Anglicans Online banner
Independent On the web since 1994 More than 9500 links Updated every Sunday

New This Week
Everything new is here.


Start here
Anglicans believe . . .
The Prayer Book
The Bible

News Centre
News archive
Newspapers online

Over to you . . .
Add a site to AO
Tell us what you think
Link to AO

Resources A to Z, including
 Book of Common Prayer
 and much more ...

Worldwide Anglicanism
Anglican Communion
In full communion
Not in the Communion

Dioceses and Parishes
New Zealand

Anglicans Online
Awards and Publicity
Beginnings, AO Today

AO search

©2002 The Society of
Archbishop Justus, Ltd


From the marvellous 1999 book 'Mysteries of the Alphabet', Marc-Alain Ouaknin

Hallo again to all.

It is the Feast of Pentecost. And in our New This Week section you'll find web sites for a diocese in Uganda and the Spanish Reformed Episcopal church. A dozen or so new parish web sites. Several Anglican events all over the globe. In 'Worth Noting', essays about Sydney Anglicans, British establishment, American Christian conservatives, and John Henry Newman.

Cardinal Newman, amongst many other things, is considered to have originated the concept of 'development' within the church: very simply put, that the faith once delivered to the saints is living still and cannot stagnate.

Now consider this: When the Council of Trent had finished its sittings, this sentence was engraved in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome*:

(Here the Holy Spirit spoke for the last time)

Whether or not we accept that forbidding conclusion, today, Pentecost, is the day the Holy Spirit spoke for the first time. Choosing an odd and ungainly lot of folk as Its interpreters, the Word was indeed made Heard, spiralling out from that centre in Jerusalem into all the world.

You can think of Pentecost as an antitype to the story of the Tower of Babel. Our ancestors undertook that possibly-mythical tower's construction and, as well-trained architectural subcontractors, we spoke in one tongue—understood and efficient. But, for all the classic reasons, we failed in our building and descended into a babble of language, from thence forth to be understood only by those in our immediate neighbourhood. Tribal societies indeed.

A 1930s brochure from a Fire Insurance Association.

Fast forward from the tower to the city of Jerusalem on that great feast of Pentecost. That same ethnic and regional babbling all round, just like a corridor in a busy international airport. Then that mighty wind stirring. And, all of a sudden, that linguistic fragmentation is not merely reversed but rather that knot of verbs, adjectives, gestures, nouns, dangling participles: all clear. Heard. Understood. Babel Made Better. What an astonishing day.**

The great French essayist Montaigne once said, 'Most of the world's troubles are matters of grammar.' If so, our growing networks of communication might, God willing, begin to decrease those troubles. Perhaps we should set as a goal within the church—the local church, however defined—clearer communication. Better rhetoric. Fewer passive verbs. More risky writing. Words that embody and capture actual thoughts. A brilliant journalist has said, 'There is no captive audience. It is the writer's job to captivate.' Are we doing what we can to captivate (evangelise) the world in our Anglican writings and speaking? Alas, we so wish the answer were a hearty 'Absolutely! Look at that last news release! See the prose on that official web site! Recall that sermon we just heard!'

The word will indeed go out into all lands, through whatever channels there are. And that's all of us living (and dead, but that's another story) on this planet, thanks to 'the adorable Spirit who has so often designed to instruct and correct the Church by voices without as well as within the Church'. (Italics ours.)

Only one caveat: we must be prepared for the cost of inviting the Holy Spirit into our work, our councils, our conventions, our synods, our deliberations, our wrestlings with doctrine, our confessions, our lives:

'If Christendom indeed feels intensely within itself the three strange energies which we call contrition and humility and doctrine, it will be again close ... to the Descent of the Dove. Its only difficulty will be to know and endure him when he comes, and that, whether it likes or not, Messias has sworn that it shall certainly do'.

See you next week. Keep the faith—and pass it on.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 19 May 2002

*The Inner History of the Great Schism, G.J. Jordan, quoted by Charles Williams in The Descent of the Dove (1956). The remainder of the quotations are drawn from Williams's brilliant book.

**A delicious coincidence: As we are writing, we're listening to a piece of music whose words are but babblings, made up as the singer sings; and yet one understands, in some intuitive way, what she is singing. The first time we heard this piece of music, we were certain we were hearing some form of Latin. It was only later that we learnt that the singer is known for this sort of verbal (or unverbal) channelling. [Lisa Gerrard, 'Now We are Free', from the soundtrack of 'Gladiator'.]