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  Vol 50 no 3


Deeds more than Words

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Contents

In Newness of Life: Eucharistic Living

Celebration of the eucharist has often been an act that divides the different parts of the Christian church. That this need not always be the case is illustrated here by the Anglican Bishop of Wakefield, Stephen Platten. He writes of finding ‘a world framed by an attitude of thanksgiving’; to recognise this, and celebrate it, is what is truly meant by eucharistic living.

Translation and the King James Version

In 2011 the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible is being celebrated throughout the English-speaking world and beyond. Here Nicholas King, tutor in biblical studies in the University of Oxford, reflects upon ways in which the problems faced by those who made this translation still face their successors who would produce vernacular versions of the scriptures today.

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The Glass Cathedral: Language, Imagery and Leadership

The third of our reprinted articles ‘From the Archive’, marking the golden jubilee of The Way, comes from the 1980s. Angela Tilby, an Anglican priest and broadcaster, looks at the relationship between the words and the images that are used to express Christian convictions. She traces some of the problems of leadership within the Churches to this root, concluding that ‘Christianity is essentially a lay faith’.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Spirituality

The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls sixty years ago had a profound impact on Christian understandings of the scriptures. Here Robert Doud investigates the Qumran community which produced these writings, and asks what their beliefs and outlook might have to say to contemporary faith. In summary, he says, ‘we see in them an intensity of devotion and commitment that we ourselves can in most cases only aspire to’.

Conversion and the Resistance of Culture

It may puzzle people of faith that atheists frequently lead more moral lives than they do themselves. In recent centuries it has sometimes been inhabitants of those countries where Christianity seems to be most deep-rooted who have been responsible for many of the greatest atrocities. Philippe d’Iribarne asks why this should be so, and attributes the situation to the difficulty Christian faith has in overcoming deeply ingrained human cultural responses.

The Mystery of God and Suffering

Theodicy is the technical term for the branch of theology that seeks to justify the goodness and omnipotence of God in the face of the human experience of suffering in the world. Kenneth Overberg holds that there is a common three-fold response to this experience that runs from lament, through action, to trust. Focusing on how the suffering of Christ exemplifies this, he boldly asserts that ‘God becoming human is not an afterthought’.

On Trinitarian Relationships

Toufic Makhoul’s starting-point here is the question of whether the doctrine of the Trinity makes any practical difference to the lives of most Christians. He argues that it should, in that contemplation of the nature of relationships within the Trinity should affect the quality of our own human relationships. This is turn presents a challenge, that of being ready to empty ourselves as Christ did in the incarnation.

Cosmic Connections

C. S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, drew distinctions between erotic love, affection, friendship and charity as the four basic kinds of bond drawing people together. As a scientist, Nicholas Hance is familiar with four kinds of force in physics (gravitation, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces) that draw objects together. Here he provocatively draws parallels between these two sets of four, and finds ways in which they surprisingly illuminate each other.

Book Reviews

Jesuit spirituality in real life
the Dublin/Murphy Report
progressive Christians
two Lent books
Evagrius of Pontus
on mission
on Aquinas
on morality and humanness
on Christian sacrifice

From the Foreword

IN A PRELIMINARY NOTE to the Contemplation to Attain Love, the prayer that draws together and concludes his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola remarks that ‘Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words’ (Exx 230). This was not an original thought. One of his mentors, Thomas à Kempis, had written a century earlier in Of the Imitation of Christ, ‘I had rather feel contrition, than know the definition thereof’. And Jesus himself is recorded in the synoptic Gospels as saying that only those who do the will of his Father, and not simply those who call him Lord, will enter the Kingdom of God. A broad current of Christian thinking is suspicious of words alone, and expects any fervent professions of faith to be matched by actions that demonstrate that faith in practice.

Articles in this issue of The Way face the challenge of living faith with integrity in this way. The difficulty of doing so can be deeply ingrained in the particular cultures we grow into during the normal course of human development. Philippe d’Iribarne’s article acknowledges that it may take Christianity centuries fully to permeate and transform these cultures. Toufic Makhoul believes that the contemplation of intra-Trinitarian relationships can help us appreciate more fully how we might best live our faith in relation to those who surround us. Angela Tilby, in the third of our reprinted articles marking the fiftieth anniversary of The Way, cautions that our actions can easily speak at cross-purposes to the message that we wish to convey, and that this presents a particular difficulty for those in positions of leadership.

Two articles present scenes from history to illuminate the topic under discussion. The Essenes, a Jewish community living at Qumran around the time of Christ, let the word of their scriptures affect their way of living profoundly. They withdrew to the desert, isolated themselves, and prepared for an imminent apocalypse. Even if they were confounded in their expectations, Robert E. Doud believes that we have much to learn from the dedication and perseverance witnessed in the writings they left behind. Nicholas King uses the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible to consider the task of those translators who are as anxious to promote holy and moral living among their readers as they are to remain true to the original Hebrew and Greek texts.

Even where words divide, deeds can often unite. Contrasting precise definitions of the eucharist have been one of the primary factors fragmenting the Christian Church over the past half-millennium. Yet, as the Anglican Bishop of Wakefield, Stephen Platten, argues, to have a grateful heart and soul is to experience a level of eucharistic living that transcends denominations and definitions. And while the experience of human suffering can offer one of the deepest challenges to our spoken belief in a loving and all-powerful God, what we actually do in response to that experience can, as Kenneth Overberg demonstrates, bring us very close to a God who sent the Son to suffer alongside us, not as an afterthought but as God’s intention from the beginning of creation.

Despite everything outlined above, a written journal should only go so far in denigrating words! Nicholas Hance takes very seriously work that has been done carefully to distinguish and define different forces, in physics and in the human experience of loving and being loved. It is because these have been defined so carefully that he is able to suggest illuminating parallels between them, in a way that provides openings for further thought. And, if Ignatius is indeed right that ‘Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words’, no doubt in time for further deeds as well.

Paul Nicholson SJ

 

 

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