Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Inequality as injustice

Posted on: January 29th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
General, Reviews, Uncategorized


By Leigh Anne Williams


American author and blogger Rachel Held Evans and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby take part in the Trinity Institute’s conference on economic inequality. Photo: Leah Reddy

Located at it is on Wall Street in Manhattan, Trinity Church was an apt place for four panelists to wrestle with the question of when inequality becomes exploitation and sin.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby opened the discussion, which was part of the Trinity’s Institute’s conference on Creating Common Good: A Practical Conference on Economic Inequality, Jan. 22 to 25. Examining scriptures from both the New and Old Testaments, he said, “There is an ambivalence, an acceptance of wealth as blessing and yet a hesitation, a doubt, a fear about its consequences.”

Of course, examples of people who have created great wealth and used it for the common good, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, spring to mind and are reason to give thanks, he acknowledged. There is no biblical injunction against all personal wealth but, he said, there is an injunction against “the systematic and indefinite accumulation of grossly unequal [wealth in] societies.”  That, he said, “always leads to abuse, even if every wealthy person is generous, because the asymmetries of power means that wealth allocation becomes a matter of paternalism not a basic issue of justice.”

Putting the problem in a recent context, he recalled that in the financial collapse of October 2008, British finance minister Alistair Darling was told, after negotiations with two major banks in England, that unless he immediately underwrote a cheque for £250 billion, the banks would not open in the morning, the cash machines would not work and the whole economy would cease to function. “He looked down the barrel of that gun and realized he had no choice,” said Welby. He noted that despite this “catastrophic failure,” the banks now seek “to get back to the enormous levels of leverage and gearing and freedom from constraint totally inappropriate to an industry that can destroy an economy overnight or at least over a few weeks.”

The example, Welby said, illustrates the theological understanding that “wealth is always in danger of corrupting its holders and in most cases, the corrupted become too powerful.” He said that economists such as Lawrence Summers foresee growing inequalities that will mean a few people will be able to enjoy the benefits of new technology such as artificial intelligence and gene therapies, but the large majority of people will see their incomes stagnate. “We face the challenge of a society in which inequality of education or health and opportunity becomes a life sentence to poverty.”

Welby then joined a panel with the Anglican bishop of Panama, Julio Murray; R.R. Reno, editor of First Things magazine; and author and blogger Rachel Held Evans.

Murray said Christians must have the courage to question the system that is causing inequalities and injustice. “When you talk about economic growth, there’s no trickle-down effect to everyone within the society. What we see more and more is a smaller group getting richer and a larger group getting poorer,” he said. How the church addresses this issue “is the challenge of the time,” he added.

Murray suggested that the church needs to raise awareness of such issues, particularly “life-threatening issues,” and try to impact public policy, reaching decision makers and helping those who are marginalized make their voices heard.

Evans said that in moving Christians to take action against injustice, it’s important to get beyond speaking about sin in general and making it concrete. “It’s the dirty water and the dirty air that disproportionately affect the poor,” she said. “It’s the fact that when my black friends talk about giving their children ‘the talk,’ they don’t mean the birds and the bees, they mean they are going to talk to their children about how not to get shot. It’s in that moment when I come face to face with both the system and my complicity in it.”

Relationships are also vital, Evans said. “I used not to believe that the system was rigged. I used to think that people were poor and people struggled because they were lazy; it wasn’t until actual relationships challenged that, that I repented.”

Evans grew up in an evangelical tradition but now attends an Episcopal church. She noted that she has seen a growing interest in evangelical churches, which have more typically disproportionately emphasized personal sin, in examining systemic injustices. With that, she said she has also seen a new openness to ecumenical dialogue and partnerships with mainline churches. “We can both learn so much from one another.”

When talking about where to start taking action, Evans suggested starting close to home, in one’s own faith community. “My friend Shane Claiborne puts it like this: a lot of people talk about loving the poor, but not a lot of people know the poor. In true friendships, you kind of rely on one another,” she said. “If we can just start with our own faith communities, making them real [partners] with the poor, real communities that watch out for one another, I think that’s where it starts, and then we could cast a vision for the rest of the world.”

Welby offered this note of hope: “The church, in the grace and providence of God, holds within its hands the beauty of opportunity that can change our world, liberate the enslaved, create the conditions of human flourishing and bring in the common good.”


Anglican Journal News, January 28, 2015

Saskatoon diocese reps attend seminar on global mission

Posted on: January 29th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
General, Reviews

LIFE seminar 2

Mission work by the Diocese of Saskatoon looks to gain in strength after co-chairs of its external outreach committee attended the Learning for International Faith Engagement (LIFE) seminar, Jan. 17 to 18.

Presented by the Canadian Churches’ Forum for Global Ministries (CCF), the LIFE seminars—which take place at least twice a year—aim to help people and groups planning missions abroad as well as potential hosts by drawing upon collective knowledge gained through decades of global mission experience.

The most recent seminar took place at the Queen’s House Retreat Centre in Saskatoon. Representing the Saskatoon diocese were co-chairs Cheryl Moen and Joan Irving, who gained valuable information and tools to facilitate future mission work. Among the subjects discussed were packing lists, safety tips, what to do before, during and after a trip, and how to ease feelings of culture shock.

Moen and Irving were the only representatives from the Anglican Church of Canada at the ecumenical LIFE seminar, which was facilitated by CCF director Jonathan Schmidt and included 11 attendees in all.

“It was very useful in that we were able to get together with other people [who] were also planning different trips, and talk back and forth about what works for one another and make some changes and so forth,” Moen said.

One of the exercises attendees took part in was acting out various scenarios that could take place on a mission, such as what to do in case of an accident.

“If you’re given a scenario and you think about it and you work through it, it’s a lot more helpful than just reading a piece of paper,” Irving said.

No strangers to mission work, Moen and Irving previously accompanied fellow members of the Saskatoon diocese on missions to the Mexican state of Baja California in June 2012 and June 2014.

Cheryl and Joan on mission

A total of 27 people from the diocese attended the first Baja mission; they built two houses for indigenous residents in the neighbourhood of Vicente Guerrero. On the second trip, 26 people attended and built three houses.

The missionaries, who hailed from communities throughout the diocese, including Lloydminster, Humboldt and the Battlefords, ranged from youth to professionals to farmers.

Mission house before

Mission house after

The diocese is currently planning another mission trip in 2016 or 2017.

“We’re in the planning process at the moment, because these trips take a good 18 to 24 months to plan,” Irving said.

The next mission is likely to take place in a location other than Baja. Peru and Honduras are the most likely destinations, though the precise nature of the work remains to be determined.

“We haven’t heard back from either of those places yet, so we don’t know exactly what the project would be,” Moen said.

“It most likely would not be houses again. It may be building onto pre-existing projects that have been started there now.”

Wherever the next mission may take the diocese, Moen and Irving believe the knowledge they gained at the LIFE seminar will help lead to an improved experience for missionaries and hosts alike.

“The logistics of [the mission], like putting it together…we kind of had that figured out,” Moen said. “But just some of the thinking that we were given—to considerations of the people down there and asking more of exactly what they want when we get there and so forth—that’ll be different this time for sure.”

Click here to view the Diocese of Saskatoon blog detailing their 2014 Baja mission.


Anglican Church of Canada, January 27, 2015

Welby’s and West’s recipes for justice

Posted on: January 29th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
General, Reviews


By Leigh Anne Williams


Christians are called to speak out against wrongs and injustice on all sides, always being concerned “with the least of these,” as Jesus said in Matthew 25, says Cornel West, author of The Rich and the Rest of Us. Photo: Leah Reddy


Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and author Cornel West opened the Trinity Institute’s “Creating Common Good: A Practical Conference on Economic Inequality” that took place in Manhattan from Jan. 22 to 25 in two very different styles of address. But in their messages about what Christians are called to do in the face of inequality and injustice, there was a remarkable convergence.

Welby held up the example of the way a Roman Catholic archbishop and an Anglican bishop in Liverpool worked together in the 1980s to help rebuild the city that had been torn apart by sectarianism, poverty and political dysfunction. “We are called to action. Seek the welfare of the city,” Welby said, in a homily at the opening worship service.

“We are to get involved. We are to get our hands dirty, to speak of policy and of   implementation, not merely to deal with the macro but also with the micro,” he later told the crowd of about 300 gathered for the annual conference at Trinity Church, Wall Street. “The common good truly interpreted in the light of scripture, its horizons opened up by the radicality of the gospel, demands from us our own radicality that can only come from the overflowing of the spirit of God within us.”

Jesus’s words in Luke’s gospel, Welby added, promise the gift of that spirit, which will “make possible the impossible revolution, the impossible revolution that is to be achieved without violence, to be achieved without hatred, to be achieved through blessing and loving and serving, and transforming the society in which we live.”

And in a keynote address that seemed to be part whirlwind and part jazz symphony, Cornel West, author of The Rich and the Rest of Us, held up Martin Luther King, Jr., John Coltrane, B.B. King, Malcolm X and dozens of writers from Socrates to Toni Morrison to W.H. Auden to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel for wisdom when facing injustice.

He began quoting from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society: “Any justice that is only justice soon degenerates into something less than justice. Justice must be rescued by something deeper than justice, and yes, it is love.”

Later in his address, West said the fundamental question is, “Will your righteous indignation be channelled through the venues of love and justice or hatred and revenge?” He added: “That’s the question right now in Paris, isn’t it? The question in Nigeria, the question in Sri Lanka.”

West spoke about black children in America growing up with fears of walking down the street and being harassed, stopped, frisked or shot. “I know the president said the union is strong. I said, ‘My dear brother president, you need to get off the symbolic crack pipe.’ ” He mentioned that he went to Ferguson, not “to give a speech. I went there to go to jail. And that’s where I ended up with a smile on my face in the name of Jesus.”

West said his faith sometimes pushes him in the direction of “revolutionary Christianity,” or what some call the far left. “I don’t mind talking about Wall Street crimes, when they commit crimes…The same is true with drones dropping bombs on innocent children in Yemen and Somalia.” Following the cross, he said, is “a quest for unarmed truth and unconditional love, which means keeping track of the suffering.”

He questioned why one per cent of the population in America owns 43 per cent of the wealth, when over 22 per cent of the country’s children of colour live in poverty.

Christians are called to speak out against wrongs and injustice on all sides, always being concerned “with the least of these,” as Jesus said in Matthew 25, he said. “Any time we talk about creating common good, we are not talking about abstractions. We are talking about existential choices, concrete commitments that must be embodied and enacted in our fallen, finite, fallible lives.”

And though Christians cannot be indifferent to suffering and are called to speak and act against it, he also noted that the results are in God’s hands. “Any time we talk about creating common good, we’re not talking about predetermining where we end up,” he said. “It’s more like a jazz orchestra under Duke Ellington or Count Basie or Mary Lou Williams or the inimitable John Coltrane with his Love Supreme—we don’t know exactly where we end up. Be free enough to allow your soul and mind and heart and body to participate in the process.”

What is required is “global vision, local practice, subtle analysis,” he said, “but without love at the centre, it is sounding brass and tinkling symbol.”


Webcasts of the conference are available at


Anglican Journal News, January 26, 2015

Portrait of a leader in tumultuous times

Posted on: January 29th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews



By Solange De Santis 


Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and Archbishop Michael Peers at the book launch for the Peers memoir, More Than I Can Say. Photo: Simon Chambers




More Than I Can Say: Michael Peers—A Memoir

Edited by Michael Ingham

158 pages

ABC Publishing (Anglican Book Centre), 2014

ISBN 978-1-55126-575-9


As primate of the Anglican Church of Canada from 1986 to 2004, Michael Peers faced turbulence in nearly every aspect of church life.

He delivered a landmark apology in 1993 to native people for abuses suffered at church-run schools, chaired debate on the place of gays and lesbians in the church and celebrated a full communion agreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The Anglican church was also facing restructuring in the face of declining numbers and finances.

Peers is now 80. His leadership, nationally and internationally, will be the subject of analysis and debate for a long time. While those learned treatises are being written, More Than I Can Say: Michael Peers—A Memoir adds a layer of warm, personal perspectives on a life lived very much in the public eye.

Initiated by the current primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and edited by Peers’ former principal secretary, Michael Ingham (later bishop of the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster), the book stakes out its territory on the first page: “a tribute to Michael from a grateful church.”

Criticism, therefore, is in short supply, but when the 70 contributors range from Peers’ wife, children and boyhood friends to Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, honesty is not.

More than one reminiscence describes Peers’ legendary impatience with tedious process (or people), heedless attitude toward attire, obsessive attention to lists (and maps while travelling) and dry, sometimes cutting, wit.

Tutu refers to Peers’ linguistic abilities (he speaks five languages), recalling how he presided in French over a session of the 1988 Lambeth Conference. It was the first time that had occurred in a language other than English.

Williams—and others—recall Peers’ deeply felt concern that all voices be heard on difficult issues. “He was one of the people who showed how to listen, who brought to the conversation a sense of willingness to go deeper and take the time needed to absorb and cope with the underlying feelings,” Williams writes.

Clarkson remembers being “dazzled” by Peers’ “very evident brilliance” when she was a third-year undergraduate at Trinity College and he was a divinity student, and they engaged in long conversations and evenings at the movies.

What the book does particularly well is provide a readable, sometimes amusing, journey through the extraordinary depth as well as the breadth of Peers’ career and life (so far), although there could have been more voices reflecting on the human sexuality debates.

There is, inevitably, something of an insider’s feel to the text, but one doesn’t have to be a Canadian Anglican to enjoy or appreciate it. Ingham has wisely written an engaging 15-page introduction that succinctly sets out the accomplishments and difficulties of Peers’ primacy, against the background of family life.

Beyond facts and conclusions, however, the underlying emotions running through the contributions are affection and admiration and a sense that the Canadian church was fortunate to be deeply loved and well served by a man paradoxically possessing both intellectual genius and humility.


Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008. Now based in New York, she is editor of Episcopal Journal.


Anglican Journal News, January  26, 2015

Devotions for Christian unity

Posted on: January 21st, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews

In God’s Reconciling Grace
By Bernard de Margerie
Roman Catholic diocese of Saskatoon, 2014
ISBN 978-0-9920011-1-7
Soft cover; 238 pages
The subtitle says it all: Prayer and reflection texts for Christian reconciliation and unity. This collection of private and corporate devotion gathers resources from across the whole spectrum of Christianity from every age—Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox through United, Baptist, Pentecostal. It carries the endorsement of Christian leaders from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, home of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism.

This is clearly a labour of love for the centre’s founder, now retired Roman Catholic priest Bernard de Magerie. Newly ordained, he discerned his special vocation for further Christian unity on Jan. 26, 1959, the day that Pope John XXIII called the second Vatican Council, saying that unity would be a major goal.

The overriding theme of this 238-page book is from John 17:20–21, Jesus’ high priestly prayer that “all may be one.” It is impossible to review in detail so much varied content. Anglicanism contributes four items: two traditional ones from the Book of Common Prayer (pages 39 and 40) and two contemporary offerings, “Draw the Circle Wide” by Gordon Light (Common Praise, Hymn 418) and a collect by the Rev. Jan Bigland-Pritchard. Looking toward the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation in 2017 are four contemporary prayers from the Lutheran-Roman Catholic International Commission.

One of the most moving of the suggested liturgies acknowledges “brokenness, proclaiming our hope for full communion in the body of Jesus Christ our Lord.” Its climax is the passing of pieces from a broken loaf through the congregation, as each person touches, but does not consume, the bread—symbolizing the pain of being present at, but unable to share fully in, the Sacrament.

Through the generosity of three special donors, 5,000 copies of this book were made available free of charge through Fr. De Margerie at telephone 306-651-7051; email: Only 500 were left by mid-January.

The last page reproduces an etching, “The Praying Christ,” commissioned by Abbé Paul Couturier, who in 1935 articulated the ideal of prayer for Christian unity “as Christ wills it and in accordance with the means he wills.” This book demonstrates how far we have become, and how far we have yet to go, toward fulfilling Jesus’ prayer.


Anglican Journal News, January 21, 2015

After 22 years, priest returns to Newfoundland parish

Posted on: January 21st, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
General, Reviews

The Rev. Betty Harbin and diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador bishop Geoff Peddle.
Photo: André Forget

[For more photos, click here.]

The parish of Torbay/Pouch Cove in the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador celebrated the installation of a new priest yesterday in the person of the Rev. Betty Harbin, but it turns out that the new priest isn’t that new, after all.

This is a homecoming of sorts for Harbin, who has just moved back to the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador from the diocese of Central Newfoundland, where she served in the parish of Gambo. Harbin did a parish placement at St. Nicholas while studying at Queen’s 22 years ago.

A lot has changed since then. “Torbay has grown by leaps and bounds,” she said. “There are more young families…It’s the second-fastest growing community in Newfoundland…and the challenge here is to connect with those young families.”

The small wooden church, perched on a steep hillside overlooking Torbay Bight, serves a community of 7,397. While the place has been home to a small settlement since the 17th century, it has recently seen rapid population growth—17.8 per cent between 2006 and 2011—as it has become a popular bedroom community to nearby St. John’s.

When asked if she had a plan for how best to reach out to this new demographic, Harbin said that building a team would have to come first. “It’s not something I do on my own,” she said. “I need to give some leadership so they will take ownership, so they will do the inviting and be a welcoming church.”

It is a challenge faced by several parishes in the diocese. Many Newfoundlanders have for generations been baptized, married and buried in the same church, and in a place where religious identity is so often deeply rooted in a particular parish, those who have been uprooted or who have uprooted themselves can be difficult to reach.

The bishop of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, Geoff Peddle, acknowledged these difficulties in his sermon at the celebration service, and encouraged Harbin to respond by being gracious and open. “Where there is human need, the spirit of the law is always more important than the letter,” he said. “If we are to err, let us err on the side of compassion for those in need.”

In addition to St. Nicholas in Torbay, the parish of Torbay/Pouch Cove includes All Saints Church in Pouch Cove. Harbin will work with Queen’s College provost the Rev. Alex Faseruk, who is being brought in as assistant priest, to ensure that both churches have a service every Sunday.

“We were in Queen’s together 25 years ago, so we’re kind of on the same page,” Harbin said, smiling.


Anglican Journal News, January 21, 2015

Is religion to blame for war and violence?

Posted on: January 19th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


By Maylanne Maybee


Karen Armstrong’s book, Fields of Blood, is an ambitious project that looks closely at the interrelationship of religion and violence. In it she seeks to challenge the scapegoating of religion as the cause of all war and violence, a simplistic assumption she seems to hear all too frequently from the mouths of politicians, academics and taxi drivers.

“Fields of Blood” refers to the passage in Genesis depicting the archetypal conflict between Cain, the one who worked the land, and his brother Abel, the one who hunted and gathered. Cain killed Abel, but could not hide his sin or silence the cry rising from fields of blood: “Where is your brother? Where is your sister?”

The title reflects one of Armstrong’s core theses, reinforced chapter by chapter: that as hunting-gathering societies (which she romanticized as fundamentally egalitarian) evolved into agrarian societies, the emergence of wealth, civilization and art became possible, but only with the support of violent warfare and oppression—turning farming fields into fields of blood. “From the first, large-scale organized violence was linked not with religion but with organized theft.”

Religion, woven together with political, social and economic systems and the discourse of meaning, had an ambiguous function—both to legitimize the “organized theft” of nations and empires necessary for their survival and expansion, but also to resist and offer alternatives to the violence that lay at their core. Armstrong refers to this tension as “Ashoka’s dilemma,” using the historic example of the third-century BCE emperor of India, a man known for his immoral violence and cruelty, who experienced a profound conversion when he witnessed and took in the horrific violence of war and the profound suffering of ordinary people. He mounted monumental inscriptions throughout India telling kings to keep violence to a minimum and enjoining ordinary people to be kind to the poor and to respect all teachers of wisdom, regardless of their allegiance. Yet Ashoka could not disband his army, which he understood as the only way to maintain strong rule.

Armstrong repeats this dilemma theme in her study of civilizations in China, the Middle East and Byzantium, up to the present day. Empires are instruments of systemic violence, yet they also have the effect of maintaining “peace” (i.e., the absence of organized warfare) and order over time.

Armstrong is clearly at home with the Abrahamic religions, and is especially articulate and informed in her depiction of Islam, for which she models great respect. Her chapters in the third part of the book on the postmodern appearance of religion as distinct and separate from state, and the consequent status of the nation-state as a new form of religion, are perhaps the most gripping and relevant.

Her book is encyclopedic in its sweep, moving from the origins of man as creatures of the four “Fs”—fight, flight, food and procreation, through the origins of major world religions in China, India, Mesopotamia and Mecca. It is encyclopedic in its detail as well—Armstrong has a habit of introducing new names, concepts and terminologies from other cultures, religions and languages without repeating or reinforcing their meaning.

Canadian Anglicans—theologians, ethicists, journalists and policy-makers—who are seeking to understand our place on the world stage should read Armstrong’s book alongside Margaret MacMillan’s books on contemporary nationhood, Paris 1919 and The War That Ended Peace, John Ralston Saul’s book on Canada’s nationhood, A Fair Country, and the work of René Girard, who makes a definitive study of violence and Christianity. At times, Fields of Blood makes for heavy-going reading. It can be a challenge to discern the core of Armstrong’s message, which I believe Christians and all people of faith need to heed as a sign of God’s mission: a message of compassion, resistance against violence and the humanizing of the one we call “other” or “enemy.” Reading this book is a start to hearing and living out that message. For those who wish to deepen their understanding of the culture of religion and violence in our age, it is well worth the effort.

The Rev. Maylanne Maybee is principal of the Centre for Christian Studies in Winnipeg. 


Anglican Journal News, January 19, 2015

Newfoundland church welcomes Hiltz for 200th anniversary

Posted on: January 19th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
General, Reviews

Archbishop Fred Hiltz greets parishioners at the end of the service celebrating the 200th anniversary of St. Peter’s Church in Upper Cove, Nfld. Photo:  André Forget

[For more photos of the celebration, click here.]

January 18, 2015 may have been a day for important anniversaries in the small town of Upper Island Cove in the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, but it was a day that focused just as much on the future as on the past.

The town’s Anglican church, St. Peter’s, was celebrating 200 years of ministry. It was also celebrating the 125th anniversary of its current building, and was joined for the occasion by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, who was celebrating the 20th anniversary of his consecration as bishop, and by Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador’s diocesan bishop, Geoff Peddle, who had celebrated the first anniversary of his own consecration the day before.

“Our goal this year is to have more people worshipping in the pews at the end of the year than there were at the beginning,” said parish rector, the Rev. William Strong, by way of introduction to the over 200 people who came out to an anniversary ceremony held in the afternoon. It was a message he reaffirmed at a banquet held following the service.

“This service will only be considered a success if you folks come back, if people who were at the service come back,” he said, addressing those gathered at St. Andrew’s hall. “We’re at a stage in the life of the church where the church needs you to step forward and participate.”

Bishop Peddle affirmed the same sentiment in his own address. “We sometimes focus on buildings at times of celebration like this, but I really believe that the most important thing for you to celebrate tonight is actually not a building—it’s a community,” he said, “and you have clearly formed an absolutely incredible community here.”

It is a community, however, that is deeply rooted in the place, something Peddle acknowledged, to the gathering’s delight and applause, by explaining to them that the pectoral cross he had chosen to wear that evening was the very pectoral cross worn by Bishop Llewellyn Jones when he consecrated St. Peter’s new church building in 1890.

“In the tradition of this diocese,” said Peddle, “when a bishop dies [the cross and the ring] revert back to the diocese. We can go to our cathedral vaults and I can go back 150 years now and find the pectoral crosses and rings of former bishops. I wanted to wear his tonight as a connection with your past, and with our past as a church.”

Hiltz also spoke glowingly of St. Peter’s Church. “I had a real sense, from what I heard tonight in terms of remarks and conversations and so on, that yes, the church is here, we have a building—it stands on the hill, it stands as a witness, and it is the place where the church gathers.” But he, too, stressed that the real life of the community was its people, and that the building exists to serve them.

“So long as we can maintain our buildings as facilities for mission,” he said, “we are moving in the right direction.”

St. Peter’s, the only church in the community, has long been a hub of the town’s social life and has close ties to St. Peter’s school, which stands just across the road. As such, the celebration featured a large number of community groups, such as the Orange Lodge, Junior Anglicans, Cadets and the Church Lads Brigade, and included a performance by the church choir, one of the largest in the diocese. Perhaps most strikingly, the service also featured a performance by the brass band of the Anglican Church Assistance Association (ACAA), an Anglican community club once active across Canada but now much reduced in membership.

In addition to St. Peter’s, the parish of Upper Island Cove also includes St. Andrew’s church in nearby Bryant’s Cove and St. John the Evangelist in Bishop’s Cove, both of which were well-represented at the celebration along with the Hon. Glen Littlejohn, Member of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Hon. Scott Andrews, Member of Parliament for Avalon, and the mayor, George Adams.


Anglican Journal News, January 19, 2015

Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love

Posted on: January 13th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


Updated 14.09.21

Endless Forms Most Beautiful and Most Wonderful: Review of Sr.Elizabeth Johnson, ASK THE BEASTS: DARWIN AND THE GOD OF LOVE. Bloomsbury 2014. 323 pages.


By William Converse

Elizabeth Johnson is an American Roman Catholic theologian and a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph. She is Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University in New York where she has taught since 1991. She is considered one of the architects of feminist theology. She belongs to a cohort of contemporary Roman Catholic theologians exploring the implications of conscious evolution. The author of nine books, she became the focus of controversy when the doctrinal committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops censured her book Quest for the Living God: Mapping the Frontiers in the Theology of God (2011).

In the Introduction Johnson recounts the genesis of her latest book.  To mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species (1859), the dean of Fordham College invited faculty to study the text together.  Questions arose that called for further theological reflection. Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the Love of God was her response.  The approach is Trinitarian, similar to John Polkinghorne’s The Faith of a Physicist (2005). The Nicene Creed provides the framework. Job 12:7 (AV) suggested the title.

Johnson initiates a dialogue between thoughtful Christians and scientists who are concerned about the future of life on the planet. She draws on Catholic philosophers and theologians (Augustine, Aquinas, Duns Scotus) as well as Catholic mystics (Hldegarde von Bingen, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich).

An eco-feminist, Johnson deplores Western theology’s woeful neglect of the natural world. Neo-Platonic dualism, combined with Augustine’s particularistic understanding of the consequences of the Fall, denigrated matter. Medieval theologians demarked the natural world from the supernatural world of grace. The Reformation emphasized individual salvation rather than cosmic redemption. The ascendancy of Calvinism in the 17th century promoted an anthropocentric interpretation of Genesis 1:28. Cartesian dualism and Enlightenment rationalism opened the way for full-scale exploitation of the earth’s natural resources.

Darwin’s evolutionary theory represents life as a continuum. Human beings belong to the natural order. All living things are interdependent, the result of natural selection occurring over hundreds of millions of years. In chapter IV Darwin illustrated their interconnectedness with a taxa diagram, the tree of life.

In the Recapitulation and Conclusion to Origin Darwin wrote:

“Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual. When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings that lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to become ennobled.”

Darwin delimited Origin to living things other than humankind, although he intimated that his theory might eventually have wider application:

“In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.”

Darwin’s theory challenged both the scientific and the religious establishment of the day.  The accepted scientific view was that all species had been created separately, distinct and immutable.  The idea that existing species had evolved over millions of years from a few simple life forms and, like the planet itself, had been shaped by natural forces defied reason and common sense.   It was counterintuitive to suppose that a structure as complex as the human eye had evolved by random mutations.  Darwin addressed these objections in chapter VI of Origin.

The challenge to conventional religious views was no less marked. Recent geological discoveries had raised serious doubts about biblical chronology. In the 17th century Archbishop James Ussher determined that the date of creation was October 23, 4004 B.C. This date appeared in the margins of the Authorized Version. The world was thought to be less than six thousand years old.  Sir Charles Lyell, the foremost British geologist of his generation, on the basis of certain geological anomalies, estimated its age as not less than 300 million years. Darwin’s theory not only contradicted the plain sense of Genesis, it denied Providence. The historic debate in 1860 between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin’s champion, highlighted their disparate views.

Perhaps mindful of the Galileo Affair in the 17th century, the Roman Catholic Church remained silent on the theory of evolution until 1950. Origin was never on the Index.  Catholic scientists might   explore the origins of life and the cosmos. The Father of Modern Genetics was an Austrian botanist and Augustinian abbot, Gregor Mendel (1822-1884). The French Jesuit geologist and palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was co-discoverer of “Peking Man.” The Belgian mathematician and astrophysicist, Mgr. Georges Henri Lemaître (1894-1966), originated “the Big Bang” theory.

Since St. Augustine allowed an allegorical interpretation of Genesis, a literal understanding was not required. Thus, John Henry Newman could write in a letter: “Mr. Darwin’s theory need not then to be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill.”   Newman captured Darwin’s sense of wonder at the end of Origin: “There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

Darwin was born in 1809 into a distinguished family of British naturalists. His grandfather Erasmus Darwin entertained vague evolutionary ideas and wrote erotic verses about plants. His father, Dr. Robert Darwin, encouraged Charles’s early interest in nature and later supported his research.  Both were freethinkers.

Darwin was intended for a career in either medicine or the Church of England. His career plans changed abruptly when he was invited to join a scientific expedition to chart the coastline of South America and the Pacific islands. The voyage, later described in The Voyage of the Beagle (1839), lasted five years, 1831-1835. During this time his religious and scientific ideas underwent a sea change.

In the first four chapters Johnson provides the background to Darwin`s theory of natural selection and explains how he arrived at it by means of patient and meticulous observation. Evolutionary ideas were not new. In the 18th century, the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, the Father of Modern Taxonomy, assigned humans to the primates. The French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck suggested that evolution occurred according to natural laws. In the 19th century, Lyell determined from the fossil record that humankind had originated only recently in Africa.

Darwin’s singular achievement was to formulate the theory that explained how evolution operated by combining Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1831-1833) and Thomas Malthus’s Essay on Populations (1798). Fearing repercussions, he delayed publication. Then, in 1858 he received a scientific paper by Alfred Russell Wallace with a theory identical to his own.  This forced his hand. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection appeared on November 22, 1859.

Darwin was acutely aware that natural selection entails pain, suffering and death on a massive scale caused by predation and extinction. The ichneumon that paralyzes caterpillars as live food for its eggs especially perturbed him. At Cambridge he read William Paley’s Natural Theology (1802) with its elegant argument from design.  Paley’s theodicy no longer sufficed.  In later life Darwin became an “agnostic,” a term Huxley coined in 1869.

Johnson broaches this intractable problem in chapter 7. She eschews theodicy, opting instead for what shall calls “deep incarnation”:

“Theological reflection on the natural world’s continuous creation in the power of the Spirit cannot ignore this unfathomable history of biological suffering and death, extending over hundreds of millions of years. Its overwhelming power initially evokes the honest response of being struck dumb in the face of so much agony and loss. As with the mystery of suffering among humans, its roots reach deeper than the human mind can fathom. When theology does dare to speak to this issue, ancient in its pedigree but relatively new in its evolutionary colorings, various viewpoints are endorsed and debated.”

Ask the Beasts is scholarly, yet eminently readable and accessible. There is an extensive bibliography and a good index.  Origin of Species, with its elegant prose and lucid argumentation, makes fascinating reading. The lavishly illustrated first edition, published by Sterling Signature Publishing Co., Inc. (2008; 2011), 544 pages,  David Quammen, General Editor, provides additional historical material, photographs and drawings, along with excerpts from Darwin’s journals, notebooks and correspondence. I highly recommend both books.

©William Converse, 2014



Augustine of Hippo: A Biography

Posted on: January 13th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews



Augustine of Hippo: A Biography. 45th Anniversary Edition. University of California Press (Berkeley and Los Angeles), 2012. 548 pages; and

Through the Eye of a Needle:  Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Princeton University Press, 2012. 759 pages


By William Converse

Today many people still see Augustine of Hippo as a saintly figure, a giant of faith rather than a human   being shaped by the tumult of the age in which he lived.

This lack of proper historical perspective goes back to the Middle Ages when Western churchmen shaped the traditional image of Augustine as they read, copied and commented on his works, including his letters and sermons.  By this time, Augustine’s North Africa had ceased to exist; it already belonged to a little-known past.

If today we are better able to see Augustine in his own time and place, much of the credit belongs to Peter Brown.

Born in Dublin in 1935 to a family of Scots-Irish Protestants, Brown studied at Oxford, and has held positions at Royal Holloway College, the University of London, and the University of California at Berkeley. He is currently emeritus professor of history at Princeton University. He has received many awards for his pioneering studies in the field of Late Antiquity.

This review focuses on two works that conveniently bracket his career. Both serve to correct a number of misconceptions and dispel myths about the end of classical antiquity.

Augustine of Hippo: A Biography was first published in 1967, when Brown was only 32, and established his reputation as a scholar.  Augustine was shorn of his hagiographical aura and presented as a person of flesh and blood. To mark the 45th anniversary of the original publication, the new edition published in 2000 was reissued with a new preface and two epilogues.

In the first of these epilogues, Brown shows how our understanding of Augustine has been broadened and deepened by new evidence. He also describes the directions that Augustinian studies have taken since 2000.

Prior to his death in August 28, 430, Augustine authenticated his writings and began putting his letters and sermons in order. However, he died before he could complete this task. It was a parlous time because the Vandals were laying siege to Hippo.

During the medieval period, Augustine’s letters and sermons were copied in manuscripts and circulated in various collections. With the introduction of the printing press, some of these collections were included   with his collected works. Others were not. The task of tracing them was well-nigh impossible before the introduction of computers into research libraries.

In 1969 the Austrian Academy of Sciences launched a project to catalogue 15,000 known manuscripts of Augustine’s works held by the libraries of Western Europe.  In the Bibliothèque Municipale de Marseilles Johannes Divjak discovered a manuscript that had belonged to René of Anjou containing 27 previously unknown letters, dating from the last decades of Augustine’s life.   The “Divjak Letters,” as they are now known, provide important information about the political situation in North Africa at that time.

The second major discovery occurred in 1990 when François Dolbeau found in the Stadtbibliothek of Mainz a late manuscript that had belonged to the Carthusians of Mainz, with 26 of Augustine’s sermons.  The “Dolbeau Sermons” were either previously unknown or known only from extracts made by medieval copyists. Augustine delivered them in Carthage in the summer of 397, the year he became bishop of Hippo. In the same collection there was a second group of sermons from 403-404.

Brown explains their historical significance:

“…Without knowing it, both the Carthusians of Mainz and the stylish copyist of the Divjak letters had cut down to a largely untouched, ‘fossil’ layer of evidence. The feature that had caused these particular letters and sermons to circulate so sluggishly in the Middle Ages was precisely the feature which makes them so gripping for us—their unremitting circumstantiality. The letters and sermons carry with them the sounds of a North Africa that had become as silent as a drowned city to those who read and copied them in the Northern Europe of the Middle Ages. Many of the letters speak at seemingly interminable length of incidents that took place on farms and in villages with strange names in which Punic was still spoken. Augustine’s work as a bishop took place within the framework of a legal system that still assumed that all roads led to Rome: much of the legal material contained in them would have been inexplicable, even unintelligible, to medieval readers. Above all, they are earthy letters, concerned almost exclusively with the day-to-day business of little men in small North African towns. Few were devoted to the eternal verities of Christian doctrine, to which medieval persons might turn with profit.”

The Dolbeau sermons are also important because they show how medieval copyists worked:

“In the case of the Dolbeau sermons, we can actually glimpse early medieval monks, in a far-distant Northern Europe, at work as they read through them, searching for passages relevant to their own times. Around 700, none other than the Venerable Bede read the longest of these sermons, preached on the occasion of the pagan New Year’s Feast of the Kalends of January. Faced with a rhetorical masterpiece of 1,543 lines, his eyes soon glazed over.  For this was a glimpse of a world which was too ancient, too distant from his own.  It spoke of a Christianity still engulfed in the murmurous, multi-faceted paganism of a great city of the Mediterranean. Of all its richness, Bede extracted under a hundred lines. The rest he left. The precise, sharp scent of a pagan city of the Roman Empire in its last days did not greatly interest him.  The battle, with that particular form of paganism at least, had been fought and won by his time. Of this one mighty sermon we have had to be content, for fifteen hundred years, with a few short extracts, culled and circulated for their own purposes by clergymen in Northern Europe. It is only now that we can read such sermons in their entirety, and come upon Augustine, once again, in gripping close-up as he preached to the crowds of Carthage.”

Through the Eye of a Needle Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD is Brown’s latest book and the one that he admits caused him the most difficulty. The title is taken from Matthew 19: 24, the story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man. The book is many-layered, nuanced and rich in detail.  Six of its 29 chapters are devoted to Augustine, hardly surprising given that he was the most prolific author of Late Antiquity  and the fact that so many of whose works have survived.

Brown explains his purpose in the opening paragraph of the preface:

“In this book I wish to examine the impact of wealth on the Christian churches of the Latin West in the last centuries of the Roman empire and in the first century of the post-imperial age, roughly from the middle of the fourth century AD to the consolidation of the post-Roman, barbarian kingdoms in the period conventionally associated with the ‘Fall of Rome.’”

Brown challenges the Enlightenment’s narrative of the end of classical civilization: for example, Edward Gibbon’s view that the Christian Church sapped the wealth of the later Roman Empire, diverting resources the state needed to counter the barbarian invasions.

Brown argues that this era was neither cataclysmic nor preceded by cultural and political decadence.  Late Antiquity was a time of innovation and transformation in both the religion and culture of the later Roman Empire. He considers the fourth century an age of affluence.  Wealth was not a moral issue when Christians were mostly poor. However, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, the wealthy began to enter the church in droves. They also brought with them the influence that wealth commands. This gave rise to conflict between Rome and Carthage: Jerome and Pelagius found themselves on one side and Augustine on the other. In Brown’s graphic phrase, it was a veritable Punic War!

Brown surveys all classes in the later Roman Empire, from aristocrats and great landowners to what he calls “the middling classes.”  He includes the urban poor, he slaves as well as the Jews. We meet some very colourful and determined personalities. We learn a about the social and political movements as well as the Donatists, the Arians and the Pelagians.  Brown covers the length and breadth of the Roman Empire and the centers of power.

Brown’s treatment of Christianity in North Africa is detailed and informative. The church of North Africa has tended to be neglected because it disappeared completely.  However, its importance in this period demands an in-depth study and this Brown provides.

Brown’s impressive command of the vast literature and documentation, including archaeological,   economic and sociological data, enables him assess in minute detail how the Christian Church overcame the dilemma that wealth presented and  became exceedingly wealthy doing so. He uses the analogy of a modern state gone bankrupt while corporations and private foundations preserve their wealth.

There are over a hundred pages of endnotes and seventy-six pages listing works cited. The index runs to forty pages. The fascinating black-and-white and the coloured plates are gathered together at the end of Chapter 15. I highly recommend both Through the Eye of a Needle and the anniversary edition of Augustine of Hippo: A Biography.

©William Converse, 2014