One of the things we wanted to do here at The North American Anglican is let our readers know what we’ve been reading! This is especially true during our present situation of being shut-in due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Let us know in the comments what you’ve been reading during this time too!
Clinton Collister, Literary Editor
Every Lent, I read T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday. All of Eliot’s talk about conversion, forgiveness, and redeeming the time strikes a chord. As it happens this semester, I am also writing a couple papers about Eliot, so I am reading books about his faith and the ways that it informed his essays and verse. Two of these, Barry Spurr’s Anglo-Catholic in Religion and Benjamin Lockerd’s T.S. Eliot and Christian Tradition, seem like they would interest readers of our Poets’ Corner.
Barry Spurr tells the story of T.S. Eliot’s spiritual pilgrimage, all the way from St. Louis unitarian to London Anglo-Catholic. Many scholars assume that Eliot entered the waters of baptism in 1927 because he was an Anglophile and it lined up with his decision to become an English citizen, because, as T.E. Hulme argued, classicism requires a belief in original sin, or because conservative politics compliments conservative faith. Spurr goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Eliot went through a rational and thorough conversion. Spurr does a particularly good job showing the ways Eliot gradually assented to Christianity, early evident in the Christian themes and allusions in The Waste Land and The Hollow Men.
Spurr, at times, overstates the difference between Anglo-Catholicism and Christianity, in general, and Anglicanism, in particular. Nevertheless, he makes a persuasive case that Eliot’s faith, a faith informed by the Book of Common Prayer and English Missal, the preaching of Andrews and theology of Hooker, the poetry of Dante and the philosophy of St Thomas changed Eliot’s life and culminated in poems like The Four Quartets and Murder in the Cathedral. The book is well worth reading for readers of Eliot who long to understand the sources of his poetic and personal conversion.
Benjamin Lockerd’s T.S. Eliot and Christian Tradition gathers a series of papers reflecting on Eliot’s Christianity, presented at Piety Hill, the ancestral home of Russell Kirk. Eliot and Kirk were friends, and Kirk wrote a memorable book in honor of his correspondent and compatriot, Eliot and His Age. In Lockerd’’s anthology, scholars answer many of the persistent questions about Eliot’s faith: what influence did Roman Catholicism have on his thought; could he and C.S> Lewis really have such low opinions of one another; and how did Eliot’s commitment to classicism relate to his commitment to Christianity? James Matthew Wilson traces the ways Neo-Thomists like Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson set the philosophical tone for The Criterion and informed Eliot’s own stand for theism, realism, and beauty. Surprisingly, Charles Hutter provides ample evidence that the animosity between Eliot and Lewis has been exaggerated, and the two came to respect one another, especially later in life. William Marx casts light on the perplexing question: how did Eliot’s classicism lead to such Avant Garde verse? All in all, the anthology is an invaluable guide to the vast terrain Eliot crossed on his journey Godward
Fr. Ben Jefferies, Contributor
The Monastic Call of Every Christian edited by Greg Peters
The more I use it, the more I am convinced by Martin Thornton’s thesis: The Book of Common Prayer truly is a regula for the non-cloistered. Therefore it could also be said: The monk truly is the ideal of the Christian. In that vein, I recently read the collection of papers given at the 2019 James Lloyd Breck Conference on Monasticism and the Church held at Nashotah House last summer, whose organizing theme was the title of the present book, “The Monastic Call of Every Christian.” This book nourishes the appetite that was whetted by Rod Dreher’s 2017 The Benedict Option. Dreher provided a sketch of an initial move toward withdrawal from the world, but didn’t supply much in the way of “so what do we do once we have withdrawn?” Unless you have had the good fortune of visiting some monasteries, there might not be much to animate the mental-picture of monastic life. Peters’ collection provides the soul to Dreher’s body.
Fr. Gregory Gresko, who has been a monk for over twenty years, tells the top-level story of the origins and development of monasticism, and presents a synchronic analysis of its animating spirit, and the spirituality that it engenders. It is a lively portrait, and rightly shows how central St. Benedict and his Rule are to the heart-beat of monasticism, then and now. With a pastor’s eye, Fr. Gregory makes many connections that show case how monastic spirituality can give shape to non-monastics, individually and corporately. Mother Julia Gatta reflects the verity of Fr. Gregory’s thesis with a warm presentation of how she (a non-monastic, Episcopal priest) has incorporated elements of monastic spirituality in her life and parish, with fruitful effect.
The center-piece of the collection — and the jewel in the crown — are two essays by David Fagerberg. The first is a theological analysis of how a monastic life is an outgrowth of the reality of Christian baptism. At its heart, it is not a supererogatory call for the few, but rather the taking seriously of what is already true of all the baptized: That we have died, to self and to the world, and live a life now in a different and supernatural plain. And the key to perceiving this reality is personal asceticism, the chief work of all monks. Drawing heavily on the Philokalia and the Eastern monasticism from whence it was drawn, Fagerberg brings forward the writings of many monks who explicate the monastic life in this way, with powerful effect.
I think Fagerberg is one of the most important writers for our times, and in his first essay he is riffing classic Fagerberg, and it’s pure gold. In an era where so many evangelicals (like myself in college) are discovering liturgy, Fagerberg’s “life-thesis” of the necessity of asceticism to catalyze the soul-formative effects of Liturgy is crucial. It’s what is painfully lacking in James K.A. Smith’s work. Fagerberg is so steeped in both the practice and the texts, and has such a gift for teaching (he is a professor at Notre Dame), that he can render the theses of even the most contextually-difficult writers (Evagrius!) not just accessible but edifying.
The second essay by Fagerberg is no exception; it is an exploration of the term “interior monasticism” as it occurs in the works of three twentieth-century Orthodox writers on monasticism, Evdokimov, Clemént, and Bunge. This essay left the most unique and memorable impression of the collection, presenting ideas from a quadrant not as widely familiar (at least to me).
The Monastic Call encouraged my soul and enlightened my mind. It gave a dimensionality to the shape of the inner-life of a monk that has informed my pursuit of the monastic spirituality enshrined in our BCP.
Note: It can only be purchased at https://nashotah-house-press.myshopify.com/
(full disclosure: I got a review copy of the book because I was the type-setter. But I make no money from it’s sales, nor of the other books on Nashotah House Press, nor from Nashotah House; all profit from book sales goes to Nashotah House.)
J. Brandon Meeks, Contributor
The Strong Name by James S. Stewart
Stewart was a minister in the Church of Scotland, Professor of Literature and Theology at the University of Edinburgh (New College), and erstwhile chaplain to HM Queen Elizabeth II. In 1999 Preaching Magazine named him the best preacher of the twentieth century, commenting that his books on preaching “have inspired tens of thousands of preachers to strive for greater effectiveness in their proclamation of God’s Word.” This particular volume is a collection of selected sermons. Divided into three sections — “The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” “The Love of God,” and “The Communion of the Holy Ghost”—Stewart presents his readers with a purposefully trinitarian account of the Gospel of the Triune God. The sermons are at once simple and erudite, cogent and expansive, beautifully composed without having battered the elegant prose into an unsightly purple hue. I have found this collection encouraging.
Confessions by St. Augustine
Doubtless, there is little that can be said about this magnificent volume that hasn’t already been said and far better. The Bishop of Hippo has been a constant companion to me for a number of years, and it is to his Confessions that I keep returning above all the rest of his considerable (and worthwhile!) works. During this present crisis, I have had the joy of joining with His Grace in his prayers, making them my own, and learning something of the loveliness of God wherewith he was transfixed. No matter how many times I return to its pages, I find there a word that is both timeless and contemporary. Confessions is a perennial flower in my library, a rose that doesn’t fade with the years.
Jesus in the Trinity: A Beginner’s Guide to the Theology of Robert Jenson by Lincoln Harvey
Robert W. Jenson was one of the most influential theologians of the last century. Although Jenson was Lutheran who studied under Karl Barth, his voice reached the ears of countless Christians all across the theological spectrum. He was known for his keen wit, his way with words, and his controversial trinitarian presentation of the God of the gospel. I have been making my way through his works over the past several months. Even though I disagree with Jenson at significant points, I have found him to be a fascinating conversation partner. As my interest in Jenson’s thought has grown, I have begun reading more “Jenson Adjacent” material. The present book is such an example. It is shaping up to be more than a mere introduction, it is, as the author states it “a Jensonian introduction to Jenson.” Concisely written, it does not shy away from the complexities of Jenson’s theological program. But it is as accessible as it is thorough. A pleasure thus far!
Jesse Nigro, Editor-in-Chief
A Lectionary of Christian Prose: From the 2nd Century to the 20th by The Rev. A. C. Bouquet, D.D.
I first learned of this book’s existence stumbling upon an old review that C. S. Lewis had done for the December issue of the Theology journal back in 1939. Lewis’s review was appreciative but somewhat cool to the final product, and not without good reason. What this book does is provide several readings, coming from a diverse selection of sources, for every week of the Prayerbook calendar. As someone who hopes to embody a robust observance of the Christian year, modeled after and in accordance with the traditional lectionary of the classic Book of Common Prayer, this book satisfies a particular itch of mine. All the same, I agree with most of Lewis’s criticisms. The selections themselves range from wonderful to questionable, and as Lewis points out several nonbelievers are included. One also has to question how helpful an excerpt from Bishop Berkeley is going to be to the uninitiated (or even to the familiar), but I think the book provides enough good selections to warrant a place on an Anglican bookshelf, alongside Lesser Feasts and Fasts.
Discord, Dialogue, and Concord, edited by Lewis W. Spitz and Wenzel Lohff
This fascinating collection of essays was recommended to me as research material for a project relating to the historical and theologically significant interactions and influences, between the Lutheran and Anglican reformations. The focus of this volume is on the various responses across post-reformation Europe to the publication of the Lutheran Formula of Concord. Whether or not one is familiar with the Lutheran confessions, I think few fully appreciate how the trajectory of Protestant confessionalism (Reformed, Lutheran, and Anglican alike) was impacted by this bookend to the Lutheran confessional canon. Especially interesting to Anglicans will be historical essays “The Anglican Reaction”, by W. Brown Patterson and “The Reaction in Scandinavia,” by Trygve R. Skarsten. Patterson describes the political situation during Elizabeth’s reign, the Queen being courted by Lutheran electors in Germany while the Church of England was growing increasingly Reformed under the influence of Swiss theologians. Skarsten gives us a picture of orthodox Lutherans who resisted the Formula, especially in the person of Niels Hemmingsen who openly advocated for the variata of the Augsburg Confession (the version John Calvin signed) in openly Lutheran lands. The overall feeling an Anglican gains from reading these essays is that although Lutheran theology paved the initial trail for the English reformation, the eventual trajectory of the Lutheran reformation would be a very un-Anglican form of confessionalism, that found its “concord” by authoritatively settling every dispute, even to the exclusion of its own beknighted founders (ex. Philip Melanchthon).
Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason by John Milbank
Some books have so permeated contemporary theological and philosophical discussions, that by the time I finally get around to reading them a good bit of the thunder is well behind us. That was my experience of finally cracking open John Milbank’s book, now 30 years after the fact. That’s not to say there aren’t some important and valuable insights to be gleaned from Theology and Social Theory, or the Radical Orthodox set as a whole. I probably wasn’t helped by the fact that Charles Taylor got to me first with A Secular Age either. For the completely uninitiated, Milbank has some serious doubts about the validity and supposed neutrality that secularity claims as a dominant perspective in public discourse. Not much to disagree with on this score. The biggest detractor for me is the shaky historiography that he (along with Charles Taylor, Brad Gregory, etc.) has perpetuated in order to prop up a chain of causation behind the current milieu. Yes, ideas have consequences, but without willing human agents with very specific ends in mind, those consequences are only potential and not actual. This old genealogy of the secular is in desperate need of a careful re-examination (preferably a catholic minded theologian with a profound concern for Reformational orthodoxy). Still, Milbank’s book is worth wrestling with, and my criticism doesn’t necessarily detract from his genuinely insightful and important evaluation of secularity.
The Rev. Dr. Eric M. Parker, Contributing Editor
Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine by Kevin Vanhoozer
I picked up Vanhoozer’s new book to read with a couple Presbyterian pastor friends. It shows some promise to provide practical and ecclesiastical tools for making Christian disciples, though we Anglicans would want to see more about the sacraments and liturgy. I have to say, I’m skeptical about Vanhoozer’s use of Taylor’s category of “social imaginary” as a way of explaining Christianity and discipleship. It seems to run the risk of Neibhur’s “Christ versus culture” rather than contextualize the Faith once given to a particular culture. Plus, the idea of a “social imaginary” seems a bit reductive of the principles of the Faith, which transcend the imagination as well as reason, but perhaps Vanhoozer is doing something more. I’ll wait and see.
For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann
This is a classic that really needs no explanation, now in a fresh edition. As one who is committed to recovering “classical Anglicanism”, I haven’t felt the need to read Schmemann, because his work is often touted by Anglicans as if it were the manual for recovering a sacramental worldview. As if we don’t have plenty of important resources of our own that need to be republished in new editions (like the works of Anthony Sparrow and Thomas Comber). But beyond the hype, I’m looking forward to diving into this classic, because we need to do both, recover our Anglican resources as well as seek perspectives outside of our own tradition.
The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Anglican Tradition by H.R. McAdoo and Kenneth Stevenson
This is another classic, to me at least. Speaking of recovering classical Anglicanism, that’s what this book is all about, focusing as it does on that central feature of the life of the Church (and the world?), the Holy Communion of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Anglican tradition. The breadth of resources drawn from the Caroline Divines to the Oxford Movement and beyond makes this a helpful reference for classical Anglican Eucharistic theology. And it’s very well written, which makes it pleasant to read and even useful for contemplation.
Robert Ramsey, Executive Editor
From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple
From the Holy Mountain might be my favorite book. It’s non-fiction, but it reads like a freight-train of a novel. Dalrymple, in the 1990s, traces the steps of a 6th century monk around the periphery of what was then Byzantium. What he finds is rather stunning: the remnants of ancient Christianity (and ancient heresy) still dwell in strange corners of the world. It makes the destruction of most of that region over the past few decades all the more tragic.
Summa Theologiae by St. Thomas Aquinas
Among Classical Anglicans the Angelic Doctor tends to get a bad rap, being Catholic and all, but there’s a problem with that: Aquinas was mandatory reading for Anglican divinity students from the 1560’s onward, not as a devilish opponent to be undermined, but as a respected peer. It’s almost impossible to sort your way through Hooker or Jewel without reading the Summa, and, on top of that, he’s a blast to read! Skip buying physical copies (unless you really want them) and utilize one of the many websites where it’s free and easily searchable. You’ll be astonished when you find things to be quite familiar.
Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen
This came out a few years back, but I still recommend it to everyone. Its message that economic liberalism and social liberalism are inextricably linked made me take a major step back and look at how those factors have radically reshaped the American church.
Rev. Cn. Isaac J. Rehberg, Contributing Editor
A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
I’ve been on something of a fiction kick lately, though my to-read of solid Christian non-fiction is piling up in the meantime. A Memory of Light is the 14th and final book in Robert Jordan’s sprawling epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. I started the series in the early 2000’s on the advice of a friend without realizing it was a series. When Jordan died in 2007, he had not yet finished the 12th book, which he had promised to be the final in the series. By the time the publisher and the Jordan estate decided on Brandon Sanderson to finish the series, it had been several years, and they realized they’d need three books to finish the series rather than the single book Jordan had promised. I knew I’d need to re-read the entire series since so much time had passed. It wasn’t until this past October that I was willing to do so! It’s nice to finally get some resolution to this unfinished part of my literary life.
The Inimitable Jeeves and Carry on, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
While waiting for some of the Wheel of Time volumes to become available at my public library, I took up the habit of reading some of P.G. Wodehouse’s short stories as filler. The Jeeves stories are delightful early 20th Century British humor about the idle rich and a very clever valet. Particularly interesting to me has been the glimpse of pre-War Christendom as part of everyday life in England. For example, “The Great Sermon Handicap” from The Inimitable Jeeves, involves a betting pool on the length of the sermons by the local vicars!
The Two Books of Homilies edited by John Griffiths
One of the more recent editions of the Books of Homilies from the time of King Edward and Queen Elizabeth I, I’ve used daily readings from this volume for my Lenten devotions in the last couple of years. This year, I got a bit late of a start, but I’ve been reading a homily at each of our parish’s live-streamed weekday Offices. Both the live-streaming and the reading of the Homilies in such a context is something I’ve long wanted to do more regularly for a while now. The COVID-19 quarantines and resulting need for some sort of virtual community for our parishioners has been the impetus for me finally implementing it.
In addition to the above, starting at this past Advent 2, I’ve been doing my regular bible reading a bit differently this year. Rather than using the Lectionary as my main bible reading plan, I’ve been reading larger chunks of Scripture at each setting. And rather than reading from both Testaments each day, I’ve been doing these independent readings in a cover-to-cover fashion. I’m currently about a third of the way through the Psalms, and have found this to be a very fruitful approach. There are some insights in Scripture that are more easily observed when reading more of each book in a setting. This was most evident when I read through 1 and 2 Chronicles on a recent international flight. I must confess that I’ve historically found Chronicles rather grueling. But reading both books in a single setting helped me see the big picture.
Fr. Wesley Walker, Book Review Editor
Hugh of Saint-Victor: Selected Spiritual Writings by Hugh of Saint-Victor (edited by Aelred Squire)
Last summer, I took a class at Nashotah House with Dr. Hans Boersma where he gave a multi-day lecture on the concept of memory in Hugh of Saint-Victor’s works on Noah’s Ark. My main interest in this work is Hugh’s exegesis which is thoroughly grounded in the Patristic and Medieval concept of the various senses. At the beginning of the book, Hugh reads the 3 pairs of angel wings in Isaiah 6 to be the three senses: literal, allegorical, and tropological. I think there’s a lot of to be gleaned from this approach to the Bible and look forward to sitting at the feet of Hugh for a long time to come.
Discourses at the Communion on Fridays by Soren Kierkegaard
Soren Kierkegaard is often known for his philosophical treatises. However, his preaching deserves more consideration from readers. I was initially exposed to it when, by chance, I picked up his Three Godly Discourses on the Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air. I picked up Discourses to read devotionally and I have not been disappointed. His work is reflective of Lutheran theology: an emphasis on human inability and God’s great works of grace in addition to a high view of the Sacraments. Yet, he adds a refreshing emphasis on pietism that inevitably comes from union with Christ.
Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword
Helen Sword is on a mission to get academic writers to step out of their disciplinary conventions to make their writing more interesting and elegant. This is a helpful book, I’m just not sure how helpful it is yet. Some of her suggestions seem to be helpful (using active voice and powerful verbs, etc.) while others cut against “sacred cow principles” I’ve long held in my own academic writing and taught students as an English teacher (the use of personal pronouns and anecdotes from one’s life, etc.). Even if Sword recommends some stylistic moves with which I disagree, I am glad for the experience to stretch myself as a writer through her work.