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The Bible and the saints

02 November 2006

THE Church's Common Worship calendar enjoins churchgoers thiSunday to pray the old collect of Advent 2 before moving on to celebrate AlSaints' Day and mark All Souls' Day next week. This is a prayer, composed anein 1549, which betrays its origins in an era when the Bible had only recentlbecome available in English. The scriptures, written for our "learning" (i.einstruction, an archaism still retained), are to be rightly used so that thpeople may lay hold of the hope of everlasting life given to them in thSaviour whom scripture discloses. The request is that the faithful may "hear . . read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest". Perhaps the words are so familiathat it is not often noticed that this is a prayer for literacy from an erwhen that was far from universal. Within the space of a few days, the liturgembraces both the heart of the Reformation and the mysteries of the communioof saints which presented a stumbling-block to the more extreme Reformers.

Anglicans continue to seek spiritual nourishment both in the primrevelation, and in the examples and continuing fellowship of Christ's followerdown the centuries. Both tendencies, found to different degrees in differenparts of the Church, have their enemies in contemporary Britain: the reduceplace of scripture - indeed, of the book - in education and in the home; and cynicism and despair about the moral and spiritual heights to which personalitcan rise.

In the academic field, a writer in the TLS's recent review of thstate of historiography, Diane Purkiss, suggests that the abandonment o"character history", with its "coalescence of the private repertoire of . . feeling" with the external realm of ideology and other factors, has led to th"inadvertent masculinisation of history at the moment when it has beeostensibly most willing to listen to academic concerns about women and gender"Her point is that large, impersonal forces sound more professional thaemotions, and that the study of character in its complexity is ofte"contemptuously" left to popular historians such as Antonia Fraser.

Her argument also has an application to Christian thought and ministry. Thconflict she identifies lies near the root of the current debate abouhomosexuality. And anyone who gets round to a variety of churches will be awarof congregations, on the one hand, whose worship comprises hearty, if no"manly", hymns, often consciously restricted to biblical paraphrase, combinewith an almost geological approach to the quarrying of scripture; and otherwhere an emphasis on feeling and personal development seems to rule out oorder any search for objectivity. Plenty goes on between these extremes; buthere is a balance to be struck, part of the Church's growth in holiness - ithat is defined as the integration and fruition of "the mystical body of . . . Christ our Lord

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