Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 11 December 2021

Stephen Parsons Surviving Church Thirtyone:Eight and the Culture of the Titus Trust

Zachary Guiliano The Living Church Inns and Stables

Church Times Leader comment: Why does HTB get it right (and everyone else get it wrong)?

Church Times Gospel translations: That openeth the window, to let in the light
Madeleine Davies explores theories behind translations of the Gospels

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Kate
Kate
8 months ago

Bethlehem was crowded for census. Likely all guest rooms in both inns and houses were only offering shared accommodation. A pregnant woman needed a private space for her confinement (and, even if Mary didn’t feel that way, under the Law she was ritually unclean for a week). . A stable was likely the only option no matter how poor or wealthy Joseph was. I find the arguments of both Guiliano and Ian Paul unconvincing because they ignore the likely need for confinement.

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Kate
8 months ago

Two of the Gospels make no mention of the Nativity. Mark starts with Jesus of Nazareth as an adult, and John uses Jesus’ birth to write a very theologically dense narrative that deliberately, at least in the first verse, is an attempt to parallel Genesis 1:1, although I’ve always been struck by the power and emotion (in English translation) of John 1:10-13. Here is a man who was profoundly affected by Jesus of Nazareth. I think it best not take take the Nativity anywhere remotely literally. Roman emperors were given “miraculous birth” stories, and that’s a clue. The Nativity stories… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by peterpi - Peter Gross
Kate
Kate
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
8 months ago

Is it likely that the God who clearly inspired much of the Old Testament through prophets and even handing stone tablets to Moses, went silent upon the death of Jesus? Isn’t it more likely that YHWH invested as much effort – if not more – into the Gospels?

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Kate
8 months ago

I appreciate your use of the transliterated tetragrammaton, although, in English, I feel YHVH is more accurate. Thank you. The writers of the biblical texts were not human typewriters or word processors. God used them to convey God’s message, but the writers were still fully human, with all their emotional, cultural, and other influences in place. We, and yes, I’m most emphatically including myself, see the world through internal editors, through an internal worldview, and the Gospel writers, St. Paul (and those who wrote in St. Paul’s name), etc. were no different. This also relates to how I view God.… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by peterpi - Peter Gross
Fr John Caperon
Fr John Caperon
8 months ago

Stephen Parsons’ account of the ‘Thirty-one: Eight’ report on the culture of the Titus Trust brings powerfully to mind for me the similar culture of at least one university Christian Union (CU). Being enclosed in a claustrophobic culture, departure from which could only be felt as a dangerous betrayal and a loss of many (or even most) social contacts, is something very reminiscent of my undergraduate years. At a point where intellectual and imaginative life was set for growth and expansion, the CU acted as a constricting force, with ‘unsound’ theologians – that is, any not writing from a convinced… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Fr John Caperon
8 months ago

Infancy narratives are still used, notably in North Korea. Kim Jong-un’s is a good one. It has much the same purpose as that in Luke. How long before President Xi has one too?

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Stanley Monkhouse
8 months ago

sorry – that should have been a response to peterpi

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Stanley Monkhouse
8 months ago

Xi is already there, in Chinese government secular apotheosis: “The Way of Xi Jinpeng” now ranks right up there with “The Way of Mao Zedong” and “The Way of Deng Xiaoping”.

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
8 months ago

Boris next?

Richard
Richard
Reply to  Stanley Monkhouse
8 months ago

Right after Trump.

Tim Chesterton
8 months ago

Several modern translation teams agree with Ian Paul. The New Living Translation says ‘there was no lodging available for them,’ and the 2011 revision of the New International Version has ‘there was no guest room available for them.’ Tom Wright’s translation has ‘there was no room for them in the normal living quarters’, and the Common English Bible has ‘because there was no place for them in the guestroom.’ It’s not particularly controversial, unless your interpretive grid for the Christmas story has been formed by nativity plays, which create an entirely fictitious character (the grumpy innkeeper) and excise one of… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
8 months ago

Hey Tim, picking up on your comment about Herod, I’ve attached a link to an impish piece by Frank Kermode, Was It a Supernova? I like his style. He provides a perspective missing from the largely un-Inn-teresting Zachary Guiliano/Ian Paul sidebar. Their debate reminded me of the controversy created by Maggie Thatcher over the parable of the Good Samaritan (link). Tunnel vision about a plot device may obscure the whole point of the story. Pace Guiliano, and Augustine for that matter, (A Preliminary Remark) it has been my experience that laity find the inclusion of historical criticism a welcome relief… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

Good stuff. I thought the point of the so-called Good Samaritan was that, identifying with the injured man, we should be ready to accept help no matter whence it comes.

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Stanley Monkhouse
8 months ago

Spot on. As well, the parable of the good Samaritan assumes that the hearer/reader of the story will know that the other two lads had the ways and means to help buddy in the drain had they chosen to do so. The problem is they didn’t while the chap who is the outsider did.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

Thank you for both of those two links. Some inspiring writing by Frank Kermode. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but arguably the leading case of the 20th century in the law of negligence (also, as it happens, involving a really quite bizarre set of facts) has a connection with the Good Samaritan. It boiled down to the question “Who is my neighbour?”, asked by the leading jurist Lord Atkin. The answer changed the law of England (albeit it was a case on appeal from Scotland) which has been followed in all other Common Law jurisdictions including (I’m… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
8 months ago

My understanding is that in Canada so called Good Samaritan laws shield a person offering help in an emergency from future litigation. Don’t know if the same law requires one to offer help. I have a family member who is a lawyer. I will inquire. Interesting.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

I think that is correct in Canada, and I believe something similar now operates in the UK, although I have no personal knowledge or experience of it in practice (having retired more than 10 years ago): The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Act 2015.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

Like you, I don’t see the need to slug it out over such a position.’

But then you proceed to do it anyway…

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
8 months ago

Fair enough I suppose. Hard to avoid to some degree, try as I may; but my reference to our Bishop’s piece in my subsequent comment was an attempt to show that it is possible to appreciate the stories no matter what one believes.

David Keen
David Keen
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

‘Interpreting myth as history makes it more, not less difficult’. Of course it does. Once we’ve asserted that something is ‘myth’, is so much easier to make it mean what we want it to mean. Lukes gospel is presented as researched historical narrative. So unless you think this is a narrative device (anticipating a slew of postmodern authors by 2000 years) the burden of proof lies with those who think Luke is writing ‘myth’. Or at least, it does within the church, as I guess anyone who doesn’t agree that Jesus is the ‘Saviour, Christ the Lord’ will see Luke… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  David Keen
8 months ago

There have been very serious historians who have regarded St Luke as an excellent historian. For example, in ‘St Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen’ (1895) Sir William [W. M.] Ramsay compared him to Thucydides, and rated him as being of the first rank (https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ramsay/ramsay_gasque.pdf). Incidentally, I would strongly recommend all of Ramsay’s oeuvre: ‘The Historical Geography of Asia Minor’ (1890) was re-written from memory after being lost (like T. E. Lawrence’s ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ when mislaid at Reading Station); it remains by far the best topographical study of Anatolia, even allowing for the works of George Bean,… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  David Keen
8 months ago

On the other hand, it is just as easy to read a text naively when we want it to be ‘historically true’, no? Eisegesis and confirmation bias are possible with any text be it historical or mythological. Just to make this more open ended, I would say that reading mythology requires one to grapple with its meaning beyond what either I as individual reader may discern or what the original compiler may have intended. Consider as an analogy from poetry T.S. Eliot, The Journey of the Magi. Is it an ‘easy’ read? What does it mean? Could Eliot have provided… Read more »

Helen King
Helen King
8 months ago

I’m rather less convinced than the CT Leader writer that ‘keeping it in the family’ is the way to choose church leaders.

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Helen King
8 months ago

I think the point that there is (under the current system) no succession planning or handover is worth considering. Pastoral ministry is different from (for example) school leadership, but to have neither of these things in a school context would be unusual. It seems to be a widely held article of faith that they would, in general, be bad things in a parish context. The reasons normally rehearsed are not adequately examined, and there are contexts in which succession planning and handover would make a material difference to likely success. Note that in a school with a succession plan, key… Read more »

Charles Clapham
Charles Clapham
Reply to  Mark Bennet
8 months ago

Maybe I’m just not understanding the maths, but surely if (say) on average 10% of parishes are in interregna (?) at any given time, this does indeed save money, whether you do the sums at a diocesan or national level. To eliminate all these vacancies, you would presumably need 10% more clergy and that would surely increase the stipend bill by 10%, wouldn’t it??

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Clapham
Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Charles Clapham
8 months ago

There are the same number of parish priests deployed in parish posts regardless of where they are service. So the national stipends bill remains unchanged by deployment (modulo marginal differences). How that falls on individual dioceses might be impacted by policies, which may or may not amplify other (eg geographical) issues affecting deployment. So often the global picture gets lost because no-one takes an overview. What is also true is that every ordained priest appointed to a non-parish job is one fewer in a parish post, because ordained priests are (in technical language) a scarce resource – there are not… Read more »

Charles Clapham
Charles Clapham
Reply to  Mark Bennet
8 months ago

Thank you Mark. I agree so far as it goes, but the argument assumes that the number of stipendiary priests is fixed. In which case I entirely agree that where they are deployed makes no difference to the overall cost. But really that just means that long interregna are a way rationing a scarce resource. My point is that there is no way of decreasing the average length of vacancies across the church as a whole without increasing the overall numbers deployed. In other words, suppose we have 9000 stipendiary priests but 10,000 vacancies. So at any given point, 10%… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Clapham
Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Charles Clapham
8 months ago

Charles, you are right that long vacancies are a means of managing a scarce resource. I would observe that this is a supremely unstrategic approach, which is regularly breached in high-profile cases like the one under discussion. This does nothing for the morale of others who don’t get special treatment. If we appoint more clergy, the stipends bill will increase, of course. The goal of 50% more ordinands was seen as necessary to stabilise the number of clergy, in a context in which Dioceses were collectively planning to have more clergy in post than would collectively exist. I have no… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Mark Bennet
8 months ago

Is it not the case that, once the Church lost its taxing power (tithe) and asset-stripped those parishes fortunate to have glebe (1976-78), finance was indeed a limiting factor, but few wished to admit it? Hence ‘furniture burning’ on a large scale. Now that most of the furniture has been burnt, or has put into the hands of those who are unwilling to burn it, finance has become a ‘limiting factor’. Some of us will recall the authorities pleading for higher rates of giving decades ago. However, even when the Church could tax the public to fund the subsistence of… Read more »

David Keen
David Keen
Reply to  Charles Clapham
8 months ago

And an average interregnum sees the parish lose 10-15% of its membership, which is never recovered, so over the long term the Diocese gets a lower parish share from each parish it forces through a long vacancy process. It’s a false economy.

James
James
Reply to  Helen King
8 months ago

So who would you have picked? There are over 100 Vicars/Rectors in the HTB Network, who are aligned to their mission, surely they should have selected one of them, and they did? Who else were you thinking they would reasonably pick? I think your comment is utterly impractical.

Helen King
Helen King
Reply to  James
8 months ago

James, obviously I don’t know who else was in the frame, so your question is unanswerable! I’ll unpack my unease a little more, and it isn’t about HTB specifically but about something much broader. The leader-writer states “Canon Coates is a natural successor to Mr Gumbel, and a core member of the HTB family (and it is a family: his assistant curate in Brighton since 2009 has been Jonny Gumbel, Nicky’s son)”. Incidentally there, I hadn’t realised that the concept of family in the HTB network is more than just an image. Last week someone on Twitter commented, in answer… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Helen King
8 months ago

Indeed so, Helen. It doesn’t take long in parochial ministry to see how malignant families and family omertà can be, And the family ethos has not served the CoE well in Wimbledon, for example. The Master had views on family that we might pay attention to.

Peter
Peter
Reply to  Helen King
8 months ago

The big difference between HTB and regular churches is that there are so few clergy in the C of E with the right blend of experience and gifts to lead it. It’s possible for HTB to run a discreet headhunting process & interviews. That’s not the case for the 1,000’s of more regular churches where open adverts and a ‘competitive’ recruitment process is the only realistic way of doing it.

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Peter
8 months ago

One interesting question in all of this is what sort of appointment process is appropriate for HTB. Given that the incumbent of that church oversees a vast network, and could be understood to exercise more influence than many suffragan bishops within the C of E, should a process that involves wider groups of people be put in place? There appears to be an awful lot of power in very few hands as things stand.

Marise Hargreaves
Marise Hargreaves
Reply to  Peter
7 months ago

The biggest difference is the amount of money in the bank and the money being given from within the Diocese of London. If regular parishes were given grants of around £250,000+ they also could have more staff, better facilities etc. Follow the money and the influence it buys. This is happening to its so-called plants across the country and others are being starved of money. One rule for one and another for everyone else it seems. Check out the reports on Companies House – they make interesting reading.

Interested Observer
Interested Observer
8 months ago

The Titus Trust website is somewhat broken. I had to extract the links from the page source, because they wouldn’t render on anything I had to hand.

The review is here. The executive summary is here.

Toby Forward
Toby Forward
8 months ago

There are plenty of infancy stories about Jesus in early texts, all of them as likely to be true as the two that have survived in the canonical Gospels. I think that it is a shame that the Matthew and Luke accounts weren’t discarded at the time of the formation of the canon.They have sucked attention away from the main message of the four evangelists, Holy Week and Easter, and become what most people think is the principal focus and feast of Christians. I’m afraid that the Church has been complicit in this. It would send out a good message… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
8 months ago

A tad more on Inns and Stables and such. By co-incidence I picked up a copy of our diocesan newspaper at church this morning. Our bishop’s December message is titled, There is just something about the Christmas story. (link, scroll to p.3). + Sandra quotes a songwriter, “ ‘No matter what you believe’, she said at the CD launch, ‘you have to admit that this little story had a big impact on the world.’ ”  The bishop references Meister Eckhart as well. “We are all meant to be mothers of God. … what good is it to me if Mary is… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

That message is consistent with modern reproductive biology. Mother and fetus exchange through the placenta of course, but intriguingly fetal trophoblast cells that invade maternal tissue to form the placenta travel further into the mother. Christ the embryo invades Mary – who is the type for us all. This is a model for theosis – divinisation of the human. In his 1614 Christmas sermon Lancelot Andrewes said “He was not idle all the time He was an embryo — all the nine months He was in the womb; but then and there He even eat out the core of corruption… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Stanley Monkhouse
8 months ago

Stanley, I had opportunity to read your thesis earlier in the year. I highly recommend it to those who have not yet done so. A comment of yours, “Christ the embryo invades Mary – who is the type for us all” and one by Andrewes that you cite, “[We] were by this means made beloved in Him … this the good by Christ an embryo.” both connect with characterization in the infancy narratives I think. While Matthew and Luke are different from each other from a literary perspective, the embryonic Jesus is in both cases the main character for each.… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by Simon Kershaw
Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

Thank you. Phillips Brooks has it in a nutshell: “O Holy Child of Bethlehem … be born in us today”. Mary is us.

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

Correction: My post above, line “Matthew is more overtly centrifugal in terms of relating a cast of characters to Jewish traditions and institutions (note the canticles).” That should read, “Luke is more overtly centrifugal …(note the canticles).” Didn’t see it until after posting. Perhaps an editor could fix it. Thanks.

David Runcorn
David Runcorn
Reply to  Stanley Monkhouse
8 months ago

Thank you both for this fascinating and informative exchange – and for the link to the dissertation.

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  David Runcorn
8 months ago

Indeed. There are other implications of this reproductive biology, not least the fact that by two weeks after fertilization – so the woman might not know she is pregnant – when fetal trophoblast has begun to invade maternal tissue, the woman’s body is no longer hers alone – it is the fetus’s too. The woman has become a chimaera. And she further changes with each succeeding fertilization. You can do the sums yourself concerning induced abortion and “right to choose”. People talk about following the science – I bet many don’t want to in this case.

Last edited 8 months ago by Stanley Monkhouse
Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Stanley Monkhouse
8 months ago

When you say ‘she further changes with each succeeding fertilization’, do you mean that these changes occur all over again each time a woman becomes pregnant, or that the changes are more extensive each time she becomes pregnant?

And at what point does a foetus become ‘a life’, rather than ‘a potential life’? When the first cells divide? the heart and brain form? it’s capable of surviving outside the womb?

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Janet Fife
8 months ago

I mean that each time embryonic cells invade maternal tissue to establish a means of fetal nutrition (which is what it’s all about), the mother becomes a mixture of what she was before and some “new” embryonic cells. BTW1. Embryonic/fetal are often used carelessly to mean there same. I am guilty. BTW2 fetus or foetus? Science journals use fetus and its derivatives. Etymologically ‘there is no doubt that the correct spelling is fetus, the word being related to felix, femina, etc. The incorrect spelling occurs first in the late writer Isidorus (570-636 A.D.) who fancied that the word could be derived from foveo (I cherish) instead of… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Stanley Monkhouse
8 months ago

Thanks Stanley.

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  David Runcorn
8 months ago

Let me add that we don’t know quite what happens to the fetal trophoblast cells that penetrate further into maternal tissue of species like us in which the fetus is sustained through one or more placentas. You might think that since the fetus is immunologically foreign to the mother, it would be rejected. That it is not normally rejected illustrates that fetomaternal immunology remains mysterious and seems to depend not so much on being at war with foreign-ness but rather on the acceptance of same-ness (the fetus is half maternal) as seen in some invertebrates. The evolution of reproduction is… Read more »

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Stanley Monkhouse
8 months ago

I think what is interesting to me about your dissertation is that it strongly supports banning abortion. If we start with Mary being a virgin, your assumption that the foetus became Jesus at the moment of conception follows pretty axiomatically. From that we can only conclude that’s when the specialnes of life begins more generally and that therefore abortion shouldn’t be allowed.

Last edited 8 months ago by Kate
Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Kate
8 months ago

What you call my assumption is that of the church fathers. But I must emphasize that we can’t or shouldn’t merge our ideas with theirs – our knowledge of biology has changed so much since then. Remember too that parthenogenesis in a mammal would result in a female. Like Rod Gillis,btw, I don’t believe in the vb except as midrash – which is what all this is. I don’t intend to comment any more on this except to say that we are here at what I used to tell students was the foreskin of knowledge. I probably wouldn’t get away… Read more »

Marise Hargreaves
Marise Hargreaves
Reply to  Kate
8 months ago

It is interesting to note that Jewish teaching differs significantly. Unless the baby is born and lives outside of the womb for 30 days it is not seen as being a viable human being. In the womb it is seen as the woman’s body and should there be a risk to her the foetus life is taken to preserve that of the mother. Miscarriage and stillbirth do not have ritual burials which is an issue being debated within contemporary Judaism. So the foetal Jesus was not a ‘nefesh’ until he was born and survived for 30 days outside of the… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Kate
8 months ago

1) My understanding of Jewish teaching is that, just as God breathed God’s spirit into Adam and Eve to make them living human beings, so, too, a baby isn’t a person until after the baby has taken its first breath. That is, after it is born. 2) The Bible is full of allusions to women being the fertile field and men planting a seed. And that is based on early people’s cultivation of crops and animal husbandry. And ancient Judaism isn’t the only culture which saw intercourse and pregnancy in this manner. In fact, if the moderators will allow the… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by peterpi - Peter Gross
Tim Chesterton
8 months ago

That’s a fine article on Bible translation by Madeleine Davies. Recently I’ve been enjoying reading John Goldingay’s very literal translation of ‘The First Testament’ (as he calls it) and have appreciated how he left the rough edges in. But there’s a strength in committee translations, too; peer review is not a bad thing!

Jonathan Jamal
Jonathan Jamal
7 months ago

Whilst people are discussing here the ins and outs of the Christmas stories, perhaps I should take the opportunity to share something that might bring this whole discussion down to earth and connect our Christmas celebrations with reality, as it is very easy for a portal like this to become very insular in a British way and forget the Christian faith is being lived beyond our shores by fellow Sister and Brother Christians who actually being persecuted for the faith today especially in the Mother Land of our Faith Palestine/Israel. This week on December the 14th a Statement was put… Read more »

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