith, not only of the Fathers but also of the councils,’ leaving ‘almost nothing to the common judgment of the Church’ . [p.100, quoted in Blackwell: Galileo,  Bellarmine, and the Bible, University of Notre Dame Press, 1993, appendix,111, p193] (p100)
  1. In relation to the book of nature…in freeing persons to make determinations about the meaning of the book of scripture without deferring to authorities, the reformers had at the same time made room for individuals to make determinations about the book of nature, unfettered by the opinions of approved authors. (p101) …part of the problem which the Catholics faced was that since the time of Aquinas a considerable proportion of their dogma had been explicitly formulated in terms of Aristotelian philosophy. There is a degree of truth in Luther’s description of the Roman establishment as ‘the Aristotelian church.” [Luther: Babylonian Captivity, in Three Treatises, p144]  (p103)…Some contemporary commentators..clearly regarded the “two reformations’ as parts of the same historical process. The followers of Paracelsus [Theophrastus], in particular, regarded the movement back to the books of scripture and nature as part of a single revival of learning which would overturn the unholy alliance of Aristotle and the Church. (p105)Protestant insistence on the primacy of scriptural authority demanded a new approach to the interpretation of scripture..this hermeneutical stance brought with it an alternative conception of the natural order — a conception which was the precondition for the emergence of natural science. …abandoning all natural objects …to that silent and unintelligible realm which was to become the subject of the modern science of nature. (p107)
  1. The major reformers – Martin Luther, John Calvin, Philipp Melanchthon, and Martin Bucer —shared a clear preference for the literal or natural sense of scripture…only Zwingli exhibited a lingering fondness for non-literal interpretations. (p108)…It must also be conceded that the principle adopted by the reformers —that only the literal sense of scripture was of use in matters of theological disputation — had been a long-standing rule in the Roman church, endorsed by both Augustine and Aquinas (p110)..but, over all, evidence from mediaeval commentaries supports the assertion that throughout the Middle Ages systematic allegorisation had universally destroyed the literal text of scripture…it was difficult for Catholic commentators extricate themselves from an ongoing history of interpretation which had burdened biblical texts with meanings that went well beyond the literal. The Reformers did accept the single sense of some biblical passages was not, strictly, its literal sense, as for example the parables of Jesus, or the prophecies of Revelation….(p111)
  1. The plight of the Catholic natural philosophers was well expressed by Kepler: “Let me say this about the authority for the sacred writings….In theology the influence of authority should be present, but in philosophy it is the influence of reason that should be present. St Lactantius denied that the earth is round; St Augustine conceded its roundness but denied the antipodes; today the Holy Office concedes the smallness of the earth but denies its motion. But for me the truth has been demonstrated by philosophy, with due respect to the Doctors of the Church, that the earth is round, that its antipodes are inhabited, that it is quite despicable small, and finally that it moves through the stars.”….the fortunes of the Protestant Reformation and the scientific enterprise were linked…for the downfall of an entrenched tradition would serve the purposes of each. (p113)
  1. The iconoclastic frenzy unleashed by the Reformation represents a graphic, if unfortunate, way the desire to restrict to words those capabilities once shared with alternative modes of representation…i.e. images painted onto canvas or plaster or constructed from pieces of stained glass or coloured tile, or carved into wood or stone….describing the effects of activities was devastating in another sense as well. Describing the effects of Protestant iconoclasm in sixteenth century England, Eamon Duffy writes that ‘for most of the first Elizabethan adult generation, Reformation was a stripping away of familiar and beloved observances, the destruction of a vast and resonant world of symbols.’  [Stripping of the Altars, p591] (p115).
  1. ..As Lawrence Stone describes it, ‘Europe moved decisively from an image culture to a word culture.”…symbolic objects gave way to words, ritual practices were eclipsed by propositional beliefs and dogmas…the natural world, once the indispensable medium between words and eternal truth lost its meanings…it was left to an emerging natural science to reinvest the created order with intelligibility…(p120)
  1.   The Reformation required a new way of reading scripture…these words, it is plain to us, were written in another time, about another time, addressed to an audience inhabiting a thought-world very different from our own….with the new biblical literalism which followed in the wake of the Reformation many portions of scripture were read for the first time as having, as their primary sense, history. (p122)       [It is worth noting here that  whilst reading the scripture primarily for its literal sense was a major positive step forward in general terms for hermeneutics, the stress of the Reformers on the literal understanding of e.g. Genesis 1- 11 was to provide a major stumbling block for some parts of Protestantism in the C19th biological revolution.]  …thus while in principle freedom to determine the meaning of the sacred text was given to individual readers of scripture, it was hoped at the same time that such readers would voluntarily submit themselves to a set of publicly available, rational, and universal canons of interpretation….Ironically, this would mean that the bare words of scripture, so painstakingly distilled from the Glossa ordinaria by Luther, were destined, almost from the start, to be enveloped in the glosses of the new authorities. The Geneva Bible, so beloved of the puritans, was thus accompanied by extensive marginalia. The authority of these glosses, however, was derived not from the Church, but from a new and independent interpretive discipline which had emerged from the labours of the humanists….Defenders of the inspiration of scripture now resorted to the argument that while the Bible might cover some of the same ground as writings of purely human origin, it was, in these areas, incomparably superior to profane works. (p125)…this turn to literal readings of Eden and the fall was to provide a crucial motivation for scientific enquiry. e.g. explorations of the location of Eden, investigations of the flood/ark account,  investigations into the science of the last things and investigations into reproduction(p127)
  1. The new found emphasis on literalism that came with the Reformers was modified by a new emphasis on typology e.g. Adam as a  type of Christ/ wicked rulers as a type of bad rulers in their own day.etc. (p130). In addition the emphasis on literalism in the midst of the scientific revolution led to an emphasis on accommodation in relation to biblical language i.e. the bible’s key task was the support of Christian faith for every person so the language was not intended to be complex thought requiring scientific knowledge. So Richard Baxter..the Bible is no perfect Rule of natural sciences, as Physiks. Metaphysiks, nor as a rule for Medicine, Musick, Arithmetick, Geometry, Astronomy, Grammar, Rhetorick, Logick, Mechanics, Navigation, Architecture, and all the trades and occupations of Men [from A Christian Directory]. Also Galileo’s famous dictum: The intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.  [in Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina.] (p132) Accommodation was a longstanding principle of Augustine e.g. the creation narratives were adapted to the sense of the unlearned [in De Genesis ad literam].  (p133)
  1. The scientist/theologians also argued that the new scionce would assist our understanding of the biblical writings. Bacon wrote that the book of nature was the key to the understanding of God’s written word. [in Advancement of Learning.] Isaac Newton also believed that the new discoveries in the sciences were in fact re-discoveries of ancient truths, traces of which could be found in a variety of texts, including the bible. (p136). Leibniz objected to Newton’s approach, pointing out that it made God appear like an incompetent watchmaker, always having to mend his work. [in The Leibniz Correspondence.] (p144).
  1.   The shrinkage of the symbolic world of the Middle Ages brought with it an increasing emphasis on the utility of natural things, and in the absence of some obvious application to human needs, provided motivation for natural philosophers to seek out the divine purposes hidden in the things of nature. (p161f)…The idea of the great chain of being was to play a central role in more general seventeenth- and eighteenth-century explanation of imperfections in the natural world (p163) e.g. apparently useless petty insects and things like maggots. Most seventeenth-century natural philosophers [eg John Ray, John Cockburn, William Derham, Robert Boyle, Francis Bacon, Thomas Browne, George Hakewell, Henry More, Rober Hooke, even ‘the young Diderot (p174)] shared a commitment to the principle that God had made everything for a purpose, and it was human destiny to seek out that purpose. …The combination of Aristotle’s final causes and the Christian belief in the divine purposes of all natural things gave rise to a new category of literature — physico-theology. (p171) This exercise amounted to a systematic elaboration of the design argument for God’s existence, based on the systematic elaboration of divine purposes in the natural  world. e.g. Henry More’s Antidote to Atheism (1653), reached its acme in the Boyle Lectures, and enjoyed its last hurrah in the Bridgewater Treatises (1833-40..commissioned by Lord Egerton following the influential work of Paley cf the ongoing role of the Gifford Lectures of which Peter Harrison is one of a line of distiinguised lecturers!] 
  2. Not all was sweetness and light in this accord between theology and natural science especially because theology tended to stress an anthropocentric view of the universe but astronomy and microbiology were extending the insignificance of man both in the vastness of the heavens and the extraordinary richness of the newly found minutiae of existence. Thus could Donne write:  The new Philosophy cals all in doubt,

The element of fire is quite put out;

The Sun is lost, and h’earth, and no man’s wit

Can well direct him, where to looke for it. [The First Anniversary, lines 205-8] (p178)  The dread which filled Pascal as he contemplated the vastness of space and the innumerable stellar bodies is attributable to the fact that the infinite heavens were now ‘silent’ . [in Pensées,  para.201] (p179) Later Donne was more positive about the new natural science citing with approval the view of Raymond of Sebonde, that ‘the book of  the creatures….teaches al [sic] things, presupposes no other, is soon learned, cannot be forgotten, requires no books, needs no witnesses, and in this, is safer than the Bible itself , that it cannot be falsified by Hereticks.’  Donne however did not agree with Sebonde that in libra creaturanum there is enough to teach us all particularities of the Christian religion. [in Donne, Essays in Divinity.] Thus in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the ‘book of nature’ was no longer seen as symbolic of God’s purpose for man but rather as an alternative and at times superior authority (over e.g. the Bible or Aristotle). (p197) So Kepler described astronomers as ‘priests of the high God, with respect to the book of nature. [in Were vii,25] (p198) cf George Herbert ..’Man is the world’s high priest’ for man alone is able to articulate the praise of trees, birds and beasts. [in Providence, line13] (p198fn193]  This form of natural religion inevitably lead to C18th Deism. So Pope: Take Nature’s path, and mad Opinions leave,…All States can reach it, and all heads conceive. [in An Essay on Man, iv.29f] (p200).  Such a theology of course went well beyond the Reformers, who, while they grudgingly conceded that God could be known through his creation, had categorically denied that this information was in any way useful. (p201)

those who believed that the Deity had imposed a particular order on the cosmos moved their attention away from the symbolic functions of objects and focused instead on the ways in which the things of nature might play some practical  role in human welfare. (p205) So Francis Bacon:  For man by the fall fell at the same time from this state of innocency and from his dominion over creation. Both of these losses however can even in this life be in some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts and sciences. [in Novum Organum] (p205)..

Numerous writers  have commented on some supposed connection between God’s command to Adam and Eve in Genesis to “fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over…every living thing” and the contemporary tendency to exploit the natural environment. Best known proponent of this view, Lynn White Jr., has argued that the typically Western propensity to exploit the earth and its living contents finds its ideological origins in the ‘orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature.’  [in The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis”, Science, 155/3767, March 1967, pp1203-7.] More positively, perhaps, the thesis posits a link between the Judaeo-Christian tradition and the rise of science, suggesting that the quest for order in nature, and for mastery over it, was motivated by a characteristically Judaeo-Christian vision of the nature and destiny of the human race. (p206)…The fundamental inadequacy of this thesis, as it stands, is to do with timing. Why did the Genesis imperatives which grant dominion to the first man and his progeny only begin to take effect in the early modern period? Why did science have its rise in the seventeenth century and not before?  [Further detailed criticism  of White’s article  with references can be found in A McGrath: The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion, Oxford, Blackwell, 1998 pp48-51.]

Harrison’s final chapter focusses on detailed examples of C16th and C17th exegesis from within the world of an emerging and exciting natural science. It is fascinating reading and includes detailed documentation not readily available elsewhere. Topics discussed include the desire to recreate Eden on earth’  (p208), the fall and its recovery which includes some amazing treatment of the issue of human sexuality (p215), the Babel story and languages, reversing the curse, replanting the garden and learning the language of nature.

Harrison’s final conclusions are far-reaching:

– on post – modern interpretive methods: the death of the author should remind us of the birth of the author, some five hundred years ago. Whatever its merits, the modernist presumption which equates meaning with authorial intention has, in my view, masked the true significance of those changes to methods of textual interpretation which took place at the advent of the modern world, and which led in turn to new interpretations of the book of nature…there is now such a disparity between our approaches to words and things, that scientific and literary activities have become so alien to each other, that the  ‘two cultures’ share increasingly less common ground is owing largely to the breakdown of that universal hermeneutics which, in pre-modern times, had informed the study of both the book of scripture and the book of nature. The transformations which brought on the birth of modernity moved western culture from the era of “the two books” to that of “the two cultures”  (p267). [Tom McLeish in his book Faith and Wisdom in Science, Oxford, OUP, 2014 has also picked up this issue of post-modern loss of faith in both science and religion and the need to reverse both trends for the sake of humanity.]

  • on C20th  Christian fundamentalism: another reason that historians of early-modern science and religion have tended to overlook the impact of methods of biblical interpretation on the development of the sciences, I suspect, is to do with the contemporary association of biblical literalism with religious bigotry and hostility towards the sciences. Viewed from this perspective, a link between the emergence of biblical literalism and the development of modern science seems highly implausible. The real difficulty is that the negative associations of twentieth century biblical fundamentalism and literalism are projected back into history  (p267) ….examples like the Galileo controversy led to a view by many that the literal interpretation of the Bible is thought to have acted as an impediment to the advancement of the sciences …the mistaken premise of this version of history is the assumption that to read the Bible literally is to consider the Bible to be literally true. On the contrary, the triumph of the literal approach to scripture opened up for the first time in the history of Biblical interpretation  the real possibility that parts of the Bible could be [when taken literally] false. In order to see the force of this, we need only consider the conditions which led to the allegorical readings of scripture in the first place. (p268)
  •   on paradigm shift as the rationale for the explosion of science in the C17th:        Harrison challenges the idea that science “began” in the C17th  because of the now widely accepted idea of a paradigm shift between two scientific discourses, a geocentric scientific discourse  and a heliocentric scientific discourse. We must ask therefore whether both beliefs occupy comparable, but interchangeable, positions within a particular thought structure, or whether instead they are indicative of fundamentally distinct ways of viewing the world. Belief that the earth lay immobile at the centre of the cosmos was not, in the sixteenth century, merely a matter of giving assent to a geocentric theory of the solar system. It was linked to a set of commitments of metaphysical, moral, religious, and anthropological import, not least of which was to do with the dignity of human beings and their place in the cosmos….It is a commonplace that during the Middle Ages science was a handmaiden to theology. The full implication of this, however, is that inasmuch as science was subservient to theology, it was not science at all. My concern has been to show that what we might regard as mediaeval science…is better classified not as a science but as one aspect of biblical hermeneutics….The revolution which gave rise to a proper natural history was not the result of new facts or observations, nor of the discarding of irrelevant and extraneous material, but of a change to the mental field in which generally accepted facts were located. [Curiously Hawking and Mlodinov say something similar in their recent book The Grand Design, London, Bantam Press, 2014, p41… Although it is not uncommon for people to say that Copernicus proved Ptolemy wrong, that is not true….one can use either picture as a model of the universe, for our observations of the heavens can be explained by assuming either the earth or the sun to be at rest. Despite its role in the philosophical debates over the nature of our universe, the real advantage of the Copernican system is simply that the equations of motion are much simpler in the frame of reference in which the sun is at rest.]
  •   on why science arose in the West, and in the seventeenth century and not elsewhere.  Harrison provides a provisional answer that the Christian doctrine of creation assumes an intelligible world, created to be understood by its human inhabitants, and to serve their needs. A change took place in the sixteenth century which challenged the assumption that the purpose of the material world lay in its referential or symbolic functions. Henceforth the quest for the divinely-instituted purpose of nature is diverted solely into the search for its practical utilities. While, as noted above, Harrison does not concur with Lyn White’s view of the impact of Christianity on the exploitation of the earth, what remains to be contested is whether, on balance, more harm than good resulted from these new interpretations. Aspects of the Christian tradition contributed to the development of modern science; inevitably they led also to the exploitation of nature. It is not clear that the former could have occurred without the latter. (p270)
  •   re why some aspects of the old symbolic order continued into the C17th. These instances, I would suggest, are indicative of an unconscious reluctance to admit the failure of the old world picture, combined with deep misgivings about the partial and fragmentary sciences which were proposed in its place….This ambivalence towards the mechanical world remains with us. (p271)…even sober scientific practitioners themselves have spoken of evidence of design, not in biological structures, but in the laws and constants of the physical universe.  (p272)

Books Read December 2017

Books read December 2017

Don Watson (Ed.): A Single Tree: Voices from the Bush, Clayton, AU, Hamish Hamilton, 2016

Produced as a companion  “reader” for Watson’s history of the outback of Australia simply entitled The Bush,  this book is a remarkable collection of material from over 150 different writers including reflections, newspaper articles, poetry, extracts from novels, early explorer notes, indigenous writers, current  journalists, scientists, historic records from early settlers, shearers, swaggies, war correspondents, early colonial leaders and much more. In places it is a disturbing, indeed horrifying read especially early settler records of the hunting parties send out to round up and murder aboriginals with a callousness to match anything that can be found in early American history and worse. The other disturbing aspect of the book is the account of the damage that has been done to the Australian landscape by the wholesale clearing of forests and scrub for farming resulting in new forms of wildfires as well as the wholesale destruction of much of Australia’s fragile outback topsoil. Joined with  the misunderstanding of the impact of continual irrigation on the saltation of the outback water table the combination of mismanagement and misunderstanding can make doleful reading.

There are heroic tales also of early defenders of indigenous culture and rights and remarkable agricultural success stories in harmony with the natural environment so it is not all doom and gloom. All of the literary giants are here including Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Patrick White, Tim Winton, Judith Wright, Les Murray, John Shaw Neilson, D H Lawrence, Thomas Kenneally, Douglas Stewart, Kenneth Slessor and many more. More interesting, however, are the simple written fragments of ordinary folk desperately trying to carve out a living in an unknown land with minimal resources demonstrating immense courage, stamina and determination. For anyone who loves the stillness, the ancient architecture of the outback and its fragile, yet enduring beauty this is a book to savour. For a tantalising taste of the documentary history of Australia free of editorial, academic and political posturing this is the best place to study the history of the land of the real Australia outside the urban coastal fringe.  Five stars.

Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure,  London, Macmillan, 1974 (1896) with a brilliant introduction by Terry Eagleton and excellent notes especially on dialect words by P N Burbank.

Hardy’s final last novel is a curious read in the light of the current debate about the value and importance of marriage. In some ways an autobiographical account of Hardy’s own struggle to educate himself in literature and his journey out of Christian faith, this is not a novel for those who like a happy ending. Condemned at the time for its pessimism and “outrageous” morality, the novel delineates clearly the cultural divides in late C19th England centring around Tractarian Oxford thinly disguised as Christminster as well as the rapidly disappearing village life of “Wessex”, England’s remarkably beautiful south western valleys, hills and fertile fields. As in most of Hardy’s novels the tangled search for meaningful sexual relationships between men and women lies at the centre of the novel and the insights into the impact of marriage itself on relationships is explored in sensitive and complex detail. The complexity springs from the equally powerful theme of the loss of faith in Victorian England as the “modern” world exploded not just in agricultural and transport changes but in philsophical and theological fashion and ecclesiastical temperament especially that surrounding the Oxford movement of Newman, Pusey and Keble. Hardy’s vast knowledge of local dialect, English class history,  classical mythology and history and everything in between is on show here and his vast vocabulary sends the reader to the dictionary more often than most novelists.  Not for the faint hearted and probably too turgid for some, “Jude” is in my view, a novel worthy of the title “great classic!”  5 stars.

Peter Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism and the Rise of Natural Science,  Cambridge,, CUP, 1998

Peter Harrision is an Australian Laureate and Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. He was formerly the Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford and late last year lectured at Melbourne University’s Science Week.

This book is a fascinating and demanding read whose major thesis is that the Protestant Reformation played a key role in the development of natural science in C16th and C17th Europe because of its insistence on a literal rather than an allegorical interpretation of the Bible. This movement prompted other scholars to look at the natural world in realistic terms rather than the allegorical understanding of reality which had dominated European intellectual thought particularly after the reintroduction of  classical learning through the translations of Islamic scholars in the C15th. Prior to the Reformation the dominant European intellectual influence was still that  of C13th Thomas Aquinas and his massive theological synthesis of Augustinian Christian faith and through Augustine,  Aristotelian and Platonic philosophy — a synthesis whose approach to the real world was largely allegorical.  A key strength of this study is its analysis of the various phases of the “two books model” of Christian faith i.e. the Bible and the book of nature, which has so divided Christian thinkers.

Harrison’s writing demonstrates extraordinary scholarship especially his knowledge of mediaeval Latin texts, many of which have not previously been translated or analysed. David Lindberg, perhaps today’s leading exponent of the history and philosophy of science, pays this tribute to Harrison. This is a learned book, enormously ambitious, clearly and elegantly written, copiously documented and persuasively argued. I do not believe it has any serious rival, for the boldness of its interpretations and the quality of scholarship, among books on the relationship between Protestantism and Science.

A careful reading of Harrison’s material and his other writing will greatly assist C21st Christians motor their way through the arid materialism and defensive atheism of much current science writing. On the other hand, Harrison also documents the rationale behind the current debate about the authority of the Bible.  While the Protestants’ insistence that passages of scripture be given a determinative meaning proceeded from the purest of religious motives, they were inadvertently setting in train a process which would ultimately result in the undermining of that biblical authority which they so adamantly promoted. (p268).

This book is hard to put down although its overwhelming accumulation of literary references threatens to submerge the reader. Harrison’s quiet, humorous and respectful voice is one that should be prioritised over the many more aggressive and noisy participants in the science/faith debate.   Five stars.

Pontificating with Packer again..this time about Hermeneutics

J I Packer: The Centrality of Hermeneutics Today, in Eds: D A Carson & John D Woodbridge, Scripture and Truth,  1983,1992

Some gems from Packer’s controversial article which are even more relevant in 2017 when so many are denying any authority whatsoever to the Bible.

p325: Quoting Carl Henry: The key intellectual issue for the ‘80s, as I see it , will still be the persistent problem of authority . It will concern especially the problem of hermeneutics.

Quoting Karl Barth: ..every theology stands or falls as a hermeneutic and every hermeneutic stands or falls as a theology…

A summary of the last hundred years in theology:

Before Barth: inspiration  eg Hodge, Warfield, Sanday, Orr, Forsyth.

During Barth’s heyday: revelation   eg J Baillie, H R Niebuhr, C S Lewis

Since Barth: interpretation.  (beginning with Bultmann in the 1940s). e.g. Bonhoeffer, Kasemann,  Vermes, Leon Morris, Caird, Stott,  Stephen Neill, Schaeffer, Barr, Pannenburg, Kung, Thielicke, Macquarie,John Bright, Howard Marshall, Richardson,Tracy, Childs, McGrath, Elizabeth Johnson,.Pinnock, Barnett

[Since 2000?] authority?] e.g. Rahner, Newbigin, Dunn,  N T Wright, Carson, Crossan, Borg, Lindbeck, Piper, Adam, Grudem, Moo, Rohr, Bell, Vanhoozer, Carson, Moltmann,Yancey, Keller, Bird, Volf, Hauervaus, Thiselton, Baulkham, Noll.

Honouring the Bible as embodying what God said to mankind long ago while failing to listen to it as God’s word to us in the present will not do. (Barth).

p326:  …there can surely be no question that [Barth] was right to make central  the Bible’s instrumental function of mediating God’s revealed mind to each generation of the church.

For evangelicals biblical authority does in fact mean Scripture communicating instruction from God about belief and behaviour, the way of faith and obedience, and the life of worship and witness…..Evangelicals have been fighting not just for orthodoxy, but for religion; not just for purity of confession, but for fulness of faith and life; not just for God’s truth, but for the godliness that is a response to it. [although]  the self-consciously embattled stance of the fundamentalist controversy has often obscured the pastoral and doxological motivation of its testimony and literature e.g. the Harold Lindsell type of approach. fn. 8 p412]

p326-7 …the heritage of seventeenth century Protestant scholasticism, Lutheran and Reformed, with its characteristic if questionable stress on epistemological certainty as the basis of authority and on conceptual clarity as the basis of epistemological certainty, has had its effect in shaping evangelical responses to the anti-intellectual subjectivism of liberals and existentialists, making it seem on occasion that an intellectual orthodoxy was all that Evangelicals cared about. But today’s evangelicalism was not nurtured in last-century pietism for nothing, and the concern for godliness has always been there…

p327 the concern continues and this is why Evangelicals continue to spend their strength contending for the authority of an infallible Bible as a basic principle of Christianity. [so e.g. Montgomery, Boice, Geisler, Packer, Grudem ..fn 10 p412]

p327 By evangelicalism I mean that multi denominational Protestant constituency within the world-wide church that combines acknowledgement of the trustworthiness, sufficiency, and divine authority of the Bible with adherence to the New Testament  account of the Gospel of Christ and the way of faith in Him.

This is not to say that Evangelicals hesitate to acknowledge biblical imagery, symbols, parables, and other pictorial literary forms for what they are: in fact, they do not so hesitate, but equally they do not allow themselves to forget that these literary forms are communicating thoughts, and the thoughts …are set before Bible readers by God Himself.

Evangelicalism recognizes too that God’s revealed and universally valid teaching in Scripture, given as it was over many centuries in a slowly but surely changing Near Eastern cultural milieu, has to be unshelled from the local particularities in which we find it embedded in order that it may be reapplied today in terms of our own culture…but, evangelicalism rejects on principle all forms of dogmatic theological relativism, as the fruit of the fundamental mistake of not taking biblical instruction, as such, to be the Word of God.

p328  Yet while this theology is confessed and taught catechetically as if it were fixed, and irreformable, Evangelicals know that it remains open to testing, correction,  and augmentation in the light of those Scriptures whose message it seeks to focus…and there are today many specific issues on which, despite their unity of method and approach, Evangelicals are far from being at one.

p328-9  Sometimes, however, the perception that Evangelicals have no perfectly unified answers to some questions of truth and duty is alleged to show….that, as liberal theology has long maintained, the method of appeal and submission to Scripture, no matter how carefully pursued, is intrinsically unable to produce certainty, because either, it is thought..

– there is an ultimate pluralism in biblical teaching  e.g. Dunn, Barr, Kelsey.

– it is really impossible for us to enter into and identify with the thoughts of people belonging to a past so remote from us as is the biblical period e.g. Nineham

– modern insight into the hermeneutical process shows that different things are conveyed to different people by the same texts, depending on where those people are coming from and what experience and questions they bring with them. e.g. Wink, Funk, Crossan.

` – a combination of the above.

p329-331  Ought we then to conclude that when the Reformers affirmed the intrinsic clarity of Scripture in presenting its central message, they were wrong and that the many millions who down the centuries have lived and died by the light of what they took to be divinely taught certainties were self-deceived? Must we say that no such certainties are available to us, nor ever were to anyone?

Packer answers this question which he thinks is gratuitous, by first offering four ameliorating analyses against what could be called a triumphalist infallibllity position and offers a reply to each analysis..these analyses are:

i) differences of conceptual resource and verbal expression do in fact mark one biblical writer from another revealing differences in background, brains, and breadth of experience but it has yet to be proved that things said in different ways at different times by different people are necessarily inconsistent with each other in substantive meaning….plurality in presentation does not ..involve pluralism in substance …[as illustrated, for example, by e.g.. Hoskins and Davey: The Riddle of the New Testament, 1931 and Leon Morris, The Cross in the New Testament, 1965] fn19, p414.

ii) …different people in different situations find the same Scripture passage bringing illumination from God in different ways and with different specific messages… …the many different human contexts in which down the centuries Psalm 23 will have brought reassurance from God. But it has yet to be shown that the historico-theological meaning of each text that is applied for reassurance and guidance today does not continue to be identical. Some, to be sure, with Karl Barth, deny that Scripture offers general principles of truth for specific application…applications vary with situations but (so it is claimed) the core truths about God’s work ..and ways that each biblical book teaches, and that God Himself thereby teaches, remain both constant..and permanently accessible to the careful exegete…[On the other hand]..Barth’s approach to exegesis, which appears to build on God’s freedom to “say” different things to different people at different times out of the same words of human witness to Him, has naturally and inevitably led to what Kelsey calls “the unprecedented theological pluralism marking the neo-orthodox era.”  [David H. Kelsey: The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology, 1975,p163] fn21,(p415 in the Packer article.)

iii) …there are in Scripture many points of exegetical dateline which a confident choice between competing options is almost if not quite impossible…[eg whether Genesis 1 is to be read as a literal 6 day creation, allegorical science…as a quasi-liturgical celebration of the fact and quality of creation…etc….But it has yet to be shown that the theological content of this or any other part of Scripture as instruction to us from God about Himself and his relation to people and things is in any way rendered uncertain by the existence of more than one possibility of interpretation here and there.  In fn 22,  p414. Packer notes Luther’s response to Erasmus’ generalization that Scripture contains obscurities: “I certainly grant that many passages in the Scriptures are obscure and hard to elucidate, but that is due…to our own linguistic and grammatical ignorance; and it does not in any way prevent our knowing all the contents of Scripture…if words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another…I know that to many people a great deal remains obscure; but that is due not to any lack of clarity in Scripture, but to their own blindness and dullness”. (The Bondage of the Will, 1957).  Packer continues…One can master the argument of Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”  and still be unsure of the precise meaning of occasional sentences in it; and similarly with the Bible. 

iv)  …the cultural trappings of the urbanised, technological West of today are very different from those of the rural and pastoral Near East in the two millennia before Christ and also from the Hellenistic towns in the first century A.D. —the worlds from which came our Old and New Testaments respectively….noting the distance between their worlds and ours with regard to manners, customs, expectations, and assumptions  about life is very necessary in interpreting Scripture….It has yet, however, to be shown that the differences are so radical as to make Bible people and their writings unintelligible to us.

p331-2  Packer responds to the view that C20th positivist culture…with anti supernatural, anti miraculous  presuppositions…cannot see much of Biblical theism as making sense. His response is…one of the jobs the Bible does is to challenge and undercut  “modern” positivistic deism, panentheism,  and atheism, just as it challenged and undercut the then ‘modern’ polytheistic paganism of the Greco-Roman world in the first Christian centuries.

Packer further argues against the sociological view represented by e.g. NIneham that empathy and understanding of the New Testament community (let alone Old Testament believers) )… is for the most part impossible today by demonstrating that in fact we do read the ancient classics today and gain much for our own day and lives. e.g. when we read Catullus’s experience or eros (to say nothing of that celebrated in Canticles!), with Aeschylus’ vision of celestial nemesis for human hubris, with Sophocles cosmic pessimism, with Homer’s celebrations of heroism and fidelity …If we can learn from these texts, why cannot we learn from the Bible?

pp 332 -344 is a relatively detailed account of the definition and history of Biblical hermeneutics. Some salient points are as follows:

  1. p332 Definition: hermeneutics is the theory of biblical interpretation or (putting it the other way round) the study of how the Bible speaks to us (from God, as Christians believe). Literary interpretation ..can be defined as the way of reading documents that shows their relevance for the reader.

ii) p333 …biblical interpretation has always been conceived as the way of reading the historic Scriptures —-a way that makes plain God’s message being conveyed through them to Christians and the church. But as soon as it is asked what that message is, how it is related to the biblical text, and how people ever come to understand it, the ways divide. Hence the current tensions and uncertainties about hermeneutics…

iii)  Before the nineteenth century no significant Christian thinkers questioned that Scripture is essentially a corpus of God-given instructions relating to Jesus Christ, and all interpretation proceeded on this basis. [including Bernard of Clairvaux’s allegorising of Canticles in the manner of Origen, and Calvin’s practice of a posteriori historico-theological commentaries which were criticised as Judaic rather than Christian..]

iv)  “hermeneutics” comes from the Greek word ἑρμηνευω = hermeneuo = to interpret/vergablize/translate/explain.

v)  Kant’s rationalistic dismissal of the idea of God-given instruction,  [was] followed by Schleiermacher’s [influential] reconceiving of theology…as …human religious documents …as so many items in the ongoing flow of mankind’s religious history. 

vi) p334  Packer does not totally dismiss this idea …it shows the danger of citing proof texts without exegeting them in their context to make sure they do in fact prove the point at issue….[it also in the C20th] shows the danger in the evangelical habit, now some decades old, of describing God’s revelation as essentially propositional [in response to the claim of ]Emil Brunner and others that revelation is essentially not propositional but personal. The habit is dangerous however, because revelation is (not less than, but) much more than propositional. It is in fact best, because truest, to agree with Brunner that revelation is indeed essentially personal, and then go on to say that this is why it is and had to be propositional: no person can make himself known to another without telling him things, and the God of Scripture does in fact appear as one who tells people things constantly. To set propositional and personal revelation in opposition to each other is therefore to enmesh oneself in a patently false antithesis.

vii) p335 God’s revelation was and is His personal self-disclosure, to which the only proper response is faith, worship, and obedience. Revelation is essentially God revealing God…

viii) …the New Testament writers again and again cite [Old Testament] material, whatever its literary genre, as God’s direct speech, substantively, as is He were the historian, teacher or poet, just as they cite prophetic oracles as God’s direct speech. Their view of the entire Old Testament clearly was that, as B. B. Warfield echoing Augustine put it, what Scripture says God says.

ix) p336 It is high time that awareness of the text as God here and now addressing us, its latter-day readers, and teaching us from it, challenging us by law, and gospel, promise and command, gift and claim, should once more come to inform professional  biblical studies in the church.

x) …we may well applaud Schleiermacher  for underlining [the] importance [of God’s personal revelation.. [nevertheless] ..Schleiermacher’s God stirs our feelings but does not tell us things…He read Scripture, dogma and theology as religious feeling evocatively verbalised, just as his English contemporary and fellow-romantic William Wordsworth, in his preface to Lyrical Ballads, asked that his poetry be read as “emotion recollected in tranquillity.” As a romantic valuing sensitivity of response to actual and potential experiences above all, and committed to vindicate religious awareness as part of the good life, Schleiermacher the theologian naturally drew from the world of art and aesthetics, and equally turned his back on models from the worlds of philosophy and law, where the conveying of public facts, arguments and lines of thought is the essence of the communicative project.

xi) p337 Evangelicals, whose belief that Scripture is God’s message Kant and his successors did not destroy, continue to think of hermeneutics essentially as it was thought of in the seventeenth century…[that] ..understanding of what Scripture means when applied to us, — that is of what God in Scripture is saying to and about us — comes only through the work of the sovereign Holy Spirit , who alone enables us to apprehend what God is and what we are in His eyes… therefore unanimity is always in principle possible…

xii) p337-8 the mixed multitude of Schliermacher’s spiritual children, however, hermeneutics means the study of an intrinsically enigmatic process whereby two separate-seeming things happen together…we enter empathetically ..into the personal experience of the Bible writers..most notably Jesus himself ..despite the cultural gap between Him and us which..makes it impossible to endorse all his recorded beliefs…as a model of basic ethico-religious attitudes….this means that each of the personal understandings that purport to have been sparked off by the biblical text is more or less arbitrary…e.g. the reconstructed gnosticism of Paul Tillich (Christ as ‘new being’),,, the modified deism of Maurice Wiles (God is perceived in values)…the dynamic unitarianism of Geoffrey Lampe…the dualistic existentialism of Bultmann;…the process theology of John Cobb et al…Fuchs,  for whom “almost everything in the New Testament can be translated into a call to love”  (fn 43) … It is plain that an endless succession of diverging personal theologies is unavoidable once the acknowledgement of Scripture teaching as revealed truth is given up.

xiii)  p338-9  For both evangelical and Schleiermacherian hermeneutics, however, a major insight is focused by what Gadamer, following Heidegger, says of horizons.  [Gadamer: Truth and Method, pp217ff; Thiselton: The Two Horizons, pp149-68; 303-10.]  The insight is that at the heart of the hermeneutical process there is between the text and the interpreter a kind of interaction in which their respective panoramic views of things, angled and limited as these are, “engage” or “intersect” — in other words, appear as challenging each other in some way.  What this means is that as the student questions the text he becomes aware that the text is also questioning him, showing him an alternative to what he took for granted, forcing him to rethink at a fundamental level and make fresh decisions as to how he will act henceforth, now that he has realised that some do, and he himself could, approach things differently.  Every interpreter needs to realise that he himself stands in a given historical context and tradition, just as his text does, and that only as he becomes aware of this can he avoid reading into the text assumptions from his own background that would deafen him to what the text itself has to say to him.

xiv) p339.  Packer compares this process of the rethinking of the reader of the text to the impact of Jesus’ parables on his hearers. At the conclusion of many of his parables his hearers realised that the meaning of Jesus’s words was not what they were thinking all along but rather the words were directed to them personally in a new way….serious interpretation of anything, secular or sacred, involves dialoguing with and being vulnerable to the text, laying oneself and one’s present ideas open to it and being willing to be startled  and to alter one’s view if what comes from the text seems to so require.  

xv) pp339-340 Important too is Gadamer’s insistence that “distancing” must precede “fusing” of horizons; that is, that we must become aware of the differences between the culture and thought-background out of which the words of the text come and that of our own thought and speech. [The naïveté that] consists of treating people and words from the past as if they belonged to the present, thus making it impossible to see them in their own world and have our own horizons extended or redrawn by the impact of what they actually meant.

xvi) p340  In welcoming the insights that the current preoccupation with hermeneutics has yielded, [the ‘new hermeneutic’] it is important not to lose sight of the fact that “Scripture” is a word that to most of today’s hermeneutical pioneers means something quite different from what it means to Evangelicals who gratefully learn from them.

 xvii) [The “new hermeneutic” ] builds on the ontology [the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being] of the later Heidegger. [An Introduction to Metaphysics, New Haven, Yale, 1959  University Press;] (fn49).  On this view, the manner in which language yields understanding is not by directing our attention to objects (what semantic theory nowadays calls ‘referents’) in the way that mankind  always thought. Understanding comes, rather , out of the heart or womb of language itself, and becomes ours through  letting language, from within language, speak to us. [Heidegger: On the Way to Language, New York, Harper & Rowe, 1966 p85] (fn50). For Heidegger, an antitheisitic ex-Jesuit seminarian, self -disclosing being (Sein) —that is, being that consists precisely of what occurs in the event of self-disclosure — is the final reality, and it is known as such in the “primal thinking” and “primary speech” of “authentic” individuals. By this Heidegger means the sort of thought and speech found in poets, mystics, and Zen Buddhists. [fn.51 ..Heidegger was particularly influenced by Sophocles, the poet Holderlin and the mystic Meister Eckhart.]

 xviii) pp340 -341: The message of such utterance is apparently received by a kind of divination, as one realises that in the words one is hearing being itself is ‘addressing me”.”  According to Packer, Heidegger personalizes being as a speaker busy in self-disclosure, to whose voice we must open ourselves….Heidegger’s influence, to the point of guruhood, on young metaphysical nihilists longing for cosmic disclosures has been very great. [eg D T Suzuki]. In this regard Packer cites Alan Richardson: “What Heidegger in fact does is to provide modern man with a secular parody of the Christian religion. Instead of God he speaks of being; instead of a  revelation through the word of God he gives us disclosure of being through the voice of being. Instead of faith we have primal thinking.  Instead of Christ we read of man as “‘he shepherd of being.’  Instead of a once-for-all victory over sin and death there is the individually repeated salvation from the dread of of nothingness and from the futility of secondary thinking and inauthentic existence. Instead of the community of the redeemed there is a gnostic collection of individual primal thinkers….[A Richardson: Religion in Contemporary Debate, pp86-7] (fn.53).

xix)  pp341-4  Packer proceeds to analyse the influence of Heidggerian/existentialist terminology in the theology of Ebeling and Fuchs. Packer notes that Fuchs and Ebeling, like Bultmann, view preaching as the paradigm situation in which the word-event happens, and for them as for him the essence of it, when it does happen, is not (receiving instruction from God, but,) …the birth of a new “self-understanding”  (Selbstverständnis) — that is, a new way of relating to one’s personal world. (p341).

Packer suggests that supporters of the new hermeneutic are arbitrary in their choosing and removing of parts of the Bible relevant to their determination of the true nature of Christianity. Fuchs thus sentences himself, as P J Achtemeier puts it, to defend a view of faith based on some portions of the New Testament from a view of faith based on other portions of the New Testament. (p342)

Packer further notes  that the new self-understanding will emerge as the text is cut loose from the restraints of objective historical exegesis and thereby fully freed to interpret its interpreters. The snag in this, however, is that it sets us off and running along a path of fundamentally uncontrolled religious mysticism, in which, as it seems, almost anything could bring almost anything to speech. [p343].

Packer highlights the Marcion-like conclusion to this form of “pick and choose from the parts of the Bible you accept” when he notes that Fuchs, for example will not accept any clear cut definition of the content of faith and in particular regards as not significant for the determining the nature of Christianity..Paul’s letters, Hebrews, John’s Gospel, and  1 John. [p344]

Packer highlights the danger of making the “language-event” the criterion of truth, quoting J C Weber: in what way can we know that language does not bring to expression illusion, falsehood, or even chaos? If the criterion of truth is only in the language-event itself, how can the language-event be safeguarded against delusion, mockery, or utter triviality?…psychological illusionism. [J C Weber: “Language-Event and Christian Faith”, Theology Today, 21, 1965].

Packer concludes: The new hermeneutic is the end of the Schleiermacherian road….logically, the new hermeneutic is relativism; philosophically, it is irrationalism; psychologically, it is freedom to follow unfettered religious fancy; theologically, it is unitarianism….we leave it and move on. (p344)

pp345-348: In this section Packer seeks to define Evangelical Hermeneutics.  Evangelical hermeneutics involves:

  1. Exegesis: …bringing out of the text all that it contains of the thoughts, attitudes, assumptions, and so forth —in short, the whole expressed mind — of the human writer…the “literal” sense, as opposed to the allegorical senses beloved of mediaeval exegetes….this exegetical process assumes the full humanity of the inspired writings. In addition Evangelical exegesis has always been …what Barth called theological and Brevard S Childs calls canonical exegesis…that is, not to read into biblical texts what is not there but …from an angle of vision which is faith in the Bible’s God.

2.   Synthesis:..gathering up and surveying in historically integrated form the

fruits of exegesis…biblical theology…exposition…a synthetic process that   

that..assumes the organic character of Scripture.

3.   Application: How does do these words from God apply to Christian

believers today?… Applicatory reasoning assumes the consistency of           

God and the essential identity of human nature and need form one age to 

      another…particulars of God’s dealings recorded in the Old Testament     

      have universal significance as paradigms for divine action under New 

      New Testament conditions….compared with Gadamer’s ..distancing and      

      fusing of horizons …of historically separate worlds of human thought.

Packer believes Ebeling summarises Luther correctly when he writes: According to Luther, the word of God always comes as adversarius noster, our adversary. It does not simply confirm and strengthen us in what we think we are, and in what we wish to be taken for…This is the way, the only way, in which the word draws us into concord and peace with God. (p346)

Packer notes that …most evangelical textbooks on interpreting Scripture say little of nothing about the Holy Spirit, Scripture’s ultimate author, as the great hermeneut who by leading and enlightening us in the work of exegesis, synthesis and application, actually interprets the Word in our minds and to our hearts. The omission unhappily allows evangelical rationality in interpretation to look like a viciously self-reliant rationalism. (p347)

pp348 -354 In this section Packer discusses the issues surrounding the authority of the Bible including interpretation, infallibility, innerrancy and the concept of “Holy Scripture.”  Packer depends evangelical hermeneutics on the basis that it is a hermeneutical spiral….our exegesis, synthesis, and application …is determined by an overall theology, a theology that in turn rests on and supports itself by exegesis, synthesis and application. Packer believes the spiral avoids the criticism of evangelical theology that it is a vicious circular argument because within a “spiral” …it is always possible for dialogue and critical questioning to develop between what in the text does not easily fit in with our presuppositions and those presuppositions themselves, and for both our interpretation and our presuppositions to be modified as a result.  (p348). The evangelical’s overall view of Christian truth and of the way to approach the Bible..[has been gained]..from the creeds, confessions, preaching and corporate life of the church and from his own earlier ventures in exegesis and theology. (p348-9)

p349  If at any stage what appears to emerge from the texts appears to challenge [the evangelical exegete’s] personal pre-understanding and/or call into question the tradition that was his personal springboard, he lets dialogue between the appearances develop…thus he moves to and fro within the hermeneutical spiral. In the important fn 79 (p.418), Noting the above process, Packer therefore defends e.g. the freedom and integrity of Calvin’s exegesis…Owen’s stress on the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit as teacher and the inexhaustible riches of the scriptural revelation of God that seekers are enabled to understand….and e.g. the faith and honesty of men like B B Warfield.. whose early C20th theology, for example, accommodated Darwinian evolution…and once said that he subscribed to the Westminster Confession not because he could make the Bible teach it, but because he could not make the Bible teach anything else.

…At no point does [the evangelical exegete] decline to accept challenges to his present view of things, but at every point he meets them by renewed theological exegesis of relevant passages in the light of the questions that have been asked….But in idea, at least, there are no a prioris in an Evangelical’s theology, and nothing in it is “already accepted” in the sense of not being open to the possibility of evangelical challenge and biblical assessment — not even his view of Scripture. [see Packer: Jerusalem and Athens, pp146-7.]

pp349-354 In this section Packer deals directly with the issues of interpretation, infallibility, and innerrancy.

the evangelical doctrine of Scripture …binds us, first, to the grammatico-historical method in exegesis, second to the principle of harmony in synthesis, and, third, to the principle of universalisation in application. (p.349)


..The grammatico-historical [and literary analytical?] method of approaching [Biblical] texts is dictated not merely by common sense, but by the doctrine of inspiration….for [the writers’] thought and speech about God constitute God’s own self-testimony…though God might have more to say to each of us from each text than its human writer had in mind, God’s meaning is never less than his. What he meant, God meant….so the first task is always to get into the writer’s mind by grammatico-historical exegesis of the most thoroughgoing and disciplined kind, using all the tools provided by linguistic, historical, logical, and semantic [and literary?] study for this purpose.  (p350)

the principle of harmony  [the “analogy Scripturae”] is also dictated by the doctrine of inspiration [in that]

i) Scripture should be interpreted by Scripture…Scripture scripturae interpres…

         ii) ..Scripture should not be set against Scripture cf Anglican article XX ..which forbids the church to “so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.”

         iii) ..what appears to be secondary, incidental, and obscure in Scripture should be viewed in the light of what appears to be primary, central and plain. (p.350)

..The principle of universality in application follows from the unchangeable consistency of the God whose particular words and deeds Scripture records…Barth’s denial of revealed general principles is ultimately unconvincing, if only because in his own preaching he implicitly assumes them.  (pp350-1)

p351:  Shibboleths – test words indicating identity and allegiance…are always suspect as obstacles to real thought, which indeed they can easily become. “Infallible” and “inerrant” as descriptions of the Bible function as shibboleths in some circles and so come under this suspicion in others. Individual definitions of both terms — minimising, maximising, and depreciating — are not lacking; it would be idle and irresponsible to speak as if there were always clarity here.  ……[in general] …they will be seen to be valuable verbal shorthand for conveying a fully biblical notion — namely, the total truth and trustworthiness of biblical affirmations and directives… 

In my view the lack of clarity and consistency by evangelical theologians in their use of both of these non-Biblical terms renders them unhelpful in the process of exegesis because of the lack of clarity in their use which Packer already owns in the quotation above. We should stick to the Bible’s own phrase of “inspiration” which is experienced frequently when folk of all sorts read the Bible carefully and thoughtfully.

pp352-3 …from the first it was expected, and rightly, that the doctrinal and ethical tradition stemming from he apostles — a tradition that the bishops were set to guard and the ecumenical creeds came to enshrine,— would prove on examination to be, so far as it went, true exposition of that which was central in the two Testaments….Sripture is in tradition and tradition is in Scripture…During the Reformation when ..tradition and interpretation had gone radically wrong, the shock to Western Christianity  was traumatic. In some Protestant bodies this trauma left behind it a neurotic fixation, as traumas tend to do — in this case, a fixed habit of suspecting that all tradition …is always likely to be wrong…and one can point today to such groups whose interpretive style, though disciplined and conscientious, is narrow, shallow, naïve, lacking in roots, and wooden to a fault, for want of encounter with the theological and expository wisdom on nineteen Christian centuries.

Church tradition…should not, indeed, be treated as at any point infallible, any more than our own ventures in biblical understanding should be, but rather as the product of honest scholarly endeavour for which the Spirit’s aid was sought…..Much of today’s biblical studying exposition, even thought conducted according to the three interpretative principles stated above, suffers through what C S Lewis somewhere called “chronological snobbery,” the supposition that what is the most recent will always be wisest and best. 

Karl Barth characterized the tradition crystallised in creeds and confessions as a preliminary exposition of Scripture. [Church Dogmatics, I.ii, 620-60). p353

In summary, Packer argues against :

  1. theologians that either ignore or discount a biblical doctrine of scripture, claiming that the Scripture only unevenly and fallibly testifies to God (e.g. James Barr);
  2. post-Vatican 11 Roman Catholic biblical work, that regard only that in Scripture which is necessary to salvation as having been infallibly and inerrantly delivered.
  3. views that treat the body of canonical Scriptures as in their totality inconsistent, incoherent, or unintelligible and create a canon within the canon. e.g. Käsemann, Nineham.

Invalid hermeneutical conceptions that Packer objects to include

  1. views that separate God’s communication from the writer’s own expressed meaning and message
  2. views that regard God’s communication through Scripture …as noncogitive..conveying nothing that can be called Schleiermacher, Bultmann et al
  3. views that assume that the way to understand the biblical message is to go behind the text to its supposed sources
  4. views that hold the events and circumstances may allow, indeed require, us to reorder the biblical message around  a different centre from that on which the New Testament focuses, namely knowing Jesus Christ as Saviour from sin and spiritual death. e.g. liberation theology.

pp354-356 PROSPECTS: 

For the future, Packer suggested (1980)  that the following debates will continue:

– the Christomonistic emphasis in Barthian theology whereby all truth about creation or the created order is swallowed up into the doctrine of Christ, and conceptions of election, reprobation, and redemption are formed that appear systematically to distort the plain sense of Scripture.

  • Bultmann’s demythologising of Scripture project
  • Process theology
  • Various types of liberation theologies
  • general humanities theories of hermeneutics..existentialist, linguistic, uncontrolled subjectivity…It is hoped that Christian scholars, with their theological interest in the text-interpreter relation, will increasingly join in this wider debate.

Books read November 2017


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

Cicero had arguably a greater influence upon the history and development of European literature and ideas than any other prose writer. He was also, even though he lived before Christ, a significant influence on Christian theology. The Platonic designation of δικαιοσυνη (righteousness) as one of the four cardinal virtues (Wisdom, Temperance, and Courage or Fortitude, being the others) had a decisive and lasting influence on the whole subsequent history of the word in the usage of Greek philosophy, and of all those moral systems which have their roots in that fertile soil….We have to remember that the Middle Ages derived one half of its list of virtues through Cicero from the Stoics and Plato…[W Sanday and A C Headlam, Romans ICC, Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 1911 (1895) p29].

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.

I do not read Latin but apparently Cicero’s Latin was famous for its beauty and deeply influenced the written style of the Renaissance through Petrarch and had a rebirth in the C18th. This translation by Michael Grant is clear, fluent and easily understandable. I found Cicero to be highly moral, “Christian” before Christ in the area of upright behaviour and remarkably helpful especially his writing about old age and also on friendship. On the negative side he can be somewhat overblown, repetitive and tedious and, in some of his definitions or oratory, perhaps writing in praise of his own gifts.   4 stars

Karen Blixen: The Illustrated Out of Africa, London, Cresset Press, 1985 (1937).

This is a gorgeously illustrated edition of Karen Blixen’s story of the coffee plantation she supervised for over twenty years in the Ngong Hills overlooking Nairobi in Kenya. Known today perhaps largely through the much loved 1985 Sydney Pollock film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, this illustrated edition was clearly created in 1985 to bounce off the release of the film. The superb illustrations include many archival photographs of key people in the story as well as a wonderful set of paintings of Kenyan wild life and scenery by a range of artists.

Karen Blixen was a Danish author and adventurer who also wrote under the pen names Isak Dinesan (English speaking countries) and Tania Blixen (German speaking countries.) Both Out of Africa and Babette’s Feast  were made into Academy award winning motion pictures.

Out of Africa was originally written in Danish and rewritten in English by the author for the English speaking market. The result is that her already evocative and poetic, not to say mystical style of writing has in addition a sort of exotic European accent which adds to the beauty, sense of calm and deep meditatory impact of her words which I eventually found quite mesmerising.

An accomplished shooter in Denmark, Blixen married her Swedish cousin Baron Bror von Blixen-Fenecke and his family backed the creation of the coffee plantation in Kenya. Her arrival in Nairobi as a barrenness created quite an impact in the expatriate community.  In the event the plantation was located too high in the hills for ideal coffee production and never really succeeded in making enough money to survive. In addition Bror was a serially unfaithful husband and infected Blixen with syphillis which required her to return to Europe for treatment for a time and left a permanent impact on her health as well as ending her marriage after ten years.

In the movie much is made of her relationship with Denys Finch Hatton, Etonian cricket champion and internationally regarded sporting star, big game hunter and safari expedition leader and pioneer African aviator. The book, however, focusses on Blixen’s relationship with the farm, the environment, the wild life and her impressive and insightful relationship with the natives who worked on the plantation and other cultural and tribal groups. These included  Swahili speaking Kikuyu, the nomadic and warlike Masai, Indian and Arab traders, the Somali servants, German settlers, the English aristocracy and Roman Catholic and Scottish Protestant missions. In addition the book chronicles the complex impact of World War 11 on the German and British settlers in Kenya and Blixen’s courageous part in this war.

Although revisionist commentators today see Blixen as simply one more out of touch Colonial imperialist this is not the impression to be gained from the narrative which speaks to the deep love and concern she had both for the country and its wildlife and for its native born inhabitants. Books and literature were precious to her and to Hatton in this lonely twenty one year sojourn and her wide ranging philosophic approach to life went well beyond the strict Unitarian Christian upbringing of her youth.  I found this to be a heart-warming and emotional read, very hard to put down.  5 stars.

Guillaume Apollinaire..France’s greatest modern poet? Weary of the old world he heralds the new in 1913 with his poem “Zone”. Who will herald the new world in 2017?

Apollinaire’s “Zone”

Translated and introduced  by David Lehman

In the heady days leading up to and including the catastrophe of World War I, when Paris was the capital of modern art, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918) stood at the vital center of a gang of writers and artists who embraced the future with such tremendous energy that avant-garde became an adjective of glamour and prestige. Apollinaire—whose circle included painters (Picasso, Derain, Vlaminck) and composers (Satie, Poulenc) as well as poets (Blaise Cendrars, Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy)—was a superb activist and agitator. He championed Cubism and gave Surrealism its name. In 1917, his edition of Charles Baudelaire’s poems linked the two men as kindred spirits, city poets who doubled as art critics; Baudelaire prefigured Apollinaire as the latter prefigures Frank O’Hara. Also in 1917, Apollinaire issued his manifesto, “The New Spirit and the Poets,” making the case for innovation as a transcendent value. Poetry had to keep up with the technological advances of the day—the cinema, the radio, the motorcar, the flying machine. Driving with a friend from Deauville to Paris in “La Petite Auto,” Apollinaire writes that “the little car had driven us into a New epoch / and though both of us were grown men / it was as if we had just been born.”

Apollinaire experimented with audacious techniques for generating verse. On occasion he would sit in a café and weave overheard phrases into the composition. For his book Calligrammes, he made shaped poems—poems that looked like a mirror, a heart, the rainfall, a pocket-watch. In his most ambitious discursive poems, he wins over the reader by modifying his self-pity with his wit and ebullience. There is a rare combination of enthusiasm and melancholy in Apollinaire’s self-presentation. A line from his poem “Les Collines” (“The Hills”) is etched into his tombstone at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris: “Je peux mourir en souriant”—“I can die with a smile on my face.”

“Zone,” the central poem in Apollinaire’s career, prefaces his collection Alcools, the title of which translates literally as “Spirits” in the alcoholic sense though I would argue for “Cocktails.” Alcools is in any case an apt title for one who likes to boast that he has “drunk the universe” and chanted “songs of universal drunkenness.” Published in 1913, the year Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring had its Paris premiere, “Zone” is chronologically the last poem in the collection to have been written. The poet was thirty-three years old, the age of Dante embarking on his tour of the afterlife. The poem doesn’t so much praise its objects of futurist desire—the Eiffel Tower, airplanes, a railway terminal—as treat them like pastoral motifs. The heart of the poem is not in the future at all but in a past recollected in anxiety and sadness.

“Zone” heralds a striking new direction in Apollinaire’s work. He discards punctuation to good effect. He refers to himself sometimes as I, sometimes as you (both tu and vous in French), a habit that held a special appeal for O’Hara and other New York poets. The poem’s title embraces (or blends) the meanings of neighborhood, frontier, slum (and slumming), and the female erogenous zone, all of which come into play. (“And I smoke ZONE tobacco,” Apollinaire wrote in a later poem.) Organized around a walk in Paris from one sunrise to another—and from one time zone to another—“Zone” is in loosely rhymed couplets, which presents a difficulty that translators tend to evade. A notable exception is Samuel Beckett in perhaps the most impressive parts of his translation. For example, Beckett renders “C’est le beau lys que tous nous cultivons / C’est la torch aux cheveux roux que n’eteint pas le vent” as “It is the fair lily that we all revere / It is the torch burning in the wind its auburn hair.” In addition to the near-rhyme, Beckett gives us the echo of “burn” in “auburn,” a move that Apollinaire would have appreciated. Kenneth Koch appropriates Apollinaire’s rambling couplets in a nostalgic poem whose title is itself a nod to his influence: “A Time Zone.”

“Zone” has been translated many times, a testament to how well-loved it is among Anglo-Saxon Francophiles. It begins, “A la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien.” Roger Shattuck translates the line as “You are tired at last of this old world”; Ron Padgett improves on this with “You’re tired of this old world at last.” I cast my vote with Beckett, Charlotte Mandell, and William Meredith, in opting for “In the end” as the poem’s first words, not only because this is the literal sense of the French “A la fin,” but because it lays proper stress on Apollinaire’s audacity in starting with “the end.” It also gives a hint of the poem’s ultimate circularity. Given the iterations of ancien that immediately follow—antiquité, anciennes, and antique all appear in the next six lines—I felt that “the ancient world” came nearer to Apollinaire’s meaning than “this old world.”

A line about refugee families gathered at a train station can stand for many others in the challenge they present to the translator. For “Ils espèrent gagner de l’argent dans l’Argentine,” Oliver Bernard offers the prosaic “They hope to make money in the Argentine.” Anne Hyde Greet goes for the more idiomatic “Hoping to strike it rich in Argentina.” But I wanted to preserve the repeated sound of argent (the French word for money rooted in the word for silver), so I chose the alliterative “They’re hoping to gain some argent in the Argentine.”

The celebrated last line of “Zone,” “soleil cou coupé,” contains a brilliant piece of wordplay that resists the translator’s craft. It’s as if cou (meaning “neck”) is an abbreviated form of coupé (meaning “cut”). The relation between the two words can be said to suggest the action of the sun rising at dawn and appearing as if beheaded by the horizon. The verse has been variously translated as “Decapitated sun—” (William Meredith), “The sun a severed neck” (Roger Shattuck), “Sun corseless head” (Samuel Beckett), “Sun     slit throat” (Anne Hyde Greet), “Sun neck cut” (Charlotte Mandell). Ron Padgett’s “Sun cut throat” cleverly divides the word cutthroat in two. I have opted for “Let the sun beheaded be,” mainly because of the repetition of sounds in the last words. I felt that the relation of “be” to “beheaded” approximated the action in “côu coupé.”

I discovered “Zone” in my junior year of college and studied it closely when, as a graduate student at Cambridge University, I attended Douglas Parmée’s lectures on French literature and spent a few seasons in Paris. This was in 1971 and 1972. In Paris I lived with this peripatetic poem on such intimate terms that I felt I could hear it in my own voice as I walked from Notre Dame to the Luxembourg Gardens and from there to the cafés of Montparnasse. I made a special trip to the Gare St. Lazare with Apollinaire’s stanza about “ces pauvres émigrants” in my brain. Nevertheless I did not type up a complete draft of my translation until January 1978 when I taught a course at Hamilton College that called for it. After presenting it at a public reading, I let it lie fallow. I worked on the poem often and carefully, if at long intervals, until three years ago when, as a professor at the New School’s graduate writing program, I supervised MFA candidate Ashleigh Allen’s thesis, which focused on Apollinaire and “Zone.” This happy task spurred me to revise my translation yet again. Encouraged by friends, I worked on it some more in summer 2011 and fall 2012. These things take time. The love of the work sustains the effort.

Apollinaire had too little time. Within a few years of publishing “Zone,” he suffered head wounds at the front in World War I and died of Spanish flu on November 9, 1918, two days before the armistice that ended the war.

“Zone” by Guillaume Apollinaire

Translated by David Lehman

In the end you’ve had enough of the ancient world

O Eiffel Tower shepherdess today your bridges are a bleating flock

You’ve had it up to here with the Greeks and Romans

Here even the automobiles look antique

Only religion remains new religion

Retains the simplicity of an airport hangar

Alone in Europe you are not antiquated O Christianity

The most modern man in Europe is you Pope Pius X

While you whom the windows watch are too ashamed

To enter a church and confess your sins today

You read handouts pamphlets posters sing to you from up high

There’s your morning poetry and for prose there are the newspapers

Paperback police thrillers for twenty-five centimes

Portraits of the great a thousand and one titles

This morning I saw a pretty little street whose name I forget

Clean and new it seemed the clarion of the sun

Executives workers and beautiful stenographers

Pass this way four times a day from Monday morning to Saturday night

Three times each morning a siren whines

An angry bell at noon

Billboards signs and murals

Shriek like parakeets

I love the grace of this industrial street

In Paris between the rue Aumont-Thiéville and the avenue des Ternes

Look how young the street is and you still only a toddler

Your mother dresses you in blue and white

You are very religious you and your old pal René Dalize

You love nothing more than church ceremonies

It’s nine o’clock the gas turns blue you sneak out of the dormitory

You stay up all night praying in the school chapel

Under a globed amethyst worthy of adoration

The halo around the head of Christ revolves forever

He is the lovely lily that we cultivate

The red-haired torch immune to any wind

The pale and scarlet son of the mother of many sorrows

The evergreen tree ever hung with prayers

The twin gallows of honor and eternity

The six-pointed star

God who dies on Friday and revives on Sunday

Christ who climbs heavens higher than any aviator can reach

He holds the world’s aviation record

Christ pupil of my eye

Pupil of twenty centuries he knows what he’s doing

And changed into a bird this century like Jesus soars in the air

Devils in abysses lift their heads to stare

Look they say he takes after Simon Magus of Judea

They say he can steal but can also steal away

The angels vault past the all-time greatest pole vaulters

Icarus Enoch Elijah Apollonius of Tyana

Gather around the first airplane

Or make way for the elevation of those who took communion

The priests rise eternally as they raise the host

And the airplane touches down at last its wings outstretched

From heaven come flying millions of swallows

Ibises flamingoes storks from Africa

The fabled Roc celebrated by storytellers and poets

With Adam’s skull in its claws the original skull

Messenger from the horizon the eagle swoops and screams

And from America the little hummingbird

From China the long and supple pihis

Who have one wing each and fly in pairs

Here comes the dove immaculate spirit

Escorted by lyre-bird and vain peacock

And the phoenix engendering himself from the flames

Veils everything for a moment with his sparkling cinders

The sirens leave the perilous seas

And sing beautifully when they get here all three of them

And all of them eagle phoenix and pihi of China

Befriend our flying machine

Now you are walking in Paris all alone among the crowds

Herds of bellowing buses roll by you

Love’s anguish grips you by the throat

As if you were fated never again to be loved

In the bad old days you would have entered a monastery

You feel ashamed when you slip and catch yourself saying prayers

You mock yourself your laughter crackles like hellfire

The sparks flash in the depths of your life

Like a painting in a dreary museum

You’ve got to get as close to it as you can

Today as you walk around Paris and her bloodstained women

It was (and I would just as soon not remember it was) the demise of beauty

Surrounded by flames our Lady looked down on me at Chartres

The blood of thy sacred heart drowned me in Montmartre

I am sick of hearing the blessed words

The love I suffer from is a shameful disease

And my image of you survives in my anguish and insomnia

It’s always near you and then it fades away

Now you’re at the Mediterranean shore

Under the lemon groves in flower all year long

You go sailing with your friends

One is from Nice one from Menton two Turbiasques

The creatures of the deep terrify us

The fish swimming through seaweed is the symbol of our Savior

You’re in the garden of a tavern on the outskirts of Prague

You’re in heaven a rose is on the table

Which you look at instead of writing your poems or your prose

You look at the bug asleep in the heart of the rose

You recognize yourself in the mosaics of St. Vitus

You almost died of grief that day

You were Lazarus crazed by daylight

In the Jewish quarter the hands on the clocks go backward

And you creep forward through the story of your life

Climbing to the Hradchin in the evening and listening

To the Czech songs in the cafés

Here you are in Marseilles amid the watermelons

Here at Koblenz at the Hotel of the Giant

Here in Rome sitting under a Japanese medlar tree

Here you are in Amsterdam with a woman who you think is beautiful but is really ugly

She will wed a student from Leyden

You can rent rooms by the hour Cubicula locanda

I remember the three days I spent there and the three at Gouda

You are in Paris summoned before a judge

Arrested like a common criminal

You journeyed in joy and despair

Before you encountered lies and old age

Love made you suffer at twenty at thirty

I’ve lived like a fool and wasted my time

You no longer dare to look at your hands and now I feel like crying

Over you over the one I love over everything that has scared you

Eyes full of tears you look at the immigrant families

They believe in God they pray the women nurse their babies

They fill the Gare St. Lazare with their smell

Their faith in the stars rivals that of the three magi

They’re hoping to gain some argent in the Argentine

And return to the old country with a fortune

One family takes a red eiderdown with it as you take your heart wherever you go

This eiderdown and our dreams are equally unreal

Some refugees stay in furnished rooms

In the rue des Rosiers or the rue des Écouffes in the slums

I have seen them at night walking

Like pieces on a chessboard they rarely move

Especially the Jews whose wives wear wigs

And sit quietly in the back of the shop

You stand at the counter of a seedy café

A cup of coffee for a couple of sous with the other outcasts

At night you go to a famous restaurant

These women aren’t cruel they’re just wretched

Each even the ugliest has made her lover suffer

She is the daughter of a policeman from Jersey

I hadn’t noticed the calluses on her hand

I feel sorry for her and the scars on her belly

I humble my mouth to the poor girl with the horrid laugh

You’re alone day breaks

The milkmen clink their bottles

The night slinks away like a half-breed beauty

Ferdine the false Leah on the lookout

The brandy you sip burns like your life

Your life that you drink like an eau-de-vie

You are walking toward Auteuil you intend to walk the whole way home

To sleep with your fetishes from Oceania and Guinea

There are Christs in different forms and other systems of belief

But Christs all the same though lesser though obscure

Farewell farewell

Let the sun beheaded be

Gerard Manley Hopkins God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
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 image copy

Overview of the Gospel in 30 minutes



Introduction: For the past eight years as part of my morning “think and pray” time  I have been making a careful study of Paul’s Letter to the Romans using the Greek text. Unlike some commentators I see Romans as one quite long and deeply connected argument from ch 1 right through to ch 16. I also see it as an overview of the Gospel so I have used Paul’s letter as the basis of this study. The text I am quoting is mostly from the translation by N T Wright: The New Testament For Everyone, London, SPCK, 2011.

  1. The Gospel (εὑαγγελιον = “good news”)  began in the heart of God and is about his son Jesus. Romans 1:1-4. [The gospel] was promised beforehand through his prophets in the sacred writings – the good news about his son, who was descended from David’s seed in terms of flesh, and who was marked out powerfully as God’s son in terms of the spirit of holiness by his resurrection of the dead:Jesus, the king (Xριστοσ = Christos = Messiah), our Lord. (Κυριος= Kurios =God)

promised beforehand in the sacred writings…Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12) The OT is important!

David’s seed (2 Samuel 7:12-14)

Resurrection (Mark 16:6) “He has risen; he is not here!”

2.  Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the good news! Neither must we be in 2017 in spite of the unelected, unaccountable media, the chattering classes,the Facebook trolls or the intellectual elites [see Roger Scruton: Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, London, Bloomsbury, 2016]  Like Paul, we live in an age of persecution of Christians world-wide; we share Christ’s sufferings; this is an exciting thing. Beware when all people speak well of you!

3. Romans 1:18-21 …What can be known of God, you see, is plain to them, since God has made it plain to them. Ever since the world was made, his eternal power and deity have been seen and known in the things that have been made. As a result they have no excuse: they knew God but did not honour him as God or thank him.   All of mankind is accountable to God.  God will deal with the world. Our job is to respond to the revelation we have received…the kingdom of God is within and among us..our eternal life has already begun. We are predestined for vocation, not salvation,  and our task is the vocation of making God’s love known and living that love in the world.  [God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins]

4.  Romans 2:1 and 11 So you have no excuse —anyone, whoever you are, who sits in judgment! When you judge someone else, you condemn yourself, because you who are behaving as a judge, are doing the same things….God, you see, shows no partiality..  we are all accountable to God (even the most religious Jew/Hindu/Buddhist/Christian/Muslim/Sikh/Gnostic/Mormon/noble pagan/“good” atheist etc).

What will happen to those of other faiths/those who have never heard/those who have heard a confused witness/ those who have heard badly/Little children who die/the mentally unstable?  These are God questions; it is not for us to answer them. Our task is to be faithful and obedient…happy and trusting in God’s love. In the end “Love does win”. This phrase came from the title of an excellent book by Rob Bell before it was purloined for other purposes. Love does win! how is beyond our reason except we know the answer to Abraham’s question: Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?

5. Romans 3:22-24  God’s covenant justice comes into operation through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah, for the benefit of all who have faith[fulness] = Greek πιστις = pistis = faith and faithfulness (depends on the context)]. For there is no distinction: all sinned, and fell short of God’s glory—and by God’s grace they are freely declared to be in the right…  [..who of thy tender mercy, didst give thy only son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who made there a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world…The Book of Common Prayer, 1662. Let God be God; He is saviour and Judge.

6. Romans 4:25  [Jesus, the one faithful Israelite ..the Messiah]  was handed over because of our trespasses and raised for our acquittal (δικαιωσις = dikaiosis = justification)

7.  Romans 5:1 …since we have been declared ‘in the right’ on the basis of faith[fulness], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus the Messiah.

8. Romans 6:23 The wages paid by sin, you see, are death; but God’s free gift is the life of the age to come, in the Messiah, Jesus our Lord.  [  Life without God in the end becomes a living death; I see little point pontificating about Hell when we witness.  Without a God-centred life just living can become Hell.  Milton wrote:

a man’s life is its own place

and of itself can make

a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven] Paradise Lost Book 1.

9. Romans 7:24-25 ..who is going to rescue me from the body of this death? Thank God —through Jesus our king and Lord!

10. Romans 8:1  So, therefore, there is no condemnation for those in the Messiah, Jesus. 

[Charles Wesley: No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in Him, is mine (hymn: And Can it Be)

11. Romans 9 -11 Paul’s anguish about his own people the Jews and their particular responsibility to and relationship with God.

12.  Romans 12-16  In view of God’s love in action for us, How then, shall we live?

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.