How the church changed after Constantine

Seen on Twitter this week, via David Walsh:

Jesus: ‘If someone strikes you, turn the other cheek’.
Chrysostom in 387AD: ‘Slap them in the face!’
– something lost in translation there.

It is always good practice to verify your quotations, but this is entirely genuine.  The reference is to the Homilies on the Statues, 1, 32.  In the NPNF version this reads:

32. But since our discourse has now turned to the subject of blasphemy, I desire to ask one favor of you all, in return for this my address, and speaking with you; which is, that you will correct on my behalf the blasphemers of this city.

And should you hear any one in the public thoroughfare, or in the midst of the forum, blaspheming God; go up to him and rebuke him; and should it be necessary to inflict blows, spare not to do so.

Smite him on the face; strike his mouth; sanctify thy hand with the blow, and if any should accuse thee, and drag thee to the place of justice, follow them thither; and when the judge on the bench calls thee to account, say boldly that the man blasphemed the King of angels!

For if it be necessary to punish those who blaspheme an earthly king, much more so those who insult God. It is a common crime, a public injury; and it is lawful for every one who is willing, to bring forward an accusation.

Let the Jews and Greeks learn, that the Christians are the saviours of the city; that they are its guardians, its patrons, and its teachers.

Let the dissolute and the perverse also learn this; that they must fear the servants of God too; that if at any time they are inclined to utter such a thing, they may look round every way at each other, and tremble even at their own shadows, anxious lest perchance a Christian, having heard what they said, should spring upon them and sharply chastise them.

When I first read this, without considering the context, it looked like the utmost expression of arrogance, of the attitude of those in power.  But this is to ignore the circumstances.

In 387 the emperor Theodosius imposed an extraordinary tax on the city of Antioch, and the enraged citizens rioted and threw down the statues of the emperor.  The emperor then threatened to destroy the city, and negotiations took place between the emperors representatives and the townsfolk.

Paganism was still the official religion of the empire.  But it seems that pagans and Jews were taking advantage of the crisis to jeer at the Christians of the city, and perhaps even at the religion of the emperor.  This in turn couldn’t help the negotiations, when the survival of the city is at stake.   This is a reaction to a threat to everyone, not a gratuitous attack on unbelievers.  The citizens are appealing to the feelings of a Christian emperor – and, he reflects, these people are screwing it up!  Slap them in the face if they won’t pipe down.  It’s politics, in other words, and John Chrysostom speaks as the bishop of the city, almost in Byzantine terms as the ethnarch, rather than personally.

But Christ did not give his teaching conditionally.  Christians often feel a great deal of reluctance to endorse the actions of the church, post-Nicaea.  This is one reason why.  Here we have a popular preacher, and a gifted expositor of the bible, who, faced with a pagan reaction, incites his congregation not to turn the other cheek but instead to go out and do battle in the streets, for the benefit of the community as a whole.  It’s understandable; but somehow we are not in the same world any more.

Jerome: God hates the sacrifices of heretics

An interesting quote came my way on Twitter:

God hates the sacrifices of these [i.e., heretics] and pushes them away from Himself, and whenever they come together in the name of the Lord, He abhors their stench, and holds His nose…

Fortunately the tweeter had a reference:

Comment in Amos Proph, P.L. 25 1053-1054.

Those are dramatic words.  But the first question with any quotation is the same: is it accurate?

The PL 25 is online, and col. 1053 is here (or here).  As soon as we open it, and find ourselves in the Commentary on Amos (Commentariorum In Amos Prophetam Libri Tres), book 2, chapter 5, we find that the context is the well-known words of God through Amos, vv. 21-22, to the corrupt Israelites, “I hate your festivals…”.

The words are these (1053 D):

Horum Deus odit sacrificia, et a se projicit, et quotiescumque sub nomine Domini fuerint congregati, detestatur foetorum eorum, et claudit nares suas.

Jerome is, then, simply addressing the words of Amos to the heretics also, and with good reason.

The phrasing is shocking to our polite sensibilities.  We tend to think of “heretics” as us: people of sincerity and goodwill, who merely happen to hold some mistaken opinion, perhaps even unknowingly, and are sought out by malicious and narrow-minded people bent on condemnation.

But a better example in our own time is the Caiaphas kind of churchman, full of his own “piety”, full of “holy” phrases, yet ever eager to acquiesce in, or to advance vice of any and every kind, so long as it is to his liking.  The heretic has contempt for Christian teaching.  Our Lord condemned such people in the strongest terms, and they are not absent from our own day, as anyone who has followed the sad story of the American episcopalian church will know.  The problem is rather that we are far too reluctant to identify these infiltrators as such.

The ancient term still has value.  It is a characteristic of these people today that they demand the name of Christian for themselves.  In consequence they tend to scream at anyone who dares to suggest that some people might not, in fact, be Christians.  In fact it is a fingerprint of the heretic that they refuse to allow anyone to suggest that someone else is not a Christian.  More than one Christian has found himself censored, when responding to an attempt to point out that such and such a view – happily accepted by the heretics – is not Christian.

Worth remembering.  The words of scripture do have a contemporary application, and we mustn’t let ourselves be intimidated in applying it when it is earned.

A time to hold and a time to give – when to pass on old books

Today I made a decision to do something necessary, yet it was a wrench.  I decided to give away my copy of the 1608 Commelin edition of Tertullian’s works.

I bought it over the internet, years ago.  In those days we had no PDFs online.  The only way to get hold of the detailed apparatus, found in early editions, of the works of Tertullian was to venture onto the market and buy copies.

Indeed most Tertullian scholars have little collections of early editions; the 1539 of Rhenanus, the 1545 Paris edition, the 1550 of Gelenius – if they could find one – and the 1583 Pamelius edition, high-point of the counter-reformation scholarship.

My Commelin is a reprint of the Pamelius.  It is still bound in the original ornate white leather binding, a bit battered after the centuries but perfectly sound.  The book itself has clearly seen little use.

I got it from a German book dealer.  It arrived in a big yellow Deutsche Post box – for it is a folio volume, and some two inches thick.  And in that box it has remained; for, like most people, I live in a little house and I have no bookshelves suitable for folio-sized volumes.  There seemed no point in taking it out, merely to expose it to dust.

Also it would need to rest on its side.  I knew better than to stand it on end, thereby placing the whole weight of this heavy volume on its ancient stitching.  Where to put it?

This has been the question for many years.  I have seldom opened it.  Once it sat in a cupboard, inside its box.  For the last couple of years, or maybe more — how quickly the years pass these days, without my being aware of them — it has sat, big and obtrusive, atop a set of bookshelves that I constructed myself in younger days.

No more.  Today I decided that it was time for us to part.  I can’t sell it.  I don’t know the rare books market, and I don’t live near any dealers.  I could post it, and get it back, and do all that; but I do not care to, and I should certainly be taken advantage of.

Instead I have agreed with a fellow Tertullian scholar to donate it to him.  He will treasure it, I am sure.  Tomorrow I shall take it to the post office and send it on its way.

It has long been my policy not to keep a book unless I believe that I will read it again, or, in the case of reference books, have use of it in future.  This is particularly essential for novels, for which most of us have a tyrannous appetite.  Unless you have some similar policy, you will quickly find your book cases, and then your house, filled with books which you have no appetite to read.  I have a pile in the corner of one room, to which I assign books that I believe I will not read again; and, if after a suitable period, a book is still there then I dispose of it.  I took two bags full of books to a charity shop yesterday, in fact.

It is harder to know what to do with scholarly books that we no longer need.  Some have donated their books to libraries; yet I know too much about libraries and their practices to suppose that any such donation would be more than temporary.

Let us accept the fact that one day they must go on, and let us donate them freely to our fellow workers.  They will value them; and we need not grieve at their departure, knowing that they go to serve another as they have served us.

For one day all of our books will pass into the hands of others.  Rough hands will pull at our shelves and throw our treasures into boxes, most of which will perhaps end up in some second-hand shop.  The little paperbacks we bought at college, once fresh and bright as we ourselves then were, now foxed and yellowed, and which have accompanied us through life, and are almost friends to us, will end up in some second-hand shop.  If they are lucky they will pass into the hands of one whom we might have been pleased to call friend.

Sic transit gloria.  For the world and all that is in it are always passing away.

But the Christian has hopes of more than this from life!  He can thank God for Good Friday.  And so can all of us, if we sign up with them.

NOTE: Annoyingly WordPress deleted a large section of this post when I posted it.  I will try to recover it from memory.

The inopportune polemicist in my email inbox

I get a lot of email, either directly or through the form on this site.  Most of it is very interesting.  Some of it makes work for me.  And sometimes I get an email which makes me rub my eyes and wonder what – or if – the author was thinking.

A couple of days ago, I had a query from someone about a page on the site.  As a postscript it asked me to explain what I thought about the catholic claims of the apostolic succession, and why we should hold to the bible, and what I thought about the period before the New Testament canon had been closed.

Now this was a bit of a nuisance.  Who is this person to me, that I should stop what I am doing in order to scribble something on these subjects? We’re all busy people.

Like most people who are not themselves Catholics – and probably like a good many who are – I don’t spend any time thinking about peculiarly Roman Catholic claims.  It’s a terrible waste of my time to do so.  They don’t impact on my world in any way.  They’re not ancient in origin, mostly arising during the medieval period, so they don’t come within my field of interest.  And, in truth, I am far more interested in history than theology.  It was a proud moment when I finally worked out what the issue was in the Nestorian dispute!  It took me a long time!

Anyway, I responded to the first query, and added a demurrer on the second.  I mildly commented that writing intra-Christian polemics was a waste of both our time in a world so bitterly hostile to Christians, and especially to the Catholic church.

If I had written a couple of days later I might have referenced the appalling episode, reported here (but not, I suspect, where anyone can see it), where a certain Christian street preacher in England named John Craven was approached by two boys who demanded he tell them what he thought about homosexuality.  He read the bible passage to them, and told them that God hates sin but loves the sinner.  They promptly insulted him, and denounced him to the nearest policeman.  The old man was arrested and held for 15 hours without food or water, and only released a couple of hours after that.  The courts had just awarded damages against the police.  That is the environment in which we live.  Why bother with in-fighting?

I wrote: and thought no more of the matter.

Today I received a further email, brushing aside my demurrer and reiterating and enlarging the demand.

I belong to a generation that is polite.  Ignoring someone is rude.  So, each time he demanded my thoughts, I wondered if I should at least say something briefly, out of couresy.  I thought for a moment on the subject; and found myself irritated at these presumptuous conundra, carefully crafted, not to inform, but to cause people to change their beliefs.  I found myself on the verge of defining exactly why I am not a Roman Catholic.  And this I do not wish to do.

The focus of the hate of the establishment is directed at the Catholic  Church.  It is so directed, under various pretexts, by people who simply wish to undermine its moral authority in order to promote their favoured vices.  The rest is simply eyewash.

But these same wicked men have just as  much loathing for all of us.  It is not because the Catholic church is Catholic, that it is abused.  It is because it is Christian.  Mr Craven was not a Catholic, yet the policemen felt no hesitation in arresting him.

So I don’t want to go here.  On the important points of our time, the Catholic Church has stood like a beacon in the world.  With its defects I am not concerned, since none of them affect me.

Yet this polemicist managed to get me to the edge of writing polemic against it.

It’s a warning, when we write about Christian subjects to non-Christians who seem friendly.  Just because someone is not an overt enemy does not mean that they are receptive to our arguments.  They may just be polite, and unengaged.  Unless people see Christ in us, they will not become Christians, whatever we say.

I also get protestant cranks write to me, from time to time.  I suppose everyone has the lunatic fringe.

But it’s a warning to be careful.

Divine disapproval: the complete letter from David Silvester

Over the weekend the BBC and other media was calling for the head of a certain David Silvester, a councillor of the UKIP party in Henley-on-Thames.  His crime was to write the following letter to his local paper, the Henley Standard.  Since I can find the complete letter nowhere, I think it would be good to post it here:

Divine disapproval

Sir, — Since the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, the nation has been beset by serious storms and floods.

One recent one caused the worst flooding for 60 years. The Christmas floods were the worst for 127 years. Is this just “global warming” or is there something more serious at work?

The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.

I wrote to David Cameron in April 2012 to warn him that disasters would accompany the passage of his same sex marriage Bill but he went ahead despite a 600,000-signature petition by concerned Christians and more than half of his own parliamentary party saying that he should not do so.

Now, even as Cameron sheds crocodile tears on behalf of destitute flooded homeowners, playing at advocate against the very local councils he has made cash-strapped, it is his fault that large swathes of the nation have been afflicted by storms and floods.

He has arrogantly acted against the Gospel that once made Britain “great” and the lesson surely to be learned is that no man or men, however powerful, can mess with Almighty God with impunity and get away with it for everything a nation does is weighed on the scales of divine approval or disapproval. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor David Silvester (UKIP)
Henley Town Council, Luker Avenue, Henley

These views, involving as they do the suggestion that unnatural vice is wrong, has provoked an artificial media storm, demanding his head pour encourager les autres.  The BBC led the charge, and broadcast the “controversy” endlessly. Dr Goebbels would be very proud of the orchestrated “two-minute hate” now raging.

We are rather accustomed to these witchhunts, these days, in modern Britain.  Those who do what they know to be wrong cannot stand the slightest reminder of their wrongdoing.

I was amused to read some churchy types solemnly pontificating about Mr Silvester’s supposed theological naivety.  How embarassed they were!  On the contrary the view he expresses is pretty solidly biblical.  That it is unfashionable need not detain us.

Mr Silvester’s statements are thought-provoking. Perhaps we should ask ourselves whether, being unfashionable, he is right?

I had not, myself, seen the matter in these terms.  I blamed the flooding on embezzlement and negligence.  For I knew – what is fairly commonly known – that the authorities have long ceased to dredge the rivers, or to repair the flood defences properly.  The money raised in tax to pay for this very necessary work has been diverted for other purposes.   Until now, I had not thought beyond this, to the hand of God.

But maybe we should.  For a nation with a corrupt ruling class, which is busy with its own pleasures and indifferent to the public weal, will indeed experience floods, fires, disasters of every sort.  This is indeed the verdict of God on their corruption and selfishness; the one produces the latter.  God has created a world in which vice usually has consequences; and thank God for that.

If those rulers were attentive to business, if they repaired the sea-defences and did the million duties which they are paid for, then such natural disasters would not occur, or would be merely signals for concerted public endeavour.

Instead the floods come every year, to much empty handwringing from the officials who should be preventing them, and from the BBC, which bears so great a responsibility for the climate of opinion in which dereliction of duty is presented as a virtue.

Isn’t this the mechanism where a nation that has abandoned God experiences the hand of God?

Of course the worst injuries affect ordinary people, and not those in power.  So it has always been.

In the mean time we may congratulate David Silvester for his chance to tell the truth to the nation.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Basil the Great discusses twitter, blogging and online discussion fora

From On the Holy Spirit, 1.1:

I admire your proposing questions not for the sake of testing, as many now do, but to discover the truth itself. For now a great many people listen to and question us to find fault. . . . [T]he questions of many contain a hidden and elaborate bait, like the hunters’ snare and the military ambush. These are the people who throw out words, not so that they may receive something useful from them, but so that they may seem to have a just pretext for war if they find answers that do not accord with their own liking.

Via Joel J. Miller, quoting a modern translation.

The work of Basil on the Holy Spirit may be found in the old NPNF translation here.  It is addressed to his brother Amphilochius, another of the Cappadocian fathers.  After a couple of sentences we find:

And this in you yet further moves my admiration, that you do not, according to the manners of the most part of the men of our time, propose your questions by way of mere test, but with the honest desire to arrive at the actual truth.

There is no lack in these days of captious listeners and questioners; but to find a character desirous of information, and seeking the truth as a remedy for ignorance, is very difficult.

Just as in the hunter’s snare, or in the soldier’s ambush, the trick is generally ingeniously concealed, so it is with the inquiries of the majority of the questioners who advance arguments, not so much with the view of getting any good out of them, as in order that, in the event of their failing to elicit answers which chime in with their own desires, they may seem to have fair ground for controversy.

Anybody who has encountered atheist “questions” about Christianity online will be very familiar indeed with this form of trickery.  It is generally advisable, if we have reason to suspect that our enquirer is really phrasing a statement as a question, to ask a question about his own beliefs in return.  This will be dodged, for such “enquirers” have no desire to query their own beliefs.  Most of them live by convenience; I invariably say so, and ask why.  The answers are rarely satisfactory, but it at least puts a stop to the pleasant game of throwing stones at any Christian who may be entrapped into being their target.

Simeon Stylites – a new Diogenes?

Earlier I posted Theodoret’s account of the life of Simeon Stylites.  Written while the saint was stil alive, and as an eyewitness of at least some of his life, it has considerable value as a historical source.  The portions in square brackets represent later interpolation, it should be added.

Reading the life raised some uncomfortable questions in my mind.

Simeon’s life can be summarised very briefly.  He is famous for making himself very uncomfortable indeed, in a variety of ways, until at last he found fame by standing upright(ish) on a pillar for many years.  He became famous for this, and people flocked to see him and admire him, on the basis that making himself uncomfortable was the same as being holy.  From these he received enough to live on, and admiration.  In consequence of his reputation, he was able to address powerful people in direct language and give orders to them.

Medieval Europe is in the back of all of our minds.  Castles and knights and Robin Hood and monks and hermits and the like are a ready source of ideas, even if taken mainly from Sir Walter Scott or Hollywood than a real historical knowledge.  We are all familiar with the idea of the hermit who lives in poverty in a cave, as a “holy man”.

But it seems fairly questionable whether this idea is very like what the New Testament teaches about Christian living.  In what way is such a man serving God?

That we are familiar with the idea of monks praying all day does not mean that it is a biblical idea.  The idea of a man alone in the desert might derive from John the Baptist, from the life of Christ, and some Old Testament ideas.  Yet … is this really what the bible teaches?

If our Lord could say that the law consisted of loving God, and loving your neighbour as yourself, then we may ask how this form of life, divorced from any normal neighbourly relationship, fulfils it.

While thinking in this way, I was uncomfortably reminded of the pagan philosophers, such as Diogenes the cynic.  These too made themselves uncomfortable in public, in order to acquire a reputation as moralists, and to earn their living by donations from admirers.  Once attained, they also had a reputation for direct speaking to powerful people.

There were many differences, of course.  But the similarities are profound.  Both involve strong healthy people who live by the donations of others, and sell an idea to them to do so.

The Greeks, indeed, were somewhat cynical about their philosophers.  Both Diogenes and Plato were sold into slavery, as sturdy vagabonds.  We may wonder about the fate of unsuccessful “holy men” in the 5th century, who somehow didn’t make the cut, and achieve enough notoriety to “break even”!  There were numerous pillar saints in Syria after Simeon had shown the way.

Did the acceptance of hermits and asceticism in the late 4th century have anything to do with the mass “conversions” of pagans in the same period?  Did the wandering philosopher turn into the stationary hermit?

We must recall that physical endurance was no great achievement to the peasants of antiquity.  No education was required to be a “holy man”, unlike their philosophical predecessor.  It merely required a knack for publicity; and if you started by entering a monastery and outshining the others (who might well resent your success!), you already had a pool of people willing to spread the word.  Once in the groove, you worked out your special “trick”, just as the philosophers did, and so long as you could live with the ascetic life, you were essentially made.

Of course we need not suppose that the ascetics were duplicitous.  They may well have believed sincerely in what they were doing.  But that does not make it godly of itself.

When we look at the life of Simeon, we see a man whose main achievement was self-torment.  But does making yourself tired and hungry and uncomfortable necessarily make you charitable, self-denying, good, kind, gentle and close to God?  Mastering your body is equally likely to make you proud of yourself and contemptuous of others.  Starving yourself may give you delusions, which you may mistake for visions; but there is no inevitable access to genuine visions of God just because you starve.  Is there?

It is hard to say what Simeon’s life truly achieved.  It feels wrong, on so many levels.

Oliver R. Barclay (1919-2013)

I learn by email of the death of Oliver R. Barclay, a former chairman of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU), and then general secretary of the IVF (now UCCF).  He was the author of Whatever Happened to the Jesus Lane Lot? (1977), an excellent informal history of Christian work and witness among students in Britain during the 19th and 20th century.  He also helped found Tyndale House in Cambridge.  His obituary may be read at the UCCF website here.

He did good work all his life, and I myself benefited from it in so many ways.  Without the Christian Unions at Cambridge and Oxford, there would be many fewer Christians in Britain today; and without Barclay and his fellow-workers’ emphasis on solid biblical teaching, there would be no Christian Unions.

Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

Miscellania: some snippets about the CICCU and the SCM from Google Books

For some reason today I did a search to find out when the Cambridge Inter-collegiate Christian Union (CICCU), one of the most influential Christian bodies of the 20th century, split away from the Student Christian Movement (SCM).  The CICCU had founded the SCM, but the latter became compromised with liberalism and had to be cut adrift.  The split took place in 1910, I found.  The CICCU encountered quite a bit of hostility, and was rather smaller than the SCM; but the latter withered and died between the wars.

But in the process I started to find various interesting books in Google Books.

The 1986 edition of John Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ, on p.13-14 put the issues pretty squarely.  After WW1, it seems, the SCM wanted to reconnect to the CICCU.  A meeting took place between Daniel Dick, Norman Grubb (president and secretary of the CICCU) and Rollo Pelly (secretary of the SCM).  Grubb wrote:

After an hour’s talk, I asked Rollo point-blank, ‘Does the SCM put the atoning blood of Christ central?’  He hesitated, and then said, ‘Well, we acknowledge it, but not necessarily central.’  Dan Dick and I then said that this settled the matter for us in the CICCU.  We could never join something that did not maintain the atoning blood of Jesus Christ as its centre; and we parted company.[1]

The context of the enquiry was 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: ‘For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.’ (RSV)

In A History of the University of Cambridge: 1870-1990, p.133, we find a brief history of the CICCU, with the telling phrase:

In the 1940s and 50s the SCM was much more in tune with the opinions of the leading college deans and chaplains than CICCU….

The same would doubtless have been true in the 80s, although the SCM barely existed by then.

Mark A. Noll’s Between Faith and Criticism: Evangelicals, Scholarship and the Bible in America, makes some sensible observations on how British Christianity never became as polarised as happened in the USA.  On p.87-88 there is an interesting passage on the role of the classics:

At least one other aspect of British education differentiated British from American evangelicals, namely the continuing vitality of classical studies in the secondary schools and universities. After the revolution in American education in the 1870s, the classics, which had been the mainstay of the American curriculum, rapidly lost their importance. Harvard, a bastion of conservatism on this question, after 1886 made it possible for students to enter without the traditional preparation in Latin and Greek, a provision which expanded rapidly in the following decades. Soon more modern and more pragmatic subjects had replaced the classics almost entirely in the secondary school curriculum. In Britain, by contrast, study of Greek and Latin remained foundational for at least the elite educational tracks. This had two important consequences. So long as evangelicals did the regular secondary preparation, it kept them conversant with not just the ancient languages, but also classical history and literature. This offered a ready-made group of potential Bible scholars for whom it was second nature to study the ways in which ancient cultures differed as well as resembled the modem. It also offered a career path for evangelicals whose conservative views on Scripture might have kept them from gaining initial appointments in more strictly biblical study. More than one prominent evangelical Bible scholar in Britain during the twentieth century began a professional career as an instructor of classics, only to move over into professional study of Scripture as time went on. The continuing vigor of the classics in Great Britain, in sum, offered a range of possibilities for the study of the Bible, which had become increasingly rare in the United States by the end of the nineteenth century.

Alister Chapman’s Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement, p.26 contains the following interesting passage:

For the most part, Stott was wary of his lecturers, and he did not develop close relationships with any of them. Yet he still excelled. The hours he spent at his desk in the university library paid off, and the additional hours poring over the Bible helped too. But it is still a little puzzling that Stott the conservative evangelical achieved a first-class degree. Whale’s example surely helped, although it is unlikely that examiners would have rewarded answers that were rigorously conservative. Stott may have adopted a strategy of laying out what the faculty wanted to hear without committing himself either way. Or perhaps Stott began to agree with his teachers. Oliver Barclay, a fellow pacifist and close friend of Stott’s at Cambridge who went on to become the general secretary of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship, recalled that during his theological studies Stott “struggled quite acutely at times”.  … Stott spoke at a CICCU conference that October, so he had not been blacklisted. But the evidence leaves open the possibility that people other than Barclay were aware of Stott’s theological struggles, and that they were worried about his doctrinal soundness. This may have been the time when Nash’s letters to Stott were (on his own account) so full of rebuke that he needed to “pray and prepare… for half an hour” before he could open them.” It is certainly possible that Stott temporarily modified some of his beliefs in the face of the acumen of the Cambridge Divinity faculty.

That Stott achieved a first, in the face of such faculty bigotry, is indeed remarkable.  The book continues with a somewhat sneery account of the history of the CICCU, and then, on p.40, a more or less accurate description of the “fundamentalism controversy” of the 50s, when the Anglican establishment decided to attack rather than support Billy Graham and Christians generally in the universities.  Little of this history is remembered today; probably more should be.

An amusing contrast may be found in Edward Carpenter’s Cantuar: The archbishops in their office.  Among the archbishops of the 20th century was a now-forgotten man named Donald Coggan, who had a Christian background and joined the CICCU on coming up to Cambridge.  On p.532 we read:

C.I.C.C.U. had long been the power-house of Conservative Evangelicalism, a group of narrow-minded fundamentalists, men only, with puritanical moral standards, considerable zeal and extremely rigid doctrinal criteria for deciding with whom they could cooperate. The Student Christian Movement, at that lime in its most lively and outgoing phase, was not included. Coggan became a Vice-President of C.I.C.C.U. and then a member of the Executive of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship which linked together the Christian Unions in all British universities. He fully shared the rather anti-ecumenical view’s of these bodies, but he was unusual within them in the depth of his knowledge of Scripture, a depth which over the years helped lead him gently away from the constrictions of XXth-century fundamentalism.

In 1937, the year his father became National President of the Federation of Meat Traders, Coggan accepted a teaching post in Canada, in Wycliffe College, Toronto, unquestionably Evangelical but a little less intolerantly so than the theological atmosphere he had known in England. He was in Canada for seven years, returning to England in 1944 to take up the principalship of the London College of Divinity, an institution whose buildings had been bombed and which had almost ceased to exist but which he quickly put back on its feet. It was a strictly Conservative Evangelical college and those responsible for the appointment may not altogether have grasped the quiet but decisive shift going on inside their appointee. Back in England he was invited by the Inter-Varsity Fellowship to be again involved in its work by becoming a Vice-President For this it was required, among other things, that he declare his belief in the Bible as ‘infallible’. This Coggan felt no longer able to do. His non-return to the I.V.F. was symbolic of where he now stood — among a group of scholarly liberal Evangelicals led by Max Warren, General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society. Symptomatic too was his earnest and successful endeavour to cooperate as Principal with Bishop Wand of London, despite Wand’s noted Anglo-Catholicism. In the face of opposition on the part of members of the Council, Wand was appointed on account of Coggan’s quiet insistence as College Visitor.

I am always amused to be called “narrow-minded” and having “puritanical moral standards” by those who see nothing morally wrong with someone becoming Principal of a Christian college on the basis of sharing that ethos, and then coolly attempting to destroy it.  One wonders whether it would be safe to drink out of the author’s coffee cup, so vehement is he against those of us with “puritanical” morality.

An interesting but odd book is Randle Mainwaring’s From Controversy to Co-Existence: Evangelicals in the Church of England, 1914-1980, Cambridge, 1985.  The back-cover blurb states: “While it highlights the progress of the gospel through evangelism and literary output, the work does not gloss over the small-mindedness and ‘sectarianism’ that has sometimes characterised Evangelicals”; which, since the book was produced by Cambridge University Press, it doubtless had no risk of doing.  The book appears to have been written by someone for whom Christians exist mainly to underpin the church.  Amusingly, we learn on p.43 that between the wars, “… no strictly conservative evangelical bishop was appointed…”.  The same has been true since 1997, which neatly refutes a good number of the kind of claims the author makes on the same page.

A world religions reader by Ian S. Markham &c contains, on p.293 f., a curious exposition by a certain Michael Goulder telling us how he became a Christian through the CICCU, and then abandoned it again because it was difficult to do evangelism, and only then discovered, mirabile dictu, that “I could not stay long in an organisation that defied science, biblical criticism and common sense” (etc).  The incredibly unmanly tone is quite curious to read, and gives a convincing (and perhaps unfair) picture of a very shallow man.  He earned his living in a series of religion-related posts, and died an atheist.

It is also interesting to read accounts, labelled scholarly by their authors and publishers, of events that I lived through and remember.  God in his wisdom has concealed much that He did in the last half of the 20th century from the sort of people who write such books.  Looking at the drivel in so many of them, we may thank Him for this mercy.

  1. [1]Norman P. Grubb, Once caught, no escape, p.56.