Book review: Peace on earth - or at least in church

CHRISTIANITY: The First Two Thousand Years by David L Edwards, Cassell pounds 30 THE ROMAN OPTION Crisis and the Realignment of English-Speaki ng Christianity by William Oddie, HarperCollins pounds 16.99

George Carey has identified the key problem facing Christianity in these isles in the wake of the outpouring of grief that followed the death of Princess Diana. The British are fundamentally a religious people with a healthy and largely undiscriminating appetite for spiritual comfort, but the mainstream churches have managed to alienate them. Hence falling mass attendance, empty seminaries and marginalisation from national life. But the well-meaning Archbishop has so far failed to carry his public soul-searching one step further and ask why.

Should he be busy formulating a response - and without one, Anglicanism as the established Church appears doomed - Dr Carey would do well to set aside several days for a thorough read of David Edwards's 600-page history of the first 2,000 years of Christianity. It will be an enjoyable task - Edwards has a pleasant style, lucid and free from the usual jargon about the Spirit, evangelisation and incarnation that often gives such books a near mystical opaqueness. And despite his own Anglican background - as Provost of Southwark Cathedral until his retirement in 1994 - Edwards has an eye for the broader picture.

This means that he makes the most of Anglicanism's somewhat ambiguous position between the Protestant and Catholic traditions to immerse himself in both without any hint of partisanship or points-scoring. And, attempting, as this book does, a global survey, he is only too aware of the relative insignificance of Anglicanism next to Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestant fundamentalism and accordingly does not unbalance his survey with special pleading for his own tradition. His treatment in particular of the first great split in Christianity - between Rome and Constantinople - displays rare insight, clarity and sensitivity for a writer steeped in the western tradition.

Another strength of Edwards's approach - and one that should inspire his readers to examine their consciences - is his capacity to see Christianity within the framework of different ages. When he arrives - just a touch breathlessly, I felt - in contemporary times, Edwards embarks on an impressive and clear-sighted analysis of how Christianity stands in a post-modern age. "For many who regard themselves as Christian as the 21st century begins, the option may be made for a fairly loose attachment to historic Christianity, questioning many of its doctrines and ignoring most of its rituals. The connection may be so loose that the person who makes it may be called with justice a 'post-Christian'."

Such a verdict has been strenuously resisted by Bishops and Cardinals in recent decades as they have laboured in vain to corral the faithful behind certain dogmas and beliefs, but Edwards is not afraid to spell out the current ascendancy of the a la carte approach to Christianity over the old-fashioned table d'hote variety. Indeed in general he seems little disturbed by the prospect of the privatisation of religion, though just occasionally you get a hint of his own feelings as when he summarises a fairly balanced pen portrait of Pope John Paul II with what reads, given what has gone before, rather like a despairing plea: "it may be thought that the history of the papacy as the centre of Christian unity in truthful faith and charitable holiness has a great future ahead of it."

William Oddie would certainly endorse such a sentiment, though he would remove the note of doubt that is detectable in Edwards's voice. A recent convert to Rome after a lifetime as a Church of England vicar, Oddie bubbles over with enthusiasm for the papacy as the standard-bearer of religious belief into the next millennium.

Where Christianity: The First Two Thousand Years is evidently a labour of love by a scholar with a mission to popularise, The Roman Option is a piece of hastily-assembled journalism with a message. Oddie admits that events may soon overtake his book - indeed, pushing them along is part of his reason for writing it - but he believes that Christianity in the English-speaking world is at a watershed, with the Anglican communion - by ordaining women - having finally come off the fence and decided that it is a Protestant Church.

It is a not a new theory, and those Catholic Anglicans who remain a dispirited but determined rump within the Church of England will disagree. But Oddie's principal purpose is to increase pressure on the Vatican to make preparations for the wholesale defection of Anglicans that will be prompted, he believes, when General Synod begins ordaining women as Bishops. Such a scenario, more dispassionate observers believe, is simply wishful thinking on Oddie's part, part of an anxiety to have been in the vanguard of the major shift rather than one of a small band of dissidents at a particular point in history.

Oddie's book once again tells the story of when General Synod decided in November 1992 to ordain women. It traces the special provisions made thus far by Rome to allow both dissident married convert Anglican clergymen to become Catholic priests despite Rome's rule of celibacy, and traditionalist Anglican parishes to take the Pope's shilling en masse. While he praises the tenacity of Cardinal Basil Hume in brokering such a deal, known in church circles as the "Roman Option", Oddie feels that more needs to be done to deal with the flood he anticipates.

It is passionate, polemical stuff, but I feel that the Vatican will need a few more facts and a little less emotion to convince them to reconsider. And after David Edwards's compelling overview of two millennia, the "crisis" mentioned in the subtitle of The Roman Option seems more like a footnote to the attempts of all the churches worldwide to work out their relationship to Christ's gospel, to each other, and - more urgently at least in the British context - to the society in which they operate.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before