3 Minute Theologian

Words about God and Life for the Attention Deficit Generation

Category: Bosch (page 1 of 2)

Blogging Greenbelt (an apology)

I gave up trying to blog the experiences of Greenbelt as I was experiencing them… there was just too much going on, and too many people (friends old and new) to meet.

However, I will try to summarise my experiences in a post later this week, when I am no longer sitting in a field in Gloucestershire. In the meantime, you might be interested to learn that Being Human with Hieronymus Bosch is available as an MP3 download from the Talks Shop (proceeds to the support of Greenbelt).

Off to Greenbelt

In a moment, I’ll be packing my sunscreen, buzz off and cagoule, ready for Greenbelt. If anyone is there, say hello. I’ll be speaking on Being Human with Hieronymus Bosch in the Hub at 1 pm on Monday. Come and listen and tell me what you think.

CofT : Circle 5 Quiddity

Circles of ThornsThe ideas in Circles of Thorns are being explored in Canterbury in the form of two lectures. If you would like to follow the themes and structure of Circles of Thorns in your own Lenten study, then please feel free to:

  • listen to the podcasts. The Sunday evening sermons (c 20 mins) and the Tuesday lunchtime Lent lectures (c 40 mins) will appear the day (DV) after delivery.
  • use this series of thoughts, readings, meditations and questions. A PDF can also be downloaded for easier printing and later reference.

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Circle 5 / Week 5 / Quiddity

In Thief of Time Terry Pratchett satirises the usual human tendency to seek wisdom far away from home: Lu Tze finds wisdom in the “Way of Mrs Marietta Cosmopilite, 3 Quirm Street, Ankh-Morpork, Rooms for Rent, Very Reasonable.”

I was not born yesterday; It does you good to get out in the fresh air; You never know what’s going to turn up.

What “wisdom” in our culture is similarly banal, and only thought to be wise because it is exotic?

The Incarnation means that Christianity has oscillated between seeing God at work in everything and God at work only in the person of Jesus Christ:

Jesus eclipses all holy places and himself becomes the ultimate holy place. There is no place on earth which mediates God’s presence in an assured way: that alone can be found in Christ. Thus to be ‘in Christ’ is already to be in the holiest place. (Peter Walker)

Is there anything to be said for the other side of the oscillation?

Since everything was of divine creation, medieval intellectuals had no doubt that all the pieces would ultimately fit together in an idealistic, morally committed structure. Whatever they saw or experienced was part of a divine manifestation. (Rodney Stark)

Sometimes the Christian Gospel has been proclaimed as the fulfilment of the Jewish Law (for example, the Letter to the Hebrews); sometimes as an extension of pagan philosophy (for example Paul’s sermon in Acts 17); sometimes as a branch of Wisdom literature (for example, John 1). In the Gospels it is proclaimed as story, a form of narrative. What are the advantages / disadvantages of story? Which do you prefer?

Hieronymus Bosch properly and devoutly paints a sacred painting that showed no cross and no resurrection, and yet contained within it both Good Friday and Easter morn. The Crucifixion is depicted by the presence of the crown of thorns; the Resurrection is depicted by the seamless white robe (the lampros) Christ wears. Bosch includes a third biblical episode, which we see in the quizzical look Christ gives the viewer, the attention he pays us… the question Jesus asked of his disciples in Caesarea Philippi: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-21/ Mark 8:27-33 / Luke 9:18-22). Bosch has an answer: do we?

What is your answer to the question?

Human beings are unlike every other animal species; we are aware of both the fact and meaning of our impending deaths. Etty Hillesum said:

Living and dying, sorrow and joy, the blisters on my feet and the jasmine behind the house, the persecution and the unspeakable horrors— it is all as one in me, and I accept it all as one mighty whole… I wish I could live for a long time so that one day I may know how to explain it, and if I am not granted that wish, well, then somebody else will perhaps do it, carry on from where my life has been cut short. And that is why I must try to live a good and faithful life to my last breath: so that those who come after me do not have to start all over again.

Does this help?


Questions for further reflection

  1. Three modern artists, Mark Wallinger, Bill Viola and Brian Eno, have contemplated questions of trust and time. Which modern day artists express ideas important to your faith?
  2. “Quiddity” means “real nature or essence of a thing; that which makes a thing what it is”. What is the ‘quiddity’ of Jesus? What is the very thing that makes him the person he is?
  3. What form of time do you mostly live in? How important is the passing of time to you?

  Lenten Study Guide for Circles of Thorns: Week 5 (45.6 KiB, 69 hits)
You need to be a registered user to download this file.

CofT : Circle 4 Devotions

Circles of ThornsThe ideas in Circles of Thorns are being explored in Canterbury in the form of two lectures. If you would like to follow the themes and structure of Circles of Thorns in your own Lenten study, then please feel free to:

  • listen to the podcasts. The Sunday evening sermons (c 20 mins) and the Tuesday lunchtime Lent lectures (c 40 mins) will appear the day (DV) after delivery.
  • use this series of thoughts, readings, meditations and questions. A PDF can also be downloaded for easier printing and later reference.

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Circle 4 / Week 4 / Devotions

Martin Luther tells this story.

A certain village mayor, when he was about to die, told his pastor, who had been debating the Resurrection with the mayor a long time in an effort to convince him of its reality; “To be sure, I am ready to believe this, but you will see that nothing comes of it.”

How would you answer the “so what” question? The Modern Devotion followed four principles in their common life:

First, they consciously relived, in the imagination, the cycle of Christ’s life, teaching and Passion so that Christ might be held at the centre of their lives and they, through beholding him in that way, might represent him to others. “Christ within me, Christ before me, Christ shown forth from me”, is the New Devotion ideal. Second, they absorbed the witness of Holy Scripture into their consciousness through both contemplative and community reading. The words of Scripture, breathed with God’s own inspiration, in turn became their own inspiration. Third, they put all learning to a purpose, the encouragement of virtue. all learning to a purpose: the encouragement of virtue. Fourth, and most importantly, the New Devout sought to “develop interiority”. A whole person was made up with physical and mental faculties, that there was a structure of the mind as well as a structure of the body. They sought to train the will of the whole person towards Christ. They wanted to have an inner life expressed through actions of the body.

Do these four principles have any resonance with your life and your Christian pilgrimage? Thomas of Kempen taught that it was necessary (vital?) to have an inner life:

He who walks by an inner light, and is not unduly influenced by outward things, needs no special time or place for his prayers. For the man of the inner life easily recollects himself, since he is never wholly immersed in outward affairs. Therefore his outward occupations and needful tasks do not distract him, and he adjusts himself to things as they come. The man whose inner life is well-ordered and disposed is not troubled by the strange and perverse ways of others; for a man is hindered and distracted by such things only so far as he allows himself to be concerned by them.

How do you develop such an inner life for yourself? Etty Hillesum was accused of being self-indulgently ill-disciplined:

You are not really as chaotic as all that, it’s just that you refuse to turn your back on the time when you thought being chaotic was better than being disciplined.

In return, she sought to “learn how to kneel”, how to be disciplined.

Am I really sitting here writing things down so calmly? Would anybody understand me if I told them that I feel so strangely happy, not bursting with it, but just plain happy, because I can sense a new gentleness and a new confidence growing stronger inside me from day to day?

What part does discipline, “exercises”, order, have in your own spiritual life?


Questions for further reflection

  1. How can you lead a “simple” life today?
  2. How would you practice generosity of hospitality?
  3. Is it possible to “shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the Kingdom of God”?
  4. How do we “learn to kneel”? Who can teach us?

  Lenten Study Guide for Circles of Thorns: Week 4 (45.8 KiB, 68 hits)
You need to be a registered user to download this file.

CofT : Circle 3 Temperaments

Circles of ThornsThe ideas in Circles of Thorns are being explored in Canterbury in the form of two lectures. If you would like to follow the themes and structure of Circles of Thorns in your own Lenten study, then please feel free to:

  • listen to the podcasts. The Sunday evening sermons (c 20 mins) and the Tuesday lunchtime Lent lectures (c 40 mins) will appear the day (DV) after delivery.
  • use this series of thoughts, readings, meditations and questions. A PDF can also be downloaded for easier printing and later reference.

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Circle 3 / Week 3 / Temperaments

Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future; practice these acts. As to diseases make a habit of two things— help, or at least to do no harm. The art has three factors— the disease, the patient, the physician. The physician is the servant of the art. The patient must co-operate with the physician in combatting the disease.

Epidemics, I.11 (c C5th BC?)
How useful is this definition of medicine and medical treatment today? Does it apply to our understanding of mental / psychological health?

Bloodletting was a vital part of ancient and medieval medicine. It was unthinkable to be a doctor or a patient without dealing with bloodletting. As a medieval doctor wrote:

Phlebotomy clears the mind, strengthens the memory, cleanses “the stomach, dries up the brain, warms the marrow, sharpens the hearing, stops tears, encourages discrimination, develops the senses, promotes digestions, produces a musical voice, dispels torpor, drives away anxiety, feeds the blood, rids it of poisonous matter, and brings long life.

Can you think of any idea or practice of our own day, perhaps something which you put great store by, which might one day be discarded as phlebotomy has been?

Humoral medicine gives us four temperaments (character types) determined by the influence action of four different substances in the body:

Choleric people are governed by the yellow bile produced by the liver: “They are naturally quick witted bold, no way shame-faced, furious, hasty, quarrelsome, fraudulent.” (Nicholas Culpeper). Melancholic people are governed by black bile: they are “… dull, sad, sowre, lumpish, ill disposed, solitary, any way moved, or displeased. And from these Melancholy Dispositions, no man living is free, no Stoicke, none so wise, none so happy, none so patient, so generous, so godly, so divine, that can vindicate himselfe; so well composed, but more or lesse some time or other, he feeles the smart of it. Melancholy in this sense is the Character of Mortalitie.” (Robert Burton). Sanguine people are governed by blood. They are: “…merry, cheerful creatures, bountiful, pitiful, merciful, courteous, bold, trusty…A little thing will make them weep, but soon as ‘tis over, no further grief sticks to their hearts. (Culpepper). Phlegmatic people are governed by phlegm produced in the brains and lungs. They are “cowardly, forgetful creatures” (Culpeper), “Content in knowledge to take little share / To put themselves to any pain most loath. / So dead their spirits, so dull their senses are…” (John Harington).

A leading question— which one are you?

Think of Myers-Briggs and Keirsey and other representatives of the personality development industry. Look at the self-help shelves in your local Waterstone’s. Look at the personal development books bought by the Bridget and Barry Joneses of our day: Who Moved My Cheese?, The Cosmic Ordering Service, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman. These books are about us understanding who we are, really, and then celebrating that: “I’m OK, You’re OK”.

In what ways is this self-help message contradicted by orthodox Christianity?

The four human temperaments, the four ages of man, the four seasons. All four crowd around Christ, and are part of his suffering. Bosch is showing us how it is not just one type of person who is responsible for Christ’s Passion, the ‘evil’ person, the ‘wicked’ person, the person ‘not like us’. Rather, he says, it is all people who are culpable: you, them, me.

Is this really so?


Questions for further reflection

  1. Is the Church too sanguine to let the wicked things happen in the world, even to the extent of allowing Christ to suffer his Passion again, all for the sake of popularity and preoccupation?
  2. Do you find the insights of psychologists a help or a threat to your faith?
  3. If a psychological understanding of Christianity point us to transform and be transformed, how can we achieve this?

  Lenten Study Guide for Circles of Thorns: Week 3 (48.2 KiB, 70 hits)
You need to be a registered user to download this file.

Circles of Thorns on BBC Radio Kent

Lynn Wallis-EadeI was interviewed on Sunday 8 March by Lynn Wallis-Eade for BBC Radio Kent’s Sunday programme. It was a a brief conversation, broadcast at 6.50 am (Happily, pre-recorded).

The programme is no longer available on the BBC’s Listen Again facility, so the following is an edited MP3 of the interview.

CofT : Circle 2 Elements

Circles of ThornsThe ideas in Circles of Thorns are being explored in Canterbury in the form of two lectures. If you would like to follow the themes and structure of Circles of Thorns in your own Lenten study, then please feel free to:

  • listen to the podcasts. The Sunday evening sermons (c 20 mins) and the Tuesday lunchtime Lent lectures (c 40 mins) will appear the day (DV) after delivery.
  • use this series of thoughts, readings, meditations and questions. A PDF can also be downloaded for easier printing and later reference.

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Circle 2 / Week 2 / Elements

It is indeed, marvellous that science should ever have revived amid the fearful obstacles theologians cast in her way. Together with a system of biblical interpretation so stringent, and at the same time so capricious, that it infallibly came into collision with every discovery that was not in accordance with the unaided judgement of the senses, and therefore with the familiar expressions of the Jewish writers, everything was done to cultivate a habit of thought the direct opposite of the habits of science. The constant exaltation of blind faith, the countless miracles, the childish legends, all produced a condition of besotted ignorance, of grovelling and trembling credulity that can scarcely be parallelled except among the most degraded barbarians.

William Lecky, The History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism (1865)

How much does the usual story of the warfare between science and religion affect you? Do you think science and scientific discoveries should inform your faith? Do you think science threatens religion, or your faith?

Usually even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and the moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

St Augustine of Hippo, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, e. C5th AD

What science do you think is necessary for the believer to know? Are you comfortable with Christian leaders or believers “talking nonsense” about science?

In medieval science the fundamental concept was that of certain sympathies, antipathies, and strivings inherent in matter itself. Everything has its right place, its home, the region that suits it, and, if not forcibly restrained, moves thither by a sort of homing instinct.

C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (1964)

In what ways does Chaucer’s “kyndely enclyning” of creation still find expression today?

The universe is genuinely mysterious, grand, beautiful, awe-inspiring. The kinds of views of the universe which religious people have traditionally embraced have been puny, pathetic, and measly in comparison to the way the universe actually is. The universe presented by organised religions is a poky little medieval universe, and extremely limited.

Richard Dawkins, ‘A Survival Machine’ (1996)

What works of art, religious or otherwise, do you know which express a “genuinely, mysterious, grand, beautiful, awe-inspiring” view of the universe. Is it a film, a book, a painting, a photograph, a piece of music? What moves you, and why?


Questions for further reflection

  1. Do you think it is important for Christian believers to understand the latest scientific discoveries?
  2. Is it possible to be a Christian and a scientist?
  3. Should Christians ever oppose the consequences of scientific discoveries? If so, on what should the opposition be based?
  4. Theology was once called the “Queen of Sciences”. Does it still have something to teach science today?
  5. C. S. Lewis said “astrology was a hard-headed, stern, anti-idealistic affair; the creed of men who wanted a universe which admitted no incalculables.” In what way is this similar to the role of science in our society today?

  Lenten Study Guide for Circles of Thorns: Week 2 (42.6 KiB, 73 hits)
You need to be a registered user to download this file.

CofT : Circle 1 Politics

Circles of ThornsThe ideas in Circles of Thorns are being explored in Canterbury in the form of two lectures. One, a sermon, delivered in St Stephen’s Church, on the Sunday evenings of Lent; the other, longer version, a lecture as part of the Canterbury City Centre Parish Lent Lectures, delivered in St Peter’s Church on Tuesday lunchtimes. The first will be about 20 minutes in length, the second about 40 minutes. Audio versions will be posted by the morning following delivery. Feel free to listen to either or both of them!

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Circle 1 / Week 1 / Politics

Sometimes we are told that politics is the realistic science: there is no room for naivety or sentiment in working the art of the possible. We are told this, usually, when something unpleasant or unethical is about to be done in our name. Our liberties, our way of life, our system of government, is dependent on violent things being done by violent people. Bosch here shows the government of his day as good as complicit in Christ’s torture, and he refuses to allow us to look away. We can’t afford the moral luxury of proclaiming “not in my name” and thinking that lets us off the hook. Bosch here tells us that there is no neutral place to stand, no safe haven, when it comes to the ways of the world. The men and systems we look to for our protection may be the ones perpetuating the violence. As Bob Dylan wrote “We live in a political world / Love don’t have any place. We’re living in times where men commit crimes / And crime don’t have a face”.

How are we to be followers of Christ in such a world?

The Church has been responsible for much suffering in its long existence. It is a body made up of people, with a powerful idea at its heart. Any powerful idea is open to corruption, and the actions of the Church have, on occasions, been corrupting. Very rarely has these actions been the result of knowing wickedness. Even the witch-burners thought they were doing good, protecting their Church and their society from evil-doers. We can see the wickedness in the actions of our ancestors. Will our descendants look at our beliefs and behaviour and think that we were as corrupt as any? In what ways are we like the dark man, pretending a compassion for Jesus and his world, and yet behaving in ways that continue the crucifixion?

In what ways do we draw a tighter, harder, narrower circle of Christ’s love? In what ways do we use the Crown of thorns as a weapon?

If God is talking to you, too, Mr Cameron – don’t listen… If today the Church of England is wishy-washy and middle-of-the-road, that is no accident. It is the long-term result of Elizabeth [I]’s design. Britain has benefited enormously from a weak clergy that has mainly remained aloft from politics. Britain’s established church, headed by the monarch, has made few demands of our leaders or people… men of power who take instruction from unseen forces are essentially fanatics… theocrats, religious leaders or fanatics citing holy texts dictate violent actions. That constitutes the greatest threat to world peace today.
Michael Portillo, The Sunday Times, 25 February 2007

In what ways is Michael Portillo right? In what ways is he wrong? Does it depend merely on personal preference?

How do we live, as true to our religious and cultural heritage, when those who are “other” no longer live outside our borders, but among us, as part of us, as Europeans?


Questions for further reflection

  1. Is it possible to think of Christ’s Passion continuing into Bosch’s day or even our own times? If not, why not?
  2. If we can think of Christ’s mocking continuing in our own day, who would you place in the position of the four tormentors?
  3. What does your choice of tormentor say about your relationship with Jesus: who do you need to protect him from?
  4. Do the political choices you make add to Christ’s mocking? Which tormentor are you?

  Lenten Study Guide for Circles of Thorns: Week 1 (45.1 KiB, 103 hits)
You need to be a registered user to download this file.

Circles of Thorns in Lent

Circles of ThornsAlthough Circles of Thorns was not written as a Lent book, it has ended up being published as the Mowbrays Lent book for 2009, and the five “circles” of the book’s examination of Christ Mocked by Hieronymus Bosch can be easily applied to the five weeks of Lent.

In case there is anyone who is interested in keeping the “observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word” (in the words of the Ash Wednesday service of the Church of England), and would like to do so using the structure of Circles of Thorns, I will attach a series of thoughts, readings, meditations and questions. A new set will appear each Wednesday in Lent.

A PDF can also be downloaded for easier printing and later reference. Podcasts (audio files) of the Sunday evening sermons and the Tuesday lunchtime Lent lectures will also appear the day (DV) after delivery.

The Baptist Times reviews Circles of Thorns

Review from the Baptist Times

In this week’s edition of the Baptist Times, Stephen Copson reviews books for Lent (I’ve bolded the important passages):

Christmas past, Lent beckons! How do you spiritually prepare for Easter? One way is to find a companion to journey with you through Lent. Three quite different options are offered by Justin Lewis-Anthony, Stephen Cottrell and Timothy Radcliffe.

Justin Lewis-Anthony’s Circles of Thorns: Hieronymus Bosch and Being Human looks at the 16th century artist’s Christ Mocked to be found on the wall of the National Gallery. Jesus is framed by four characters in 16th Flemish dress. The picture is a rich allegorical feast of the Passion where the characters manage to bear different layers of meaning through representing gospel characters, historical themes, social and political forces and basic human personality traits and more.

These allow the author to frame the question, ‘How does Christ show us what it means to be human in a world where humanity is capable of great promise and staggering cruelty?’ He enlists the help of Bonaventure to Bob Dylan, Thomas a Kempis to Terry Pratchett and Pontius Pilate to Michael Portillo.

This is not so much art detective work as profound theological exploration of spiritual insights. It is a fascinating and rewarding book.

[A discussion of Stephen Cottrell’s The Things He Carried and Timothy Radcliffe’s Why Go To Church?]

So, you pays your money and you takes your choice. For me, I’ll think I’ll be going with Hieronymus.

The Revd Stephen Copson is a regional minister for the Central Baptist Association.

(and a jolly good chap, too!)

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