in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Book Review: The Lost Knowledge of Christ: Contemporary Spiritualities, Christian Cosmology and the Arts. Dominic White

Dear All

I have just finished the review for this fascinating book. It really is worth looking at - there is a website for it too:

Best Wishes


The Lost Knowledge of Christ: Contemporary Spiritualities, Christian Cosmology and the Arts

Author: Dominic White

Date: 2015

Publisher: Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota

ISBN: 978-0-8146-8269-2

pp 221  pbk



I’m afraid to say that this book confirms many suspicions I have had for some time. Even if Fr Dominic White OP is not wholly right in all his conjectures but only in good part, then we are going to have seriously review a lot of our perceptions of Western spiritual and liturgical practices. For Fr White’s ambitious project is to review the roots of our liturgical and spiritual practices linking them to esoteric practices and attitudes long since vanished. Let me take one example. For many years I have enjoyed gazing at the Byzantine mosaics to be found in Italy in the dim half-light in situ. Admittedly my eyesight is not what it was, but once accustomed to the gloom I have noticed that the ikons begin to shimmer and glint almost in three-dimensional fashion only to vanish when the next tourist deposits their obligatory one euro coin in the meter so that all is now revealed in garish modern electric light (primarily, as is often the case, for the purposes of taking another worthless photograph on an iPhone or camera). The ghost of Byzantium vanishes. Now Fr White, in this splendid book, has confirmed my suspicions when he lovingly describes the ancient Holy Week liturgies of Mount Athos where the monks would twirl full candelabras of flickering candles before the mosaics exactly to produce the effect I had observed in Rome and Ravenna. In Fr White’s words, such a performance would cause the ikons ‘to seem to dance’. And liturgical dance and its origins are central to the revolution in liturgy that Fr White aims to initiate. Again, I was aware of the elaborate theatre of the old Cluniac rituals, but Fr White’s description of an imagined medieval Easter Vigil is a corker: ‘We’re in a cathedral, and it’s Easter. Everyone gathers round the labyrinth. The bishop follows the altar server to the centre of the labyrinth. The server puts the ball in the bishop’s hands. This is the signal: the organ sounds, the choir sings out, and the bishop throws the ball in the air. The dean catches it, takes a step to the rhythm of the music, then passes it on, till all the clergy are dancing around the labyrinth and passing the ball…’ New Age Quackery or Coming Soon to a Church Near You? Who can say? Fr White brandishes his official imprimatur from Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, no less, and he makes a scholarly and intriguing case for his liturgical revisionism. As I say, if only a small portion of what he says is correct then we will have to revise our whole approach to liturgy, especially in the hallowed sanctuaries of our great medieval places of worship such as Salisbury and Chartres. White’s fascinating book brings to life otherwise dull and incomprehensible parts of our present liturgy and shows through exquisite scholarship an alternative picture of Western spirituality. I recommend it highly.





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