Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

English Spirituality: From Earliest Times to 1700

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

English Spirituality: From Earliest Times to 1700

Article excerpt

English Spirituality: From Earliest Times to 1700. By Gordon Mursell. Vol. 1 of 2. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. 592 pp. $39.95 (cloth).

Gordon Mursell s English Spirituality is a welcome addition to current literature on the English spiritual tradition(s). It is comprehensive without being diffusive, and evenhanded without losing a critical edge.

In this first of two volumes, Mursell treats the English scene from its beginnings in pagan Britain through the age of Bunyan and the Caroline divines, breaking his discussion into four segments after establishing the methodological and biblical context in chapter 1. This introductory chapter, entitled "A Hard and Realistic Devotion," includes a discussion of the meaning of the term "spirituality," the English spiritual temperament, and the biblical roots of English spiritual themes, in particular that of holiness. Chapter 2, "The Seafarer," introduces the reader to pre-Christian England as well as Anglo-Saxon traditions, focusing on the motif of spiritual combat, epitomized by heroes both mythical (Beowulf) and historical (Cuthbert of Lindisfarne). Chapter 3, "St. Godric and the Deer," begins with the Norman conquest in 1066 and ends at 1300, tracing the shift from Anglo-Saxon Christian-aswarrior to classically educated Benedictine monk. Chapter 4 centers around a classic late medieval motif, indicated by its title "The Quest for the Suffering Jesus." Mursell here traces the complexity of late medieval devotion, giving attention to burgeoning lay spirituality, the popularity of anchoritic life, and preoccupation with death and suffering. Chapter 5, entitled "The Fellows of St. Antony," marks the dramatic transition indicated by Reformation polity and theology as well as the links to tradition embodied by men such as Thomas More. …

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