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*:
SPIRITUS SANCTUS ORACULA EFFUDIT
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 tongueunderstood 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.
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 churchthe local church, however definedclearer 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:
See you next week. Keep the faithand pass it on.
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'.]