Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

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

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

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


Augustine of Hippo: An Intellectual Biography

Posted on: January 12th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews



By William Converse


A Biography Worthy of Augustine Himself. Review of Miles Hollingworth, Augustine of Hippo: An Intellectual Biography. Oxford University Press, 2013. 312 pages

The Pilgrim City: St. Augustine of Hippo and his Innovation in Political Thought. T & T. Clark International, 2010. 230 pages

Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography. University of California Press, 1967, 2000. Forty-fifth Anniversary Edition, 2012. 548 pages


Miles Hollingworth is Visiting Research Fellow in the History of Ideas at St. John’s College, Durham University. This is his second book on Augustine. The Pilgrim City: St. Augustine of Hippo and his Innovation in Political Thought was published in 2010.

Augustine of Hippo: An Intellectual Biography is a stimulating and engaging tour de force. Rowan Williams has praised it highly: “This is a book whose style and feel are really worthy of Augustine himself.” Hollingworth’s approach is both novel and innovative. Here, as in The Pilgrim City, he interprets Augustine’s mature writings in terms of his early life experiences. It is also revisionist since he prescinds from the conventional view that there are two Augustines, an early and a late Augustine, conveniently demarcated by his conversion. Hollingworth follows Peter Brown in his insistence that Augustine remained Augustine to the end. Continuity rather than discontinuity is the key to understanding his works.

Augustine of Hippo: An Intellectual Biography, therefore, is not a conventional biography. Readers who prefer a standard biography of Augustine should read Peter Brown’s classic, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, which Hollingworth references throughout.

In The Pilgrim City there is a short chapter on Augustine’s early life and education, up to his nineteenth year. This is evidently the germ for Augustine of Hippo: An Intellectual Biography. Eight of the eleven chapters deal with Augustine prior to his conversion in his thirty-third year.

Hollingworth situates Augustine firmly in his native North Africa, in what is today Algeria. His first chapter, “Out of Africa,” shows how the country where he was born and where he spent most of his life, apart from for his brief stay in Italy (383-387), is essential for understanding his character and outlook.   Augustine was an African with Berber ancestry, a provincial who never lost his African accent!

Augustine was born on November 13, 354, at Tagaste, Numidia (today Souk Ahras, Algeria) in what was then Proconsular Africa.  His father Patricius Aurelius was a pagan; his mother, Monica, a Christian.

He received his early education in Tagaste and Madauros. Thanks to Romanianus, his benefactor and subsequent patron, he was able to pursue his studies in Carthage where he met the woman with whom he cohabited for fifteen years and who was the mother of his son Adeodatus. We don’t know her name. Augustine never mentions it!

In Carthage Augustine encountered the Manicheans, a dualistic syncretic sect that originated in Persia.  Its founder Mani taught that there were two contending principles, the Good and the Evil. Augustine was a Hearer in the sect for nine years before becoming disillusioned and leaving. However, Manichaeism left an indelible mark on him, especially its dualism, the binary opposites of the two cities, the two loves, the predestined and the reprobate, what Peter Brown called “the subtle attraction of opposites.”

Augustine’s negative views of women and human sexuality owe more to Neoplatonism than they do to Manichaeism. Its founder, Plotinus, was described by his disciple and editor Porphyry as a philosopher who seemed ashamed of being in a body.  For Augustine humankind was a “condemned lump” (massa damnata).   Salvation depended solely upon divine grace, hence his sobriquet, “the Doctor of Grace.”  Bertrand Russell aptly summed up Augustine’s view: “Damnation proves God’s justice; salvation, His mercy. Both equally display His goodness.”   Augustine’s singular doctrine of original sin and its transmission through sexual generation was based on his literal reading of Genesis, chapter 3, and St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 5.  This doctrine and the doctrine of the predestination of the elect have cast a long shadow over Western Christianity.

To advance his professional career, Augustine moved to Rome in 383. Thanks to the intervention of Symmachus, the pagan Prefect of Rome, he was appointed Professor of Rhetoric in Milan, then the imperial capital. The appointment gave him the status of a public intellectual.

In Milan Augustine was drawn to the sermons of St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. Ambrose could read Greek and introduced Neoplatonic themes into his sermons.  Ambrose’s influence over Augustine grew steadily until his conversion in 386. After a brief retreat at Cassiciacum, he was baptized by Ambrose during the Easter vigil, April 24-25, 387. Augustine was now determined to renounce all worldly ambitions. He resigned his professorship.

Augustine returned to North Africa and established a small monastic community on the family property. On a visit to Hippo Regius (today Annaba, Algeria) in 391, he was (to use Peter Brown’s expression) “press-ganged” into being ordained a priest. This was not unusual at the time. Ambrose had been acclaimed Bishop of Milan before he was even baptized!  Augustine was subsequently ordained coadjutor bishop. He succeeded Valerius as Bishop of Hippo in 395. There he lived until his death on August 28, 430, during the siege of Hippo by the Vandals. To this period belong his major works:  On the Trinity (De Trinitate), On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram) and his monumental work, The City of God (De Civitate Dei).

Augustine’s education was confined principally to Latin authors, Virgil, Cicero, Sallust and Terence. Of these, Cicero exercised the greatest influence.  CIcero’s Hortensius (no longer extant) first turned his attention to philosophy. He studied Greek but he never mastered it. In the Confessions, he tells us: “Even now I cannot fully understand why the Greek language, which I learned as a child, was so distasteful to me. I loved Latin.” Since Greek was then the international language of commerce and culture, much as English is today, he was at a serious disadvantage.. Peter Brown considered it a disaster: “Augustine’s failure to learn Greek was a momentous casualty of the Late Roman educational system: he will become the only Latin philosopher in antiquity to be virtually ignorant of Greek.”

Consequently Augustine had to rely on Latin translations of Greek texts. Although he held Plato and the Platonists in the highest regard, he was unable to read them in the original.  In the City of God he wrote: “There are none who come nearer to us than the Platonists.”  But if Plato was “the master of all those philosophers,” it was the two great Neoplatonists of the age, Plotinus and Porphyry, “the most renowned of the pagan philosophers,” who eased Augustine’s transition into Catholic Christianity.

For biblical exegesis, Augustine depended on the Old Latin Version(s) of the Bible, based on the Septuagint, the ancient Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, dating from the 3rd century BCE.  In 393 he wrote to Jerome to inquire about Latin translations of Greek commentators on the Bible. Unlike Jerome, he did not know Hebrew but consulted Jerome’s Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Vulgate, when he was writing the City of God.

Augustine was a prolific author. A list of his works exceeds one hundred separate titles.  He employed many different genres—apologetics, treatises, polemics, commentaries and exegesis, sermons and   letters. He created two new literary forms, the Soliloquia and the Confessions. The Soliloquia, one of his first philosophical works, broke new literary and philosophical ground by exploring the problem of how to be creative and self-conscious at the same time. The Confessions is not an autobiography in the modern sense but an extended prayer to God. What is novel is the autobiographical elements.   It became the archetype for later autobiographies.

The corpus of Augustine’s works is vast.  Since Augustine was not a systematic thinker, it is difficult to reconcile some of his theological positions, for example, infant baptism and predestination. This is the case with his political ideas as well, as Hollingworth showed in The Pilgrim City.  Since Augustine engaged in theological controversies, many of his writings were polemical and topical. Augustine was trained as a professional rhetorician and dialectician as well as a philosopher. His skillful use of rhetorical devices enabled him to achieve maximum effect and easily score points against his opponents.

The first scholarly edition of Augustine’s works, printed in Basel in 1490, started a controversy over his views on grace and the church that culminated in the Protestant Reformation.  Diarmaid MacCulloch quotes the Princeton historian B.B. Warfield’s remark: “The Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the Church.”

Augustine spans the Classical Era, Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.   By combining the God of the Bible and the God of Neoplatonism, he premised Scholasticism.  He anticipated Anselm’s Ontological Argument and Descartes’s Cogito. Professor Charles Taylor in his chapter on Augustine in Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (1989) observed:  “On the way from Plato to Descartes stands Augustine. Augustine’s whole outlook was influenced by Plato’s doctrines as they were transmitted to him through Plotinus. His encounter with these doctrines played a crucial role in his spiritual development.”

Augustine was a precursor of a number of important developments in 20th century philosophy: existentialism, phenomenology, hermeneutics and semiotics. The “religious turn” in Continental philosophy has focused on the Confessions. Postmodernists have also shown special interest in his writings.

Augustine’s continuing relevance is well established.  Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy rated Augustine highly as a thinker. He considered his analysis of time in Book XI of the Confessions superior to Kant’s in the Critique of Pure Reason. Edmund Husserl adduced Augustine in Cartesian Meditations; Martin Heidegger, in Being and Time; and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in the Preface to Phenomenology of Perception. At the outset of Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein quoted the passage from Book I of Confessions where Augustine explains how as a child he acquired language. Hannah Arendt, a student of Husserl and Heidegger, wrote her doctoral dissertation on Augustine’s concept of love.  In her controversial book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,she reprised Augustine’s notion of evil as the privation of good.

Augustine engaged two major North-African French thinkers, both born in Algeria. Albert Camus wrote his dissertation on Plotinus and Augustine. In his  novel The Plague (La Peste), the Jesuit, Fr. Paneloux,  renowned for his researches into St. Augustine and the North African Church, delivers two sermons on the plague  that are decidedly Augustinian in tone.  Jack Derrida, the founder  of  deconstructionism, was a confirmed admirer of Augustine from the time he first read him as an adolescent. His highly original text Circumfession is replete with Latin quotations from the Confessions. Another French postmodernist thinker and a former Marxist, Jean-François Lyotard, wrote La confession d’Augustin, the beginning of what was intended to be a definitive version of the text of the Confessions. It was incomplete when Lyotard died in 1998 but was published posthumously.

We are probably better placed now than at any time since the Enlightenment to appreciate Augustine.  His pessimism about the human condition resonates today. There are parallels between his age and our own. The Roman Empire was disintegrating.  The amphitheatres were crumbling. There were repeated economic crises. Ancient Roman religion had lost its hold.  It was an age of syncretism.  The shock of the sack of Rome by Alaric and the Visigoths in 410 was comparable to the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Augustine wrote the City of God in response to pagan claims that Christians were to blame for “the public calamity.”

Augustine of Hippo: A Biography is very readable but it needs to be read slowly. As he did in The Pilgrim City, Hollingworth provides a chronology. He lists Augustine’s writings, with Latin titles, abbreviations and translations. There are over forty pages of endnotes and a good index. The dust jacket shows Antonello da Messina’s painting of Augustine (c. 1472), Museo Nazionale, Palermo, Italy.

Miles Hollingworth is currently working on two projects: Inventing Socrates: The Religion of the Good Life, and a biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein, due to be published in 2014 and 2015 respectively. In the meantime, I strongly recommend Augustine of Hippo:  An Intellectual Biography.

© William Converse, 2013



Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Posted on: January 12th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


By Wayne Holst



ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

By Reza Aslan, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2014

ISBN 978-0-8129-8148-3; 296 pages


How credible is a book about the historical Jesus written by a Muslim? About as credible as many Christian titles when one considers the wide range of what is available today. 

Zealot by Reza Aslan (just out in paperback edition) is a worthy narrative by an excellent storyteller whose work should appeal to Jew, Christian and Muslim alike. So why has there been such controversy since its first appearance a year ago? This begs some explanation.

Aslan is an America Muslim n whose family had secular Iranian roots; as a young boy, he experienced Jesus as Saviour and Lord at an evangelical Bible camp in California. While a university student, he went through a crisis of faith and was helped by Christian mentors to revisit and reclaim his Islamic faith. He could no longer affirm a Jesus by means of a claim to the inerrant scriptures through which he had entered Christianity. Nevertheless, he continued to explore the meaning of Jesus for his own life and, 20 years later, he has “become a more genuinely committed disciple of Jesus of Nazareth than [he] ever was of Jesus Christ.”

“My hope,” Aslan says in his introduction, “is to spread the good news of the Jesus of history with the same fervor I once applied to the story of Christ.”

Reading this book brings the realization that we all look at Jesus through our own eyes and experience, whether we are ordinary lay people or biblical scholars. There are many ways of seeing and interpreting him. Reading the reviews of Aslan’s book makes it clear that many would agree or disagree with him depending on the school of thought they presently accept.

What also becomes clear from a reading of the text is that the author is a talented raconteur— if not a biblical historian; whose work is a helpful introduction to the Jesus of history—if it is not all that innovative or original.

The book is divided into three parts of about one-third each. The first describes the tumultuous times into which Jesus was born. The second, according to Aslan, tells of how he became a person hated by his Roman overlords and the priestly temple establishment. The third presents the author’s version of how the early church began to reshape the Jesus of history into the Christ of faith. In other words, this is Aslan’s version of how a human became God, or how a humble Jew from hinterland Galilee evolved into a Spirit of universal significance.

The value of this book is not to be found in its biblical scholarship or in its fine qualities as a prose narrative. What makes it special is that it is written by a Western Muslim who—during a period of doubt—was encouraged by Christians to reassess his Islamic roots. He ultimately reconverted to the faith of his ancestors with a new sense of belonging. Yet, he could not forget about Jesus. For some decades, as a religious scholar, he has studied Jesus’ Jewish antecedents and the New Testament record, following those mentors who spoke most meaningfully him.

Aslan portrays Jesus as a teacher and a political revolutionary who ended up on the wrong side of the Jewish and Roman establishment. For some, his death ended it. For others, it provided the basis for a new faith that began to proclaim him as Lord and Saviour. For still others, Jesus became a prophet of great importance.

Here is a book that could open a pathway to an exciting, three-way interfaith dialogue in local church, synagogue or mosque.


Wayne A. Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and helps to co-ordinate adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church in Calgary.


Anglican Journal, December 2014 edition

Colleagues List, Vol. X. No. 19, December 14th, 2014

Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News?

Posted on: January 12th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


Whatever Happened to the Good News?
by Philip Yancey, Zondervan. paper.
2014. $14.00 CAD. 291 pages.



Review By Wayne A. Holst

My Thoughts:

Philip Yancey is an American evangelical
Protestant Christian with conservative
roots. His career of investigative writing,
however, has often placed him in a role
that has prophetically challenged his own
Christianity and made him a favoured
writer across a broad spectrum.

His voice has always been fresh, because
he never writes as a member of the
theological or spiritual guild. Yancey has
never been one to “toe the party line.”

At the same time, however, he has always
shone a positive light on classic Christian
faith that has helped a broad cross-section
of people.

Seventeen years ago, Yancey authored
a first book on his current subject. It
was entitled “What’s So Amazing About
Grace?” It is still in print and selling well.

Now, after significant changes in America,
the world, the church and his own life,
he takes a second look at this important

This reality helps us to understand that
we can never fully fathom important
theological and spiritual truths. We need
to continue revisiting them at various
stages in our lives.

Still, his theme continues to be constant.
“We as Christians need to create pioneer
settlements that show the world a different,
grace-based way of living,” he says.

It has always been ironic to me that many
who claim “grace” as pivotal in their lives
are often slow to truly understand it. That
applies to themselves and to their treatment
of others. I must admit the same about it
myself. I am constantly reminded of my flaws
with grace active in my own life.

For a long time – non-Christians have called
us hypocritical in our witness to grace.
We tended to ignore that criticism, saying
such critics just didn’t understand the Way
we followed. We cannot continue to ignore
such criticisms. Too many of us have fallen
badly and we have no excuse for it.

There has been too much abuse of the
sacred gifts we claim to possess as
Christians. Every day, the news bears
witness to that reality. The way we
treated and continue to treat our First
Nations is but one aspect of that abuse.

Canadians may read Yancey and claim
that he lives in a different religious
orbit than we do. After all, he still
writes from an American evangelical
Christian environment that grows
stranger to us in Canada as time
goes on.

But Yancey’s prophetic voice speaks
from his context to our own in many
ways. We just need to change some
of the contextual terminology to see
it apply.

That is why it is good to follow Yancey
in this new investigation and, as usual,
I recommend to you what he has to say.


Buy the book from


Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 17,  November 30th, 2014

Field of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence

Posted on: January 8th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews


Religion and the History of Violence
by Karen Armstrong

Random House Canada, Mississauga ON
$32.00 CAD. 512 pages. Oct. 28th, 2014
ISBN #978-0-307-40196-0


Author’s Words:

I believe that modern society has made a
scapegoat of faith.

In the West, the idea that religion is inherently
violent is now taken for granted.

As one who speaks on religion, I constantly
hear how cruel and aggressive it has been …
expressed in the same way almost every time:
“Religion has been the cause of all major wars
in history.”

(But) obviously the two world wars were not
fought on account of religion and terrorism
is caused by a complex range of reasons.

Yet, so indelible is the aggressive image of
religious faith in our secular consciousness
that we load the violent sins of the 20th century
onto the back of “religion” and drive it out into
the political wilderness (just like the ancient
Hebrews drove out their scapegoat)…

Our world is dangerously polarized at a time
when humanity is more closely interconnected
– politically, economically, and electronically –
than ever before. If we are to meet the challenge
of our time and create a global society where
all peoples can live together in peace and mutual
respect, we need to assess the situation accurately.

We cannot afford oversimplified assumptions
about the nature of religion and its role in the
world. The … “myth of religion” served Western
people well at an early stage of… modernization
but in our global village we need a more nuanced
view in order to understand our predicament fully.

This book focuses mainly on the Abrahamic
traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam
because they are the ones most in the spotlight
at the moment… we will explore some of the most
prominent instances of religiously articulated
violence such as Joshua’s holy wars (Judaism),
the call to jihad (Islam) and the Crusades, the
Inquisition and the European wars of religion

(But religion is not going to disappear, Indeed
good religion will continue, along with the bad.)

Modern secularism is by no means the end of
the story. In some societies attempting to find
their way to modernity, it has succeeded only
in damaging and wounding psyches of people
unprepared to be wrenched from ways of living
and understanding they always had supporting
them. (In our day) licking its wounds in the
desert, the scapegoat, with its festering
resentment, has rebounded on the city that
drove it out.


Review By Wayne A. Holst

My Thoughts:

I was recently speaking with an old school
friend of mine, now essentially retired as
a priest, who was expressing some profound
doubts, and addressing heartfelt hurt, over
the Christianity he had lived and proclaimed
so faithfully over many years.

One of the major laments he voiced had to
do with how Christianity – the great religion
that on the one hand proclaims “peace on
earth and goodwill to all humankind” – should
have apparently left in its wake such a violent
legacy most everywhere it has spread.

I sympathised with him, and shared how
some of my atheistic and agnostic students
over the years had ripped into religion, calling
it hypocritical and destructive.

(In truth, I could not have agreed with those
students more, but only about some of their
criticism, and not all of it).

Here is a book – written by a person whom
I would like call a kindred, though more
astute, spirit – and I am happy to call her that.

We are, indeed, in need of some new ways of
understanding what we have so implicitly
and naively assumed to be good about the
history of the church and the global spread
of Christian mission.

It is important that we honestly confront the
bad stuff, but not dump the baby with the bath.

Here is a study that can help us discover a new
way of understanding, not just about Christianity,
but about much of Hebrew and Islamic religion
as well.

Indeed, there is a God of the Hebrew Bible
who advocated the slaughter of the enemy
Canaanites; a God appearing with the name
of Jesus who served the imperial purposes of
Constantine and of medieval kings and popes.
Indeed, there is much to come to understand
about the Allah of Islam’s jihadic history that
has been destructively debased by modern
pseudo-Islamic terrorists.

This is not an easy read, but that can be said
about most of Armstrong’s writings. To get
to the heart of many of our false assumptions
and fears, however, we need to follow the
thought of this excellent author as she leads
us to see how even the best of human religious
motivations can be perverted into something
it is not.

In the end, therefore, Armstrong is not about
to reject religion per se. Her purpose is to see it
refined of false accoutrements and the wishful
thinking of its most ardent adherents.

This is a timely and rewarding book. It will help
many of us to discover that – what we may have
sometimes falsely represented (like my friend
and I are learning) – is not indeed evil and to
be rejected, but in need of clearer understanding.

Buy the book from


Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 15,  November 16th, 2014

Thomas Berry: Selected Writings on the Earth Community

Posted on: January 8th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews




Selected Writings
on the Earth Community

With an Introduction by  
Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim
Modern Spiritual Masters Series

Orbis/Maryknoll New York,
(to be released Nov. 10th, 2014)
200 pages. $16.62 CAD. Paper.
ISBN #978-1-62698-095-2.


Editors’ Bio:

Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim are co-directors
of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale.  They
were students of Thomas Berry and have devoted
themselves to his legacy by editing his books and
producing the Emmy-award winning film, Journey
of the Universe, with Brian Swimme.  They are
editors of Berry’s The Christian Future and the
Fate of the Earth.  Tucker also edited Berry’s
The Great Work, Evening Thoughts, and
The Sacred Universe.

Editors’ Words:

Thomas Berry – Living a New Story

Thomas Berry was an original and prophetic voice
for the Earth community. As a gifted speaker, an
original thinker, and an inspiring teacher, he
reshaped our thinking about human-Earth relations.
Drawing on his broad knowledge of world religions
and his deep thinking for the journey of the universe,
he identified “story” as a means of guiding humans
into the future.

Berry was an outspoken advocate for the environment.
Early on, he called for the restitution of habitat for
biodiversity, not simply as a conservation measure,
but in recognition of the intrinsic value of nature.

In fact, some of his most insightful writing and
publications occurred  after he was sixty-five and
had retired from teaching.

His last books include “Dream of the Earth”(1988)
“The Great Work” (1999) and “Evening Thoughts”
(2006). “The Christian Future and the Fate of the
Earth” along with “The Sacred Universe” were
published in 2009 the year he died, aged ninety five.

He was a scholar, teacher and mentor who called us
to an awakening and exodus from our sleep. He
was deeply influenced by Thomas Aquinas and
Teilhard de Chardin. He introduced the concept
of various earth eras and invented the “Ecozoic
Era’ as the emerging period in which humans
could recover their creative orientation to Earth.

The layers of Berry’s thinking are multiple
and have organic continuity with one another.
(Many of this insights are only now starting
to make sense to many of us today)

– from the Introduction


Author’s Words:

When we look back over our lives we realize
that whatever of significance we have achieved
has been the fulfillment of earlier thoughts and
dreams that sustained us when we encountered
difficulties through the years…

Beyond the dreams of our personal future, there
are the shared dreams that give shape and form
to each of our cultural traditions. Because the
other world cannot be explained by any technical
or scientific language, we present this other
world by analogy and myth and story. Even beyond
childhood, this is a world of the human mind…

What we look for is no longer the Pax Romana,
the peace of imperial Rome,  nor is it simply
the Pax Humana, the peace among humans,
but the Pax Gaia, the peace of Earth and every
living being on Earth. This is the original and
final peace, the peace granted by whatever
power it is that brings our world into being.
Within the universe, the planet Earth with all
its wonder is the place for the meeting
“of the divine and the human.”

– from “Evening Thoughts”


Review By Wayne A. Holst

My Thoughts:

A little more than twenty years ago, when
Thomas Berry was in his late seventies, I
was invited to attend one of his week-long
“Fate of the Earth” retreats, sponsored by a
partner Toronto Catholic order and locally
handled by the indefatigable Ann Lonergan,
a sister to the famous Canadian theologian.

The event was held on the north shore of
Lake Erie at a church centre near Port Dover
and – even then we were beginning to experience
something of the ecological reclamation that was
taking place on that famous lake that serves as a
border between Pennsylvania and Ontario.

I look upon that experience with much gratitude
because it not only spoke to me first about the
healing of the earth, but also to some healing
in my own life after some years of turmoil.

(The Canadian religious were even willing to
cover my costs, but I succeeded in paying them
back after some months! This helped me learn to
risk venturing into some new worlds of thinking
and to follow advice from my old colleague
Herb O’Driscoll who had suggested that if I
would be willing to launch into the deep, God
would be there, ahead of me.)

Berry, like many great seers was not always
that easy to understand, even though he
made great efforts at clarity. It was just
that he seemed so far ahead of us at the
time that his ideas were – well, ‘new age’
to say the least – and especially to those
of us whose formation had largely been
from the era of ‘Christian classical.’

For example, we did a Sunday liturgy of
dancing around a huge oak tree on the
grounds, and I wondered  at the time
about what all that silliness meant.

During his week with the group, I asked
if I could have a personal chat with him;
and he obliged! He invited me to his
unkempt bedroom at the retreat and
gave me almost an hour of his time.

I look upon that experience as a paradigm-
changing opportunity in my life. That was
not so much because of what he said, but
because of my experience with this man of
such presence and depth. His story-telling
ability was even more meaningful during
that one-on-one than his public discourse
had been.

I have been waiting for this new book –
a “summa” of Berry’s theology as a
“geologian” – for some time.

I am grateful to the editors and to my
friends at Orbis like Robert Ellsberg for
initiating the spirituality series in which
this book now appears.

Now, at least, I have between the covers
of one book something to remind me of
what I had strained eagerly to understand
from him then. Here is some logic I can
follow where previously I had seemingly
been running on intuition alone.

Here we find words informed by Christian
hope even though his frame of reference
calls for continuing paradigm adjustment.

Because they knew him so well, Tucker and
Grim are able to sift through his large
oeuvre and come up with some real gems.
And they keep following one after another!
They share this in a gradual, developing way
so that even those new to Berry can explore
their way through his evolving thought over
many decades.

It is also nice to know that a book of such
shelf value is now available for such a
modest price.

Here indeed is a keeper!

I believe that Berry will continue to make
more sense to all of us as time goes on.

Buy the Book -

From the Publisher:



Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 13,  November 2nd, 2014

I Want to be in that Number

Posted on: January 8th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Books, Reviews



Cool Saints I have Known
by Lois M. Wilson
Self-published, 2014. 192 pages.
ISBN #978-0-9780839-1-5.


Author’s Words:

(At a significant ecumenical event for me)
I started to wonder if my own grandkids
knew or even cared about the rich legacy
some of my friends had contributed to the
practice of justice and peace from our faith
community. It prompted me to think about
my own legacy. Did I have any insights
about aging or faith to pass on to younger

I had a conversation with my daughter Jean
about a possible book I might write about
aging and death, She suggested that one
of my particular strengths, in her view, was
my grounding in and knowledge of the Biblical
text. Lots of people would have perspectives
to share about aging, but she thought that if
I focused on Biblical texts, I might make a
more lasting contribution. Then we got to
talking about the significance of Biblical
passages, chosen for loved ones’ funeral

(I would often make notes in my marked-up
Bible about the person who had died and the
scripture text(s) used at their memorial.)

It was my way of remembering my life and
legacy every time I read that passage…

Although I am no Biblical scholar, I know the
texts of the Hebrew and Greek Bible. (I
consulted with my daughter Jean, who is a
professor of comparative literature, about
discerning the meaning of texts.)

We decided that I would identify each of
these people to the reader by presenting a
greatly condensed biography of their life;
set them in their historical context; relate
the scriptural texts used at their funeral to
the work and witness of the person I had
known; and then wrestle with the scriptural
texts in such a way that they were seen
to critique the world we have, as well as to
create new possibilities for the world we
would like to have. What could we learn from
them? The point would not be to focus on
what the intended meaning of the text was
for the person who chose it, but to consider
what meaning we can derive from it for our
witness today…

I was reminded of how N.T. Wright, in
his book “How God Became King” writes:

“Those who have gone before us include,
especially, those who have lived, suffered,
and died, and bear witness to Jesus as the
world’s true Lord, over against the other
“lords” that try to claim our allegiance.”

{This “communion of saints” in each
generation, joined to those who have gone
before and filled them with light, became
a golden chain, in which each saint is a
separate link, united to the next by faith
and works and love. So, in the one God
they form a single chain which cannot
quickly be broken.)

I have grouped the articles around the
themes of Justice; Resurrection;
Transformation; Church and World.

You are invited to join me in my discoveries
about our common Christian life and legacy.

– from the Introduction


Review By Wayne A. Holst

My Thoughts:

I have attended quite a few funeral and
memorial services myself, especially as
I have grown older and the reality of
what happens to all life becomes more
real for me. I tend to pay more attention
to what goes on and what is said than
I did when I was a young pastor.

Some services tend to focus almost
exclusively on remembrance of the
deceased. Some seem to focus almost
entirely on the funeral liturgy of a
particular tradition, or on scriptural
cliches with hardly any reference
to the deceased. I find both practices
short-shrift the possibilities of what
might happen at such an important
event.  We have the opportunity to
both remember how the eternal
Christian values have been reflected
in the life of the person who is most
in our minds at that time. We also have
an opportunity to bring the rich and
hope-filled truths of our Biblical
heritage to bear upon this event.

We often seem to ignore those who
have gathered and what they are
really needing to experience at this
important time. Saying that the
deceased was a good person or that
the church’s traditional teachings and
practices make us a better community
is really not good enough.

Delicately blending remembrance and
the hope of life beyond life we have
as Christians – is the important challenge
of any who would accept the task of leading
or attending an event at such a time as this.

In this book, Wilson tells the story
of forty key people in her life at
whose funeral or memorial services
she participated in various capacities.

For each one she weaves a meaningful
biography and scriptural web that
help us better understand the person
being recognized and the faith that
person espoused.

In our secular society, I believe many
people are searching and in need of
experiencing that important blend.

We need inspiration to make this world
a better place. We also need to know
that Jesus “has prepared a place for us.”

I was particularly struck by what Lois
had to say about people we knew in
common (even though she probably
knew them much better than I.)

Her reflections on Garth Legge, Byers
Naude, Clifford Elliott, Katherine Hockin,
and Ted Scott (to name a few) brought
out important discoveries and reasons
for the hope that lay within them that
I am grateful to know more about.

It takes a person of deep faith and
experience to write short pieces like
this and I believe this book would
serve as a helpful guide to sermon/
homily/or reflection preparation.

The value of this book encompasses
many of our denominational traditions.

It will also offer the person in the pew
a chance to recover an important balance
between remembrance and hope that I
believe many are looking for today.

Buy the Book from the Author:
Discuss best way to get your copy


Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Colleagues List, Vol. X, No. 12,  October 26th, 2014