Friday, February 3, 2012

Read These Books

The  incomparable Dr. William Tighe, an Anglophile Eastern Rite (Ukranian) Catholic professor of history (specializing in the English and Scandinavian Reformations) teaching at a college named for the pioneer of American Lutheranism, for some reason likes to read this blog. More than that, he likes to send the editors books. Good books. Really good books. Books you should read this Lent as part of your spiritual exercise. Here are the sparest of reviews for two of them.

First, Corpus Christi: Essays on the Church and the Eucharist by the Rt. Rev. E. L. Mascall. 190 pages. Happily this is available online for free, though used printed copies can also be found: try

I set aside Wednesday evenings before low mass to hear confession. As you might imagine, a Lutheran pastor in a small Midwestern town does not have too many penitents who make regular use of this Sacrament, so I usually get to use that time for reading. Once I started reading Mascall's essays, I would often find myself vesting in a hurry for mass because I had lost track of time. If you enjoy the lucid and beautiful prose of other Englishmen educated in the Edwardian era, like CS Lewis and GK Chesterton (or Americans likewise educated: AJ Nock), you will find ample delight in Mascall just on account of his diction and wit. But it is the substance of these essays that will keep you coming back for more.

Ecclesiology and Eucharistic theology in Lutheranism are sadly truncated. We spend so much of our energy fighting off heresies that we seldom do theology that builds up rather than merely tears down (a wonderful exception is John Stephenson's book The Lord's Supper in the CLD series). We know quite well that the pope is wrong about what the Church is and that Calvin is wrong about what the Supper is. And we know, as well as seven year old's everywhere, that the Church is the sheep who hear the Shepherd's voice and that the Sacrament is the Body and Blood of Christ. Well and good! But I think there is something in the Bible about milk and solid food. There is more to be said - as our continuing and intractable controversies on these topics attest.

Enter Mascall and his peculiar fascination for the Lutheran reader: his historic, astute, catholic, conservative Anglicanism is just the right distance from Lutheranism to prod the Lutheran to further thought and open up new vistas of understanding. He speaks our language, but in a foreign accent. He knows things we have forgotten we knew. He connects dots that Lutherans have been half-embarrassed to connect. And even where we must part ways, the very manner in which he departs highlights what is truly good and right about the Lutheran understanding.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Please read it. Perhaps during Lent I will review my notes and post some of them here for discussion. It is a book that is certainly worthy of much discussion.

Second, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318-381. RPC Hanson. 960 pages.

If you think you know the history of the Arian controversy, read this book and prove yourself wrong. This book made me love history again. It is so strangely comforting to read how very messed up and utterly confused the Church was in the fourth century on so central an issue. There is no gilt on this pages, nor is there any cynical mud-slinging, but rather a careful and realistic look at the personalities involved and an amazing command of the details of every document, council, and turn of events.

That should keep you more than busy this Lent. But do start with Mascall - it is not to be missed.


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