How to Start a Rumor

Stephen Jones has started reading N.T. Wright’s monumental, 800+ page book, The Resurrection of the Son of God. He wonders in his blog, Is N.T. Wright a Shroud pro-authenticist?

imageThat Wright, a former Anglican Bishop of Durham, and a leading New Testament scholar, even mentioned the Shroud at all is amazing, given that Christian academics tend to ignore it, for fear of being thought of as belonging to the so-called `lunatic fringe’.

And that Wright referenced not a more well-known Shroud book, like one of Ian Wilson’s, but one that is less well known, by the Whangers, argues for Wright not only being a Shroud pro-authenticist, but having read widely in Shroud literature.

Tom Wright is one of my heroes. I’ve read many of his books including this one. It is probably the best modern-era book written on the subject. In my opinion, the reference to the shroud is casual, by-the-way, and unnecessary. I certainly don’t see how Stephen can assume that Tom Wright is a “a Shroud pro-authenticist” or has “read widely in Shroud literature.” 

But it makes for a silly rumor that might spread on the Internet.

6 thoughts on “How to Start a Rumor”

  1. That’s right, the reference to the Shroud is indeed casual,by-the-way and unnecessary. It is no surprise. N.T.Wright has a strong anti-Catholic bias, he perhaps thought he could not do more than that when it came to the “Catholic” relic.

    1. Maybe everyone should make up their own mind about NT Wrights anti-Catholic bias after reading NT Wright Responds to Richard Neuhaus in First Things, published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, founded by Richard John Neuhaus, himself:

      Second, there is no “pervasive edge of anti-Catholicism” in the book [=Surprised by Hope], which is in no sense a denominational polemic. Most of my main targets are in my own church. (Does that make me “anti-Anglican”?) In the quest to speak clearly about eschatology, classic Roman Catholicism is a friend and ally. Among my greatest encouragers has been Gerry O’Collins, formerly of the Gregorian University. When I taught there as a happy guest six years ago, including being introduced to the man Neuhaus calls “John Paul the Great,” I don’t think anyone would have noticed the slightest tinge of anti-Catholicism. Indeed, some of my Reformed critics regularly accuse me of being far too friendly to Rome, but that is another story. More poignantly, on my last visit to a dear but sick friend, before his untimely death, I found him reading Surprised by Hope , and he professed himself delighted. He was Kevin Dunn, my “opposite number” and occasional golf partner, the late Roman Catholic bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.

      Nor was I “refuting Catholic ecclesiology” when I quoted Douglas Farrow”and neither was I ignorant of the fact that Doug, a good friend these past twenty years, has recently converted to Roman Catholicism. Doug was rightly attacking a particular form of ecclesial triumphalism, which occurs in many traditions, including some parts of Catholic tradition at some, not all, periods in history”but also occurring, particularly, in various types of liberal Protestantism. In any case, that part of the book was hardly central or particularly load-bearing for the whole.

      More important, I was not attempting to claim that the present pope was coming round to my way of thinking or that I was offering him “tutelage.” I was merely noting, as anyone familiar with Cardinal Ratzinger’s work surely knows, that in his 1977 book Eschatology , he offers a remarkable account of purgatory in terms of the fire spoken of in 1 Corinthians 3 and states that this fire, which is a metaphor for the all-consuming meeting with Christ himself, “cannot be quantified by the measurements of earthly time.” This is a careful and explicit rejection of some aspects of what some Roman Catholics had sometimes taught in earlier times” just as he refers to “what were in part objectionable and deformed practices,” presumably meaning the sale of indulgences and the like.

      In other words, Ratzinger was arguing, long before I started writing on this subject, (a) that traditional expressions of purgatory in terms of a linear, temporal progression are mistaken; (b) that at or after death the redeemed person meets with Christ in a moment of fiery judgment that burns away all the dross, and that this is what the traditional language of “purgatory” is attempting to refer to; and (c) that the Reformers were right to react against some practices that had grown up around the doctrine as some people taught and perceived it at the time. All I was doing was hailing this fine piece of work by a great Roman theologian of our day.

      As for suggesting that I would do well to consult the pope’s new encyclical, Spe Salvi , and what it says about purgatory”well, Neuhaus should himself read not only what the encyclical says about purgatory (since it repeats exactly the argument Ratzinger had made thirty years earlier) but also my grateful comments on that encyclical in The Tablet last December. Do your homework, Neuhaus, I wanted to say again and again.

      Why should Neuhaus imagine such unseemly and pervasive anti-Catholicism? He thinks it is because I “must justify [my] separation from the centering authority of the ancient Church.” How bizarre. Of course, I know that many people brought up in the Germanic world, presented with a stark choice between a very Protestant (and latterly existentialist) Lutheranism and a traditional Catholicism, found themselves facing that sort of question. As Neuhaus said to me over lunch recently, many good Lutherans are taught to remind themselves every day why they are not Roman Catholics.

      Or was there something else?

  2. Richard John Neuhaus was a convert to Catholicism and he could detect bias when he saw it. N.T. Wright has shown anti-Catholic bias in some of his writings, and so have Alister McGrath and William Lane Craig.

    Well, prejudices are something that people have to learn to live with, they do not die easily, they can be deeply ingrained, even irrational. We have some examples in history. Ulysses Grant also had an anti-Catholic bias,ignoring the fact that two of the top Civil War generals, Sheridan and Sherman, were Catholic. Queen Victoria was horrified when Lord Ripon, viceroy in India, Grand Master in freemasonry (!) became a Catholic. John Kennedy had a tough time explaining his Catholicism to the public to get himself elected.
    We have other examples: Lady Diana Spencer’s family converted to Catholicism, they wanted to get even with the Queen.

  3. I am Catholic (granted I converted, from a loose Anglican upbringing) and I think N.T. Wright is brilliant.

  4. “Well, prejudices are something that people have to learn to live with, they do not die easily, they can be deeply ingrained, even irrational.”

    And of course prejudices come in various assorted packages, with various targets, various ingrained attitudes, and can be either of the liberal or conservative brands. Following the excesses of Reformation reaction, euphemistically termed the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church seemed to adopt a defensive triumphalist position for some 350 years, a Church which a few of us pre-Vatican II Catholics remember only too well. Perhaps a few of us have still to catch up!

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