I WAS reading Tobias A. Karlowicz’s really excellent book, The Sacramental Vision of Edward Bouverie Pusey, while in Oxford attending the conference “The Descent of the Dove”, held at Pusey House in July. The outstanding quality of that conference lends weight to this book’s reassessment of Pusey’s legacy.
Karlowicz introduces Pusey’s theological work by placing it in an ecumenical context and identifying it as prophetic of the reforms of Vatican II. That being so, we might ask why there is so little interest in Pusey as a creative theologian who forms a bridge between the godliness of the 18th, and the turbulent renewals of the 19th, centuries.
In part, the answer is that Pusey is not easy to read and understand. But it must also be acknowledged that the area in which he worked does not commend itself to our own times. This area is described by Professor David Brown as engagement with hermeneutical questions and the underlying principles of theology.
We can, however, easily be deflected from the hard graft of theological engagement and even caricature it as simply the “long grass” from which serious issues must be rescued so that they can be rapidly solved.
Karlowicz’s introduction also outlines the limited and uneven quality of earlier work on Pusey and the breadth of his interests. Among them was Pusey’s vision for cathedrals as centres for mission and training. At Christ Church, Oxford, this threw up the genius of Edward King, among others, and it sets a high bar for aspirations which we should not abandon when theology in the academic world struggles for recognition and funding.
The following chapter on allegory and sacramental vision presents Pusey’s refreshing engagement with scripture. This finds an echo in the work of Austin Farrer and Janet Martin Soskice, and internationally in Henri de Lubac and Ephraim Radnor. It invites us to explore metaphor and typology in ways that subvert the dull Germanic commentary and allow scripture to inspire us, as it inspired the authoritative interpreters of our early centuries.
Chapters on baptism and the eucharist explore Pusey’s rootedness in the Church of England’s reformed tradition, and how he opens up within it a Catholic dimension that exudes a freer and more ancient freedom. It is striking to be reminded that Pusey, a scholar of international reputation, insisted throughout his life that his eucharistic theology was what his mother taught him from the Prayer Book catechism. How easily we overlook the power of such teaching!
Concluding chapters on sacrifice in relation to atonement and the sacraments extend our thinking about the effect of Pusey’s teaching and its application to the pastoral ministry of priest and parish. It is here that he outlines the centrality of commitment to the poor, to personal disciplines of penitence and holiness of life, to an affective love of Jesus Christ and adoration of Christ’s eucharistic presence, the sign of his closeness to us on earth conjoined with his glorious presence in heaven.
It is also in these chapters that we encounter Pusey writing to a diocesan bishop to engage with a detailed question about the atonement in which the echoes of Anselm and Gregory Nazianzen would eventually find their place. Rarely are such important questions are asked today — and I wonder how satisfactory my own response might be.
Dr Martin Warner is the Bishop of Chichester.
The Sacramental Vision of Edward Bouverie Pusey
Tobias A. Karlowicz
T & T Clark £85
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