Theology Update for the Week of July 26

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Dear friends in Christ,

Tomorrow in the 39 Articles class — which has drawn remarkable interest from many people — we’ll look at Articles III and IV, on Jesus’ descent into hell, resurrection, ascension, session, and future return. There is a conjecture that Article III separates out the descent into hell in order to highlight a point of controversy in the latter 16th century. But, with appropriate reserve, it states no more and no less than the broad teaching of the church over the centuries. I hope you will be able to join me at 10 o’clock Sunday in Andrew Hall on the 3rd floor, or on Monday when I repeat the class from 12:40 to 1:20 p.m. on the 2nd floor.

In just over a week we’ll have the Othello seminar – another profound Shakespearean tragedy – and if you read the text, you’re welcome to the discussion: Monday, August 3, from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. in Andrew Hall.

Recently a great scholar of the Anglican communion died at age 99 — Owen Chadwick, known for his work that held together history and theology, and for his clear prose and deep insight. His little volume on the Reformation is still regarded as a gem. His obituary is here: Requiescat in pace.

I saw “Kafka on the Beach” at the Lincoln Center Festival on Thursday, its opening night. The story is set in contemporary Japan, and the title character is a boy who has taken the name Kafka. It was a fine performance, although the underlying metaphysics of the play (and the original book) is (in my judgment) at best confused. But that’s okay. The story is complex and big, so that, when the play ends after three hours, one feels overwhelmed; something large has been shown here. When the actors first returned to stage to take their bows, they maintained somber faces. When they returned for a second bow, their faces relaxed and a number of them had smiles. But not the remarkable young actor who played Kafka. He put his hands together in front of him. He bowed. He bowed again. He seemed as if he too knew something overwhelmingly important had been shown, and it was all over him. He did not smile. Even at the very end, exiting the stage — the actress who played an older woman took him by the shoulders and pivoted him to face us, the audience, once again. There at the corner of the stage, her hands still on his shoulders, she made him bow again. She smiled, he did not.

It stuck in the mind. We at Saint Thomas know how it is at the end of a performance of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion.” We want to cheer the boys and men who have just given us an awesome performance. And at the same time, we are profoundly moved by what they have given us — an experience of the death of Christ. And so at the same time, we decidedly do not want to cheer. We want to stand and we want to stay awe-smacked in our seats.

As I left the theatre and for some time thereafter, I heard people talking about the play. I’m still thinking about that young actor who took his bows almost reluctantly, without smiling. I hope he never loses the capacity to be overwhelmed. I hope none of us do.

Father Austin