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There is no particular problem with using ‘metaphorical’ language where God is concerned. In Metaphorical Theology Sallie McFague offers a lengthy analysis to show us that metaphorical language is legitimate for theological discourse. This should come as no surprise to anyone except positivists or other stringent empiricists who accept nothing but direct evidence for any discourse. Traditional theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas, have long held that no discussion of God directly qualifies divinity. Mystics, as McFague acknowledges, have in fact been shocked at the idea of speaking about God directly. What, then, is McFague's point in reminding us of the necessary indirection of all speaking about God? She is attempting to curb the increasing agnosticism, if not skepticism, among contemporary theologians, by speaking to what she considers to be ‘the contemporary sensibility’.
In 1974 the American Roman Catholic theologian Avery Dulles published an instructive and successful book called Models of the Church, the heart of which considers the church as institution, as mystical communion, as sacrament, as herald, and as servant. It includes a chapter on ‘The church and revelation’, later expanded as a further book called Models of Revelation; but at that point difficulties surely arise. The notion of models as Dulles applies it to the church enables him to take account of the fact that the church is a concrete objective reality, yet one whose nature is complex and difficult to encapsulate. Images which emerge from Bible and tradition, such as the ones Dulles studies, can be applied with a degree of analytical rigour to the church, with illuminating results. Some of these images may be better described as metaphors. They take actual entities such as a herald and use them to cast light on the nature of the church by analogy; they are less systematically developed than models and are more consistently capable of operating at other levels as well as the intellectual (though in theology, at least, models also commonly carry strong emotional associations and thus may profoundly influence attitudes as well as shape conceptual thinking). Some of the images are models in a stricter meaning of the word; they do not in themselves exist in the same sense as the church does, but as constructs they enable us to grasp aspects of the significance of the church conceptually.
In c.lO6 AD Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, was being led through the province of Asia to Rome and to martyrdom. As he went, he wrote letters to a number of the Asian Christian churches on the Aegean coastline. His aim was to ensure the cohesion of these local communities by encouraging their maintenance of purity in practice and in idea. To this end his letters stressed a strongly constituted, centralised ecclesiastical authority, whose sphere of activity was delimited by a clear boundary between the church and the world.
This essay originated as a contribution to the joint course on eucharistic theology and practice for St Mary's Seminary, Oscott, and The Queen's College in Birmingham. Its purpose was to highlight, in a context in which Roman Catholic, Methodist, United Reformed, and Church of England ordinands were considering divergent approaches to the eucharist, that many of the questions were faced by the Church of England internally because of its doctrinal breadth. The Eucharistic Prayers of The Alternative Service Book 1980, therefore, can almost be regarded as ‘agreed statements’, but in the setting of worship and as a means of worship, and so are worthy to be set alongside purely theological statements such as the Final Report of ARCIC 1 or the WCC document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry as a liturgical contribution to the continuing ecumenical debate.
Despite the risible misnomer of his book of miscellaneous essays, which, claiming to speak of ‘Jewish law to the Mishnah,’ discuss mere anecdotes and episodes in Jewish law in the first century with special reference to the Gospels, Professor Edward P. Sanders’ current account of his views should not be dismissed as the merely random thoughts of one who wanders beyond the boundaries of his field of first-hand knowledge. Holding Sanders to his claim that he knows something about what he calls ‘Jewish law,’ let us take seriously his conception of the Pharisees of the first century. Since, intending to persuade colleagues that his picture of, and apologia for, the Pharisees, not mine, accurately portray how things really were in the first century, Sanders devotes two of his five chapters to that subject, we turn forthwith to the contrasting results contained in his current book.