Ronald Blythe considers two new acquisions for his library
TWO books have joined each other on the library table, and will most likely stay there for many a long year. One is Andrew Linzey’s extraction from the Gospels of The Sayings of Jesus, the other is Diarmaid MacCulloch’s vast A History of Christianity. The Lord’s few words and the Church’s toon-stop interpretation of theni. wonderful still small voice, and the cosmic row. Here, side by side, is Christ and Christianity. They leave the reader to conclude where or if they differ.
Professor Linzey writes: “The sayings of Jesus have changed our world, inspiring countless poets, painters, and musicians, as well as saints and theologians. They have brought hope to the dying, and solace to the wretched. To millions, they are a source of divine inspiration.
“As the first Christians broke bread and shared the cup, they brought into remembrance the words of Jesus which gave them life and hope. This collection of his most famous sayings … gives a picture of the man whom many revere as the Son of God and whose life has had an incalculable influence on Western history and culture.”
Professor MacCulloch writes: “Religious belief can be very close to madness. It has brought human beings to acts of criminal folly as well as to the highest achievements of goodness, creativity, and generosity. I tell the story of both extremes.”
At matins in the village church, tender expressions of the faith over the Christian centuries tumble across each other. Plus the words which Jesus repeated in the synagogue or in the open air.
David’s poem, “Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Sion”; the Te Deum Laudamus — almost certainly not by St Ambrose and St Augustine, but so perfect; Job’s natural history read in Brian’s strong voice; Joseph Addison’s thankfulness for being alive; George Matheson’s emotional tracing the rainbow through the rain; Cranmer’s blessing; all this said in an hour by 16 voices. And as best we could.
And the faith so youthful, with Roman nails lying on the kitchen table. So how did His words, that simple rural stream of talk, wisdom, and renewed law — and entertaining takes — for example become the Vatican Library? Or my bookshelf bursting at the seams?
Anyway, another David has arrived, one who reads “Book at Bedtime” to us, or novels on audio, and who goes to church and to his allotment in the middle of London. And who, thankfully, has brought a chain-saw with him, for February is for coppicing and tidying the wood. The chain-saw sings in the hazels. The logs are neatly piled in the dry for next winter. Last February’s firewood spits in the stove.
In the morning, very early, the old house feels different — feels very cold, to be accurate. A blob has got into the oil pipe, presumably. And I hear the warming-up sounds of childhood in my imagination, the clink of kindling on the hearth, the raking of cinders, the silent acceptance of this chill in the rooms which, when nothing could be done about it, was not unenjoyable. Although the white cat is less philosophical, and is saying: “Why keep these men if they can’t keep one warm?”
But I know how to poke a boiler into life. There is a roar and a promise.