Bradwell Papers 7

January 2000

I think of the Bradwell Papers as a modest Theological Journal serving the Diocese of Chelmsford and this edition is the seventh in line, and of course the first of the new millennium. I am grateful to our contributors who have provided us with a fascinating variety of topics.

Dr lan Jorysz is the Vicar of South Weald and my own Research Assistant. He has followed in the footsteps of Dom Gregory Dix but has begun his exploration of the shape of the liturgy from the perspective of the congregation. Being a scientist by training he analyses the data for us and offers us some very interesting insights.

An important aspect of liturgy is the sermon and I was pleased to hear a very interesting one when I licensed my new Area Youth Officer, Lynn Money, who heads up our Diocesan youth-work team, shares challenges from two biblical stories.

Using the bible in our preaching does of course raise important questions and challenges for the theologically literate, and Ivor Moody, our Chaplain at Anglia Polytechnic University, describes the landscape of that struggle.

Finally, Robert Hampson, assistant curate in Chingford, seeks to move beyond a simply dualistic approach to the question of the soul and helps us consider a multi-layered reality.

In thanking our present contributors, let me say again that I always welcome contributions to be sent to me for forthcoming editions of the Bradwell Papers.

Best wishes,

+Laurie Bradwell


The Shape of the Eucharist, A Congregation’s View, The Rev'd Dr I. H. Jorysz

I am Young and You are Old, Sermon for the Licensing of Cpt Trevor Clark as Bradwell Area Youth Officer, Lynn Money

Wrestling with Genesis, The Rev'd Ivor Moody

Body and Soul, The Rev'd Robert Hampson

The Shape of the Eucharist, A Congregation’s View

The Rev'd Dr I. H. Jorysz


Every parish priest is used to receiving comments upon the worship offered in his or her church. It is encouraging to hear, "I enjoyed the service," or "Good sermon, Vicar." Unfortunately, there are also those other familiar pairs of comments volunteered after a service, such as "It's so good to sing something more modern," with "When will we sing more traditional hymns?" It indeed seems to be the case that you cannot please all of the people all of the time, for it appears that different worshippers respond to different things. Much of this variation is presumably due to the vagaries of taste, to be met by compromise and tolerance. But are there any fundamental patterns in the way in which different people respond, beyond the merits of G. Kendrick versus S. S. Wesley? To what extent do different people have an entirely different perspective upon the same service, locating the vibrancy of a liturgy in different elements?

Recently, I had the opportunity in my own church of St Peter, South Weald, to ask such questions. A questionnaire was to be distributed to the main Sunday congregation in order to discover the congregation's views on various matters, and it was possible to include a question upon each individual's response to our Eucharistic liturgy, couched in such a way that it was amenable to a statistical analysis. The results are described below. I offer them to a wider audience, however, not believing them to be in any sense definitive. They represent, at best, a preliminary enquiry. Rather, my modest hope is that they may be of some interest and possibly encourage someone else to make a more adequate investigation.

Before proceeding, I should first give a thumb-nail sketch of the congregation and service at South Weald, in order for you to judge the context of its findings. Our congregation is eclectic, drawn from across Brentwood and beyond, and very much defines itself as being middle of the road. Although no more than half is present on any given Sunday, the regular congregation numbers around 230 adults and 90, mainly pre-teenage, children. There is therefore a good proportion of young families. The main Sunday service is a Rite A Eucharist. We have a mixed choir of 35 members, around half of whom are children. As a result, there is a strong musical tradition with a choir anthem sung at the gradual each week. The Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei are also sung, but no other responses.

The Question Asked

In asking for a response to a service, it is not easy to know the proper question to pose. Clearly, worship is nothing like a performance which one can ask the 'audience' to judge. Words like 'good' and 'bad' are therefore to be treated cautiously. In this survey, respondents were given a list of the service elements (introductory sentence, liturgical greeting, first hymn, etc.) and asked to indicate how much each "speaks to you and draws you into the worship". Next to each element was a row of nine tick-boxes, marked 'not at all', through to 'very much' and respondents were invited to tick one box next to each element. For simplicity of expression, in the remainder of this article terms such as "preference", "high" and "low" will be used; but please remember that this is merely short hand for parts of the service which speak to an individual much, or little.

82 questionnaires were returned from adults, so that around a third of our adult congregation is here represented. (A questionnaire was also distributed to the children, but due to their attendance at Sunday School for much of the service, no meaningful analysis on this issue is possible.) Fears that the question might have been too complex appear to have been unfounded, although some people responded only to some of the service elements.

Heights and Depths of the Service

The responses were first analysed in a straight-forward way. Each service element was scored as zero (those which do not speak at all to the person) through to eight (those which speak very much). An average score for each service element can then be calculated across all the responses The resultant scores are listed in table 1, with the information presented graphically in figure 1


Dist. of Communion / Blessing




Lord's Prayer






Inv to Communion


Confession / Gospel


Euch Prayer / Agnus Dei / Final Hymn


Humble Access / Post-Com. Prayer / Dismissal






Gloria / Sermon / Nicene Creed


New Testament / Post-Com. Sentence


Collect for Purity / Collect of the Day / Choir Anthem / Communion Hymns




First Hymn / Offertory Hymn


The Peace


Old Testament






Introductory Sentence




Liturgical Greeting




Offertory Procession


Table 1: the average score for each service element, on a scale of zero to eight

A number of observations may be made about this data.

First, considering the graph, it is notable that the line progresses from element to element in a generally smooth manner. There is no reason that this should necessarily be so: neighbouring elements might have scored very differently.

Yet although there is constant movement between 'highs' and "lows', the smooth progression suggests that participants experience the service as having a definite shape. Overall, that shape gathers to a climax as the service progresses.

Secondly, there are six definite peaks in the service, the first three being pronouncedly higher than the second. These are the distribution of communion, the blessing and the Lord's prayer; the gospel reading, the confession and the prayer of humble access. Interestingly, the blessing is the high point of the entire service, slightly eclipsing even the distribution of communion.

Thirdly, the relatively low position of the peace seems surprising. The congregation at South Weald does not appear to be untypical in its attitude to the peace: there are some who think the informality of the moment should be greatly expanded and a few others who mention how difficult they find this element, but in general the peace appears to be well accepted. Yet this survey suggests that the peace is at best tolerated, not wholeheartedly embraced.

Fourthly, the congregation appears little to value the Old Testament reading.

Fifthly, the hymns rank relatively lowly except for the final one.

Arising from this is the tentative suggestion that music forms part of this congregation's response to worship, rather than leading the congregation into worship. In other words, it is not the music which helps the congregation collectively to lift up its heart (the first hymn scores poorly), but only once the congregation has been led into an awareness of God's presence do hymns then become the natural vehicle for a response of praise.

Individual perspectives on the service

The above analysis is based on the averages of widely varying individual scores. For instance, although the choir anthem does not rank highly over all, presumably it does so amongst the responses of the choir members themselves. A further question therefore becomes of interest. On the one hand, it may be that the congregation is formed by many individuals each with a uniquely patterned response to the service. On the other hand, it might be that the congregation can be categorised into distinct types of member: may be, for instance, those who do or do not respond to the music. Which is the case?

To attempt to answer the question, a so-called correlation analysis has been used. Without entering into the technical detail, this is a statistical calculation which selects two elements in the service at a time, say A and B- The calculation produces a number (the "correlation coefficient") which lies somewhere between 1 and -1. If the value is close to 1, A and B are said to be highly positively correlated, indicating that those who rate A highly are also likely to rate B highly and vice versa. If the value is close to -1, A and B are negatively correlated in which case those who rate A highly are likely to rate B lowly, and vice versa. A value close to zero indicates that A and B are not correlated, in which case there is no relationship between them: if A is rated highly, one could not in this case predict the rating for B. To give specific examples, it is found that the correlation coefficient between the Old and New Testament readings is 0.75, unsurprisingly indicating that those who value one also value the other. Another example is the correlation coefficient of -0.46 between the introductory sentence and the Agnus Dei: those who like the one, tend not to like the other, for some obscure reason.

One can thus calculate the correlation coefficients between all the service elements and look for any emerging patterns. This is not straightforward: not only are there 465 such correlation coefficients in this analysis, but the relatively low sample of 82 responses means even greater caution is needed in drawing conclusions than in the previous section.

Figure 2 gives a diagrammatic representation of the findings. Service elements are grouped together which are positively correlated (indicated by thick connecting lines); boxes are then drawn around those groups of elements no two of which have a negative correlation. This gives an idea of which elements belong together in some sense. The dotted lines with arrow heads indicate pairs of boxes of elements which have many negative correlations between them.

It is a complicated picture, but the following observations may be made, albeit stressing once more their tentative nature.

First, the service seems to divide between musical and non-musical elements, with many negative correlations between the two groupings. It therefore does seem to be the case that you can classify a congregation into those for whom music is significant, and those for whom it is not. Such a division will thus be a strong factor in the way any worship with a strong musical element is perceived.

Secondly, there is a suggestion that those to whom the distribution of communion speaks much tend to be those to whom music also speaks.

Thirdly, the peace is not positively correlated with any other service element, although it is less negatively correlated with those on the musical side of the service. The interesting question is raised whether the peace is unpopular because it does not relate clearly to other service elements, or whether it is not related to other service elements because it is disliked.

Fourthly, it is surprising that the Eucharistic prayer is related most closely to the Nicene creed, and not to the distribution of communion as one might have expected. This perhaps suggests that the Eucharistic prayer is perceived not as effecting a sacramental consecration, but rather as part of the affirmation of Christian faith. It is understood as words and not action


As was emphasised in the introduction, no great claim is being made about the reliability of this work. At best, it might stimulate further thought, and here many further questions readily occur For instance, there appears to be a divide between those who respond to the wordy elements of the service, and those who respond to the music and (possibly) the sacramental action. Does this correspond to some further categorisation of Christians: perhaps those who have an intellectual approach to faith, and those for whom it is more of an emotional response?

Generally, the elements at the end of the service rate more highly. Does this indicate that the natural shape of the Eucharist leads to a climax? Or is there a more mundane explanation - even that it is relief at the service's coming to an end?

And what is the role of music in the structure of a service? Does it serve in itself to elicit a response of praise, is it only effective as a means of channeling a response to the worship, or can it even substitute for any meaningful engagement with worship?

All these are questions which this study can only suggest might be worth further investigation. For the answers could enable our planning of worship to be more effective in meeting the needs of a diverse congregation, as together we seek to worship God with hearts and hands and voices.

Back to contents

I am Young and You are Old

Sermon for the licensing of Captain Trevor Clarke as Bradwell Area Youth Officer, Wednesday, 10th November 1999, by Lynn Money, Diocesan Youth Officer

Readings: Job 32. v 6-9 & Luke 15. v 11-32

I hope that you will forgive me tonight for taking these words from Job slightly out of the context in which they were written and yet I have taken the liberty of doing so because I believe they are very important words and are especially relevant for this particular service this evening.

I expect that most of us are familiar with the story of Job, a good and righteous man who suddenly experiences the most incredible suffering. He loses everything that he has and is himself covered in painful sores. Three of Job's friends try to convince Job that all that has happened to him is the result of his sin and that he needs to repent of it, that what has happened is God's punishment upon him. Then along comes Elihu. All we are told about him is that he is a young man and in verse 3 of this chapter we are told that he is an angry young man, and he therefore speaks out of that anger and passion. The reason that I apologised for taking this passage out of context is that as he goes on in his speech it becomes clear that what he says on this occasion is flawed because he has not understood what God is doing in this situation. And yet in these few verses there is so much truth and so much that is relevant when we consider the role of young people within our Churches.

We are here tonight for the licensing of Trevor as half time Parish Youth and Families Worker and half time Area Youth Officer for the Bradwell Episcopal area. With the creation of this exciting new post I believe that as a Diocese we have taken a very clear stand in saying that young people are important, the work we do with young people is important and the people who carry out that work, i.e. the hundreds of volunteer youth leaders across the Diocese are important and are a valuable resource in our life as a Church. Why are young people important? I'm sure most of you have heard the old cliché of "Well, they're the Church of tomorrow" and I expect by now many of you will also have heard the almost equally old cliché of "No, they're not, they're the Church of today". Well guess what there's a new cliché around too and this one says, "actually they're the Church of today and tomorrow Young people have a role to play within the Church now. When Paul spoke about the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, he didn't add a post script to say this only applies if you are over a certain age, but I instead he said4t But truly God puts all the parts, each one of them, in the body as he wanted them."

This doesn't mean that young people are more important than older people, but it does mean that they are as important.

We need as a Church to listen to what young people have to say and we have to respect their opinions and be prepared to learn from them In the too many years that I have been working with young people I can honestly say that I have received far more than I have ever given out, and I count it a great privilege that God chose to call me to this particular area of work. And Trevor as you begin this new post I pray that God will give you the ability to listen to young people. I pray also that God will give you the gift of encouragement. Verse 8 says "But it is the spirit in a person, the breath of the almighty that gives understanding". We need to look for the evidence of the spirit at work in the lives of young people, to recognise it and to encourage them in the development of their faith and in living out that to which God has called them.

We also need to release young people, to allow them to find their identity in Christ, not the one we would like them to have, but the identity that God has chosen for them

The problem is that with releasing comes risk. We have to be prepared to risk a great deal if we are truly committed to seeing young people take their rightful place within the Body of Christ We have to be prepared to let go, sometimes of power, sometimes of responsibility, sometimes of tradition, sometimes of young people. In the story of the Prodigal son, we see a picture of a father who was prepared to take that risk. He could have said no when his son asked for his share of the property. He could have said you're not old enough to be given this responsibility, you'll abuse this gift. And he would have been right. The son recklessly spent all of the money. The Father's love for his son did not act as a protection blanket, it did not stop the son from going off the rails. When we talk about risk we're talking about real risk. One of the hardest things about working with young people in Church is sometimes seeing them walk out the door and not knowing whether they will ever come back in. Can you imagine the heartbreak that the Father in the Prodigal son story would have felt? And yet his unconditional love for his son meant that the door was left open for the son to return.

We have our releasing them into ministry, we may well find that they are better at certain things than we are. Maybe they will be better preachers, better readers, better Sunday school teachers, better Church warden's, better Youth leaders, but we'll never know unless we encourage and release them into their particular ministry. One of the first young people I ever worked with was a very difficult Vicar's son. He rebelled every inch of the way and working with him for three and a half years often felt like an uphill struggle. But as a team of Youth leaders running a Sunday night CYFA group we knew that we had to listen, encourage and release him, even if that meant watching him turn his back on God, the Church and his family, and for a while it looked as if that was what would happen. And yet God's hand was clearly upon this young man's life, and we saw a gradual turn around. He is now a very committed and I have no doubt, excellent full time Christian Youth Worker.

And so here we are tonight, at a point when we have come to welcome Trevor and Bonny and their children Ben and Rosie into this new ministry and I expect that many of us are aware that the task we have asked you to do is not an easy one and is one that will indeed be costly, not just for Trevor but for the whole family. We are asking you Trevor to fulfil a dual role ministry, to, if you like be working at the coalface, here in North Shoebury. To work directly with young people, to meet them where they're at and to begin to build relationships with them and also to build bridges for them both within the Church and within the community. But in addition to that we are asking you to use that foundational work to resource and encourage others as they seek to minister to young people as well. My prayer for you as a family at this time is that you will find within this Church a spiritual home and a strong foundation of love, support and encouragement that will strengthen and enable you to carry out that task which we believe that God has called you to. Amen.

Back to contents

Wrestling with Genesis 25 - 35: Can an understanding of the struggle between different ways of interpreting scripture help us when we read the Bible?

At the risk of making a gross over simplification, something of an understanding of the interplay and conflict between a grammatical interpretation of scripture and an allegorical one can not only highlight hermeneutic argument and interpretation that has featured really since some of the earliest Jewish exegesis, but also give us a useful starting point to tackle the question at hand.

Briefly, the grammatical method implies that the text has enough sense and meaning- its own unchanging story and message to enable the reader to grasp and make sense of the textual realities. It was often produced as an argument against the allegorical method, which argued that the text had a hidden sense, accessible only with an outside interpretative key. And yet it was the allegorical method that was most commonly produced in defence of the need to interpret scripture because of cultural conditioning- through a belief that the Torah was God given and gave vital distinctiveness from surrounding nations and cultures. If that was true of the Jewish faith, so too was it true of Christianity with its typological belief that in Jesus Christ God bad fulfilled and completed his promises once given to Israel; this shaped the Church's hermeneutic thought and demanded such an allegorical reading of the text.

When we turn to the history of the interpretation of Genesis 28 and 32, it is possible to see the strong development of this hermeneutic tradition taking effect. In the Tar gums and Madras there is a clear attempt to celebrate the dominion of Jacob and therefore the people of Israel, at the expense of the status and character of Esau. According to third and fourth century Madras Jacob's assailant at the Jabot was Esau's guardian angel, over whom Jacob was victorious. The injury inflicted upon Jacob was only temporary, and the phrase 'when the sun rose upon him' implies that Jacob was healed. By contrast, one Jewish exegete, Rashid, interprets verse 6 of chapter 32 - Esau coming towards Jacob fax rer»orfred hv Jacob's messengers) with four

hundred men - as a hostile act perpetrated by a wicked man who was harbouring hatred.

Differences, sometimes very subtle in Hebraic translation, support this view. In chapter 33 verse 4 when Esau runs and embraces Jacob (nasaq) the changing of one consonant (nasak) has Esau now biting Jacob on his neck. Similarly, the Hebrew verb for 'wrestling' means 'dust' or 'dirt*. The Jewish commentator Rashi implies the dust that is kicked up as a result of the wrestling: but Midrash interprets Jacob as the victor because his assailant was covered in dust- i.e. thrown to the ground. In Midrash, Jewish typology is prevalent in Genesis 32- the sun which rose on Jacob wasn't simply for his healing but also for the burning of Esau and the nations. The touching of Jacob by his opponent was the touching of the righteous who would spring from him and survive persecution and destruction. For Rabbi Judah the gift of money in chapter 33 verse 11 accepted by Esau from Jacob refers to the Roman occupation, and the demand for money (taxes) for appeasement.

Hermeneutics it seems to me can be a willing slave but it can also become an oppressive master, creating a straight jacket representing a belief that this or that way was the true and only path to understanding texts. A tradition of exclusivity and dogmatism quickly formed in Christian exegesis, with a belief that the Christian communities were the only legitimate harbinger and expostulation of truth- If we jump to the Reformers Luther and Calvin we can see that Luther's Christocentric approach to both the Old and New Testaments led him to reject anything which in his opinion did not point to Christ. He ditched allegory because he believed in the authority of the texts to speak for themselves, provided the reader was guided by the Holy Spirit. For Calvin, the refusal of God to give his name to Jacob in the Jabbok is but evidence for the fact that the whole Old Testament is a gradual unveiling of the truth until, says Calvin, 'At length Christ the Son of Righteousness arose, in whom perfect brightness shines forth'. And of course for both men, like Rabbi Judah before them, there was a religio-political point to make: the fact that Esau in chapter 28 verse 9 marries his third wife from what Calvin calls the degenerate tribe of Ishmael can only be compared to the Council of Trent who had departed from the true worship of God with their 'gross corruptions and attractive colours'. Jacob's pile of stones at Bethel was purposely not an idol or statue (a perceived tradition of course in the Roman Catholic Church) but a memorial 'not for the purpose of depressing the minds of men into any gross superstition, but rather of raising them upward'.

Perhaps we could ask here, how far is it from an exclusivity and a dogmatism- perhaps one might call it a fundamentalism which can exclude every other kind of critique- to despotism- a nationalism that becomes oppressive and dangerous? There are some examples uncomfortably close to us in our own century. Walter Brueggemann writing of the American society of which he was a part said that the spectre of a community of faith drawing lines of discipline to maintain itself and sustain its energy does not sit lightly with a society he says which has worked hard to overcome destructive religious sectarianism and tackle the problems of apartheid and racism.

If cultural and political conditions inspired hermeneutic polemic and entrenchment, it also encouraged hermeneutics (if only painfully slowly if the German history of interpretation is anything to go by) to explore other avenues, other than taking root in factual, historical criticism, itself possibly a reaction to the critical, historical questioning of the Enlightenment, as well as the upheavals and profound disturbances of the French and Industrial Revolutions. One result of this was an eschewing of realism in favour of a 'spiritualistic' depiction, and even from within the German tradition one or two began to point the way. Men like Semler who argued that the meaningfulness of the Bible depended on a broader religious context than merely its own pronouncement or beliefs because it was about the spiritual edification of people in all ages, and Cocceius who appealed to the experience and sense of the present location of the reader vis a vis the world, and the whole relationship between the writer, the text and the reader. Not only could narrative now be far more than collections of data, but 'stories'- the fruits of the imagination- and also within those stories the human position and interpretation of events becomes paramount. Herder pointed to the poetic tradition- saying that to understand language- and especially the Old Testament- poetically, is to enter imaginatively and emphatically into the world of the author and his culture. It is the outlook, spirit or consciousness represented by a narrative text rather than the text itself which is the text's meaning. John Rogerson in his article says that Herder's treatment of the Jabbok incident, with his emphasis on the tone, colour and night shadows of this nocturnal vision is a poetic expression of the awareness that Israel's forefathers had of the closeness of God and his friendship with them.

One result of this is to establish the uniqueness and otherness of the self as over against the world. Its realisation is the creation of a world (moral, religious, aesthetic) in which the self finds a home for its sense of being free. Chris Burden in his article describes Jacob in Hopkin's poem 'Carrion Comfort' as 'inescapably individual', but perhaps he was so because the poem reeks of Hopkin's personal torment Carrion Comfort is the first of six so called 'sonnets of desolation'; in a letter of May 1885 he wrote: "I have after long silence written two sonnets, which I am touching: if ever anything was written in blood one of these was". And if the conflict of this Genesis story appealed to Hopkins, perhaps its aloofness and aloneness was what appealed to Emily Dickinson when she wrote her poem 'East of Jordan'. Dickinson gradually became more aloof and estranged from the comfortable American society around her, as she became a virtual recluse in her home. Wesley's poem too, 'Wrestling Jacob', is inescapably individual; we see and hear the action from Jacob's standpoint, but the individuality here is an expression of Methodism, with the emphasis on the history of the soul's conversion and perfection. Here, religious and historical certainty is internal to the soul, and the narrative becomes not one of story but the journey of the soul. It is interesting that Claus Westermann in his commentary brings out this theme of journeying. Referring to God's promise to Jacob in Genesis chapter 28 verse 15- 'I am with you'- Jacob, he says, will experience the assistance assured him as he is protected from the dangers of the road he has to travel, an experience Westermann states that dominates all personal piety from the Psalms right up to present day hymn books.

Perhaps the genius of Schleiennacher was that he saw the act of hermeneutic understanding to be one of dialectical as well as aesthetic unity; that both aspects- the grammatical and the 'spirit'- are equal in value and importance, and so turned hermeneutic analysis from merely the rules and guidelines for interpreting texts to the theory of the process of knowing, or understanding.

Hermeneutics of the last one hundred years or so, whilst obviously having its roots in the past and all that we have said, has too been able to build upon the heritage of its history. One example is the way hermeneutics is sometimes used as a pastoral or theological tool to support and nurture the people of God, rather than as merely a method of Biblical interpretation or something that is used to justify a particular position or stance. A tool which can edify the Christian community rather than simply vindicate it.

There has been a modem hermeneutic engagement with the problem of suffering, although we take our lead from the Reformers who. whilst arguing from the standpoint of the faith community nevertheless infused their work with one's personal relationship with God over against the corporate, institutional response, focusing on issues of pain, joy, perseverance and the like. Writing on Genesis 32, Calvin can say that all of the faithful have to carry away some kind of wound after a spiritual conflict and that. like Jacob, 'we must fight during the whole course of our life......for we see how^ prone we are to sloth'. Rogerson in his article quotes how. in 1849. a Brighton priest- Robertson- used the very same passage pastorally to warn a group of confirmation candidates what will he ahead for them. Jacob is altered. Robertson states, because he gets 'one clear, true glance into the depths of being'. 'One of those dreadful moments which throw us upon ourselves, and strip off the hollowness of our outside show. must come before the insincere is true*.

If hermeneutic practise can point up the issue of suffering, then it also introduces an important concept that Biblical tradition and interpretation is also to do with the future and with eschatology, because stories of sin and suffering force us to look forward in the hope that such trials can one day be overcome. The Bible's story invites us to believe that what God did for other people might also be true for us- Jesus surely used the same technique with Nathaniel. Jesus draws on the imagery of Jacob's ladder (which Nathaniel would have known well of course) and uses it to point to the future.

I think though too. there has been an important recognition that hermeneutics cannot provide definitive answers- least of all to suffering and the God of love. but perhaps it can encourage us at least to ask the question. Modem scholarship has recognised that for example with Genesis 32 themes are merely combined, not developed, and that the hermeneutic task is not to reduce the text into some kind of box, but to hold its significance fully open- literally- to learn to live with confusion and the fact that sometimes in life problems, like the stories in Genesis 25-35. are not resolved. In his book 'Looking God in the Eye' Trevor Dennis says of Genesis chapter 28 that it disconcerts us as well as encourages us. Far from Abraham's concern that the victims of human being's cruelty should not suffer more at the hands of God. with his passionate pleading for the people of Sodom, at Bethel "the salt of God's partiality is rubbed into the open wounds left by Jacob's theft of their honour". Dennis points to the place of mystery and ambiguity in the Jacob cycle of stories, but ironically he has contributed to that very ambiguity by bringing to the debate, albeit subtly, a contemporary issue which itself has caused much confusion and pain, and now contributes further to that ambiguity. At the beginning of his chapter called 'God in the Dark" looking at the theophanies in chapters 28 and 32, he begins by writing "We may be impatient with God's mystery, let alone his ambiguity. We may wish to believe we know exactly where we stand with her. and she with us".

Perhaps, as with all conflicts, the tussle in the Jabbok focuses that ambiguity and confusion most sharply; but far from trying to interpret a meaning for ourselves and our faith from that story, the story is rather a reflection of our struggle when we read the scriptures- the very act of trying to interpret is itself a reflection of the meaning of the story for us.

Ivor Moody. 10th February 1999.


Genesis                                                         John Calvin

 Interpretation (Genesis)                                  Walter Brueggemann

Genesis 12 - 36: A Commentary               Claus Westerman

The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative                Hans Frei

Models for Scripture                               John Goldingay

Looking God in the Eye                                     Trevor Dennis

In the Beginning                                              Karen Armstrong

The New Oxford Book of English Verse       Ed. by Helen Gardner

English Verse 1830 –1890                        Ed. by Bernard Richards

Theological Hermeneutics                        Walter Jeanrond



Rabbah- Genesis Midrash

Targum Onkelos to Genesis

Rashi- Commentary on Genesis

Jacob and the Dominion of Edom                        Chris Burdon

The Struggle with the Angel                              Roland Barthes

Wrestling with the Angel:                                           John Rogerson

A Study in Historical and Literary Interpretation

Back to contents

Body and Soul

Robert Hampson

Last year I attended a conference on death and eternal life organised by the Heythrop Philosophy of Religion Circle coming out of people who have been students of the Philosophy of Religion at Heythrop College, an independent college of the University of London run by the Society of Jesus (viz., the Jesuits).

I was seriously led to reflect on the nature of the soul, a concept which many if not most found to be inconsistent with modem thinking. It was quite evident to me that the normal scientific preconceptions of our modem world are inadequate for an understanding of the soul. From the perspective of my own position of faith, if it was to be sustained as tenable, serious thinking had to be done to examine, even rectify, the notions put about as evident truth, and as one conference member put it, common sense.

The question goes back to the modem scientific understanding of substance. If all there is is material substance in the common or garden sense, then we must give up our notion of the soul as something which can survive death. If all there is is material substance, then I would conclude, the soul is basically the form of the matter, as Aristotle formulated it. I can conceive of no better rendition of the soul. In modern parlance it could be conceived as the DNA finger-print and when the last breath of life is gone, this becomes redundant. The soul dies with the body. There is no place for a non-material substance in our modern world.

However if we do believe in a soul which can survive death and is the essential me or you, then we have to rethink the materialist world view which is nowadays accepted with such conviction. Kierkegaard wrote:

"If it were true - as concerted shrewdness, proud of not being deceived, thinks - that one should believe nothing which he cannot see by means of his physical eyes, then first and foremost one ought to give up believing in love." Works of Love, trans Hong & Hong, 1962

I do believe in love, and therefore, taking my cue from Kierkegaard, I will endeavour to show the alternative. To do so, we have to leave behind common sense. Common sense tells us that we perceive a world. But we perceive a world, and if I die then that world which I perceive disappears, goes. I perceive a tree at forty yards distance, that is forty yards away from the limits of my body. We can say, aha, light waves, but light waves are not the tree, they are light waves, the colours of that tree cannot be limited to light waves. The colour yellow does not bob up and down as a particular frequency. Quite simply I perceive a tree. We therefore have to acknowledge against the common sense idea that there is a tree different from what I see at forty yards distance; the fact, along side the former material possibility, that the tree is as perceived a mental process. I perceive a tree at forty yards distance can be reformulated as: I have a tree-at-forty-yards-mental process. I am not saying that if I went up to this tree and kicked it, it wouldn't stay put, or if I tasted its leaves it wouldn't be bitter, for even these experiences would be mental processes. Hardness or taste are also primarily mental, so that Johnson's famous disproof of Berkeley of kicking a stone is a misunderstanding. Berkeley accepts the hardness of the stone as much as does Johnson. The question is what is primary: a material substance independent of me, or the mental processes which portray this apparent material substance to me. It is evident that the mental, or ideal, is the primary.

We now have potentially two 'stuffs', the tree as perceived, and the tree as it might be in itself. It is quite logical, and necessarily so, that the tree as it is in itself, is unknowable to me. My mental image is the only substance that I know, and the other substance, the in itself, is not. Materialism assumes that a before-given tree leading to a mental image, including its hardness, smell, etc., is the only real thing and that my mind reads the data given it. Perception is therefore principally an impression, that is an impressing on the mind of what is outside of the mind. If this is true, I take as the primary substance something which is plainly secondary to me as a mental process. I say that the stuff, in essence unknown to my mental processes, is the real, and I the impressed perceiver am potentially at best the one who correctly reads the data given me, and does hopefully an excellent job painting in the colours from the light waves. This is an immense assumption.

If I as a perceiver start from what is primary to my mental processes, I start from the ideal images which I have of the tree. If there is a stuff, that is it, the world which I live and breath as a perceiver, it must be here. Stuff, therefore, is not so simple as it looked to the common sense man. One can attempt to refind it by saying, aha, two stuffs, the ideal, i.e. the perceived world, and the material, the world itself independent of the perceiver. Therefore there are two different worlds, one of material substance, and one of mental substance. If this were the case there must be two independent systems working in tandem, and we have to ask where if at all do they connect? So perhaps we have the material substance world with one set of rules as to how it works, and which science discovers and prints in text books, and another, the ideal substance world, from which science is largely excluded. That is, the material world has rules and laws which are accessible to the scientist while the ideal, being generically different, is outside of his ambit. If this is so, science has bounds, and yet science assumes it does not effectively have any areas from which it is not supposed to go. Such a position is called dualism and is very unpopular.

We do not however have to argue for dualism. Plato proposes something quite different, to wit, a layering of reality. In his simile of the cave in Republic VII a man is freed from identifying reality with what is normally assumed by the common sense man to be material, and therewith all embracing He rises from this to see that what he formerly considered to be objects are in fact reflections of other objects. That is, the material objects are made from ideal objects. However the process does not stop here. He sees behind the objects which do the reflecting many other things, that is the objects behind the objects which reflect including a fire. This fire is like the root of consciousness, something distinct from the objects, something transcendental as Kant would say. Behind the ideal images which give rise to material images there is the fabric itself of consciousness, the source from which the images come, the very capacity to know which is a priori to the objects themselves. The man goes beyond this too, he sees the cave in which he was formerly a prisoner in naive realism, and beyond that, the day light outside the cave, and finally the sun which is the source of all light, which is perfect light.

A theistic notion of reality, provided it has within it the idea of transcendence, must work with some form of reality-concept which has a layering like Plato conceived. The most real thing for us is without doubt God, and everything else which exists has less reality than him. He is the creator, he sustains the world in which we live and breathe. However under his perfect existence we must assume the ministers of his creation, the thoughts perhaps, the very fiats of Genesis chapter one. These are not God himself, they are emanations from the source which we call God. To call these fiats 'angels' is not out of place. Also the very persons with which Christians endow the Godhead are also to some extent emanations thereof, more primary still. Behind these emanations lies the very commonality which they share in the Godhead, the communion, or the Love which they have for each other. In this we come as close as we can to the source which we call the One God.

From the Godhead, through the fiats, to the souls of things, finally to the substances which the common man sees as reality is a descent for Plato as indeed for a theist in the classic sense. We could reformulate this with Spinoza and say there is only one Substance, God, and all that is emanates from this one substance, so that what we call substance, whether mental or material, is rather an attribute of the one substance. Substance therefore becomes an in itself unknowable thing, while we can progress up a scale of attributes.

Is it not feasible to look on the soul as a more perfect form of reality than the body? When someone dies we say: "They've gone." Whatever we mean by this, we certainly do not mean that they have ceased, for the body is still there. We may even say, "They've gone," when there is still breath left in the body. What we mean is that the soul has left. The body is there, a corpse, yes because the life is finished in a corporal sense, but the concept of soul with which we work is super-corporal and when we say, "He's gone," it means that the soul has left the body, that the more essential has departed, while the least essential remains.

It is totally philosophically consistent to endorse this view.

Back to contents