Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Light in a Burning-Glass: A Systematic Presentation of Austin Farrer's Theology/The Truth-Seeking Heart: Austin Farrer and His Writings

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Light in a Burning-Glass: A Systematic Presentation of Austin Farrer's Theology/The Truth-Seeking Heart: Austin Farrer and His Writings

Article excerpt

Light in a Burning-Glass: A Systematic Presentation of Austin Farrer's Theology. By Robert Boak Slocum. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007, Pp. xiii, 132. $34.95.)

The Truth-Seeking Heart: Austin Farrer and His Writings. Edited by Ann Loades and Robert MacSwain. Canterbury Studies in Spiritual Theology. (Norwich, England: Canterbury Press, 2006, Pp. xv, 236. Paper, £16.99.)

Austin Farrer (1904-68) was not to everyone's taste. In a review of St. Matthew and St. Mark (1956, 2nd ed. 1966), C. K. Barrett contrasted Farrer with "the large company of interpreters of Mark who, though they are far from agreeing at all points among themselves, do agree in preferring rational and historical to fantastic criticism and interpretation." At a time when the logical positivism of A.J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic was the staple fare of undergraduate philosophy, Farrer responded with Finite and Infinite (1943, 2nd ed. 1959), a metaphysical treatise in the Thomist tradition. Farrer read modern philosophers, but they did not read him. Farrer, who spent nearly all his adult life at Oxford, turned down chairs of moral and philosophical philosophy, but was passed over for the chair that mattered, the Regius Professorship of Divinity. But in the past two decades Farrer's genius-and spirituality-have been increasingly recognized. Recently Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams described Farrer as "possibly the greatest Anglican mind of the twentieth century."

The title Light in a Burning-Glass is taken from a sermon about grace, preached in the university church of St. Mary the Virgin and reprinted in The Truth-Seeking Heart (133-37). It represents Farrer's catholic theology in microcosm, combining the imagery of revelation, the metaphysics of divine and human action, and a sacramental understanding of grace through Christ. Farrer compared grace with light and fire. "The fire is kindled by no business of ours, no preparing or striking matches on our part, but by sunlight falling through the burning [magnifying]glass of faith. . . . But though we may choose to attend to the burningpoint, what draws to that point, and makes that point, is nothing but Jesus Christ, God and man, burning his way through the wall of the heart" (135).

Austin Farrer was the son of a Baptist minister. At Balliol (1923-27) he earned first-class honors in Literae Humaniores and in theology. During his undergraduate days he converted to Anglicanism. After ordination training at Cuddesdon, he served a curacy in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. He then returned to Oxford for good: chaplain and tutor of St. Edmund Hall (1931-35), fellow and chaplain of Trinity College (1935-60), and warden of Keble College from 1960 until his untimely death in 1968. In 1945 Farrer took the degrees of Bachelor of Divinity and Doctor of Divinity on the same day. He delivered the Bampton Lectures at Oxford on The Glass of Vision (1948), the Hulsean Sermon at Cambridge (1948), and the Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh (1957) on The Freedom of the Will (1958). Farrer was a fellow of the British Academy, an honorary fellow of Trinity College, and a member of the Church of England Liturgical Commission.

Farrer is not an easy read. His literary output was vast and diffuse. It presents a hermeneutical circle in which the meaning of a text depends on understanding the corpus as a whole, and the meaning of the whole on understanding the texts. The process is circular, but open to mutual revision. Indeed, Farrer himself was in the habit of rewriting his major works. Another problem was the conversational tone, which combined with the virtual absence of footnotes even in the Bampton and Gifford Lectures, made it easy to grasp particular points, but difficult to get one's bearings with regard to the wider world of scholarship. In short, it is often hard to see the wood for the trees.

Fortunately, help is at hand. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.