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Making hearts glad

19 August 2016

Anthony Phillips reads a reflection on wine

Recreation for the sober: A photo from Tony Jones’s The Narrowboat Guide: A complete guide to choosing, owning and maintaining a narrowboat (Bloomsbury, £18.99 (£17.10); 978-1-4081-8802-6)

Recreation for the sober: A photo from Tony Jones’s The Narrowboat Guide: A complete guide to choosing, owning and maintaining a narrowboat (Bloomsbury, £18.99 (£17.10); 978-1-4081-8802-6)

The Spirituality of Wine
Gisela H. Kreglinger
Eerdmans £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30


THE author, who grew up in a small family winery in Bavaria, seeks to explore the spirituality of wine from a Christian perspective. In Part 1, she examines the scriptural and theological foundations of the spirituality of wine. In Part 2, she seeks a mutually enriching dialogue between Christian spirituality and the world of wine.

Kreglinger begins by examining the prominent place that wine has both in the Bible and the writings of the early church Fathers, and notes the centrality of the monastic orders in the development of viticulture in Western Europe. Even the Reformers continued to regard wine as a rich gift of God to be enjoyed both in everyday life and the eucharist. Finally, she turns to the devastating effect of prohibition in North America, the consequences of which are still felt today.

For Kreglinger, the eucharist sustains our Christian life. Just as God embraced creation in the incarnation, so he does in the bread and wine. Indeed, at all points she emphasises the sheer physicality of the eucharist for the worshipper.

The author then considers Nietzsche’s accusation that Christians have no joy, and debates whether wine has a part to play in helping the Church to recover this sense. She illustrates her argument from an analysis of the film Babette’s Feast. While she is well aware of the destructive nature of drunkenness, she emphasises the benefits of “gentle intoxication”.

In Part 2, the author first considers the vintner as a practising theologian, and interviews vintners from both the Old and New Worlds who recognise their work’s spiritual dimension. She questions whether corporate wineries have anything to contribute in this field.

Kreglinger then examines the complex ethical issues involved in the use of technology in crafting wine, and the effects of globalisation. But her main concern is the loss of the significance of place in the production of wine, and the creation of wine that nature could not have produced.

Turning to the health benefits of wine, she notes its medicinal use throughout history before discussing addictive behaviour, particularly in the abuse of alcohol. Her theological analysis of sin should be compulsory reading, in particular for her recognition of the destructive nature of our free-market economy and success culture.

Indeed, the language of viticulture in scripture opens up a vision of the Christian life which profoundly challenges contemporary understanding of human beings as individual economic actors.

What Kreglinger shows is that wine was meant to draw us both nearer to God and to each other. Amen, I say, to that.


Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of The King’s School, Canterbury

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