Thursday, March 15, 2007

Question for the experts ... [resolved?]

I have a research question for anyone who can answer it. This is not for entertainment -- I'm really wanting to find the answer, and can't seem to.

I was reading the work of a Protestant named Edmund Bunny, who was refuting a Jesuit who had remarked that Protestants were weak in the realm of devotional literature (in the 16th century). In response Bunny referred to several Protestant works, including one text he called simply "the Centuries".

To what text does he refer? I'm thinking this might be a collection of official sermons (like say, 100 of them)? I know Bullinger was responsible for the Decades, which was an official collection of sermons for use in the Church of England. But is that the same as the Centuries?

Help! Anyone!

Update (17 March): I think I may have found the answer, though I'm not certain. The ant-Catholic work below by Church of England clergyman and controversialist Andrew Willet has the word "Centvries" in its title (middle of page, on line starting with "DIVIDED ...":

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has this to say of Willet's work:

A prolific author, Willet published in 1592 the first edition of what became his most famous work, Synopsis papismi. Throughout Willet's career this survey of all the controversies between the protestants and the Church of Rome went through a series of new editions and expansions, which saw it swell from a quarto edition of 600 pages to its posthumous fifth edition of over 1300 folio pages (including a life of the author by Peter Smith), published in 1634. The royal patent for this fifth edition, ‘tendring the good of our loving Subjects in matters of Religion especially’, noted approvingly of Willet's work that ‘it hath beene seene and allowed by … the Reverend Bishops, and hath alsoe ever since byn in greate esteeme in both of our Universities, and also much desired by all the Learned both of our clergy and laity throughout our Dominions’ (Rymer, Foedera, 100–02).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An Orchard Among Groves: Depravity, O'Conner, and The Puritans

(Preface: Admittedly, this will be an odd post. It weaves together two kinds of reading I have done recently, both of which offered glimpses into the "T" in TULIP. If it is a little indulgent, I apologize.)

As I was recently reading about the puritan tendency to major on the depravity of man (an incomplete description of them by the way), a certain author was brought to mind. I have never attempted to compare this author with the puritans before and doing so may not be overly fruitful to our readers. But it was for me.

The wise do not compare an apple to an orange only to rebuke the apple for not falling easily into sections. Sage advice would tell us to avoid that folly in comparing writers as well. Flannery O'connor is an apple among oranges, an orchard among groves. I felt relieved in making that estimation after reading her say the same thing about herself in a letter to her editor. "I am amenable to criticism," she granted, "but only in the sphere of what I am trying to do; I will not pretend to do otherwise" (The Complete Stories p. x). The problem was she was in a sphere by herself, making points that few considered in ways even fewer understood.

Many Christian readers take the advice of more adventurous Christian readers (which I did) and fly innocently into O'Connor's mind only to be smacked senseless like a pigeon colliding with a flawless pane of glass. She leaves them shaking their heads and asking, "Why was I sent in this direction?" If you are hoping to find a Narnia in her pages, you will be seeking a refund.

So what is the allure? It is reported that even her publisher wished that she would just sit down to talk about her stories, making clear "what was what" (Stories, x). Is this just another case of literary types elevating an author, draping her in the Emperor's finest so they can have a hero that no one else understands? I think not. The key is understanding O'Connor's intent. In a quote that reveals both her power and point, Thomas Merton wrote soon after her death: "[I compare her with] someone like Sophocles...I write her name with honor, for all the truth and all the craft with which she shows man's fall and dishonor" (Stories, xv) Man's Fall and Man's dishonor. Ah, there's the rub. Summing her up another way, Caroline Gordon said she wrote to demonstrate the "operations of supernatural grace in the lives of natural men and women."Those summaries were helpful to me.

To be fair, I have only read 5 of her very disturbing stories, "Geranium", "The Barber", "A Good Man is Hard to Find", "Good Country People", and "Greenleaf." The first of them left me thunderstruck by her skill but underwhelmed by whatever point she was making. The stories are from a southern perspective (American) and are charged with racial tension and self-righteous characters. Each one ends with some kind of gruesome or confounding climax. Not the kind of reading that calls you to the pillow. I sat on the porch after reading "A Good Man is Hard to Find" feeling somewhere between a weep and a shrug. I found myself doing what many other readers have done: reaching "for any cliché [I] could lay hold of in order to have some way of apprehending this original and disturbing work" (Stories, xvi). With no clichés at hand, I had to simply admit I did not understand. But I pressed on.

After reading the fifth story ("Greenleaf") some things began to dawn. O'Connor began to smile at me, if only a slight smirk. She was not a total Misfit. I felt like a skittish squirrel who finally saw the possibility of taking the peanut from a cryptic palm. O'Connor became Flannery - a woman with "a highly developed sense of comedy, deep faith, [and] a great intelligence" (Stories, xiii).

Her characters are fallen creatures with an acute aptitude for cruelty, humor, and self-deception. Man at his fallen ebb. Each one does what is right in his/her own eyes and their words are often wicked, mostly self-congratulatory, and rarely without a hint of humor. They are seamlessly crafted and stick with you to the point of a kindly haunting. It is in the character that the point leaps to the front.

In my humble and limited evaluation, it seems that O'Connor writes not so much about Grace but about the depths to which Grace must go to touch us where we are. By expounding on depravity - complete with gorings, amputees stranded aloft, and a grandmother's roadside execution - we see the nobility of a Grace that would invade so wretched a stage. Christ touching the harlot: shocking yet immanently necessary and moving.

That is where my reading on the puritans comes in. In their sermons they skillfully thundered away at sinfulness so that Grace would be the ultimate protagonist. As the ugliness of sin is described in excruciating detail, Christ emerges as the stunning redeemer.

In O’Conner, it is as though we are reading the verbal equivalent of a film negative. Things are intimately recognizable, but only in a way that traces what should have been. In short, I benefit from reading O'Connor. I know now to enjoy the orchard and not sniff for orange blossoms - they are not there. I read her to better understand the hot and stinking bog behind me and to rejoice, as did the puritans, in the cool and immovable Rock beneath my bare feet.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

McGrath vs Atkins: A Reminder

Just a reminder that tonight is the scheduled debate between Alister McGrath and Peter Atkins hosted by the Philosophy Society and the Christian Union of the University of Edinburgh.

Title: "Darwin and humanity: Should we rid the mind of God?"

Time: Tuesday 13 March, 6pm

Place: George Square Lecture Theatre

About: A special debate between Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, author of "Dawkins' God" and "TheDawkins Delusion" and Peter Atkins, Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University, well-known atheist and supporter of Richard Dawkins. As seen on Channel 4's "The trouble with atheism".

Cost: All welcome. Admission free. Open to general public. Arrive early.

NB: Here is a link to a 1998 debate between William Lane Craig and Peter Atkins. Although, I've not listened to it.


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