Thursday, 26 April 2012

Christianity in a nutshell - Fr Herbert Kelly SSM


The following is excerpted from The Gospel of God (1959) by Fr Herbert Kelly SSM (1960-1950) - who founded the Society of the Sacred Mission - the first proper monastic order within the Church of England and linked most famously with Kelham Hall theological college,

(Both thriving until about 1960 with Kelham closing in the early 1970s and the SSM now all-but gone and 'liberalized' in a direction very different from Kelly's orthodox order.)


I only discovered HHK about a month ago - but already it looks as if he will join the select pantheon of theological/ devotional writers who have had a major influence on my faith since I became a Christian - the other two are Fr Seraphim Rose (1934-1982; Russian Orthodox) and Blaise Pascal (1623-1662; Roman Catholic).


What I get from Fr Kelly is nothing less than a clarification of what the Gospel is, and how it works - leading onto an understanding of the central significance of the crucifixion.


Excerpts - somewhat re-paragraphed and re-punctuated and emphasized:

Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man, And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father. [The Nicene Creed]

Some people believe this story, and some do not.

Quite a large number, at all times, have been unable to see any point in what happened, or what difference it is supposed to make even if it were true...


About one thing the preachers... were quite clear. It was a story about God - that or nothing...

'A story about God' - it is not a revelation of what God is like, nor of God's character, which in other words might mean a dramatic picture of the nature of ultimate ideals...

...but we can tell you what God has done.


As a common person, when I am asked Bible authority for anything worth arguing about, I learnt from [F.D.] Maurice to quote: 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth', down to 'even so, Come Lord Jesus'... and every single verse betwixt and between.

Anything which is there at all, is there in every verse, for the story is, and always has been, a whole.

The Church might read selections in bits, but the service (liturgy) itself was a memorial of the Passion, and Sunday was the festival of the resurrection...


What is it all about?

A story of a man with remarkable powers... and remarkable sayings who got killed?

Why call it a Gospel?


Parts of it are pathetic, and parts fantastic, and the whole more than a bit futile.

The Gospel narratives were intended to show how perplexing our Lord's life was to his disciples; when the Resurrection did come, how staggered they were at it.

Nevertheless the narrative was, and could only have been, written under the consciousness of this climax, in the glory and faith of the apostolic Gospel.


Certainly there is a contrast, but the evangelists did not see any inconsistency between the perplexity of the early and the glorious confidence of the later time.

They believed they were showing how the one was transfigured into the other, just as the apostles believed that they were showing how we might be delivered out of the power of darkness (which is the contradictions of this life) and translated into the kingdom of the Son of his love.


For many years the disciples had had the companionship and teaching and direct influence of what we call - and they felt to be - a unique or radiant personality.

'We hoped it should have been that he would have redeemed Israel, but our rulers delivered him up and crucified him. And there are certain women of ours... and a vision of angels... and it is all very confusing...'

And then - in a few weeks - in their sight he went up from them into heaven! There is no mistaking that.

All that they had loved and enjoyed and valued is gone finally, and, just because it has gone, at once, quite suddenly, the door opens onto a new life.


The personal and temporal, the very attraction of which had somehow blinded their eyes - as it is apt to blind ours - was only a veil.

Now that it is drawn aside, they realize what that what had been given them was a Gospel of God, universal and eternal.


What I get from this (and other passages in Fr Kelly's book) is that Christianity is primarily the story of what happened when God became incarnate, was crucified and resurrected.

And the story is not captured by any part of the Bible but the whole; and the story is not captured by a focus on Jesus's birth (incarnation) and life and teachings and example; nor is it captured by an account of what happened afterwards and the present situation.

Neither is the story captured by its philosophical summary, nor by the moral principles extracted.

Fr Kelly, wonderfully, says that Christianity is precisely not a 'religion':

Religion is, by origin, a heathen word. The heathen were always talking about it, while they had very vague and uncertain ideas about God. 

Christianity, on the other hand, is first of all and distinctively a Gospel, a very wonderful story or message about God, about what God has done. 

Thence it is a Faith, and this word means, not an acceptance of certain doctrines or beliefs, but a trust in God, and in what God has worked or effected in the way related in the story...

Of course, it is true that there is also a Christian religion...

[But] I think it is plain, and it is most important, that we should realize that to believe in God, to look and think about God and what God does, is not the same as believing in religion - which in fact means believing in and thinking about certain practices and states of mind of our own.

Among the things I get from this is that the main thing about the crucifixion of Christ is that it happened - that is what happened to God.

Doctrines of the meaning of the atonement are - by contrast - optional extras. Philosophical debates about whether the crucifixion was necessary whether it had to be crucifixion, what exactly happened and when - these recede into the background.

The big fact is that that crucifixion is the thing that actually happened to Jesus Christ, Son of God - it is the central part of his story - between his life before and the resurrection and ascension afterwards.

For the first time, I therefore understand what St Paul and the other apostles meant by '...the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.' Corinthians 1. 1: 22-25.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello again, bgc.

I agree with your perspective on Christianity very much and am sincerely glad to know there are more than just a few like-minded people "out there" in "cyberspace".

It's painfully obvious that our secular world attempts to separate all of us - tempting us to feel isolated & powerless to the point of defeatism through apathy & acquiescence.

If you're interested, my "nutshell" of Christianity and human spirituality is that Christ is the personification of God's forgiveness, love, wisdom and sacrifice which is THE necessary "step" we all should take towards, as you've aptly named it, "The Good". Jesus is God's ultimate "parable" - His law has been written on ALL of our "hearts" (conscience) through the example of His son's life & death. Therefore, it appears that even those who've/who'd never heard of His parable are not excluded from His law & subsequent judgment because that necessary "step" is each individual's ultimate "goal". "Blessed are the true of heart for they will see God".

Might I suggest to you possibly reading, if you haven't already, some of the latter writing's of Thomas Merton (Fr. Louis) regarding this concept. While I can't say I agree with everything Merton wrote about since I haven't read it all, he does employ this universal concept which I think we both share.

Cheers and best wishes to you,
Chip / g-stormcrow