Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The End of the World

No, this is not more about the crisis in the Eurozone, or global warming, or global overpopulation, or the latest pandemic 'flu, nor is it a few people announcing the date and time and urging others to join them on a mountain top somewhere for The Rapture...

This is about the End of the World as understood by the writers of the New Testament, and is a summary of a typically informed and insightful talk to the Brothers of the Oxford Oratory by Fr Jerome Bertram, our Prefect, last Tuesday evening.

Fr Jerome started by making the point that the consensus of late nineteenth century German biblical scholarship was that the New Testament writers believed, and believed that Jesus believed, that the world was about to end.

As it had not come to an end this led to doubts as to the veracity of Sacred Scripture and to doubts as to the Divinity of Christ - if He got that wrong, well was He really God? Was Jesus merely an outstanding teacher, but not Divine? A new brand of Arianism was born.

By the 1920s C.H.Dodd and George Caird were restating traditional interpretations, but damage had been done, and persists.

In Fr Jerome's view the end of the world as first century Judaism knew it had indeed come with the destruction of the Temple and later of Jerusalem itself - Christians in Jerusalem fled at the signs of the Abomination of Desolation and retreated safely to the rural hinterland. They took the scriptures seriously. He went on to say that the fact that none of the Gospel writers refer in the context of their apocalyptic references to its fulfillment in 70AD, and notably Luke - always anxious to connect prophecy and event - struck him as proof of the anteriority of the Gospels to the fall of Jerusalem, and this their greater antiquity.

When Christ said He was the Alpha and the Omega, that he was The End, it was the truth, indeed Truth. That was what His coming, that which we reflect upon in Advent, was all about. The old has passed away, the new has come. That applies to our reading of the Apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament and to that in the New, not least in the Revelation of St John, composed as it is of intricate cross references to the earlier biblical texts. The Temple worship ceased, the cult abandoned, Judaism reformulated and Christianity established.

It is also true of our own lives here and now. When Christ enters our lives, be it in the sacrament of baptism or in a "conversion moment" or by a slow, gradual process, then the old world has ended and the new arrived.

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