Book Reviews
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Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Book Reviews FAITH MAGAZINE January - February 2016

Orbiting Around Newman

Theories of Development in the Oxford Movement
by James Pereiro, Gracewing, 198pp, £14.99 Reviewed by James Tolhurst

At the outset the author lets us know that this book is a revised version of chapters that appeared in his earlier Ethos and the Oxford Movement published in 2007. This earlier version is still available on Kindle price £78, which is one reason why I am grateful that Pereiro has seen fit to produce a cheaper version. The other reason is that he has opened up an interesting perspective on the religious phenomenon which was the Oxford Movement. R. W. Church wrote the first broad account of that “short scene of religious earnestness and aspiration”. Since then there have been numerous individual treatments of the principal characters: Newman, Keble, Froude, Pusey, Williams, Marriott and Church. Each had their part to play – Newman, Keble and Froude in the central role.

Pereiro attempts analyse what was at the root of the whole movement : its ethos – ήθος. The word was used to explain both that particular expression of primitive Christianity which it wanted to foster and what differentiated the members of the movement from those who did not share their stance. Newman even uses the term in a letter to Wood when he talks of a lawyer ‘whose ethos I trust’. 

The author is keen to highlight the part played by Samuel Francis Wood, who was a pupil of Newman and a regular diner and correspondent. He also wrote to Manning (described as his ‘good angel’) and it is his letters to him that Pereiro finds interesting because he sees in them an early expression of the idea of doctrinal development. Wood wrote in 1835, “In common with other societies the Church has the inherent power of expanding or modifying her organisation, of bringing her ideas of the Truth into more distinct consciousness, or of developing the Truth itself more fully.” Both Manning and Newman were unwilling to take him up on this, because at that time they could not accept the idea of organic development as it was seen to contradict the unchanging role of Scripture which was part of Anglican faith and enshrined in the Articles. 30 We cannot really gauge Wood’s contribution because he was to die soon after being called to the Bar in 1843 aged 34. It is of course idle to speculate about the form his ideas would have taken subsequently, but it is strange that both Wood and Hurrell Froude died young, “a man of original genius and zealous piety” (Froude was 33).

The course of the movement then devolved principally on Newman, since Keble was taken up with the rigours of pastoral work as Vicar of Hursley in 1836. Undoubtedly there was considerable cross fertilisation among the Tractarians – the post was very efficient and there was no radio or television. Pereiro says that the members shared a view on the need to recover that essential spirituality without which doctrine, principles and life would always be in danger of decay. But each had his own particular ‘take’ on that. Wood for instance was engaged with Williams on a translation of the breviary;

Froude urged Roman Catholic practices; Pusey concentrated on doctrinal orthodoxy.  But Newman was virtually unique in his analysis of the doctrinal implications, together with his reaction to the ethos of heresy: in the case of Dr. R. D. Hampden and of the Jerusalem bishopric. It is true that Keble had reacted to the reorganisation of the Irish episcopate by preaching his Assize sermon, but that was seen as an encroachment on Church authority. Newman saw below the surface and felt that the whole ethos of the movement had to be driven in a new direction, even though he was uncertain of the eventual outcome. He was willing to break out of the comforting atmosphere of Tractarianism which would divide into those who would occupy the middle ground: Williams, A. P. Perceval, George Cornish, Thomas Keble; and those who would become High and Dry, such as Edward Churton, Palmer of Worcester, J. T. Coleridge and Joshua Watson, Gladstone and Manning, leaving Pusey as the lonely figurehead. It would be interesting to trace how the ethos divided and separated itself among them. As Pereiro openly acknowledges, further studies are needed.

The Tractarian movement was like a stone cast into a pool - it had an ever increasing impact.  It is possible to consider the Tractarian movement as a system with its members as various planets and asteroids.

They can all be seen at some stage consciously or unconsciously orbiting around Newman. He was of course definitely influenced by numerous colleagues and friends and by his family but he was also having an effect on them sometimes by calming and at other times by stimulating them. It was because he was such a towering figure that he still arouses such admiration and suspicion, for he stands out truly as the leader who was instrumental in opening up the new doctrinal firmament and the one who eventually shattered its harmony.

Fr James Tolhurst has been a parish priest and a seminary Spiritual Director; his edition of Newman's Tracts for the Times was published by Gracewing in 2013.  


Evangelical Religious Life

Shifting Sands and Solid Rock – Religious Life in a Changing World
by Patricia Jordan FSM, Gracewing, 153pp, £9.99 Reviewed by Sister Hyacinthe de Fos du Rau

In Shifting Sand and Solid Rock, Sr Patricia Jordan offers us a refreshing reminder of the beauty of religious life. She admits having started this book during the Year of Faith, to which she makes numerous references. Published in February 2015, it presents a timely and providential introduction to essential aspects of religious life in the year of Consecrated Life, which she could not have foreseen when she began to write. Refreshing This book is filled with passion and enthusiasm for religious life, because it is filled with love for Jesus Christ. This is refreshing at a time in the Church where the option for and call to religious life can often be presented in a rather self-centred manner.

The call to religious life is primarily a call to give oneself and be consecrated totally to Jesus Christ until death. It is a call to be configured to him in every possible aspect of one’s person and life. It is not primarily about oneself. In other words, the finality of my religious life is Jesus Christ, and not myself. Hence the process of discernment 32 should not be a consideration on how I can be personally fulfilled, but a consideration on how I can best give myself to Christ and serve his Church, such as I am. ‘Personal fulfilment’, or rather happiness, is a very real but secondary outcome of consecrated life. Personal fulfilment (a rather modern and vague notion, open to all sorts of secular goals) is not and cannot be guaranteed by total consecration to God, or by any other state of life, for that matter. The gift, to be true, must be unconditional.

The centrality of Jesus Christ Here, Sr Patricia Jordan beautifully focuses on the centrality of Jesus Christ, of the Trinity, of divine grace, of the Cross, of charity and of the Church in religious life. From this centrality flow all the essential characteristics of religious life: prayer, the liturgy and particularly the Eucharist, community life, mission to the world, total consecration and radical gift of self in perseverance. As she spells this out, Sr Patricia herself is a living example of the kind of personal fulfilment attainable when one is authentically living one’s consecration to Jesus Christ. This fulfilment is unmistakably expressed in the joy, enthusiasm, hope and love for Jesus Christ and for her own vocation that come across in her book. Religious life However, Sr Patricia does not avoid a typical, and perhaps unescapable, vagueness in describing religious life. The essential traits are rightly introduced, but never analysed in concrete terms applicable to all religious.

This is perhaps due to the fact that religious life takes on such a variety of expressions nowadays that trying to define it in specific, concrete terms applicable to everyone is impossible. One of the consequences of this very general and very vague – albeit very true – description of religious life is the inability to specify what exactly marks religious life apart from a very radical following of Jesus Christ in the world as a lay person.

The word ‘consecration’ for example, is never explained or defined as an objective good, attractive in and for itself. Vatican II With Vatican II, the universal call to holiness has been resounding widely, and many lay persons, whether married or single, are intensely responding to that call. They can live a radical Eucharistic life, poured out for God and for others, a life centred on Jesus Christ which can take on many aspects of poverty, chastity and obedience, and sometimes much more heroically than consecrated religious. If this type of lay life is possible and actually lived out in the world, what exactly is different about religious life, and why would anyone choose it over a lay life equally, if not more, open to the possibility of holiness? As long as religious life, and so the objective good that is religious consecration, is not authoritatively defined in opposition to lay life, and visibly lived out (and so identifiable) as such, we will remain in the vague.

This vagueness is equally found in Keep Watch, the latest document from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which Sr Patricia Jordan wrongly attributes to Pope Francis. Franciscan Whereas Keep Watch takes refuge in an overabundance of images and metaphors to make up for unsubstantial content mired in unescapable vagueness, Sr Patricia takes refuge in the idea of charism over consecration as the main aspect of religious life: “While every Christian is called to make visible the characteristic features of Jesus, Religious, through a vowed life of poverty, chastity and obedience, do this in a specific way through the charism of their Institutes” (p.28).

From then on, Sr Patricia focuses intensely on her own religious charism and family: the Franciscans. This causes an imbalance, since the objective aspects of religious life that should but cannot be satisfactorily analysed are immediately diverted unto the specificities of Franciscan life. This Franciscan diversion is much more than an illustration, as it takes over the whole book. It beautifully shows Sr Patricia’s deep understanding and love for her own Order. Nevertheless, it also alters the nature of the book, which becomes a tribute to the Franciscan life rather than a balanced presentation of religious life as a whole. New information This unbalanced exposition includes a peculiar and rather controversial division of the different forms of religious life into three main strands: monastic, apostolic and evangelical.

As she points out herself, this threefold division is not recognised in Canon Law, which defines religious life as either monastic or apostolic. Sr Patricia, relying on Franciscan sources, describes the Franciscan life as a pre-eminent model and archetype of ‘evangelical life’, something other traditions, such as my own Dominican one, may well resent. I would argue that all religious life is essentially evangelical, starting with St Anthony in the desert, who radically responded to the gospel call of leaving everything and following Jesus through a new and supernatural – monastic – way of life. Be that as it may, we are left with a good book on Franciscan life with a misleading title, and a remaining question: is not the Franciscan charism lived fully by secular Franciscan tertiaries – lay people – around the world? If so, why join a Franciscan Religious Order?

Sr. Hyacinthe Defos du Rau, OP, is a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Joseph in Lymington and is an associate member of the staff of the Maryvale Institute.  

Faith Magazine

January - February 2016