Monday, 6 March 2017

All Things Made New, by Stratford Caldecott

Stratford Caldecott, All Things Made New: The Mysteries of the World in Christ, 2011 Angelico Press

What I've read of the late Stratford Caldecott, I've very much enjoyed and appreciated. Unsurprisingly, much of the material in this book is really great. However, it does feel somewhat disjointed. The first part of the book provides a topical exploration of some of the theological themes of the book of Revelation, similar to Richard Bauckham's Theology of the Book of Revelation. However, the second part of the book seems to move away from the Apocalypse and examines Catholic spirituality, taking a look at the Rosary, the Our Father and the Stations of the Cross.

Caldecott did not interact with the schools of interpretation of Revelation- preterist, historicist, futurist and symbolic-idealist. His approach to interpreting it seems to be that of Symbolic-Idealism. He offers some insights, but those of us who favour Preterism will feel that he dehistoricizes Revelation by separating it from its original context. Caldecott provided an unfortunate howler when he made referance to JAT Robinson's early date for the Apocalypse. He stated that Robinson thought that it was one of the earliest books of the New Testament to be written. In actual fact, Robinson considered it to be one of the last; he dated the entire New Testament prior to 70 AD. This makes me wonder if Caldecott had an adequate enough grasp of New Testament background to write on exegetical topics. He included an appendix on exegesis. This makes some good points and recognizes the importance of interpreting Scripture in context and in harmony with authorial intent. I think he could have done a good job of explaining how typology works, which he did not do there. He made approving reference to a 1993 document on Biblical interpretation by the Pontifical Biblical Commission. This affirms the value of various critical methods. In my judgement it gave Biblical criticism too easy a pass, as did Caldecott. The problem with critical methods is they make naturalistic assumptions about the Biblical texts, leading too conclusions which on the surface seem unimportant, but which actually destroy Biblical authority. The question of whether Isaiah is written by two authors arises because of a denial of predictive prophecy. Likewise, if the book of Daniel was written in the Hellenistic era, its prophecies were written after the fact. If the Pentateuch is a collection of texts by different authors, then its uniformity is destroyed and its historical claims are jeopardized.

There is another appendix on the work of Methodist Bible scholar, Margaret Barker. She has argued that the New Testament is grounded in a mystical tradition which conflicted with the mainstream of contemporary Judaism. This tradition included a less strict doctrine of monotheism than the Judaism that has survived to today. Caldecott identified much value in her work, while having some concerns. I think he ought to have been a little more troubled by the notion of there being competing traditions in Scripture. I do think that could present problems for the unity of Biblical revelation. I am reading her book The Mother of the Lord, vol.1 at present. If her conclusion that one tradition in Scripture has suppressed and changed an earlier tradition (the reform of Josiah suppressing the Wisdom tradition), then the authority, inerrancy and arguably the inspiration of Scripture is utterly destroyed.

Caldecott's treatment of Revelation is certainly not without insights. I like the way he brought out the eschatolgical aspect of Sophiology, connecting the Bride of Christ, the eschatological Church with Sophia, Divine Wisdom:

"Sophia is thus an image of the final perfection of creation, of holiness and beauty. For wisdom is the beauty of holiness. It is in human holiness that we glimpse the true and final order of the cosmos, and thus the beauty and the purpose of creation. What else of greater value can we seek than this? But important moral implications follow from such an interpretation of the meaning of Sophia. We are speaking of the fiery, transcendental Beauty that is the 'unspotted mirror' of God's majesty and goodness, and into which no defiled thing can ever fall without being consumed. This Beauty is the radiance or self-gift of being."

He went on to identify Sophia with the Kingdom of God, a connection which he might perhaps have said a little more about.

Our author's theological reflections on the mysteries of the Rosary are definitely worth the price of the book. I will have to read them again and again, as I am sure they will inspire my own Rosary meditations. I also liked the defence he offered to the innovation of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, introduced by Pope St. John Paul II. Caldecott appears to take a trichotomist view of human nature; he refers to man as 'body, soul and spirit' on page 158. The problem with this position is that the Scriptures do not consistently distinguish between soul and spirit.

This is not a perfect book, but it offers so many insights. It is also a good deal easier to read than his book The Radiance of Being.

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