Colloquium 37.2 (2005)
ELEMENTS OF GREEK TRAGEDY IN THE FOURTH GOSPEL
Jo-Ann A. Brant
(Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) xvi + 304pp. ISBN 1565639073
Recognising dramatic elements in the fourth gospel has long been standard fare among Johannine scholars. From the use of the prologue in its opening to expositions of its use of double meaning, irony and the larger-than-life Jesus "on stage", we have been acknowledging methods and techniques from the world of dramatic literature. Much of this has remained at the level of metaphor without suggesting John really is a drama or really did stand under the influence of real drama, or better, dramatic tradition, of its time. But what if the competence to write Greek would have had to have been preceded by an education which included reading and memorising parts of Homer or the great classical Greek tragedies and studying their form? Is what we find in John not only something which stands in parallel to such great literature, but also directly or indirectly under its impact?
Jo-Ann Brant argues that this is indeed so. "Under the tutelage of a teacher of grammar and rhetoric, the Greco-Roman student’s syllabus included Homer and the great tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles, and, above all, Euripides, as well the works of Menander, known to us only in fragments" (13). Like the patristic authors who refer to such schooling the author of the fourth gospel had similar benefits and it shows.
Recognising as many have done before her the differences between the fourth and the synoptic gospels, Brant points to the former’s reliance on the speech of characters much more than on narrative to tell the story (3). Narrative is reduced to a minimum, although it is still present and in a way which participated in the move from production of plays to the production of the Hellenistic novel (15). "The author … plunders a trove of theatrical devices and conventions in order to produce his plot" (16).
Chapter 1 begins by noting the role of John’s prologue which "bears significant resemblance to those of Euripides" (17). "It initiates the audience into the privileged realm of knowing that makes irony possible" (17), settles the audience down ready for the drama (no lights to dim or curtain to raise!), introduces the tension of the drama through dualism, and repeats itself so as to arrest the inattentive (18–24). Like the dramatic prologues, John’s connects the drama to the audience, in John by use of "we" and "us" (24–26).
Consideration of plot also points to parallels in the rule of three (two or three on stage at a time – originally because there were only 3 actors) (27), in the entrances and exits – especially in more complex sets of scenes like in John 9 and in the trial before Pilate. The role of the stasimon, the choral ode which comments on the preceding scene, appears to play a role in many Johannine scenes (31–32). It has long been recognised that John employs prophetically ironic allusions to foreshow the outcome of the story. John gives attention to unity of time through "the narrator’s preoccupation with a clock and calendar to maintain a sense of flow" (37). The use of oun and of the historic present is similar to Euripides’ use of the messenger speeches, to draw the audience into the flow of events (38–41). Standard elements of reversal (peripeteia) are obviously present (43–50). Brant draws attention also to similarities in the motif of recognition (anagnorisis) found throughout John and the tragedies, particularly in relation to the encounter between the risen Jesus and Mary Magdalene where sparse language enables Mary to express her grief in dialogue climaxed in embrace (50–57). Similarly pathos in John follows the tragic pattern of necessity (statements of inevitability and speaking of the present as already past) and excess (global statements and exaggerations) (57–63). Even John’s ending, which connects the story of the past to the present of the audience and implicitly appeals for a response matches the pattern of the tragedies (64–70).
In her chapter, "Speech as Action", Brant expands her thesis that John often uses characters and their speeches to deal with elements of space, time and movement. Looking at "Speech as Gesture" she notes such passages as 4:6 which report that Jesus sat kathos – impossible to translate but requiring gesture: "like this". Similarly the frequent use of houtos and ekeinos imply such gesturing, as does the common use of personal pronouns, especially in dialogues. Brandt notes in John the contrast between the mimetic space (the concrete setting) and the diegetic space (created by the dialogue of the characters) and sees a parallel here between the heavenly and earthly reality in the plays and a similar dichotomy assumed in John. "I am not suggesting that the author of the gospel has Ion or any particular tragedy in front of him but rather that he exploits the same dichotomy between mimetic and diegetic space in his composition" (103). "Though it is impossible to draw a direct line between the Greek stage and the Johannine dualism, it is clear that the Fourth Gospel is drawn upon this same vertical axis with a focal point, Jesus, where binary opposites, divine and human, mortal and immortal, collide and converge" (104). Such dualism, of course, also has strong Jewish roots.
Brand notes also the gospel’s use of ambiguous speech (105–109), redundant narration (repeating in narration what has been said already in dialogue) (109–10), reporting of actions (110–14), its use of antitheses in speech, especially in speech as action to bring about exclusion (114–23). Of particular interest are the treatments of "flyting" (verbal duelling, designed to celebrate a victor), goading by deliberate obscurity and the use of the agon or trial motif, widely recognised in John. "These two functions for the trial structure – organization of both the plot of the gospel and the experience of the reader – resemble the use of the trial motif within the Greek tragedies" (141). "The resemblance between the tragic agon and Jesus’ forensic speeches may be too loose to support an argument for direct literary dependency. Both may be informed by the actual legal proceedings of the courts with which their authors were familiar" (148–49). "The theatrical reading produces an isolated, belligerent, self-absorbed Jesus akin to the tragedians’ ‘dark vision of the hero’" (157).
Chapter Three offers a rich discussion of the dramatis personae. It begins with a discussion of Jesus, arguing that it is valid to speak of characterisation and to examine the relation between character and action. John’s Jesus rejects the ability of others to name him and asserts his own power of self-identification. He is not the lamb of God but "the shepherd who lays down his life" (171). Brand also suggests the author sees John’s witness as problematic – scarcely credible given the centrality of John’s witness in the prologue. John is more akin to Torah: continuing testimony but now belonging to the past. "Although the Greek tragedies provide us with no character quite like Jesus, who proclaims himself to be the bread of life or the light of the world, we can find similarities in the way that excessive self-identification produces friction" (174). The collective Jews function in some ways like a Greek chorus, but their designation "is lamentable and results in ‘anti-Judaism’". She continues: "I hesitate to call the gospel itself anti-Jewish. The traffic genre from which the gospel seems to have emerged as a new literary form but to which it still bears affinity exaggerates conflict and demands characterization of some of its citizens as hostile or ignorant, but it should necessitate the vilification of one side of the contest" (187).
The chapter also contains discussion of uncertain figures like Nicodemus, Peter and the Beloved Disciple, and the narrator. "The presence of (and dependence upon) a narrator is perhaps the single efficient datum that undermines an argument that the genre of the Fourth Gospel is more like a play than a history or a biography or a Hellenistic novella" (202). Especially significant is the discussion of women. "The female presence contributes to the exploration of Jesus’ male selfhood, but unlike the tragedies, the gospel does not reassert male structures" (210). Women appear in relation to marriage and burial contexts, reflecting social norms. Jesus crosses normal boundaries of male strength and embraces what would be seen as feminine qualities, but not as a reflection of failure to be reversed. This subverts traditional values. "What differentiates the Greek tragedies … and the Fourth Gospel is that the gospel glorifies that emasculated hero" (219). Compared with Euripides who also crossed such boundaries "we find a similar affirmation of the importance of the private over the public, the personal over the collective, and mutual affection over manifestations of power in the Fourth Gospel" (219).
The discussion of absent characters, particularly of Satan and his minions, surprisingly overlooks 12:23 and 16:11, but nevertheless makes the point that "the absence of the demonic brings the gospel more into line with a tragic assessment of the human condition than a view of suffering as the product of supernatural evil" (222). The discussion of ethics seeks, to my mind, unconvincingly to argue that "instead of asking, ‘Who are the children of God’ – that is, inquiring about who is in and who is out – the question that the Fourth Gospel addresses seems to be, ‘What does it mean to be children of God?’" (231). It ends by attributing "the tidy delineation between belonging and not belonging" to the later church. This scarcely does justice to the severity of John’s antitheses, even given their rhetorical function.
The final chapter is least convincing. It deals with Jesus’ death and one might expect further elaboration of the tragic end of heroes. Instead the focus is mostly on the motif of the "marriage of death", a motif in the tragic tradition and which Brandt seeks to find in John. In particular Brandt claims that the fourth gospel presents Jesus’ death as death of bridegroom. The strongest evidence she brings is that the action of Mary in anointing Jesus and the perfume parallels the action of women towards their future husbands, but even this is insecure as she herself notes: "Mary of Bethany’s intent in anointing Jesus may not have been matrimonial" (248). Bridal imagery is present in the early chapters of John. One has to read it in to posit such an emphasis in the final chapters.
Fundamental to Brant’s thesis is the argument that "the works with which boys in the first century C.E. learned to read and write Greek prose" (258) were the classical antecedents of such later phenomena as the biographies with which the gospels are often compared. By the former she means Homer and the Greek tragedies. "Understanding the purpose of these conventions redirects our reading of antithetical and polemical sayings" (258–59). "By placing Jesus within the literary conventions of a Greek tragedy, the author of the Fourth Gospel sets him in relief against the tragic hero and as a result generates a theology that is sharply at odds with that of the tragedies. In the tragedies the gulf between the human and the divine experience is underscored ... intolerable suffering ... the lot of human beings, who are blindly led to their destruction by the gods" (260). "The Fourth Gospel shows that intolerable suffering is the lot of God in the figure of his Son, Jesus" (260).
This is a profound book, rich in exegetical observation, especially as it draws comparisons with the methods and conventions of Greek tragedy. There is a sensitivity throughout to the problem of whether parallels denote any sort of dependence or whether, as in the trial motif, for instance, both draw on common experience. The book enhances our understanding of the author of the Fourth Gospel as a skilled writer who is using dramatic techniques. The gospel’s Jesus is larger than life. Failure to appreciate the dramatic component to the gospel’s genre and method produces literal readings where the resultant picture of Jesus is, I think, rightly described by Käsemann as naively docetic. Such a reading probably inspired the secessionists alluded to in 1 John. The author will have been aware of the craft and this should give us caution in using his work about the earthly Jesus to reconstruct the historical Jesus, although his re-workings doubtless employ useful historical traditions.
The same must be said of other "characters" in the plot, not least "the Jews". Brandt’s thesis raises an important question: just what kind of education may we assume for people such as the writers of the gospels? What might we suppose that a Hellenistic Jew would have been exposed to in the context of learning language and, above all, rhetoric? Had they been schooled in ways which introduced them directly to Homer and the Greek tragedies, how might this now be evident in their writings? What then might account for the absence of mythological references (compared with later church fathers who refer to and reflect their classical education, or Philo) and at times the different use of language (coloured by the LXX)? How are we to account for the knowledge and exercise of rhetorical technique if as Brandt at other times suggests such influence was more indirect?
PAUL’S VIEWS OF COMMUNAL HOLINESS IN THE CORINTHIAN CORRESPONDENCE
J. Ayodeji Adewuya,
(New York: Peter Lang, 2001) 230pp. ISBN 0820455571
Dr Adewuya brings his cultural perspective, both from his African background and his ministry in the Philippines; his faith background from within the Holiness Movement; as well as careful exegetical study, to a difficult and much disputed passage in 2 Corinthians.
He is critical of the common "Holiness Movement" approach which tends to interpret this passage in terms of individualistic holiness and morality and argues that there are two basic reasons for misunderstanding Paul’s intention here: (1) failure to recognise that Paul’s thought world was essentially communal, and (2) failure to examine the passage in the light of other passages in the Corinthian correspondence where Paul addresses holiness issues (5). His stated goal is, "To present a credible analysis on the subject of communal holiness in 2 Cor. 6:14–7:1 as part of a broader examination of the historical situation of the Corinthian community, an examination which goes beyond the evidence of the text and incorporates the evidence both from the Old Testament and Roman Corinth" (11).
After reviewing the difficulties encountered in the study of 2 Cor 6:14 – 7:1 and surveying the state of recent scholarship, Adewuya, while noting that there is no unanimity of opinion, affirms both the Pauline authorship and the contextual integrity of the passage (42). He identifies two areas where there has been little or inadequate study: first, the links between 2 Corinthians and the Old Testament, particularly the Holiness Code of Leviticus 17–26; and second, the vocabulary and concept of holiness not only in 2 Cor 6:14 – 7:1, but in the Corinthian correspondence as a whole (43). In the remainder of the book he seeks to redress these two inadequacies.
He begins this process by examining Paul’s background and the socio-historical context of the passage. He argues that Paul’s understanding of holiness must be considered against the background of Second Temple Judaism and the Jewish Scriptures, especially the Jewish self-understanding of being the chosen, separated, set apart, holy people of God. He concludes that the Jewish concept of holiness is multi-faceted and summarises: "First, it is possible to talk of relational holiness, that is, personal holiness which is based on relationship to the Holy God. Second, it seems both anachronistic and unthinkable, as far as Israel’s holiness is concerned, to talk of personal, without communal holiness" (72). That is, the call for Israel to be holy, is "the call for the community to concretize the divine life in the world." It has a missionary purpose – revealing God to the nations. The author argues, therefore, that the people of God should "be distinguishable" (73).
Given the cosmopolitan nature of Corinth, the religious pluralism prevalent in the city, and the individualistic trend in the society, the danger of compromise for the Corinthian Christians was significant. In response to this, Paul called them to holiness that was in continuity with the holiness of Israel. "The Corinthians were the people of God in the same way that Israel was and, hence, were to be marked by holy living, the resultant effect of which is making God known in the community they lived in" (87).
Adewuya then proceeds to undertake careful and detailed exegesis of 2 Cor 6:14 – 7:1, taking particular note of quotations from and allusions to the Holiness Code of Leviticus 17–26, as well as other Old Testament passages. He concludes that "It is clear that the main thrust of the passage, as a whole, is communal holiness. It is a call to the Corinthian Christians for a proper self-understanding as ‘people’ and ‘temple of God’. Such self-understanding demands a corresponding lifestyle" (127).
This call to "holiness" is grounded in Paul’s understanding of the nature of the Christian community. Because they have become related to God through Christ, and as such are "holy", they must "be holy" in their lives. Holiness, based on a covenant relationship with God, implies both distinctiveness and ethical obligations. Paul applies the Old Testament imagery of "people of God" and "temple of God" collectively, therefore holiness in not just an individual matter. As God is completely separated from evil, so must his people be, so Paul calls for a separation from anything "unclean, sinful, or polluted", not just on an individual level, but on a communal level. "Believers are not just to be pious individuals concerned with only themselves, but are to see themselves as beings-in-relation with a common goal of making God’s holiness known. In the same way that sin is not strictly and primarily a personal or private affair, holiness is not. This is the import of 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1" (128).
Having examined the specific passage in detail, Adewuya then broadens the scope of his study to include the holiness language and concepts in the Corinthian correspondence as a whole. Again he concludes that the concept of holiness is multi-faceted, including both a basis in covenant relationship to God and resultant ethical behaviour. He also concludes that communal holiness "is not incidental to Paul’s thinking" but is in fact, "Paul’s basic view of holiness in the Corinthian correspondence" (162). Paul frequently uses the "holiness", "clean" and "pure" vocabulary, not of individuals, but of the church.
Adewuya goes on to argue that the additional metaphors for Christian community, the "body of Christ" the "bride of Christ", also reinforce the communal nature of holiness. And inherent in the way Paul addresses issues in the Corinthian congregation – the cases of incest (1 Cor 5:1–13), litigations (1 Cor 6:1–11), the believer and the prostitute (1 Cor. 6:12–20), food offered to idols (1 Cor.inthians 8–10) and the repentant offender (2 Cor 2:5–11) – is a sense of corporate responsibility. In each case, it is primarily the community as a whole that is addressed, not just the individual offender.
Adewuya presents a challenge to the Christian community today, and in particular to the Holiness Movement of which he is a part, to reconsider the communal nature of holiness. The legacy of the Reformation has been an emphasis on personal relationship with God and personal responsibility. However, this wholly justified emphasis, coupled with a materialistic and overly individualistic society has resulted in "an over-emphasis on the individualistic, subjective, experiential aspect of sanctification. … Hence, the pursuit of holiness is, more often than not, viewed as a purely personal sojourn" (197). He considers this over-emphasis to be an aberration. This is not to say that personal responsibility is replaced, or even diminished. On the contrary, individuals within the Christian community are obligated to live in a way appropriate to the community, that is, personally holy. "Personal and corporate holiness must go hand in hand" (199).
Adewuya concludes that "The Christian life is not to be conceived merely as an individual struggle for perfection. Instead, it ought to be seen as a community project. … For Paul, election in Christ not only constitutes a new society; its meaning is to be found in the new community, and not in the status of individuals. The community participates qua community in the holiness of God, and consequently, is bound by its calling to lead a holy life. … The implication of this on holiness is staggering: the one is accountable to the many, and the many is accountable for the one" (196).
If you do not want your preconceived ideas about Christianity being an individualistic, privatised, subjective faith challenged, then this is not the book for you. But if you are serious about reconsidering the corporate nature of being the chosen, holy, people of God, then this book is well worth reading. I highly recommend it, but be warned, it will not allow you to remain complacent about the demands for holiness, not simply on a personal level, but on a communal level as befits the church’s status as the people of God.
RECTIFICATION ("JUSTIFICATION") IN PAUL, IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE AND IN THE BIBLE: GOD’S GIFT OF RIGHT RELATIONSHIP
Richard K. Moore
(Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 2002) 3 volumes
Vol. 1, Paul’s Doctrine of Rectification, 336 pp. ISBN 0773472193.
As Richard Moore indicates in his Introduction, the aim of his three-part work on the doctrine of justification (or, "rectification", as he prefers to call it) is to measure the historical form of this doctrine against the sources—ie. the Christian Scriptures. His stated assumption here is that the Scriptures are "the authoritative source for our understanding of the doctrine of ‘justification’, of rectification" (5). Moore, therefore, aims at a rigorous Scriptural revaluation of this highly polemical doctrine. In addition to this aim, however, he also seeks to assess how effectively English translations of the Bible (from the fourteenth century to the present) have captured the intended meaning of the apostle Paul. This, in particular, is the burden of Part Three of his study.
In Part One Moore undertakes a fresh examination of Paul’s use of the dikai- word group with a view to determining precisely what meaning the apostle did and didn’t intend to convey by the use of such language. Consequently, chapters 3-4 contain a systematic investigation of how words in the dikai- family are used in Galatians and Romans, respectively.
Chapter 5 offers an "Interpretation of the data" which concludes that when Paul uses dikai- language to establish his doctrine of rectification he invests everyday vocabulary with semi-technical significance by employing it in a range of specific contextual and grammatical relationships. When used in these connections and contexts—which Moore calls "R-contexts" (R = rectification)—Paul’s dikai- language plays a vital role in the exposition of his understanding of how God in Christ has rectified the human predicament and, through faith in the good news of the gospel, brought sinners into a right relationship with himself.
Whilst, for obvious reasons, Moore’s attention rests largely on Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Romans, the study is set within both the broader framework of Pauline theology, and that of the New Testament as a whole. To this end, Moore includes a useful chapter entitled "Expressions of salvation in the New Testament which are compatible with Paul’s view of rectification" (chapter 6), which concludes that just as the Pauline rectification passages complement one another, so these are further complemented by various other New Testament soundings (e.g., Luke 18:9-14; Acts 13:38-39).
Part One of Moore’s work is also strengthened by an additional chapter entitled "Miscellanea pertinent to understanding Paul’s doctrine of rectification". This contains a series of treatments of a range of related topics, including "The rôle of the Old Testament in forming Paul’s view of rectification", "The rôle of the law in God’s saving purposes" and "The concept of faith in Pauline thought". This chapter also includes a useful section on "The relationship of the doctrine of rectification to other significant New Testament doctrines" (such as baptism, reconciliation and covenant) and a section which seeks to answer the important question: ‘Are the contexts in which Paul establishes his doctrine of rectification forensic?’
Part One concludes with a summary chapter which offers a brief but useful profile of Paul’s view of rectification (or, at least, Moore’s understanding of it). The volume is completed by a substantial bibliography and a series of indices (Scriptural references, Greek words and phrases, persons and subjects).
Moore’s work constitutes a valuable contribution to several disciplines (including that of the production of English translations of the New Testament) and his work also constitutes resource material for still further studies. Subsequent explorations of Paul’s language and theology of justification will certainly need to take account of Moore’s analysis.
Despite the many and obvious strengths of Moore’s work, however, there are a number of aspects of his thesis which (for this reviewer, at least) are less than fully persuasive.
Firstly, Moore seems determined to argue that whilst Paul states humanity’s dilemma in forensic terms (ie. in terms related to divine judgment), the solution he proclaims is expressed in decidedly non-forensic terms—ie. divine grace and gift (201). In other words, in announcing the good news of the gospel Paul has abandoned a forensic model of understanding and, in its place, adopted a model of social relationships (145).
Whilst it may be agreed that a forensic meaning does automatically not inhere in words with the dikai- stem, and likewise that Paul could sometimes articulate his doctrine of ‘rectification’ without making specific reference to the coming divine judgment (as appears to be the case in parts of Galatians), it is clearly another thing again to claim that Paul has completely abandoned a forensic model (145). In fact, the logic of Paul’s argument in Romans surely self-destructs if God’s solution to humanity’s problem simply ignores the "forensic" dilemma he has presented. Certainly, God has manifested his righteousness "apart from the law" (3:21), but this is because the law itself is powerless to deliver sinners from the judgment of God (3:20). The answer, however, lies not in a switch of "systems", but in the introduction of a new element (or elements) into that "system"—ie. the substitutionary death of Christ (5:6-8) by which sin has been condemned in the flesh and the gift of the Spirit through whom the just requirement of the law may be fully met in those who believe (8:3-4).
Therefore, whilst Moore is indeed correct to emphasise the fact that God’s grace has transcended the strict justice of the courtroom, Paul is quite clear that this does not mean that the law has been nullified or that God has ceased to be judge (3:31; 14:10). It remains somewhat of a puzzle, then, as to why Moore has felt it necessary to play these themes off against each other at various points in his treatment of Paul (as if God could not be both judge and father). Moore’s methodology, which tends to box up the Pauline material into rather rigid contextual categories, would seem to be partly to blame here. But, on the other hand, Moore’s conclusions don’t always neatly square up with his own analysis. In fact, much of this analysis supports a larger reading of Paul, which does greater justice to the theological coherence and conceptual integration of his thought, without flattening out the distinctions between various Pauline soteriological terms (e.g., by merging justification into reconciliation).
Secondly, Moore is insistent that "Paul never speaks of faith in Romans or Galatians (or elsewhere for that matter) as a gift from God", but "locates its origin in the act of listening to the Good News" (95). Whilst not making faith meritorious, this, to his mind, does make faith the "basis" for a right relationship with God (95). Certainly, Moore is right to stress the fact that faith in the New Testament is regularly presented as a call or demand, and the means not only of entry into the Christian life, but of continuing to appropriate God’s grace (203). For Paul, salvation is indeed contingent upon a believing confession of Christ’s Lordship (Rom 10:9), a confession that arises in response to the proclamation of the gospel (255).
However, in light of Paul’s view of the human condition and also his understanding of the work of the Spirit, it is better to conclude (with Mark Seifrid) that "faith is God’s work within the human being through the gospel" (Christ, our Righteousness, 131). In other words, "no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3). So it is that Paul depicts the dawning of faith as a divine act of new creation (2 Cor 4:6) and accounts for the Thessalonians’ response to gospel in terms of the convicting work of the Spirit. Therefore, Gordon Fee is surely right to state that, for Paul, the Spirit is "both the cause and effect of faith" (God’s Empowering Presence, 853). In other words, faith is not only a human response but also a divine gift. This is surely the inference of Eph 2:8 in context. Thus, to claim (as Moore does) that such a thought is "foreign to the New Testament" (204), is not only surprising but seems to go against his own conclusion that the divine initiative in rectification begins with election (260-61).
These criticisms notwithstanding, there is much in this first volume to commend it, and it will certainly repay careful and thoughtful reading.
Robert S. Smith
Vol. 2, Paul’s Doctrine of Rectification in its Historical Development, 427 pp. ISBN 0773470700
Here Moore sets out to map the historical development of Paul’s doctrine of justification with a focus on the English-speaking world. It is not often that one finds a NT scholar dipping his toes into the waters of historical theology. And for this Moore is to be congratulated because it is a small step towards the integration of the theological disciplines in a time when they are hopelessly fragmented. Moore seeks, unlike Alister McGrath in his Iustitia Dei, not only to trace the development of justification / rectification, but also to evaluate it.
To recount the historical development of a doctrine as important as justification, is a formidable task. I have some reservations about the history that Moore has written because he seems to have failed to observe some significant methodological considerations concerning the history of ideas.
1. Critical to the history of doctrine are the theologians / movements one chooses to expound. Should a key theologian / movement be either missed or given too much coverage, then the resulting history will be skewed. I wonder if Moore’s choice of theologians / movements is problematic in that some significant ones are omitted, and other less influential ones are given too much prominence. Two examples will perhaps suffice.
Firstly, the Puritan William Perkins receives over 15 pages, whereas Augustine receives less. This is hardly commensurate to the influence each has had on the Christian tradition concerning justification. Perkins’ influence on Puritanism, although great, did not really concern justification but other ideas. Why then include Perkins at all? A second example is Moore’s treatment of the seventeenth century. Nothing is said of Lutheran Orthodoxy, which worked so hard defending and refining its position on justification against Bellarmine and the Counter Reformation. When Moore deals with Reformed Orthodoxy he exclusively looks at Puritans; there are no continental theologians or confessions. This is an inadequate representative sample of Protestant Orthodoxy. But even the elements of the Puritan tradition Moore examines (Perkins, The Westminster Confession, Owen, and Bunyan) hardly reflect the actual justification debates of seventeenth century England. Nothing is said of the so-called "antinomian" position (where justification is prior to faith) held by thinkers like William Twisse, Tobias Crisp, and William Eyre; nor is mention made of neonomistic justification (where faith is the righteousness that justifies, similar to Moore’s own position) spearheaded by Richard Baxter. Without mention of these debates one cannot have a clear rendition of the seventeenth century on justification in England.
2. In order to expound fairly a theologian’s position on any given doctrine one must be aware (as far as possible) of the entirety of that theologian’s thought including its historical development. It seems to me that Moore regularly does not respect this and thus comes to, at times, reductionistic conclusions about individual theologians. Thus, for example, Moore presents Richard Hooker’s doctrine of justification only from his "Learned Discourse of Justification" (a conflation of three sermons) and concludes it is "strongly influenced by Calvinism". But Hooker had much more to say about justification than simply in his "Learned Discourse". So, from his Dublin Fragments and Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity we find Hooker arguing for two types of justification: the first is instantaneous and occurs at baptism, the second is a process and occurs at the Eucharist. Thus Hooker does not adhere to "faith alone" as the reformers understood it; justification was bound to the sacraments. Thus one cannot conclude, as does Moore, that Hooker was "strongly" influenced by Calvinism, as such. Another example of reductionism is on Calvin, himself. Moore expounds Calvin’s position on justification from his 1559 Institutes only and concludes at one point that union with Christ is not that important to Calvin’s position because it is only mentioned once (139). Not only does this fail to understand Calvin’s treatment of justification in the context of the argument of Book III as a whole (which begins with union with Christ), but the Institutes are a manifestly incomplete representation of the reformer’s thought generally and on justification particularly (see especially Richard Muller The Unaccommodated Calvin, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
Following Quentin Skinner of Cambridge, I believe that the history of ideas (of which historical theology is a subset) is a descriptive discipline. If historical theology is pursued as a descriptive discipline the great benefit will be that the historian’s own views will be exposed and challenged. At times I wondered whether Moore has let history challenge his own position on rectification. For example, he rejects the notion that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer in justification but he never really grapples with the theological reasons why the reformers (and Protestantism) adhered to it. Moore seems so focused on the meaning of words associated with justification that he fails to interact at a theological level.
Having said all that there is a mine of fascinating information about various positions on justification in this volume. It would be better to see Moore’s book not so much as the historical development but rather a variety of accounts of justification / rectification.
Vol. 3, Paul’s Doctrine of Rectification in English Versions of the NT, 550pp. ISBN 0773470727
On the basis of a fascinating survey of English Bible translations, Moore maintains that despite the Reformation conviction of the perspicuity of Scripture, the central doctrine of justification by faith has remained obscure to the ordinary English reader. This is because the single family of Greek words, which are at the heart of the doctrine, have been consistently rendered by two unconnected families of English words.
Moore comes to this depressing conclusion via his analysis of justification terminology in Galatians and Romans in 45 English versions of the NT. Of these 45 versions, only the Rheims New Testament of 1582 and Charles Williams’ translation of 1937 consistently rendered the Greek terminology by a single family of English words. He says of Williams, "For the first time an English translation expressed rectification as the establishing of a right relationship between God and humankind. Gone is the realist view of the Roman Catholic…and gone is the forensic view held by a majority of Protestants." Williams made extensive use of the "R" (righteousness) family of words sometimes using as many as eight words to render a single Greek word.
Of subsequent versions that follow Williams in portraying justification in relational terms it is the immensely popular Good News Bible (1966, 1976, 1992) that is the most significant. At last Moore finds a treatment that is intelligible to the ordinary reader of English. But having said that, Moore (rightly) reveals unease at some of the GNB’s exegetical decisions relating to justification. It is possible for a version to be intelligible but incorrect! (259).
Thus the GNB makes the gratuitous assumption that dikaiosune theou means "how" God puts right, rather than "that" God puts right. One might note that this well illustrates how the modern concern for successful communication leads to opting for only one interpretation in passages of great complexity, thus usurping the role of the teacher. Should not a responsible translation seek to preserve the exegetical potential of the original?
We can sympathise with Moore’s frustration that our English words "justify", "righteous", "righteousness" are represented by the same root in the Greek Bible and, in fact, the Hebrew. But that is the nature of languages. We can seldom hope that a particular word in the source text can be consistently translated by the same word in the target language. It is normally at sentence level that there can be a realistic expectation of achieving equivalence. Some loss of meaning in translation is inevitable. But the richer the context, the less the loss.
The structure and extent of the Biblical corpus is such that the linguistic environment (or co-text) provides a wealth of historical and cultural information necessary for a successful understanding and translation of the message. Not least is this true of the terminology that Moore has chosen to focus on. In particular the OT provides a significant background to Paul’s usage in its frequent linkage of the righteousness of God with his salvation activity (e.g. Ps 98:2; Isa 51:6). Cranfield, in fact, claims that, " none of the occurrences of dikaioun in the Pauline epistles can be at all tolerably explained on the basis of the word’s use in secular Greek".
Any assessment of a translation depends on its intended purpose and audience. Moore values the versions of Charles Williams and the Good News Bible because of their natural English reflecting, he feels, the accessibility of the Koine text for the original readers. Pace Moore, the source text contains many concepts and expressions that are difficult for the modern reader. There is no evidence that they were less so for the original audience as 2 Pet 3:16 reminds us. They, too, had to cope with technical terminology, thousands of OT allusions and with Hebrew loan words and idioms that must have been very foreign to most of the original readers. The danger is that modern "dynamic equivalence" versions that emphasise successful communication may be easier to understand because there is less to understand!
This is a particular problem when it comes to the translation of technical terms that the NT writer inherited from the OT, for instance, the language of sacrifice, redemption, inheritance and justification. In versions such as the GNB, such terms, which firmly anchor the NT message in the mainstream of Israel’s historic faith, tend to be dissipated in unmemorable paraphrases. The signposts pointing to the OT context are removed.
What of Moore’s passionate advocacy of the use of "rectification" instead of "justification" terminology? In principle a good translation should exhibit, as much as language allows, the proper connection of expressions and ideas that exist between one part of the canon of Scripture and another. However, I am not convinced that the substitution of rectification for justification (together with the use of the "R" family of words) will clarify the doctrine of justification for the average reader of English. "Rectification", also of Latin origin, seems a somewhat puny term by comparison with "justification". But that impression may be influenced by the great connotations that the latter has acquired over five centuries of English Bible translation. That said, Moore’s third volume provides a mine of valuable information on the history of that great enterprise.
Anthony H. Nichols
THE SHAPING OF A COMMUNITY, 1536–1564
Karen E. Spierling
(Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005) 253pp. ISBN 0754634906
The author, Karen Spierling, is Assistant Professor of Early Modern Europe at the University of Louisville, USA. Consequently, this excellent study is historically, not theologically, written. That is to say, historical detail takes priority over theological argument in her exposition of the place of infant baptism in Geneva during the relatively limited period of Calvin’s tenure in the city. To my mind, the clear historical axis upon which the argument rests is the strength of the book.
There are two significant themes detailed in the work. First, Spierling is anxious to show the importance that Reformed Christians in the sixteenth century placed on initiating children into the church and, second, the role of baptism itself in defining the church community. As she herself says, "This was not a matter of the salvation of the child’s soul" (2), for baptism was not necessary for salvation according to the Reformed theologians. This fact frees her up to concentrate on the more concrete and less theoretical social and historical aspects of the subject. She states that, "Theologically, the relationship between God and the baptized individual may have been the most important part of the sacrament. Historically, however, other relationships are intertwined with this one, pulling parents, godparents, clergy, congregation and even city authorities into the picture" (3).
Throughout the work the author underlines baptism as a birth ritual and as such as something that marks the entrance of the child into not one but two already-formed and relatively clearly-defined communities – the church and the city. It also publicly marks the first official acknowledgement of the mother and father as parents. Along with that, it recognises reciprocity in the communities’ responsibility towards their new member, and so several important relationships are formed, each life being drawn influentially into the circumference of the other.
An early constructive conclusion of the study is its suggestion that in sixteenth century Geneva it is impossible to discern a single set of priorities, or a single self-understanding. We have come to expect this from recent historical study; indeed St Andrews Studies in Reformation History (of which this is a volume) has been instrumental in reinforcing this more realistic model of things. It is to this multifaceted and complex picture of Genevan relationships in relation to the baptism of children into the community that the rest of the book points.
Chapter 2 examines the medieval background of the sacrament of baptism. This chapter is probably too short to do justice to the subject, but it does give a cogent and clear summary and introduction of the church’s teaching on the subject and its practices and rites that had developed over fifteen hundred complicated years. It also touches upon the place of godparents in the baptismal ceremony. When baptism came to be repristinated by the reformers, Spierling is right to point out that they did not only call into question "the scriptural soundness of Catholic doctrines and liturgies; it also challenged long-held social customs" (42). The second part of the chapter explores the reformers’ critique of the accepted rite: Luther, Zwingli, Bucer and Calvin – together with that of the Anabaptists. The author argues that Calvin perpetuated the practice of infant baptism in Geneva because it "provided a space for the negotiation of authority among church, city and parents" (54) and through it the Genevan church could "hope to create a truly Reformed society, rather than simply a pious enclave within a broader society" (57).
Chapter 3 addresses some of the ways in which the medieval Catholic traditions persisted in Reformed Geneva. The chapter begins with an excellent example of the obstacles that Calvin faced in this area of city and church life. It highlights the involvement of city magistrates in enforcing doctrine, the ongoing parental concerns over their child’s salvific safety, together with the accessibility of Catholic practices at a short distance from civic jurisdiction. The chapter argues that there was much more to the rite than doctrinal correctness – each challenge to which initiated a pastoral response and greater theological clarity from those in authority.
Chapter 4 discusses the question of godparents and their continuing significance. Calvin and his colleagues permitted the continued practice of godparents, not because they could find biblical warrant, but rather because of community tradition. However, the reformers redefined the role to presenting the child at baptism and, importantly, in promising to educate the child throughout their childhood (though, Calvin insisted on the father’s responsibility here, of course). Again, Spierling does an excellent job of relating the subject to the idea of community. There is a fascinating section on naming of children which highlights the point that prohibited names were those which might lead to superstition and idolatry.
Chapter 5 takes up the topic of baptising illegitimate children. Here the author argues well that perhaps the greatest concern for the city was who had the responsibility to look after the child’s welfare. "It was natural for the father to provide for his child, regardless of whether that child was born within the legal bonds of marriage. Any behaviour to the contrary could not be tolerated if Geneva was to survive as a stable Reformed society" (169).
Part of Spierling’s conclusion in this well-researched and well-argued book is that in reducing the sacraments from seven to two, the reformers increased the significance of the two remaining sacraments "as instruments for defining and unifying the Christian community" (219). Tied closely to her thesis and narrowly focused, this work is extremely convincing. Her judicial use of primary sources – largely Consistory and Council records and baptism registers – emphasises repeatedly the constructive struggle that took place in Geneva between the theological ideal and the reformer’s pastoral response. In actual fact, each chapter stands on its own robust feet, but the cumulative argument is persuasive. This work should be read by students of Early Modern history and of the theology of the time.
ADMIRATION AND CHALLENGE: KARL BARTH’S THEOLOGICAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JOHN CALVIN
Sung Wook Chung
(New York: Peter Lang, 2002) 245pp. ISBN 0820456802
While conducting research into Karl Barth’s doctrine of election several years ago, an examination of an extensive electronic database of theological works found no essays or articles written about Barth’s interaction with Calvin around this topic. Given the assertion by Colin Gunton that "the reader may be justified in assuming that Barth is not writing without glances over the shoulder … the object of his concern is the great Calvin" (C. E. Gunton, "Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election as Part of His Doctrine of God," JTS 25  381–82), this was a surprise. Even more surprising is how few monographs have been devoted to the Barth-Calvin relationship generally, especially given how prominent a conversation partner Calvin was for Barth over the entirety of the latter’s career. In this respect, Chung’s Admiration and Challenge is not only a welcome addition to the growing literature on Barth’s theological output, but also helps fill an evident lacuna in Barth studies.
Chung argues that "Barth’s theology possesses determinable features, elements, outlooks, characteristics and dimensions that show him as a Calvinian theologian in view of his considerable indebtedness to the fundamental principles and themes of Calvin’s Reformation theology" (226). He lists among other things Barth’s emphasis on absolute divine sovereignty, the sheer graciousness of revelation and redemption, the authority of Scripture together with the close correlation of Spirit and Word and so on. A particularly useful aspect of the book is Chung’s emphasis on Barth’s appreciation of Calvin as an ethicist – as a theologian of sanctification and the Christian life. This is a helpful corrective to the common view that Barth’s theology, particularly in its early expression, somehow precludes the development of a meaningful ethics.
Admiration and Challenge is divided into two sections. Part one contains three chapters and consists of an examination of Barth’s theological engagement with Calvin in the period prior to the Church Dogmatics. Chapter one examines Barth’s engagement with Calvin from his days as a theological student until the completion of the second edition of his Römerbrief in 1921. This was a period of "awakening" to Calvin’s influence, particularly as a result of Barth’s use of his commentaries. This influence, says Chung, is particularly evident in Barth’s hermeneutics and exegesis of Scripture, and was so significant, that without it "it might have been impossible for Barth to discover and understand the central message of Scripture and the gospel of God’s grace" (25).
The second and third chapters investigate Barth’s more thoroughgoing engagement with Calvin as a dogmatician that arose as a result of his professorial appointments at Göttingen, Münster and Bonn from 1921-35. These chapters trace this engagement by examining materials drawn from Barth’s lecture cycles, and from his occasional addresses and essays. Another useful aspect of this section is the extended treatment given to Barth’s 1922 lectures on the theology of Calvin.
The second part of Admiration and Challenge consists of two substantial chapters, in which Chung shifts from a chronological to a thematic analysis of Barth’s engagement with Calvin. His discussion focuses on two primary themes as Barth develops them in the Church Dogmatics: the doctrine of the knowledge of God, and that of gospel and law.
In his treatment of Barth’s doctrine of the knowledge of God, Chung concludes that Barth claims Calvin’s support for his own rejection of natural theology, but that this is in fact a misinterpretation of Calvin on Barth’s part. In terms of Calvin’s conclusion, Barth’s argument is not very far from it. However, his interpretation of Calvin gives one an impression that Barth may not be listening carefully to Calvin’s argument nor paying close attention to why Calvin argues in that particular way. Barth appears to be interested in only obtaining some weight from Calvin to prop up his own argument. He is concerned with Calvin’s conclusion alone rather than its process and presuppositions (170).
The fifth chapter, perhaps the best in the book, deals with Barth’s reversal of the traditional rendering of law and gospel, and its implications for other aspects of his theology such as his doctrine of sin, his rejection of natural law and his reconstruction of the doctrine of election. The chapter argues cogently for Barth as an ethical theologian, and his dogmatics as an ethical dogmatics.
Chung concludes his work by suggesting that Calvin’s role in Barth’s theology was "formative, constitutive and determinative", yet also "considerably ambivalent, paradoxical and complex. In fact, his relationship with Calvin was often quite negative and even antagonistic" (222–23). He finds that the seeds of Barth’s ambivalence toward Calvin were sown at the very beginning of his career, and that Barth continued to unhesitatingly criticise what he saw as Calvin’s deficiencies.
While several reasons are given for Barth’s ambivalence towards Calvin, the primary basis for it is located in Barth’s position as a ‘modern, anti-modernist’ theologian. According to Chung, Barth found in (the pre-modern) Calvin the kind of theological resources he required to challenge the prevailing anthropocentrism of the day, but utilised and incorporated them in accordance with his own philosophical commitments, in particular, his conviction that theology could not return to a pre-Kantian epistemology and metaphysic. For Chung, this is especially apparent in Barth’s construction of revelation along dynamic, relational and actualistic lines, in contrast to what he sees as Calvin’s more static, propositional and essentialist formulation.
Certainly the exploration of the theology and interaction of two theologians of the stature of Calvin and Barth promises a worthwhile and satisfying study. But although there is much in this work which will prove both valuable and beneficial to those seeking a greater understanding of Barth and his theological development and priorities, I expected more from this work.
Chung’s assertion that the primary reason for Barth’s ambivalence toward Calvin lies in the different intellectual contexts and programmes of the two theologians undoubtedly has merit. Nevertheless, his characterisation of Calvin as a pre-modern, church-reformer and Barth as primarily an academic modern theologian aiming his weaponry at the arch-enemy of academic liberalism appears overly simplistic. Although Chung recognises that the historical reality of Barth’s location in Nazi Germany was an aspect of his rejection of natural theology (167, 196–97), he still underestimates just how central ecclesial-ethical concerns were as a motivating aspect in Barth’s theology throughout his career. Barth’s concern was that natural theology had led and would continue to lead (even the French martyr) church to capitulate to, and be taken captive by the state (see the Barth citation on page 162, which indicates this practical concern, but which Chung does not address). In this respect, Barth’s theology, like Calvin’s, is a supremely practical theology, something I expected Chung would have capitalised on here.
It is also possible that at times Chung overstates the degree of Calvin’s influence on Barth’s development. This is particularly noticeable in the first section of the book where often Chung simply notes those occasions where Barth directly mentions or cites Calvin, and quite correctly asserts that in many of these cases Barth refers to Calvin as a means of supporting or strengthening his own dogmatic assertions. The problem, however, is that this procedure presents an unnecessarily narrow view of Calvin’s role in Barth’s theology, and also seems incapable of actually determining the degree of influence Calvin had on Barth’s development generally, and on particular theological formulations specifically.
For example, the assertion that "Calvin had more impact upon Barth’s mind than anyone else with respect to the endeavour to bring the Kingdom to here and now" (23) overlooks the pivotal and seminal influence of the Blumhardts, whom Barth himself credits as the major influence on his thinking with respect to the Kingdom of God. Another example is found on page 25 where Chung cites Barth’s letter to lifelong friend Eduard Thurneysen, as he was preparing the notes which would eventually become the first edition of his Römerbrief:
Discovery of a gold mine: J. T. Beck!! As a biblical expositor he simply towers far above the rest of the company…I came on the track of him through my work on Romans and will make use of him there along with the other commentators from Calvin to Tholuck.
While Chung correctly notes that Calvin was not the central figure in Barth’s theological thought at this time (26), he still overstates Calvin’s influence by not tracing and commenting on the obvious and very prominent influence of Beck. In this respect, a different, more exegetical kind of reading of Barth is necessary if we are to lay bare the inner logic of his thought and trace the sources of determinative influence on his development. A more incisive and critical treatment of Barth’s interaction with Calvin would have been better here.
A HISTORY OF EUROPEAN CATHOLICISM SINCE 1750
Nicholas Atkin and Frank Tallett
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) 392 pp. ISBN 0195219872
Nicholas Atkin and Frank Tallett are Senior Lecturers in History at the University of Reading. Setting out to fill "a gaping hole", they produced a book which is easier to read and more up-to-date than Hubert Jedin’s multi-volume History of the Church (1965–81), and more detailed than recent general religious histories. As I teach a topic on modern Christian history, Priests, Prelates and People is a welcome addition to my book collection. I cannot, however, recommend it as a stand-alone text.
On a positive note, I like the way the book is organised chronologically with chapters devoted to key periods. These are neatly summed up in their titles: "Catholicism in Retrenchment" (the eighteenth century); "Catholicism in Revolution" (1789–1815); "Catholicism Restored" (1815–50); "Catholicism Retuned" (1850–1914); "Catholicism and Reaction" (1914–45); and "Catholicism Revised" (1945–2002). Finally there is, appropriately, "Catholicism Reviewed".
Although Atkin and Tallett have previously published works on French history, and the second chapter begins with the French Revolution, the authors make a commendable effort to move away from the Francocentric nature of much Catholic historical writing and consider developments in Eastern Europe as well as the better-known West. As a result, readers find themselves constantly moving from one European location to another, but it is a relatively smooth journey. It is impossible to detect which author was responsible for which sections. Atkin and Tallett insist in the preface that they engaged in "a genuinely collaborative effort, each sentence being a shared endeavor", and there is no reason to doubt that.
In such a wide-ranging synthesis of recent scholarship it is easy to identify areas where more information and analysis could have been supplied. In particular, while I realise that Atkin and Tallett probably laboured under severe word-limit constraints, I am sorry that they decided to cite only the sources of direct quotations. The bibliographical essay at the end of the book is useful, but it does not compensate for the minimalist approach to documentation. A few more endnotes would have helped readers find further information on what are sometimes tantalisingly brief summaries of controversial aspects of Catholic history. They could also have bolstered the credibility of the authors’ conclusions.
As the main title indicates, Atkin and Tallett devote some attention to the "rank-and-file" in the Catholic Church, but much of their narrative revolves around the succession of popes. None feature well, with the exception of John XXIII whom the authors prematurely declare has been made a saint. He was beatified on 3 September 2000, not canonised. I cannot help feeling sorry for the others, especially Pius XII who gets the harshest treatment, reduced in his final years to being a hypochondriac who suffered from incurable hiccups. In the last decade there has been a flurry of publications on his response to the Holocaust, and the bitter debate shows no signs of subsiding. Few can maintain a balanced tone when writing about this emotive subject, and while Atkin and Tallett acknowledge some of the points made by Pius’ defenders, they side with his more strident critics. They describe John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (1999) as "splendid", but they find José Sànchez, author of the more dispassionate and scholarly Pius XII and the Holocaust: Understanding the Controversy (2001) too "indulgent to the pope". More could have been made of the way developments during the pontificate of Pius XII, such as the liturgical reforms of the 1950s, helped pave the way for the Second Vatican Council.
Atkin and Tallett admit that neither of them is Catholic, but they claim to be "sympathetic to the genuineness of transcendental belief". They are not so well-disposed to the "saccharine" devotions which occupied an extremely important place in pre-Vatican II Catholicism (and, therefore, could perhaps have featured more prominently in Priests, Prelates and People). Devout conservative Catholics will no doubt be offended to read that Marguerite Marie Alacoque’s visions of the Sacred Heart were "created partly by eating cheese". Equally unpalatable will be the suggestion that "latent and overt" lesbianism may have drawn some women to religious orders and congregations in the nineteenth century. In fairness to the authors, this is the last of six possible motives which they briefly list, the first being "a genuine sense of piety and vocation". The other explanations relate to the fact that religious orders could provide a way for women to have a career and, more pragmatically, that they offered care in old age and a way of escaping from the perils of childbirth. Later in the book the reduction in the risks associated with childbirth in the twentieth century is cited as one of the reasons for the decline in the number of Catholic religious sisters. There may be some truth in this, but given the major contribution which religious orders and congregations made to pre-conciliar Catholicism, the complex issue of why their numbers rose so dramatically in the nineteenth century and then fell in the late twentieth century surely warrants more detailed and nuanced analysis, or at least an endnote suggesting further reading.
Ironically, although the authors criticise the Catholic hierarchy for treating women as "the second sex", they do not include many women’s stories in their narrative. When women are mentioned, it is usually in passing, and not always in a positive way. The slighting reference to Marguerite Marie Alacoque has already been quoted. Bernadette Soubirous and Thérèse of Lisiuex do not fare much better. The date given for Thérèse’s canonisation (1923) is wrong. That was when she was beatified. She was canonised two years later. As Pope John Paul II proclaimed her a doctor of the universal church in 1997, a rare honour for a woman, she could have been given a little more consideration. All that readers are told about Edith Stein is that she was a Jewish Catholic intellectual, and her canonisation in 1985 undermined efforts to improve relations between Catholics and Jews. Whatever one thinks of this interpretation, there is another factual error. Stein was not canonised until 1998. She was beatified in 1987 and declared co-patron of Europe in 1999.
The book culminates in a bleak conclusion:
The inability of successive pontiffs to relinquish their purported authority, in defiance of the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, has created a situation where they are out of step with public opinion. This would not matter so much if they were not also out of step with so many ordinary Catholics. Despite the personal charisma and media skills of John Paul II, the papacy still appears wedded to an otiose vision of Catholicism: Eurocentric, male-dominated, hierarchical and doctrinally absolute. Some see this as providing strength, stability and direction. Yet the history of the past 250 years suggests otherwise. Unless there is profound change of attitude and a significant readjustment in the relationship between the Vatican and the rest of the Church, then the diversity within unity which has always been the underlying strength of the Church and a feature of its universality may well give way to a Church that claims to be universal but is in truth hidebound and merely monolithic.
Centralising tendencies have certainly gained strength in recent years. There are a number of reasons for this, not least the impact of globalization. John Paul II’s popularity has also been a significant factor. Just as they fail to understand Catholic devotional practices, Atkin and Tallett underestimate the extent to which John Paul was respected and loved, even by those who did not agree with all his decisions. The media frenzy during his last illness, and the outpouring of grief at his death, testify to that.
The complex mixture of conservatism, radicalism and mysticism which Karol Wojtyla brought to the papacy defies easy analysis, and it is too early for dispassionate evaluation of his long-term impact on the Church and the world. Unfortunately, as the continuing controversy over Pius XII’s leadership during the Second World War indicates, time alone does not guarantee balance and objectivity. It is clear from Priests, Prelates and People that non-Catholic authorship does not necessarily help either. I suspect that instead of challenging those with fixed ideological positions, this book will merely confirm them. Conservative Catholics will easily dismiss it as anti-Catholic polemic, or as coming from the liberal/progressive/Hans Küng-influenced end of the Catholic spectrum.
In short, Priests, Prelates and People is an important and thought-provoking contribution to the debate about the nature and future of the Roman Catholic Church, but it is not the definitive history of European Catholicism in the last 250 years. Given the divisions in the Church today, it is difficult to imagine anyone succeeding in that heroic task, but I would still like to see greater efforts made to heal rather than inflame the liberal/conservative divide. That gap remains as wide as ever.
RESPONSIBLE CONDUCT: PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIAN ETHICS
(Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2003) 228pp. ISBN 0875525725
In Responsible Conduct, J. Douma (Th.D., Theological College of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands [liberated]), an internationally known Dutch ethicist and author of several books, has written a clear, methodical introduction to ethics from a Reformed perspective. Douma was professor of Christian ethics at the Theological University of Kampen from 1970 to his retirement in 1997. From among his many Dutch publications on ethics, The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life has also been translated by American ethicist Nelson D. Kloosterman.
In Responsible Conduct Douma provides a solid foundation for understanding terms such as right, wrong, good, bad, duty, rights, responsibilities, autonomy, heteronomy as well as for recognising the relevance of ethics in today’s world, for determining the basis of ethical judgments and the sources of authority for ethics, and for upholding the role of Scripture in Christian ethics. He also covers the relationship between the Old Testament law (embodied in the ten commandments) and the Church, the nature of Christian morality and important issues such as the role of love, conscience, adiaphora, conflict of duties, compromise, casuistry and spirituality in ethics.
The book is written in a clear, methodical, lucid (if at some points laborious) style, which is of particular advantage in an introductory text or for readers with little or no previous study in ethics. It is a relatively small book; easy to read and includes a short bibliography at the end of each chapter, and, at the end of the book, a bibliography for general and Christian ethics, an index of Scripture references and a combined index of names and subjects.
Douma’s approach is from the Reformed tradition (as is evidenced by his approach to the relationship between Old and New Testaments etc.). He shows a good knowledge of philosophical ethics and historical positions outlining philosophical positions such as Kant’s deontological approach, utilitarianism, situation ethics and virtue ethics (though here he does not interact with more modern proponents such as Alasdair McIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas). He clearly values etymology, definitions and searching out the origins and history of different ideas, positions and approaches.
He gives different definitions of ethics in Chapter 1 and unpacks his definition of Christian Ethics ("Christian ethics is reflection upon moral conduct in light of the perspective offered us in Holy Scripture", 13) in Chapter 2. In Chapter 3, he spends some time on the relationship between general ethics and Christian ethics though here I found the discussion fell short of Douma’s normal lucidity. Thus, he rejects a Roman Catholic view of Christian ethics and philosophical ethics as "two levels existing hierarchically together, like ‘nature’ (lower storey) and ‘grace’ (upper storey)" and confidently states, "The Christian faith is determinative for everything, from the foundation to the roof. … The philosopher too must submit to God’s revelation" (43). He then appeals to universal arguments as common ground between Christians and those without faith based on the natural consequences of moral actions (48, 52) but that the difference in general morality and Christian morality is not merely the result of different motivations but of different starting points (autonomy and self-determination versus God’s sovereignty, 50–51). He concludes, "So we can go a long way with universal arguments; but they have their limits. … We need both kinds of arguments. And it seems obvious that we can learn much from philosophical ethics – both Christian and non-Christian – in using universal arguments" (52).
Douma’s position appears to come surprisingly close to the two-story approach he rejected, though it does differ in its purpose – that is, universal arguments are used to seek common ground between Christians and non-Christians, and to serve public society in its evaluation and critique of the prevailing general morality (48–52). However, I wonder whether his sound acknowledgement of the radically differing presuppositions, worldview and faith positions of the dialogue partners (Christian and non-Christian) undermines his conviction of universal arguments, at least, without further explanation. He takes up the issue again in Chapter 6 (Christian Morality) and concludes that Christians not only differ from non-Christians in their motivations but also in how their morality is expressed – following Christ in love, obedience and acceptance of suffering (118–119). Christian living has a character all of its own.
In his discussion on the use of the Holy Scripture (Chapter 4) Douma argues for a responsible appeal to Scripture, that takes the Bible seriously while avoiding biblicism. He assumes the foundational importance of Scripture for Christian ethics without further discussion. He suggests that Scripture acts as a guide (provides self-evident, clear directives), guard (provides clear limits and boundaries), as a compass (provides themes or principles), and exemplar for (provides examples to follow, primarily that of Jesus Christ). While he does not give clear guidelines to assess the value or weight of different commands, prohibitions, themes or examples, he does discuss the role of reason (using Calvin’s three types of understanding – natural, erroneous and the third, i.e. the biblical), balance of major motifs, maturity and discernment, illumination of Holy Spirit, Christian fellowship and prayer in determining moral action. He states, "bound to Scripture and led by the Spirit, we make our decisions in the liberty to which Christ has called us, that we may live as sons and not as slaves (Gal. 5:1ff)" (87).
His discussion of the Ten Commandments and their relationship to the church and the teaching of Jesus Christ (Chapter 5) is particularly strong and informative and is definitely from a reformed perspective. Thus, he concludes that the Law was not a way of salvation but was a way of living given in the context of grace. The gospel creates a new relationship to the Law. Old Testament laws are life rules for a free people of God. Rejecting the Lutheran separation of gospel and law, he discusses at some length the Reformed concept of the threefold uses of the law (for the public good, to reveal our guilt and to guide a life of gratitude to God).
In Chapter 7 Douma gives a thoughtful assessment of Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics, concluding that love is the realisation of the law but not its replacement while the other commandments cannot function apart form love (132). He also discusses the Golden Rule, the validity of self-love (versus self-respect and self-denial) and three forms of love (apape or self-giving love, philia friendship and kinship love, and eros or sensual love). He has a brief but helpful chapter on the Conscience (Chapter 8). His more extensive chapter of adiaphora or neutral matters (Chapter 9) gives a lot of helpful background to the discussion (from the classical Greeks and the 16th and 17th century interactions between Lutheran, Calvinists and Pietists). Douma agrees with the Pietists that "all our life is Christ’s domain and no neutral zone exists"; however, he suggests that in certain areas Christians have the liberty to exercise mature judgment within the wider biblical guidelines (e.g., choice of leisure activities, the married or single state, marriage partner, career) while in areas which lack clarity the Scripture cannot be used to condemn others. The last four chapters give brief overviews of dealing with conflicting duties, the role of compromise, the use of casuistry and the role of spirituality in Christian ethics.
At various times he dialogues with Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Pietists. He uses examples from contemporary ethical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and divorce to illustrate his points. On the other hand, he skims over the surface of many positions and issues, as is perhaps a necessity in an introductory text of this size, but nevertheless this leaves a vague feeling of incompleteness.
Overall, Douma’s book is an excellent introduction to Christian ethics with a wide scope in foundational philosophical and biblical issues. Ethical issues are used as illustrations but are not dealt with in depth so would need supplementation by other works. Most of the material will not be new for the more advanced student of ethics, though Douma’s obvious scholarship shines through and flashes of insight will engage even them.
ALL THE MUSIC OF THE BIBLE: AN EXPLORATION OF MUSICAL EXPRESSION IN SCRIPTURE AND CHURCH HYMNODY
Herbert Lockyer, Jr.
(Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) vii + 209pp. ISBN 1565635310
This study is part of a number of books, published under the rather pretentious title: "All Series," that set out to offer a faithful and comprehensive treatment of biblical subjects. The series consists of sermonic material that was written by Lockyer’s deceased father. All The Music Of The Bible, however, was produced by the author himself. He is, clearly, a lover of music who is devoted to the use of traditional hymnody in evangelical Protestant worship.
True to its title, the book attempts to cover almost every imaginable topic. It begins the "Music of the Ancients", with a fleeting treatment of ancient music (sic!), the songs of Moses, the songs of Deborah and Hannah, the festival songs of Zion, and instruments of praise. Then he moves to "Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs", in which the author touches, in rapid succession, on the significance of Hebrew poetry, the songs of David, the Psalter, the songs of Isaiah, and the Song of Songs. The third part of this study covers the songs of the New Testament and the birth of the modern hymn. The work is rounded off with some devotional material on the topic from the author’s father, and with five appendices that give lists of such things as the psalms that mention singing and references in KJV to musical instruments.
The title of the book is somewhat misleading. It claims to explore the music of the Bible. Yet it, in fact, has little to say about music, let alone the music of the Bible and its many songs. It seems to be quite unaware of intriguing modern attempts to use our knowledge of ancient music to decipher the apparent musical notation given in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Psalter (e.g. Suzanne Haik-Vantourna, Resume of the Decyphering Key of the Musical Signs of the Bible [Paris: Foundation Roi David, 1990]). The author mentions David’s institution of the Levitical musicians for the performance of liturgical music with the singing of psalms at the temple in Jerusalem, but does not use the data from Chronicles to analyse its function and use (cf. John W. Kleinig, The Lord’s Song – The Basis, Function and Significance of Choral Music in Chronicles [JSOTSupp 156, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993]). While some attempt is made to identify the various musical instruments that are mentioned in the Bible, this is done rather crudely from the KJV. Thus the author claims that the kinnor is a harp, even though it most likely was the term for the ancient lyre, and he uses the term "psaltery" for the "nebel," an instrument that was a kind of ancient harp. He seems to be quite unaware of the careful work that has been done by musicologists, such as A. Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel (London: Vision Press, 1969); Music in the Social and Religious Life of Antiquity (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1974) and B. Bayer ("The Biblical Nebel," Yuval 1,  89-161).
Despite its title the book does not deal with music, whether it be its composition, its performance, or its ritual use, but with the biblical texts that were set to music and, in some cases, sung to instrumental accompaniment. Yet even its treatment of these texts is rather superficial and disappointing. The author does little more than tell the story of each song in an edifying way, with a brief summary of its contents and a tendency to admonish the reader in a sermonic fashion. No consideration is given to its form, its cultural setting, its poetry, and its ongoing ritual use.
Even though the book does have some of the trappings of scholarship, such as endnotes and a selected bibliography, it gives little evidence of serious biblical analysis, let alone any real scholarly research from a historical, cultural, or musicological perspective. When the author does touch on historical matters, he, all too often, gets the facts completely wrong. We read that "Charles V of England (sic!), the champion of the pope and enemy of Martin Luther, became one of the Reformers (sic!) in his love for the psalms"(22, 23). The author also claims that Luther attended the university of Leipzig (142) and wrote the song "Away in a Manger" (143). Such carelessness does not inspire confidence in the author and his claims.
The book fails to deliver what it promises. I came to it with high expectations. One of the most curious and unexamined phenomena in the church today is the growing popularity of praise singing in churches around the world. Praise singing consists of a bracket of interconnected songs, sung at the beginning of the service, by a lead singer or a group of singers, to the accompaniment of amplified music from guitars, keyboard, and drums. In many congregations this new tradition of liturgical music has, like a cuckoo in a nest, displaced other important traditional parts of the liturgy, such as the readings, the sermon, and Lord’s Supper, so much so that many Christians now only regard that kind of praise as worship. The practice of praise singing, as promoted here in Australia by Hillsong and its affiliates, enacts and promotes a new generic Protestant theology and practice of worship. When its claims are challenged, its proponents often refer to David’s institution of liturgical music at the temple in Jerusalem as a quasi-sacramental means for entry into God’s presence. They hold that the performance of this kind of praise similarly ushers the faithful into the heavenly Holy of Holies, so that they then come before the divine throne to present their offering and to commit themselves to God. It would be of some help for the church to assess these claims if there were some reliable popular treatments of the place of music and song in the divine service at the temple in Jerusalem and in the Early Church that were based on good scholarship and a sound theology of worship. This book does not offer any help in dealing with these issues. It is unlikely to be of interest to anybody who is well-versed in the history and theology of worship.
John W Kleinig
MATRIX OF MEANINGS: FINDING GOD IN POP CULTURE
Craig Detweiler / Barry Taylor
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003) 351pp. ISBN 080102417X
It is refreshing to read a book about pop culture and Christianity that is written by "insiders" of both the Church and the entertainment industry. According to the dust jacket biographic detail, Craig Detweiler is associate professor of mass communications at Biola University and draws on a background in screenwriting and the American film industry, while Barry Taylor is adjunct professor of popular theology at Fuller Theological Seminary and writes out of his professional involvement in music and art. However, although the overall tone and quality of the book makes it a significant resource in the fields of practical cultural and theological studies, some emphases may be problematic for the non-American reader.
In their introduction, Detweiler and Taylor describe their book as "a cultural studies reader, borrowing from the best of what’s gone before but adding a spiritual interpretation to pop culture’s increasingly diverse texts" (19). The chapter titles reveal the book’s scope: advertising, celebrities, music, movies, television, fashion, sports and art. The authors share the chapter writing in order to manage the wide-ranging analysis. This polyphonic technique, where the authorial voice is sometimes clearly stated as Craig or Barry while at other times it is left uncertain, adds a postmodern flavour to the postmodern subject matter of the book. Furthermore, akin to the pop culture industry they write about, Detweiler and Taylor conclude with a "Top 10 Theology," the countdown going from "post-national/diversity" at number ten to "post-Christian/loving" at number one.
The fun and enjoyment the authors have in playing with the text and the reader is obvious. Nevertheless, this book is a serious attempt to challenge the conventional, often negative and fear filled, stance that characterises Christian churches and institutions in their relationship with contemporary secular culture. Each chapter provides a thumbnail history of the topic, concentrating particularly on the cultural shifts taking place through western society’s movement from a modern to a postmodern framework. In this sense the authors are courageous, seeking to take a non-judgemental stance in an increasingly politicised, polarised and emotive debate. Rather than tackle head on the anti-culture views of the Church, they set about to demonstrate the deeper, often hidden, spiritual content in each of the areas of popular culture they examine.
For example, in the chapter on music an extensive section is devoted to the life and lyrics of Nick Cave, a "London-based, Australian singer-songwriter" with a "potent blend of gothic punk rock" (134). Putting aside judgement of the dark side to Cave’s life and songs, the authors explore the search for faith, and the fascination with Christ, so obvious in his work. Similarly, the much-maligned Madonna is given a voice to defend herself against accusations of sacrilege, while popular bands such as Creed and U2 are presented as employing Christian spirituality while distancing themselves from institutional churches.
Not all the material in the topics is relevant to non-American readers, and in particular the chapter on sport focuses on the US sports’ industry: American basketball, gridiron, baseball and ice hockey. Other chapters, while having a decidedly American flavour, do raise challenging and relevant issues for churches in the West. When writing on movies, for instance, the authors not only examine the clear spiritual connotations in epics such as the Matrix trilogy, but they also endeavour to decode more controversial films such as Magnolia, Dogma, American Beauty and Fight Club. In their desire to be non-judgmental, they seek (as the sexually teasing poster for American Beauty encourages) to "look closer" at these cinematic pieces (170), and they discover that their central core is life affirming. American Beauty, they write, teaches that beauty can be discovered "amid an abusive father, closeted homosexuality, and a brutal murder" (171). The intense darkness and cruelty in Fight Club masks a message that upholds life, for, the authors state, it "is probably the most fierce, sadistic, negative, pro-life movie ever" (173). Movies like Fight Club declare the central Christian message that life often involves pain and sacrifice rather than the health, wealth and fame romanticised in the entertainment industry.
Controversial issues are also raised in the chapters on celebrities and television, where the authors argue for the positive value of celebrity hero worship and the confessional role of television. Celebrities are the "new priesthood", Detweiler and Taylor assert, who "teach us what to wear and where to buy it … Celebrities serve as our spirit guides steering us towards the new sacraments – shoes, sunglasses, and designer jeans" (82). The recognition of these images and values demonstrates a generation of people open to the mystery of the sacred: a generation of people deeply aware of the power of symbols. Like Leonard Sweet, the authors see great relevancy for today’s generation, which has been raised on the visual images of the media and the Internet, in the Pentecostal and sacramental (both Orthodox and Catholic) traditions that embrace the experiential and the mysterious (302). Sweeping statements such as these are generally backed with a range of quotes and reasoned arguments, and it is the shock value of the "look closer" factor, to see the desire for the sacred in unexpected artistic places, which these authors manage so effectively.
However, not all their sweeping statements are equally palatable to a non-American reader. What can be particularly distasteful is the assumed, overarching importance of American thinking and culture. The authors claim, for example, that, "Democratic capitalism emerged as the clear victor in the Cold War. The glory of the free market, spread by American pop culture’s movies, music, and TV, undermined a half a century of communism. We now live in a post-ideological era. … American pop culture fuelled these profound, ideological victories. … Sights and sounds of America undermined the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain…. The arrival of borderless delivery systems such as the Internet only make the dissemination of ‘Americanism’ more inevitable" (26).
When it comes to the gospel and culture (especially American culture), Detweiler and Taylor wish to "question … but … not dismiss or condemn" (298), and to promote democratic capitalism as a positive value that needs to be boldly embraced because of its dominance in the postmodern world.
In a parallel vein, critical Cultural Studies is sometimes dismissed as a Marxist project (18, 129). (Detweiler and Taylor emphasise the British beginnings of Cultural Studies and do not mention more current trends, such as ethnographic and postcolonial theory.) Critical thinking, which they sometimes term "the academy" (22), is both appealed to yet also sidelined. The positive affirmation of pop culture is needed, they seem to argue, to overcome the injurious irrelevance of intellectual, rather than practical, academics. However, pop culture itself critiques the Church and mainstream traditional culture, and the authors write about this critique very effectively. The desire to subject pop culture, and particularly American pop culture, to a filtered critique, together with their brief generalisations about and dismissal of theorists such as Foucault (236) and Derrida (24), makes their work appear lightweight in some respects, especially as they claim the book to be "a cultural studies reader." Such broad ethnocentricity and selective critiquing is disquieting, though not dominant or absolute enough to destroy the validity of the book. Just as Detweiler and Taylor call the reader to overlook the sex, language and violence of pop culture in order to "look closer" at its message, so the reader can overlook the occasional anti-academia stance and American centredness to engage the many evocative ideas that challenge and illuminate.
So, putting aside differences in expectation of cultural vision and academic selectiveness, A Matrix of Meanings is a significant book, written by "insiders" who are not afraid to engage with today’s cultural, societal and theological issues. It is thought provoking and illuminating, and will be a great resource for those who seek to listen to the prophets and poets of this generation. It offers a positive framework to interpret movies, art, music and television, and it can help us construct meaningful questions to pursue in our own journeys in understanding our times. Using the language of Homi Bhabha (in "Signs Taken for Wonders," and "Cultural Diversity and Cultural Difference," The Post-Colonial Reader [London: Routledge, 1995]), we can take the remarkable gift of the tools offered, and engage the "liminal space" between cultural shifts and understandings, use "mimicry" to adapt it to our own cultural bias, and employ "hybridity" to subject it to our particular academic and theological rigour. Thus we will create a "Third Space" (not American or non-American) in which "we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves" (Bhabha, The Post-Colonial Reader, 209). In this Third Space, which is both a place of enunciation (the academic) and performance (the practical), we would be on a truly postmodern journey.
IN A DARK WOOD: JOURNEYS OF FAITH AND DOUBT
Edited by Linda Jones and Sophie Stanes
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004) xi + 218 pp. ISBN 0800636244
Midway this way of life we’re bound upon,
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
Where the right road was wholly lost and gone.
These lines from the opening verse of Dante’s Divine Comedy provide the title for this volume and are one of several excerpts quoted in In a Dark Wood: Journeys of Faith and Doubt (11). With these lines, Dante is signalling the beginning of his epic journey of faith that will lead through hell, purgatory and finally to paradise. In a Dark Wood is a compilation of prose and poetry reflecting personal journeys that illustrate spiritual struggle, doubt, hopelessness, loss and isolation as well as the transformation that may occur as an outcome of such suffering. The volume was inspired by one editor’s personal experience which raised questions such as: What happens when a person experiences the absence of or complete loss of belief in God? To whom can a person in such existential darkness turn?
In a Dark Wood is comprised of several genres of writing. There are autobiographical narratives based on interviews, prose, poetry and biblical material. Hence, psalmists rub shoulders with medieval saints such as Teresa of Avila; poets such as George Herbert and May Angelou with politicians such as the British parliamentarian, Tony Benn; writers such Henri Nouwen and Gerald Hughes with peace activists such as Daniel Berrigan and Colin Parry, who lost his son to IRA bombers. Although the contributors are drawn predominantly from the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions, there are representatives from Protestantism, Judaism and non-Christian backgrounds. The selections range across time and include the voices of people from religious and secular contexts.
In a Dark Wood is divided into three parts: There is No God, Doubts on the Journey, and The Phoenix of Faith. The distribution of the material is artificial. Many of the selections could be situated in one or more of the parts. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the overall presentation.
Part 1, There is No God, traces the journeys of those for whom doubt has led to a complete loss of faith. For some of the works in this section, it might be imagined that this experience of darkness, loss and doubt is similar to the dark nights of senses and spirit described by John of the Cross and not a final and irrevocable situation. If such is the case, then the darkness that is portrayed may be part of a time of purification. The selection from "East Coker" by T. S. Eliot suggests an example of this type of dark night. Although not included in this volume, Eliot does echo and elaborate upon the vision of Julian of Norwich concerning the wellness of all things later in his poetry. However, in another example in this collection, there is a sense of unending desolation. In this case feelings have been equated with the presence or absence of God. One of the narratives, in this section, describes the loss of belief in God as a release and liberation from the bondage of religious faith.
Part 2, Doubts on the Journey, depicts stories of the testing of faith. From the opening quotation by John of the Cross, it might be assumed that the editors intended this section to illustrate the dark night of the soul as one part of the journey of faith. Many of the stories and excerpts in this section depict changes in the perception of God, self, and others. For example, Mary Jo Radcliffe writes that the "extraordinary big step from certainty to uncertainty, from knowing the way to the admission of being lost was frightening yet gave a hope for change" (63). Other material articulates hope from within the depths of darkness such as the psalmist’s cry, "Put your hope in God: I shall praise God yet, my saviour, my God" (Ps 43:5).
Part 3, The Phoenix of Faith, as the sub-title suggests illustrates the transformative phoenix-like rising from the ashes of loss and despair. In reality, doubt may be necessary for a mature and strong faith. Gerald O’Mahony observes: "But I do think it is the people who find faith difficult that have the strongest faith. If somebody has a ‘sailing through life’ faith, they never have to practice it. It’s too easy. … If you’re struggling to believe, if you’re struggling to trust then you’re probably believing more than somebody who doesn’t have to try" (189). The material suggests that the phoenix of transformation does not mean that there is a cessation of spiritual struggle, doubt, loss and isolation. Rather there is a discovery, in the words of Dame Maria Boulding: "At the spring of my longing, you are longing; in the stretch of my understanding, you are there in your truth. In my joy, you dance in your threefold delight. The rest is silence" (128). To mix metaphors, this silence may be darkness edged with existential angst.
The mix of prose and poetry lends In a Dark Wood to meditative and selective reading rather than to a progressive reading of the text from beginning to end. As a pastoral text, In a Dark Wood gives voice to the experiences of doubt and loss of faith as well as the emotional states of despair and isolation that may accompany these experiences. Therefore, its use personally or in small groups might provide assurance to people that "You are not alone" (xi). Hence, this collection of poetry and prose may provide a helpful contrast to the perspective that links doubt and darkness with a lack of faith, failure or sin. In this way, In a Dark Wood can serve as a corrective to abusive pastoral practices. Within an academic setting, the personal narratives might be used in the study of spiritual growth and development or in pastoral studies concerned more specifically with loss. Although the examples provided are diverse and may not be equally useful, In a Dark Wood does bring together a wide range of materials illustrating existential darkness, doubt and loss of faith.
(Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press) 131pp. ISBN 0881412392
This book is a translation of Larchet’s 1991 publication, La Theologie de la Maladie. In his foreword, John Breck states that the aim of this work is to delve into "one of the most difficult and burdensome problems in human experience: the origins and ultimate meaning of physical illness", providing a "fresh look" at the "sickness unto death" as it does so (7).
What is fresh about this book is the author’s submersion in the Fathers of the Greek patristic tradition. Every page except one is footnoted with references to the Orthodox Fathers, so that Larchet’s presentation becomes a journey through the minds of these people as they struggle with the painful issues related to human illness and the suffering it causes. This aspect alone makes this publication worthwhile procuring.
The other fresh aspect of this work is the special audience and mind-set to whom the author wishes to address special words. In his introduction, Larchet states that he desires to respond to the modern world which expects that, through medicine, "sickness and suffering (will) totally disappear in a trouble-free society restored to its original state of health" (12), and he seeks to redress that misplaced hope, exposing the limitations of medicine in the process. To the modern world there is something almost heretical about espousing the belief that life "is by its very nature a temporary staying of death" (9). Yet this is a heresy that Larchet appears happy to espouse and address.
Apart from those two aspects of the book – as unique as they may be – Larchet’s work is not, however, really fresh at all. In the end it re-presents responses to theodicy issues that are centuries, even millennia, old, a fact which becomes evident as we consider its contents.
The book is divided into three parts. Part I deals with the origins of illness, and the Fathers are in no doubt that those origins lie not in God – whose "creation at its beginning was wholly good" (18) – but "in the personal will of man, in the bad use to which he has put his free will" (26). All illness "even in the demonic activity that becomes manifest through it – is a direct consequence of the personal sin of Adam and Eve" (33).
Against that background, humans struggle with the perception and possibility that their illnesses are somehow a punishment by God, and Larchet briefly explores this tension between the original sin of Adam and Eve, and people’s own personal responsibility for their own sin. In the end, the tension remains, and resolution is found only in Christ who "has overthrown the barrier which separated our nature from God and has opened that nature once more to the deifying energies of uncreated grace" (40,41). However, Christ’s work in his people is only fully complete in eternity, and so illness still persists on earth, and Larchet devotes considerable space to his exploration of this aspect of human illness and God’s response to it (41–50, 124–131).
Part II investigates the spiritual meaning of illness. Larchet begins this section with the claim that "health is worthless to the human person … if it is not used well, that is … to fulfil the commandments of Christ and to glorify God" (55). "In fact", he states, health "is evil if it contributes to making a person indifferent to his salvation." (55).
Viewed from this standpoint, illness therefore "cannot [necessarily] be considered to be a source of evil in [human] life" (56), and so this section of Larchet’s book describes the positive aspects of sickness and suffering. Those positives include the challenge to face the realities of one’s existence, to learn from the "divine pedagogy" (61) of any illness, to increase one’s sense of dependency on God, to experience illness as a "purification from sin" (64), to attain greater patience, and to promote humility, repentance and a disposition to prayer (including thanksgiving).
In presenting the challenge to learn these lessons, Larchet reminds his readers that this is a task not to be undertaken by "passively submitting to the illness and suffering, and allowing [oneself] to be dominated, enclosed and beaten down by it. To the contrary, it is essential that the person do all possible to preserve a dynamic attitude of vigilance, in expectation of receiving divine assistance" (69).
Part III of the book focuses upon Christian paths to healing. Despite the positive spiritual outcomes of any illness, "[I]t goes without saying," says Larchet, "that health ought to be preferred to sickness, on condition, nevertheless, that it is lived in God and for God" (79). Christ the Physician desires that people be healed and, through his saints, continues his healing ministry still today. The avenues Larchet enunciates as spiritual paths to healing include prayer (for self and neighbour, and by the saints), the charism (gift) of healing, holy unction, holy water (including the laying on of hands), the sign of the cross and exorcism. A curious omission at this point is any significant mention of the Eucharist as a pathway to healing.
Following his discussion on these paths to healing, Larchet then has an extended section (102–123) on the role of secular medicine as a way to healing. In the final analysis he views secular medicine also as gift from God, but as a gift which is primarily (possibly solely) concerned with the healing of the body. Just as important, if not more important, is the healing of the soul (121–126).
One of two comments to make about Larchet’s work concerns the lack of inclusive language in the book. In this age that lack is jarring, even offensive. The second comment relates to the omission, or downplaying, by Larchet of the reality that human suffering is ultimately mystery. In the opinion of this reviewer, the author at times provides too many answers to the questions humans ask in the face of illness. Yet, as Job finally discovered, there is no answer to human misery except the mystery of our unknowable, yet gracious, God, and the mystery is enough. One would like to have seen more of this aspect of this issue in Larchet’s work.
Any criticisms which this review has of this book in no way meant to detract from its value. Embedding his exploration of human suffering within the Greek Fathers, Larchet expands the boundaries of the issues he explores in a way which goes far beyond the here and now. As one becomes immersed in this book, there is a sense of being treated to the rich resonating experience of suffering with the saints of all ages! There is immense practical, pastoral value within such an experience. It is this pastoral dimension of his work that makes Larchet’s book especially worth having, both for those who suffer and for those who minister to them.
Robert J. Kempe.
Revd. Evelyn Ashley, doctoral student, Murdoch University.
Revd. Dr. Nancy Ault, Lecturer in Practical Theology, Murdoch University, Perth.
Revd. Martin Foord, Lecturer in Systematic Theology, Trinity Theological College, Perth.
Revd. Dr. Brian Holliday, Director of the Dayspring Centre for Christian Spirituality and Counselling, Perth.
Revd. Robert J Kempe, Lecturer in Pastoral Theology, Australian Lutheran Seminary, Adelaide.
Revd. Dr. John W. Kleinig, Lecturer in Old Testament, Luther Seminary, North Adelaide.
Josephine Laffin, Lecturer in Church History, Catholic Theological College of South Australia
Revd. Prof. William Loader, Professorial Research Fellow, Murdoch University
Rt. Revd. Dr. Anthony H. Nichols, Lecturer in Biblical Studies, Trinity Theological College, Perth.
Revd. Dr. Michael Parsons, Head of Christian Thought, Baptist Theological College, Perth.
Jeanette O’Hagan, Moderator of Philosophy and Ethics, Australian College of Theology.
Revd. Michael O’Neil, doctoral student, Murdoch University, Perth.
Revd. Rob Smith, Lecturer in Theology, Sydney Missionary and Bible College.
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