2022 in books

As the year draws to a close, I am looking back on the best books I read in 2022, including a 'book of the year' recommendation.

In Transubstantiation: Theology, History, and Christian Unity (2019), Brett Salkeld offers an interpretation of Aquinas' articulation of transubstantiation which offers important points of contact with the Reformed tradition. Particularly striking, however, was its positioning of Aquinas as considerably closer to Calvin - and, indeed, Zwingli - than Luther, who was much more a 'late medieval'. There is a superb chapter on Calvin and his "remarkable agreement" with Thomas "on signs and signified in the Eucharist". Similarly, on the relationship between the Ascension and the Eucharistic presence, "Calvin (and Zwingli too!) follows Aquinas rather precisely":

How ironic, then, Calvin's reputation as a Zwinglian is based largely on his theology of signs and his affirmation of the ascension, two points on which he is in strict agreement with Aquinas!

The chapter on Calvin opens with a contrast with Luther: "in John Calvin we see something more strictly analogous to the position of Thomas Aquinas himself". Also significant is a reference to the "Chalcedonian balance" in Calvin's Eucharistic theology, a balance which - as Torrance Kirby superbly demonstrated - was central to Hooker's entire theological enterprise. The book in its entirety is a fascinating Roman Catholic account of transubstantiation and its interpretation of Aquinas in the earlier chapters prepares the reader for the Calvin chapter:

the adjectives 'substantial' and 'spiritual' meant very similar things for Thomas and Calvin respectively ... Both terms were meant to assert an objective, though non-physical, reality.

Gordon Wenham's Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically (2012) is a marvellous interpretation of the Psalter that will, I think, lead many of those of who pray the BCP monthly Psalter to quickly recognise this is how the psalms function:

I follow those who see the Psalter as a second law, the law of David to be meditated on like the law of Moses, the Pentateuch ... however, the Psalter's interaction with the Pentateuch goes much deeper than law codes. It also reflects on the teaching of the narratives.

At many points throughout the book, as this understanding was expounded, I found myself realizing that this is exactly how the monthly praying of the Psalter at Mattins and Evensong leads us to understand the Psalms. There are also wonderful insights on particular Psalms throughout the book. Psalms 104, 105, and 106 (Day 20 evening, Day 21 morning and evening) "constitute a mini-Pentateuch because they begin with creation, move on to the patriarchs, then the exodus, and eventually end with the settlement". The imprecatory Psalms, to be prayed as in the 1662 monthly Psalter rather than excluded as in many contemporary lectionaries, invoke God's judgement "as an act vindicating the weak as exploited":

The conviction that God will come as judge is ... the ultimate hope of weak an oppressed. The righteous judge will rescue them from the hand of the rich and powerful. This central theme of the Psalter has its roots in the pentateuchal law.

There is also a delightful interpretation of Psalm 1, said at Morning Prayer at the beginning of each month, as echoing Joshua 1:8 - "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success" - in pointing the reader back to the Pentateuch "as foundational for a righteous and successful life".

I began reading Eleanor Parker's delightful Winters in the World: A Journey through the Anglo-Saxon Year (2022) in early Autumn. In the days after Michaelmas and as I prepared to preach at Harvest Thanksgiving, I came across this evocative passage, which gives some idea of the richness and beauty of this work:

Harvest ends with the coming of what the poet calls the 'Michaelmas moon', which must be the full moon (and perhaps the month) closest to Michaelmas at the end of September. We might think of that as the first chill in the air in an October dusk, or the first time it seems to be getting dark too early, or the first breath of mist in the morning - anything which says that summer is gone and the dark half of the year is coming. In September, amid the bounty of harvest-home, it may feel as if summer's hardly over, but winter's only one full moon away.

The book, quite simply, is a joy, unfolding the seasons and bringing us to experience their coming and passing as a gift to be cherished. We might regard it as an extended meditation on the words of the Psalmist: "He appointed the moon for certain seasons".

With only a few days left of this year, I cannot help but quote the closing words of Winters in the World, a perfect example of its rich wisdom:

Every year, the familiar sights, words and stories of the passing seasons will bring forth new fruit for us, because every year we bring different things to them and take different things away.  So, year by year, the cycle may give meaning to the passing of our own brief days, and we may become, like the winter-weathered sage of Maximus II, fyrngearum frod: 'wise with by-gone years'.

This leads me to a collection of poems by contemporary New England poet Christopher Yokel, Autumn Poems: New and Selected (2019). As someone who particularly delights in the season of Autumn, these poems were a joy to read as the leaves fell, the days shortened, and apple pie was made. On this day after the Winter Solstice, words from 'Lux in Tenebris' continue to resonate.

this peace of the dying season, 

this vibrancy of quiet rest,

in autumn's arriving night.

Yokel's collection now sits with my other books of poetry, awaiting an early September day in 2023, when I will see a leaf fall "as sun sets on summer" ('September 2nd,').

Finally, my 'book of the year'.  It might seem a surprising choice as I have, both on Twitter and on this blog, indicated my rather robust disagreements with the author's interpretation of Laudianism. That said, Stephen Hampton's Grace and Conformity: The Reformed Conformist Tradition and the Early Stuart Church of England (2021) is a must-read, defining, clarifying, and examining a substantial and significant tradition of thought and piety - "neither Laudian nor Puritan" - in the Jacobean and Caroline ecclesia Anglicana. I will leave my criticisms of Hampton's interpretation of Laudianism to a series of posts in the New Year.  With the puritans, of course, the Reformed Conformists shared a commitment to Reformed doctrinal Orthodoxy, symbolised by their participation in and commitment to the Synod of Dort. That said, Hampton also highlights what the Reformed Conformists shared with the Laudians:

It shared with the Laudian style of piety a concern for reverence, order, and decorum in Christian worship; a concern to ensure a proper balance in that worship, such the prayer took its proper place alongside preaching; a concern for the identification and beautification of sacred space; a celebration of the Apostolic derivation of ministerial authority, legitimately handed down through the personal succession of bishops.

Readers of Hampton's Anti-Arminians: The Anglican Reformed Tradition from Charles II to George I (2008) might detect here antecedents of the post-1662 Reformed constituency in the Church of England, conforming to a Laudian liturgical and episcopal context. Following recent historiography, Hampton notes the "diversity of the Reformed tradition in England", reflecting "the diversity of traditions amongst the Reformed Churches of Europe".  One consequence of this, of course, is that the Reformed Conformists cannot "be helpfully labelled ... 'Calvinist'". 

Although Hampton does not quote him, Jeremy Taylor's description of Reformed Conformist and Dort delegate Joseph Hall did come to mind when reading the book: "the late Eloquent and Reverend Bishop of Norwich". This is suggestive of a rather more nuanced, complex, and interesting relationship between Laudians and Reformed Conformists than is usually accepted, something which Hampton could have usefully explored.  That said, Hampton does refer to the fact that it was Laud who asked Hall to write his famous Episcopacy by Divine Right (1640), albeit the explanation of their relationship is not entirely convincing.

While Grace and Conformity is a crucially important study for understanding the Jacobean and Caroline Church, my recommendation of it is not only based on this. The book also points to why Anglicanism needs such a meaningful, substantive Reformed tradition.  Too many evangelical Anglicans I encounter in the Church of Ireland are neo-puritans (although better, I suppose, than those who are anabaptists in Anglican orders): rejecting liturgy and episcopacy, having little meaningful sacramental theology, and shaped by a 19th century revivalist theology rather than the Augustinian vision of salvation central to the Reformed tradition. Grace and Conformity shows that it could be different, that evangelical Anglicans, firmly rooted in the richness of Reformed doctrine, should also have a lively commitment to Prayer Book, sacraments, and episcopal polity. Such a tradition - deeply Reformed rather than the froth of pietism and revivalism - would meaningfully contribute to Anglican life and witness.


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