on 4 January 2012
As anyone with a scholarly interest in the Book of Revelation will know, there is a relative paucity of contemporary books which offer a specifically Catholic angle on the Apocalypse. This excellent new book by Stratford Caldecott helps to remedy this situation. Caldecott is the chief editor of the Catholic journal Second Spring, the editor of the UK version of the monthly prayerbook Magnificat, and also works on the editorial board of Communio (the highly influential theological journal established by Cardinal Ratzinger and Hans Ur Von Balthasar). He is also the author of several other works, including Beauty for Truth's Sake (a manifesto advocating a revival of education in the liberal arts - which also contains an excellent treatment of the spiritual significance of number symbolism), Secret Fire: The Spiritual Vision of JRR Tolkien, The Seven Sacraments: Entering the Mysteries of God, and the Catholic Truth Society booklet The Companion to the Book of Revelation - which is the best introductory text to the Apocalypse available.
All Things Made New is a unique christocentric work, which attempts to explore the Christian mysteries through the eyes of the two figures stood before the Cross - the Apostle John and the Virgin Mary. It highlights the need for a greater emphasis on the role of mystagogy in the modern believer, which played such a central part in the life of the Early Church. Caldecott argues that mystagogy - the initiation into the Christian mysteries, should be viewed as a lifelong experience which continues well after the initial introduction to the sacraments. The ultimate aim of this spiritual journey is to arrive at theosis - to become like God. A goal which is summarised by the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature": "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God." "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods." CCC 460
Caldecott divides this personal spiritual quest into two parallel sections corresponding to those present at the foot of the Cross, and explores it through the binary lens of St. John's Apocalypse (the ultimate mystagogical text of the New Testament), and the Rosary - which encapsulates the whole Christian mystery through prayer and contemplation. As such, the book not only provides an excellent holistic analysis of the Book of Revelation, but also acts as a guide to prayer and reflection. And of course adoration of the Trinity through liturgy is after all the underlying unifying theme of the Apocalypse.
Caldecott navigates the parallels between the primary liturgical themes of the Apocalypse and the mysteries of the Rosary, showing that both perspectives converge upon the divinisation of the Church at the beatific vision - which corresponds to the Wedding of the Lamb with the Heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation, and the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin in the mysteries of the Rosary.
The book takes a idealist approach to interpreting the text of Revelation (as one would expect from someone within the Christian Platonist tradition), and thus focuses primarily on the theology and cosmology of the Apocalypse. As I argue in my own book, the Apocalypse contains several layers of interpretation which are an equally valid approach in their own right. The preterist approach focuses on the original purpose and setting of the Apocalypse within its own cultural milieu, whilst the futurist approach is concerned with the eschatological worldview presented in the book as occurring at the close of history. The historicist approach argues that the Apocalypse communicates to believers in every age of Church history, whilst the idealist approach focuses on the timeless truths and archetypal realities that exist within the self-contained cosmology and theology of Revelation. Caldecott's book therefore covers the latter, more spiritual aspect of the the Apocalypse, with a depth of understanding and eloquence that could emanate only through a true Catholic philosopher.
For those with an interest in the number symbolism of the Book of Revelation, Caldecott is somewhat of a specialist in this area, having devoted years of part-time study to this particular subject (as is evidenced from his earlier works The Seven Sacraments and Beauty for Truth's Sake) and the book contains detailed sections on this field as well as on the use of gematria in the Apocalypse.
Emmett O'Regan, author of Unveiling the Apocalypse: Prophecy in Catholic Tradition
on 14 January 2012
In reading this fine book, one might wonder at times, if it is a book born of frustration. If so, I would call it a holy frustration.
For my own sense in reading it, is that the author Stratford Caldecott has become frustrated with the way Christian practice frequently degenerates into rote and ennui.
It is though I hear the author wanting to shout: Christianity is not about moralism! It is about that which is infinitely more profound than moralism. It is indeed about all things made new - as the book's title proclaims. And thus much of the book is to do with the profound mysteries of the Apocalypse, with the final victory of the Lamb and the descent of the New Jerusalem ...
The holy frustration of the author would appear to be evident at the beginning of the third chapter, which supplies a certain key to the entire book:
'Christ's advent transformed the very structure and substance of space and time - its structure by giving it a centre around which to turn; its substance by giving eternal life to the shadowy reality of transient flesh. To the author of Revelation, Christ was not one more religious leader or prophet ... he was ... an event of such overwhelming force that the whole history and substance of the world was changed forever ...
How was such a radical transformation to be expressed in words, except by ***adapting and transforming the ancient cosmic symbols*** [Emphasis mine].
Yet John's ... symbolism is precisely what makes Revelation hard for a modern reader to understand. It is easier for us to pass over the symbolic dimension of scripture, jumping straight to a moral or theological message ... we tend to dismiss the numerological concerns of the ancients as primitive, childish or at best incidental. But the result is to reduce the complex tapestry of the Apocalypse to a single thread: for example the message that Jesus is the lord of history. When the entire Bible is treated this way, the multi-leveled teaching of Jesus is reduced to the commandment to be really, really nice to one another.'
'Primitive' and 'childish'- the smugness of modernity is breath-taking indeed! It would appear that Stratford Caldecott is trying to rescue a smug, rationalistic and moralistic Christianity of domesticated "niceness" by recovering the lost dimensions of symbolism, hermetic correspondences and numerology that we moderns ignore at our peril. I could not help but smile, when he even took issue with Hans ur von Balthasar as 'snootily' dismissive towards such concerns.
Thus what Caldecott does is turn our attention repeatedly to the recurrent symbols and correspondences one finds not only in the Apocalypse, but also elsewhere in Catholic Tradition - such as in the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross. To give just one example, one finds meditations here on the number twelve - as in the twelve tribes, twelve apostles, the twelve gates with twelve angels on the Holy City of the New Jerusalem.
And the author does not forego the pre-Christian sources of such numerological concerns. In a fashion which is both erudite and yet accessible, we find excursions into the Kabbalah and the heirs of Pythagoras.
What Caldecott is doing here is immensely important. These days untold millions of people drift away from a bland, inoffensive domesticated Christianity in search of mystery - and the mysteries they turn to are frequently those of the East - often in New Age guise.
Christianity is filled with Mystery, which must be recovered! Stratford Caldecott's book makes a very fine contribution to this immensely important task of the twenty first century. I pray that it will encourage many Catholics to go deeper and deeper into contemplating the dimensions which cannot be encapsulated by words alone, but require symbols - symbols which are not only neither childish nor primitive, but doorways out of that very impasse, in which a cosily cossetted Christianity frequently finds itself.
Is there anything more to be said? Perhaps this, at least for the nonce. At the same time that Caldecott is repeatedly calling our attention back - and back again - to the ignored symbols and numerological correspondences within scripture and tradition, he is doing much else besides. He brings to the task at hand, two further things - at least - of great importance.
The first of these is a moving and beautiful Catholic orthodoxy and fidelity to the Church. The second is a moving and beautiful sustained meditation on our fallen, human frailty - that we are indeed 'desperate for grace' as the author puts it - even if the hypnotism of apparent self-sufficiency in the modern West convinces many that they no longer need grace. That is to say that it convinces them - at least superficially, at least for a time.
Caldecott speaks as a voice which has at least somewhat wakened from this prevalent cultural hypnotism. He is clearly a man who knows his own wretchedness and desperation - because the Grace of Our Lord has given him what many others lack: the courage to face the fact that we are fallen, fallen in the slime, truly desperate in our need for grace...
Perhaps nowhere in the book is this meditation on the human condition more evident than in the penultimate chapter on the Stations of the Cross. This chapter reached depths that render it the most cherished past of the book for myself - worth the price for that chapter alone. This is not to deny the wealth that exists throughout the book as a whole!
And I salute the author in all his efforts to transmit the Catholic Mystery to a world forgetting that Mystery in favour of things New Age ...