HERESY, NARNIA, and APOCRYPHAL GOSPELS
December 24, 2019
I can be a bit snobbish sometimes. That means I'm easily brought down a peg or two, deflated so to speak, by – to quote Harold Wilson – 'events, dear boy, events”.
I guess I seek kindred souls – as we all do – and that I am so bigotedly attached to my own opinions and to my mentors' – my sets of old books – to whom I go to find that kindred sense-of-spirit which I seek – because in the present time and climate so few people seem to think in a similar way to how I do.
Now having said that there's a corollary. Online there are probably places I might go to draw refreshment – if they are to be found anywhere for me at this time in this place it is on the web. But not only do I not really like watching podcasts, videos, streaming and so on; I also love the smell and feel and the ornamental vignettes and tritons and baroqueness in general of old books in my hand. I live old books.
I'm a classic stick-in-the-mud, party-pooper, a recluse and bordering on antisocial. It helps being depressive. When the mood is on me nothing can be done which is not to be interpreted by me as being done for ulterior or underhand reasons.
But even when my mood is good I hold in reserve that opinion that seldom is anything done today primarily for the sake of the alleged benefactor of the deed. There seems too many instances arising daily before me, in our society which has opted to put economic prosperity before truth, and other old dusty virtues.
Particularly the 'world of advertising' on TV and radio – and if you care to take note -this place is a world of its own, wherein advertising takes place – it is a world which is ever upbeat – ever depicting situations where everything is light, airy, young, busy, swimmingly easy-going, etc etc, - and no-one is afflicted or grieving or under duress or such.
I mean those ads for commercial products and services not the abundance of charitable ads. Selling is about denying the sombreness, the gravitas, of that side of life which nearly all of us have to deal with from day to day. The ads offer a viewer, a listener, a place that does not exist, a superficially happy busy joyous place; but a place having no foundation – it is just 'don't worry; be happy' and don't consider why you should or what there is in life to attach your happiness to.
Thus it is that so many products and services bought by us are not satisfying to us, and feed our desires for more buying and getting; we are on a loop, and cannot find the product or service that in our actual lives, lives up to the hype and the feelgood, nor to the terrible empty face of 'vitalist otherness' presented which is wholly hollow and fantastical.
But this colouration of my eyes by commercialism in our times has extended and spilt over into areas where perhaps it has put me at a disadvantage, where I have coloured things and ideas and people who should not have been so treated.
There is a book titled 'Heresy' by a man called Alastair McGrath. There are the Narnia novels of C S Lewis. There are The Apocryphal Gospels. All these topics I have for many years chosen to ignore and consider not worth my time. I think I have been wrong.
I continue not wanting to learn about Heresies, or Narnia, or Apocryphal Gospels; but I do not, or I am trying not to, look down on those who do want to look into these things.
Heresies are erroneous 'takes' on the Gospel story. Infightings amongst believers who wish for any reason to deny this or assert that, other than what the apostolic succession of The Church teaches and caries down the ages as truth.
I'm not bothered about Christian denomination. I don't believe that in the end that matters much at all for a person, a Christian. Maybe the nearest I can get to what I do think is important is in The Creeds accepted by the denominations. The bare bones of the reason for Christ, and the distillation of His story on earth and how it relates to hereafter.
The Creeds of course are founded on the Gospel narratives and some of what St Paul tried to systematise from them. People who 'go astray' from these basics, for whatever reasons, are called 'heretics' by orthodoxy and in most denominations.
But heresy can be a pathway. I believe St Augustine was at one time what would be called a heretic; and came to a better belief and understanding over the course of study, prayer, and time, and with God's assistance.
Everyone who comes to Christ comes via some route – even those who are born into Christian families and are brought up as Christians and never waver; often, maybe always, these people have to 'work out their own salvations with tears and prayer' – that is, they have at some point to make Christ their own, internally, and so consolidate their early start as Christians, so as to obtain their own peace.
There are wild stories of thugs in Japan and in USA completely being turned around absolutely by Christ, and leaving a crazy and violent dissolute life behind them utterly. There are stories of people who spend years churchgoing and who at a very late hour in the vineyard awaken and enter the fold proper – excuse the mixed metaphors.
Allsorts. Any route is possible. Every route is valid. That leads to Christ as The Person above all in one's life; the hope, the only foundational hope of history, the world, mankind and Creation. Think of a world – how it would be – without Christ having come Incarnate. Even if you're too proud or embarrassed or ashamed to believe, think how much worse the world would be without a doubt without Christ.
The Apostle Peter has it exactly right about this point: “Where are we to go? We know that you have the words of eternal life” he say when Christ asks – perhaps testing them – perhaps aiming to elicit this kind of understanding in them - whether his closest friends the twelve are about to leave him also?
(By the way it's not eternal life I'm bothered about so much as the mess we have made of things, every one of us, and the needless and wanton suffering and distress of so many of us that can be relieved, and there is every possibility for change when the heart is right)
Our world right now is far from peaceful and good in any obvious sense, and in the Christian sense very far from salvation. But how can we know this, how else could we make such a judgement without us having Christ as our Guide and Mentor – and this goes also for of us all who feel the pain of the world and who do not believe in Him. Perhaps these persons or some of them are 'in transit' on their way?
Our problem is that the general ambience of things, of society, of globalism, of science, of culture, of education, of entertainment, of news and media, and much else; it is all so heavily loaded with a presumption of unbelief, with a sense of the impossibility of belief; caught up in its own traps and snares and unable to see its way out of the rabbit hole.
I don't want to ramble on here about the ways towards liberation of the mind from these traps and snares which many of us are born into and just find it ultra hard to shake them off – I've done enough writing already elsewhere about them and their illusory strangleholds on us as a people.
Heresies though are perhaps possible halfway houses for God and belief?
Narnia stories again – I heard them being expounded in terms of the Gospel narratives today on Radio (BBC!) - nothing too high-falutin', simple analogy and parallel pointed out, but yet a gateway maybe for people listening who never yet have made the connections?
People who responded to the movies, the books, and who found nowhere yet to go to where they might find – what Christ calls 'living water' and 'bread of life' and other epithets. Maybe today there was just enough information to have such a person to open a link on Bible-hub or open a New Testament? 'Feed my lambs' was Christ's final command to St Peter and his fellows – is not our duty and joy to try also to feed them? C S Lewis may well have left as his legacy a route which with God's condescension has brought, will bring, many to understand the true nature of the world and history, and of life. This is a truism to many; but to many of that many a dead truism, a truism of literary criticism, or of sociology; not a truism (yet?) about a phenomenon bigger than any other fact in existence.
And The Apocryphal Gospels – what of these? I took a look at some a few years back. I soon went back to a New Testament without them diet, since although there were nuggets of gold studded here and there, they were so very sparse, and congealed with a lot of what I felt was nonsense, that I wanted just the pure bottled spirit.
That's me. A homing pigeon. Always going back to the wells that I feel refresh me best. Amongst these are The Old Testament and The Apocrypha, and a great number of old time divines I am so very lucky to have been able to collect books by, I being around and in the market for them during that late period in which so many public and institutional libraries in Britain divested themselves, in a fit of madness, of pure pearls, of gardens great in profusion of simples and spiritual foison.
But the Apocryphal Gospels, they are acceptable - I have been convinced only lately by an old friend I never knew I had until I read his book. He is dead and over a century interred but his life lives on in his books. He told me that the renegade and fanciful stories about Jesus in these gospels, supplied a need in their times, a demand to know something about this Great Personage whose followers were growing in great numbers, followers whose behaviour towards others was so revolutionary and so winning of the people’s hearts.
I guess these Apocryphal Gospels are the Superman and Batman movies of their times – stories without any foundation in empirical, historical truth, except for the fact that for us in general they uphold those values we live by, even though we do not realise we are living by them.
Batman and Superman are imperfect types of Christ; they have their foibles and their failings, but on the whole they pursue justice, truth, mercy, need one say – goodness? But love – what of love – the crowning virtue of Christ and Christendom – what of love?
We are I believe too inhibited, too scared of what others around us might think, might say, scared that we'll be scammed, laughed at, reviled, bullied, beaten, persecuted, if we talk openly about love, and show ourselves to be vulnerable and 'easy-pickings'?
Not talking of that love which oozes from sentimental TV and movies, that allows us to indulge a binge for an hour or so and then 'walk around our room alone/ and put a record on the gramophone..' – which is to say – to shrug off an interlude of letting-go and of engaging, and of living for a change - for a half an hour. The same poet again says 'The awful daring of a moment's surrender/ by this and this only have we existed..'
Not a cracked love, a shop-soiled and seconds kind of love, that lets us down now and then, because like us, the bearer of it is human, and silly, and weak, and fallible. But a standing stone, a cornerstone of Creation; One who is 'there for you' 'yesterday, today, and forever'.
To a person unacquainted this love feels remote, inhuman, hardly tenable, something put up in the mind as a steadying-post for a fragile fanciful need. But the power in the love is in the Person, and there is no gainsaying that Person when one dares to engage with what is written about Him, and that has been borne down the centuries about Him, and even at a further stage, to realise for oneself the Presence of this Person, here, now, always, like Atlas or Prometheus, or like that newborn child you first held – if you're a parent – to which no more valuable gift your mind can imagine – a deep fathomless love literally, metaphorically, scientifically, psychologically, and on and on – holding the world, and all things in existence, from each moment to the next, and is there forever.
Except to the desire of the heart inexplicably so.
I don't deny reason. I deny the supremacy of reason. Too many times do we see that 'a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest'; that a woman's reasons and motives are led by their desires, for others perhaps, for herself often. All our reasoning is founded on our feelings. “Where your treasure is; there will your heart be also'. You can find parallel statements in Karl Marx and in Sigmund Freud – but whomsoever you want to espouse the case is the case.
So, these emotional bases for our beliefs, opinions, ideas, mostly are founded on shifting sand – see how society drifts without a rudder - it's mores and customs just a running succession of fads, of fashions, thrown up by a sort of amorphous movement. I always liken it to a playground in a school with kids playing soccer – there are 22 youngsters like a swarm of bees all chasing in a solid clump the ball – no tactics nor restraint, because nowhere anyone to say,' this is what we do' or 'try this' – but only a will and a passion to kick at goal.
Yes Jesus does offer standards – high, impossible standards, but one's never-ending, never fading, always true and kind and just and merciful and loving – asking of us our best, whether much or little, just our best. Rebel at the thought of someone telling you what to do? Like the man who took no notice of advertising but drank Guinness because 'it was good for him'!
When your conscience tells you something is the right thing to do; do you rebel at that? You may not act on it; but you feel shamed or regretful for that. Your conscience is in some way not your own. Jesus is more than your conscience – He is the Person who formed your conscience, who formed you 'fearfully and wonderfully made'.
Like you see your conscience, he is truly your very best possible self; a lifetime's aim to come nearer to the mark he asks of us.
I'll finish. You've probably had enough. If you've come this far? Why settle for the incomplete, the changing, the non-dependable, the half-guessed-at-niggle; the life that brings with it nothing but resignation to an assumed latter despondency, so that one has to be ever rinsing one's mind from thoughts and worries that trouble your peace, your self-assurance, your joie de vivre? There is always Jesus the Christ stood ready to welcome you into His care.